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Posts tagged ‘微观政治 micropolitics’

王久良 WANG Jiuliang’s mapping of landfills that encircle Beijing.

location: “中国箱包之都 China Luggage & Bag Capital”
Baigou Industrial City, Baoding, Hebei Province
date: 5-6 January 2012

It is said that Beijingers’ vicinity to the imperial seat (both past and, ahem…present) means that they don’t know much about how to really do anything, as serving the government—or at least falling heavily shadowed in its midst—means that you do not really have to make your own living, nor can you cheat too far astray from the one that’s been allotted to you (think, in contrast, of those wild rebel producers in Guangdong [2]). The Beijinger’s belly is big, it’s got swagger like that and stands for a certain slow pace of life unlike the typical notion of an urban persona. So where we had previously held some romantic vision of an action-packed urban exploration, venturing out again this winter we realise that such adventure has less to do with sleek and agile black-clad intrigue than a questioning of what the making of urbanity really means here in Beijing, the capital city of not-knowing-how-to-do-much.

The second floor workspace of
红海棠皮具有限公司 Honghaitang Leather Goods Company, Ltd.

A visit to a friend of QU’s luggage and bag factory was compelled by curiosity and surprise, for such industrial production in Beijing is rare, but what we thought would be the outskirts of Beijing turned out to be Hebei province, surrounding Beijing on all sides like a seventh or eighth ring, traceable by desolate farmlands, landfills and, yes… production. 白沟镇 Baigou village, approximately three and a half hours from HomeShop by bus or subway and long-distance coach, once fell under the jurisdiction of 高碑店市 Gaobeidian city (not to be confused with the 高碑店 Gaobeidian of fake antique furniture fame in eastern Beijing), but for some unknown reason has in latter years been re-territorialised as part of the 保定市 Baoding municipality, a city historically well-known for being a site of minor victory over the Japanese during the occupation in the 30s. Baigou was in fact once called 白狗, but this unflattering name (meaning “white dog”) was later changed to 白沟, and from the trenches of this small village farmers were engaged as early as the 70s in 副业 sideline work in bag manufacturing as part of the communists’ organising of 生产队 production units across the country.

LIU Lei’s mother can still remember the time when her family grew vegetables on their land, but she says that by the time of the reform and opening up at the end of the decade many farms already sat fallow as the shift from farmer to manufacturer grew, like the design of fashionable bags, more and more intense. There is perhaps a mutual feeling of 没办法 for those farmers who leave their land to make better fortunes as businessmen and migrant workers (“如果没土地了,怎么办?开三轮,开小商店,你什么能力都没有只能打工咯,没办法 Without land, what are you supposed to do? Drive a motor-taxi, open a small shop, or if you don’t have any skills whatsoever you can only be a laborer, what other way is there?”), and those who are forcibly evicted by developers with petty compensation (“一千一亩就等于抢走的 1,000 yuan per mu is basically like being robbed”), but at the end of a long description of a violent protest incident in Baoding last summer, where around 1,000 farmers occupied a highway in protest of unfair compensation for their land (“你能怎么地?上访?你走不出保定,走不出河北,更到不了北京。 What are you gonna do? Make appeals to authorities? You won’t be able to get past Baoding [municipality], you won’t get to Hebei [provincial authoritiy], and don’t even think about Beijing.”), LIU Lei’s father cannot help but smile embarrassedly that their family’s luggage and bag factory has benefited from the state-directed urbanisation of Baigou. Family-run production units-cum-full-fledged businesses grew steadily in the 80s, and LIU Lei’s family joined mid-decade with her mother and father making bags themselves and other relatives in the family traveling as far as Sichuan to sell their ready-made stock. The conglomerated efforts of the families of Baigou (majority Han Chinese with a large population of 回族 Hui minority peoples) began to attract tradesmen to the village itself, and the LIU family no longer had to travel; their bags sold quickly from the aluminum rack stands they set up in the village market.

