Iain Mott is a sound artist and a lecturer (professor adjunto) in the area of voice and performance in the Departamento de Artes Cênicas (theatre arts), Universidade de Brasilia. His sound installations are characterised by high levels of audience participation and novel approaches to interactivity. He has exhibited widely in Australia and at shows including the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Emoção Art.ficial in São Paulo and the Dashanzi International Art Festival and Multimedia Art Asia Pacific (MAAP) in Beijing. His most recent installation with Simone Reis O Espelho was exhibited at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil (CCBB) in Brasilia in the second half of 2012. Iain has received numerous awards and grants and has successfully managed innovative projects for almost 20 years. His GPS-based project Sound Mapping was awarded an Honorary Mention in the 1998 Prix Ars Electronica. In 2005 he was awarded an Australia China Council Arts Fellowship to work with the Beijing arts company the Long March Project. His work Zhong Shuo was created as part of the fellowship in collaboration with Chinese artists and was given 3rd prize in the UNESCO Digital Art Awards. The project has in addition been selected by MAAP for two further installations in Shanghai and Brisbane in 2006. Iain was artist in residence at the CSIRO Mathematical and Information Sciences in Canberra for 12 months in 1999/2000. The notion of collaboration between artist and audience has ongoing importance in Iain's work. His PhD from the University of Wollongong was supervised by Greg Schiemer and is entitled Sound Installation and Self-listening.
A modified telephone in the kiosk and computer interface (both designed and built by Jim Sosnin) enables the computer to record speech and play voice prompts on the receiver. The interface connects to the games port of a sound card and produces control voltages in response to MIDI messages from the computer (using a PIC chip) to control the ringer of the phone. Control voltages sent in the opposite direction, from the phone, are converted to MIDI messages by the interface and sent to the input of the games port. These messages allow software on the computer to detect when the receiver is on or off-hook. A second output channel of audio from the computer is connected to a mono amplifier which sends sound to the outdoor loudspeaker.
The computer at each site uses the Linux operating system. Miller Puckette's graphical sound language ¡°Pd¡± performs audio input and output tasks and a variety of other operations including MIDI processing. Custom extensions to Pd written in the C language interface with a database called PostgreSQL and perform editing operations. When the receiver is lifted, Pd begins playback to the earpiece channel, a pre-recorded message repeating the questions in Chinese and prompting the participant to speak after a beep. If the receiver remains off-hook, Pd begins to record the voice direct to the hard disk. Once the receiver is replaced, the recording is stopped and information about the recording, including the file name, date, time and duration is written to the database in special tables corresponding to the local site (ie. the Beijing installation writes this data to the ¡°Beijing¡± tables). Recordings are compressed using the ¡°speex¡± format. If the recording is less than seven seconds long, it is rejected. If a speaker talks for 11 minutes and 45 seconds (15 seconds less than the maximum length of 10 minutes), Pd sends a warning voice message to the earpiece informing the speaker they have 15 seconds to finish. If the speaker continues to speak for more than 15 seconds a second message informs the them that the recording has finished and to please hang up the receiver. All recordings longer than 7 seconds are acknowledged by a voice message played over the garden speaker.
At all times, recorded story files are selected, edited and played back by the local computer in an interwoven fashion (the volume of this playback is however lowered slightly during recording to minimise leakage of other recordings). Selection and playback is performed by an extension to Pd that attempts to fill a particular length of time with edited stories. This is currently set to 15 minutes and the number of stories/voices it plays back ¡°simultaneously¡± in interwoven or cross-faded form is set to 3. Stories are fragmented into semi-random chunks, usually around 10-15 seconds in length and are played in their original temporal sequence. These fragment are given additional ¡°lead-in¡± and ¡°lead-out¡± durations which are sounded during cross-fades and allow the listener to reacquaint themselves to a given speaker returning to his or her story. The playback process begins playing a given story and as the end of the first fragment approaches, it begins to cross-fade the voice with that of a new speaker. It then does the same with a third voice (and so on if more that 3 simultaneous speakers has been specified) and returns to the first. This continues until a story is exhausted whereupon a new story is added to the queue. Once the 15 minutes of stories has been played, the entire process begins again.
