Artist Mark Rumsey was an artist in residence at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel in Shanghai in 2013.
China Residencies: What sparked your interest in China?
Mark Rumsey: At university, I participated in a study abroad program at East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai. It was the first international trip I had taken out of the United States and it had a major impact on my understanding of the world. I had always wanted to return and see how Shanghai had changed, so when I learned about the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, I applied.
CR: How did you hear about the Swatch residency?
MR: As an artist half of my job is applying for exhibitions, residencies, and other opportunities. I actively track several websites that post such opportunities, which is how I learned about the Swatch project.
CR: Did you apply with a specific project idea in mind, or were you looking for inspired on the spot?
MR: All of my work is about spaces and places. At Swatch, the physical building itself became the basis for my work.
CR: Tell us a bit about the projects you worked on while you were there.
MR: I worked on two projects, one being Minor Geographies at the Palace Hotel, a series of colour transfer prints based upon the physical attributes of the walls of the former Palace Hotel. The building is now home to The Swatch Art Peace Hotel, where I was a guest artist. The series plays with world map projections, the ubiquitous Google map icon, the omnipresent eye, signature chops, QR codes and the historic hotel seal.
I also picked up a commission while in Shanghai and created, with the help of several interns, BFly Rabble and BFly Migrations for the opening of the Tasaki store in Shanghai:
CR: Did your work or practice change significantly from your time in China?
MR: Most of my work over the past five years has been site specific large scale sculpture, which has taken me away from a studio practice to a planning process. At Swatch, I had the opportunity to work in a studio everyday and it marked a return to image making.
CR: If there were other artists around while you were on residency, what were they like? Did collaborations occur?
MR: The Swatch Art Peace Hotel was full of awesome artist from around the world, working in all media, from all backgrounds and attainment levels. I did not get involved in any collaborations but being engaged in a dynamic, art-based conversation for three months did push me in positive ways.
CR: What was Shanghai like as a city?
MR: Shanghai is modern and metropolitan. When I was a student in Shanghai 17 years ago, it was a very different place. All the new development is truly amazing. Like any international city, you can find anything and everything, and you can get everywhere on the subway. I could go to the Jade Buddha Temple and get an awesome bowl of fungus soup, or cross the river on the ferry to Pudong to get amazing wood-fired pizza.
CR: How involved are the organisers with the resident's daily life? Did they organise exhibitions or open studios?
MR: The Swatch Art Peace Hotel is for artists with a sense of independence and adventure, there is no handholding, but the staff will help you out. The artists would organise events and gatherings, and at the end of an artist's term they would host an open studio.
CR: Did China fit your expectations? Or did the city surprise you?
MR: China will always surprise you, especially Shanghai. It's a rapidly changing place.
CR: Did you speak any Chinese before coming? If no, did you learn any during your stay?
MR: I knew a little Chinese from my previous trip - I can order a cold beer and some basic food.
CR: Did you feel you encountered a significant cultural or linguistic barrier?
MR: The cultural differences are what I find interesting, so I wouldn't see any of them as a barrier per se. As a westerner, I am accustomed to a different sense of timing and pace, but China is much more direct place.
CR: Overall, what experience, adventure or encounter will stay with you from this time?
MR: What still strikes me is the amazing change that has happened since my first visit. They equivalent of Manhattan has been built in Shanghai in less than 20 years. A massive subway system, some of the worlds tallest buildings... It really is a testament to human ambition and will.
This interview was conducted over email by Kira Simon-Kennedy for China Residencies.