30 June 2015

Big. Bright. Fun. BEIJING!

I keep saying that I am going to start my blogging back up again . . . And when I finally have the energy to do it, something comes up and I fall behind. This seems to be happening a lot lately. This past spring was exceptionally difficult. So I wasn't so keen on hopping back into blogging. But I knew when I was ready that I wanted to start back with something really fun.

I choose my Beijing project as my re-entry into the blogosphere. 

Prepare yourselves, folks. There are a ton of pictures in this post. Mainly because Beijing is one of the coolest cities I've ever visited. It was really such a magical place! And everyone was so kind and gracious! I plan to go back, again and again. Enjoy!

I think it was around November or December that I was contacted on Facebook about a festival happening in Beijing. It was really funny, because I couldn't tell if it was spam or not. So I let it sit for a little while. And then I got a wild hair, and wrote them back.

They sent me their email address and we began a correspondence. I was asked to submit a proposal for  a project that I might be interested in facilitating. The festival organizers had been to my website and really wanted me to do something with the public . . . Something that participants could build together or complete over the course of one week's time. There was a lot of back and forth via email, even some Skyping. 

I decided I wanted to do a larger, more complicated version of the woven hut I did last year for the Bedok community in Singapore. The festival organizers were excited, and so was I!!

I arrived in Beijing at night--close to 10pm--and was picked up by one of the festival interns. There was a sign with my name on it and everything. (I always dig those.) The Beijing airport was bigger than any airport I had ever been to . . . It was massive! But it wasn't particularly crowded, which was nice.

I have to be honest, here. I had these images in my head of how China might be: super crowded, so-much-so that you couldn't walk. But it wasn't like that. Or at least where I went, it wasn't like that.

I was driven to my hotel, which was walking distance to the park where the festival was being held. 

I was picked up the following afternoon and driven to the festival site. That's when I met Harriet and got to speak to Grace in real life. Harriet was sort of our amazing and kind go-to person for the festival. Grace was in charge of logistics for the entire festival. They were both wonderfully approachable and excellent supports to the visiting artists and festival goers.

I looked through all of the fabric that the festival purchased for my project and it was perfect. I actually thought I might have requested too much fabric. But we ended up blowing through all of the fabric and substituting with yarn towards the end of the week. 

I shredded one bolt's worth of fabric by myself, and that was that! The rest of the week was spent on the festival grounds, making things happen! 

I always believe that instead of waiting for a party to happen, you need to make the party happen. And that's what I tried to accomplish with this installation. 

Beijing had such a blast with this piece! I was so pleased! Grandparents were dancing with their grandchildren to hip hop music that was blaring from the speakers, mothers and sons were taking selfies in various corners of the space, and everyone was playing! I couldn't have been more thrilled, if I'd tried!

Then there were the interns . . . I had between 3 and 5 interns every day. And they were so much fun to be around. The interns were college kids from all over China. They ripped countless meters of fabric and engaged the public like nobody's business!

By the 4th and 5th day of the festival, the installation was running like a well-oiled machine. 

Periodically the fabulous interns would make announcements in Chinese reminding the participants of various important things about the installation (opening and closing times, where to get fabric, etc.). They provided an iPhone jack for those of us who happen to run their battery low by taking too many pictures (ahem). And the interns always arranged for lunch to be delivered and water to be available. They were superb at shutting down the space for a lunch break between 12 and 1pm. They made fun headbands for all of us to wear: team spirit! And they made sure the floor was always cleared of any water bottles or trash. 

Things happened so smoothly! I was so incredibly thankful for their hard work and enthusiasm! 

In return, I bought them ice cream every afternoon and we went on carnival rides at the end of the day. It was hilarious!

So how was this whole thing built, anyhow?

The idea was that I create the structure and participants fill in the spaces, however they see fit. 

I was given this giant covered area to work with. This structure was in front of an office building and butted up against a gate where preschoolers were let out of school each day. 

I spent most of the first two days on a ladder, tying fabric strips all over the structure. This provided places for participants to tie to, but also built out the space. As participants continued to tie their strips and braids onto the fabric structure, I would go around with the ladder again and build out the space or lift up heavier, bulky areas.

The participants really felt ownership in the project. And I heard lots of comments about how it related in color and participation style to prayer flag structures. I felt this project was extremely successful on so many levels, which was awesome.

As the participants entered the space, they were given 1 to 3 strips of fabric in the colors of their choosing. They could braid these strips or tie them separately, wherever on the structure that they wanted to. 

(Harriet being fabulous, as always!)

One day I sat down next to a teen who was participating, and I showed her how to fingerweave. Well? That started quite a phenomenon. Crowds for hours! All to learn how to fingerweave . . . I've never seen such excitement! Some people would take a picture of my hand at every step of the process. It was hilarious! Fingerweaving gets people's attention. It's kind of amazing, really!

I've been invited back to do another project for another festival in October. I can't wait!

I tried to capture as much as I could of Beijing outside of the times that I was at the festival: morning walks and evening outings . . . 

The city itself reminded me so much of Dallas. The highways were giant, but not so overly crowded that you couldn't move. I loved the mix of new buildings with traditional Chinese structures. And everything was lit up with lanterns or neon or colored lights. Sparkle!

We walked through the park, above, to get to this section of town that was a series of alleys and cute, tiny stores and restaurants. It was probably 10pm when we walked through the park, and it was packed with older couples country western dancing! It was so beautiful! 

Once we were tucked away in the alleyways of Beijing, amazing sights emerged. People were selling fresh fruits from carts, meat sticks from hot grills. Young guys were deejaying and selling music off of quickly set-up tables. People were selling all sorts of live snakes coiled up in plastic containers without lids.

Two nights found most of us together for nice dinners. One night was fresh Chinese food at the rooftop restaurant pictured on the left, above. And the second dinner was Indonesian. Both meals were incredible tasting. I feel so gracious, being able to travel and taste all of these glorious foods.

Beijing was a huge supporter of creamy popsicles. And they were so artfully made, and combined the most unique flavors. I think I had chocolate with orange? I can't quite remember. I didn't manage a picture of the rose-shaped popsicles, but they were beautiful!

I mean: seriously! THIS PLACE! I absolutely loved Beijing . . . 

These are some of the images taken at the festival, when I went on quick little ice cream runs or to grab some caffeine. 

I loved these big heads that some of the younger kids were painting. They were probably 2 feet tall, and such a fun idea! On the right is Harriet wearing one of Quinton's hats, another artist featured at the festival. He was teaching a construction paper hat making workshop. His hats were the bomb.

Sadly I didn't get to take pictures of everyone's workshops. I was in my installation, building the space out, from about 9:30am to 5pm every day. Pretty solid. But I did get two t-shirts for my nephews from Jackie (who took 3 of the images featured in this post). She's from Texas! Yeehaw! 

At one point during the week, I was featured on one of Beijing's radio stations. That was fun! He would ask me questions in English, I would answer them, and then he would translate on air in Chinese. But the greatest was seeing all of the people watching and taking pictures! Loved it!

On our last night in Beijing, we were given a private dinner at one of the universities. It was an amazing meal, but I had to leave relatively early because my flight was that same night. I found this to be a hilarious last image--below--because it reminded me of The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci.

I love you, Beijing! Until next time . . .