the grass is greener on this side of the fence

Tuesday, August 23, 2005
I wake up before the alarm goes off and get up to finish packing. 5 hours sleep will have to do. I throw away and leave as much as I can. It is hard to meet the 20 kg limit.

I am ready to leave, mentally and physically. Take a cab to the airport - off and away. Luckily they don't charge me for overweight so I can spend my last RMBs on tea for my friends. The food on the airplane makes me miss China: over-cooked carrots and potatoes, beans and broccoli with no spices. I am starting to feel sick in the cold, air conditioned, recycled air. Have to wait 3 1/2 hours in Helsinki. The airport is cold too, and by now I am sneezing and shivering. On the plane I read a small article in a Sweedish paper saying "don't think the rent of your condo depends on your local Sweedish politicians, it has all to do with what is happening in China". True.
I am glad when I finally arrive in Oslo. My suitcase and photo-tube show up right away and I walk through customs. I find out that the crate with my photographs will arrive at SAS Cargo tomorrow, buy a bottle of Solo and get on the train to town. The conductor helps me on with my luggage. Out the window I see fields so green, and the air is fresh and cool. It feels good to "be home". That said, China has been the most challenging, inspiring, mind blowing, eye opening experience I have had this millennium and I will be back for sure.

wrap up

Monday, August 22, 2005

After 3 1/2 hours sleep I wake up by the sound of a lawn mower. I start organizing my papers while I wait for Per Jonas from the Embassy to pick me up and go to the airport to send the crate with my photographs. The driver is stuck in traffic, and they arrive late. I am very grateful that they are helping me. I would never have found the place or been able to do this on my own: First they claim we have to repack the crate because Norway will not accept wood from China. PJ explains this is plain wood not from the rain forest and it will be no problem. He has to write a declaration letter stating so. Then they say they cannot take the crate for custom clearance because they have lunch break and tell us to come back in 2 hours - it might take until 4 or 5 before we are done. I am not happy. I have to take down the water series, speakers and pack, and I have an appointment with Baoju at 5. Nothing can be done. We have lunch at the airport, hang around and wait till it's time to return. After an hour they have good news: the customs did not open the crate and we can pay and leave. I am very happy. The Embassy is the best! They take me home and I am able to take down the prints and speakers without problems. I hook the sound up to the monitor speakers and the installation still looks good without the photographs. I have no time or means to take it down. Natalie says they will keep it up for a while.

I hop in a cab to 798 to see Iain's installation at Long March. His piece is really great: a charming phone booth with Chinese lanterns and a miniature pond with real fish outside. Many people have told stories about how they see China change on the phone. The stories are edited and played back over speakers. We say good buy.

I continue to At Café to check my mail and upload files. Baoju arrives and we talk about art and life. It is interesting how I connect easier to Chinese women than American. Natalie and Els arrive and we head for Hatsune, "the best Japanese restaurant in town". The interior is super nice and the food is excellent. Els who is from Belgium and works with Natalie has just got back from guiding a group in Pakistan, we share stories and opinions and have interesting conversations. Natalie takes me home and I pack till I drop.

last chance

Sunday, August 21, 2005
I digitize and edit photos of the installation. Manage to delete all the shots from the opening by mistake - what an idiot! I shoot some more and hop in a cab. Today is my last chance to see the Planning Exhibition Hall and the "Wall" exhibition at the Millennium Art Museum. My schedule is like a marathon but I manage. The exhibition Hall is not as impressive as the one in Shanghai, but still. A huge model of the city can be viewed from the floor and a surrounding gallery. It shows planned and finished projects, including the Forbidden City, the Olympic City and the area around CCTV. I skip through the rest of the exhibitions, buy a catalog and an ice cream and take the subway to the Millennium Monument.

This is some real communist architecture! The exhibition represents a huge selection of young Chinese artists and is super interesting. I will comment later. Unfortunately the catalog is very heavy and expensive. I regret not buying it.

Iain comes to see my installation, and helps me take down and wrap up the big photographs that will be shipped tomorrow morning. We take a cab to town to meet Ola and Kathinka and a group of Norwegian culture workers in a Japanese restaurant. After dinner Ola and Kathinka and I go to the Tea House Mette recommended before I left Norway. It is very charming with a traditional courtyard, right by the Forbidden City. Kathinka and I talk into the small hours. Great to have a new friend :)


Saturday, August 20, 2005
Prepare my Artist Talk for the afternoon. Many people come to see my installation since there are 3 other openings at East End Art. The talk is in my studio and about 10 women and 1 guy show up. It is a nice informal format, and I show and tell about my life and art. Interesting questions and comments make it a good experience.

It is time to go to eat before tonight's concert at the Drive In Cinema. Faye has invited me - her boyfriend does the sound engineering. The music and sound is much better than the last gig we saw here, the security is also more present. Specially a Nina Hagen like female singer does a good performance. After, we go to 2 Kolega's Bar for more music and conversation. Take a cab home in the early hours. Again I have to fend off the 3 barking dogs in our compound before I dive into bed.


