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Posts tagged ‘笔记 notes’

april 2010

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summer 2011

april 2014

即兴MV:White Hinterland乐队的“Vessels” (或者叫“家作坊的冬天”)
“Vessels” by White Hinterland, an instant music video (or, HomeShop in winter)

This comes in the after effects of our reading group discussing Claire Bishop today, a contestable figure in the realm of participatory art practices today, we fall in and out of line. We discussed quite a bit about the different politics of maker/audience relations, the possibilities and limitations of criticism (or the lack thereof) amidst the alternating roles of curator, artist and audience. Whether it’s about critique or pure naiveté, what necessarily emerges in this triangulation is the question of community. Who is speaking to whom, and does that relationship generate community, make it elitist, or raise propositions to completely unpredictable others? We move from the Argentinians who use socially engaged art to motivate participants to push forward in the realm of the socio-political, to the Eastern Europeans and Russians who evade the directly political for a meta-political alter-realm of the sensible, to ourselves. Dialogue evinces a form of self-reflexivity that cannot conceptualize self without other, a 对方. Is that 对 antagonistic, or, like the best love letter i ever received, simply… “Yes.”? 对 Duì, in that Chinese sensibility, pragmatic, like its ‘寸 hand’ on the right and in the traditional 對, where on the left 业 industry stands over 王 rulership. Our being in place is oppositional, but insofar that we do in order to be relative to others (power). And if those power struggles are not finite, we have a form of agonism that does not value one way over an other, but in its perpetual instability, the way itself. This ‘way‘ is meta-politics, it is aesthetics, and perhaps, it is from here the beginning of a research into style. Style here cannot be separately conceived from its actors or audiences, and perhaps, it may be one of the last remaining realms where the spectator possesses the most valuable rights of critique towards an author who does not see him/herself (is that democratic?). So who is the curator here? The media, the mob, or the system itself? That which cannot be critiqued in and of itself is power, is the stampede sparked by inadvertent incident, where action supersedes any one intention or attempt to communicate. Style is only manifestation, it is the superficialness of the masses, it is a form of representation that both critiques (bitchy) and evades critique (inessential). So to go from there, it seems possible to start from two cultural forms of analysis: one, fashion and semiotics, starting from Barthes and moving forward, and then, translation as a mediator of meaning. Maybe thereafter, something more spiritually or politically charged, but that will come upon further introspection of what that “we” really meantUntil then…

“Ray studies English, Orianna studies Chinese”, an instant educational video by Céline LAMÉE (“HomeShop, a contemporary tower of Babel, where, in the enthusiasm of learning each other’s languages, strange new lifeforms of languages emerge…“)

This text was originally written in 2011 for 艺术世界 Art World magazine and quietly rejected, left as random thoughts in my computer somewhere, dusty. But recent considerations of performance for a few upcoming activities at HomeShop led me to do a bit of copy-pasting here now, one year later,  just a thought.


.黎巴嫩贝鲁特市 Beirut, Lebanon. April 2011.

I’m not entirely sure whether he directed his garbled shouting at us especially for the sake of our foreignness, or if perhaps he slurs that cocktail of memory, pride and political anger in all directions all the time, but anyhow, that afternoon my companions and I happened to serve well as the fresh, naîve ears to stop and pay him attention. He sat in a wooden chair on a street corner in the middle of the Armenian neighbourhood of Beirut, and a little girl wearing a bubblegum-coloured sweater and two fluffy pink decorated pigtails stood tucked into the embrace of his wildly gesticulating presence.

He caught sight of us quickly and beckoned us over; she seemed completely indifferent except for the potato chips that inspired her slow repeated movements from the bag to her mouth. Next to them was a covered 三轮车 three-wheel cart with a black plastic bag on top of it. Not really to hide anything, probably mostly out of convenience, the bag contained one bottle of water and one bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label. Most conveniently, just within his arm’s reach stood a full glass of Klashinkof’s (pronounced like the gun) afternoon aperitif.

