Thursday, 21 September 2017

Artist in Residence: Ross Sinclair /// CURRENT: Contemporary Art from Scotland, Phase Three /// Shanghai Himalayas Museum

Ross Sinclair reflects on installing his exhibition, Real Life is Dead/Long Live Real Life, at Shanghai Himalayas Museum...

"Ok it’s midnight on Wed 20 September. The show opens not tomorrow, but the next day. It’s hectic, to say the least. I feel like I’ve been here in Shanghai for 3 months although it’s really only been 3 weeks. It seems simply insufficient to say that every day has been a retina-mashing blur of eye opening, stimulating images, experiences, people and places.

I’ve been staying in an apartment rather than a hotel and this has allowed a very different way of understanding the city, very much recommended. It’s a 45 minute walk from the accommodation to the Himalayas Museum and this has allowed great scope for exploration of the many different aspects of Shanghainese culture, amongst the various local neighbourhoods, including some interesting moments in informal shops trying to buy some install materials, for example attempting to explain what ‘wallpaper paste’ might be and what I might want to use it for. (not its stated use predictably) In the eyes of the wary Shanghai shop owner I think I sounded quite odd, even with a translation app, maybe especially with a translation app. I mean, wallpaper paste? Think about it, say it out loud - it barely makes sense in English. What was I thinking?

We’ve had a couple more rehearsals of the (admittedly rather grandiosely titled) Chinese Scottish Real Life Orchestra, trying to smooth out the complexities of learning the songs Real Life is Dead/Long Live Real Life in variable combinations/ mixtures of Chinese and English. I’ve learned the Chinese of the simple lyrics but I think my pronunciation is terrible. Ok, I know its terrible but I’m giving it a shot. I asked the volunteers how they wanted to arrange the songs, how the balance of the languages should be, and I think it’s sounding pretty interesting. In the ‘Orchestra’ we have a combination of members, from quite young people still at school, philosophy students, interactive designers and even a data analyst at Bank of China, and actually everyone is very youthful, except me. We’ll have another rehearsal on the morning of the opening and then make the performance during the launch of the exhibition with everybody wearing their Long Live Real Life t-shirts, especially painted in China for the performance in Shanghai.

Most of this week predictably enough has been extremely busy with the install of the show. No matter how many times I do it I never fail to get an incredible sense of this is the moment mixed with usual trepidation as the works start coming back from (in this case) the various factories, craftsmen and printers, beautiful coloured vinyl records, plush and grand banners, constructed in a traditional Chinese celebratory style, though in this case adorned with the epithets, Real Life is Dead/Long Live Real Life, alongside thousands of posters with various different texts and images. Mr Wang Lin, senior technician has been marshalling his workers good style, he is one of the good guys, the kind of tech you know really cares about the work and wants the exhibition to be seen by everyone in its best light possible, above and beyond…

But the real revelation of the last week for me has been popping across to the other side of the Museum for a bit of respite from the day to day problems of my own install to see Bruce McLean’s work slowly come into focus as the films and photographs begin to appear on the walls, as his dynamic and energised show takes shape. (many works familiar to me but others new to my eye).

When I was a student at GSA in the ‘80’s my peer group and I felt we had very few ‘senior’ Scottish artists we felt we could look up to, to hold in esteem, to act as a role model perhaps – but in many ways Bruce was one those. Of course his seminal works have been influential in my own as well as everyone else’s sense of performance to camera, of music, of humour and above all a keen sense of engagement with an audience, on many different levels, often all at the same time. It is a very genuine pleasure to see those works again, and to experience some of the others I hadn’t seen before in the flesh, so to speak. No matter how insurmountable and intractable the mundane problems I experience getting my shit together on my side of the museum, a quick 15 minutes over at Bruce’s side sees me return to the fray refreshed, with a spring in my step, and my head and heart just a wee bit full of joy."

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