WeChat: Spaces, histories, production, artists, nowness, Beijing and Australia

Kailana Sommer


I am an Australian. What that means to say, or rather assert to you, reader, I am unsure of. I have a geographic place of birth but my genealogical history, like all histories, is fragmented.

Autonomy, perhaps, is not a fixed state but an essential performance–a practice.

I am sitting on a tatami floor in a traditional Japanese house by a river. The house is about one hundred years old. The floor creaks underneath me and the air around is heavy with microbes. I am connecting to 250kbps internet in order to have this conversation. To have this text. To text.

Billy Tang is the Curatorial Director of Magician Space, Beijing.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, how incredibly out of my depth I feel.



1. WeChat, formally known as Wēixìn in Pinyin (‘micro message’) is China’s preeminent social media platform run by TenCent in Shenzhen. TenCent is the fourth largest internet company in the world, after Google (not allowed), Amazon, and Ebay.

WeChat is the leading form of communication. If you want to know what, where and when shows are taking place you need to find and become a part of the right WeChat circle.

It’s a fluid texting format; things cannot be edited or taken back. Therefore, you will experience a few errors.


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2.  Magician Space is a project-like, ARI-in-spirit, exhibition space in the 798 District of Beijing. They work with local and international, emerging and established artists combining the categories across their programming to allow for multi-layered and symbiotic relationships between the artists and the exhibitions.
3. CIGE 2012 interview with founder Qu Kejie.
4. The growth of Chinese art has risen 2,000% since 2004. 

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5. The meaning of the transliteration of ‘magician’ in Chinese pinyin – mó jīn shí; mó – tip, end, final stage, jīn – gold, generic term for lustrous and deductible metals, highly respected and shí – matter, thing, item, work, affair, in conjunction expresses a process of pulling together matter, refining and sharpening it.
The term is a bilingual play on words, in Chinese it refers to a fine-tuning, a process built on reflection while in English it is related to the oscillation between matters of reality and fiction.

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6. It feels both polished contemporary and experimental. The gallery is small but modifiable and the space itself changes according to the needs of each exhibition.

Chen Zhou: http://magician-space.com/enartists_photo.aspx?id=42

Chen Zhou’s video was made in Magician Space’s studio and production facilities outside of Beijing. For the exhibition the space was divided into cinema (why don’t we show video works with seating?) and exhibition space for the physical works. (Referred to later in conversation)

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7. The entire Australian population is equal to the population of Beijing.

8. ‘Self-regulation’ here sits tangentially to ‘self-organisation’. As a possible structure that may circumvent bureaucratic hierarchies and commercial imperatives in order to bring about an idea, thing or physical space that sits outside of predetermined channels.

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9. Li Jinghu, TIME IS MONEY, part B, 2014.

Dongguan is located in the Pearl River Delta in southeastern China. It became know as Sin City during the Chinese government’s crackdown to clean up vice, in particular the city’s famous red light district. Dongguan is also one of the three major industrial cities of China, along with Shenzhen and Guangzhou. The trio make-up what is aptly nicknamed ‘the world’s factory’.

‘Time is Money, Life is Efficiency’ is the 1984 slogan for the economic reforms that pushed this trio of cities into becoming industrial powers.

‘LIFE IS EFFICIENCY’ is Part A to this show.

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10. 798 Art Zone, located in Dashanzi on the northeast side of Beijing, is formally the home to state-owned electronics and military buildings and is known to many among the older generation for housing the 798 Electronic Components Factory.

Over the past fifty years sections of the district and ex-factories have been incrementally taken up and converted into mixed-use art related spaces: galleries, art centers, artist studios, design studios.

The architecture is industrial but still somehow uncanny. The district began during the ’Socialist Unification Plan’ and the plans were left to German architects who decided to go with a functional Bauhaus style. Giving it an odd Berlin feeling, and perhaps visually predicting it’s future.

Institutions or blue-chip galleries such as Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Tang Space, Galleria Continua, Faurschou Foundation and Long March Space sit side-by-side smaller experimental or tradition spaces, studios or simply gift shops.

The feeling of stepping into the district is mixed.

But somehow the farrago of spaces allows a symbiosis between ideas and production helping the district sustain itself both critically and, as Billy mentions, without patronage or government funding.

11. Correction ‘migrant workers’ not ‘migrant artists’.

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12. ‘Jack’ is Jack Lanagan Dunbar, artist and photographer and an important half of KK+JLD.

13. ‘Divided’ here refers to China’s economic reforms begun in 1979 and have since created radical shifts in the socio-political consciousness of contemporary China. There is a psychosocial gap between the younger and older generations due to these movements away from social collectivism and towards international trade and economic openness, ie. Capitalism.

14. ‘…own histories entirely’ – What follows is a link to a recent show at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, concerning perspectives on Chinese art.


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15. As a nation Australia faces similar issues. It is well known that, en masse, contemporary Australian thought continues to substantiate itself off the Western Art model and more broadly Euro-centric and American Economics and Politics. This has made sense, in the past.

Without continuing too far into its postcolonial mold-lines, Australia needs to develop its own identity. One that includes its own histories, it’s indigenous histories, it’s future histories and goes further to acknowledge its geographic neighbors. I am, we are, of the Asia Pacific region.

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16. NSW only: Total funding across 270 arts and cultural organisations and almost 30 individuals for over 400 programs and projects was $54.7 million in 2012-13.

Geographically it was broken into:

– $10.03 million for organisations and individuals based in regional NSW,

– $3.04 million for organisations and individuals based in Western Sydney,

– $20.70 million for organisations with a state-wide remit,

– $20.95 million for organisations and individuals based in Sydney. [ii]

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17. Minerva is located in Potts Point, Sydney. It, ‘it’ as an organism that expands and changes according to its environment, exists as blend of commercial, ARI and ARE. Functioning in an open and collaborative way it presents solo shows by Australian and international artists across two gallery spaces. Occasionally, they also throw in a group show. The nature of the programing depends on the thoughts shared across the group. In this way, it can function not on an application basis but rather from a point of conversation and mutual interest. However, it also realises that time is finite pushing it to engage in what is important in the present and to engage in a lasting way.

The members are all artists: Joshua Petherick, Marian Tubbs, Jonny Niesche, James Deutsher, Helen Johnson, Andy Boot, Hany Armanious, Fayen D’Evie. And as mentioned the space also expands with each new solo show, so part of the ongoing discussions now are Hamishi Farah and Morag Keil.

18. Li Ming: http://antenna-space.com/en/artists/li-ming

19. Guan Xiao: http://antenna-space.com/en/artists/guan-xiao

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20. The Fat Years is a 2009 science fiction novel by Chan Koonchung.

21. Gallery as practice – practice as social system – social system as gallery

22. Spaces such as these enact, or express, perhaps not new, but important actions within the arts to (re)determine the theoretical and practical parameters of the artist/curator/administrator/audience paradigm.

Our relationships are symbiotic but fragile and if they become clumsy they become automated.

Perhaps all this is simply an urge or a plea, or more possibly, an iteration of something already known but that, perhaps needs to be said again.


[i] Descoteaux Hugg , Andreas. “30 Years in the Making: Female Artists in China.”, May 4, 2009.

[ii] NSW Government – Trade and Investment, 2012–2013 Art Funding Program, ARTS NSW Fact Sheet.


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