Friday, September 30, 2011

A cricked neck

More meetings with the Minister: General Administration of Press & Publishing, Ministry of Industry & Information Technology, and Beijing Olympic Development Agency - the last in the shadow of the Birds Nest, and all before lunch. Then off to the airport to see him onto his economy flight home. I have to say Mr Vaizey was very easy-going, said all the right things and was actually quite fun. He'd awoken with a stiff neck, the result he said of watching China launch the first part of its space station last night, which went down well with today's officials. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Yes Minister

So, here's a typical Ministerial visit. Breakfast meeting with the Ambassador, a speech to open an internet forum and a meeting with the Minister of the State Council Information Office, all in a hotel. Then across town to the Great Hall of the People for a meeting with the Vice Premier of the Propaganda Department followed by a stroll across Tiananmen Square to an informal lunch with some of our arts contacts. Off then to the State Administration of Radio, Film & Television, and then the Ministry of Culture. Then across to 798 for our London Guest City Party, part of Beijing Design Week, with a good crowd. It was all going so well until I got separated from my charge and he was taken on a little unscheduled tour of the preserved factories. Consequently he slipped behind schedule and, with terrible traffic thrown in for good measure, arrived late for a banquet.

Is all this typical of a Ministerial visit?  Probably, although the public sector cuts meant that he didn't bring a Private Secretary with him. So most of the onus fell on me and my faithful colleague Haining. One day down, another half-day to go.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hysteria

The usual mad day, finishing with a design talk at CAFA Museum which was supposed to be by Paul Cocksedge (he of the big red sculpture commissioned by Beijing Design Week) but he got severe food poisoning so Louise Shannon of the V&A gamely stepped in; then a dinner for several other designers; and finally off to the airport to pick up the Honourable Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries.

While waiting in Arrivals, my boss Joanna & I sat with a coffee going through the 27th and final version of his programme and for some reason we got the giggles. I think it was tiredness or hysteria. In any case, for about ten minutes we laughed and laughed and laughed. So much that I thought I was going to be sick or choke or die or something. Tears, barely able to speak, just uncontrollable. Weird. Anyway, we finally managed to compose ourselves before the Minister arrived and the drive to his hotel was suitably serious and professional.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

'Ren' & What If?

Another mad day in the office trying to keep a grip on a VIP visitor's programme later this week. One minute he's due to meet Minister X, only for it to be trumped by a request from the Chinese side to meet Vice Premer Y. Turning into an incredibly busy and incredibly tight schedule with a car plan that looks like a cross between choreography and a military manoeuvre.

Anyway, relaxed this evening at another grand opening ceremony, this one for a collection of exhibitions called Ren: Good Design at the National Museum of China. 'Ren' in traditional Chinese culture means 'showing concern and love to others' - which equates with the humanistic approach of design. The whole caboodle was split into five large units, with Brits Dunne & Raby curating an interesting and highly conceptual exhibition, What If?, which looks at how design can influence the future. Not obvious things like better-designed cars, but going into real sci-fi territory, like growing products instead of manufacturing them or re-designing teeth to encourage vegetarianism. They even brought over a classic ice-cream van, re-designed to 'make snow'. Given the commonly understood and frequently applied activity of cloudbusting in China, this may ironically be one of the easiest exhibits to understand. Pity it doesn't play Greensleeves though.   

Monday, September 26, 2011

Beijing Design Week kicks off

The start of Beijing Design Week required a big flashy opening ceremony and got it, at the Millennium Monument on the west side of town. Somewhat chaotic, it had the aura of a Hollywood red carpet event with Beijing's beautiful people and a good smattering of officials and designers, plus searchlights, a pop singer, some cute smiling children and a cast of hundreds. Millennium Monument, a strange looking edifice at the best of times, was lit up like a UFO. The only thing missing was fireworks.

Presiding over everything was the Mayor of Beijing, joined - because London is Guest City - by numerous Brits: Sir John Sorrell (Chairman of London Design Festival), Tamara Mellon (CEO of Jimmy Choo), Paul Cocksedge (who designed a big red sculpture specially for the occasion) and various others. Lord Marland of Odstock gave a speech. It's a going to be a busy week. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Scandinavian humour

The girls have been reading some very quirky books of late involving eccentric characters & whacky adventures. But what we hadn't realised, until Liz pointed it out over breakfast, is that they're all written by Scandinavians. 

From Sweden, Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking, which is about an 8-year old girl with super-human powers. From Norway, Alf Proysen, who in the 50s & 60s published around 50 books about a Mrs Pepperpot, who shrinks to the size of a, um, pepperpot and can talk to animals. And from Finland, Tove Tansson created the Moomins who look like hippopotamuses but are apparently trolls.

All of them are huge-sellers, spawning films, TV series, plays, theme parks, even operas. And of course the Japanese have made animes out of all of them. We could of course add Roald Dahl, he of Norwegian parents, but born in Wales.  Another (fairly) interesting fact is that all the above - including Dahl - were born within nine years of each other (1907-16).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Beijing Zoo

Went to the zoo today. It's big, full of beautiful trees, lakes, sculptures (including this whopper of a lion) and, er, animals. Dates back to 1906 and went through rough times, particularly during the Sino-Japanese War, by the end of which only 13 monkeys and one old emu had survived. Now it's much like any other big zoo, a bit frayed round the edges and we felt sorry for the lions in their prison-like cells, but it was OK. And of course there were pandas. But let's face it, pandas are overrated. They don't do anything. Least of all mate. Even the girls found them dull. Our favourites were the monkeys, penguins and gambolling zebras, all of whom seemed to be having a good time.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sponsorship

Alert: potentially dull post!  This morning we held our first meeting with the China offices of the companies (HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, Diageo, Norton Rose, Burberry, Prudential...) who are the main sponsors of the UK Now fest. Up until now, it's all been at the London end as they're the ones holding the purse strings. Good to give the local offices the rundown of where we are with everything. They all seemed pretty impressed. And in the afternoon we struck a deal with Tom, a very well-connected Beijing-based Brit, who's going to chase some more money, particularly from Chinese companies. We need it and it's out there - we just don't have enough in-house capacity to go get it. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Museums

Another mad day at work. Impossible to keep up with emails, meetings are on the hoof, there's a hundred and one things that need doing, seemingly all at the same time. It's getting a bit ridiculous, but at least I'm enjoying it. Still.

Anyway, finished off the day hosting a dinner for a British museums delegation. Always nice to learn more about interesting museums that aren't from London: The Burrell Collection in Glasgow, The Lightbox in Woking, Bury Art Museum, Salford Museum & Art Gallery, Museums Sheffield... to name a few. And yes, The Geffrye Museum, V&A and Courtauld from the capital. They've been here a week, as part of our Connections Through Culture programme, setting up relationships with regional museums in north China (Xi'an, Shenyang, Tianjin and Taiyuan), and ending with a seminar on museum design here in Beijing. Some good stuff seems to have come out of it: potential strategic partnerships, exchange of exhibitions, swapping staff... If the lingo sounds a bit corporate, the reality is that it really does seeem to work.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Super-Organism

Tony Cragg in town, here to discuss the tour of his Edinburgh show (see post four weeks ago). NIce guy, constantly curious about life, easy to deal with, just like Patrick said. Felt sorry for him, jetlagged during the interminably long opening ceremonies of CAFA Museum's Super-Organism group show (to which he's contributed three works). And then amused as a TV interviewer asked him for his take on what 'Super-Organism' might mean. The look on her face as Tony launched into a 5 minute reply was a picture in itself. 

Meeting about his show tomorrow, then he's off - with the ever helpful dealer Marianne Holtzmann - to Shanghai and Chengdu for further discussions. Fingers crossed.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Juju

Popped out of the office for an hour late afternoon to catch the end of A&N's art class, literally just across the road. We've found a gallery owner to give them some lessons on drawing - perspective, shading etc - while his wife gives Liz an hour of Chinese conversation. But what really attracts the girls is the couple's hamster, called Juju (probably not named after the Siouxsie & the Banshees album). On top of that, Liz & I are interested in buying one of his paintings. Let's see.   

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Beijing on film

Back in Beijing, welcome domesticity and taking the girls to ballet. In the leafy street outside the dance class, a film was being made. We watched it from a cafe, me tanking up on caffeine to try to stave off the jetlag. We think it must have been a major movie given the amount of equipment and people. So for an hour or two we watched an actress cross the street about 20 times, each time an identical choreography of the same pedestrians and cars. It was like Groundhog Day. We thought the 16th take had that certain 'something'. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Design bootsale

Lovely sunny Saturday morning... frustratingly spent in the office. But afterwards managed to pop into an intriguing exhibition called This Way Up, organized by my colleagues in Design Department.

Clever idea actually. What happens to the contents & catalogues of a dozen or so exhibitions after they've finished touring the world?  Well, some of the objects are returned to their owners, a little the worse for wear in some cases, but the rest ends up in warehouses and cupboards gathering dust. So the idea was to have a kind of bootsale in an otherwise empty retail space in Hoxton where people could buy some really quite iconic bits of design history: old Tom Dixon lights, a Michael Mariott chair, some framed photographs, some leftover merchandise like T-shirts & bags, even some 15 year old computers. Some of them I'd been involved in - like the Twinkle Twinkle lighting design exhibition I commissioned for Tokyo in 2004. 

And then there were the catalogues, supplemented by loads from visual arts exhibitions, enough to make a very decent bookshop. Who'd have thought that many of them are now collectors items?  I was intrigued to see the Jam: Tokyo-London catalogue priced at ₤50. Another one on fashion went for ₤200. Nothing was wasted. Even the weathered crates became plinths. The money raised is going to fund a design fellowship in a developing country.

Friday, September 16, 2011

London on film

Couldn't quite maintain the energy of yesterday but still a productive day, chewing the British Council arts cud. Afterwards, armed with Liz's list, I went shopping for M&S tea bags, Marmite and Boots bathroom stuff before repairing to a pub where I read something I picked up in Foyles (which, by the way, was a delight - hadn't been there in years - much better than Waterstones). The book's called World Film Locations: London edited by Neil Mitchel (there are also separate volumes on Tokyo, New York, LA and Berlin).

Interesting list of films, with iconic and lesser known scenes shot in various London locations. A lot of them are obvious, starting with Hitchcock's The Lodger, Great Expectations, Passport to Pimlico, A Hard Day's Night, Blow-Up, Performance, The Long Good Friday, My Beautiful Laundrette, Wonderland, Notting Hill, 28 Days Later, The Bourne Ultimatum etc etc. But missing were others like Underground, The Naked Civil Servant, the Austin Powers series, Guy Ritchie's Lock Stock and Snatch (although his largely CG-generated Sherlock Holmes is in there), Woody Allen's Match Point etc. Also, the narrative was a bit flimsy throughout. A missed opportunity.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Talking, drinking & walking

Cycled through Smithfield Market and the City to a place called Toynbee Hall in Aldgate for our Global Arts Managers Meeting. Inspired choice of venue: a 19th Century 'vicarage-gothic' style community centre which (still) runs social reform programmes. The large room that we were in had lots of atmosphere and a nice courtyard for breaks. A hundred times better than a hotel conference room. Good, positive Day 1 discussing everything from planning, better communications between London and overseas, quality, sponsorship, festivals, training staff etc etc.

After a quick look at the Chapman Brothers exhibition at White Cube (still trying hard to shock, but somehow seems stuck in mid-90s YBA era), I joined the gang in a Hoxton basement bar. The great by-product of these meetings is simply catching up with colleagues who over the years have become friends, albeit friends-at-some-distance. This was taken to extremes when I then moved on to a colleague's husband's birthday party at the Esoterick Gallery in Islington (incidentally showing a great Edward McKight Kauffer exhibition). The colleague in question has been with the BC for as long as I have so no surprise to bump into people I'd not seen in 10-15 years.