Despite his broken English, Klashinkof’s words shot out quickly and fiercely as his name implied, and the little war created by this ranting scene was made all the more extreme by the slow-motion softness of a round-faced little girl eating potato chips and a white cat with one blue eye and the other green, circling around them stealthily like a protective friend or a too-obvious spy.

Over the course of a few minutes, Klashinkof’s banter jumped from colourful quips about the nature of human life (“In the world there is two kinds of holes: you come out from your mother, and the next one, you go down. Two holes.“) to nostalgia over his acting days, Lebanese politics and religious jokes. We find out later that Klashinkof is known by many Beirutis already, his notoriety extending much further than the small radius of this little corner in the Bourj Hammoud area where he lives, works (mafia turned actor turned fish vendor, apparently) and drinks. A friend who also lives in the neighbourhood describes him as “a bold man—fearless, crazy, a specimen of what could be left from the times when Lebanon was full of fearless militias who could talk freely and yell in their own street and region. [The only difference is that] he doesn’t carry a gun anymore. But his hair is still combed back with gel typical of a street boy who tries to seduce women.”

Of course Klashinkof is a performer. And our fascination with him as visitors in an unfamiliar neighbourhood stems at least in part from his ability to attract our attention with his charisma, extravagance and extremity. On an everyday corner in an everyday neighbourhood, we find just a little bit of craziness. And that’s always memorable, now isn’t it?

Why is it that we always tend to forget the banal and remember the extravagant? This cannot be an entirely true statement, of course, because otherwise we would not even be able to remember routines, the people we see on a daily basis or even the days of the week. Both are considered long-term memory, but there is a strong distinction in their qualities, of which cognitive scientists classify as either procedural memory (eg., habits and learned skills like reading or bicycle riding) or declarative (memories that must be cognitively recalled, and can be spoken or written about). We could say that procedural memory may generally describe those banal forms of long-term memory in that they are repetitive and, therefore, carry less emotion in their recollection. Declarative memory, however is often highly implicated with emotion (studies show that thematically induced emotional stimuli aid in the memory of events), and going back to Klashinkof, it’s no wonder that his passionate sentiments were able to carve a strong memory for me and my companions.


.中国北京市 Beijing, China. June 2011.

长胡子叔叔在2011年夏天的日历餐厅做表演。Uncle Longbeard performs at the Calendar Restaurant, Summer 2011.

Back in the place where I live—which on a scale of memorability probably ranks much higher in the banality of procedural activities rather than the declarative, there is another old man who excels at shouting out in the streets, though this man does it for a living rather than out of a disgruntled attitude. Uncle Longbeard is a performer of his own culture, and he 吼卖 calls out old Beijing vendors’ songs not because he is selling anything in particular, but because he performs his own culture as an old Beijinger. He does this for money even, working at Temple Fairs and famous tea houses, but when he spontaneously comes over and sings in our courtyard for us, it is immediately obvious to whom this performance is memorable and to whom it is not. We either eat it up, feeling that authenticity has stumbled upon us, or are merely slightly amused and quickly grow inattentive. Here, what is ‘normal’, at least in terms of its familiarity with our own histories, is not worthy of the space it takes up in our brain storage, but what is ‘exceptional’ delights and leaves a strong impression.

In much the same way, our reactions to Klashinkof were much stronger than those that live in the same neighbourhood and hear his same stories everyday, but what is crucial to note here is that there is a blurry realm in between the synapses of memory, where emotion and familiarity affect our abilities to identify and recall. What happens, then, for our considerations of identity itself? We can say that identity is built from a full spectrum of memories, from the inherited ones of biology (the memory of genes) to those of society (eg., education and cultural memory). And while certain determinants of our identity may be fixed or unavoidable, like race or the social class into which we are born, what should be more carefully considered is the precarity that most of these determinants are really founded upon. To say that one is “Chinese” even, carries a myriad of complex tones and meanings depending upon one’s own associations with the concept of Chineseness. Thus our representations of any such identity can only ever be the playing out of ideas about that concept, whether or not we consciously do it, like Uncle Longbeard, or perhaps just uncontrollably express, like a wildly gesticulating drunk Armenian on a street corner in Lebanon. Judith Butler’s seminal work on gender claims that “identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results”, and the very idea of an expression occurs cognitively at the realm of the symbolic, no matter how clear the links may be or not. These symbols, taken in juxtaposition with human memory, become suddenly much more fallible, subjective constructions than the solidity we may have imagined from abstractions such as “male”, “female”, “Chinese” or even “high-class”. Of course, such ideas are long accrued concepts that stay well bolted into long-term memory, so their flexibility cannot come without a great deal of hitting against the norms of society. And we can never really opt-out of the performance of our identities, so to speak. Uncle Longbeard and Klashinkof are two players of a dying breed, whether of an old Beijing or an old Armenia. They’ve performed their roles so long there is no longer any distinction between performance and history. And that playfulness, or ambiguity, is perhaps something to consider.

