HomeShop Series Number One: Games 2008 Off the Map

By 何颖雅 Elaine Wing-Ah Ho

The designation of creative industry zones within the city of Beijing indeed bears an interesting history that long precedes the 2001 official selection of Beijing’s bid for the Olympic Games. From the forced removal of artists from YuanMingYuan artist village in the mid-90s to the support and development of Zhongguancun and the 798 arts district, ‘official mapping’ of Chinese creativity seems to be a cat and mouse play between the individual players (e.g., Wang Wenjing who kick-started the Silicon Valley of China, or the artists who first moved into the Bauhaus factory spaces of Dashanzi in the late 1990s) and the State, which deems each game worthy or not.

Looking at recent developments, however, it appears that the ‘officially demarcated’ mapping of creativity garners an overall post-Olympic pat on the back for the relatively smooth presentation of a world-class city – as seen by the production of the Games and consequent roves of visitors that have trawled through marveling at its sights. But, in what The New York Times noted the day after the closing ceremonies as the ‘afterglow’ of a beaming Beijing, what happens next? Many have been eagerly pre-analysing this question all along, with theorists and speculators wildly joining the dots, placing events in 2008 as a critical sequence: from Tibet to Sichuan to Beijing, we can examine China’s ever-expanding role amidst a larger global sociopolitics.

In his keynote speech to the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in October of 2007, President Hu Jintao stressed the importance of Chinese culture and the cultural industries ‘as part of the soft power of our country to better guarantee the people's basic cultural rights and interests’. In terms of the creative industries, however, is it enough for governments and corporations to understand the ‘soft power’ of China as an economistically derived map of neatly partitioned zones and social communities, calculable by profit per square kilometer and packaged and ready for export? What are the exchanges, encounters and hidden productivities left out of this kind of map? Standard approaches to mapping creativity actively reduce and neatly contain the power of creativity. The fact is that we are still very far from realising the full range of potentialities of Chinese creativity today.

Rather than bemoan the relative lack of state funding for creative endeavours or the under-valuation of independent thinking within the Chinese education system, perhaps it is a more pertinent question to address this attempt to map creativity in the first place. Is it possible to fix a viewpoint over creativity, human potential and innovation? Creativity and the capital it generates relies upon processes and frequently very ephemeral social exchange that refuse easy quantification. Very often, creativity, or ‘innovation’, emerges from the gaps or assumed errors in a ‘logical system’. How, then, to map such contingencies?

These are some of the issues that HomeShop set out to investigate recently during the Games 2008 project. For the past year, HomeShop has been operating as a store turned sleeping-working-living space which uses its window front as the entry point for examining our ways of relaying between public and private space, the commercial and pure exchange as such. For the Games 2008 series, the framework of Beijing and the Olympic games was used as a grid through which indeterminacies converge and reappear. Through community practice, the series was interested in building common spaces within the urban environment. Located in a small hutong near the Gulou area of the city, each day of the Olympics marked a countdown to the events’ end, as opposed to the nation-wide arousal of public displays of the countdown to 08.08.08. Varying scales of activities took place, from field recordings to a party to celebrate the ‘losers’, from street-side viewings of the Games to impromptu stoop-front discussions with a neighbour. A second-hand clothing collection station invited curious passers-by to come in and interact with the space, and free give-aways from participating artists Liang Yue (‘Relax’ posters) and Sean Smith (a Wii video game race to win Olympic event tickets) aimed at offering, within the daily routes of local residents, a minor-scale potentiality for our ways of engaging with the community and public space.

As an art project and critical experiment, HomeShop is interested in the creative practices of everyday life, whether these be on our part as artist-researchers or those of other participants and the laobaixing residents of the hutong. Quite deliberately, HomeShop lies off the map of known creative clusters in Beijing, and in doing so questions that given map, seeking a different tracing of relations within the social and urban fabric of the city. To embark upon the interstices of daily life and creative practices is to set upon something more deeply embedded within the map, and more operative. ‘Being-in-the-act’, or the ‘being-operative’, as Giorgio Agamben references Aristotle’s question of ergon in the Nichomachean Ethics, confronts how we, in the midst of bare life, stand relative to a greater politics and our own subjectification as citizens of the state. As Agamben notes, politics references what may be the essential argōs of mankind: the dark-rooted inoperability which points to our own uselessness as living beings. So why creative practices and why everyday life? Architect and theorist Doina Petrescu argues that ‘a renewed approach to architecture and urban planning cannot be initiated solely by centralised structures and governmental bodies. It must also include “microscopic attempts” at the level of collective and individual desires within the micro-social segments of public space’. We look to the map in the sense of Deleuze and Guattari, as ‘an experimentation in contact with the real’, and we trace the embodied dimension of ordinary life in such a way that the ‘small scale can come to define the public space itself’ (Petrescu). HomeShop is an experiment embedded within the hutong, where the local can look beyond a five-year government plan of creativity as intertwined with industry. Our interest is in reconfiguring socio-cultural possibility, not for a map, but for a mapping of the everyday.

For more information about HomeShop series one project ‘Games 2008’and its upcoming journal publication, see here.

何颖雅 Elaine Wing-Ah Ho is a Beijing-based artist and designer whose work uses the premises and vocabulary of design and production in order to ask questions about how functionality and objecthood intertwine with social relationships and everyday life. She works slowly (MA Communications, European Graduate School 2009) and quickly (left Parsons School of Design, 2001, and the Arnhem Academy of the Arts, 2005), likes drinking coffee and tea mixed together. She is a frequent collaborator and contributor at