As this project develops and new installations are created, the playback process will select stories from all sites established. This will be done with an even distribution of sites in the resulting playback.
Each installation will have its own computer and the system on each will be almost identical. The Beijing machine is slightly different in that it streams its audio output (the edited stories and not the voice prompts) to the Internet. These streams can be accessed at www.reverberant.com/cw. Streaming runs for 24 hours a day at present, but in future there will be some downtime as file transfers take place between installations. Streaming is achieved with the ¡°shoutcast~¡± Pd external by Olaf Matthes which is configured to send an MP3 stream to a local (on the Beijing machine) ¡°Icecast¡± server. The signal from this is then relayed to a commercial ¡°Shoutcast¡± service to enable a broader public access (more simultaneous connections).
The other difference with the Beijing machine is that it will act to initiate synchronisation of content between installations. As audio material, and database material associated with it, is shared between the machines, the Beijing machine will initiate a process of first collecting data from each machine, then redistributing to other machines that need it. This will be performed at night, once daily. Synchronisation will be achieved using a variety of ¡°shell¡± scripts but principally the efficient UNIX data transfer tool ¡°rsync¡± over a secure network connection (ssh).
[Source: MOTT, IAIN. Zhong Shuo (People say)... . In: Ros. Bandt; Michelle. Duffy; Dolly. MacKinnon (Eds.); Hearing Places: Sound, Place, Time and Culture. p.389-401. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007.]
In 2004 I began planning a narrative-focussed sound art project for China. The project has involved the creation of installations distributed in different parts of the country, that collect and replay site-specific stories from the public on change. Now in its final phase, the project is entitled Zhong Shuo (ÖÚËµ) which translates as ¡°People Say¡± in English. By creating installations in Beijing and Chongqing in 2005, the work strove to establish a discourse locally and between sites. Collected stories and environmental sound recordings were played back at each installation and shared between sites over the internet, enabling individuals to contribute stories and reflect on those of others across geographical divides. The project will culminate with an exhibition in Brisbane featuring translated text synchronised to the audio playback of stories. A fourth China-based exhibition will be staged in Shanghai to run concurrently with the Australian exhibition and will collect additional stories from the local people.
Background and Development
Zhong Shuo began early in 2004 when I visited Beijing to exhibit a binaural video installation Close (Mott, 2001) at the Dashanzi International Art Festival, and to investigate staging the then untitled narrative project in China. At the time, I had recently completed a project in the Netherlands, Summoned Voices (Mott, 2003) with designer Marc Raszewski, which involved cumulative verbal interactions by the public with three networked kiosks. The work set out to establish meaningful interaction with the public, whereby participants would contribute fresh content to the work as they engaged with it. Each interaction added audio material (voice, singing, mobile-phone noises, Walkman recordings) to a database of material, and a computer system was used to analyse each new recording and produce a playback synthesised from the most recent entry and fragments of previous entries selected on the basis of sonic similarity. Summoned Voices encouraged participants to engage in a form of vocal play, contributing content and listening to results. The kiosks were distributed in a large building but shared a central database of sounds and analysis information.
The experience of producing this work led to a desire to explore a new work focussed on narrative and less focussed on the sound of the voice. Where Summoned Voices broke sentences into de-contextualised fragments and produced a response to interaction in a form of musique concr¨¨te, the new project would find ways of mixing voices while maintaining the linearity and coherence of the narrative. The work would also encourage story telling by asking specific questions of participants. The distributed nature of Summoned Voices was originally created to amplify the presence of the work and to maximise access. As a viable technique, it posed an enticing challenge to work in a much larger geographical context and to explore notions of place and local identity. Distance and the isolation of individual installations would introduce regional variation in accents and dialect, along with divergent ideas and expression, resulting from the different environments.