The following is cross-posted from Petra JOHNSON’s original notes at 小卖部 Kiosk, first published on 9 April 2012. It is the beginning of a choreographic dialogue involving walking, gardening and “getting to know” along two parallel routes in Cologne and Beijing. You can view her route in Beijing here.

When you walk 600 strides from the North Exit of the central World Heritage Centre in both Cologne and Beijing you will find yourself at the locations shown below: The Cologne route leads diagonally over the forecourt of the main train station to the taxi rank, then it heads toward a ring road and there turns right into Marzellenstrasse. After 600 strides, you are just before a small enclave called Ursulaplatz on the opposite side of the road.

Ursulaplatz shelters one tree that hovers over a fast road and is hovered over by a railway line. The predominant sound is the droning of cars passing out of sight below, occasionally relieved by a passing train passing above.

In Beijing the route proceeds from the exit at the Northern End of the Imperial Palace just opposite Jinshang Park and turns right into the pathway along the moat. At the first junction it turns left into Jingshan West Street and runs through the small stretch of park outside the wall of Jingshan Park. Early in the morning, the predominant sound here is that of birds singing.

Elderly men have brought their pet birds contained in beautiful wooden cages for a bit if fresh air. The cages are hung on the trees and whilst the men chat amongst each other sitting on benches on the other side of the path, the birds sing in the privacy of trees, each sitting on a perch in their cage.

Last night (April, 10th) E and I compared notes. How many strides did it take to walk the respective routes? In Cologne, the route had been stretched just before I left in order to accommodate Mahira’s request to wind itself around the new mosque and the Jewish Community Centre, in Beijing the route has remained the same. I was concerned that the routes no longer matched in terms of length. Elaine had walked the Beijing route the previous night and counted 8093 strides, the Cologne route had taken me 8040 strides. There is a saying by the German writer Duerrenmatt: ‘The more careful you plan, the more opportunity you give to serendipity.” He clearly has a point. What rational explanation lies behind this surprising and pleasant discovery? I too had walked the route in Beijing and counted my strides. A quick mathematical calculation established that the ratio between our strides is 1:4.

So what seems long becomes short and the short becomes long yet everything is as it should be – as long as the planning is comprehensive and thorough. I had always thought that planning was there to prevent surprises, it turns out planning enables them.

摄影 photo courtesy of // 米店 Detour

i remember a very specifically grilling moment one night at 米店 Detour, when we brought new friends from the U.S. over for dinner, and although there existed a humour in the fact that they were sitting in the low sofa next to the window that makes guests look like shrimps across the table from us, sitting on the higher wooden bench, C asked very directly, “So what is HomeShop in a word? What’s your goal, your thing, your manifesto?” It seemed shocking at the time that one could still talk in the arousing tense of the manifesto, but it is difficult to squirm so easily from the high bench out of such forthrightness, so I tried a word:


i think my answer and explanation sufficed at the time—a thinking in terms of different reaches of time: from the passing details of an everyday to the affective time of love, collaboration and friendship, to an environmental question that reaches somewhere beyond our own lifetimes. It was a spontaneous answer compiled from previous considerations not vocalised before, but since that evening the motions of passing detail, collaboration and trying to keep up with the compost build-up have pushed manifesto-like considerations to the wayside. This has been just as 自然而然 a passing of the year though, as I learned from 2007 at Xiaojingchang, so all of the openings, miscommunications and bump-stops that we’ve experienced so far at Beixinqiao cannot be considered regretful, but it is certainly now a moment to reconsider a certain form of temporality after settling into certain other kinds of situatedness, the stickiness of labels, unwanted routines, or the hearing of gossip come round.

