Distant Dialogues

Chinese artists Shii, Sheng Jie/Gogoj and GOOOOOSE speak to Charlotte Algar about their projects for Distant Dialogues, a remote artistic residency born out of the realities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s like something is lurking, it’s a visceral feeling.”

It’s an odd time to be creative. The limitations posed by lacking physical proximity and live gigs is just a small part of what artists are feeling right now. It seems like the lack of day-to-day interaction takes its own toll. Shii says: “I was staying in my home in Chengdu with my parents during [lockdown]. I see some energies missing — people are not seeing the outside world and communicating. But the biggest challenge is reading the bad news every day, while isolation is already making people think too much.” GOOOOOSE echoes this. Despite the fact his “life in general didn’t change much, because [he] was staying at home making music most of the time anyway”, he describes his creative mindset during COVID-19 as: “It’s like something is lurking, it’s a visceral feeling.”


“At the moment the future is unforeseeable… I feel art is weak in front of death”

Though paid gigs and projects have been dwindling, the online world has flourished. Sheng Jie says: “The past six months were totally unreal. But the virtual world has been redefined. It made me think about what ‘real’ means.” Whereas in the UK, and many other places across the world, the musical community has taken to Instagram and Facebook to live-stream, share their music and procure new collaborations, in China these applications are unavailable. I ask about this, my millennial brain struggling to contemplate a life without the ‘gram. Shii explains: “I stayed in France for 6 months so I was used to these platforms, but when I got back to China, everyone was using our own ones. I went back to our domestic social media applications like Wechat and Weibo. It’s not a big problem for me, but I’ll say it’s always better for an artist to see more from different perspectives, to maintain a vast mind.” In this way, despite the similar functionalities of Chinese applications (like Weibo or Wechat), the country-specific nature presents a challenge to the globalised artist. Shii continues: “I feel in China it’s a different world, we have our own social media systems and music players. It’s a dilemma for me as I’m more used to writing songs in English than in Chinese, but English songs are less easily accepted in China. I always hope to communicate with the rest of the world, but it’s hard.” GOOOOOSE takes an entirely different approach to social media: “I’m not a heavy user of any social media to be honest, they’re irrelevant to my art making. I check them from time to time, but mostly just for fun; I don’t actually care what’s happening there.”

Sheng Jie

“Social networking sites have sped up methods of perception of information, altering notions of value and ways of thinking.”

Another factor contemplated by the Chinese participants of Distant Dialogues is the connections that have been made with UK artists and Worldwide FM listeners. Shii explains: “The interesting thing will be seeing how all the artists act in the process of the project. On our [artist] video call,the connection became so real. For me the most important thing I have gained so far is the flower photos [Shii’s project will be based around photographs of flowers submitted from Worldwide FM listeners], they are like digital post cards, very special and gentle.”

Something I am struck by is the fine balance between this global project, with submissions incoming from all over the world, and the very individual reactions the artists expect from their works. This speaks volumes about the fact that although the creative community has been united by the struggles COVID-19 poses, both personally and professionally, we are all experiencing this differently — and that’s ok. For many people, this has been the longest time spent alone with their thoughts in a lifetime. When so much of our identity is tied up in our social circles, the places we go and the way we look when we get there, our individual responses to art, at a time when these things don’t matter any more, are all the more profound. Sheng Jie says: “I think this is a very interesting project that speaks volumes in this special period. But the audience always has their thoughts and feelings — the result is private.”


“I think this is a very interesting project that speaks volumes in this special period. But the audience always has their thoughts and feelings — the result is private.”

During this pandemic there have been many artistic, political, environmental messages flying around, and it’s been a crucial time for interrogating our attitudes. But perhaps here, the Distant Dialogues artists will provide listeners with a space to breathe. Tune in to our Distant Dialogues radio documentary this weekend, and read more about all the artists involved here.



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