Kinfolk China speaks to 八家 Bajia editor-in-chief Zandie Brockett about the importance of independent print culture in China today.
八家 Bajia House 2 at Printed Matter New York Art Book Fair
Last weekend (Sept 21 - 23), NYC readers found our newest issue as well as a few limited edition copies of 八家 Bajia House 1: The Laws of Space.
We will be headed to the Boston Art Book Fair from October 12 - 14th. Find us at the Fully Booked table there!
For its official launch, 八家 Bajia House 2, together with the first issue, found itself on display at Art Book China Beijing.
Both Chinese and foreign readers were fascinated by the newest issue, Social Spaces. Sharing with us their own ideas for social enterprises or the ways in which they, together with friends and family, build community.
Bajia is now on sale in stores throughout Beijing and also on our website. International distribution to come!
Art Book China (ABC) was founded in 2015 as the first major art book fair in China, ABC is dedicated to promoting local artist books and independent publications from China and abroad. Over the past years, ABC has organized book fairs in Shanghai that bring together a diverse array of publishers and distributors from the fields of contemporary art and design. This is the first ABC in Beijing.
With over 14,000 visitors, the China Indie Library at the LA Art Book Fair 2015 was a success! Thank you to everyone who came to the Geffen to check out our booth.
For anyone who was unable to make it, or was just having a sensory overload, you can still get your copy of BaJia and a groovy Bactagon tote online!
我们很高兴在洛杉矶艺术书展举办的China Indie Library获得成功！有超过1.4万名访客参与本次活动。非常感谢来Geffen支持我们展位的朋友们。
Bactagon Projects and New Territories
CHINA INDIE LIBRARY
A diverse selection of independent publications from China, including periodicals, zines, comics and artist books.
八家 BaJia | Homeshop's WEAR Journal | Modes Vu | 流泥 Concrete Flux | 垃圾杂志 Laji Magazine | 假杂志社 Jia Zazhi Press | 烟囱 Yan Cong | 233 林志鹏 Lin Zhipeng | Being Generation
We all know the adage “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. Perhaps. My grandfather, for instance, kept 1000s upon 1000s of old soda and beer bottle tops in his basement. A couple of times I crept down (not that doing so was barred from me, but what child doesn’t descend into the depths of any home without a measure of caution and trepidation?) there when I was young and would investigate his heaps, most of which were stored into overflowing 10 or 15 gallon trash bags. Decades worth of bottle tops. Many different designs, colors, and iconic logos – the timeless Coca Cola, the difficult to find these days RC Cola…minor changes in certain logos throughout the years. Certainly little points of interest, but, at least to my eight or ten year old taste, nothing to really pore over for hours.
This is in no way to criticize my grandfather’s choice of material, but sometimes I do wonder what drives people’s desire to collect in bulk, especially when it comes to commonplace items that serve little or no practical or moral utility when decontextualized and oftentimes places in storage chambers to reside under wraps, as it were, for years or decades. When my grandfather – also an avid Norwegian fiddler, dancer, and dairy farmer – passed away, his sacks were still lying right there in the basement, to be hauled away by my uncles to the down dump, presumably to either lie in a perpetual state of glacially-paced decomposition in some western Wisconsin landfill, or be processed down into constituent metals (I’m not sure if this was possible for bottle caps back then).
And then there are collectors who take their loads of chosen material and recreate different aspects of the world. If my grandfather had been differently inspired, he may have used his bottle caps to recreate famous paintings in history. Think to various Mona Lisas and Starry Nights you’ve seen throughout the years, faithfully reproduced in chewed bubble gum, yarn, paper clips, crushed glass, lego bricks, etc. My grandfather didn’t have an art history background and had never been able to travel much, given 16-hour days on the farm. And so, had he been so inclined in his silver years, I imagine he might have made a huge jersey cow out of his bottle caps…some kind of riff on the Trojan Horse, perhaps. I can picture it as written in the local travel guides: ….Made over the course of fifteen years, the Trojan Cow of Hixton, WI is made of over 25,000 bottle caps…
Big Ben out of toothpicks; Hogwarts out of Gummy Bears: Such are the products of a peculiar brand of hoarder/artisan. Perhaps they are driven by some unknowable, secret power that demands a certain material be used, for unbeatable symbolism and instructive potential, but more often than not I think it comes down to a generally unimpeachable human impulse to “make do” of excess. “Hmm,” says the archetypal hoard-ist/hoard-isan, “I’ve sure got a heck of a lot of twine….if I just had some more I could….” And boom.
