Lockdown, madness, David Lynch and creativity, how the “West” Music Video got made.

Inko di Ö

Hi Inko, can you introduce yourself a little to our readers ?

Hello Djang San ! My name is INKO, I am a french tribal bellydance artist based in Beijing for a decade. Through my classes and performances, I am developing a poetic, feminine and spiritual style of movement, fusing the animal and the divine energy that I consider specific of the human nature of our body and soul.

What can you tell us about your dancing and how you got to it ?

Nina Dillenz wrote me in May 2020 about this projet of video clip and offered to shoot me dancing on the track “West”. I was both excited and frustrated, because there was no way for me to go nowhere, as i was already strictly locked down in my compound since the beginning of February. I simply offered to shoot the video myself. Nina explained what kind of frames and background she needed, and I shot accordingly. “West” is far from the type of music i listen as a tribal bellydancer, It felt as an ovni to me, very folkloric and yet psychedelic, a bit repetitive, and yet composed as a exhilarating ride. “West” made me feel at once refreshed, amused and in the desire of brutalizing the track. I was given no guideline in term of interpretation, except to integrate the white tribal mask made by Zuhui Ghang. I adored the idea of hiding my face, and this instantly inspired me to unveil other parts of my body that I usually cover. I was angry at my situation at the time, and i deeply needed to reverse my world, habits and routines. I knew this project would be cathartic and channel my volcanic need of freedom. I spent days listening to the track in loop, and trying to choreograph it, but my mind was absolutely unable to bear any sort of constraints or rules anymore, and I knew the only way to go for me was to improvise. Which I did in front of the camera.

In the video « West » you dance with a jacket worn in reverse and a mask, where did the inspiration come from for the video ?

Honestly, given the high mental pressure i was under at the time, i couldn’t conceptualize anything. My answer in term of movement and costume was absolutely primal. I simply wanted to create a provocative and visually impactful fusion, based on sharp lines and contracts. I felt inspired to turn myself into an weirdo sexy freak, a clash of male and female, western and eastern elements. In looking back now, and trying to analyze my process, i can say the inspiration initally came from the title of the track itself, “West”. The jacket is an element of a 西服, that we can translate literally as “Western costume”. The dance was about mixing and reversing certain codes, and as a woman, I wanted to integrate a male piece of clothe, that i would wear in fanciful ways. I have bought this red jacket for a show i have produced in 2017, The Odd Cabaret, which was worn by the Master of Ceremony. It was a show about love, and above gender desires. At the core, this jacket is a reference to the red theatre scene in Mulholland Drive by David Lynch, where all codes are swept away, where all is illusion, and where the hyper drama regns.

Can you give the readers a little bit of your musical background, what’s your favorite music ? what do you usually dance to ?

I am constantly listening to music and to very different types, depending on the production i am working on. I can listen to very traditional sounds such as nordic pagan music, egyptian drum solos, african drummings, Chinese Guqin and Guzheng, and very modern, such as trip hop, cyber punk, industrial dark music. I often collaborate with musicians, as I love the presence of live music on stage when i perform. I have worked with Sound Sculpture, Hangai, Heike Klager, Joy Stuhr, Pierre Brahin, the wizzard Treha Sektori, and have projects with the multi-instrumentalist and producer David Macejka. I am a big fan of his band Cu Dubh. The last co-creation i have been blessed with was the track “Wild Orchid” improvised by the Guzheng player Lucy Luan for the eponymous tribal bellydance show, inspired by my retreat in the yunnanese jungle. I’m always glad to work with musicians, as music is what inspires humans to dance !

According to you which places in China and Asia are the best for dance ?

I have had gorgeous performing experiences in many of the most reknown venues of Beijing, with a special mention to La Plantation Theatre which has disappeared today because of the epidemic. I’d love to perform at the Pearl in Shanghai, which is a very glamourous and classy venue, that makes you feel like entering the Moulin Rouge. Besides, I am utterly thrilled to dance in the heart of natural Chinese landscapes such as Zhangjiajie, or Jingmai mountain, where i have shot shamanic dance videos at the roots of millenarian trees. Mountains, jungle, wild rivers are my favorite place to dance in the world.

How did the coronavirus affect you and how do you see the future of dancing in China ?

