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Wednesday 27/02/13

The first ACAF Fellow completed her residency in China last year.  Melbourne photographer Sonia Payes’s Fellowship started in Shanghai where she attended the Shanghai Biennale. It’s always the people you meet who make the experience so memorable and Payes explains that meeting Song Ling through Yashian Schauble was a highlight of the Shanghai visit.  “Song was very generous with his time and hospitality and I found his ideas and work inspirational”.


Sonia’s residency was hosted by artist Shen Shaomin at his studio on the Qiaozi Art Commune in rural Beijing who celebrated her arrival with a huge party, great food and loud music. Surrounded by the many internationally acclaimed Chinese artists who work and live on the Qiaozi commune, including Quyan and Liu Yaming, she was soon hard at work. At Yaming’s studio, his massive paintings and the renovation of an adjoining studio to house these great works were an indication of the scale and ambition of contemporary artists in China.  Similarly, Shen’s studio is an open space where many of the young artists continually dropped in from neighboring studios on the commune, curious about the Australian artist in residence. Despite the language barrier, Payes managed to engage in and share information about their practice through laptops and iPads. “I just wish I had a solid understanding of Mandarin” Sonia explains, “I found that the artistswere all so happy to share and the attitude quite unique; this is something really wonderful that will always stay with me”.


Relieved of the pressures of everyday life in Melbourne, Payes would head out each day in different directions and on foot, photographing and creating images. “I was surrounded by quarries and cornfields, trucks and tractors. The entire area was sprouting corn and spilling concrete dust off speeding trucks racing against time on the gravel roads. Nearly every space available had either corn growing, corn drying or cornhusks burning. Every other space was preparing for future development”.


ACAF Director Yashian Schauble kept Sonia informed about interesting and exciting events that she thought would be of interest to her and Sonia was able to meet a variety of artists, curators and collectors and to experience Beijing’s amazing cultural facilities.  Guan Wei opened up his studio, Guo Hao was kind enough to include her in all art openings he was attending and Laurens Tan, a well travelled international artist, shared his ideas and work at his amazing studio. Wang Qingsong showed them his video of the making of his forty-two-metre photograph and Sonia also spent time at Gao Wei Gang’s studio in Jixi, Hellongjiang Province. “I really have admiration for Chinese artists after living in the area where they work and live. Being taken to meet all the different artists at their studios was incredible; without being personally invited, one would never be able to find these places and view the artists amazing works! It was a real privilege”, Sonia explains.

Sonia was also introduced to the curators of 798 Art District and Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art and met many of the Australian expats living in Beijing, including Tony Scott, Mario Lee and Brian Wallace of Red Gate Gallery. Visiting famous tourist attractions and shopping at The Beijing Art Material Centre were other highlights of the two month ACAF residency that provided Payes with “… a better understanding of the themes of these artists’ work, their adaptability to their surrounds and of the personal survival stories passed on to them from older generations. I strongly related to these stories coming from a background where we were also persecuted. Artistically, I can now understand and appreciate where Chinese artists have come from and where they are going. I am very grateful to all the artists who so happily shared their precious time with us and I hope to reciprocate their generosity if ever they come to Melbourne”.


Back in her Prahan studio Payes is absorbing the experience of her ACAF Residency and working on my new body of work, which will be exhibited in Beijing in April. “The ACAF residency was an incredible experience and I’m excited at the thought of going back to Beijing to exhibit”, she says.


“Thank you ACAF.”

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