Chinese European Art Center 1/2

Artist experience at Chinese European Art Center in Xiamen, China.

by Stephanie Rhode

"As an artist in residence, I have been two and half months in Xiamen at the Chinese European Art Centrum CEAC. It was a great experience to have my ‘Sandhouse-project’, after being in Germany and Holland, here in Xiamen with so many enthusiastic volunteers and interested spectators. Many came by spontaneous after reading about the art installation in the local newspaper or by word of mouth.
Women with shiny shoes and hand bags were working at the beach among another. Not stooping but crouching as is usual in Asia. Young and old worked together and I didn’t need to explain and instruct. There was restrain, no discomfort to participate in this art event. Although maybe not completely aware of the background of the project people just helped passionately. It was touching to see how people can accomplish things without explanation and or language.

The ‘Sandhouse-project: Stillness, Movement and Transience’ is a giant art project with a lifespan of twelve hours. Houses of sand, 22 cm height, stood row after row at the beach of Xiamen. A monumental image was created out of these tiny houses. One hundred and thirty five volunteers, students of the Art College of Xiamen University, habitants of Xiamen, tourist, expats and art lovers were created the houses by moulds. When the low tide set in the houses were placed on the beach. After six hours we were ready, then in the next six hours the sea slowly took the house one by one, sometimes more at a time, away. The beach returned to its original state as if nothing happened. During my stay in Xiamen I wanted to find out how the people in China react to the phenomena of transience when shown and experienced through a piece of art. Everything in life is transient, nothing is the way it was, and everything is constantly moving. The transience of everything became very clear. Spectators and volunteers experienced this on the spot. When the work was installed in Europe, everybody stood around at the edge of the project, experiencing transience from the outside. In China, when we removed the tape surrounding the piece, it took about half an hour for the project to be taken over by people filming, talking, taking pictures and wandering around. Hundreds of pictures were taken, children played and families and couples were photographed.

Patience and flexibility are needed when you want organize such a big project in China. To cope with the unexpected is something you must be able to handle. It took me almost three weeks to find a carpenter who could make the sixty five moulds from wood of an acceptable quality. I planned two days for this. Finding the volunteers turned out be much more easy then I expected. In no time I found more than hundred and thirty five volunteers who brought their whole family with on the day of the installation. The CEAC assisted in finding the assistants who helped me with the preparations and the interviews. With the help of the student I was able to interview Chinese on the street about transience. After two days I received the answers translated in English. I found out that I had to formulate my questions different to get the answers I wanted.

It was a special experience for me to have the project here in China. People are very open and interested. As a westerner you are welcomed with warmth so in spite of the language barrier you can get much things done. The Chinese like to come in contact with art and artists from the Western culture. Via CEAC I gave a lecture at the Xiamen University. After the lecture and during other meetings there were great conversations with the students on how the Chinese perceive modern art. And how different this is in Europe. Polite at first but after a while they told me beautiful personal thoughts and experiences on this subject.

During my stay I came in contact with many other artists at the CEAC or living in China for a shorter or longer period. There was a gallery with the great name ‘the Nothing Gallery’ initiated by Sigi Gudmundsson. Extraordinary things happened here. A beautiful blend of Asian and European art,
very inspiring and refreshing.
I have learned that in China things go different and one is forced to find new ways. Not only the language but the whole way of thinking is different. For an artist this is a great experience and enhances your way of thinking in a way impossible in our own culture. I hope to be able to use this from now on in my own work and life being back in The Netherlands.
A short film is made based on the ten interviews on transience. The film is in English / Chinese and was shown during my exhibition at the CEAC gallery.
One of the most impressive answers was: ‘If there is no hope in your life, then transience is your only hope’."

December 2014
Film about the installation: