The Chinese Dream

 

Together with Tatiana Bazzichelli and Francesco Palmieri I am organizing several panels for the forthcoming Transmediale Festival in Berlin from 29 january till 2 february in Haus Der Kulturen Der Welt whose theme this year is “afterglow.” One of the panels deals with artistic-sexual rebellion and censorship in the Chinese netsphere. The speakers for this panel are Dr. Sufeng Song who is an outspoken academic and activist at Sun Yat Sen university, Guanzhou, and Didi-Kirsten Tatlow who is a correspondent for the New York Times in Beijing with a focus on art, democracy, feminism and technology. Besides these two speakers I have interviewed two well known dissident artists/intellectuals who are currently banned from international travel–the pioneering sex activist and investigative documentarian Ai Xiaoming (sometimes called “Ai of the South”)and the world famous artist and social media commentator Ai Wei Wei (“Ai of the North”).

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Both Ai Xiaoming and Ai Wei Wei have had their passports removed and are undergoing constant surveillance by the state while all information about their work is censored.While the contents of their statements can only be revealed at the festival, here are some snapshots of the famous cat of Ai Wei Wei, who made an appearance during the interview. The cat walked in fifteen minutes before the interview took place and jumped on the “celebrity chair.” When Ai Wei Wei himself walked in a bit later and was ready to sit down, she refused to move at all, so Ai Wei Wei then gently dragged the chair with the cat on it away and took another chair. Then we talked  about about the state of Chinese art, political provocation, the importance of the imagination and social debate within the neo-liberal authoritarian state. Ai Wei Wei’s statements were overall quite pessimistic and it was difficult for me to ask more personal questions or to lift the mood.

We sensed and acknowledged a total rift between China and the West in how he is treated as a public celebrity figure–while we can find an overload of information about him outside China, his compatriots who share his cultural background cannot not find any information at all. It is as if he is officially deleted from the networks and could well be replaced by his cat. But of course Ai Wei Wei continues to make art internationally and does have a local support system. If you want to read an account of how Ai Wei Wei feels affected and deals artistically with his post-prison condition read Didi-Kirsten Tatlow’s recent interview in the New York Times.  Here you can read how he engages in  small protest on a daily basis, how he feels that art and intellectual life in China is sick and needs healing, and where he would like to go if he could travel again.

 

The man who never screamed during orgasm.

I had been invited by Professor Sufen Song of Sun Yat-Sen University in Guanzhou to give a talk about “Feminine Pornography as Art of Failure” and to hold a workshop with women who are into gay erotic animations and fictions.  The talk garnered unusually rich feedback from students. The workshop was well attended and came alive during the second half, where they were asked to imagine  a short story about  gay couple in Berlin, an older Belgian professor Moenen (named after the devil in the Flemish medieval story Marieke Van Nijmeghen) who falls in love with the much younger Fritz from Berlin.

The Guanzhou imagination ran wild as students improvised their versions of this relationship.  One student recited her story in loud and confident english sentences and was not shy to use the f*** word. And several days later that very story got stuck in my mind, so I summarize it here for you:

Professor Moenen is very old-fashioned and strict, the kind of person who takes care of his own household. Between the two world wars he visits Berlin. a wet and dark city, and ends up in a bar called Neo, filled with strictly gay men. They are the kind who drink their coffees while talking about Plato. When Moenen runs into the gorgeous Fritz, he falls for him quickly and does all the things Fritz tells him to do.

Fritz  fucks professor Moenen very hard. But Moenen does not scream or shout it loud. Fritz wants him to say “Fuck me harder!” but he does not shout. Fritz soon is tired of the old dog who just follows him around. In the end he dumps old Moenen who also  ends up being forgotten by history.

It is only when Fritz himself become Professor many years later, that he misses the old men.

Perhaps these young Chinese women like to pester high-brow masculinity and deprive it of a voice. As they explained afterwards, they like to eroticize vulnerability and pain alongside the details of sexual conquest. Let this be a lesson for us middle-aged academics. If at all possible, let’s follow our wildest desires and do it with younger lovers, but let our matured minds also really enjoy the sex, “to scream and shout it out loud!”

A New Phase in Life

I still live in Tai Wai but have moved to a building called Festival City, Phase II. This brandnew maximum-security residential complex is nick-named “the shield”  because it is shaped like a tall weapon that cuts right through the urban environment.  It was built in three “phases” and the last one is still under construction. Each phase consists of 5 huge apartment blocks, each stacked with 50 floors of bright and clean apartments , with 4 apartments on each floor.

It could now become a question on the analytical skills section of the Hong Kong college entrance exam–given that each apartment holds an average of 3 dwellers, how many apartment dwellers can we find in the Festival City? And then: How are those dwellers going to interact with each other, if at all, those who paid an arm and a leg to rent or purchase one the highly overprized little cubicles ? (The essay question)

We moved here three weeks ago and will report on private whereabouts and the social affect of futuristic high-rise culture. I start with a glorious view from the living room. I have previously shared dark thoughts about living in Hong Kong’s dense highrise buildings and imaging the sex lives of others–how it is perhaps even futile or impossible to cross the boundary to grasp other people, other bodies, other races.

I am reminded of a talk by Trinh T. Minh Ha  from her book “Elsewhere, Within Here: Immigration, Refugeeism and the Boundary Event,” where she describes “the boundary event” as a process of self-torture where you try to cross over to another culture and confront an obstacle like a big wall. This wall may become a mental fixation and determines life expectations and moods. Then sometimes it is simply the case that you have not realized that you are already living on the other side. This is how I feel about myself and the Festival City. I definitely cannot imagine that I live here, but somehow it is true.

 

 

The Cabinet of Miss Ma

 

A few days ago I managed to meet with Miss Ma. She is a tailor who makes costumes for the costume players who live around Communication University of Beijing. We were hoarded into a dark alley by one of her young mates and customers, named Woody. The smell upon entering the cabinet was fantastic and I could only imagine what Miss Ma had been up to.  There was a huge tree growing through her tiny shop where she also housed her morobike and various machineries for sewing together immensely complex outfits.  We started a conversation and I noticed that she likes to talk. She told me that she was happy with her line of work but just wanted more business–as the cosplay fad has dimmed a little. We were all glued to her lips during our short visit, at the end of which Miss Ma pulled out her magical scroll.  Hundreds of drawings and photos of people’s favorite animation characters which she had tied together with a string.  People had brought her all these drawings and sketches, knowing that Miss Ma would turn them into a great outfit. We talked about our common friend Atom who likes to do male characters. She showed Atom’s golden brown kimono waiting to picked up. The visit to Miss Ma was short and sweet. I will surely remember it as an unusual afternoon–when time slows down and we feel teary stepping out of the grind.  

Beware:::Belgian New World Coffee

 Nee, Nonkel Jos–Nobody around here knows how to brew your coffee.  This strange faux antique ‘Belgian New World Coffee’ machine keeps popping up in restaurants near Renmin  University. It is bogus and pricey and takes one hour to brew. It makes a small quantity of coffee but will give you a good laugh for sure (which is what Belgians are for after all).