PART ONE: INTRODUCING OUR TANGGU WORLD
J: Hello, welcome to Tanggu District Public Art podcast!
M:This is Jean and Matt and this is our podcast on the Tanggu district’s recent art project.
Jean this is your home district, you grew up here with your family, and then you visited a lot while you were away working, and now we live here together. Um, what was it like here when you were a little street kid?
Jean: Ah, in fact is really different.When I was small kids, here was much much less people.
Matt: mmm …
Jean: Less population, and uh, mostly no high building, and pretty open. It’s somewhat like mixed with the suburb and industry style …
M: Yeah, you can still see the industry just across the river … pretty close to Jie Jie’s house.
M: Is a lot of factory and smoke. Right next to all the new business area.
Jean: Yeah. Even like this way I think that, maybe just in my memory, its pretty like a clean, quiet area, maybe not really as clean as now, but, in my memory. I think now, even, especially after that Olympic Game, err, in Beijing, several years before, it’s much better, looks better. They planted trees, all those things, and much clean than before.
But in my memory I always feel its quiet and clean and beautiful …
M: Yeah, in your childhood memory ..
Jean: Yeah, especially the road, when I ride back to the school, my Middle school,
M: Did you go to school?
Jean: We can say like this way … And also, when I come back from downtown, my grandma’s home …
Jean: Because Tianjin downtown pretty crowded, much much more crowded, and when I come back and take off the train, and can look, especially in the afternoon, look the sun go down, along that river, …
Jean: I really love this piece of land.
M: Yeah, right. Feels good, yeah, and is beautiful in a way.
So one of the new things they’ve done, after the Olympic’s time, is the new beautification projects. In Tanggu. And the public art, I think the local government has placed around the main streets, near women de Baba de Jia …
Jean: Yeah …
M: And there’s ahh …tell us about some of the things they’ve done.
Jean: Yeah, we saw this you know, those statues, we call it. Is that art, or something else?
Is a little bit, how to say, is a little bit strange?
Ah, yeah, I think they all build recent years. And, ah, don’t know who designed those, and don’t know who permitted to build those.
Jean: But you see, if the flowers tree, trees along the road, they all looks very good.
M: Especially now, in spring. All the flowers have come out, and those blossom trees are amazing.
Jean: Yeah …
M: The colours of some of them, the pinks and the reds,
Jean: Yeah …
M: Is a little bit like fake tree. Couldn’t be real.
M: ’cause it’s super pretty.
J: Yeas, its surprised beautiful.
M: And they’re all along the main road, but not inside … where Baba’s apartment is, there’s nothing like that, they just put it where the cars drive.
Jean: Yeah, I think maybe government considers maybe inside is not their main thing. The inside part close by the wall, all those things … you see just a gate go in … maybe they consider like a single family for them … that’s inside, private area … they don’t care
M: Yeah, I agree with you, they don’t care … they just leave it …
But in the inside area, because they don’t care, some of the neighbors do their own thing right?
Jean: Yeah, they do very fantastic job. I saw them, last year of before last year, plant some really small tree, they build, you can see day by day, they put a little bit bricks the first day, second some small wood for the tree, to cover, and then, yeah, little by little they use their own small material, they have available, to do that … But, ah, a few days before I surprised they find that small tree have flower blooming …
Jean: Wow, amazing.
M: They’re really good at growing things and they make it just anywhere. In England we call that Guerilla gardening.
M: Yeah, use the public space, you just do it yourselves.
M: Its not like the government or anybody help you. But it makes those little streets inside the apartment complex nice to walk around. ’cause all of the neighbors do those things.
Jean: And also I think they pretty creative, some they build, is not the just the land is the base, by the bricks, they take the bricks make a square area ..
M: Yeah, that’s why it’s Guerilla. They had to pull the pavement up to do that ..
Jean: Yeah ..
Matt: Yeah, do a bit of destruction to make it.
