Aug 112016
 



ALT TEXT

Aussie Cyril

Aussie Cyril’s photo. My crop, my adjustments. My body. My creation.

Air Quality Index: Hazardous. Serious aggravation of heart or lung disease; premature mortality in people with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly. Severe respiratory symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath in people with asthma; aggravation of other lung diseases. Increasingly severe respiratory effects likely in the general population. Impairment of strenuous activities and serious risk of respiratory effects in general population.

    ‘Bel, you cannot go out in this filthy air. I’m phoning Lily Hong to say you’re off sick again. They can cancel your classes – half the students won’t show up in this, anyway.’
    After phoning, I take Bel’s breakfast to her bedside. Ominously her nose is already stuck in her iPad.
    ‘Oh dear.’
    ‘Listen to this – the novelist Yu Hua summing up modern China: “So intense is the competition and so unbearable the pressure that, for many Chinese, survival is like war itself. In this environment the strong prey on the weak, people enrich themselves through brute force and deception, and the meek and humble suffer while the bold and scrupulous flourish”’.
    ‘This country is upsetting your equilibrium. Here. Drink your tea. Maybe you shouldn’t come back after all, when you’re done in Antwerp.’
    The look on Bel’s face chills me. ‘Joke!’ I plonk myself on her bed. ‘Don’t you dare not come back! What the heck will I do? They’d throw me out on the street in a minute. I’d be living in one of those migrant workers’ temporary huts…’
    Bel coughs hard, then looks grave. ‘The truth is – the truth that’s denied by the capitalists is – there’s no such thing as a level playing field.’
    ‘Look, Bel – maybe you should watch a nice movie or something. Reading the news is bad for your health.’
    ‘In a minute. Listen – this article by Pankaj Mishra is so important, about how capitalism developed and how we are responsible for it. We British, I mean. It fits exactly with the stuff J.G. Ballard wrote about. Mishra says the belief systems and institutions we initiated – like, the global market economy and stuff – caused the big fuck-up of Europe and this is what’s now also fucking up Asia and Africa. It’s like, there’s no alternative any more. Socialism finally died a quarter of a century ago, and since then this capitalist paradigm of desire and consumption has spread right across the globe.’ She looks up at me from her iPad. ‘Why the big sigh?’
    ‘It’s just all too much, Bel.’ I sip my tea (evil British colonialist Typhoo).
    ‘But this is so important. Capitalism relies on everyone believing in the level playing field, when in truth it’s purely and inhumanly a machinery for economic growth, or in other words, the enrichment of the few. Listen: ‘Since 1989, the “neo-liberal fantasy of individualism” whereby talent, education and hard work are rewarded by individual mobility, has proliferated and spread worldwide, even as structural inequality has become ever more deeply entrenched…’ It’s what’s wrong in China…’
    ‘Look. We can’t do anything about this. Why get so upset?’
    Bel plows on: ‘‘…The American illusion of equality of conditions which says “anyone can make it if they try” spreads false hope.’ Plus, it promotes being an entrepreneur to a higher status than any other occupation.’
    ‘Everyone in Shanghai is an entrepreneur!’
    Not true! Not those guys out there right now digging up that tree;’ Bel points out of the window, ‘those migrant workers from the countryside who live in those prefab huts. That’s China. People like them.’
    ‘So do you think there’ll be a revolution? Or is an apocalyptic catastrophe due to climate change the more likely thing to hit Shanghai first?’
    ‘Social unrest. It’ll start with social unrest. The trouble is, people’s sense of their own powerlessness and deprivation is much worse today because everyone, everywhere, including poor people, has tellies and mobile phones where they can see other people’s wonderful lives. Resentment builds up because we can constantly compare our crap lives with the lives of the wealthy and privileged…’ She suddenly looks hard at my skinny wrist. ‘You need to eat. You’re really scrawny.’
    At last I’ve distracted her from politics!
    She never, ever comments on how I look… What does this mean?