With support from continued urban development initiatives like the 白沟新城经济社会发展居 Baigou New City Socio-Economic Development Bureau and the 保定白沟箱包产业生产力促进中心 Baoding Baigou Luggage and Bag Industry Productive Force Promotion Center, Baigou has risen to become Hebei province’s only nationally supported and monitored economic zone, with factories like that of the LIU’s producing around 1,000+ bags daily. Supported by the labour of between 70 and 100 employees from neighboring provinces like Henan and Gansu, the 2-story factory the LIU family built on land they purchased from a developer for approximately 100,000 yuan/mu (1/6 of an acre) has now been renovated with an additional floor of worker dormitories, and the price of the land has jumped to 4 or 500,000 yuan/mu. Whilst the real estate bubble is finally finding its friction in the mega-cities of Beijing or Shanghai, it is clear to LIU Lei’s family that there is still a lot more room to grow in Baigou. Keen city-developer relationships keep the dust flying under the many cranes that hang over the landscape, and the influx of new residents and labourers from other areas pumps the village population from 100,000 to 4 or 500,000. 22 year-old LIU Lei’s web savvy and English abilities give the Honghaitang company a whole new sphere of possibility, and supported by the government’s sponsorship of half of their Alibaba membership fees, a single family in Baigou is able to place itself on an international map of production and consumption.

Honghaitang‘s showroom is located on the third floor of the second phase building of
白沟箱包交易城 Baigou Bags and Cases Trading Market

 Where geographers define urban construction as “the key mechanism of local state building” [3], LIU Lei’s father says simply, “发展的意思就是盖一个楼 Development here just means building a building“, and their factory is the most concrete evidence of it. But what we must consider here are the complex forces that push a “state-led urbanisation” into a very real dynamic with the local level, whether that be through the fist of 城管 chéngguăn bullying farmers from their land or local families joining together to purchase land instead of buying from 外地 wàidì developers. As such, territorial strategies occur both top-down and from the ground-up, “as much a tool of resistance as of dominance.” [4]

No conclusions yet… to be continued.

This is urban exploration number three, part of what will be a continuing series of minor drifts and journeys into the making of the city. If you are interested to join future outings or have suggestions for one, please send a note of interest to lianxi[at]homeshop[dot]org[dot]cn.

[1]The retroactive numbering instated here places the previous activities of a visit to Jackson Hole, Beijing and the rePLACE Beijing project respectively as the first two urban explorations.
[2]As considered based upon north-south cultural differences, Cantonese identity and 公民意识 civil consciousness discussed during a dialogue on Cantonese culture and media, October 2011.
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[3]Hsing, You-tien. “Territoriality and Space Production in China“. Cross-Currents, No. 1. December, 2011.
NOTE: All facts reported in this text are not verified and come strictly from narratives told by the LIU family during the Baigou urban exploration. For more academically reliable information regarding the transformation of the urban environment in China, we can recommend the first issue of Cross-Currents e-journal, or please explore on your own.
photo by GAO Ling

After trying to begin to write for quite a long time now, it finally comes down to seeing no other simple way to begin but with all the complexity of ‘I’, which means that proper reading and research are lacking enough to make one unable to (attempt) to pursue a more objective line of reasoning and/or explanation. In all honesty, the last months have dried up words, and parched like this city, thoughts do not find language in balanced cycle. Even the pronouns don’t dance as much as they used to, as per those (known for) past avoidances of the reflexive pronoun, and I wonder which particular subjectivities have been lost along the way.

I think about the past often, but I’m not so nostalgic.

Where does this ‘I’ come from, this ‘I’ that has somehow come in the last years, across particular oceans and with the looking back upon those far fallen bridges? There is a loathsome identity game going on here, and recent events have triggered repeated keywords, or perhaps it’s simply grammar.

‘I’ cannot separate from this question of what ‘this’ is, but where we were led astray during the conversation was the point at which things needed to be named, where it matters how we define [定义] a certain audience, forms of art-making, goals and Five-Year Plans. The fact is that I don’t want things to fit so easily into well-written descriptions, institutions or fixed modes of communication.

Communication, or art, for that matter, does not occur in ‘I’ alone, or even by mere grammar. The signifieds are too complex these days, like Hollywood hoaxes piled upon political ones. The politics exist in representation as much as in our language, and ‘I’ should get confused with ‘we’ or ‘she’ or ‘he’ much more often than it does, perhaps.

