Kotama Bouabane. Pisa, Beijing (detail). 2011. Digital Print. Image courtesy of the artist.

A Bridge Not Far: China

Barbara Balfour & Stephanie Shepherd, Kotama Bouabane, Yael Brotman, Steve Payne, PED Collective, Jennie Suddick

Curated by Curated by Patrick Macaulay

October 22 – October 22, 2020



It is easy to assume that investigations of diverse cultures will be astounding by virtue of their newness and otherness, but these globally significant discoveries are actually becoming quite rare since we live in a totally connected world. What is truly remarkable, though, are the commonalities of distant cultural viewpoints and artistic visions. This bridging gives clearer insight into the world we live in and provides compelling links and obvious affinities with other peoples and cultural traditions. For artists, this cross-pollination of cultural experiences is an essential development opportunity, because it alters perspectives, creates new approaches and challenges old assumptions – all part and parcel of the artistic endeavour.

This exhibition presents artists who have travelled to China for research or artist residencies. They began their visits, keen to observe and study, meet other artists and create innovative work. Preconceptions of China were dispelled as soon as they arrived. What has been made tangible is a country experiencing rapid growth and expansion; a nation steeped in an astonishing visual culture that is founded on abounding historical precedents, but is also aggressively forward-thinking and at the vanguard of contemporary art.

Making connections, bridging ideas and cultures … all of our curatorial endeavours are directly connected to these objectives. It is inevitable that bridges are created when artists share understanding and insight. What is exceptional is when these bridges become fundamental to artistic breakthroughs.

– Patrick Macaulay, Director, Visual Arts, Harbourfront Centre



Barbara Balfour & Stephanie Shepherd

Foreigners are known in Mandarin as “ke ren”, or guests. Aware of our foreignness in Beijing, we decided to reflect on this through an impromptu curatorial project based in the backyard garden of our second Red Gate Residency apartment. This outdoor garden space – a rarity in the high-rise dominated Tuan Jie Hu neighbourhood – was one in which we were separated from our neighbours, yet highly visible to them through an enclosing fence.

For this project we produced t-shirts with a Ke Ren Yuan / Guest Garden logo, loosely drawn from that of a nearby pastry store, as well as contributing Balfourʼs hula-hoop and Shepherdʼs stumbling block sculpture. We invited other artists who were foreigners, both short-term art residency participants and longer-term expatriates living and working in Beijing, to produce artwork for the one-day event. Guest artists were Erin Coates, Michael Eddy, Jean Klimack, Doug Lewis, Justin Spiers and Emi Uemura.

– Barbara Balfour & Stephanie Shepherd

Barbara Balfour is a Toronto-based artist and Associate Professor in the Department of Visual Art and Art History, York University. Her current research involves text-based art practices and print’s relationship to multiplicity. Recent exhibitions include The Slightly Sad Colour of Early Winter p.m. (Katzman/Kamen Gallery, Toronto), The Farewell (York Quay Centre Project Room, Toronto), Living & Dying (YYZ, Toronto), Library (Library Gallery, Winnipeg), MISS READ Artistsʼ Book Fair (Kunstwerke, Berlin), El Ultimo Libro / The Last Book (travelling), and Sediment (G Gallery, Toronto). Other activities include artist residencies, curatorial projects, and critical writing. Her most recent publication is The Inkiest Black.

Barbara Balfour wishes to acknowledge the generous support of the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).


Stephanie Shepherd is a Toronto-based artist whose project-based art practice involves a range of analogue and digital media including artistsʼ books, photography and installation. Exhibitions include Postcard (from China) (Serk Space, Beijing), Sediment (G Gallery, Toronto), eyelevel reshelving initiative (Eyelevel Gallery, Halifax), AGYU Artistsʼ Book of the Moment (The Department, Toronto), Dragon Fountain Bathhouse (Caochangdi, Beijing), Donkey Institute of Contemporary Art (Beijing), Titles 1-7 (travelling) and In The Stacks (*QueenSpecific, Toronto). She has produced two artist’s books: Stubborn Objects, documenting object interactions encountered in Beijing hutongs, and the two volume Set ( ), chronicling field work associated with natural phenomena.



