Owen Leong recently spoke with Arts NSW about his current residency at Swatch Art Peace Hotel. Here, he chronicles a day in his life as he undertakes his residency in Shanghai. Read here, or in full below.
6:30am I like to wake early in the morning. I get much more out of my day that way. The Swatch Art Peace Hotel is one of the best artist residencies I’ve done for its location, facilities and services. It’s located on The Bund overlooking the Huangpu River in the heart of Shanghai, China.
6:45am First thing each morning, I have a large cup of coffee in bed. My window overlooks East Nanjing Road and the Huangpu River. I check the air quality for the day on my phone, look for any urgent messages and speak with my amazing husband, who’s holding the fort in Australia.
7:15am I grab my bag and head out into the as the city wakes and people head to work. I catch the local bus to the gym, where I like to keep fit. The discipline of weight training and the focus of running both give me a sense of clarity and keep my mind sharp.
9:30am I walk back past the office workers lining up for breakfast at the morning street food vendors, or I catch the bus back to the residency. The hotel provides breakfast in the communal kitchen, where the artists gather each morning. It is a great space to share important information with other artists about individual experiences of the city and the residency itself.
The energy is one of constant flow, renewal and creativity.
10:30am After breakfast, I check and respond to emails. I also write a list to plan what I want to achieve for the day. I check if there are any exhibition openings that day, and factor that into my planning. I also spend time working on proposals, applications, paperwork, media and publicity. I find it’s important to balance my creative work with the administrative side of being an artist.
11:30am Make another coffee and then head downstairs to my workshop, where I do most of my studio work, which includes research, planning and sourcing materials. At the moment I’m researching the body, the city, and maps as systems and structures. I’m also researching Chinese medicine and acupuncture, developing prototypes for sculptures and photographic artworks. At the end of my residency I will be leaving a ‘trace’ of my experience, an artwork that becomes part of the Swatch Art Peace Hotel Collection.
1:30pm Lunch is a healthy green salad. After lunch, I make another coffee and return to more work in the studio. A consistent and continuous routine helps me stay focused. Sometimes, after lunch I have meetings with professional contacts in Shanghai to discuss projects, presentations and opportunities for collaboration.
3:30pm After a few hours at the studio, I might grab a quick snack of shenjianbao or jiaozi from Yang’s Fry Dumpling. Their delicious dumplings with pork and prawn are filled with a hot scalding soup inside. If there’s time, I might visit an exhibition. The Shanghai Biennale at the Powerstation of Art was a recent highlight, as was the solo exhibition of Xu Wenkai (also known as aaajio) at the cutting edge Leo Xu Projects, a boutique gallery in the French Concession – one of my favourite districts in Shanghai with interesting shops, cafes and galleries.
5pm In the evenings Shanghai really comes to life. At the end of the week there is a huge range of art openings, talks and music events. I go with a group of Swatch artists to several openings each week. It’s a great way to discover new parts of Shanghai and explore what’s happening in the local contemporary arts scene. We’ve seen some incredible exhibitions, museums and galleries from the independent scene through to major institutions. The M50 Art District on Moganshan Road is a dense complex filled with galleries and art spaces. Also, the recent VIP opening of the Xu Zhen major solo exhibition at Long Museum West Bund was one of the best examples of cutting edge contemporary Chinese art that I’ve ever seen.
7pm Hopping across the city to see one, two or sometimes even three exhibition openings, meeting local artists and curators, really works up an appetite! For me, art and food is a perfect match. Shanghai has an amazing wealth of food to choose from and we often stop to sample some of the amazing street food vendors selling charcoal barbecued cuttlefish or smelly chòu dòufu, sample chewy handmade noodles, spicy hotpot, or a steaming bowl of silky húntun. In Shanghai there’s something to suit everyone’s taste.
8pm Evenings are a productive time of day. For me, it’s an important moment to reflect on the day, to make notes about exhibitions or artworks I’ve seen, and to sketch new ideas for my future work. I enjoy this focused and uninterrupted time to play with new materials, test ideas and concepts, and to physically make the art. There is a natural rhythm to the working life of artists at the residency. Most of us work late in our studios, well past midnight, before shutting our workshops and heading to bed. On some nights, if there’s an event late in the evening, we might go out as a group.
11pm As a group of artists we sometimes attend an art or music event at The Powerstation, see one of the resident musicians Monokino, who performed at the Rockbund Art Museum, or support Selladoor, the resident Swiss rap/hip-hop artists, when they played at Logo Bar in the French Concession. We then catch a taxi back to the residency, where it’s time for bed, ready to start a brand new day in Shanghai the next morning.