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CONNECTING CAVES

Tecniques of mutuality to escape involution.

  • Aug 25 2022
  • Xiaotian Li
    is a writer, artist, and curator based in Guangzhou. She initiated the Reading Room project in 2019 and is a member of the BOLOHO artist collective currently exhibiting at documenta 15.

    李筱天是一名常驻广州的写作者、艺术家和策展人,她于2019年发起阅读间项目,她也是BOLOHO团体的成员(第15届文献展参展艺术家)。

1

The iron door on the ground floor of the building with ocher tiles had a combination lock, and those who knew the code could open it directly to the first floor. There was the studio shared by the Prickly Paper editorial department and friends. The door was always open, and every time I went I saw new faces. Sometimes I saw people gathered in small groups, making woodcut prints; sometimes people were walking, sitting, and lying around, sharing food and drinks, pouring out their joys and sorrows to each other. Three cats hung out on the windowsill, or at the foot of the table.

A calendar hung on a metal plate near the window in the studio, filled with schedules, with Chris and I occasionally occupying a small time-frame on it. Yifei and Feihong were always toiling away, either at the computer typesetting or binding, making tea, packing things... The printer squeaked. Just when we thought similar scenes would continue like always, one day in May, the landlord asked Yifei and Feihong to move as soon as possible. They called their friends to come and pack and found a new place immediately. Then they came up with the impromptu idea of holding an exhibition in the old space, which everyone quickly responded to. I went to visit the setup site, where their friends' work was scattered around. I heard them chattering about how they hoped to sell some of their work at the popup exhibition to ease their financial situation.

2

From the Prickly Paper editorial office, we walked through the narrow streets with concrete floors, passing supermarkets, fruit shops, drinking water companies, hair salons, small courier shops, a few restaurants, computer and mobile phone repair shops, and painting shops, and came to the lively Yingzhou Bei Road, where we could see many small vendors on the both sides of the road selling grilled oysters, watermelon, ice jelly, fried tofu, handmade burgers, octopus balls, Taiwanese hand-picked cakes, and the signboards of convenience stores at the intersection would look particularly bright at night. We turned left into a more potholed alleyway, then passed a hairdresser, a small supermarket, another hairdresser, a couple of small restaurants, a hardware shop, a tea room, the "Good Luck" supermarket which was across the street from a restaurant called Xijiangqiao, then turned left into a slightly darker alleyway, opened the first metal door, and went up to the fourth floor to reach The Cave of Spider Witches.

 
3

The cave is very private, so Qianyang opened the door and we followed her up the stairs: First, second, third and fourth floors. We looked up and saw an uneven door wrapped in tinfoil with three Chinese characters Pan Si Dong (“The Cave of Spider Witches”) made of white paper clay painted green in the middle. In the cave, at the foot of the wall on the right side, are piles of drawings from Qianyang and perhaps some of her friends. A bookshelf is placed in the middle, and all of the walls are covered with a variety of materials and manuscripts, as well as a well-arranged collection of oil paintings, posters, cartoons, prints, copies of magazines, work schedules. Silver and golden silk curtain separates the sleeping space. Above the tiles on the wall is Qianyang’s large pencil self-portrait. One day Qianyang told us that she had rented a room on the top floor and had a balcony to use, so, out of her needs, the space began to stretch.

Cave of the Silken Web, 2022, by Qianyang Zuo at Synnika, Frankfurt/Main  


4
 

There were many rainy days and occasional sunny days, and most of the days when we were guests we would always stay into the night and talk until we were tired before going back downtown. Perhaps because of the lack of light in the rooms and the complex smells in the streets, I always felt like I was walking through caves in Xiaozhou. I think back to my first visit here a dozen years ago, unaware that this village had housed so many creators, from those preparing for their exams to those who were studying; from those who had graduated a few years ago to those who had graduated a few  decades ago. Each person was in their own cave, occasionally taking a few diverging paths to other caves, getting bored with one's cave and merging with others to form larger caves for those coming and going to stretch themselves.

Cave of the Silken Web, 2022, by Qianyang Zuo at Synnika, Frankfurt/Main  

In his interview in Illustrating Inter-Asian Self-Organizing Woodcut Practices III - Institutions and Beyond, Feihong mentions, "Our work is just one of the points in the network, never the center, the key is to create more connections between different points." But forming such connections and networks is not easy. Inventing spaces to live and create requires more mutual learning. Creating, selling, and re-creating, the economic model of the artmaking cycle, is very much on the minds of the artists Qianyang, Feihong and Yifei, who often talk about the preciousness of participating in various workshops or being stall holders at art book fairs where they can interact directly with their audience and readers and exchange ideas.

During the time of this project, which has lasted for months, the plague continues. The world has changed a lot, and there is often discouraging news that makes it difficult for us to catch our breath. We still receive signals from each other, and it has been a rare comfort to meet face-to-face and to create from time to time. In Xiaozhou, I observed that the meaning of art practices is always related to the repetition of dissipating movements, like a carving knife leaving a mark with one stroke, and like a spider web twisting from a single thread…

If we don't want to keep practicing involution, how do we reach the future without being interrupted? This time, in the frame of the project Escaping Involution, we connect two points HB Station, Guangzhou (CHN) and Synnika, Frankfurt am Main at a distance of 9,500 kilometers, throwing creations into each others’ living spaces, or, instead of seeking answers, we try to raise some questions, waiting for something fantastic to happen.