Um, OK, I think maybe its time to get up and go and help your father get out of bed and have breakfast, right?
Jean: Yeah ..
M: And start again after that?
Jean: Yeah, let’s go.
PART TWO: THE ARTWORKS
Jean: The building on the corner, with the traditional garden, is Baba’s old office, where he taught classes for his danwei.
M: Yeah, for his factory group, right?
Jean: Yeah, this is a busy intersection where the drivers and pedestrians often have to wait for a while. Maybe that’s why they put artworks on two of these corners.
M: OK. We’ll call this artwork skinny Mozart.
I’m not really sure who its supposed to be, but it just looks like some kind of classical pianist I think.
He’s made out of a kind of plastic? Is that right?
M: And his piano is kind of just a sketch of a piano, and he’s all sharp angles, like a piece of Russian formalism.
Or a rubbish version of Russian formalism.
They’ve given him some wavy green friends as well.
M: They’re beans right?
Jean: Yeah. Smiley beans, in front of an ornamental tree and rock.
M: Yeah, smiley smiley beans in front of an ornamental tree and rock.
Let’s cross the road.
Jean: Yeah, let’s go.
On this side we’ve got ants.
Jean: Yeah, iron worker ants.
M: Yeah, working ants, and they look pretty worried, right?
Jean: Yeah, they work too hard!
M: Shi de. They work too hard. An maybe they’re worried because they’re right next to the busy intersection.
And behind them, what’s behind them Jean?
Jean: Yeah, its a garden with its own pagoda.
M: Yeah.It’s a… you could say its an ornamental garden, and ah, has its own pagoda.
OK, so that’s Baba’s corner… Let’s walk down to the next installation, the art works that are opposite the running track.
M: Where you go and do your running in the morning.
M: Yeah, brightly coloured rabbits. In front of the old library, that looks like a prison building, or a toilet, or ….
Jean: Yeah, ah those rabbits looks, ah, how to describe it ..
M: Yeah, well, I think they look like children’s rabbits, we can talk more about them when we’ve see more of the artwork. We’ll come back…
And if we go towards Baba’s apartment now, we can see the piece d’resistance.
Yeah. Let’s show the listeners a photo.
Jean: This one?
M: Yep. What do we call this one Jean?
M: Yeah, we call it the pigu. Right, because the figure blowing on the shell has lost his trousers, and his pigu is basically pointing directly at the street he’s next to. So, yeah, he’s called the pigu.
Jean: It’s just a boy. Small kids.
Jean: Yeah, so in traditional Tianjin culture, we feel like the small kids without clothes, are more lovely, … like the traditonal Yang Liu Qing figures.
Ah, …hua, and the painting for the Spring Festival.
Jean: Some imagine, I can think the idea maybe come from that.
M: Yeah, could be… derived from that. Ah, Tanggu … or Tianjin culture.
Um, there’s a quite a lot of public art around these streets, but those pieces we’ve just shown people images of, kind of give a flavor of the art, that they’re government has put on these streets, so … let’s talk about them all together, people can see this photo shows all the five.
M: Maybe we can identify something that unifies them. Ah, they have in common.
Jean: They’re all ugly?
M: Yeah. Also, you could say, maybe they’re made for children?
Jean: Maybe. They could be characters from children’s stories, or just figures designed to be enjoyed by very small people.
M:Yeah. Do you think kids would like them?
Jean. I think some of them maybe.
M: Yeah, I’m not sure.
We’ve walked past them many times, right? And, ah, I don’t think, have you ever seen any children enjoying them? Playing with them, or looking at them?
I think they might scare children. The rabbits look like nightmare rabbits, like they should have really sharp teeth. And come alive at night.
Jean: To terrorise people?
M: Yeah. To scare people. If you don’t go to bed on time, the rabbits will eat you.
Jean: OK, go back early. Go to bed early.