Friday, August 19, 2005

I stay up till I solve the remaining issues with the installation. My solution involves the most simple of technologies: paper and pencils. In the morning I make a trip to the Art Supply stores by the Academy. Back at Platform I run into Natalie. She tells me the cleaning lady is upset about my attitude. I am upset too, and end up in tears. It is not easy to work in a country where you don't speak the language, don't know the way of thinking and working and where the jobs are carried out so poorly. I am used to the West where you go to school for years to learn to weld, sew, work on the computer etc. Here, to survive in the city, farmers who cannot read or write are doing any job without the proper tools, knowledge or understanding. I am depressed and exhausted and sorry to have hurt anybody's feelings. We have lunch and a constructive talk about the future of Platform and end up in a very good mood. I go upstairs to unwrap the photographs and put the paper down in the middle of the tent and in the four sections of the think tank. I paint the monitor box in the yellow color used to symbolize the empire - it looks good. Rain helps me write in Mandarin encouragements to construct thoughts about water and to alternately imagine a black, green, red and white earth. It is 6:50 pm and I run downstairs to take a shower. The drain is still plugged. One of the staff helps me, and I have just put on some clean clothes when I hear Rigmor calling my name. She has arrived with Vickie and they have brought wine, juice, grapes and glasses - what great friends! More people arrive, Kathinka and Tie Qiao come with watermelons and music - hey we are having an opening!


Thursday, August 18, 2005
I open the washing machine and water pours out on the white tile floor. The drain and centrifuge does not work. I clean up, squeeze the water out of my clothes, put them in a plastic bag and take the bus to Platform where I burn the water DVD and go upstairs to check on the shoemaker. He is almost finished with the tent. I make some more adjustments, and get a call that the frame maker has arrived with the pictures. I am excited. They unpack the crate and I cannot believe what I see: The photographs are bulky and reflect the light in rings and lines - you cannot really see the picture. He explains this is the only way unless they spray mount the photographs onto foam board, a process that will ruin the prints in a few months. The frame looks good but the picture is unacceptable. I call Kathinka who translates my frustration and Danwen who tells me she never mounts photographs in China. They don't have the technology to do it... After much discussion she suggests to put rice paper between the frame and photo to hopefully put more pressure and reduce the folds. I go back to the frame shop with the workers. On the way I find a solution: glass is flat and if they sandwich the prints between two sheets of glass the problem might be solved. We try and it works! The amazing thing is that the guy who does framing for a living never thought about it. Kathinka is an angel: she comes in a taxi to translate.

The curtain worker has been waiting for some time when we get back to Platform. He looks at the transparent water series and does not really want to do the job. He says he is too busy and has to put off other work if he agrees. He asks a high price and walks out when I try to negotiate. I make Kathinka run after him - I don't really have a choice, the opening is tomorrow. He returns later and hangs the prints in the windows. They don't fit properly so he makes some crude adjustments and the result is rather bad. I am disappointed and exhausted by the lack of skills, attention to detail and care that makes everything look crappy. The metal worker comes and drills some holes in the wall to hang the photographs that have returned from the frame shop. I won't unpack them until the space is clean. The floor is still full of bird shit and feathers and dust. I have to argue to have it cleaned - nothing comes easy today. Tomorrow is full moon.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Finally, the rain has stopped. From the 17th floor I can see mountains surrounding the city. I have never seen them before. Mexico City is like that too.

Take a bus to Lido to withdraw money. Stop at the DVD store where I find some of my favorite movies for 10 RMB a piece. Opt for a cab back to Platform where the shoemaker and his wife are busy at work. Never in my life have I seen such a sloppy job. It is unbelievable. Rough stitches sometimes on the inside, sometimes on the outside, the tread is too tight and fastened in bizarre manners. The screen is stretched here and wrinkled there. I am speechless so I just start to adjust and point and gesticulate and somehow manage to improve the situation slightly. No precision, no skill, simple tools and a quick and dirty attitude are not very compatible with how I like to work. I don't know to laugh or cry. At least the finish is consequently bad. A real homemade, no-tech look that might be called charming. I shake my head and smile indignantly. My preliminary sketches for the tent were kind of like this, irregular and rough and attractive. When I later made precise and geometrical drawings and a model it kind of lost its soul, and I had already decided I did not want it to be too perfect and symmetrical. Well, I certainly don't have to worry about that: The tent is hovering 10 cm above ground, occasionally spinning, and all angles are wacky... I make some phone calls to find out how to ship my photographs to Norway. You need an export certificate and several customs forms and it turns out to be a very expensive task. The better solution would be to sell them here and make some money instead of spending. We'll see. I have dinner with Rain at 798, and we finally get to talk about art and things other than flooded bathrooms and sloppy work. She studied in London for three years and understands my frustration. We discuss different art systems and standards until two friends show up; an Italian artist/journalist and a Chinese friend of Rain. We debate political activism in Europe and how after 1989, young Chinese are not interested in politics, only in making money to improve their personal lives. The network is down at At Café, and I walk back to my high rise.