Chinese European Art Center 2/2

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

by Effie Hamilton

During her residency at the Chinese European Art Center in Xiamen, Effie gave performances and commissioned/premiered new works. With a focus on contributing to the dialogue of cross-cultural exchange between Australia, Europe and China, she also undertook a number of collaborative projects with local musicians and artists. Effie was the first Australian musician to hold this position.

How did you hear about the residency?
"An artist residency is not something that typically comes to mind when you consider the traditional career paths of classical musicians. I would like to highlight the opportunities that are available as part of the artist in residence scene internationally. The potential for musicians to utilize this platform is understated. I first heard about the Chinese European Art Center (CEAC) when funding was offered through China Residencies as part of the “Two to Three” program. I wasn’t successful in this round of funding but kept in touch with CEAC and was fortunate enough granted funds from the Mason Family Trust Bursary to assist in undertaking the residency the following year."

Was this your first time in China?
"I had actually already toured China quite extensively with several Australian productions. I had performed in maybe 30 or 40 cities across the mainland, even Xiamen! Although these had been some amazing and eye opening experiences, I felt that I was not fully experiencing China. Firstly, I was touring with other Australians and spent most of my time with these other Australians. Secondly, we were in each city for sometimes less than 24 hours, leaving time to see only the inside of the hotel and the inside of the theatre. However, my interest was spiked! I wanted to engage and interact with the Chinese artistic community in a more human-to-human capacity. I wanted to go to China alone and spend an extended period of time in one city to genuinely immerse myself in the artistic culture of that region. I wanted to contribute in a meaningful way, through the performing arts, to the dialogue of cross cultural exchange between Australia and China."

Have you done other residencies before?
"No, this was my first and hopefully not my last!"

What were you plans when going to Xiamen?
"Although a challenging concept for me initially, I was gently encouraged by CEAC not to have set outcomes for my stay in Xiamen, but to “see where the experience takes you”. By letting go my inclination to plan, plan, plan everything in advance from Australia, I found that once in Xiamen, I was able to be more open to collaborations and projects that I may have otherwise never contemplated. I feel that this led me to use my time to explore the artistic world in Xiamen and be available to engage in a more meaningful capacity rather than being tied up with preconceptions of what my experience might entail."

Did you overlap with any other residents, and if so did any collaborations come of it?
"Yes, Elley Li, a painter and photographer from Canada. Elley and I collaborated on an exhibition at CEAC where I performed some carefully selected Australian flute music to contribute to the storyline of her visual art works. Artist Thór Vigfússon and his wife Björk from Iceland were also at CEAC. We did not collaborate as such but I feel it necessary to note that their interest to informally discuss ideas and interpret our surrounds certainly contributed to my overall experience and helped shape my own artistic practice."

How long did you stay, and what did you work on?
"I stayed in Xiamen for two months. During my residency at CEAC I gave solo performances and commissioned and premiered new works. With a focus on contributing to the dialogue of cross-cultural exchange between Australia, Europe and China, I also undertook a number of collaborative projects with local musicians and artists. My first project was the collaboration with Canadian artist Elley Li, mentioned above. This was followed by a recording project with local Xiamen sound artist Dao Akin. The collaboration resulted in the recording of two original 30 minute works incorporating the sounds of traditional Chinese instruments including erhu, xiao, dizi with the western concert flute, alto flute and bass flute. This lead to a performance at the Shapowei Art Center with several eminent Chinese sound artists who were visiting from other provinces for the event. Furthermore, I commissioned and premiered a new composition “Weeping Bamboo” for solo flute and fixed media by Chinese composer Shuying Li.

Throughout my residency I was also thrilled to meet and work with students and lecturers from the Xiamen Art College. I gave a performance of Australian flute music at the CEAC gallery and curated a solo flute recital of which half the music is by Chinese composers and half the music is by Australian composers. I was also invited to perform contemporary improvisation followed traditional Chinese flute music at the Opening Ceremony to the Chinese Masters International Exchange Forum. I met so many incredible and inspired humans; visual artists, photographers, sculptors, musicians, sound artists, experimental improvisers, arts managers, professors, students, dealers, producers and directors. It was such an insightful experience and every person contributed in some capacity to my own artistic practice."

Where did you live?
"The CEAC apartment was very large and well equipped with views of the sea. It felt like I was living as a local Xiamen resident would, in amongst families going about their daily life. Artists/musicians have their own spacious apartment with all amenities and a large studio for work for the duration their stay. It is a 30 second stroll to the beach and waking up the sound of waves breaking was lovely!"

How did you organize your time on a daily basis?
"On one hand was quite regimented in managing my time but on the other hand I allowed myself flexibility to just see what happened!"

Did you pick up some Mandarin?
"Wo hui shuo yi dian hanyu. I studied some basics leading up to my arrival and was excited at the opportunity to put it into practice. This experience unlocked an interest in language that I never knew I had. Language is so inherently linked with culture and now that I am back home in Australia, I am studying Mandarin formally at my local Confuscious institute."

What surprised you?
"The strong demand from the wider community to experience art in its most experimental forms. Nothing was too extreme!"

Would you want to go back?
"Yes, without hesitation! Xiamen has such a vibrant artistic community and is home to so many enthusiastic and willing collaborators."