As a University professor in Beijing, I got trapped on the campus where i was living. I couldn’t go out of my tiny compound since February 1st. I had a permission to go out 18 hours on June 15th, and to go on holidays in Yunnan at the end of August. In September, the rules relaxed a bit but also was changing every week. Sometimes I could go in and out freely, sometimes, I had to write permission letters several days before-hand. Recently, with the recrudesence of COVID cases the situation became non-negotiable again on University campuses in Beijing, and i have been asked to not exit the compound anymore. I decided to move out. Of course, in such context, many superb projects simply got cancelled, but I know these opportunities, and even better, will present themselves to me again. The sureeally long time I have spent in jail-quarantine has been an extraordinary mental, emotional and spiritual experience, which freed me on many aspects, notably energetically. Months of chastity led me to a kundalini awakening (the second of my life) which cleared my chest and throat chakras, i wrote pages of inspired sentences, and despite the separation from the world, I was simply never feeling lonely. I was so inhabited by something absolutely sacred, a light, a grace, constantly on a “high flying disk” to quote Abraham Hicks. I was in permanent awareness and sensation of God. Having to stay fully grounded in every present moment in order to keep balance, it sharpened my strength and my cool immensely, and i turned into a wise woman, instead of a ultimate mad one. I feel today deeply peaceful, totally aligned with myself, with a crystal-clear philosophy of life that i don’t need to convince anyone of. I lost all interest in debate, and I simply believe the most beautiful thing we can do as Humans is to allow ourselves to live the life of our dreams, which is the most powerful way to inspire others to do so. These constraints definitely clarified my desires and visions as an artist. I want my full life to be the sanctuary of the dance i dream of, and to even more devote myself to represent the stunning art of tribal belly dance and to keep crafting a unique dancing fusion of Asia, femininity and spirituality.

Who’s your favorite Chinese/Asian dancer ?

Yang Liping has been my first big discovery in term of Chinese dance and i still super love her FULL MOON solo. I am extremely interested by Chinese ethnic and shamanic dances, as well as court dances. Today, i train a lot with Chinese pole dancers, to increase my strength and flexibility and I’m simply a fan of my trainer, Dijia, whose style offers a great balance between grace, extreme feminine beauty and elegance.

Anything you want to add ?

It was super fun to work with you Djang, thank you !

Facebook : www.facebook.com/inkotribalbellydance

Instagram : www.instagram.com/inko.di.o/

Wechat : inko.di.o

Nina Dillenz

Hi Nina, can you introduce yourself a little to our readers ?

Hi DS! Long story not so short: I have relocated to China almost six years ago after an ongoing long-distance relationship (with the country) that started in 2009, when my dad, who is a musician (bassoon), took me along on a China tour with a classical orchestra. It was wild, I liked it. After repeatedly coming back to China through the tours – I eventually started assisting their management – I took up Chinese Studies as a second major around 2012. Through the repeated work with the orchestra it became clear I could work in a theatre in Tianjin, one of their regular tour stops, once I had finished my Masters which I did in 2015 in my first major theatre, film and media studies at the University of Vienna, my hometown. I started out as an assistant to the artistic director at the back then privately-operated Tianjin Grand Theater and moved to our company’s newly opened venue, the Harbin Grand Theatre in 2016 where I focused more on performance management and stage photography. After about half a year in Harbin I moved to Beijing in January 2017 due to an unexpected job offer from the Cultural Forum of the Austrian Embassy where I currently work as a project manager. I love working on my own creative projects in my spare time, they mostly revolve around visual/ video art and theatre.

Looking at stuff at the Harbin Grand Theatre, 2016

What can you tell us about your video making and how you got to it?

My video making is self-taught, same thing with visuals. When it comes to editing and the programs I use for vj-ing I am still learning. I work with Premiere for editing and use Youtube tutorials and more often a trial and error approach for teaching myself new functions and so on. It all started with techno. And the theatre. The first time I saw visuals and thought “Wow, I have so many ideas for that” was in the Vienna techno scene. As for the theatre, some of the plays that impressed me most had very clever, partially interactive projection designs. I started missing working with theatre when I took up my job at the Embassy and found my way into some free time theatre projects. My first attempt at a backdrop design was somewhat embarrassingly made in power point for a scenic reading at Penghao Theatre in 2017. A bit later I decided to slaughter my piggy bank for buying Modul8, a vj software, if only because not even the most skillful computer guys at 258 电子世界 were able to find a cracked version of it and started putting together some visuals sets for Beijing based bands and eventually Anthony Tao and Liane Halton’s poetry x music collab amongst others.

My visuals are characterized by mixing abstract layers with elements from nature, which I think provides us with the most plentiful live-visuals anyways – decaying flowers, starling “murmurations”, anything in flight for that matter. My mother’s taste probably played some role, she used to be a textile designer and I grew up around all sorts of patterns, textures and tapestry, that I incorporate in the abstract layers of my own digital tapestry. What else? Movement is important, people too, but for visuals I see them more in terms of anatomical aspects. For me the point is to ace the symbiosis with the music or show that goes on in the foreground. Most of them can be great and enjoyable without visuals going on but not vice versa. So you want to add to the atmosphere and transport the emotion of it, which means you need to spend some time with the artist and their work and understand what it and they are about. Visuals to me are very immediate, intuitive and effervescent – people tend ignore them if they’re bad or just not there, which is the standard, but are always positively surprised when they see something engaging and different that makes sense in fusion with the act on stage.