In Dashanzi while exhibiting Close, I was introduced to the Long March Foundation (LMF) (Long March Project) as a potential collaborator and ultimately LMF invited me to participate in their Long March¡ªA Walking Visual Display project. The foundation is engaged in local and international curatorial projects, including this ongoing project, that consists of contemporary art installations and events staged along the route of the historic Long March. One of the main aims of the project is to counter a perceived shift of focus of contemporary art away ¡°from the broad masses of the people toward the elite, from private studios towards hierarchical structures ¡ and from China toward the world beyond China¡± (Lu & Qiu). This curatorial scope and sensibility offered great potential with existing venues and support networks throughout the country. The environment of China itself is also conducive to grand narrative, with its dramatic social upheavals, both past and present, widely varying landscapes, ethnic groups and social stratifications.
The visit helped to consolidate and focus the concept of what became Zhong Shuo and the activities of the LMF and its contributing artists served in part as inspiration. The early concept was presented at a conference in Beijing late in 2004 under the working title Chinese Whispers (I. Mott, ¡°Chinese¡±). A period of software development took place in Melbourne before I departed for Beijing for a four month artist residency hosted by the LMF in July 2005.
In Beijing I set up base at the LMF's Long March Space in Dashanzi in the north east of Beijing. I worked with the Director Lu Jie and International Director David Tung to define potential installation sites and artistic collaborators. Three sites were mooted, one at the Long March Space itself, a second in the city of Chongqing and a third virtual installation in Yanchuan County which would concentrate on story gathering rather than audio playback at an installation. Construction of the Beijing installation commenced first and served as a model for subsequent installations, both technically and aesthetically.
In Beijing I worked with the visual artist Ding Jie to create the installation. Later in Chongqing, I worked with the Li Chuan Group, an artist collective comprising Li Chuan, Ren Qian and Li Yong. The Yanchuan project unfortunately did not eventuate due to the planned visit coinciding with the harvest. In Beijing, Ding Jie's design established an environment for public interaction that offered a welcoming gesture to visitors. Created in the form of a Chinese garden, a kiosk¡ªsimilar in style to small food kiosks found in the outskirts of Beijing¡ªhoused a modified telephone for contributing stories and an adjoining pond played host to a small school of goldfish and water-plants. Distinctly Chinese, it was a peaceful setting, and offered a degree of privacy for those who wished to tell a story. Since we had no way of predicting how the local public would react to the work, a private space was considered prudent. Hidden away in the rocks and shrubs by the pond was a loudspeaker which played a steady stream of stories that were automatically recorded and edited by a computer during the course of the interactions. This sound, in addition to the voices, included ambient sound recordings collected locally and was edited in the style of radio documentary. Stories were interwoven usually with three narratives interspersed at any one time. Interwoven stories were played in their entirety from beginning to end.
Banners were included at the installation. One broadly described the project and another offered instructions on how to participate. The instructions were in Chinese and English and were as follows:
Use the phone in the kiosk to tell a story about Beijing.
How do you experience the changes around you?
How does change affect your hopes for the future?
How is your life different from that of your parents¡¯ generation?
Pick up the phone and listen for directions.
While an English translation was provided, all voice prompts over the telephone were in Chinese. In the case of Beijing, the dialect used was Putonghua (Mandarin). Chongqinghua was used subsequently in the installation in Chongqing.
The visitor's experience and demographics
The Long March Space in Beijing is situated in the Choayang District in the north east of the city. The site is part of the 1950's built 798 factory complex which today hosts a mix of art galleries (which are under domestic and foreign direction), artist studios, architects, designers and a variety of factories including electronic component manufacturers and a regional power station. The Dashanzi International Art Festival is held in Dashanzi each year and has helped to raise the profile of the district and secure its survival in the face of rampant land development. The increased attention to the area has led to the unfortunate result of increased rents, which has affected the viability of the district as a studio venue for less established and emerging artists. The development of the area as an artist community at first happened due to the suitability of the Bauhaus style buildings for studios and cheap rents. The increased costs of operation in Dashanzi now favour more commercially oriented enterprises.
Visitors to the Beijing installation included the local art-going public, factory workers and expatriate visitors and tourists seeking out contemporary Chinese art.