Then there are collectors that, through their acts of mass accumulation, preserve certain portions of culture from the brink of extinction. Last month, Beijing-based collector and archivist Thomas Sauvin spoke for our A.M. Brainstorm series about his “Beijing Silvermine” project. Consider hundreds and hundreds of thousands of film negatives from the Capital of the most populous country in the world, taken at a time of momentous shifts in consumption patterns…For whatever usual reasons – moving apartments, deaths in the family, consolidations – they find themselves about to be recycled for their silver content. Each negative, no more than the size of half a gum wrapper, holding memories and impressions of humans who had found it fitting to capture each other for some future’s sake (back when photography was more intentional): The flames are approaching…And suddenly they are grasped from the edge of nothingness, viewed, and archived.
Picture the faces, patterns of dress, behavior, and affect of countless people at a very specific time in human history. Perhaps not the most representative portrayal of “society” writ large – for here we see a segment that had had enough money to spend on cameras, film, and the kinds of travel, experiences, and items deemed “photo worthy” at the time – but a body impressive enough to spin a million yarns and inspire hundreds of collaborative ideas. Some of these are predictably ludicrous, crass, and/or baldly commercial, but others – for instance the stop-action animation film by Lei Lei and Sauvin – are as democratically embracing and psychologically engaging as are only works of art that should and (by the grace of guardians with foresight) often do last.
Is there a kind of art gene that is essentially deterministic? Or a constellation of such genes? Surely the inclination to create is within all humans, but the ability to fashion things from the imagination gradually tapers off with time for most people. Those who retain the creative bug we tend to call artists.
Perhaps it is something within the recesses of the biological coding of certain individuals that serves to resist any and all attempts to quash creative efforts. It is a defense against what in most people is seen as a natural and healthy form of atrophy.
The speakers for our August brainstorm, Chen Xi and Zejian Shen, certainly support such a hypothesis. Thinking of the potential role of “nuture” in the eternal N/N debate, I asked the artists about their experiences with art instruction and support for their formative creative practices prior to art school. Were their parents artists? Were they taken to museums when they were young? Did adult role models put colored pencils, boxes of crayons, and papers next to the crib, as it were? Both speakers could remember nothing that really stood out in their minds. They each drew often as children, but could offer little contextual explanations for their doodling efforts.
As Chen Xi said, “Kids draw all the time.” UFOs, trucks, spaceships, and so on, he said, are the natural products of children’s desire to realize their special dreamscapes. Having grown up in a military armaments factory-town, Chen Xi made do with what he could find as a budding artist; scraps of design paper and tiny bits of metallic detritus used weapons production were parts of his toolkit. Zejian Shen grew up in California, far in distance and (presumably) aesthetic from Chen Xi’s factory-town home, yet she built her own dream environments, often comprised of kittens of various personas and self portraits.
“We are all time travelers,” Chen Xi offered the audience, attempting to address the oftentimes unacknowledged private thought-space to which all humans have access. People go forward and back again in their minds, often within a very short period of time. Strands of real and imagined pasts can weave seamlessly with those of alternate futures. Part of existence is to play with existence itself, and part of one’s identity (one could argue) lies in the attempt to play with and continually refashion identity. So, in Chen Xi’s current work, we can still perceive the machines and astronauts of his boyhood, as we can see cats and portraits in Shen’s. With age, these icons have likely assumed different meanings and greater texture for the artists, but the penchant to continually revisit such symbols reflects an interest in revisiting earlier visions. Time travellers we are all, but those who (can’t help but) assume the mantle of artist must especially hold an intimate dialogue with the past.