Still from the last vj-gig with poetry x music at Temple, December 2020

What was your inspiration for the video « West » ?

“West” was initially tricky because it is a very open format – there are no evocative lyrics or other obvious guidelines except for the rhythm and the music. After a few failed flower-attempts that looked like I had fallen into a lysergic acid bath I decided to make the video more strictly about the music and its various building blocks, clean and distinct in its elements and dance seemed like a good vehicle for that. I used to dance ballet for eleven years as a kid and teenager and, more hobby-wise took up pole dancing two years ago, so dance in all variations has a huge influence on me and is something I love incorporating in visual works. Another example of that is the video I co-directed with Gregorio Soravito for Macondo’s “City of Mirrors”: the dance parts with dancer Chen Xindi in there were my way of contrasting Greg’s cityscapes. But back to “West” – I hit up Inko, a Beijing-based bellydancer, who was on some sort of INSANE 200 plus days lock down due to special COVID prevention measures implemented in her apartment complex, while most of Beijing was starting to ditch the masks as the temperatures rose towards summer. She liked the idea – I think it was rather therapeutic for all three of us somewhere in between salmon scandal and everything else happening in the world – and did pretty much most of the work by herself: choreography, filming, costume choice and preselecting footage. I wanted to leave her complete freedom, except that you and I agreed it’d be great if she could wear a mask, like you do on stage. Our friend Zuhui Ghang, a Korean artist, had made a bunch of them and when I told Zuhui I liked the one we ended up using, she said it was unfinished because she hadn’t painted it yet, but Inko and I thought that was just right. In the end it blends perfectly with the more minimalistic style of the video. The reason why I thought of Inko for that piece was that she does bellydance and her style much like the music in “West” blends Eastern and Western elements. Both you and Inko have very distinct styles – they’re different but I thought they might complement each other in an interesting way. Also Inko and I loved the idea of adding something more…hm..sensual to a Djang San song.

Can you give the readers a little bit of your musical and video background, what’s your favorite music ? what do you usually like to film or take pictures of ?

Despite not growing up in one household with my dad, the biggest influence when I was young was classical music, interspersed with an occasional Rolling Stones album. It took me a bit to figure out that it’s not cool listening to Bizet in high school. For a while I alibi-bought everything top 40ies and cheap dance in order to blend in, then I eventually discovered the Viennese drum’n’bass and techno scene through a place called Flex that back then had the best sound system in Europe and the reputation to mass-produce Heroin addicts. It was great and the first place I felt at home in as a teenager, music and people wise. I only started listening to blues, jazz, rock, punk and whatever else alternative music there was in university and what I put on varies a lot depending on mood and day. Things I could not stop listening to last year were Michelle Gurevich’s album “Ecstasy in the Shadow of Ecstasy” and the live-stream techno series Quarantine FM by Dr. Rubinstein. I also obscurely rediscovered my love for 90ies trance with tracks like PJ’s “Elysian Fields” which are btw impossible to find on any Chinese music app. As for music going on in China atm, I found something I imagine must be total zen listening to the album 行走的声音 by various artists and an opening track by thruoutin and I fell a little in love hearing sourtower performing at Nugget for the first time a few months ago. A friend recently set me on a wild 48 hour 邓丽君 (Deng Li Jun) binge but that’s over now. Needless to say, anything that Anthony Tao and Liane Halton do with poetry x music, I prefer their cover of Björk’s “Dancer in the Dark” to the original by far.

Video – I film a little bit wherever I go, sometimes only on the phone, usually people, animals and plants in motion but also lights, especially store fronts and cheap neon are great, as is everything that comes with a “natural filter” like an iced over cab window and stuff like that. And all the reflections. It’s easy finding interesting elements that suit my aesthetics everywhere between botanical gardens and waste dumping sites, searching for beauty in ugly or banal places is often more interesting than filming the obvious. When I film people for videos, not visuals, I focus on their expressions and actions as they “do their stuff”, a good example for that is probably the video I made for Anthony and Liane’s “In the Air”.

Still from “In the Air”, Ritan Park, spring 2020

According to you which places in China and Asia are the best for filming?

I guess that depends on what you want, National Geographic, car advertisement or a punk rock music video. And on how creative you are with the means you have. Dystopia and nature are both great, the only thing that makes me not even wanna take out my camera are generic tourist spots like Nanluoguxiang. A couple of weeks ago I went to this touristy island Gulangyu which is a couple of minutes boat ride from Xiamen and the only good picture I took was on the boat.