M: Yeah. And the ants look seriously oppressed, like workers under some kind of vicious authoritarian regime.
Jean: Sounds not so pleasure …not for children then.
M: Maybe not for children. And skinny Mozart’s kind of scary and weird. I don’t think he could have been designed for children. They might not be scared of him, but I don’t think they’d be interested either.
Jean: The green beans?
M: Maybe two year olds would like them. Very little people. And…
Jean: The Pigu.
M: Hmmm. I don’t think children would be interested, unless maybe they think its funny.
Jean: Mmm. He’s pointing his pigu at the cars.
Matt: Yeah, he’s pointing his pigu at the cars.
They might ask, why?
Jean: Oh ya, that’s my question.
M: Right, just why?
Jean: OK, so the things that unite them is that they’re ugly and nonsensical.
M: Yeah, and they’re all made in vastly different styles. Like the rabbits are children’s book illustrations like Beatrix Potter.
Matt: She wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit) …
It’s a famous English children’s book. There’s illustrations like that.
And Mozart is like an ugly kind of formalism.
Jean: The boy with the shell?
M: Maybe classical style.
Jean: The green beans?
Matt: Children’s playground?
Is that a style?
Well they have that shiny green plastic that they use, kind of primary colours, little children’s colour.
Jean: An anti-style maybe.
Matt: Yeah, anti-style, that’s the ants.
Jean: They’re just depressing. I’m not sure what kind of style you’d call that.
Matt: Insect realism.
Jean: No. Its kind of children’s illustrative, but ugly.
Matt: Yeah, So all of the styles clash, and the artworks clash with the surroundings, like you have these shiny plastic things, in front of traditional ornamental gardens and then that’s next to heavy traffic roads, but they children’s things.
And so, who do you think is responsible, and why did they do it?
Jean: Not sure.
Let’s make up some conspiracy theories.
Cool, let’s do that, after a break.
PART THREE: JUST WHY?
M: OK, so, someone is to blame, and why did they do it?
Jean: You know what? I really not know, who do that. I wonder … the designer you know, should know the environment, and know what’s need to put here …
Jean: Ah, I really feel its strange. They designed these thing put here, and also the government department related to the planning things. They need to say this is allowed or not.
M: Allowed or not. So …
Matt: So somebody said its allowed.
Jean: Yeah … It could be. Otherwise, how could they stand here?
Matt: Yeah, has to have permission.
Matt: So, somebody designed it, and somebody permitted it. Wo bu dong. I don’t understand.
Jean: Wo ye bu dong. And, ah, no system to show oh, we will do these, do you like or not? No-o. You just see it standing there someday.
Matt: You can’t say anything.
But I have two theories …
M: One is about the person who gave the permission. Or maybe got the funding from the government to do the art projects for the area … And maybe they kept most of the money … and just bought the cheapest rubbish things and put them on the street.
Its like a corruption, local government corruption story.
Jean: I couldn’t say anything to thins, but you know, even they spend less money ..
Jean: They still can do something good. I don’t think they … to save money lie this …
Jean: It’s not the way, you know.
Matt: It’s not about saving money. Its not a local government corruption story.
Jean: Special taste.
M: Special taste. That’s my second theory.
Matt: I think maybe the person who commissioned these works has a mental problem. Has a tou wenti. And its like “art therapy”.
M: Psychological, not corruption, …
Jean: You know, if you say the mental problem maybe the question make, ah, very complex…
Jean: Who think is normal, or in-normal? Who think this is beautiful or not beautiful. Different people have different …
M: Right, so somebody could say “is beautiful” … The Pigu?
Jean: Why they put this there? If not? They shouldn’t say, “we purposely made this ugly … make here ugly”.
M: Yeah, should be. Maybe they don’t like Tanggu.
Jean: That must be foreigner.
M: OK, it was a weigouren. The foreigner did it.
Jean: Or a wei di ren!
M: Wei di ren. I like that theory.