Kotama Bouabane

My art production examines how identity, culture and place are in constant flux in a globalizing world. The way that images circulate today challenges our perception of photographs as static and stable. The prevalence of copying, imitation and pastiche in China is indicative of the nature of the photographic medium itself. This photograph, Pisa, Beijing,was taken in a theme park called “The World” that contains scaled-down replicas of over a hundred world-famous landmarks. Architectural and spatial mimicry have proliferated in theme towns in China, which brings up questions about how simulacra and the “hyperreal” affect cultural hybridity and dislocated identities. Large photographic murals and fake facades are also found throughout Beijing, masking the transitions and construction/deconstruction from old to new.

– Kotama Bouabane

Kotama Bouabane is a Laotian-born Canadian artist. He has an MFA in Studio Arts (Photography) from Concordia University, Montreal. His work has been exhibited in many galleries including Centre A – Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Parisian Laundry (Montreal) and Gallery TPW (Toronto). His work has been published in Prefix Photo Magazine and Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward in 2010 & 2012. He currently holds teaching positions in the photography departments at OCADU and York University. He is represented by Erin Stump Projects (ESP) and will have a solo show there in the fall of 2014.




Yael Brotman

There are several visually-defining moments from my residency in China that continue to inform my work.

One is the time spent with the Hmong people in the green hills of southwest China. My artists’ group trekked along the narrow dykes bordering the watery rice paddy fields, stopping in every village to meet its Master Artist. Each Master had their singular traditional focus – woodblock printmaking, silversmithing, reed instrument making, ceramics…

A second compelling image is of the architecture of the wooden village houses and the ancient method of scaffolding new constructions using bamboo. The structures possessed a poetic meshing of the utilitarian (some stood on stilts) and the embellished (red lanterns).

Third, in the city of Jingdezhen, home of the historic cobalt blue and white export pottery, we noticed that the light standards were encased in blue and white ceramic tubes. There was no vandalism; just pride in the art work.

–Yael Brotman

Most recently, Yael Brotman’s print sculptures were included in group exhibitions at Lehman College Gallery (New York), Art League Houston, Edinburgh Printmakers, International Print Centre (New York), and in solo exhibitions at Harcourt House (Edmonton) and at Loop Gallery (Toronto). Brotman’s work is represented in many collections, including the Skirball Museum (Los Angeles), Ceramics Museum (Jingdezhen, China), and the Canada Council Art Bank (Ottawa). She has been awarded residencies in China, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, Yukon and Banff. She has also received grants from the three levels of arts councils in Canada. Brotman teaches at the University of Toronto Scarborough.


Yael Brotman would like to acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.



Steve Payne

This piece is from a larger series of photographs taken in the city of Guangzhou, in southern China.

Guangzhou is a large, fast-paced, modern city – economically thriving, attracting much international commerce and a mass influx of people from all over China.

The city and its people have lived through a dense political and social history. The collision of old and new, the rapid economic change, and the occasional evidence of the ruthless consequences of entrepreneurial failure – give this very old city an edge that is reminiscent of a frontier town; a curious mixture of weariness and energetic self-confidence.

I chose Cantonese as a title because for me it hints at the truth of it – the fact that I am a visitor. And that I am, in a way, creating a revisionist version of the photographic portfolios brought home by western travelers many years ago when the city was still known as Canton.

– Steve Payne

Steve Payne was born in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, in 1953. He studied at Memorial University in St. John’s and Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University) in Toronto. His work has been exhibited in numerous galleries, including Victoria Manor Gallery (Harbour Grace, NL), Christina Parker Gallery (St. John’s), Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art (Toronto), Harbourfront Centre (Toronto) and, most recently, the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery (St. John’s). In 2008, he had a solo exhibition at the Fringe Gallery in Hong Kong. His work is held in numerous private and public collections, including the Canada Council Art Bank, the City of Toronto Archives and the Rooms Provincial Art Gallery. He currently divides his time between Toronto and Harbour Grace, Newfoundland.



