I:Project Space in Beijing

I:Project Space in Beijing

Antenna talked with I: project space about the residency program they started in 2014. It was founded by the two curators Antonie Angerer and Anna-Viktoria Eschbach. They are dedicated to build support structures for artists and open possibilities for long-term dialogues between artistic, curatorial, research and other modes of knowledge production I: project space is operating completely non-profit. The space is located in the old Hutong area of Beijing and is combining an exhibition space with a residency studio for visiting artists from China and abroad.

Antenna: What triggered you to start a residency in China?
IP: project space: We were first talking about openening uo a non-profit off space in Beijing. This was our initial idea. Then sitting down and thinking about the form of I: project space, we both thought, a residency part would add an important aspect to the platform for emerging artists.

Antenna: Did you reach out to other already existing residencies before you came here for advise?
IP: No. But we talked with other spaces in Beijing about their experiences with starting projects in China.

Antenna: From all options you chose to be located inside the Hutongs in Beijing. How did you find this location, and what made you want to be situated there?
IP: We chose to go into the centre of the city, because we believe that art should be an organic part of city and its society. Most of the art happening in Beijing happens in secluded artist districts and does not interact with it surrounding. For our space and also our residency program it is essential to have this kind of interaction and confrontation with a our environment.

The Hutongs close to the residency. (photo: Antenna)

Antenna: What where your initial expectations of running a program in China? Would you say – looking back on the last year- running the program was very much like you expected or perhaps not?
IP: We went into the project with a certain nativity and of course some expectations. Looking back at that first year it was not like we expected it to be. We are excited about the openness and energy that is happening here. The project developed in such a speed. Beijing is really becoming an international centre for art and it is great to become part of it.

Antenna: How do you see your role inside the cultural field in Beijing?
IP: We see our role mainly as connector and platform. Coming from outside of the Beijing art scene and having a space with a residency program, we try form a network of artists, academics, curators and other spaces in Beijing and internationally. We believe that a growing network creates a better chance for new projects and a real basis for art exchange internationally.

Antenna: You have been here since August 2014, could you sketch how you have seen the local cultural field inside the Hutongs of Beijing changed?
IP: Since we arrived in Beijing there have been several other small spaces opening up around the Hutong area. A very energetic, little art scene is developing here. It is slowly turning into a new art centre, where we are very closely connected with each other. It is amazing to have so many spaces in the neighbourhood that we can collaborate with.

Antenna: You have hosted artist over the past year. If an artist comes to do a residency at I: projects ppace what can he or she expect?
IP: Being a resident at I: project space means that you will become part of the project space itself. That means that we do not see the residency as a limited period of cooperation, but a start for cooperation with artists. The artist staying at I: project space are invited to develop their own ideas to use the space and are all able to make a final exhibition at the end of their space. Since our space is not exclusively a residency program, but also an art space that develops exhibition projects with regional artists, our residency program connects the artists with the local scene and artists. So far with every artist further projects or exhibitions developed out if the residency.

Antenna: How do you facilitate the artist’s projects?
IP: We have an exhibition space and are generally very open to any kind of project they want to facilitate. Daniel Stubenvoll for example started an art salon while watching NBA in the Mahjong place next door. With our last residency artist Jannis Schulze, we started together the long-term research and curatorial project Beijing22, which aims to collect and curate projects documenting or commenting on the changes Beijing will undergo until the winter Olympics in 2022. Other residency artists like Michael Bodenmann just returned to Beijing to open a solo exhibition in the project space LAB47 a space we are closely linked with.

Antenna: In what ways does I: projects space connects artists to the local context?
IP: Our space and residency program is located in a residential courtyard. Our neighbours are an important part of working and living here. They have become a part of the daily (non-art) life here. We are very lucky, because they are very open to things happening in our space and help us in any way they can. Further due to the location in the Hutongs, the artists are very independent in exploring the area and its different facets.

Antenna: There seem to be a lot of artist residencies in the city of Beijing and in other places in China. Do you exchange knowledge?
IP: Yes we do connect with the other residencies. Especially with artists here in Beijing. We have been cooperating with the artists from the other residency programs quite extensively. Our project space has become a centre to get the artist from the different residencies and the local artists connected.

Antenna: TransArtists always tries to advise artists to find a place with a profile that really suits their project because we feel that a good measure made match between host organization and resident artist is crucial. What kind of artist are you looking for?  What kind of artist are you not looking for?
IP: We are looking for artists that want to get involved and become part of the project by formulating their own ideas. Each artist has to apply with a project. Since we are located in the Hutong area and our studio is not very big, the residency is more focused on research based residencies. Also due to the whole concept of the space we are not looking for artist that just want to have a studio to produce, it is meant for artists that want to realize a project that can only be realized by coming to China. So we are looking for motivated artist that want to come to China and get involved or engage in a conversation with the space or its surroundings.

The artists' room (photo: Antenna)

Antenna: Talking to Kira Simon-Kennedy of China Residencies we learned each year approximately five new residencies start and five others close. You are about to start your second year here; do you feel running a zero profit organisation like I: Projects Space is challenging to sustain or not?
IP: Well it changed from initially being a project of two years into something that we plan to run for a few more years. But there is always the question for how long independent spaces like ours should run and at what moment you need to grow, change your structure or decide to end a project.

Antenna: I understand, nevertheless is there an ideal  long-term vision for the program?
IP: Our long-term vision is to grow into an even bigger platform for artists living in China and coming to China, by keeping the residency as a platform of intensive cooperation as we have today. We hope that I: project space will become an important centre of contemporary art in Beijing. A space for a relevant and contemporary art discourse where nationality will not matter.

Antenna: You connect Chinese and foreign artists in your program.
IP: On the one hand we want to create a place for experimentation outside of the market driven art scene in Beijing for local artists, on the other we believe in platforms for artists from all over the world can meet and start to cooperate.

Antenna: Talking about the market; there are many new museums being built in China at the moment; but -as we heared- sometimes there doesn’t seem to be a real artistic program for these places. Is this correct? Could you tell a bit about this and how you choose to relate to this phenomenon beeing curators?
IP: In China 400 Museums are opening every year. A huge boom of private museums can be witnessed all over China and especially in the bigger cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Mostly financed by collectors or private investors these museums are built with a certain financial agenda. The sizes of these art spaces are incredibly big. These huge spaces often open without having a curatorial program. The content is created show to show and often fast get into jeopardy of not knowing what the function of the space should actual be. This is a problem because in the end there are a lot of empty spaces that neither have a curatorial, educational nor a concept for building a collection. When we get asked to curate an exhibition outside of our space, we work differently in a way, that we start with analysing the needs and requirements the institution has, that is invited us, to creating content that is relevant for a specific setting.

Antenna: Do you –being a foreigner- feel you can take more space than for instance a Chinese organization?
IP: I think we have some advantages, especially when it comes to getting funding from foundations outside of China. But there are of course also disadvantages coming from outside and having to work hard to become part of the art scene.