 

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Feb 112016
 



ALT TEXT

Aussie Cyril

Another photo from the first Shanghai Art Nude Photographers group session. Aussie Cyril says it is apres the work of early photographer Ruth Bernhard. He has lectured in photography. He has a lot of knowledge.

I flounce up to Bel who is waiting, as arranged, on the China Art Museum steps. ‘Huh. Pompous git.’
    ‘Fei Mo Di?’ She puts out her cigarette, wheezing. ‘Your shoot didn’t go too well, then?’
    ‘He called Anaïs Nin a ‘spoiled upper-crust adulteress’. Why does she get treated with such contempt? Lee Miller doesn’t, even though her sexual conduct was just as liberated and controversial…’ I follow Bel through the museum’s entrance. ‘It’s because Anaïs Nin was a writer, that’s why. Visual imagery is infinitely ambiguous – all about the viewer’s perception – whereas the written word is a record of a thing perceived, and furthermore, is the writer’s take on it – their analysis. So the writer is laid bare, and therefore more vulnerable to personal criticism.’
    Zero response from Bel. Which is becoming usual. Does she think I talk rubbish? When a man ignores me I assume it’s coz he’s a sexist pig.
    Do I talk rubbish?
    The foyer is a huge modern space. A ruddy-faced immigrant from the countryside in cheap gaudy leggings shows Bel and I to her toddler, like pointing out cows in a field.
    ‘Maybe I talked too much.’
    Bel hands me an English-language leaflet about the current exhibition. ‘Did you? That’s interesting. When you model for artists you never utter a word.’
    ‘But with a photographer there needs to be interaction, doesn’t there? To find the poses.’
    Checking the leaflet’s map, Bel heads off. ‘What did you think of his penthouse?’
    I hurry after her. ‘Oh my god. Space-age. Shiny high-tech everything. That whole district is so pristine, glittering, brand new. All those exclusive luxury tower blocks. Was there ever anything old there?’
    ‘Shanghai isn’t old. Pudong was all paddy fields twenty years ago. You should read JG Ballard. He spent his formative years in wartime Shanghai when it was pure anarchy, which is why everything he’s ever written has an apocalyptic undercurrent. That’s Shanghai. Those towers built for the elite remind me of his novel High-Rise. They spook me.’
    Why does Bel only get animated about climate change, wars, and the end of the world? I don’t like thinking about those things.
    ‘Anyway’ – I shift the subject back – ‘I don’t think he’ll book me again. He definitely didn’t fancy me, I know that much.’
    ‘Fei Mo Di? Apart from being twenty years younger than you he’s as gay as a French horn.’

We wander through the museum. Bel’s and other visitors’ pulled-off pollution-masks dangle against their chests, like surgeons taking coffee breaks.
    I stop to field a Wechat message. ‘Hey – another one-to-one booking! Next week. That elderly Aussie, Cyril.’
    ‘Three times married.’
    ‘God, Bel, your ex-pat world is incestuous.’
    ‘He likes to submit to women. Apparently.’
    ‘How on earth do you…’ –
    – ‘One of his ex-girlfriends told me.’ We have reached the central hall where the new exhibition is installed. Some are gigantic. ‘Look! This is the fantastic stuff I wanted to show you. There’s so much photography-based art here, of a kind you don’t see in Europe.’ Bel is again animated, and this time, for once, about something positive. Her sweeping arm takes in all the works: ‘This isn’t about photographs. Photographic techniques and media are merely tools in the creation of these works. This all goes way beyond the debate on whether a photograph can be considered art.’ Her enthusiasm is a wonderful relief. ‘I’m going to bring my students,’ she declares.
    This is our best moment together since my arrival a fortnight ago: Bel actually being relaxed, enjoying something. I am so happy! I link my arm through hers. ‘So. When are you going to start your Art Nude project with me?’
    She immediately tightens a little. ‘When are you going to get out your unfinished manuscript?’


 

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