As people approached the courtyard of the Long March Space, they would hear voices coming from the direction of a kiosk under the courtyard's canopy. They would hear people speaking about Beijing, giving opinions on change, and their experiences of living in the city. Some visitors would choose to listen by the pond while looking at the plants and goldfish. They read the banners with instructions and would peer inside the kiosk through the blind. Inside were clean silver walls. The interior was lit from above and on a shelf was a telephone with a small plaque next to it repeating the instructions. The telephone rang periodically to encourage people to pick up the receiver although it could be used at any time. When someone picked up the phone, they would hear a number of questions about change spoken in Chinese. The voice advised they could speak for up to 10 minutes after the beep. Once a story was recorded a chime would sound from the garden and a recorded voice would acknowledge receipt of the story, stating it was scheduled for playback after 15 minutes.
Work in Chongqing with the Li Chuan group commenced after the opening of the Long March Space installation. Chongqing is an industrial city of six million set in mountains. Once part of Sichuan Province, Chongqing, with its new surrounding province by the same name, is a special municipality directly administered by the Central Government. Like Beijing, the city is booming, yet it is markedly different in character with narrow winding streets, a more regional ambience and in my own experience, with frenetic taxi drivers every bit as overheated as the local Sichuan food.
Work with the Li Chuan group commenced at break-neck speed. Li Chuan, Li Yong and Ren Qian have been working as a collective for over four years and are a tight creative unit. With the aid of an interpreter, Liu Wen Bo, we defined an installation strategy and secured the venue of the new Chongqing Planning Exhibition Gallery, all on the day of my arrival from Beijing. Our exhibition coincided with the opening of the building, which includes four levels and 30,000m2 of exhibition space dedicated to urban planning and real estate ventures. A more suitable if not ironic site for an installation on change could not have been wished for.
Chongqing is known locally as the ¡®Mountain City' and also ¡®Fog City' due to the entrapment of fog and smog by the surrounding mountains. Until recently the hillsides were dotted with traditional stilt houses clinging to sharp inclines. The group quickly decided upon these houses as a design model in answer to Ding Jie's kiosk. We originally planned to build the installation as a mezzanine against a supporting wall, with a ladder provided for public access. Unfortunately the spaces provided at the gallery proved unsuitable, so a bungalow style was chosen using a traditional bamboo construction.
Calligraphy was included on the kiosk and used characters chosen by Li Chuan's father Li Cheng Fu, a poet. The characters have a direct translation in English but I understand from the group they have multiple layers of meaning relating to Chongqing's past. The characters read: ¡°People Say House¡± (ÖÚËµ¾Ó), ¡°The machine will broadcast throughout the world¡± (»úÃùÌìÏÂ) and ¡°Bamboo symbolises good luck¡± (Öñ±¨Æ½°²). The group created a rock-garden next to the kiosk in which sat the loudspeaker. The garden was constructed with stones from the Yangzi River (Chang Jiang) which flows beside the exhibition space. The Chongqing installation had a nearly identical technical setup to that in Beijing and used similar instructive panels.
Unlike the Beijing installation where visitor numbers were moderate, the new Chongqing Planning Exhibition Gallery attracted thousands of visitors each day. The installation was at the gallery for one month and collected over six hundred entries in contrast to Beijing where just under five hundred stories were collected in two months. The visitors constituted a general rather than art-going audience and, from my observations and in my opinion, represented a fair crosssection of the community. Almost all the entries were spoken in Chinese and I have noticed only one recording in a European language. The gallery had the atmosphere of a high-tech shopping centre and our installation stood as a strangely antique reminder of old Chongqing in amongst the escalators, neon signs, plasma screens and projected flythroughs of proposed development projects.
Transfer, Transmission and Ambient Sound
Both the Beijing and Chongqing installations were connected to the internet and once the Chongqing installation opened to the public, stories began to be shared between sites through an automated transfer of audio and database files. The period in which the Chongqing installation operated coincided with the last month of operation of the Beijing installation and transfers occurred daily.
Intermixed with the voices were ambient field recordings that I made in both cities. The recordings were used as signifiers, as well as being mixed beneath voices, and were also used to introduce and contextualise a new story from a particular site. In Beijing I recorded not only streetscapes, but also advertisements, pop songs and soap operas from AM radio. I also included, with permission, music by the Beijing electronica composer Hz (aka Hu Zi). Perhaps the most iconic sound recorded was that of the local daily newspaper vendors; rhythmically looped megaphone announcements heard in almost every commercial street in Beijing. In Chongqing I recorded the city's newly constructed mono-rail (of which the population is very proud), fog-horns sounding from the river, street hawkers and restaurants.
