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China-on-Trent: Nottingham and Hangzou Link-up

5 October 15 words: Tony Simpson
Tony Simpson has gone China mad. First he went to Lakeside Arts Centre to see the New China/New Art exhibition, then he nipped to Hangzhou
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Our Tony's been on his jollies...

Lakeside in Hangzhou is like heaven on earth, or so I was told. Certainly, the West Lake and surrounding hills attract visitors from all over China. There's not a seat to spare on the fast train from Beijing to Hangzhou (average speed 300k), which covers the thousand or so miles in five easy hours. 'Take your time' over loose China tea, speeding south through fields of maize and spreading wetlands, across the mighty Yangtze River at Nanjing. China knows how to build a railway, and the stations to go with it. Not one to miss a photo op, LeftLion put on a bit of a show in the vast station concourse at destination Hangzhou.

This autumn, Lakeside Nottingham proclaims its thriving China connections across the big glass windows. Striking red characters announce New China/New Art, a show which brings together a dozen or so contemporary videos from Hangzhou and Shanghai, the better-known neighbouring city on China's south coast. (Ningbo, Nottingham Uni's footprint in China, is not so far away.) These are vast cities; Hangzhou's population reaches around 9m, while Shanghai weighs in at 20m. Nottingham, by contrast, is a congenial and compact university town, in the opinions of some from China who recently studied here, and all the better for that.

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image: Lakeside Arts Centre

The show at Lakeside Nottingham offers an unusual opportunity to prepare for my own brief visit to Hangzhou. Entering through heavy black curtains, it takes a while to adjust to the darkness. Flickering screens work in turn, casting a little light as they tell differing stories. Dancing Queen (aka Dancing King) by Double Fly has workers in hair salons going through their moves in the street, attracting the attention of passers-by. I saw something similar near the East Church in Beijing, one warm September evening. People simply joined in.

There's a knack to effective video installation, which Nottingham Contemporary has perfected over recent years. At Lakeside in 2012, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Karel Reisz's stunning film of Alan Sillitoe's pacey novel of Nottingham life circa 1960, worked well in Lakeside's memorable show of the same name. This time, the excursion in video is much more ambitious.

In Gallery 2, Roaming, Existence, Love has four women and a boat negotiating quiet passage through a rainy, urban riverscape. The seven-minute video is by Mujin, who was born in Inner Mongolia in 1982. Weeping willows steal the show.

In Gallery 3, I went for Picnic, made by Chen Tianzhou in 2014. Pleasantly psychedelic, this one didn’t seem to go anywhere in particular during its eight or so minutes, striking though the images are.

Curators Lynne Howarth-Gladston and Paul Gladston tell us the exhibition “offers rare insights into a ‘cool’ urban cultural scene still largely unknown outside China”. My first impressions of China, after a week spent in Beijing and Hangzhou, are that almost every one focuses on their screen, often for photography, when not cycling or dancing in the street.

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As the curators say, “Hangzhou is strongly associated with traditional Chinese literati culture and is home to the China Academy of Fine Art ... a focus for progressive art education in China since 1928.” That was a few years after Bertrand Russell visited for a few days in 1920, to see the West Lake, now recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site which has influenced landscape gardening in Japan, Korea, and further afield. As a souvenir of his visit, Russell had a silk embroidery of Viewing Fish at Flower Pool, as the Chinese characters denote the spot. That thread guided me to Hangzhou to probe Russell’s enduring influence in China.

Shanghai awaits another visit. Meanwhile, I can take the Beeston tram from Old Basford and drop into Nottingham Lakeside to immerse myself any time in ‘cool’ China. I recommend a dip.

New China/New Art runs at Lakeside Arts Centre until Sunday 1 November. They’re closed on Mondays though duck.

Lakeside Arts Centre website
Spokesman Books website

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