Given my alcoholic intake, I walked rather than Boris-bike back to the hotel. If yesterday had that perfect moment of loving film, then tonight's was about loving London. So many historically-rich neighbourhoods, interesting streets, blue plaqued buildings, tree-filled squares, bustling cafes... So much street life really. Of course it's a lovely balmy Indian Summer evening, so that helps. If it had been raining, I'd have got a bus and missed it all. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

I Love Film

More unrelenting stuff, 'ending'* with a wonderful hour spent at the British Film Institute on Stephen Street. The last time I was here was over 20 years ago when I was ransacking their Archives (stills & portraits) in the process of producing two exhibitions: one on British Filmmakers, one on British Film Stars. The Archives moved off-site many years ago, to be replaced by a very nice cinemateque where we sank into plush seats and listened to Robin Baker, Head Curator of the National Film Archive, talk about... their thousands & thousands of films (largest in the world), their new project of restoring all of Hitchcock's nine surviving silents with newly commissioned music, their collection of films about London, their 30,000 posters, their great unearthing & compilations of documentary shorts (which I'm slowly getting through - see this post), their huge & interesting collection of Chinese films (!) shot by colonial newsreel companies in the first half of the 20th century, and watching trailers & snippets of all this... It's at times like these that I realise how much I love film.

(* I say 'ending', because I ended up spending the evening in the office playing catch-up)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Hamilton Academical


Manic but productive day in the office, finishing at NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) on Fetter Lane. Amusing meeting, the first 10 minutes of which where we tried to make ourselves heard above the incredible din of construction work next door (we were literally shouting) before accepting defeat and squeezing ourselves into a pod-like room somewhere else, and then adjourning to a couple of pubs: The White Swan next door and then the warren-like Ye Olde Cheddar Cheese round the corner. Hadn't been there for years.

Heard that Richard Hamilton died today: grandfather of British Pop Art, White Album, Bryan Ferry's tutor and great titler of works (eg: Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?). As early as 1957 he described Pop Art as: "popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and Big Business". That would be about right I think.
  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Boris Bikes

For some reason I have been booked into a hotel in the nowhere zone between Kings Cross, Russell Square and ClerkenwelI. The nearwest tube is a good quarter of an hour's walk away... which has forced (with little resistance I have to say) to try out Barclays Bike Hire, affectionately (?) known as Boris Bikes. They're brilliant!  Took a little while to figure out how to register and pull the thing out of its docking station but, thereafter, a piece of cake.

There are 315 sets of docking stations scattered around central London so you're never that far from one. Put your card in, receive a printed code, punch it in, pull out the bike and off you go. The first half hour is free and since none of my journeys are going to be longer than that then basically I've got free travel in London for the week. Great to pedal through Bloomsbury and Covent Garden, faster than the buses and the tube, before leaving the bike at a docking station near the office at Trafalgar Square. The only problem is if there are no bikes available and, conversely, if on reaching your destination docking station, it's full. Then you have to find the next nearest. Also, of course if it's raining - haven't brough a raincoat. Apart from that, I'm a big fan!

Workwise, packed day of meetings, including a senior Chinese delegation, and then off on my BB to meet Sam at Google HQ in Victoria. Groovy office - just how you'd imagine it: cool staff canteen with excellent (free) food anytime of the day, the inevitable table-football and pool tables, whacky signs all over the place, massage rooms, balls to kick around, meeting rooms named after tube stations, and a chill-out room in the guise of half a London bus. A little bit of California in London.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Airborne

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I find myself flying. It doesn't worry me, and there's been so much in the media that I'm strangely numb to it all. I lost a friend - Kath James - on that day (see 2 May post) and am happy that her husband & her parents have today to remember her, formally. 

I finished Ian Frazier's Travels in Siberia as we flew over Siberia. He made five separate journeys and, weirdly, the longest one, from St Petersburg to Vladivostock, ended on this very day ten years ago. Very good book. Aside from that, the usual catch-up on films: Senna (thrilling, tense, sad, great doc), the latest Woody Allen Midnight in Paris (the conceit is very Purple Rose of Cairo and there's something about Owen Wilson that irritates me, but these minor gripes aside, a good film) and Paul (well executed light-hearted British matey goofyness). And before I know it, touchdown.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Moshi Monsters

"So if we can't have a real pet, can we have a virtual one?"  We're a pretty itinerant family so it was kind of inevitable that our two have joined the weird & wonderful world of http://www.moshimonsters.com/  where, in case you've been living on the moon for the last year, you can adopt a pet monster, look after it, solve puzzles to earn 'money' (rox), buy it stuff and interact with lots of other moshi monsters. Apparently, one in three British children play it. It's all a bit beyond me, but sometimes as parents you've got to go with the flow. Maybe I'll adopt one too? 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Reaching millions (hopefully)

