Hong Kong Xiamen Shanghai • October 2008

In Hong Kong a compilation of  Sandberg Institute artist’s video work that I curated was shown at Videotage (cheers Alvis and all that turned out) in Xiamen we held a group exhibition with Xiamen Art College students at CEAC and in Shanghai we had a few days off to soak in the big city mayhem.

Christian Marclay’s Screen Play was the final event in Shanghai’s eArts outdoor performance program that also included a performance by legendary Quake re-fixer / modder Feng Mengbo. Held at a temporary outdoor stage in Shanghai’s west, the audience was comprised of young and old, seeing octogenarians and kids dancing up the front was a blast. I’m thinking hard to recall a new media performance event in Europe or Australia that had it’s audience comprised of such varied ages. Marclay’s video score was interpreted by three mixed groups of Chinese and American musicians. Edited within an inch of it’s life, the images were tightly focused in their energy and dramatic flow. Sometimes linked by the motion within the frame, the content of the frame or by the simple colourful animations overlayed on the appropriated film imagery. A great amount for the improvisational performer to focus on, packed with patterns and rules, to break or follow. Sounds included Chinese opera percussion, squirming impro jazz Sax, crunchy MaxMSP processing, self-made breath controlled instruments and an old school Shanghai punk band.

The most successful collaboration in my eyes was the second set, comprised of Bruce Gremo, Ben Houge and Yan Jun. Highly synthetic sounds that closely followed the on-screen score. The artificiality of the sounds complemented the 1940-50’s black and white film stock, playing against the perceived ‘authenticity’ of film grain and documentary form. This set stayed with me long after. Great work.

Leaving Shanghai we heard a loud bang over the right wing just after leaving the ground. I knew something was up. Twenty minutes into the flight there was a discernible hum and rattle. The plane dropped speed and it was clear it was being flown manually. The captain came on the P.A. and told us in an almost too chirpy Dutch accent it was time to return to Shanghai. Highlights of this stressful situation included a group of Romanian men smoking novelty electronic cigarettes in the aisle, coping with stress by creating more stress? Tourists rushing to take photos of the fuel dumping over the East China Sea, the in-cabin monitors showing ‘time to destination: 5 minutes’ when were circling over the sea. I saw the air brakes on the wing extend to lose speed and altitude and I was sure we were destined for a water landing. A tight, choking knot of fear in my stomach. After returning safely to the airport and the round of applause on touchdown we were instructed to stay in the plane while the damage was ascertained. After two hours inside the cabin we were told it was a defective piston on a door near the landing gear. A replacement part was searched for; after another hour it was decided to stay at the airport hotel until the next day. We spent the night in a futuristic Franco Cozzo/Scarface/SpaceAirport hotel from another dimension. The hotel looked about twenty minutes old. Round beds, mirrors on the ceiling, designer fittings and views of the landing jumbos. My favourite Chinese state TV show ‘Dialogue’ was on the plasma, usually two or three guests and a host sitting at a table discussing Chinese geopolitical matters and economics. Refreshingly low-tech after the visual bubblegum of CNN. Like watching a television format from the fifties. People speaking to each-other and a three cameras. After the rigmarole of checking-in a full 747 of passengers in two hours, the flight went very smoothly direct to Amsterdam. Apart from the dodgy tuna sandwich I had at Shanghai airport that made me weak in the plane and sick in Old Europe. So many days on the mainland eating quick, cheap and tasty hawker food cooked by grandmas on the street and what gets me is the last bite, a dodgy sanger from Shangers.