Are you a bibliophile? Knowledge seeker? Do you sometimes look at your Kindle in disappointment, wishing it had the ineffable tooth, wear, and smell of the printed page? Looking for a whole lot of novel ways to engage with art, literature, and music during late September?
We soooo have you covered. Join us in Dashilar throughout Beijing Design Week, 2014 for The Bibliorium, a Curated Experience we are holding in collaboration with LEAP Magazine, China's premier contemporary art periodical. More details to come.
I can't necessarily write that the last Brainstorm unleashed a ceaseless shower of polemical fireworks, but our July talk certainly kept both speakers and audience engaged, and perhaps as close to seat-of-the-pants suspense and anticipation as any sunny, late-Saturday-morning-in-a-dyed-in-the-wool-Beijing-hutong-courtyard-café can get. We returned to our home at the Other Place with the vengeance, let’s say.
Not that it was the kind of entertainment you would get from watching Transformers 4, or anything of that stripe. Who wants that, anyhow? Can someone with a little bit more free time and the ability to withstand that movie – how are they not simply 35 – 40 minutes, by now? – write a piece on how somehow, collectively, we have condoned an industry that spends hundreds of millions of dollars on sequels that offer little to no change from their predecessors – let alone any fostering of bridging cultural boundaries or exploration of the tide pools of the human condition? The robot has a new jet pack, colored ultramarine instead of Prussian blue. And the new, Caucasian male lead has three days’ beard stubble, while the old, discarded lead was a “24-hour shadow” kind of guy. Hey, hey, Hollywood! Thank you for taking the banal to its terminus, & making it such a great pleasure and breath of fresh air to think about subjects as alive and relevant as architecture!
So that’s what was done. Young, western-trained architects based in Beijing, each finding different ways of building their careers in an incredibly difficult climate for young professionals in the field. I think I’m not alone in believing the talk, which currently holds the record as longest A.M. Brainstorm, could have easily gone on for 2 more hours without losing any appreciable amount of the audience. There were just far too many questions that could have / should have been asked.
Things like, “What are the limits of architectural intervention in crises or reflections of sociological decay?”; “How did you first arrive at your disciplinary ‘heroes’, and how has their influence on your worked changed over time?”; “What is the relationship between architecture and spirituality or a sense of mysticism?”; “If you had the time to study another subject intensively for a year that would benefit your practice and its derivative projects, what would it be?”; and “Can you achieve a harmonious balance between being a good, hard-working disciple of a particular methodology and/or school of thought and an ever-curious seeker of new intellectual terrain(s)?” Etc.
Some of this interest probably stemmed from the fact that a good deal of the audience were either architects themselves or in related fields. However, I’d submit that it also comes from the fact that: a) many of us non-architects thought of becoming architects at some point in our lives (could this be due to the fact that as children some of our first, “real” engagements with the world came through manipulations of objects in space, and exploring how those objects interacted with one another, and how the results of those interactions made us think & feel?); b) all of us, save those living some kind of swashbuckling, Robinson Crusoe kind of existence, are forever surrounded by “architecture" (in certain circles – here you are Cruz, my friend – there is a clear distinction between buildings as uninformed arrangements of materials so as to provide basic shelter, and constructions of Capital “A” architecture); and c) the spaces we inhabit from day to day are not merely frames for our activities that keep us out of the elements - their influences, probably most often at the subconscious level, shape our lives in both large and subtle ways…We are products of our architecture/buildings no less than of our domestic, economic, political, and cultural settings. Over time, buildings write themselves into our neurochemistry; I’m sure science will support this claim, if it hasn’t already.
