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Changing Direction: From Melbourne to Beijing and Beyond

I was introduced to China through an old friend, who passed away about 10 years ago.
Whilst living with June and Hugh Antonoff, in their very quaint cottage, June opened her heart and photo albums about her love of China. She had traveled to Middle Kingdom many times and often was accompanied by her daughter Lesley.
Lesley who also became a long term friend had arranged to tour a small group of Fengshui Students into China and I was as invited to attend. That was in the Chinese Autumn of 2002.
I was smitten. I have since traveled to the country every year, sometimes two or three times per year and now write this Blog whilst sitting in my friend Jia Jingjing’s apartment on the outskirts of Beijing in the developing area of Shunyi.
After two residency stays; in 2003 with Redgate Artist-in-residence (AIR) and in 2004 supported by the Australia China Council AIR Program, I rented a studio in the newly built Beijing International Art Camp (BIAC) of Suo Jia Cun in 2005. the studio became ‘Yellow Flower Studio’ named after my favourite part of the great Wall.
The excitement of being in China and especially in Beijing at that time was mind-blowing, artists from across the globe were pouring into the city for their ‘China Experience’. Chinese artists were pouring into Beijing from the many provinces endeavouring to ‘make a success’ with their artworks.
An immense amount of interactions, engagements, collaborations, creations, invitations and exhibitions were about to unfold for me.
The BIAC studio compound in Suo Jia Cun consisted of about 80 studios, where international and Chinese artists lived and worked, sometimes exhibited and performed in the thoroughfares and studios.
I moved in mid 2005 until suddenly just before Christmas 2009 was informed that the compound was to be destroyed to make way for the new Subway Line 15.
January 2010 found me in a heavy snowfall in Beijing packing up my goods and chattels in a freezing studio while searching for another place to go. I am ever grateful to Photographer Gao Yuan opening her home for me to stay for the two week duration.
My dear friend Zheng Xuewu, now living in New York, was at the time restructuring his AIR Program in the Art Village of Songzhuang. He offered me a studio at the 60 Art Area compound.
I had first been introduced to the Art Village in 2003 through the Chinese Cultural Centre a Tourism Company offering a wide range of experiences for internationals. It was a bus tour to visit artists in a district that seemed to take forever to arrive.
Beijing currently has 6 Ring Roads, 1st is the perimeter of the Imperial Palace and the 6th skirts the outside edge of the Beijing International Airport. BIAC was located North East of the outer edge of the 5th Ring Road. 60 Art Area is located South East of the outer edge of the 6th Ring Road. By public transport a distance 3 hours OR 25 Kms as the crow flies.
Warrandyte is approximately 25 kms from Melbourne CBD and I can take a 50 minute bus ride into the city. Songzhuang is approximately 25kms from Beijing CBD and I could take a 1 hour bus ride into the city. I rationalised my shift in this way as many people found Songzhuang to be ‘too far away’.
The ebb and flow of life in a Beijing studio continued and being located in a smaller compound of about 20 studios allowed for a greater focus on production and being more selective regarding city and gallery visits.
In September 2018 I was advised that the studio roof needed replacing due to a few incidents around Beijing of poorly constructed roofs. Fortunately I could bypass Beijing on my return from Gwangju in Korea to cover and shift artworks and furniture to minimise exposure to the elements.
The roof had not been replaced when I returned for my Winter residence in January 2019 and the other artists were unsure when it would occur. Being due to leave on 17th March I was informed on 10th March that my contract would not be renewed and was asked to leave. Now that was a surprise. My good friends Lu Si and Jia Jingjing negotiated with the owner for me to have at least 3 months to move out. Seems the owner had decided to reconstruct the interior of the building while the new roof was being installed. He had plans to create small apartments for rental and “it is all about the money” he said. As I had been one of his best tenants I was given 3 months grace.
Many friends asked, “where to now”. My reply, “nowhere”. I made the decision to close down the studio, give away as much as possible with regard to furniture, fittings and equipment, find storage for the artwork, then decide on the next step.
For two weekends in May and June 2019 a team of friends assisted me to clear all but the internal shell of the studio. Ten years in a studio amounts to a lot of ‘stuff’. I was AIR in Wuhan in South of China and was given leave to pack up the studio but had to return on Mondays. We all agreed it was absolutely exhausting.
Lu Si stayed on in the aftermath to coordinate the finalization of the clearance.
Yesterday I returned to the scene. Lu Si has set up an AIR Studio across the street from 60 Art Area and it was such a pleasure to see many of my ‘things’ having a new life, even the timber flooring from my mezzanine. My old studio is now four apartments, each apartment will cost the tenant the same amount that it cost me per year. So the owner now gets four times the money, when he gets the tenants, of course.
For this China trip Jingjing offered for me to stay in her new apartment in Shunyi area, I am sitting here on my old lounge suite, looking at my old bookcase, eating at my old table and using my old fridge with contentment.
My artworks are secure, dust free, damp free and waiting patiently for shipment to Melbourne.
I look forward to my Survey exhibition of Chinese works in 2021 and look forward to returning to China with a changed direction.

Written as the warm sunshine melts snow.
21st January 2020

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