How did the coronavirus affect you and how do you see your future as a video maker in China ?

With the comfort of a stabile job that pays my rent I’m lucky to say it hasn’t much and in that way I am not a video maker. It’s a glorified hobby that, while being grounded in some professional education and skill in the field, I do not depend on financially. With people who do around me, I see a lot of different outcomes, generally the impact is negative as with everything that depends on interaction and live cooperation between people. There are some odd exceptions that due to suddenly being the only (foreign) suppliers, actors or whatnot, where some were flooded with assignments but that should be a minority. Particularly negative is the impact on diverse, international artistic cooperation as artists are, again with few exceptions, not given visas, even if they agree to quarantine. The theatre scene in and out of China seems to have had it even worse due to the more immediate nature of shows, similar to the music scene I imagine. Editing in quarantine is easy, rehearsing not so much.

I don’t know what the future holds, should I decide to turn the side projects into the main gig, I would like to return to theatre rather than film. Video and visual work are essential in theatre for me though.

Who’s your favorite Chinese/Asian dancer, film maker and video maker ?

I love the films of Jia Zhangke, to me he is the only big independent name left in China that has so far managed not to compromise himself too much.

As for video making I’ll go back to where the inspiration came from, the theatre. Two of the best shows in terms of projection and video in theatre I have seen in China in the past years were the Chinese-Polish coproduction “Mo Fei” (酗酒者莫非), director Krysztian Lupa’s adaption of Shi Tiesheng’s (史铁生) short story “A Play which Uses a Film as its Backdrop” (关于一部以电影作舞台背景的戏剧之设想),and Wang Chong’s (王翀) adaption of Nick Payne’s “Constellations” (平行宇宙), one of my all time favorite plays. I also quite like what the China New Youth Group does with their multimedia documentary theatre approach.

Anything you want to add ?
You can follow my Instagram @sempre.libera and stay tuned for upcoming vj gigs, the next one should be with poetry x music and band at Jianghu, 19 February if the virus doesn’t get there first. And I’m likely to wildly improvise something at Dada’s party this Saturday.

Zuhui Ghang

Hi Zuhui, can you introduce yourself a little to our readers ?

Hello Djang San. Sure.
I’m Zuhui, from South Korea, studied fine arts as my BA in Seoul. After my graduation in 2016, I worked as a PA at a design company, then as an art director for a regenerating architecture project in the seaside town of Mokpo. Meeting lots of people from my last job somehow lead me to Beijing, which I had never thought I would go to before. After a couple of visits to China as a tourist, I finally settled down here around September 2019. So far I’m enjoying the city. Weirdly enough I find this place and the country very inspiring… well, for all the good and bad reasons I must say:)

What can you tell us about your art and how you got to it

Telling someone about what my art is about feels difficult at the moment. Honestly, before I moved to BJ I didn’t really think about making art by myself. I barely made any ever since I graduated from my art school in Seoul.
But around the time I began to live here I naturally found myself going to art shops to buy tools such as easel, papers, charcoal pencils and even ordering clay on taobao.

It’s weird in a sense that the type or style of art that I’m making now feels so different than what I used to make in Seoul. It became much illustrative and narrative-based. I do realize now that the environment affects your art tremendously.

What is your motivation behind making masks and why do you like it ?

I remember catching your gig for the first time in Temple. I really like the idea that you use a mask to present your musical persona. One can hide behind a mask but also you can bring out multiple personalities by putting them on. Feels like you become a fictional character but it’s still ‘you’. Also I really like musicians who actively use visual aspects to their show. It’s very inviting for me.
So yeah, I wanted to make few a masks for you to add more diversity on your musical persona. My favorite so far is the newly wedded bride mask:).

What was your inspration for the mask in the video « West » ?

Oh actually the mask was already made. Out of a few other masks, Inko chose the right one for the video. She really nailed it with her costume and choreography.
I meant to color it but I’m glad she recorded the video with the mask being still white (you know how disastrous I am in terms of using colors).

The mask she wore in the video is basically two beastly-looking face crashing into each other. I think it really goes well with the music and the title . Since west is a directional word that has an obvious contrary word, East.

And this idea easily leads to how we often see the world as well as how it actually is especially in China, ‘West versus East’ type of narrative.

Yeah she absolutely nailed it and I would like to send her my admiration through this page:) also to Nina for great editing. And thanks to DS for keeping on creating this musical platforms and inviting multiple artists to collaborate within. I think it’s very important to keep us going especially in these grim days we are in.

Check the video here.

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