Points of convergence would have shown themselves in time, but the primarily source of contention between the speakers came from the working definition of architect. To Jenny Chou, who finds inspiration from the mythical Daedalus, who constructed the Labyrinth of ancient Crete, the architect must have a strong foundation in the practice of building. This conception was rejected out of hand by Cruz Garcia of WAI Architecture Think Tank. To he and his partner, Nathalie Frankowski, it is unnecessary for an architect to ever actually have a design constructed (or participate in its construction). Some of the most seminal architects in history, they contended, have been thinkers, theorizers, and, one would presume, inspirational figures for others who have gone on and built. A 12-year-old child, to their thinking, could theoretically be a very capable architect. For formally trained architects who have gone through the hoops of rigorous academic training and/or accreditation, this is a surprising view, albeit it is one taken by those who have seen the system, intimately known it, and perceived its shortcomings.
Theirs is a welcoming conception – I wanted to ask them if a primary school teacher, without any specific knowledge of the history of architecture, could be considered an worthy architect, if she/he were to find a method of making ideas of form, function, and space infinitely exciting for young students…perhaps? – but it does have qualifications; an architect can assume many guises, but there are certain things that would disqualify one from legitimacy. Even if a given individual is fully certified, wildly celebrated, and “successful” (whether financially, through number of buildings constructed and/or their prestige), she/he wouldn’t be worth salt if there wasn’t an underlying respect for and sense of responsibility to humanity (Jenny Chou, having collaborated on projects to provide relief tents to refugees, fully agrees with this). Related, an architect must at all costs avoid further dotting our landscapes with thoughtless structures – think roadside motels and semi-on-campus dorms to most universities – that do no more for people than give them a place to hang the proverbial hat.
A late afternoon start time and an unexpected, last minute change of venue probably account for the horde of people that didn’t come June’s talk. Nevertheless, the crowd that ultimately made it were treated to two works by critically-acclaimed international composer-musicians…considering the (impossible-to-top-in-Beijing) pastries provided by Opera Bombana, and the sacral, 600 year-old Chinese temple feel and acoustics of our temporary digs @ Contempio, I’d say that’s a pretty good deal for the 0 RMB price of admission. Not that I’m trying to tempt you to come to our July talk or anything… ;)
The Chinese musician, instrument maker, professor, and programmer, Meng Qi, opened up the event with a performance-experimentation using a newly designed, hybrid instrument of his.
As you can see in the photos, the as-yet unnamed instrument has a metal box encasement, which houses the electrical imagic/wizardry created by Meng Qi that serves as an interface between computer and external blue strings. Admittedly, Meng Qi is still “learning” is instrument, but in having been its inventor, there is essentially no prescribed way of playing “properly”. Meng Qi is both teacher and student.
This question was brought up in the (so fruitful I was genuinely upset when it needed to end) discussion: In an age of makers, incredible experimentation, and a proliferation of never-before-seen instruments, what happens to academic notions of musical training? Clearly, the time-honored methods of expression and teaching for certain instruments will still exist; kids will still want to pick up the piano, violin, lute (forgive me, I’ve gotta give a nod to the lute every now and then; I’m addicted to pre-bedtime reading lute recordings – oh, the blessedness of lute-induced REM cycles!). But it is also clear that the age of blending both acoustic-analog and electric-digital is still in its infancy, and the swathes of unexplored territory before us are unthinkable. This is the kind of prospect that has always given reactionaries pause; it is the kind of development that led Delacroix and the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to snub visionaries like Courbet, whose scenes of domestic realism and socioeconomic complexity seem today as inevitable and commonplace as faux Louix Vuitton smart phone covers.
Despite slight differences in age and training – Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi comes from a more classically-trained background – our speakers both took to the developments and possibilities of electronic interfaces at an early age. And while the opening of the creative floodgates has led to an ever-expanding field of amateur “bedroom composers” offering their works for sale and/or consumption online, they don’t see this as a bad thing. In their minds, this creative flurry for the most part inspires professionals like themselves to raise the bar ever higher, both for themselves and their field(s).
The brushed metal waves coming from Meng Qi’s creation echoed throughout our little chamber and called me, for one, into trance. This use of feedback, even in its experimental phase, could very well be a lute replacement; I’m just not sure how much reading I could get done simultaneously.