Name Game

If the only thing to be trusted is individuality’s subjectivity, then being divided (split-off) is not the self but the system; it is a form of becoming precipitated by a fissure in the system. [1]

– 麦巅 MAI Dian

Some friends at Womenjia Youth Autonomy Lab [“我们家”青年自治中心] in Wuhan recently had one of their texts re-translated at China Study Group, and what strikes me most is the need for a rethinking of terms amidst the proliferation of #tags# and “elevator pitches”. In the same moment that some may ask us for more clarity in explaining a practice, or a work, it becomes also useful to note when the omittance of certain signifieds allows a form of agency that cannot be practiced otherwise.

The Womenjia Youth Autonomy Lab describes itself thus on its Douban page with a question mark, and this, as shown in his text, is fraught with all the layers of subjective and objective dilemma that come with giving “the house a name”:

So long as you put forth the effort, physical space will arrive rather easily, and transformation will proceed smoothly. What we didn’t expect was that the moment we hung up the sign with the word “autonomous,” everyday social relations would have to be redefined. From that moment onward, the destructive and constructive sides of change began to collide with each other. New relations have no blueprint. [2]

Words like ‘I’, ‘community’, ‘representation’ and some of their possible outputs—’we’, ‘society’,  ‘art’ and ‘media’—exist likewise in constantly shifting relation. This occurs at the level of semantics but also in the means with which we can create those outputs. I think we somehow failed to get to this in all the discussions of ‘alternative practice’ that have gone on lately [3], and this is also why it may be quite tricky to look at such researches (at least contemporarily) as anything more than an index, or a means of self-reflection.

This goes back to the ‘I’, and of course, its evil partner ‘other’. Alternative arts practices and many other forms of cultural production in China are catalysed to a great degree by ‘the foreign others’, and this can be explained largely by matters of economy, varied forms of thinking of agency and initiative, as well as, at a larger scale, ideas about what ‘DIY’ or ‘politics’ mean (and where they coincide). Media finds itself intertangled within all of this, from the rhetoric of finding Chinese origins for Western initiatives [西学中原], to the politics of representation and yes, language. This tends to be frustrating or opaque-rendering for those seeking forms of lateral exchange, and a lot of the time, well, the vocabularies are just too different. This is not to say that nothing can be exchanged, but we should be careful of what ulterior motives drive seemingly open-ended discourse. Desire is rarely so easy as the statement ‘I want you’, and more often than not, “the ‘tragedy’ that is love is simply laughed at”. [4]

I’m circling around here. After cynicism about cultural exchange, more recent topics that have come up as possible focuses for our next publication include translatability, opacity, ballsy. It sounds vague, but I trust that we are already in the same vein. At the same time, we are thinking about how different forms of media we utilise can be better refined to address the who, what, where, why and when we would like to communicate. This is why I am relieved and re-struck to refer to DYAC again, albeit from the somewhat sophomoric attempt of our own Beiertiao Leaks. This very slow day newspaper was a first attempt from our new home base at Beixinqiao to organise a form of media that is participatory, multiplicitous and public. It is not an equal exchange. But, as Michael says, it’s “a conversation starter”.

All of this rambling, likewise, is a kind of conversation starter. For HomeShop and for optimistic efforts to understand the juxtapositions between language, art and politics. “最正经的如「政治」,并不是理所当然的政党与特殊利益集团的国家治理,甚至法西斯极权,它更是我们作为一个有主体性的人参与社会关系的建设…” Politics not as in the “state administration by parties or special interest groups,” but as “our participation as subjects in the construction of social relations”—a kind of grammar, perhaps—involving more than one pronoun. [5]


[1]  麦巅 MAI Dian. “复制抑或连接:两个亚洲人飞往欧洲 To Copy or to Connect: Two Asians Fly to Europe”.  穿 Wear, No. 2. 家作坊 HomeShop: 北京 Beijing, 2010年.
[2] 唐水恩 TANG Shui’en. “一个小朋克的基础另类教育 The Alternative Education of a Chinese Punk”. First printed in Chutzpah!. Shao Foundation: 北京 Beijing, 2009年. Translated to English by www.libcom.org, and later revised by 猢狲子 HUSUNZI at China Study Group.
[3] I refer here to the alternative arts practices in China as having been recently discussed by a number of critics and researchers, including Edward SANDERSON, Clara KIM, 蔡影茜 Nikita CHOI and The Office for Art and Theory (刘鼎 LIU Ding and 卢迎华 Carol Yinghua LU).
[4] 唐水恩 TANG Shui’en, “一个小朋克的基础另类教育 The Alternative Education of a Chinese Punk”.
[5] ibid.

