Throughout my first two weeks here in China, I’ve been gathering as much inspiration as I can to generate ideas for the work I will make during the residency. My final show takes place on June 3rd and will be a showcase of all the most interesting things I’ve learnt, done and made. At each place I’ve visited, with each person I’ve met, I’ve recorded audio, taken photos, noted down ideas- all with the aim of forming the themes and content of my final show.
It can be tough at the beginning to balance out what you’d hoped and planned to do with what is realistic once you arrive. It can be challenging to manage the hopes and expectations of your host- as well as their requests to know what your plans are when your feet have barely touched the ground and you’ve had very little time to yourself. But as time passes, things settle into place a bit- your hosts get to know how you like to work and what you need, and your own ideas begin to come together. For me, it has been a learning experience just to ask for everything I need- resources-wise, schedule-wise etc. With that comes a sense of responsibility but also an exciting knowledge that I have people around me who want to make the show as much as of a success as I do.
As well as the musical element of the piece, I’m planning for there to be dance and movement too, performed by contemporary dancers but also the musicians involved. The look of the piece is important to me too, then, and it’s been fun gathering ideas and resources for costumes as I progress into the residency.
During my visit to the Third Front factory site on Monday, I managed to source two worker uniforms for the show. I’d been interested in the parallels between the regulation outfits worn by the workers there and the resplendent costumes worn by the Dong and Miao villagers I’d met. I’ve been collecting things to decorate the uniforms with in a way that somehow mirrors the villagers’ costumes- everyday things that suggest how life is now. For example, people tend to drink boiled or bottled water here and so I’ve been gathering screw tops from water bottles to sew to the Third Front uniforms to emulate- in a way that reflects the modern-day- the sound of the villagers’ tinkling silver jewellery.
Yesterday, the Third Front uniforms arrived. One was secondhand and I tried it on, visualising how it might work as a costume. I absent-mindedly put my hand in the pocket, and found a handkerchief in there. It felt poignant somehow to find it and I wondered who had owned this garment before, and what their life had been like- probably plucked from their home to move to Guiyang to work on sensitive military manufacturing in a factory hidden-away from local people. The unwashed jacket still smelled of that past and bore the logo of the company and of Guiyang on the pocket.
I had a fun trawl around the shops of Guiyang’s curtain, haberdashery and hardware districts too yesterday, sourcing local modern-day materials for the costumes. As a westerner, I’m still an unfamiliar sight around the city, and it was an adventure trying to make myself understood as I went from shop to shop. Everyone was really friendly and full of smiles at my efforts to communicate.
The area was bustling, lively and a hive of activity. Lots of streetgames again- Chinese chess and cards. Probably my hosts’ hearts are sinking- every time they leave me for 5 minutes, I’m off into the less salubrious working areas, photographing shelf brackets and buying scouring pads to make into headpieces! But I find this kind of thing interesting and often beautiful- as much as the village life that has been presented to me.
After a night with my head down the toilet bowl due to food poisoning (yuk), I lay in bed this morning and revised the onward schedule. It felt good to make some decisions and put some emerging plans in place.