For Chinese listeners, dialect is probably the greatest signifier of place in Zhong Shuo. As mentioned, all pre-recorded messages and announcements were recorded in local dialect, and this was done to encourage participants outside Beijing to speak in their native tongue and not the official Putonghua. I was told that most Chinese can understand most of what other Chinese are saying in most Chinese dialects. And it was for this reason that I persisted in encouraging regional voices.
To give Zhong Shuo an audience beyond of the installations, the sound of the Beijing installation was streamed to the internet in MP3 format. This internet radio channel was accessible from www.reverberant.com, www.longmarchspace.com and the www.shoutcast.com listings for the course of the Long March Space exhibition. Internet streaming will recommence during the Brisbane show and in future I plan to arrange a more permanent webcast with synchronised text translations. The entire database of stories and translations is available in browseable lists at www.reverberant.com/cw.
To help the reader understand how the 2005 installations of Zhong Shuo operated on a more detailed level, I include here a brief technical description. This system was partially developed by me in collaboration with hardware designer Jim Sosnin, prior to my departure to China. In the kiosks at each installation, the modified telephone enabled an on-site computer to record speech, play voice prompts on the receiver and control the ringer on the phone to attract attention. In addition to sending and receiving audio to and from the phone, the computer played audio over the loudspeaker outside the kiosk. This sound included stories and soundscapes, as well as prerecorded announcements such as those to acknowledge the receipt of a story.
When the receiver was lifted, the computer played a pre-recorded message on the earpiece in Chinese prompting the participant to speak after a beep. The computer began recording the story on the hard disk and once the receiver was replaced, the recording was stopped and information about the recording, including the date, time, duration and location (eg. Beijing) was written in a database. All recordings were compressed to facilitate fast transfer over the internet. All recordings longer than seven seconds were acknowledged by a voice message played over the garden speaker. Shorter messages were rejected and messages longer than ten minutes were truncated and the speakers warned by a voice prompt on the phone to finish the story.
Playback of stories on the loudspeaker was continuous, and generated algorithmically by the computer. Recorded story files were selected in a semirandom way and edited in an interwoven fashion. The interweaving of voices¡ªor cross-fading between different voices¡ªallowed up to three stories to be heard concurrently. Once a given selected story finished, a new story would be introduced replenishing the cycle. As mentioned above, site-specific ambient sound recordings were mixed with these stories and used to introduce each new speaker.
The computers in Beijing and Chongqing were relatively autonomous, and would automatically contact each other to retrieve new stories. Theoretically, in this way, any number of computers and installations could be deployed and share materials. The Beijing computer was solely used to stream sound to the internet.
As I do not speak Chinese, my observations up to this point on the quality of the stories have been based on the performance style of each speaker, the statistics retrievable through the database and on listening to recordings in English. In just over two months, the Beijing and Chongqing installations of Zhong Shuo collected over ten hours of useful material made up of 994 recordings. The recordings were on average 40 seconds long in Beijing and 35 seconds long in Chongqing.
After my residency in China, I created an online version of the Zhong Shuo database. This consists of a public web interface that facilitates browsing of individual sound files. In addition, I made a private translator's interface, which allows translators online to listen to each sound file and make annotations; transcriptions in Chinese and translations in English that then become accessible through the public interface.
At the time of writing, my translator in Chongqing, Liu Wen Bo, has just begun the task of translating the database in preparation for the Brisbane exhibition of Zhong Shuo. The results thus far are fascinating. The following text is reproduced in full and is a translation of a recording made in Beijing at 7:20PM on 23 August 2005:
I have just heard a woman say this phone booth is too big! She said that life nowadays is getting more and more difficult and people are getting poorer everyday. But my experience is the opposite. In my childhood my family was extremely poor. I couldn't afford to buy even an apple. My grandmother and I went to the streets to pick up cigarettes that other people threw on the ground. Why? Because she could not afford to buy cigarettes! My father's salary was only 100 RMB per month. He would bring home big bones to feed the family... Life was hard then... I used to be a soldier, used to be a merchant...