Thursday, 23 December 2010
from 10 am until press time, hurrah to follow

为 了庆祝家作坊成功移师交道口北二条, 我们诚邀您加入我们为期一天的报纸制作工作坊,与我们分享您生活中大大小小的新鲜事儿。作为初来乍到的新人,我们对于自己所 处的环境——北新桥这一带也不太熟悉,希望您能与我们一起来认识认识这附近的街坊四邻。

12月23日,星期四,新的家作坊将变成一个集讨论,编辑与印刷于一处的热闹场所。我们将出版一张具有我们独特作坊风格的大 幅双面报纸,其中了包含了我们所处的胡同中最新,最劲爆的新闻。


重大新 闻与北二条泄密、社论、艺术评论与社评、金融、体育、家居与烹饪、八卦、星象学、天气

编辑室将从早上10点开始开放,我们将在晚上免费发放丝网印刷报纸。您可以全天参与我们的活动或只是稍作逗 留。您可以加入到我们的各项活 动来,包括报道、翻译、平面设计与印刷。间休时间编辑室备有饮料和小吃。


In celebration of the big news that HomeShop has relocated to Jiaodaokou Beiertiao, we’d like to invite you to come by and share your big or small news story with us for a one-day newspaper production workshop. As the newcomers on the block, we are just beginning to learn the latest comings and goings of the Beixinqiao crowd, and we’d like you to visit and get to know the neighbours with us.

On Thursday, the 23rd of December, the new HomeShop will become a site for the discussion, editing and printing of a broadsheet to reveal the latest local news with the flair of our own homegrown media production.

Your presence and input are requested for the following columns:

breaking news and Beiertiao leaks, editorial, art and society reviews, finance, sports, home and cooking, gossip, astrology, classifieds, weather

The editorial room will be open from 10 a.m. until late, and by the end of the evening we will hand out silkscreen copies of the edition for free distribution and posting. Come by for a short visit or stay all day —— join the press room in any of our departments: reportage, translation, graphic design and printing. Drinks and snacks will be available for break time.

Organic vegetables for break time provided by Little Donkey Farm.

The protracted last few weeks have been pinpointed by gradually diminishing sets of binaries wrought with tension, spectacle and amazing footwork. Of course, for the less than fanatic, it may be easy to toss it all off to them and let them deal with their own battles. It’s not on our turf, where the West’s enormous chatter of the postcolonial “have not planted roots in the deep soil of Chinese culture (没有在中国文化的深厚土壤中扎下根).” But Brother GAO still loves football, and he broadcasts every game he can, live from his home simultaneous to his daily stereo sounds of Teresa TENG at Xiaojingchang number 6. Chinese football may not show as much signs of promise as its art world, yet both are intertwined with “an unprecedentedly complex cultural atmosphere flooded with paradoxes (一个空前复杂、充斥着悖论的文化境遇)” and conflict. Binaries, perhaps? Is it the East vs. West question that critics such as 许江 XU Jiang and 高士明 GAO Shiming are tired of, or simply the West? Who wears the jersey of the “monotonous cultural other (一个单调的文化他者)”?

Tonight is an exception of the third option. Old man ZHANG says it’s too late to party, but our longitude outside of prime time means that the spectacle must find other subjectivities. The third place is runner up in the exceptional case, when winners are unable to fulfill their duties. To play this role is a flailing response to the call of face, unavoidable obligation whether anybody cares or not. Spectacle unseen, it can only be personal. QU says that desire is the necessary first step that he can admire due to his own lack, but inefficacy mated with desire is a flailing third place, one can do no other.

Documentation is a justification for the things that do not appear, or do not appear to be so. We may enter the space of the event, but what takes place? Is this personal or public (her questions explode artistic catharsis as a question of an indifferent socius)? I watched the third place game of the World Cup alone in the street in the middle of the night as a sort of subjective gesture of out-of-placeness. What Pelin TAN calls this “un-relation to space” is still a question of relation, however, albeit one with increasing suspicion of its rupture. “…what needs to be accomplished can fail. Micropolitics, affective politics, seeks the degrees of openness of any situation, in hopes of priming an alter-accomplishment.” (Brian Massumi)

Is the third place an alter-accomplishment? Is being out of context a monotonous cultural alterity? Are you really happy about that?


