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WWID? In Conversation with I: project space

WW..D? Is an interview segment where we get to know awesome people that are a part of the creative community in New Zealand.

This week we spoke to Anna and Antonie. Anna and Antonie are the founders of the independent I: project space located in down town Beijing, China. As well as a diverse exhibition programme with accompanying public programming I: project space also runs an annual residency for New Zealand artists funded by The Asia New Zealand Foundation. Read more for what would I: project space do?

What is I: project space?

I: project space is an independent and non-profit art space based the Hutongs, in the heart of Beijing. The space was founded by Antonie Angerer and Anna-Viktoria Eschbach in August 2014. It consists of three main elements: An exhibition programme, residencies for artists, curators and researches supplemented by a public programme in the form of art salons, artist talks, screenings, conferences, workshops etc.

For those of our readers who might not know too much about I: project space what are the curatorial drivers going on and how is your programming structured?

For us it is very important to offer Beijing’s vivid and growing art scene a space, where artist can experiment outside the art market as commercial galleries are still the dominant force in China’s art scene. We work together with artists based in China on exhibitions, as well our residents are free to use the gallery space for exhibitions or other public events. In this way we can create an on-going exchange between local and visiting artists.

One of the advantages an independent space offers, is, that the programming is more flexible and allows us to try out new forms of presenting art. One topic, that we have been researching since last June, is the question of how to present digital artworks in a physical space. It is a reoccurring issue for us and we tried to approach the conflict from various angles and within various formats. One experiment, for example, was to leave our exhibition space and do a popup exhibition in a close by Internet café.

It seems as though there was a conscious decision to found your space within Hutong and outside of the ‘art districts’ of Beijing. How do you see your space operating within the current arts landscape of the city and within China?

In China there was a certain trend of opening so-called art districts like we have in Beijing with 798 or Caochangdi. As important as these districts were for the art scene, they are now very much detached from the art discourse and also real life in China. We wanted to go back to an area of the city, where people could interact more directly again with art.

When we opened the space in 2014 a wave of other spaces also started opening independent spaces or community centers in the Hutong area. Now there is a network of spaces in the Hutongs that offers a real alternative to the art districts and hopefully will keep on growing.

The urban environment of the Hutong seems to be a lot about the idea of the ‘local’ with an active sense of community through shared spaces such as courtyards and even bathrooms. With an active residency programme and also with you two being from Europe how important is this idea of the local urban environment and how are you able to foster dialogues between the local and international?

For us it is very important to be part of a local community and also the network of creatives in Beijing. As mentioned in the question, living and working in our shared-courtyard, we have a constant interaction with daily life here in Beijing. This is also fundamentally a part of the project and influences it in various ways.

As we are not originally from China we have networks overseas and so we are able to act as connectors. On the one hand we of course want to create a platform for art experimentation here in China for local artists and art researchers, but we also want to be an international platform. Through a close network with artists and other spaces here in Beijing, we have been able to create a platform that connects the scene in Beijing with different projects coming into Beijing or artists going abroad (www.iasbeijing.org).

One of the projects, that was realised through this platform, is the “Independent Art Spaces” festival. The aim for this festival is to get the local independent scene connected and create attention for the work the various spaces are doing, but also link the network in Beijing with our networks in other parts of the world and create a real global discourse.

In a few months I: project space is co hosting a conference called Overwhelming Imagination: Achieving and Undermining Contradictions. This seems like a mighty task for a small artist run space, could you tell us a little more about your hopes and aims for this conference?

It is all about networks! As you said, we will co-host this event together with the amazing researchers Ellen Larson and Madeleine Eschenburg and Kiki Liu from Sishang Art Museum. We are organising the conference to bring together exciting, innovative people from all over the world together rather than the same  collection of “old, white men”. Beijing and China is becoming more and more a center for art and we would like to mark that by speaking about the topic and questions that are new and relevant worldwide.

If you were to list only 5 artists that you think the world should know about, who would they be?

It is always hard to limit yourself when it comes to exciting artists, but I would say Hito Steyerl, Anne Imhof, Wu Ding, Li Ming and Cao Fei. 

Lastly do you have any words of advice of young curators?

Find likeminded people and just give it a try!

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