I: project space is a new non-profit platform and residency program that holds exhibitions, workshops, lectures and more in their space in Beijing's hutongs. I: project space was founded earlier this year by two curators and art critics: Antonie Angerer and Anna-Viktoria Eschbach.
China Residencies: I: project space opened a few months ago, in August 2014. Tell us a bit about how it got started:
Anna Eschbach: We, Antonie Angerer and I, have known each other a rather long time now. We met while studying art history in Tübingen, Germany. After finishing our BA, we continued in two different directions: Antonie concentrated on her Chinese studies and worked in Beijing researching in the Chinese contemporary art field; while I was studying at an art academy in Frankfurt and curating exhibitions. But we always stayed in contact and did projects together.
When Antonie spent a semester at CAFA in Beijing two years ago, I came to visit and she showed me what was happening in Bejing’s art scene. We met so many interesting people and saw so much interesting art, but we soon realized that non-profit projects or off-spaces were almost completely missing. It became like a running gag between us, that we should open a non-profit art space.
After a workshop we organized one year ago, it became clear that we actually wanted to do this and try to make this idea come true. From the beginning, we were sure that we not only want to show interesting artist in exhibitions but give artists the chance to work in the inspiring and amazing city of Beijing. The rest is history. We sat down, wrote a concept and a lot of project proposals to different cultural foundations, universities, and art institutions in Europe, then moved to Beijing four months ago. The space opened with the first exhibition “re/structure” on August 16th and we are simply amazed by the life the space developed since then. In these first weeks, so many artist talks, film screenings, performances, discussions have already taken place.
CR: What’s behind the name?
Antonie Angerer: The “I” in I: project space stands for independent and international. The “I” is written with colons like in the phonetic alphabet to pronounce it yi.
CR: How did you decide on the location of the residency?
AA: It was important for us to bring the art back into the city. In Beijing, art is taking place mostly in closed off art districts like 798. For commercial galleries, this scenario makes sense, but since our understanding of art and our space is based on dialogue, we had to get back into the neighborhoods where art can really dialogue with society and its changes. This also allows our artists in residence to actually live in a Chinese community and its traditional city structure. I: project space is located in a shared courtyard, which means that we became part of a little community with the family that has lived in this courtyard for four generations. As much as we are embedded into their lives, our project and art projects are embedded in this surrounding.
CR: How many people are on staff?
AE: Two – the core team are Antonie and myself. But of course a project like this would not be possible without a lot of helping hands for translation, installation, helping at events and so on. One person that helped us to work on the design and appearance of I: project space is the Swiss designer Sonja Zagermann. She will also do a very interesting design cooperation in Beijing next year at our space.
CR: Both founders come from a curatorial background, and each resident you host will have an exhibition. Tell us a bit about what kinds of artists and projects your residency wishes to host:
AE: For the exhibitions we curate at our space, we want to show positions and art forms that are somehow marginalized in the very commercial art scene here in China. We will predominantly show video art, performance, and conceptual art projects. In our upcoming exhibition there will be three artist groups working directly with our space and its surroundings, presenting videos and doing performances that in some form interact with the space itself.
For the residency program we invite people that want to use their time in Beijing for further research. We have a fairly big studio, but we are not the place where you could paint on large canvases. Also the time of 2-3 months is limited. It is therefore the decision of the resident if he or she really wants to do an exhibition.
CR: How many artists in residence have you hosted so far?
AA: In the beginning of November we will welcome our second Artist-in-Residence, Michael Bodenmann.
CR: What kind of artwork have the resident artists created? Can you give us an example of some of the most interesting projects by residents?
AA: Annalena Müller was very fascinated with the light effects a smoggy sky can create. Throughout her stay, she walked around and took pictures of the glowing red sky against the outlines of the hutong buildings. Back at her studio, she started to abstract those pictures and reduced the pictures to an abstract drawing of these sky effects. At the end, she did more than 50 of those drawings. In her final presentation at our exhibition space, she used this practice and the memory of all the drawings to create one line directly along the wall. Her work is also closely linked to Chinese calligraphy, where you practice writing a character over and over again until it becomes part of your “hand memory”. It was also a very interesting piece to show, because people reacted in so many different ways to these abstract paintings.
CR: Can you tell us a bit more about the opportunities you provide for residents to meet local artists?
AE: Besides the residency program and our curated exhibition, we have a lot of events with local artist at our space. The artists staying with us are always invited to take part in the events or organize events on their own. Furthermore, we try to put the artists staying with us in contact with projects that could be relevant for them. For example the final presentation of our last resident artist Annalena Müller was part of the Beijing Design Week.
CR: You ask artists to leave an art print of their work at I: project space, are planning on building a permanent collection or archive of the work created on site?
AA: Yes, we don’t consider it to be a collection but rather an archive of the projects that went on here at I: project space. Since the artists staying with us are not obliged to do an exhibition at the end of their stay, we want to document their stay and how they interacted with the environment this way.
CR: Tell us a bit about the talks and events you host at the space.
AE: We have a monthly artist talk that is often linked to the topics of the exhibitions taking place at I: project space. Furthermore, we just started an “art salon” to discuss issues of contemporary art and China. We see ourselves as an open space and want to invite interesting people with their projects to hold screenings, discussions, workshops, lectures etc. at our place.
CR: Is there anything else you'd like to add about the program, your mission, or the opportunities you provide for artists?
AA: For us it is very important to stress, that we function as a non-profit space to give young, emerging artists the chance to experiment outside the art market.
This interview was conducted via email by Kira Simon-Kennedy for China Residencies.