(in mind, and thank you: 安静 Lee, 曲一箴 QU and sportsbabel)

re-jigging around the interruption. a compelling incompleteness. this must be the place.

When you start in-between, what you’re in the middle of is a region of relation. Occurrent relation, because it’s all about event. Putting the terms together, you realize straight away that the relational event will play out differently every time. In repeating, it takes up the past differently. In taking up the past differently, it creates new potentials for the future. The region of occurrent relation is a point of potentiation. It is where things begin anew. Where things begin anew is where they were already present in tendency.

JM: Then what precedes the event? What gives rise to it?
BM: Shock. That’s what Peirce says. Affect for me is inseparable from the concept of shock. It doesn’t have to be a drama. It’s really more about microshocks, the kind that populate every moment of our lives. For example a change in focus, or a rustle at the periphery of vision that draws the gaze toward it. In every shift of attention, there is an interruption, a momentary cut in the mode of onward deployment of life. The cut can pass unnoticed, striking imperceptibly, with only its effects entering conscious awareness as they unroll. This is the onset of the activation I was referring to earlier. I’d go so far as to say that this onset of experience is by nature imperceptible.

This is one way of understanding “microperception,” a concept of great importance to Deleuze and Guattari. Microperception is not smaller perception; it’s a perception of a qualitatively different kind. It’s something that is felt without registering consciously. It registers only in its effects. According to this notion of shock, there is always a commotion under way, a “something doing” as James would say. There is always a something-doing cutting in, interrupting whatever continuities are in progress. For things to continue, they have to re-continue. They have to re-jig around the interruption. At the instant of re-jigging, the body braces for what will come. It in-braces, in the sense that it returns to its potential for more of life to come, and that potential is immanent to its own arising.

It might not sound political, at least in the way it’s usually meant. But it is, because the virtuality is of an event to come, and as we saw before the event always has the potential to affectively attune a multiplicity of bodies to its happening, differentially. Aesthetic politics brings the collectivity of shared events to the fore, as differential, a multiple bodily potential for what might come. Difference is built into this account. Affective politics, understood as aesthetic politics, is dissensual, in the sense that it holds contrasting alternatives together without immediately demanding that one alternative eventuates and the others evaporate. It makes thought-felt different capacities for existence, different life potentials, different forms of life, without immediately imposing a choice between them. The political question, then, is not how to find a resolution. It’s not how to impose a solution. It’s how to keep the intensity in what comes next. The only way is through actual differentiation. Different lines of unfolding bring the contrast into actuality, between them. The political question is then what Isabelle Stengers calls an “ecology of practices.” How do you tend this proliferation of differentiation? How can the lines not clash and destroy each other? How do they live together? The “solution” is not to resolve the tension through a choice, but to modulate it into a symbiosis: a cross-fertilization of capacitations that live out to the fullest the intensity of the event of their coming together.

There’s a certain incompleteness to any micropolitical event, like the events I was talking about. A lot of things that you feel were on the verge of taking shape didn’t quite happen. Potentials that you could just glimpse didn’t come into focus. The goal is not to overcome the incompleteness. It’s to make it compelling. Compelling enough that you are moved to do it again, differently, bringing out another set of potentials, some more formed and focused, others that were clearly expressed before now backgrounded. That creates a small, moveable environment of potential. The goal is to live in that moveable environment of potential. If you manage to, you will avoid the paralysis of hopelessness. Neither hope nor hopelessness—a pragmatics of potential. You have to live it at every level. In the way you relate to your partner, and even your cat. The way you teach a class if you’re a professor. The way you create and present your art if you’re an artist. If you participate in more punctual events like the ones I was describing, this will provide a continuous background for what comes of those events to disseminate into and diffuse through. A symbiosis of the special event and the day-to-day, in creative connivance.

