From one Lockdown to another—Shanghai to Beijing, On the Importance of a Vibrant Alternative Scene and the Magic of Film
Wobbly Chairs. I grew up in Changchun, a provincial town in Dongbei, in Northeast China. There was a Workers’ Theatre in the centre of the city, just like in many northern cities you have these Workers’ Theatres and Workers’ Stadiums. I was very young and used to go there with my uncle to see movies. Actually, Changchun was the earliest cradles of Chinese movies. We had The Manchukuo Film Association and big stars like Shirley Yamaguchi. When I was about 4 or 5-year old, my uncle took me to see Hongfen (Blush) based on the modernist novel by Su Tong. The movie was very ‘90s in the way it was revisiting the ‘20s and ‘30s period, before the revolution. I was too young for some of the scenes with naked bodies. The whole atmosphere of the theatre, with its wobbly chairs and light, was at once sexy and sexual but also very beautiful and romantic. I think the whole thing was kind of an artistic moment and experience for me.
I always wanted to be a writer. I studied journalism, literature, and theatre during my college years. I was very into theories, as well ass performance and theatre studies. I guess there is a part of me that is quite old-fashioned—you go to a foreign country and end up writing something serious like Charles C. Mann’s 1491, or Peter Hessler’s River Town. I think I can also achieve that kind of seriousness yet freedom through curation. I am naturally fascinated by objects and materialities from different worlds and mindsets.
When I was young I read a lot, and had a fair idea of art, even contemporary art. In my college years, I emailed Artforum’s editor (at the time it was Lee Ambrozy) with writing samples in English. I didn’t expect her to write back but she did, and we even shared a meal and then I interned at the magazine for a year in 2009 before grad school.
I do curate but I also do things around it, such as publishing, writing, reading groups, traveling, sometimes just gatherings. And recently, I realized that I was interested in building platforms and being part of a network.
Leading up to Salt Projects. I always paid attention to alternative scenes, and when I came back from New York in 2015, I didn’t see many alternative art spaces or artists-run spaces in Beijing. So I decided to do it myself. Together with a fellow curator, I ended up collaborating on this independent place, Salt Projects, with only 17 square meters. I was influenced by the model of The Artist’s Institute in New York founded by Anthony Huberman (who is now Director of the CCA Wattis Institute) and other such institutions and community places. I did a lot of research before starting Salt, which was very important for me so I could understand more about how it works. For the first three years we organized a lot of talks and performances. And really just spent a lot of time working with artists.
A Liminal Space. I do feel like I am a participant in the art making process as a curator. Of course I don’t consider myself an artist, but depending on the situations, curatorial work can range from a very pragmatic to a very creative collaboration. With Salt Projects I was especially interested in supporting artists who didn’t know the vocabulary of the scene very well upon arriving to Beijing or coming back. Salt was a kind of liminal space for these underdeveloped ideas that we ran like a micro-institution and that we supported by ourselves, making money elsewhere.
Institutional Diversity. I think bigger institutions have their role in shaping discourse and history and we need them. But the more different kinds of institutions we have, the better. And alternative spaces are very important.
Macalline Art Center. I got recognized for doing Salt Projects and then got this opportunity to work on setting up a bigger institution, funded by a corporation. Personally, I felt like Salt was my 1.0 version, and the Macalline Art Center—the next level. Of course I also needed to understand and learn to work with the founder and the board. There were a lot of questions on how to form an institutional identity through different means and contents, which gave way to a magazine Heichi, a digital video commission program Bare Screen, a podcast Cacotopia, and to the Cloister Project—a special project space in Shanghai, which happened before the opening of the Macalline Art Center in the 798 district in Beijing.
I am currently revisiting “The Past Is a Foreign Country” by David Lowenthal, and Qian Zhongshu’s “Patchwork: Seven Essays on Art and Literature.” It becomes more and more important for me to understand my relationship to history and traditions.
I am actually quite boring. For fun, I read, take a walk, drink wine. I like to be close to nature more and more. l love hot pot. I think I am an OK cook. Recently I cooked a Cioppino, it’s an Italian fish soup. I also, you know, just cook Northern Dongbei food, bones and potatoes.
Movies, theatre, and poetry are quite essential. Once in a while I try to go and see a live performance, when pandemic allows. The last play I saw was online, as the Berliner Festspiele just opened a few days ago. It was Das neue Leben (where do we go from here).
2020 all over again and abandoned puppy. I was in Shanghai after Chinese New Year, when I just started the curatorial fellowship with De Ying Foundation. A very exciting program. I was supposed to leave when the lockdown became really serious, but the day before my flight I found an abandoned puppy, people started to abandon dogs then. I took her to the vet, did tests, found a foster home, it all took a while. Still I was able to arrive to Beijing before it was too late. I finished my two weeks quarantine at home, but then it was Beijing’s turn to close down. It feels like 2020 all over again. Sometimes, I feel I am in a limbo zone, because of the pandemic and my slowing down. I was really busy for the last couple of years and now I am reading a lot and rethinking a lot of things. It’s different.
If I wasn’t curating I would do movies. The exhibitions I am doing always have an element of cinematic or rather parallel realities. I always go back to Kubrick and learn to arrange objects like him. I also find Alberto Mielgo’s animations inspiring.
Yuan Fuca is currently a curatorial fellow supported by De Ying Foundation. She served as artistic director and curator at the recently launched Macalline Art Center, Beijing, which opened in January 2022. Yuan joined the team at Macalline Art Center from its founding in 2019, and was instrumental in shaping its initial programme and focus. “The Elephant Escaped”, curated as Macalline Art Center’s opening show, responds to contemporary society and life in the post-pandemic era through new commissions by five young Chinese artists, Fang Di, Li Ming, Peng Zuqiang, Shen Xin, and Tao Hui. It further continues the interrogation of a key question “How can I be plural?” as a means of grappling with the ever-changing relationship between the individual and the collective, and encouraging polyphonic artistic creation.
From 2016 to 2019, Yuan Fuca led and managed Salt Projects, Beijing, a non-profit art space that offered a site for action and exchange among young artists and practitioners. Combining theory and practice, Salt Projects focused on research as an open-ended activity, involving collaboration and inter-disciplinary approaches to art marking, and specially focuses on time-based art practice.
Yuan Fuca is the co-founding editor of Heichi Magazine, the online bilingual publishing platform affiliated with Macalline Art Center. Her writing has been published on platforms such as Artforum, Artnews, BOMB, Flash Art, and Frieze.