We got the chance to interview Luo Fei, TCG Nordica's curator and residency program manager while in Kunming to talk about their mission of bridging cultures through artistic exchange:
China Residencies: How did you first get involved with TCG Nordica?
Luo Fei: I started here in 2006, and before that I worked at Lijiang Studio on art projects and the residency program with Jay Brown. After that I started at TCG Nordica as the gallery curator and then started to manage TCG's residency program for international and Chinese artists.
CR: When was TCG founded?
LF: Nordica started in 2000. We were one of the first galleries in town, and the first gallery with an international background. It was established by two women, a poet from Sweden, Anna Mellergård, and Wu Yuerong, who established this cultural center as an international arts space from the very beginning.
CR: How did TCG start hosting international artists?
LF: TCG Nordica works as a bridge. In the beginning, we introduced scandinavian artists to China and Kunming, and also to Dapang. We had very good relationship with the universities, especially with the arts university, so they can work on projects and learn to understand each other.
CR: Do you work with artists from other countries as well?
LF: In the beginning, it was mostly Scandinavia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark... But later on, we've hosted more and more artists from other countries, even from Burma and Thailand.
CR: How do you get the word out about the residency?
LF: We find the artists in different ways. Many of them apply through our website, but in the beginning, in 2000, the internet wasn't like it is today. It was mostly based on our network in Sweden and Norway. Word of mouth is also a great way to find artists.
CR: Tell us a bit about the accommodations for artists here.
LF: We have room for two artists with a studio each, but sometimes, when artists don't need studios, we can have three people here at once. We have guest flats in town for the artists, it's about 20 minutes by bus to the gallery. And we have studios here, upstairs, above of the gallery space. The studios are individual, with one artist per studio, but the studios are part of an art community. There are other local artists right next door, so the residents can understand more about Chinese artists by working side by side.
CR: What's the process for residents to have exhibitions?
LF: Exhibitions are a separate part of the residency that residents can apply to, but it needs to be done six months or a year in advance.
CR: What's the ideal length of stay?
LF: The artists apply for different lengths. Most come for 3 to 6 months, but some come for just one. Kunming is a slow city compared to Beijing, it's good to spend a longer period of time here to understand more about the city and the people. The most meaningful thing in this program is the community.
CR: Tell us a bit more about the community's involvement.
LF: The artists come from another culture, so they bring a new way for looking at things. Artists also bring their methods that are different than what we have here now, so it's a good opportunity for art students -- most of the time, the young artists are very interested in the the guest artists. The residents are usually very flexible in working with different mediums, or with different ways of communications, so this can encourage local artists to find new possibilities. In Yunnan province, most of the local artist generally work on oil painting or in other traditional ways of art. Sometimes the residents can bring new eyes, new methods, and a fresh perspective.
The artist meet with people through workshops and lectures, according to the timing and the project's aim. Some have specific projects with clear goals like a final exhibition. If they stay for longer, it's different -- there are lots of ways to meet different people.
CR: Tell us about Kunming, as a city and an artistic environment.
LF: Kunming is far away from the center, far from Beijing and other cultural centers in China. It's more connected with other countries, like Burma and Vietnam. It's another kind of international culture, I think it's more international than the rest of Chinese provinces. For foreigners, it's easy to stay here even though people do not speak English. Also, the weather is nice, and the coffee is great. It's easy to stay.
I'm from Chongqing, I grew up there. But there are also lots of artists who grow up elsewhere and move here later in life. It's called the "back garden" of China, it's a more relaxed place. Many people say Kunming is great at growing great artists, but the second part of that sentence is that there's a weak art market here. It's not like Beijing or Shanghai. It's good to live here but not great to sell works. It's a really good place to grow as an artist.
CR: How has China and TCG changed over the past decade?
TF: China is a place that's always changing. Some people might not like this, but generally, that means there are many possibilities. The economic costs are quite low compared to the Western world. Kunming is a city, but it's still in transition from a farming, rural society to an urbanised society.
TF: Nordica's aim is to work as a bridge to let Western and Eastern meet. From here, we stand in different positions and see the changes. Most of the people in Kunming don't have a clear idea about the daily life of Westerners - they have stereotypes and archetypes, a very common face, a national type. At the beginning, we organized exhibitions presenting Sweden and Norway to grow the understanding of the countries as a whole, which then grew the understanding of the artists as individuals. I think it's very important to understand an individual's unique perspective.
CR: Tell us more about your own artistic and curatorial practice:
LF: I'm also an artist myself, I work in performance art and video. My full time work here involves curating an exhibition almost every month - 12 to 15 exhibitions a year. Most of the time, I work with artists, I visit local artists, and also manage the residency program here. Another part of my work is as an art critic, writing articles for catalogues and art publications.
CR: What kind of projects would you like to see more of in this residency?
LF: The main purpose of the residency is for each project and artist to have an attitude of seeking and understanding the local culture, or to introduce something from their culture. The most important thing for the two cultures to meet. Some artist only come to stay at the studio and not interact directly in their working process, but sometimes, through their exhibitions alone, they can contribute and influence -- but I think the meeting point is the most important.