Micropolitics is not programmatic. It doesn’t construct and impose global solutions. But it would be naïve to think that is separate from that kind of macro-activity. Anything that augments powers of existence creates conditions for micropolitical flourishings. No body flourishes without enough food and without health care. Micropolitical interventions need macro solutions. But success at the macropolitical level is at best partial without a complementary micropolitical flourishing. Without it, the tendency is toward standardization. Since macropolitical solutions are generally applicable by definition, by definition they act to curtail the variety and exuberance of forms of life. Macropolitical intervention targets minimal conditions of survival. Micropolitics complements that by fostering an excess of conditions of emergence. That inventiveness is where new solutions start to crystallize. The potentials produced at the micropolitical level feed up, climbing the slope that macropolitics descends. Micropolitical and macropolitical go together. One is never without the other. They are processual reciprocals. They aliment each other. At their best, they are mutually corrective.

It has become a commonplace recently to say that we are in a situation where the end of the world is now imaginable—but the end of capitalism isn’t. That is definitely one “solution” that is not likely to come programmatically, top-down— given who’s on top. The dismantling of capitalism is a “corrective” that will only come from a breaking of the reciprocity I was just talking about between the macro- and micropolitical. The prevailing operating conditions of macro/micropolitical reciprocity should not be taken to imply that the symmetry is never broken, that a bifurcation can never occur. The complementarity can be broken in both directions. When macrostructures miniaturize themselves and work to usurp the ground of the micropolitical with scaled-down versions of the dominant generalities, that is fascism. When micropolitical flourishings proliferate to produce a singularity, in the sense of a systemic tipping point, that’s revolution. The ultimate vocation of micropolitics is this: enacting the unimaginable. The symmetry-breaking point, the point at which the unimaginable eventuates, is but a cut, “smaller” than the smallest historically perceivable interval. That is to say, qualitatively different. A moment of a different color, one you never see coming, that comes when it’s least expected. Inevitably, a next micro/macro complementarity will quickly settle in. But it will take a form that could not have been predicted, but is now suddenly doable and thinkable. Micropolitics is what makes the unimaginable practicable. It’s the potential that makes possible.

–Brian Massumi, Of Microperception and Micropolitics

If this question of what we do and who we are must persist, if i must excuse myself for being an artist or being a designer or explain where the (any) money is coming from, then let us turn it into a discussion and practice at once, in process. We have been looking at HomeShop, ourselves, the general context, what we are doing and what we would like to do. All of these questions are tainted by labels, the disjunctures of what we believe versus what/how things are, or how they should be presented, or perhaps if i were to tell you how i really feel you wouldn’t understand anyway, or, they are all my own failures in communication. Language is weak and inadequate.

That said, I begin this conversation with a series of descriptions, rather as a series of self-composed (from the archive of all influences, inspirations, histories and desires) groundings for what may come. HomeShop is our space, moreso a thinking-acting process, i would like to say juxtaposed upon a series of precipices that mark a critical moment of exchange, or, a spinning in the revolving door. It could be the point where one label takes over another, what was thought to be is art is not, how one understands community is mistaken. How one organises things, mentally or at the work table, becomes our most crucial, ahem, point of order, the pivot between now and tomorrow, relationality, design for life. Design is about organisation as it is about choice, and if we should coordinate things with forethought to the future, or with an idea of how we relate to our surroundings, then perhaps we could imagine design and aesthetics as a micropolitical climate by which a day-to-day ethics occur. We are designers and artists and theorists and politicians. Nothing absurd at all.

To get anywhere with the concept, you have to retain the manyness of its forms. It’s not something that can be reduced to one thing. Mainly because it’s not a thing. It’s an event, or a dimension of every event. What interests me in the concept is that if you approach it respecting its variety, you are presented with a field of questioning, a problematic field, where the customary divisions that questions about subjectivity, becoming, or the political are usually couched in do not apply.

— Brian Massumi, “Of Microperception and Micropolitics

We try to learn more about where rivers flow into lakes. Sustainability as a question of time, of slow persistence, of finding one’s own rhythms amidst enormous disparity, a Gini coefficient or a biological clock. How time relates to organisation is a kind of lifelong project, the 江湖 of HomeShop as a kind of “alternative practice”. There again, those attempts at description that feel sheepish, but let us say again that these things refer always back to the things we are doing everyday, making with hands, absorbing with eyes and ears and heart. Big brother and his wife got into a fight yesterday, and one cannot help but be coaxed out of house to try to try to nose in on the rising tension on our little street. It becomes a community affair, although Taotao’s dad says it’s “家务的事” (a household matter). Rivers flow into lakes. We try as we can to describe, as much as shape, the passing of time. This is the manyness of the event as we experience it or produce it, and such continual reciprocation is the very becoming of the project itself.