Why sustainability and time in a discourse that has previously been dominated by considerations of place, city and the local context? They are not unrelated, of course, but I wonder how these two could have been so independently stressed among certain historical trends of socio-cultural study, from Heidegger to Sloterdijk. Today, three films put me in a sort of stylo-anachronistic quandary, but at the same time, as works or projects, they remind us of a certain specificity of place that cannot be isolated from any form of artistic production. The first two come from CCD Workstation’s Folk Memory Project, and the third was Michael MADSEN’s Into Eternity. In both place and time and somewhere in between, I cannot help but try to place the work of our own little HomeShop.

剪图 still image from // 章梦奇 ZHANG Mengqi’s 《自画像:47公里 Self Portrait: At 47 km

The two films I saw from the Folk Memory Project were 邹雪平 ZOU Xueping’s 《吃饱的村子 Satiated Village》 and 章梦奇 ZHANG Mengqi’s 《自画像:47公里 Self Portrait: At 47 km》. Visually consistent with 吴文光 WU Wenguang’s insistence upon “100% Life, 0% Art”, the two documentaries were unprofessional, sophomore attempts to make film based upon the project call to return to one’s hometown village to document the personal experiences of senior citizens who had lived through the Great Chinese Famine between 1958-61. An explicitly historical documentation is complicated by the personal subjectivities of the filmmakers, mostly born in the 80s with no real connection to the depth of suffering undergone by their elders, who—despite being family or not—were very often unwilling to lay bare the humiliation experienced by the Chinese people. As the camera shakes or the sound is drowned out by wind in the microphone, we are moved to look past the films themselves to their significance as a project, and here we can either see 老吴 Old WU’s genius or his excellent distribution of labour (we could go further into this question in another conversation). Is this a form of looking into history to redress wrongs from the past, or is it a way to recontextualise the things gone astray in our present condition? Both are equally valid, and similar to the activist work of 艾未未 AI Weiwei, it is possible to analyse the mechanics of a microsystem that make such a consideration of time possible. Documentation is important insofar as there is  a longer conception of time, whether it be in 章梦奇 ZHANG Mengqi’s decision to edit more footage of a particular woman into her final piece because of a certain personal connection to her spirit (这个讲“气场”或者“fa’r”或者“气质”?), or if we consider the importance of a generation of memories to be lost in the propaganda of a school history book.

剪图 still image from // 《Into Eternity

After biking from 798 and coming back to the comfort of HomeShop, I passed through the ghetto set-up of black trash bags covering the windows into the completely calculated time-space of MADSEN’s documentary about the world’s first permanent nuclear waste repository located in Onkalo, Finland. The irony of design calculation to be considered in the extremely controlled camera shots, editing and beautiful composition (could only keep thinking, “how many times did they have to rehearse that shot so that his speech was perfectly timed with the lit fire of the match?”) are set in stark contrast to the gross horror of nuclear disaster and MADSEN’s questioning of the human capacity to consider life “never” or “forever” amidst the limitations of technology. Can we design for  “permanent” to preserve all future lifeforms, by a machine set into water or one deep underground, and what markers above ground could be able to communicate this? Can we trust communication or should we rather trust ourselves to the oblivion of forgetting?

摄影 photo courtesy of // 刘畅 LIU Chang & 高灵 GAO Ling

Where do we place ourselves amidst history and guesses and predictions into the future? Can time only be a point of view, and do our differences about these considerations make us unable to live together in the present? To talk about sustainability in this sense is an attempt to address different scales of time, but yes, we are limited, and there will always be something neglected despite all carefulness. HomeShop is not about “forever”, you’re right. But time is relative, and all we have to go on at this point is the concreteness of a three-year contract and the temporality implicit in any of the localities we may find ourselves at any given moment. This may be the hutong, the value and “success” of our work, or the waking up in a bad mood. How much do we let go when faced with the extremes of 大自然 and 设计生活, and is trust merely a question of time?