The piece Jacopo Baboni-Schilingi chose to play for the audience was the result of the kind of interdisciplinary, collaborative work that takes him around the globe these days. Based in Paris, the French-Italian composer, lecturer, and researcher is currently touring heavily in Asia. For him to have taken time out of his frenetic schedule and given us an experience of his piece, which melds his electronic score to the moving visuals of his multi-media artist co-developer, was no small treat. The piece was impactful coming from his laptop; I have to believe that seeing it presented in one of its intended environments would be truly captivating.
No, it's not that kind of BYOB...Far better.
Come this Saturday for a celebration of DIY spirit and art in the Hutongs. The show will include an array of projections, installations, sound and performance from 29 Chinese and International Artists exploring the theme of "Rendering". For details in Mandarin you can go here.
This past Saturday, attendees to our second A.M. Brainstorm had the opportunity to hear the considered thoughts and reflections from members of “The Collective Eye”, a collection of individuals, thinkers, artists, and writers devoted to promoting and exploring the aesthetics and manifestations of contemporary artistic collectives. Hailing from South America, Europe, and Beijing, the speakers addressed many issues related both to the theory and practice of starting and maintaining collectives that are more often than not comprised of busy individuals already engaged in independent scholarly, critical, and artistic projects.
Before getting at the particular work and motivations of the “Collective Eye”, it was useful to attempt at a definition of the elusive animal, the “Collective”, an abstract creature fraught with historical, cultural, and philosophical significance. The history of science, with discoveries in cell biology, anatomy, particle and astrophysics, etc., discredits the “man as island” theme as an existential impossibility. Regardless of what you might believe, by virtue of simply being alive, you are literally and figuratively sharing breath, time, and space with the countless quintillions – quintillions to the gazillionth power? Mathematicians, throw me a bone, or give me a break, if you can – of other sentient creatures out there.
The Jacksonian Yeoman farmer was a heroic archetype of the 19th Century and in many ways precursor to the American “cowboy” figure. A rugged, tight-lipped character, in possession of a six shooter or two, dust-ridden cowhide chaps (one would assume the skin of which was stripped from a lame or old animal the cowboy had driven hard across various tree-strewn mountain valleys), a “10 gallon” hat, and a trusty steed, the cowboy of lore frequently visited windswept towns at the edge of civilization, in between presumed horse rides of several weeks or months. He entered bars with the unabashed gait of someone sprung from the Gods and drank his fill of the local vintage (usually some kind of whiskey - straight up, no chaser), although one would think that after having ridden across seemingly endless, scorching-hot stretches, he could have done with a glass or two of well water first.
In these bars, he broke the proverbial bread with fellow roamers by sitting at a rough, round table and playing cards and gambling for various belongings – titles to vast tracks of undeveloped land; prized guns; horses; expertly wrought belt buckles; nuggets of gold; and, if living post the Era of Lincoln, some of the first “Greenbacks” (paper currency) of America’s toddlerhood. Aside from moments of nodding, dealing, calling, or raising bets, our cowboy rarely interchanged with the others around him. In many cowboy tales, the closest two men ever got to one another was in the split second of eye locking before the drawing of pistols and determining of fates.
The cowboy, then, was basically a solitary comet in the sky, and unlike the actual, heavenly bodies, he created and followed his own brand of organizing principles. He was his own compass. If he wanted to ride, drink, sleep under the stars, or vanquish another, he would; for he was a discrete unit, beholden to nothing and nobody, the embodiment of a special idea of “free”.