PED Collective
(Millie Chen, Andrew Johnson, Warren Quigley, and Paul Vanouse)

PED is simultaneously a pseudo service bureau and an info/excertainment outlet from which viewer/participants may embark on free, talking-bicycle lecture tours. Each site-specific instance of PED provides many different thematic tours, each with a specific route to follow. Each bicycle is outfitted with a pedal-activated audio system. As the viewers pedal they hear the lecture, and when they stop the lecture ceases. Each ‘lecture’ is heard via speakers mounted to the handlebars of each bicycle. Each tour begins and returns to the PED service bureau. Each route is marked with either temporary chalk-based paint or, alternatively, signage.

PED service-bureau attendants ‘perform’ 8 hour days–encouraging participants, suggesting routes, maintaining bicycles and keeping records. PED expands the parameters of performance by both invisibly performing a service bureau and orchestrating viewers to unwittingly perform (as they conspicuously ride through the city or locale on the talking-bicycles, adorned with identifying helmets). Tours typically range in length from 5 to 20 minutes, and cover a correspondingly sized area of the city/locale.

For PED.Chongqing (June 2006, Chongqing, China), collective teams rode custom audio bicycle systems–6 wheeled, cart-pulling, built from salvaged bicycle parts, and powering hacked megaphones. The vehicles were capable of large-scale public address. These human-driven machines broadcast audio via karaoke-inspired lectures, spreading information and entertainment in a new/ancient society. The three tours included: Vehicle 1. The Long, Long Virtuous Path to Sunshine; Vehicle
2. The Twin Stacks of Supreme Happiness; Vehicle
3. The Vehicle for Ten Thousand Fertile Scholars’ Star Rated Market Approved Big Shiny Hot Pot for the Benevolent Ghosts from the Immortal Mountains of the Healthy Valley of Plenty. PED.Chongqing was completed by an expanded PED team, including 38 students of the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, Chongqing, China. It was realized in cooperation with the Chongqing 955 Bicycle Club and the International Long March project.

The PED Collective was formed in 2001 by Millie Chen, Andrew Johnson, and Paul Vanouse; Warren Quigley joined in 2006, Joan Linder in 2007, and Susanne Slavick in 2014.

PED projects:

PED. Buffalo, 2001 in Buffalo, New York
PED. Belfast, 2002 in Belfast, Northern Ireland
PED. Tonawandas, 2003 in Buffalo, New York
PED. Hamilton, 2003 in Hamilton, Ontario
PED. Chongqing, 2006 in Chongqing China
PED. Rio, 2007 in Rio de Janiero, Brazil
PED. St. Johns, 2008 in St Johns, Newfoundland


Jennie Suddick

Shenzhen is China’s first Special Economic Zone, an area of economic policies that facilitates industry and trade between mainland China and the international community.

My visit there was mostly spent between the city’s port areas, which are filled with evidence of the development boom; Window of the World, a theme park housing miniature versions of international landmarks and feats of engineering; and Dafen Village, a suburb comprised primarily of artists’ studios dedicated to the replication of Western classical artworks.

The dichotomy of the triumphant image of China’s own achievement and the sites celebrating a romantic view of Western material history illustrates the complex dynamic between western and eastern ideals of progress and the long historical precedent for romanticism of industrialization.

This installation places manufactured and handmade reproductions of iconic images (similar to those seen at Window of the World and Dafen Village) against each other in a celebratory fashion, exploring the lines between tradition and progress, as well as the blending of perspectives and histories through transnationalism.

– Jennie Suddick

Jennie Suddick is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Toronto. Her work has been exhibited in Canada, the US, Europe and Asia. She earned her MFA from York University and holds both a BFA and Advanced Visual Studies Certificate from OCAD University. Her solo projects have recently been featured at The Art Gallery of York University, Harbourfront Centre, and as part of Land|Slide: Possible Futures at The Markham Museum and The Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture.


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