Last year our collaborator Rebecca Catching had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Fu Jikang, the founder and director of the new Open and Fun art residency in Chongming Island, off the coast of Shanghai.
China Residencies: How and when did the residency start?
Fu Jikang: We started last year. At first, the idea was very simple: in places like m50 and other mainstream art venues in Shanghai, I was not able to find studio space equipped to cut things and make molds. There is no place to do these things. We got to Chongming Island and thought: “Wow! In the countryside, you can do anything, any kind of process you want”. My first thought was to make it my own studio, but artists also need to communicate with each other. After half a year we started to realize that the artists might have certain needs such as understanding the Shanghai art scene, meeting curators etc. Therefore, we started to work with Tongji University and now it has become Open and Fun Residency.
CR: So you are the founder and director. What kind of things are you responsible for? Do you stay at the residency space in Chongming most of the time?
FK: Yes. I am there when the residents are there, but when I have things in Shanghai to take care of, I am here. Even though the building is a former pig shed, we want the artists to be comfortable living there so they have their own bathrooms etc.
CR: It was really a pig pen?
FJ: It really was a pig pen: they raised 100-200 pigs there and I completely redrew the plan. I helped build it too. I worked with the workers welding and pouring cement because I wanted to use my hands, building it bit by bit.
A pig pen is a very unique thing. The pigs, from the time they are born, don’t know anything else. There lives is dark, cold and unfree. But the artists, in terms of their lives and the things they create, are completely free. So I wanted to change the character of this place.
At the time, the landlord was having a hard time figuring out what to do with his pig pen because Chongming is an ecological island and the government did not allow pigs to be raised there. But now, he gets paid rent for it.
Scenes from Open and Fun
CR: Tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
FJ: I studied traditional and oil painting. After graduation, I worked as an illustrator and animator, doing game design and video work. Then I opened a company in China, 4-5 years later. I was always working overnight; I worked so hard that I fell ill and had to have surgery on my feet and legs. After the surgery, I made a break with my previous life and started doing art.
CR: How did you decide on the location of the residency?
FJ: We chose Chongming because Tongji University made an experimental farm there. A colleague asked us to go and see it. I liked that there were fields and a river. We also made a wooden platform where the artists can go fishing with the villagers too!
CR: How many people are on staff? What is each person responsible for?
FJ: Besides me and Gao Jia, there is Guan Jia who is in charge of daily necessities, like food, buying tools, or taking residents to museums and other cultural events. I am the artist and the director, Gao Jia is my wife and she helps me with finances and administrative work.
CR: What kind of artists are you looking for?
FJ: We are looking for artists who want to seriously create something and communicate with each other. The artists have to be able to live in the countryside, which is not that well developed.
CR: Do you have to speak Chinese?
FJ: We have a translator who can help them that is constantly traveling back and forth between the residency and Shanghai. Also the Chinese and Taiwanese artists help them out; they can all speak English so there is always someone to help them translate.
CR: And in terms of food?
FJ: For the first week, we arrange a local lady to cook for them. After that, they get a food stipend. They can use it to continue to eat her food or to eat outside. They get 70 rmb a day, but a bowl of fried rice is 6 RMB, so every day they can save a lot of money to use for buying materials.
CR: So how do the artists get around on the island or into Shanghai for instance?
FJ: We have a bike for each person and there are buses to get around or to go to the city.
CR: What other costs do you cover?
FJ: This year we are covering up to 3,000 RMB for flights, but for next year we may adjust. In terms of equipment, we have some tools and materials, but we see what they need and we give some stipends accordingly.
CR: So you don’t have a fixed material fee.
FJ: No. Often Guan Jia will look for free materials around. If you need a lot of money, then we need to talk about it. Most artists try to use local materials. We ask them to give a proposal beforehand so we can find funding for it.
CR: How do people apply for the residency?
FJ: They provide a CV and a project proposal
CR: What is the duration of your residency? What’s the shortest time period you’ll consider, what’s the longest?
FJ: One to two months. Spring and Fall are the best times for artists, in these seasons they can see the wheat growing and turning from green to yellow. The winter is too cold and the summer is too hot.
CR: What does the residency provide? What should the artists arrange for themselves?
FJ: The visa they need to handle it themselves, but we can provide the necessary documents for the application. We also have an airport pickup.
CR: What kind of visa do they apply for?
FJ: Most of the time it’s a tourist visa.
CR: Do the artists leave work once the residency is done?
FJ: We ask them to leave a site-specific work, for instance, to paint on the wall of one of the buildings in the village. We also ask them to leave a work of 10-100cm in size. Then we put this work in the exhibition room and we keep it there. We will also do a touring exhibition in China. If there is a sale, then we split it 50/50. Because mostly we are inviting young artists, we bring in collectors but we can’t control whether they buy.
CR: How many artists in residence have you hosted so far?
FJ: About 20 so far.
CR: What kind of artwork have the residents done? Can you give us an example or two of the most interesting or recent ones?
FJ: There were the UK artists who made paper cuts which had a lot to do with the cultural difference between Shanghai and Chongming. And most recently there were these really good performance artists who visited all the homes, and then discovered that each one had a “jiaxun” [a family moral code or set of instructions]. They then made each family’s “jiaxun” into a kind of aerobics fitness dance, to turn the family precepts into a physical language. Because all the villages are dealing with depopulation due to the aging population, there was never anyone paying attention to the villagers. The artists went over to their houses, helped them clean and took care of them. They even received thank-you notes.
CR: What opportunities do you provide for artists in residence to meet people in the local creative scene?
FJ: We explore Chongming, meet Shanghai artists, visit museums, and see the wetlands. Every weekend we organize a kind of talk with the artists and the local community, one artist per weekend. Right now we are also making some links with various other art spaces, such as the 789 Chicken Farm in Taiwan which supports some new artists.
CR: How do you promote your residency to attract local and international artists?
FJ: Before we used Facebook, but we also have approached some art websites. We will continue our efforts to welcome the arrival of artists from all over the world.
Interview conducted by Rebecca Catching in December 2017