Creative Industries in Beijing 2007 - Overview

1. Framing Concepts
Based on preliminary fieldwork in Beijing in 2005 and 2006 and follow-up discussions at the MyCreativity convention of international creative industries researchers held in Amsterdam, 2006, this project adopts the model of a mobile research laboratory as a framework for collaborative research on the creative industries and media education in Beijing.

This project draws on the model of Makrolab – one of the most renowned temporary sustainable laboratories mobilised around the world. Makrolab brings small groups of scientists and artists together for up to 120 days to research aesthetic, scientific and technological dimensions of local environments. But Makrolab does not, as yet, undertake research on the creative industries. Another key point of reference and inspiration is the work of Dehli-based media lab Sarai, who have long engaged the relations between urban change, social-aesthetic experience, inter-cultural teaching and research platforms and media-cultures. There are more proximate resonances with the Mobile Lab for Borderline project to be undertaken in Beijing, 22 June – 1 July, 2007.

The project in Beijing is organized around the following key vectors of research:
• migrant networks and service labour
• network ecologies of creative waste
• informational geographies vs. creative clusters
• centrality of real-estate speculation for creative economies
• import cultures & export innovations in architecture and urban design
• artist villages and market engineering

Theatre in Motion at beiLAB, Beijing
Borderline Festival/Dashanzi
Urban China Magazine, Beijing
Beijing Film Academy
MAD - an architectural design studio
Department of Chinese Language & Literature, Tsinghua University

Creative Collaboration as Constituting the Common
This project brings academics together with urban research organisations, artists, curators, media producers and policy-makers in order to undertake transdisciplinary research on Beijing’s creative industries. The project adopts the principle of collaboration, understood here as what German media activist Florian Schneider calls ‘working together with an agency with which one is not immediately connected’. Importantly, such a notion of collaboration does not assume participants share something in common; rather, it recognises the common as that which is constructed precisely through relations of difference, tension and dispute.

What, in other words, constitutes the ‘common’ of creative industries when different capacities and conflicting values and interests are brought into relation? Might these differences indeed be crucial for understanding the heterogeneity of forces and subjectivities that comprise creative industries in Beijing? Moreover, how might this inform research on the creative industries elsewhere in the world, be that Europe, UK, Japan or Australia?

Finally, what methodological lessons can be gleaned from the instantiation of a temporary research platform whose social-political sphere of practice is underscored by the logic of translating cultural divergence and social disjuncture as the common of creative industries? How, then, might research methodologies be open to conflict and the expression of difference as constituting the common of collaboration?

This project orients such questions around the production of ‘mapping documents’. It aims to make visible and bring into relation that which has become ‘partitioned’ from discourses on creativity (e.g. experiences of creative labour, service workers, etc.). Unlike the usual mapping documents on the creative industries, which are typically derived from compilations of statistics on economic growth in the sector, this project will produce an alternative map of the creative industries in terms of:

• a practice-based approach that will supplement policy mapping documents of creative industries, which can be enriched by a more extensive knowledge-base of actual conditions in the creative industries
• a rapidly transforming urban environment in Beijing and geographies of inclusion/exclusion
• real-estate speculation and its impact on demographic shifts and patterns of migration in the service sectors
• zones of concentration for artist’s studios, collectives and small enterprises as distinct from officially designated ‘creative clusters’ with high investment and national/transnational corporate actors
• creative labour as a mode of expression and organisation outside of the logic of intellectual property

Transdisciplinary Urban-Media Research
The project thus undertakes an anthropology of creative industries from the perspective of creative producers and those displaced by urban developments. By undertaking a collaborative anthropology of new institutional forms – what we term ‘organized networks’ – this project identifies the transdisciplinary dimension of creative industries in Beijing. Transdisciplinarity can be understood as an experimental research methodology and pedagogy that emerges within the logic of networks as they traverse diverse institutional forms. To this end, transdisciplinarity is a practice interested in the educational capacities of network cultures. This project investigatges how the formation of organized networks illuminates some of the material qualities and tensions of creative industries in Beijing.

The project holds the precept that transdisciplinary urban-media research is an autonomous expressive capacity that subsists within a field of translocal and supranational structural forces. This is not to suggest a form of structural determination, but it is to recognise that tensions of a particular order are inherent to media education that refuses the stagnant methods and orthodox theoretical approaches that by and large characterise the state of play, be that in Chinese universities or the rest of the world.