Part and parcel of a response to questions from someone else a while back, part and parcel of what it feels to be rejected, what it feels to be angry, frustrated, unwanted… but maybe, oh maybe, motivated. An all-in-one.

As far as how I frame these projects… it is, to be quite honest, a rather tricky question. When my neighbours know that I am an artist, does anything that I initiate count as “art”? Or, if they have an understanding of “art” to mean oil paintings and wealthy galleries in the 798 arts distict of Beijing, are the things that I do as artist “not really art”? This is an age-old question already, fired off long before Duchamp, before the modernists, before the anything “next”, the non-traditional, the “new”.

Hmm… pretentious? 虚伪?

Last week, her question of the week: “Does ‘alternative’ also mean ‘minority’?”

In regards to such categorization, presentation, or address, I think we can embrace and understand the need for multiplicities of thought and approach. On one hand, this is for me an artistic endeavor, and if asked to explain it theoretically, it seems natural for me to do so, in all my impracticality, from an artistic standpoint. But amidst the sharing of something with someone during the moment of exchange/creation, it also lies beside the point to think about how we should label it. While such labels are important, too, it is in actuality that these are crucial in all places outside of the work itself, e.g., in terms of its marketing, presentation, and documentation.

So where does the ART of the artwork lie? This is a question we can ask of any artist, a la art school 101, but given the current contexts it comes again that one should justify oneself against the concreteness of the “product”. Is this really the case? Amidst the artfulness of the downfall of financial capital, what materialisms must we still rely upon? You might say that domestic interactions in China are less affected by such crisis, but we cannot neglect a reconsideration of where the artfulness of the thing is. (Do we get into a question of virtuosity here?)

Can we talk about transaction anymore these days? If the very nature of the exchange itself should determine the material and form of the artwork, are we talking about economies or aesthetics? What is social work? Is human interaction a question for within a museum, within the public sphere, or within politics? In which one do we participate?

Of an art which is created of such interaction and participation, we look to it as a “third thing”, possibly a positive externality outside of you and I both, but created by you and I. This is not necessarily a clarity of approach. What is 含蓄 is outside and inside, a weaving——containing and embodied yet implicit, veiled. “We give appearance,” he says.

We start to learn and recognize things in one another that we had not noticed before. In our own neighbourhood first, but also by reflecting a global position back onto the local. By adding value to such things that where we had not before, we could consider transaction beyond the monetary, but also not merely as a nostalgia. This is a creative process. There is a social capital and a cultural capital involved here. And maybe——just maybe——we could begin here, at the level of community, to understand the possibilities of a micropolitical capital.

Michael writes to Hu Fang: “We enjoy the space between being ‘in the know’ and simply being attentive to one’s social environment where the unexpected may occur, setting up an interaction that will provide a meaningful communication, ‘loading the decks’.”


Over a meal with QU and Xiao, Qu asks about this paper we are writing. I try to say “micropolitics” in Chinese. He asks, “How can there be politics in the hutong? There is no politics (政治 zhengzhi, in Chinese) between the people in this yard. Politics is something from above; it’s government.” So we try to find a Chinese equivalent of our English sense of the word ‘politics’. We come to ‘relations’, ‘neighbourhood interconnections’, something along these lines… In thinking about it, he recalls for us the story of two other neighbours getting into a huge dispute last year, whereby one neighbour, a 70 year-old woman, tried to build a small coal shed in front of her home, thus making the ‘public’ corridor narrower — a nuisance to the other household who would have to pass it everyday. When the woman went ahead and had workers build the shed for her, the husband of the other family took a hammer and smashed it down. She had the workers build it up again. As the workers carried out their job, the husband began a brawl with them, and the police and chengguan were finally called in to intervene. Yes, a micropolitics of interpersonal relations. A politics inevitably linked to power and space. One becomes the other. Does this serve as a screen for something? A filter for something larger or smaller? I worry about applicability, have fallen into the postmodern traps. And noticed yesterday that you have been identified as a postmodern philosopher… so tell me, under fog of screen and language, how can anything be translated anymore?