I think now there is so much money lying around here in Beijing that it's up to the individual to decide to pick it up or not. My character is such that I always want to win. I ponder why other people are so rich and ask: Why not me? Today the situation in Beijing is so good, but why are some people starving to death and others driving BMWs? I think we should never depend on God, Government or anything. We should depend solely on ourselves. To be valuable to society one must seize opportunities, and especially seize some of the ¡°dark¡± opportunities; then you are able to change your destiny.
If you go through the same routine as everybody else, such as going to university; after you graduate you are jobless in China! People work in factories for their entire life and in the end wind up with nothing! Therefore, I say that these people that are poor today are poor in their heads. They lack thoughts and imagination, not wallets! What is this thing called poverty? When you feel something is too expensive, you are poor! How to turn yourself in to a rich man? We should all learn from Li Jia Cheng.
I am over 50 years old. I will sing a song for all of you. The song is my favourite song from my childhood. The name is ¡°Listen to My Mother Tell a Story from Days Gone By¡±:
The moon is wandering in the flower-like clouds
In the night the wind blows with happy songs
We are sitting on a hill in the corn fields
Listen to my mother tell a story from days gone by
We are sitting on a hill in the corn fields
Listen to my mother tell a story from days gone by
Long ago my mother had no land of her own
All the family depended on her bare hands
She worked in the hot summer fields
but she ate wild weeds and wasted food
The storms of winter blew sounds like a wolf
My mother wore a mere shabby cloth
Beijing nowadays is quite different from what it used to be 50 years ago. I think even though today's sky is no longer as blue as it once was and the water is no longer as clean, Beijing today is a great land for us to get rich! We are able to get richer everyday. We are able to give our parents a good life and we can travel the world. Just look at me. I am a rich man from a poor childhood. I drive fabulous cars and I have mansions in every big city on the planet. I am the owner of the 4 star hotel in Beijing named ¡°A Sa.¡±
Finally, to summarise I want to say: that where there is a will there is a way. I thank God for providing such good opportunities to earn money. I want to encourage those people who have lost faith to carry on their lives, especially those who have contemplated suicide. If you are not afraid of death, then why you are afraid of being alive?...That's it, Thank you all!
This recording always stood out to me as a passionate sounding account of Beijing and on reading the translation, it occurs to me the man could earn a lucrative second income on the motivational speaker circuit and perhaps he does. To me, the speaker epitomises the spirit of Beijing and the speech is emblematic of unshackled development in the new China. To a western ear some of his statements might appear mercenary, yet his personal account of poverty supplemented by the song (a song from the Revolution by all accounts), is a moving one. The tenor of his story strikes me as proud rather than boastful, and I am left in no doubt the man believes he is doing his best to benefit society and family. It is interesting to note that the now Chengdu-based translator Liu Wen Bo gave this entry the title ¡°Hope,¡± whereas a western translator may well have applied a more cynical tag. As the speaker suggests, a good number of stories protest about the cost of living in Beijing, one man even complaining about the cost of prostitutes. Some young speakers spoke optimistically about their future in Beijing but opinions in general tend to be critical. Many speakers lamented the loss of heritage, stress, traffic congestion and degradation of the environment:
I have so many stories to tell. I lived near the Yi He Yuan, and there was a place called Liu Lang village. And beside the village, there was a structure named Huo Qing. Huo Qing was the place where eunuchs lived. That was a beautiful place. I watched the place change, there used to be so many lakes. In the 50s, those lakes and bulrushes were destroyed. Once, we used to catch fish there. We would often catch lots of fish and my mother cooked the fish for us. In the winter, we would put branches into the water and catch so many loaches! It was my dream to live there. Now they have blocked the river and rebuilt it. The past is gone... It only remains in my memories. Back then Beijing was really amazing with fresh air. We could catch boats on the rivers and Yi He Yuan was connected with Yuan Ming Yuan. The water was so clean with plenty of fish. Due to the chemical pesticides, none of those good things have lasted. You have to go to Neimeng Province to see such beautiful scenery. What a shame! There was a temple there. In winter as children we could buy very cheap candy from the temple street and we could buy wonderful toys. Now, the feeling is long gone. This is the change that I see.