Inspiring all-day workshop with the team from Ogilvy to brainstorm the PR for UK Now fest. If we can afford it and find the staffing and everything falls into place, then the website alone is going to be amazing. And then there's the links with all of the Chinese social netwrking sites, opening event, media strategy, and basically getting as many people as possible engaged with the festival, online and of course offline (the events themselves, real things lest we forget them). Great to talk with creatives and come up with whacky ideas. It's all becoming a little more real.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Back to school

Beginning of the new school year so Liz and I went to a curriculum meeting this evening. It was mainly for parents of new kids but a refresher for us. It was exhausting. So much stuff!  The ins & outs of Key stage 2, Levels 1-5 (a,b,c), 4 house names (none of them Griffindor, sadly), two classes per year, each class given a bird name (god knows why - Toucan & Puffin for our two)... Then there were detailed descriptions of how Literacy, Numeracy, ICT etc will be taught; homework schedules; ASA (After School Activities) schedules, uniform requirements; rewards for academic performance (house points), rewards for good behaviour (marbles), star citizenship; sports schedules, music schedules, library schedules, residentials; SATS tests... and that's just the children. As for us poor parents: Parents Association, Parents Evenings, Pastries with Parents, International Days, one-on-ones with teachers, mid-term & end-of-term reports; weekly emails, a newsletter; various fundraising activities, a School Ball...  And this is just Primary level. When I was their age, I just went to school.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Busy Busy World

Quite the busiest time I've experienced, just flat out, 7 till 7, not that many meetings or even phone calls, but hundreds of emails. I can't really write about it though, partly because it's all concerned with next year's UK Now fest so all fairly confidential, partly because... I'm too busy. Hence two lines.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

M on the Square

Spoke about the UK's contribution to the upcoming Beijing Design Week late this afternoon, which went well. The venue was M on the Square, the latest in the M restaurants, and very nice it is too. They're owned by an Aussie, Michelle Garnaut. Her first was opened 20 years ago in Hong Kong (M on the Fringe); the second 10 years ago in Shanghai (M on the Bund) - where she also established the Shanghai International Literary Festival; and the third five years ago here in Beijing just south of Tiananmen Square. Apparently it took her seven years to negotiate. Anyway, it's very classy, with a fabulous view of Qianmen Gate. Hope to actually get to eat there one day.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Art World

Watched the highly entertaining Exit through the Gift Shop on DVD tonight. Purporting to be a Banksy film, it is and it isn't. It's actually more about a French guy called Thierry Guetta who hangs around with grafitti artists in LA, filming their escapades, before finally meeting his hero, Banksy. The fact that Banksy lets him film away, albeit never revealing his face, gives the game away a bit. His thousands of hours of video footage turn out to be unwatchable so on Banksy's advice he becomes Mr Brainwash, an artist in his own right, becoming an overnight sensation. It's a mockumentary, a comment on the silliness of the art market. And Banksy? He comes out of it OK, watching - indeed dictating - events as they get increasingly absurd, his face hooded and voice altered, from the safety of his anonymous studio... having a laugh at it all. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Siberia, Bavaria, India

After a stressful week, good to relax. Lolling on the sofa reading Ian Frazier's Travels in Siberia while listening to some ambient electronica CDs Wolfgang's just sent me. A scoot round the block with the girls. And then Liz & I had a rare evening out: a movie & a meal. The movie was another German silent: FW Murnau's Faust from 1926 with live music by DaWangGang. Film has its moments, particularly the menacing Mephisto (who's otherwise hilariously mischievous), standing over the little German village but it's very dated compared with the modernist Berlin: Die Sinfonie der GroƟstadt. And DaWangGang's music was merely adequate. And what better way to end a very nice day than with an Indian and a couple of bottles of Kingfisher.    

Thursday, September 1, 2011

88 Years On

Busy busy day including successful attendance of two simultaneous receptions this evening three miles apart. Never mind how I did that, spare a thought for our friends across the East China Sea. Today is the anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 which killed over 100,000 people. Since 1960, every year on this day the Japanese hold drills to prepare for the worst. I remember doing so at work when we lived there. This year of course, the exercise had special significance.