Of course the above is a gross generalization; I’m sure there were a fair amount of cowboys with a certain spirit for collective undertakings. Some of them probably ran to be constables, mayors, and judges of the budding towns of the American west. And many of them fell in love quite strongly, or wanted to, and on the open road, to their horses and the stars above, they would sing lovesick ballads in muted tones…discrete units, perhaps, but only in theory and though self delusion; their skin wasn’t all too perfectly granite. The road could be challenging, and at the end of it, many cowboys secretly wanted someone to offer them water from a clean glass, even if they could easily have grabbed it for themselves nearby wells. In return for the water, they wanted to take the richly-thistled, somewhat unfamiliar brushes of the toilette into their hands and go over the careworn & often sun-damaged hair of the water givers…
Similarly, the Nietzschean Übermensch is a farce. Yes, speaking purely statistically, his/her neurons might be firing at a slightly greater rate than those of the average Joe. To the end that processing speed – let alone wisdom – is advantageous to any individual or society (we’ll leave that debate for another day), this is fine. But really, he/she can brood near the mountaintops for only so long. The “Übermensch” might care for a cup of coffee or two after a while…And what will he/she do, for this one, particular, and fleeting desire? Completely re-invent the wheel of coffee plant cultivation? Work the fields, tirelessly hoeing, digging, sowing, watering, reaping, roasting, pressing, etc.? How many lifetimes of sweat would go into the making of a single cup?
No, when this character descends from his/her lofty plane and enters the local café, he can’t merely declare, “I alone AM, have a reason for existence. Because of the light that is me, and the total absence of light and grandeur that is you, you will freely give unto me a generous serving of your finest artisanal single-serving French press…you dithering peon.”
Humans aren’t wired to abide that kind of complete, unreflective egoism. At some level, and to some degree, the individual aspiring to be the hyper-insanity that is the “Ubermensch” must show an element of respect for the other(s), even if that is a begrudging handing over of small bills for a dark, (to this writer’s taste buds, deeply satisfying) caffeinated liquid. This signifies, “Unfortunately, I cannot of my own volition simply will this into my hands. Because you possess what I want, I must acknowledge you as an entity that can fulfill at least one of my natural desires. Consequently, you are an agent who can, by your granting me a cup or not, in small way choose to alter the course of my existence.”
This is why the “he picked himself up from the sh*t and soot and dirt of his misbegotten, godforsaken, & desperately poor youth” tales never really hit me that hard. Yes, certain people, especially given dreary contexts, do seem to weave incredible biographies of strength over adversity and courage. But really, though, there are always innumerable workers and factors behind the scenes.
So there are no islands, cowboys, or Übergoobers. Not really.
And I even question those in fables, you know? Most people think of Zeus as the eternal father of the Olympians. And yet he apparently was the unwanted son of Cronus, who ate his other children for fear of their stealing his Universal - capital “U” here, people – hegemony. Zeus escaped infanticide through the intervention of his mother, Gaia, who spirited him away to a remote location and tricked Cronus by giving him a boulder cloaked with a baby blanket (the fact that Cronus was so easily fooled suggests the kind of mind perhaps not best equipped to lead all beings for all time). Even the Tosser of Lighting needed others and must have been aware of the blessing of the maternal hand.
We are all of some kind of collective, if not 100s/1000s of different and somewhat overlapping collectives simultaneously.
Heinz-Norbert Jocks, who often writes in solitude from the comfort of his apartment, illustrates this well. Even before his work with “The Collective Eye”, he understood himself as part of the collective of wordsmiths and knowledge builders past and present. The words that ultimately go onto his pages are informed by all the words of the writers he has absorbed throughout his lifetime. His writing identity is a result of that accumulated and filtered data and beauty. In turn, future writers who have read Norbert’s works will necessarily contain a bit of him in what they create.
"The Collective Eye” attempt to address the reality of life as a fabric and increase the thread count, as it were. Collectivity is a quality that exists on a continuum, and the strength of a given collective is the result of a healthy intuitive understanding of the human being. According to the speakers, the complete subjugation of the individual to the whole, a la Marxian thinking, will ultimately serve neither the sum nor the parts; rejecting the unique sparks, inklings, and eccentricities of people deadens the spirit. Some of the desire to work for the collective springs from the collective’s ability to allow the individual to express, or live by, his or her “personhood”. In moderating the talk, Zandie mentioned this Aristotelian conception of symbiotic relations. The collective cannot exist without the work individuals, and constituent units cannot practice their crafts without the healthy working of the whole.