Isolation and loneliness is another recurrent theme and many newcomers to Beijing expressed disappointment about unreliable people. One woman told a story of a dog:
A little dog once had a lot of friends in his old neighbourhood. But one day, a group of merchants came and bought the land. Houses were torn down and the dog became lonely. He and his owner were moved into a skyscraper. He had never felt so lonely. All around him were concrete walls. The days when he and his friends went to the streets to find something to eat were gone. Day by day, the little dog became older. Eventually the dog died.
No story dealt with commercialism in Beijing as well or as humorously as this one:
Yesterday we went to a festival. A monk asked us if we would spend some money to get blessed by the Bodhisattva. We asked how much money would we have to spend. He first asked, ¡°Do you have 300 RMB?¡± We answered no. He continued, ¡°Do you have VISA card?¡± We said no. And he replied, ¡°You will never get blessed from the Bodhisattva since you are not willing to spend any money!¡± We stared at the monk. After that we decided that we will never believe in Buddhism. We feel disappointed! I would like to announce that we lost faith in Buddhism in Beijing!
Stories collected from Chongqing are in stark contrast to those collected in Beijing. Most deal directly with the topic of Chongqing's development and this is perhaps due to the contextualising effects of the site; the Chongqing Planning Exhibition Gallery. By far the majority of stories are optimistic, positive and times appear even jingoistic. Liu Wen Bo attributes the contrast between the two cities as being due to: higher expectations on the part of the Beijing populace due to the city¡¯s position as the seat of power in China; the recent primitive conditions of Chongqing; greater competition in Beijing leading to stress and disillusionment, particularly in new immigrants to the city; and significant loss of heritage buildings and environmental damage in Beijing.
The following story is typical of those collected in Chongqing:
Chongqing is open to all people and our lives here are wonderful. In the past we were tired of climbing steps all the time, now we can take buses and ships to cross the whole city! I am in love with the view of Chongqing's skyline at night! Chongqing is like a little Hong Kong! Views like Nanbing Road, Chaotianmen, Jiefangbei... beautiful! Chongqing has a bright future. As Chongqing people, we will keep up the good work after seeing the big changes and development (at this exhibition). The mountains and water here are full of the emotions of Chongqing people! We feel great, peaceful and happy! This little bamboo house reminds us of a more innocent time.
Like this story, many others express a deep affection for the city and surrounds. People often expressed satisfaction and gratitude for simple pleasures:
Today my daughter gave me a ticket to this exhibition! Hello, I am 85 years old and I feel satisfied. Our government takes good care of the elderly. I have entered the University for aged people and I can draw pictures. I feel excited to have seen all those new things in the exhibition hall. Ok, that's all.
This particular story is a good illustration of changes in family values:
My story is about my grandfather and me. My grandfather was a very traditional man, his thoughts so outdated. He would shave my head when I was a little girl, and he would not allow us to wear skirts... After the 70s our lives became better and better. We had our first black & white TV and due to this TV, my grandfather¡¯s mind was opened. In the 80s, we went to middle schools, and in the 90s we went to university, and then we came back home. My grandfather was a changed man. We arrived back with red and green hair and my grandfather accepted this! He even said that he liked the colours. And all people have accepted a new way of life. I hope Chongqing can have better traffic systems and be more environmentally friendly. I hope my child will live in a better Chongqing. Thanks.
As stated, around six percent of Beijing stories were spoken in English and these on the whole reflect the concerns of the expatriate worker or the tourist. One lengthy and fascinating account comes from a North American man of Chinese descent. Based in Beijing, the man first offers a detailed description of his appearance and then his reception by the local mainland Chinese. He delivers an almost tragic (although at times tragi-comic) narrative on identity and dashed expectations of acceptance. While the man does not deal directly with the topic of change in China, his experience is illustrative of China's conservatism in the face of change and foreign influence.
By the time this chapter is published I hope most of the remaining stories at www.reverberant.com will be translated.