Cave of the Silken Web, 2022, by Qianyang Zuo at Synnika, Frankfurt/Main  

洞穴相连

1

外立面贴着赭色瓷砖的大楼一楼的铁门上挂着密码锁,知道密码的人会直接打开门走到3楼。刺纸编辑部和朋友们一起合租的工作室就在此处,门长时间敞开着,每回去到都能碰见新面孔,有时看见三三两两的人凑在一起刻版画, 有时则是人们走动坐卧来去自如,分享食物、饮料,互相倾吐彼此的乐与忧。三只猫在窗台、桌脚流连来去。工作室靠近窗口的铁板上挂着一个日历,上面写满了日程,我和Chris的名字偶尔会占据一个小的空格。逸飞和飞鸿总是在劳作,不是在电脑前排版,就是在装订、泡茶、打包东西……打印机吱吱吱地响。当我们以为类似的场景还会继续发生时,5月的某天房东要他们尽快搬家。
他们呼朋唤友来收拾、随即找到了新的地方。后来他们临时起意要在旧的空间里做个展览,很快得到了大家的响应。我去参观了布展的现场,朋友们的作品逐渐在空间中散落开来。我听见他们在念叨,希望能在这个快闪展览上卖出些作品,缓解下拮据的经济状况……


2

从刺纸编辑部出来,走在水泥地面的窄巷里,路过超市、水果店、饮用水公司、发型屋、快递小店、几间餐厅、电脑、手机维修店,画材店,来到了热闹的瀛洲路上,沿路能看到很多小摊贩,他们卖烤生蚝、麒麟西瓜、冰粉、炸豆腐、手工汉堡、章鱼小丸子、台湾手抓饼,路口的便利店的招牌在夜里显得格外亮,我们左转进更坑洼的一条巷子,接着又路过美发店、小超市,再一间美发店,几间小餐厅,五金店,茶室,遇到好运来超市,对面是一个名为西江桥的餐厅,左拐进一条稍暗的小巷,打开第一个铁门上去4楼,就到了盘丝洞。


3

盘丝洞很隐秘,牵羊打开铁门我们就跟随她拾级而上,一楼、二楼、三楼、四楼,我们抬眼看到了一个凹凸不平用锡纸包裹、型塑的门,中间是白色纸粘土捏成的三个汉字盘丝洞,上面涂了绿色的颜料。到了洞中,右手边的墙脚堆着牵羊的画,也许还有些是朋友们的画,墙面的瓷砖上方则贴着很大一副牵羊的铅笔自画像。金色、银色的丝质帘子隔开了睡眠的空间,书架放在房间正中,不大的室内所有的墙面都贴着各式的材料及手稿,还有排布有致的油画、海报、漫画、版画、杂志复印件,工作日程表……某天牵羊跟我们说她租了顶楼的房间,有一个阳台可以用,出于她的需要,空间开始伸展。


4

遭遇过很多次雨天,偶尔放晴,大部分作客的日子我们总会待到夜里,聊到疲惫再回城里。可能是房间里光线不足,街巷里气味复杂, 我在小洲总有种在洞穴中穿行的感觉。我想起十数年前第一次来这里的情景,不知不觉这个村子容纳过这样多的创作者,从准备考学的人, 到正在求学的人,从毕业了几年的人到毕业了几十年的人。每个人在自己的洞穴里,偶尔走几条分叉小径到别的洞穴去, 厌烦了一个人的洞穴就和别人合并成大一点的洞穴,方便来往的人伸展手脚。 飞鸿在《亚际自组织木刻实践图绘Ⅲ——体制及其后》的访问中提到:我们的工作或只是网络中其中的一点,从来不是中心,关键是在点与点之间创造更多连结。但要形成这样的连结与网络并不简单,创造生活和创作的空间需要更多互助学习。创作、售卖、再创作,牵羊、飞鸿和逸飞对艺术创作循环的经济模式都很在意,他们经常谈及参与各类工作坊,或是在艺术书展做摊主时与观众、读者们直接交流、交换的珍贵。在已经持续了数个月的项目时间里,也是瘟疫持续的时间,世界发生了很多变化,时常有沮丧的新闻让我们难以喘息。我们仍能收到来自彼此的信号,时常面对面交流、创作,对我而言是生活中难得的安慰。在小洲,我观察到创作的意义总是与重复消磨的动作相关,就像刻刀一笔笔留下痕迹,又像蛛网一丝丝缠绕…… 如果我们不想继续卷,那么如何抵达未来而不受打断? 这次我们把距离9500公里的两个点相连,将创作投掷到彼此的生活空间中,或者不是寻求答案,而是尝试提一些疑问,等待奇妙的事情发生。
*

This article is part of Escaping Involution, a collaboration between HB Station, Guangzhou and has been translated from Chinese to English by Nicole Deng.

(CHN) and Synnika, Frankfurt/Main. Synnika is the official pick-up station for Arts of the Working Class in the central station district of Frankfurt/Main. For more information, visit www.escapinginvolution.com and www.synnika.space
//

Banner: Cave of the Silken Web, 2022, by Qianyang Zuo at Synnika, Frankfurt/Main  
Photos: Ulrich Herding

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