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Littmann teaches China to see
Dongguan. Many of the eight million inhabitants of the Chinese city of Dongguan now spend their time at the cinema. However, they are not watching some Chinese or western movie, but their own very personal film. After touring Switzerland, including a stop in Basel, Klaus Littmann, the Basel art initiator, has brought Real Fiction Cinema to China. An open screen allows people at three locations in Dongguan to watch scenes of everyday life that the accompanying soundtrack turns into a film epic. Already more than 30,000 people have experienced this new take on their city. Reporting in the Chinese media has been euphoric, underscoring the impact that Littmann’s temporary art action also has had on enabling the industrial city to better position itself in the cultural scene.
Chinese everyday life in film
Dongguan is an industrial city of eight million people on the Chinese mainland, two hours by car from Hong Kong. It owes its fame and prosperity to its manufacturing facilities for global luxury goods companies. However, since the 2008 recession, the city has faced economic problems of growing severity. The New South China Mall, built in 2010, is one of the world’s largest shopping malls, but also largely empty.
“The city has recognized that it needs to refocus and feels that culture offers a new approach”, says Klaus Littmann, who established contact with representatives from Dongguan a year ago. They expressed a deep interest in his projects in the public space, which at the time were unknown in China. “They are projects that appeal to a lot of people, both educated and less educated”, comments Sunny Qiu Xiaokun. She and her partner Mo Wu run the Arts Rouge International cultural agency, which has the aim of realizing cultural projects in Dongguan with government assistance. “We do not want to promote any commercial art forms; rather, we want to bring art to the people, and Klaus Littmann’s ideas fit the bill perfectly”, Xiaokun emphasizes.
The temporary Real Fiction Cinema project is the first step. Working in collaboration with Job Koelewijn, a Dutch artist, Klaus Littmann has already sent the project on tour in Switzerland. As is the case with all of Littmann’s projects, this special cinema also questions conventional attitudes. The elongated cube designed by Lost Architects contains normal cinema seating, but instead of watching the screen, people watch scenes of real life outside. The film music chosen by Koelewijn, which in Dongguan is elaborated with Chinese melodies, transforms normal everyday life into a personal, fascinating film plot that plays in the viewers’ mind. Thus, each visitor of Real Fiction Cinema sees his or her own film and sees it differently on each visit.
Lengthy transport and construction
Six weeks ago the three disassembled cinemas were transported in shipping containers from Switzerland to China and re-assembled in Dongguan. Klaus Littmann personally coordinated and supervised these procedures on the spot. Last week the Real Fiction Cinema project was unveiled in Dongguan and the cinemas opened for viewing at three different locations in the city. The scenes were simultaneously streamed live to the Lingnan Fine Arts Museum. “This adds yet another dimension to the project”, says Littmann.
The interest was incredible. The media conference was attended by more than 50 journalists and two dozen television teams, who wanted to learn more not only about the project, but also about Klaus Littmann. The media were amazed to learn that Littmann is a Beuys student and one of the first people in Europe to exhibit contemporary Chinese art. They were also surprised by his statement that Dongguan can become an important city on China’s cultural map. “But then the journalists quickly grasped the point that art opens up a new opportunity for Dongguan”, says Sunny Qiu Xiaokun.
Regarding Littmann’s project, the authorities in Dongguan were extremely accommodating. He and Koelewijn were given complete freedom to choose the three locations. They decided on a busy intersection close to the opera house, a lane in a pedestrian precinct and a square in a park with a lake. And it was at this square that the official opening of the Real Fiction Cinema in Dongguan took place, attended by leading municipal representatives. Lu Pan, the city official responsible for cultural affairs, declared: “Through the Real Fiction Cinema the citizens of Dongguan are discovering a completely new Dongguan.” The reports in the Chinese media are also euphoric. “When the cinema is open, hundreds of people crowd around because they are curious to know what is in this structure. And when they visit the cinema they acquire a totally new perspective on something they are already familiar with”, one newspaper writes. Another comments: “The cinema has the effect of letting people see their surroundings and their city through totally different eyes.”
The choice of the Chinese
That is precisely what Klaus Littmann wants to achieve with his project. He thinks that “the Real Fiction Cinema also functions in China because music is universal”. So he was not surprised that it was his project in the public space that the Chinese chose. “It was important for me that they chose for themselves that I should not come to China with my European lens”, Littmann emphasizes. The fact that he realizes his cultural projects outside metropolises such as Beijing, Hong Kong or Shanghai is for him both an opportunity and a challenge. “Given the choice on offer in the big centres, my projects would attract far less attention that in Dongguan, which is only gradually acquiring an interest in art. I can have a real impact here.”
The fact that 30,000 people in Dongguan visited the Real Fiction Cinema in the course of just one week demonstrates how enormous this interest is. “We never expected such a response, especially as we could not foresee how people here would react to the art project”, exclaims a happy Sunny Qiu Xiaokun. Enquiries have been received from other cities, and it has already been decided that the Real Fiction Cinema will go on a major tour of China.