《革命将至 L’insurrection qui vient》, donated by 蔡凯 CAI Kai

Recent acquisitions inadvertently parallel other discussions we’ve been having lately, or trying to have, a discussion about the discussion. Sometimes things feel a bit removed, like translators talking about translation, and either we get so entrenched in our own discourses that we never reach consensus, or we play multimedia-like because we cannot escape certain distancing from ourselves.

The Anarchist Cookbook》, donated by 蔡凯 CAI Kai

After a long split, the anarchists find one another again in commiseration for their loneliness.

《香港投诉合唱团 Complaints Choir of Hong Kong》, donated by 麦巅 MAI Dian  (By coincidence, view the first mainland edition in the form of the “北京有机农夫市集吐槽歌会第一波 Beijing Organic Farmers’ Market Spitting Trough Singing Party“, premiering Saturday, 26 November)

There is a triangle here, let’s not call it love just yet, between art and language and activism—one moving each through another—but we have yet to place our subjectivities within them, even if we could say that it is our intention to implicate every stage of an aesthetico-political engagement. But here, in a system where all negotiations have been cut, “what kind of association is enough?” To 上访, to self-immolate or to break out in violence are not so much about negotiation as much as flailing demonstration, so it becomes difficult to see the usefulness of an explanation of the systemics at work, and how many people does the activist have to convince anyway before we could find ourselves on even ground?

I am not sure I know how to how politics,” the artist tells the poet. We lose ourselves in μετά. Translation and translation and translation, activism cannot escape its traps, art indulges. And yet, in commiseration for our loneliness, he mumbles quietly to me today, “我们的本地文化是什么?” Yes, we had lost ourselves over assertions, growing nations, a new space. So I’m wondering if we can go back to simple observations again, the concrete of “the good life”, another consideration of locality. Productivity (…art and language and activism…) is difficult amidst rough re-identification, but we’re thrown again, teenage angst, the revelation of freedom. The results are not external to good will, or the intention in aiming, but as the old saying goes: “Do what you must, come what may.”

木扇 wooden fan, donated by Fotini LAZARIDOU-HATZIGOGA

Even if you don’t understand my writing, the above pictured objects and less than 10,000 other items are available for lending from the HomeShop library/10,000 Item Treasury. Please drop by to browse the collection.

Now really exactly one half year after the opening of HomeShop at Jiaodaokou Beiertiao and a dense period of activity, we come to a moment of conferring to a calmer period of assessment and reflection of our efforts. This calmness may stem from the recent (though not first attempt) stalling of certain web-based initiatives by big uncles above, including this website and the rePLACE project with its upcoming Beijing launch. It becomes therefore a natural next question to consider what things may be singled out for consideration by various audiences, what sensitive words could strike the fancy of those near and far. What does it take to make you notice, oh lover, and what does it take for you not to, scannerbot? Publicity is a series of picks and reviews, wooing whispers or a keyword engine——not so much a declaration of what is right or true, but perhaps merely a way of observing, admitting preferential treatment. Let us look at introspection from the perspective of what has been spit out in the last months. May you be forewarned, although there is a subtle difference between fermentation and rotting, this is what BALLSINESS has still been mounting, ever slowly, y e s…working on it.

For now, a picklist of recently reverberating sensitivities, as told through certain key activities which put them into motion. This is not to insinuate that they are forbidden in any way, but there are consequences which, by way of their identification, we can only hope to gain a larger perspective.