This doesn’t mean that collective must be limited to a particular space, time, or ideology, or working methodology. The Collective Eye are comprised of individuals living in different countries. Artists, writers, critics, and theoreticians, they each have projects separate from their collective work. It’s not as if they are living together on some farm, weaving clothes and gathering fruits and nuts by day and passionately discussing the latest volumes of esoteric journals and monographs by night. They are not a particular school; they don’t have to pledge oaths. Oftentimes they may disagree about processes or ends, and, in the joking words of one of the speakers, “want to kill” each other. Members might not physically speak or communicate for several months at a time…Nevertheless, there is an unambiguously positive, natural force the constituents feel through their collective work. Their unifying motivation is to function as a kind of meta-collective, attempting to further the study and work of collectives across the world (mainly those related to the arts, but it seems they want to embrace collectives investigating a variety of other issues). In a world in which technology has quickly ushered out the real time interface, the collective practice seems to bring a feeling of real, living accord. Given problems and issues are examined with greater force, clarity, and, one would argue, success. Also importantly, as Sebastian Alonso pointed out, lessons, ideas, and principles generated through collective work can be profitably applied to personal projects.
Thankfully, if you have further interest in “The Collective Eye”, the individual work of its constituents, other collectives, and/or the aesthetics, practices, and undertakings of creative collectives in the 21st century, you can come to "The Collective Eye Symposium." Running from May 30 to June at CAFA, it features the work of dozens of thinkers and artists from China and across the Globe, with an emphasis on the question of "group subjectivity and its aesthetics in the light of cultural differences." All of this past Saturday’s participants will be there, having devoted much of the past year to putting it together; so if you can, come and show your (collective) spirit by helping to crowd the house.
Yesterday was one of the first scorching days of the (still unofficial) summer, and while I don't know about Zandie, I certainly wasn't prepared to be sating myself on a table of carbs; the time and angle of the sun suggested something more like watermelon juice or coconut water.
We arrived at Opera Bombana through the reference of Max Levy, one of last month's A.M. Brainstorm participants and chef/owner of Okra Sushi and Cocktail Bar. Aiming to procure a partnership for the finest possible baked goods for our monthly Brainstorms, we asked Levy to nominate a potential candidate in town, and he gave us word that the morsels coming out of Executive Chef Marino D'Antonio's kitchen are indeed worthy of praise and consideration.
Our tasting at Opera Bombana was the happiest of afternoon treats. Indulging on bread, pastries, and almost-too-beautiful-to-eat-teeny-tiny yummies has rarely been so pleasurable. I totally forgot about the coconut water.
First, we were greeted by the genuinely warm and gracious D'Antonio, who sat us down in a comfortable spot adjacent to the bar.
After introducing bāc-tā-gon, its mission, and the A.M. Brainstorm concept to Chef D'Antonio and learning more about his vision at Bombana, we were presented with the first of many impossible-to-refuse creations.
Now, I have been known to guiltily consume a slice of "Wonder" - white, lacking in taste, nutritional content, and imagination - bread now and then. Opera Bombana's vision of bread reminds me why going for the ubiquitious white breads is invariably met with a pang of guilt: It is a crime against the real, true "essence" of bread. More than flavorful enough to require the usual accomplices of olive oil, butter, and/or cheese, made with the finest of flours and unique ingredients like spelt, capers, and sunflower seeds, this bread is pure wholesome. This is the stuff Ceres, goddess of grains and the harvest, gives you when she's having a banner day.
And then there were two. To the first pastry was added the traditional Roman Maritozzi @ left. Zandie and I had a tough (albeit enviable) situation before us: Which to attack first? Left flank? Right? Or Center (I mean, really, look at that golden brown.....you just know there's a heaven-style flakiness factor awaiting you)?
But before we could make our choice, the adorable, astoundingly orb-shaped and fluffy, and rather onomatopaic "Bomboloni" arrived......an already difficult choice made painful.
