Multimedia artist and photographer Ross Kelly tells us about his time at the Global Exchange Center Artists Residence in Beijing.

China Residencies: What sparked your interest in China?
Ross Kelly: I had completed several works in China before and had been looking for an opportunity to return to photograph some more. It's something I have wanted to do for several years. Also, I wanted to look into accessing the Chinese art market and see if there were any possibilities to show my work there.

CR: Your work often addresses themes of urbanism, mapping, and borders. Is travel an integral part of your practice?
RK: I wouldn’t say that travel is an integral part of my practice but globalism is, or at least looking at global ideas, or one's position in the world, our interconnectivity, our interdependence, and how we fit into the modern world.

CR: Tell us a bit about the project(s) you worked on while you were there:
RK: I shot a project from a series of trains going around China that was a repeat of a project I shot in the West of the United States called “Across the land and the water”. I also shot several large collage pieces in Shanghai, Chongqing and Hong Kong… these are works I have been shooting for many years now. I also worked on a project that deals with how spaces are interconnected around the world, in this case Canada and China… I'm still working on this project and haven’t exhibited it yet.

CR: Did your work or practice change significantly from your time in China?
RK: No, I wouldn’t say so… certainly the ideas developed and evolved but I had been in China before so was used to the culture. And six weeks wasn’t a huge amount of time.

CR: How involved are the organizers with the resident's daily life? 
RK: I would say they were as involved as I needed them to be. They were always ready to help out and organized several things for me while I was there. They were very accommodating. 

CR: Did you have a chance to exhibit your work, in a gallery or open studio setting?
RK: Not really, I wasn’t there for long enough  but I hope to do so in future, and the organizers are continuing to assist me in seeking out opportunities to do this.

CR: Did you give an artist talk or work with local art school students during your time there?
RK: No. We had planned to do a talk, but my arrival in Beijing was quite last minute so it was difficult to organize.

CR: Were other artists around while you were there?
RK: I was the only artist at the residency at the time.

CR: Did you speak any Chinese before coming? If no, did you learn any during your stay?
RK: I didn’t speak any Chinese before. I had the opportunity to take lessons as part of the residency, but I had very little time to accomplish what I needed, so I opted out of that opportunity.

CR: Did you feel you encountered a significant cultural or linguistic barrier ?
RK: I wouldn’t say barrier. My practice involves a lot of looking and not much social interaction. Sometimes these barriers force us to look harder.

CR: Overall, what experience, adventure or encounter will stay with you from this time?
RK: I thought the opportunity do do interesting work in China is just huge and I am very excited to return. There are all sorts of changes and issues taking place and while some of them may be difficult to explore, it is important to try.

CR: You've exhibited many times in Tokyo, how did your experience in Japan differ from China?
RK: In some ways they are similar and in some ways they are different.  In both cases there were linguistic barriers so Im sure there were a lot of things going on in the background that I did not understand. Tokyo and Beijing are very different cities, though. While Tokyo looks much more diverse and exciting and energetic than Beijing, I got the sense that more was happening in Beijing -- it had just as much energy and perhaps more possibilities going forward. They are both extremely interesting places.

CR: Anything else you’d like to add?
RK: I don’t think so, I enjoyed the residency and Beijing immensely and have had the opportunity to develop friendly and productive relationships with the organizers that will carry forward into the future. I hope to see them all again and work more in the near future.

See more of Ross' work on his website:

This interview was conducted over email by Kira Simon-Kennedy for China Residencies.