我爱你家 I Love Your Home(2010年5月)

(a pop-up real estate update)

[关键词 KEYWORD: Break-up Club]
Housing prices continue to soar in Beijing after the change in property buying regulations, such that a restriction in the number of properties (two for Beijingers, one for waidiren) a family may possess in their name at one time has pushed many homeowners to raise rent incomes, meaning the city’s renters—especially now at the dawn of a mysterious moon harkening the convening of a local Break-Up Club—shall suffer ever greatly. The search for low-cost housing for these young residents moving out of ex-boyfriend/girlfriend’s flats keeps competition fast and fierce, and as HomeShop neighbour Fan laoshi explains, “There’s no need to even advertise a room for rent, because word gets out so quickly our extra room was snatched up in a day or two.”

The following is a purely speculative stream of associations made on the part of the reporter, but the recent discovery that a small storefront space at Xiaojingchang Hutong number 6 had been put back on the market may very well be attributed to such a love-afflicted dynamic. Sources reveal that the young Chinese female tenant who inhabited the space after its term as HomeShop was rarely seen, but when at home was often accompanied by a tall Western male. Now that the space has been returned to the market, we can only make further speculations as to her latest whereabouts and latest boyfriends. All that remains is the collective nostalgia of short-lived Ikea furniture and a now tattered vinyl sign out front with a “家” character on it in a generic blue font.

For more information on renting the space at Xiaojingchang Hutong Number 6, no agent fee, please contact: lianxi[at]homeshop[dot]org[dot]cn.

大陆漂流.中国 Continental Drift China(2011年5月)

[关键词 KEYWORDS: 沉浮 chénfú, 纵向差异 vertical difference]
A post-drift discussion and later, the post-post-discussion lend to a complexly felt 沉浮 response after all that drifting. As Cici explains, chénfú pertains to a vertically oriented drift, similar to bobbing in water, whereas 漂流 piāoliú—as in the drift—may include more of a horizontal movement over geography and terrain. Though those of us from HomeShop stopped short of all the landscapes on this particular journey, our experiences in Beijing and Wuhan mark certain ambivalences between the 漂流 & the 沉浮, research for future writing or reflection & site for embedded experience and production, and also perhaps between structured programming & open play. Such struggles are not simply binary, as we note amidst certain ‘networks of validation’ that we search and flounder for the ways to balance, in and out of quandary. These are searches of organisation, searches of freedom within self-initiated systems of being together. They can move in all sorts of directions both vertical and lateral, but where ‘possible future models’ could be engaged remains to be seen. A publication, perhaps.

此地无声 The Sound of Nowhere(2011年6月)

[关键词 KEYWORD: 关键词 keyword]
Without having asked too many questions about the others, QU was highly satisfied with his grasp of 徐坦 XU Tan’s keywords performance at 米店 Detour restaurant, one of our local eateries and gathering spots. From the mention of only a few words here and there, we are able to delve very deeply into some very crucial subjects, including ___, ___, and ___. Keywords here are used as proof of our abilities to communicate in a productive way, but the following event left our bodies a bit more sensitive; see entry on the HomeShop Library Opening and the Happy Friends Reading Group.

家作坊“万物库”开幕与“快乐朋友阅读小组” HomeShop Library Opening and the Happy Friends Reading Group(2011年6月)

[关键词 KEYWORDS: 价值 value, 意义 meaning, absurdity]
Our keywords found heated barbaric inundation during the last Happy Friends Reading Group meeting coinciding with the opening of the HomeShop library. ‘Value‘ may not have been an intended discussion point for Borges’ “Library of Babel”, but several people were able to nod astoundingly at the disarray of miscommunication in the confounded attempts to assess sources for our own collective stream of consciousness. A movement towards response should not be a target of accusation, but in playing a game such as these group dynamics infer, we should perhaps always know who holds the ball and in which court. One cannot necessarily assume that affinities lead to team spirit, or worse, war-like mongreling, but as it were the very dissonances that our languages made felt resulted in a much more played-out performance rather than reading. Language is not common, but laughter is.

Note on “absurdity”:  there is a way out, or strategy, as advised by two of our finest young representatives, but one admires the other for his ability “to get serious”. More on this issue to follow; see WEAR journal number three.


