In April 2009 Gonçalo Leandro suggested to host a residence for european artists in Jiu Xian the following November.
Fernando Pessoa’s words flashed in my mind.
“Qualidade distintivamente humanas
As de imaginação em vez de saber
De jogo em vez de trabalho
da totalidade em vez da separação”
From that day on, our DaST team, in charge of the Jiu Xian Garden Village project found the necessary energy to accomplish the task, even if that meant revising all its previous plans. It, suddenly, seemed urgent to mingle Jiu Xian’s inhabitants with people from other countries, speaking different languages, living in an entirely different stage of development and with artists who would enable them to capture the beauty of their surroundings.
But above all I felt that launching these artists in the midst of a civilization so different from their own could but be a thrilling experience to them.
The whole DaST (Design a Sustainable Tomorrow) team set to work intensively. We succeeded in increasing the construction capacity at the different work sites by giving the carpenters, masons, electricians and bamboo experts, greater responsibility and by increasing the number of workers at each site.
We also had to adapt the program altering temporarily what the health centre was intended for, enabling it to shelter the artists in case of bad weather, modify the structure of the exhibition rooms and alter the design of the tea-house, Without compromising in quality the access paths to the site. We reviewed and improved the design allowing it to be used two ways, one lane for visitors and one for buffalos.
The DaST workshops became more and more frequent , all the drawings were updated in real time, the logos and the costumes were designed, executive summaries and three books describing the stages of the project were also written. Above all, Gonçalo proposal made us think more deeply,about some of the processes. Introducing more flexibility, Professor Bao, Professor Feng Shu, Professor Jia Yun, Gerhy, Gao Wei, Lee Ziruo, Li Bo, Li Ming Zheng, Ma Tian Tian, Maoeraichiyu, Su Yi, Captain Wu, Vena, Joyce, Ye Ziteng i. e. Gaston, Xiao Xiao, Sissi, Swordman, Hugo, Yiping, Sandiamano, Fat, Feng Da Da as well and many others were at their best.
In the end, a house from the Ming village, had to be restored to receive the visitors and to work as the exhibition room where the project was to be presented. In order to do so, old restoration materials had to be found, the roof and framework rebuilt, the walls cleaned and plastered with lime mortar tinted with natural pigments, electricity and the lighting system installed, the rainwater sewers cleaned and restored surveyed and Mr Li’s permission granted to connect the installations to his water and electrical metre.
We were fortunate to have an English born architect, Ian, joining our reduced team due to the departure of Mr Lu and his foreman in July. It was a great pleasure to witness the community becoming fully involved even if it turned out to be difficult some days to manage the different teams working on the site as every villager wanted to help, but it was really impossible to have more than 45 workers at the same time.
Ian’s great qualities – good listener, his amiable spirit and highly efficient common sense worked wonders. He managed to organize the teams to work in turns improving the quality of life and involvement in the project of a great many families in the village.
In the beginning of September there was a major meeting in Canton with the “Dasters” at the SCUT (South China University of Technology) to present a progress report and discuss the best way to organize the Residence. The following aspects were critical to the adaptation/integration/happiness of the artists and as a result the success of the residence.
The language issue, the relation with the villagers, the importance of including school children in the project, make the artists discover the beauty of this region of China were essential. In order to do so it was decided that the artists should be able, at any time, to explore the surroundings i.e., finding drivers and translators knowing China, its customs and its history, provide the artists full access to the materials and skills they might need. This was a real sensitive issue since it could range from the request for a Grand Steinway, a steel foundry, a pottery with a 40m long furnace, a stonework factory, a carpenter’s shop, a scaffolding company, and obviously canvasses, paper and pencils…
The meals and the festivities had to be organized: fireworks, a play, a fashion show, a concert and the exhibitions. We had to inform the public authorities, invite the villagers and the officials, our friends and all those who supported the project and also make the most of the rain and the cold weather.
I must say that Yivi, Lizzie, Sissi and Wang Xi were fabulous, awfully efficient and always gentle. If it hadn’t been for them and for Nicolas always present everywhere and ready to help, the residence wouldn’t have been such a success.
A few days before the opening we were told that two of our friends, the piano Maestro Elisha Abas and the poet Howard Altmann were unable to join the group. The piano had to be cancelled!!!! and Professor Feng Shu suggested to replace the piano concert by a Guqin concert. Duma Siran joined us a few days later and our days were filled with her music.
Gonçalo’s challenge was really hard to match but transformed our year in Jiu Xian in a fabulous one.
Thank you Gonçalo.
by Frederic Coustols