In August Annu and Taina travelled to Beijing to attend the 18th International Congress of Aesthetics at the University of Beijing, returning via Shanghai.
The title of the congress was “Diversities in Aesthetics”. There were many workshops and panels discussing especially Asian aesthetics and arts; also the role of globalization, and environmental aesthetics was visible. Annu gave her paper “Bare House Project. Pori-Rotterdam-Ulaanbaatar: On Modernist and Nomadic Spatial Ideals” on Monday, Taina her paper “Capitalism and Aisthesis – Life, Appearance and Art in Walter Benjamin’s Work” on Thursday. We got both good enough comments and discussion followed, although the workshops seemed to have been organized in a pretty random manner.
In addition we attended other workshops, panels, key-notes. The most interesting ones were Yu Kongjian’s talk on “Big-foot Revolution: toward a new landscape aesthetic ”, where big was confronted with little in the sense of the bound little feet of Chinese women, which were considered beautiful, even though they were distorted and unnatural. Yu Kongjian criticized urban development and landscapes in general, but most interesting was his suggestion to work with, not against nature in management and planning of urban green; and to use productive plants instead of merely ornamental ones.
Also Wang Chunchen’s talk on contemporary Chinese art was very refreshing, with the urge to combine artistic exploration with taking art out from academies and galleries and working for and with ordinary people.
We also visited Chinese Academy of Fine Arts, CAFA, where professor Fei Jun from the Medialab showed us around and told about CAFA and its studies and students. We also went to see the exhibition of the MA works, which was quite interesting and varied, set in the CAFA’s own impressive museum building.
And we managed to see Brian Wallace from the famous Red Gate Gallery, which he has established in an ancient tower serving partly as museum, partly as his gallery space in very centre of Beijing. Red Gate Gallery also has a highly interesting artist-in-residence program.
Shanghai hit us with an extreme climate (38, feels like 43 was the noon report for most of the days), which felt a little like trying to live in a Swedish sauna. We diligently did one day of the Expo however, queuing to see the Finnish pavilion and then a few more. Along with half a million other visitors… “Better city, better life” was a slogan we got to repeat with a pretty ironic tone during our stay.
Where Beijing for all its vastness and ongoing urban development seemed somehow easy, friendly and familiar, Shanghai was made of enclosures and sharp differences, combining incredible luxury with unforgivable misery. Nevertheless, both cities were vastly interesting and offered material for thought and work we will be digesting for a long time.
Pictures by Annu; more of the same in Facebook.