The Meeting Room is a project hosted within Beijing’s Arrow Factory space, and organised by artists Rania Ho, one of the founders of that space, and Elaine W. Ho (no relation), founder of the HomeShop, a small creative community sited a few streets away. With this new project, the concerns of the two artists previously expressed through their work on their particular institutions, have come together to form a very interesting and socially productive use of the space – converting it into bookable space for meetings, which over the last month has come to naturally reflect the major and minor concerns of the participants in the meetings.
Both the Arrow Factory and HomeShop tend to be lumped together under the rubric of “the alternative” within the Chinese art world, but have somewhat different concerns and ways of working. I have written about each institution before on ArtSlant, but to summarise (and drastically generalise as they are in fact quite complex entities): Arrow Factory is a response to commercial art spaces, taking aspects of the gallery format and usurping their functions, in one way by closing the space off to access; HomeShop is a host community for a number of artists and creatives. Both institutions share a methodology by geographically and conceptually distancing themselves from the art districts of Beijing, and in part confront issues with their own role in their local, non-art communities.
In a sense the Arrow Factory space is still closed off, in that The Meeting Room has converted it into a bookable space for meetings, but this aspect of open access to the use of the space means the boundaries have been made publically and socially somewhat permeable. Whereas before, the installations in Arrow Factory were designed to be viewed through the glass doors but not entered, these meetings allow for a placement in the space of the members of the groups, while the meetings themselves are then objectified and made viewable to passers-by by virtue of this same glazed façade.
This current project serves many constituencies, not just those from the art world (although those are perhaps the majority given the context). The content and format of the meeting is left up to the individuals or groups that own the space for their period, and they range from private meetings, or meetings open to all by appointment, or completely open-to-the-public gatherings. I have had direct experience of a number of the events, including the launch meeting which had the form of a self-help group sharing ways to combat Beijing’s cold weather; a discussion group concerning the state of the art district 798, where the attendees aired grievances with the management of said art district, and planned their response. In another meeting, people in the midst of writing projects came together to provide mutual support and criticism of their tasks. There have been many other groups that I have not attended: a meeting bringing together lonely hearts; a study group for the 18th Congress of the Communist Party of China; another study group with Mexico as the subject; etc., etc. The range is diverse, and the project has obviously created a desired-for opening for many people to organise small collectives around their interests, which will live on after The Meeting Room has closed its doors.
The question then becomes, what is the relevant way to judge this project? The project is predicated on the experience of the meetings themselves, yet one cannot experience them all, so one must judge the concept on its own to a certain extent. One might look at the “micro,” at the individual meetings and try and judge them on their individual “success” or “failure” and somehow extrapolate from them to the whole. But it seems apparent that each meeting has little to do with the overall project concept, except that it has been facilitated by that project – one might say The Meeting Room is a meeting of meetings. On the other hand, if the project is judged in a “macro” way, on its actions to make meetings happen, as a forum for meetings itself, then we lose sight of the fabric of the project that is constructed and made visible by the individual meetings. So it seems both aspects must be held in view.
The Meeting Room is an interesting extension of the practices of both Elaine W. Ho and Rania Ho, and the institutions that they have been a part of previously, with those institutions’ focus on the concerns with the other institutions of the art world and of society. To my mind, The Meeting Room project cleverly keys directly into the personal interests of people – these meetings would not happen if no one had an interest. The fact that the schedule has been filled out by such a broad range of interest-groups, shows that this service is something people really do want or need. The Meeting Room is a fulfilment of this desire, performed as a socio-anthropological service by the organisers.
(All images: Elaine W. Ho & Rania Ho, photo collage; Courtesy of the artists and Arrow Factory.)