The final phases
In recent weeks I have been preparing for an Australian exhibition of Zhong Shuo and this will be part of Multimedia Art Asia Pacific (MAAP) 2006 in Brisbane in late November. The Brisbane exhibition will consist of a replica of the Chongqing bamboo hut and is an opportunity to present collected stories to an Australian audience. Ostensibly a documentary exhibition, the installation will maintain partial functionality of the telephone by delivering instructive messages on pick-up of the receiver, however it will not accept new stories. The installation will involve continuous playback of interwoven voices, and mounted on a wall inside the hut will be a plasma screen. This will display text harvested from translations in the online database and will synchronise the display with playback of the corresponding story. Additional screens will be included at the installation to play a DVD of the project and to facilitate interactive browsing of audio files and their translations.
MAAP are also sponsoring a further China-based installation in Shanghai at the Zendai Museum of Modern Art in December 2006. This will involve an exhibition of the hut from Chongqing and will collect new stories from the perspective of Shanghai residents and visitors.
As an artwork Zhong Shuo was conceived as a modular yet deliberately incomplete system and requires the creative engagement of the public to fulfil its potential. Zhong Shuo solicits and presents stories pertaining to specific sites and moments in time. Directed at first towards the Chinese public and made in collaboration with Chinese artists, the project is now seeking exposure to broader English-speaking audiences internationally by way of translated materials presented at installations and over the internet.
Zhong Shuo was made possible by an Australia China Council Arts Fellowship which was brokered by Asialink. The project has received additional sponsorship from the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. Other generous support has been received from MAAP and the project received initial support through the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) Conference and Workshop Fund. I would also like to sincerely thank my Chinese collaborators and staff from the Long March Foundation and the Dashanzi International Art Festival for their support and friendship.
Huang, R. ed. Beijing 798: Reflections on Art, Architecture and Society in China. Hong Kong: Timezone 8 Ltd, 2004.
Lu, J. and Z. Qiu, Z. ¡°Curators¡¯ Words.¡± Long March - A Walking Visual Display. New York: Long March Foundation, 2003.
Mott, I. Close, www.reverberant.com/CL. 2001.
°Chinese Whispers.¡± In Proceedings of Qi and Complexity: Consciousness Reframed 2004, 270-276. Beijing, 2004.
Zhong Shuo (People say) is a sound installation made collaboratively by Australian sound artist Iain Mott, Beijing visual artist Ding Jie and the Chongqing art collective the Li Chuan Group comprising Li Chuan, Ren Qian and Li Yong. The work acts as a system for the collection and telling of stories and focuses on the rapid force of change in China. In 2005 two installations were created. The first was at the Long March Space in the Dashanzi district of Beijing and was launched on 20 August. The second was launched on 10 October at the Chongqing Planning Exhibition Gallery at Chaotianmen Square, Chongqing. Zhong Shuo received 3rd prize in the 2005 UNESCO Digital Arts Awards.
“众说”是由澳大利亚声音艺术家伊墨特（ Iain Mott ）和北京视觉艺术家丁洁合作完成的声音装置，长征艺术家驻地创作项目协助。该作品的创作，运用了人类学田野采样的的方法——定点收集以个体为单位的声音文 件（由具体的人，讲述对中国社会变迁的看法），并将这些声音文件借助装置的形式呈现出来，其的延伸部分是采样录音通过网络在长征沿途传播。本次在北京长征 空间的展览，是整个项目第一个阶段，第二、三阶段将昆明、延安等地展开。
Zhong Shuo has been made possible by Iain Mott's Australia China Council Arts Fellowship which was brokered by Asialink. The project has received additional sponsorship by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body. Other generous support has been received from MAAP, Multimedia Art Asia Pacific and the project received initial support through ANAT's Conference and Workshop Fund. For their kind assistance, many thanks to the following: Penelope Aitken, An Rui, Heidi Angove, Berenice Angremy, 798 Audio, Ros Bandt, Thomas Berghuis, Chen Ni, Chen Shao Dong, Dong Xun, Han Nan, Tim Kreger, Lu Jie, Kim Machan, Po Shui, Padmini Sebastian, Suresh Sebastian, Song Yi, Jim Sosnin, David Tung, Wang Dong and others.