Jade Townsend

Grant:  $1000 toward materials for WARE Red Gate Artist in Residence, August – December 2015

Jade’s Report: In December 2014 I packed up my beloved studio on the outskirts of Beijing. I gathered together my glittery treasures, dusty beneath desks and curled under chairs – vinyl, tape, string, toys, posters, paint and who knows what?  The objects amassed during my adventures. Getting lost, then finding my way and discovering more than I had bargained for. I generously rolled up layers of linen and lino for the fractured flight home. Sad to no longer be the curious customer buying up all the metallic sponges. I could never have predicted the poignancy of these moments.

Three months full of glitz and grub. Late night walks around Feijacun, skyscrapers, new friends and hand-sanitizer. It was a time, as expected, of extremes. I already miss the red glow of the fresh meat stores and the tough faced woman who worked within. The glamorous and alluring signage to the not-so-glamorous dwellings. The ornately designed cigarette cases – not the cigarettes.  The hard humor.  And, in no order, the creatively fertile environment that allowed me to express myself so freely and consistently.
I set out week one, day one, full of enthusiasm and motivation – desperate in many ways to start ‘making’. As I absorbed the force of almost 23 million people in the state of Beijing I reflected – ‘What is the residency experience meant to be?’ And, ‘What can I make that means something more than the objects that exist so densely around me?’ It is the one place that doesn’t need any more stuff. So thoughtfully I collected materials and began to experiment. I reached out to artists, curators, galleries, brands and journalists to create a network from which I could learn and grow in my new city.

Six weeks in and I was comfortably settled into my second studio, enjoying new neighbours and an alternate route into the village. Paintings in full production, collages covering every surface and daily discourse for potential exhibitions. I rewarded my long days of working with dinners in town with interesting peers met at the Embassy functions, following up on friendly conversations at openings and making the effort to thread together the many groups of which I now belonged. I had lined up an exhibition with the organisers of Beijing Design week and prepared for revamping the shop I was to take over. I was excited and a bit daunted too. Who would come? Can I afford to rent the space? Will someone review it? The usual fears.

I was cutting it fine or you may say – I was being very ambitious. A solo show in an obscure area within three months but I had the drive. Then three weeks before I was due to pack up I finally got a response from my most aspirational venue! ITBM – the Comme Des Garcon concept boutique – China’s most premier luxury department store, bursting with art and high fashion in the fanciest part of town. I was offered a three-month exhibition – the first female artist ever to exhibit there. Within a few hectic days I had acquired a fee, a budget, assistants and was set to open on my last night in town.

“Transform. T-r-a-n-s-f-o-r-m,” she exaggerated to her audience.

“Trans. Form.” Nea curled cautiously from her lips. A head nod per syllable the group fluttered across the counter “Trans. Form. Trans. Form. Tr-a-ns. F-o-rm.”

“Yes! Exactly. Transform!”

“Trans. Form.” They recited proudly and in chorus.

“You know… like the toys, the movie. Transformers – evolving or developing from one form to another.”

Nea and Louise look confusingly at each other and translate to the other three.

“Transformers? I don’t know these.” Offers Nea.

“No…” Says Louise with approval from her team.

“Um…. OK. Like clothes perhaps. Clothes can help you to ‘transform’ – like the TV programme Stars in their Eyes.” Her natural intonation being useful here. “Like a caterpillar to a butterfly. The caterpillar transforms.”

“Huh??” Replies a puzzled Louise as she covers her hand to giggle – sparking laughter from the group.

Nea looks up and around, searching her world before clenching her fists to her chin and whispering, “Like Sailor Moon?”

“Yes! Of course.” The widest smile. “Just like Sailor Moon.”

In those final weeks it had became clear what this residency experience was meant to be. It was beyond the work I made, the sights I visited, the observations I cherished. It was, for me, the genuine connections we make as we fumble our way toward ‘expression’. Running until March 2015,  ‘Typical Relics’ deepens my exploration of the interplay between human values and the material world with a focus around the construction of ‘taste’.

– Upcoming  LED works from Beijing, Pataka Museum and Gallery, NZ, 2016
– Upcoming  Paintings from Beijing, 30Upstairs, Wellington, NZ, October 2015
– Typical Relics exhibition and artist talk, Enjoy Gallery, Wellington, NZ, March 2015
– Imagine Asia, Pataka Museum and Gallery, NZ, Feb –May 2015
– Typical Relics exhibition, ITBeijingMarket, China, December 2014 – December 2015

GQ China
Style Mode
Red Gate Gallery
Modern o2
New Zealand:
The Wireless: Reflecting on the bright lights of Beijing, 25 Feb 2015
National Radio: Standing Room Only, 15 Feb 2015
Enjoy Gallery: Artist Talk, 2015