关键词 KEYWORD: 二 Èr.
Number two is not only second best, pointing always to an other, but a ridiculousness that circles back to absurdity (see above).

关键词 KEYWORD: The Third.
Some beauty that is, though it has not yet been placed. This could be a lifelong endeavour, such that being asked to consider “value” (see above) in constant measure leads to considerable doubt that six months in bring us any closer; see also 无奈 wúnài.

关键词 KEYWORD: 邻居 Neighbour.
Poetry and language, or a still crucial nearing of metaphors and the frameworks that blind us. We always trade in oversimplified examples, such as pulling a tree from the ground, snails as food or medicine, and knowing whether the fish is happy or not. None of these riddles has been solved, but there is fear that the nearing could wreak an irreparable splintering. One compassioned shoulder claims that the smallness resulting from one’s mind being changed is what leads to a certain embarrassment or discomfort, but the same could be said about making certain aging affirmations that recur over and over again. Sometimes, a desolation comes because we haven’t changed our minds yet.

关键词 KEYWORDS: 你懂得.

QU may ask, “What is your purpose in doing this?” And so if news can never be fully objective, there must be an agenda in there somewhere, or at least a tendency, an implication. “Gentrifier” could be one in this case, as per recent discussions at HomeShop, the Other’s guilt, or being accused of cultural colonialism. Production of any sort could then be nullified, re-organised, rendered meaningless…but to muster up the words—oh!—now wouldn’t that be amazing?

The press was seen as a tool, a transmission belt for public opinion, a marketplace of ideas. It was the platform for public discussion of issues of local as well as national importance. Hence the Chinese government “is well advised to consult public opinion” through newspapers. Pictorial evidence from November 1907 ironically underlines this point. A huge pot is filled with a burning substance labeled 舆论 yulun, “public opinion.” The characters on the lid read: “The power is with the court.” It is apparent, however, that the fire inside the pot will not easily be controlled. Public opinion seethes visibly in spit of attempts to “put a lid on it”: clouds of smoke and flames escape not just through the gap between the pot and the lid but also from a hole at the bottom. [p. 16]

Of course it seems ridiculous to say ‘subversion’, just as it is to render pure identity, forms like ‘global’ can never be slick surfaces but would rather seethe like pots.

“The past is being drafted (consciously or unconsciously) into the service of present needs and purposes.”
—Paul Cohen

A cartoon that appeared in the 申报 Shenbao in October 1907 depicts the role of that alien medium, the newspaper: the caricature shows two buildings, an elaborate one labeled  宫庭 gongting, “the court,” and a much simpler one named 民间 minjian, “the people.” From the court,  秘密消息 mimixiaoxi, “the secret news,” is being transferred by telegraph to the people–but not directly. The node at which the telegraph line from the court and that leading to the people meet is labeled 外国 waiguo, “the West”. This image echoes a declaration made by the Shenbao in its first issue: “新闻纸之制疮自西人搏舆中土 The making of newspapers has been transmitted by Westerners to Chinese lands”. [p. 23-24]

Maybe that time of trying to ‘integrate’ can be laughed at now in retrospect, dynamics change here all the time and I’m just trying to keep up. Would it be possible to propagate from the perspective of distance (BJ to GZ), without being thrust into a commune-like resort of separatism? Words gather for the sake of themselves, sadly just another kind of branding, but what other pretext can there be for the gathering, words and identities on paper, another party?

Since the foreign Xinbao 新报 (= new bao) was a bao just the same, it was bound to be seen as akin to the Jingbao 京报 (capital bao). Foreign-style newspapers were aware that their audience’s perception of the newspaper was conditioned by their familiarity with the jingbao. They were quick to exploit this expectation: among other things, they reprinted the court gazette, imitated its format and punctuation, and adopted a name (xinbao, literally new announcements) formed in analogy to that of the court gazette (jingbao, literally capital announcements). They evidently felt that this foreign medium needed some “Chinese” legitimation. Why, then, did they not pursue the potentially convincing argument that the newspaper was really just a continuation of a indigenous Chinese tradition? Since by the late Qing finding Chinese origins for Western knowledge to be introduced to China (西学中原 Xixue Zhongyuan) had become a well-established rhetorical practice,  would this not have been a striking argument? [p. 25]