As the university increasingly loses its monopoly on the provision of knowledge as a result of neoliberal governance and the advent of peer-to-peer and user-producer media systems, media education is in crisis mode. Best practice is frequently found outside of university degree programs. Expertise has become distributed across a population of practioners and everyday users. How, then, might such knowledge feed back into university programs? Can formal accreditation for autonomous education be extended to non-university actors? Are such processes even desirable?

The glacial temporality of university curriculum development and subjugation of teachers by the life-depleting demands of audit cultures sets a challenge for media education programs that wish to synchronise their curricula with the speed of popular media literacies. To distinguish market and user hype from quality that makes a substantive difference is near impossible. Consensus will not be found beyond the fleeting moments of micro-adoption among A-list bloggers and their links, or whatever other community of users you care to name. Ratified standards for media education within the cultures of networks do not exist.

Through techniques and methods of creative collaboration, this project develops a ‘counter-mapping’ of creative industries in Beijing. In migrating media and urban research outside of the university, this project recomposes media education as a collaborative research process focussed on critique and analysis of urban transformations and the politics of creative and service labour.

One of the aims of the project is to gain a greater understanding of what is happening in particular creative production areas across Beijing (e.g. Dashazi Art District, Songzhuang, Tongzhou District; GBD Art District). As such, it is important that the methodology is sensitive and responsive to local phenomena.

In summary, this project aims to:
• engage postgraduate students from Beijing universities as key contributors to the production of transdisciplinary research on Beijing’s creative industries
• develop pedagogical techniques and teaching philosophy around principles of collaboration and cross-cultural translation
• build an online archive of resources that illuminate aspects of the creative industries rarely detailed in policy reports
• enrich the analytical and policy understandings of the creative industries
• collaborate with partner organisations/researchers (artists and designers, policy advisers, project consultants, software designers, research centres, existing networks) to create new institutional frameworks that address the needs, career paths, and conditions specific to the situation of creative labour
• critically develop the model of a mobile research laboratory as an independent education provider & new institutional form in an international (EU, Asia, Australia) context of outsourcing modules of study and research to the private sector
• consider the politics of translation, both in terms of the communication of a ‘common’ project and the mobilisation of resources across transnational networks interested in new modes of education provision

2. Global Context of Project
In the past few years China has joined the international rush towards creative industries. While the policy discourse on creative industries in China is similar to that in other countries in East Asia, Australasia and Europe, it would incorrect to assume that China’s engagement with the creative industries is simply a case of derivative behaviour. The special qualities of creative industries in China are not, however, to be found in policy discourse, which tends to reproduce the international hype around spectacular growth rates associated with digital ICTs and the ‘new economy’. For example, the institutional and regulatory environment surrounding the media and cultural industries, advertising, music, and urban development – some of the key sectors of the creative industries in China – does not correspond with the conditions that lead to such boosterism in the case of the UK and US in the late nineties.

With the ascendancy of the creative industries as the preferred policy model for countries around the world seeking to address problems of unemployment and urban regeneration in a post-industrial knowledge economy, there has been a curious omission of the fundamentals and complementarities that constitute networks of knowledge transfer, creativity, intellectual property, etc. Much research in the creative industries is highly speculative, interpretive and economistic, concerned with large scale industry data rather than the network of formal and informal relations that make possible creative production.

Considerable attention is given to R&D, technical infrastructure, and government support of short-term incubators, but the primary conditions of possibility and potential longevity are occluded. Research is usually produced quickly, with little detailed qualitative analysis of the structure of economic relationships creative industries’ firms operate in. In many cases, the policy discourses travel and are taken up without critical appraisal of distinctly local conditions.

Not only is this a problem of politics, it is also a problem of research methodology. The former is embodied in creative industries policy that bypasses consultation with stakeholders, migration policies, intra- and international labour mobility in an environment of partially open borders and uncertain constitution. The latter is apparent in the disconnect between the methodological borders of disciplines and the transversal nature of communication within network cultures. Communication flows, in other words, that are external to the disciplinary borders still operative in many university environments.

This project engages both these problematics as a point of departure for investigation. Key here is an understanding of creative labour as an uncertain constitution that conditions the future of network societies and informational economies.

The pilot study will provide important research data for future comparative research that examines the inter-relations between geopolitics (regional trade agreements, national and multi-lateral policies on labour mobility, security and migration, etc.) and the peculiarities of intraregional, translocal and global cultural flows within the creative industries. A comparative focus on the creative industries enables new questions to be asked about the mutually constitutive tensions between these forces, practices, histories and policies.

This project establishes a prototype for new cross-cultural educational and research institutions organised about the logic of networks. As signalled in policy milestones such as the Bologna Process (1999), scholarly monographs and OECD reports, the landscape in higher education has been undergoing gradual, and in some instances rapid, transformation toward a market model.