We ultimately decided to go the traditional savory before sweet route, in lieu of a better competing argument. The breads themselves, especially the darker, walnut-infused Segale e Noci, had a bit of natural sweetness to them, and would have been a totally complete and satisfying tasting pair. But yes, there were pastries, like the above Bomboloni, sprinkled with sugar above and filled with an ever-so-subtly-sweet lemon cream filling. A popular summer treat, the Bombolini is now officially a major actor in my imaginary/alternate reality Italian boyhood.....btw, just a hint to friends out there, since we can't really self-nickname....when I hit 65 or 70 and am (hopefully) a jolly, rotund old artist, I really, really wouldn't mind being called any variation of "The Bomboloni".
A jaunt around Beijing's hutongs on any given weekend can provide quite the cognitive stimulus -- interestingly enough, the programming found is actually curated, performed, edited and produced by a diverse group of 老外 (foreigners) living and working in Beijing.
As their online journal is intended to not be read in any linear trajectory, of typical publications, the founders devised a unique way to allow readers the same experience upon reading the printed version.
Upon entering the Institute for Provocation, one encountered a plethora of printed pages laying in stacks atop a long, rectangular table. With instructions on how to assemble ones' own publication, readers were able to select not only which articles they wished to include, but also the order in which it was to be read. Participants building journals were then asked to find two partners with whom they would collaboratively design their cover -- with three Chinese ink brushes affixed to a wooden board, the movement of the brushes were forced into a synchronized flow, creating a truly hybrid image, influenced by the collective yet clearly existing as a unique unit, influenced by its respectful owner.
Later that evening, musician, performer, curator and 8actagon creative collaborator, Michelle Proskell, organized DuoDuoDuo -- a trio of duo performances at XP. Existing as curated musical experience, audiences witnessed two musicians in an entirely improvised conversation, acting and reacting to produce a collaborative set that moved and grooved the audience. Performing first was Michelle and Michael Cupoli, as "na/mr" -- the dubious bass of Cupoli's hip-hopped synthesizer was complemented by the lyric-less vocal cords of Michelle's own voice.
Fully interactive, Michelle moved through a variety of personas as the 30 minute performance progressed. In the most organic of ways, the props of these identities moved from the stage into the hands of the listeners -- the angelic like bubbles blown from a pink, dolphin-shaped machine perfectly juxtaposed the hip-hop-rocker sounds. The bubbles were even utilized to lay dead an arbitrary balloon that had somehow became the sack of a communal hackie game. But through the sounds and props, there was a natural, unspoken bridge that formed between the eclectically gathered audience.
Naturally following the human-infused "na/mr" was "Blister Babies", a live duet, of sorts, by Jordan Mitchell on guitar and Steve Roach on drums. Though extremely different in production, and thus in sound, their performance served as a cream layered between cookie ends.
The acid infused, funkadelic sounds of the "Ourang-Outang"(s) seemed to transform the audience as if being released from a cage for the first time. Though improvised in theory, the clearly practiced duo brought forth plenty a dancing feet. Outfitted in homemade "Ape of God" apparel and equipped with bananas and Pocari Sweat for all, their persona was as if a tribal Hendrix with a Tang (the classic, orange-powder drink) infused headband played in a hyper-modern, dub-induced dream.
Though somewhat excessively formulated identity, their music was unique and groovy to say the least -- as if one of Zimbardo's experiments, the duo utilized the natural sounds of an orangoutang environment (bird chirps, chimp hoots and rustic blowing wind) to create a soundscape that not only stimulated but almost unconsciously, yet knowingly subjected the audience to the rising and falling beats. Pretended to be in line with their animal like essence, their mastery of sound culminating in a short encore left the audience feeling like they were a cruel zoo keeper poking and prodding their caged animal -- nevertheless loving it and wanting but more.
Though the causes and effects of dance are rarely critiqued, the organic rise of inter-audience and audience-musician relations during DuoDuoDuo were undoubtedly a byproduct of each acts' profound understanding of not only a basic beat, but more so performance itself.
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