The principal difference, then, between foreign papers and their indigenous counterparts is the fact that the newspapers spread news by everyone from everywhere, whereas the Chinese papers report only official news. Naturally, the number of its readers was small and continued to dwindle. Moreover, the increasing centralization of politics, which peaked during the Qing and which was accompanied by a rigid system of secrecy laws (preventing the spread of all the “secret news” hinted at in Fig. I.2) confined the Jingbao to only the most commonplace court news and thus rather “boring” information. [p. 26]

Hurrah to boring news from everyone, all the time. Is it impossible to find a ‘new’ language starkly founded in realism, unimaginative?

… the Xinbao, the new(s)paper, was neither sold nor perceived as a foreign import. Instead, there was a strong tendency to domesticate it for Chinese use and Chinese understanding, for only thus—so it must have appeared to China’s newspaper makers—could it be an effective agent of change. [p. 31]

Indeed, however much the Shenbao may have profited from its foreign background, more often than not it had to defend itself against charges that it was a foreign medium or that it was pro-Western. this is the reason for its insistence that it relied on a Chinese readership and was thus written in Chinese by Chinese according to Chinese customs to be sold to Chinese. Like many other foreign-style papers, the Shenbao took pains to adapt to Chinese “idiom” (kouqi 口气). In the process, it created a “new” language with a “new” syntax that made the newspaper an acceptable and understandable means of communication. [p. 32]

Badiou, truth, new. Trajectory, 你的目的是什么?

All quotes above taken from A Newspaper for China?: Power, Identity, and Change in Shanghai’s News Media, 1872-1912.

all photos by 曲一箴 Twist QU*

If we had not been able to come closer to an understanding of affect at the reading club meeting, it came to me again in a recent text by another Brian (“The half-life of disaster“), where somehow the descriptive traversing of scales felt familiar, and of course it can hit us with as much impact as watching a slow-motion montage of the year in review, or Olympic triumphs, or yes, the touching moments and heroes of disaster. We should be immune already perhaps, cynical viewers whose forms of belief have decayed parallel to these half-lives, and yet even at standstill, reduced to its barest linguistic denominators, it could still be possible to induce a notion of affective scales on a billboard covering an urban construction site: “Grandpa lazing in the sun. Boys dancing hip-hop. Businessman checking e-mail. Woman carrying shopping bag.” She was kind of pissed off about this, about all that it left out or pinned down too characteristically in succinct world view, but it seemed also something more than ‘trace’ in a collective reading on media. This is an affect of the kind that Michael mentions, “understood as the embodiment of certain codes, to be read and embodied by a particular community”. Such embodiment is a continuous training, like watching these disasters in constant cycle, like urbanity itself. We learn to traverse the levels, moving from horror and shock at grand scale to human warmth and its accompaniments in the everyday heroes and miniature miracles that soothe a constant, half-toned fear.

Taking distance can occur in both directions, towards macro-scale world views or into the safety of the small moments in a day to day. What Massumi claims as a ‘trace-form anticipation’ singularly and collectively describes this back and forth motion; it is a kind of subjective being-in-motion that typifies our here and now condition. To make a hero of our friend A W W abroad stresses the silence nearby, it casts scales of individual activism helplessly against nameless foreboding forces at the state realm, naïvely paralleled by his name being coded “Love the future”. Larger and stronger pursuits of activism in the last years (in education, in the art world, the Middle East, the mid-West…) echo, or are symptomatic of such “affective conversion circuits”, but there remains to be seen what “alter-” could possibly step out of it. Should affect move out of affect? What lies outside of scale itself? The movements seem to encompass everything already, like fantastic ideas kept to oneself, like capitalism’s neverending ever in sight, like half-lives in decay.

* there was a thought at the beginning of writing this post that these photos bore some relation to the things i was going to say, but the distancing ended up there. there is a lot of ambivalent feeling in their transmission, but they speak of a relation…