The Bologna Process is more complex than a simple transition toward a market model, but its modularization of educational processes should nonetheless be considered as a core dynamic of the contemporary second wave of globalization (services economy). This dynamic is also how educational changes intersect with the emergent economy of culture after the first wave (trade) has been nearly completed, which is why the Bologna Process holds important implications beyond the realm of education.

The role of universities as exclusive providers of higher education is changing as small and medium enterprises obtain government accreditation for provision of ‘educational services’. We are yet to see organisations develop out of the field of network cultures as providers of high quality research and teaching.

The project will contribute to international networks of ‘free’ or ‘open’ education, a few of which include: The Network University, Manoa Free University, Copenhagen Free University, Open Theory, Institute for Distributed Creativity, Global Classroom, Radical Education, Edu-Factory, Université Tangente, Ars Industrialis, and the current Summit of Non-Aligned Initiatives in Education Culture.

In summary, the potential impacts of this project include:
• new research on the creative industries and urban cultures in Beijing
• contributing to the collaborative invention of networks as new institutional entities engaged in transdisciplinary education practices
• serving as a model for ‘best practices’ in terms of how the experience of building social and technical networks enables the potential for the translation of educational and research resources across network cultures
• producing important resources, data and knowledge that assists in a larger study on business models for networks as educational providers

3. Method: Immanent Critique
As a collaborative project, the program of research will be jointly developed among participants.

Some key themes and activities to be explored include:
• mapping the distribution of creative industries ‘clusters’ across Beijing as defined by government policy
• map the demographic shifts accompanying the transformation of land zoned as residential, small business or urban fringe into land zoned for creative industries clusters
• map the distribution of emerging and declining artists’ collectives
• conduct interviews, produce podcast radio programs and video documentaries with new and displaced populations (‘locative media’)
• hold workshops with presentations by various participants
• investigate possibilities for ‘counter-designs’ of creative industries business and research in Beijing
• facilitate partnerships between university programs (architecture and design, new media, cultural and media studies, sociology), entrepreneurs and non-profit organisations

4. Partners and participants
Institutional partners & venues
Centre for Media Research, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland
Theatre in Motion at beiLAB, Beijing
Borderline Festival/Dashanzi
Urban China Magazine, Beijing
Beijing Film Academy
MAD - an architectural design studio
Department of Chinese Language & Literature, Tsinghua University

Bert de Muynck, architect and urban researcher, Beijing
Mónica Carriço, architect and urban researcher, Beijing
Els Silvrants,Theatre in Motion at beiLAB, Beijing
Jiang Jun, Urban China
Shaun Chang, New Media, Tsinghua University
Chen Shuyu, co-founder of PLACE design and editor of MAD.exe
You Mi, independent filmmaker, Beijing
Ni Weifeng, new media researcher, Beijing
Professor Boxu Yang, New Media, Peking University
Chaos Chen, curator/cultural producer
Professor Zou Huan, School of Architecture, Tsinghua University
Erik Amir, MAD Project Architect
Binke Lenhardt and Hao Dong, crossboundaries architects
Matthew Hu, Friends of Old Beijing
Fang Tieying, OMA Beijing office
Professor Meng Yue, Department of Chinese Language and Literature, Tsinghua University
Professpr Xu Jian, Fine Art College, Sichuan Polytech College
Dirk Eschenbacher, Ogilvy regional creative director for Asia Pacific
local postgraduate students
local designers, filmmakers, architects & urban planners, policy-makers

Regional & International
Dr Ned Rossiter, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies (Digital Media), Centre for Media Research, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney
Associate Professor Brett Neilson, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney
Dr Soenke Zehle, Transcultural Anglophone Studies, University of Saarland
Dr Thomas J. Berghuis, Curator, Sydney/Beijing
Danny Butt, Suma Media Consulting, Aotearoa-New Zealand
Luka Frelih, Frida V, artist & info-mapping, Ljubljana
Dr Jon Solomon, Department of Futures Studies, Tamkang University, Taiwan
Dr Brian Holmes, writer and cultural critic, Paris
Adrian Blackwell, Artist, Architectect & Urban Designer, University of Toronto
Shveta Sarda, coordinator of Cybermohalla projects, Sarai, Dehli
Luka Frelih, Frida V, artist & info-mapping, Ljubljana
Associate Professor Shujen Wang, Emerson College/Harvard University/Beijing
Dr Daniel Jewesbury, Centre for Media Research, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland