The Chinese European Art Center is the one of the oldest continuously running residencies in China, having hosted over 150 artists from around the world since 2000. We caught up with Ineke Guðmundsson and May Lee over email to ask them more about their program:

China Residencies: How and when did CEAC start?

Ineke Guðmundsson and May Lee: In 1997, Ineke visited Xiamen with her husband Sigurður Guðmundsson, who is a well-known artist from Iceland. She immediately fell in love with this small but lovely city. During her second and longer visit to Xiamen, she felt the city was missing something in the contemporary cultural scene, so they came up with the idea of making a contemporary art center. She was later introduced to Xiamen University Art College professor Qin Jian, who was enthusiastic about the idea of starting an international contemporary art center with a residency program at the university, so they established a joint venture. At the end of November 1999, CEAC opened its first exhibition with Sigurður Gudmunðsson and it started building up a platform of cultural exchange and contacts between China and Western countries. In 2011, CEAC moved out from Xiamen University's campus to become an independent organization. But the relationship between CEAC and the art school is still close, and CEAC residents are often invited to give lectures or workshops for the students.

CR: Does the residency have a different mission from the art center?

IG & ML: After one year showing exhibitions from different artists from around the world, we realized there were limitations, because when the invited Western artists came to Xiamen with already-completed works for their exhibitions, the artist only had one or two weeks in Xiamen to complete new projects. The artists didn’t get much of a chance to experience the Chinese and local culture, or meet the public and students who were very keen to communicate with the artists. So that’s how the idea of the residency came to our minds, to invite artists to stay for longer periods. The Art Center itself aims to provide a varied program of exhibitions, events and activities for a wide range of audiences.The residency program provides a place for contemporary artists, writers, musicians, designers for research, experimentation, creativity and cultural exchange.

CR: Tell us a little bit about Xiamen’s art scene.

IG & ML: Xiamen has had a contemporary art scene since the early 1980s with the Xiamen Dada group led by Chinese-French artist Huang Yong Ping, who is originally from here. Many artists who are active in the contemporary art filed are based in Xiamen. It’s a good place for artists to focus on their practice. It’s not just because Xiamen has a very comfortable atmosphere and living environment, it also offers many possibilities for different workshops. Although Xiamen is not as active in art scene compared to first-tier cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, Xiamen does have lots of potential space for future development. We have been seeing a lot development and new achievements in the past years. New art initiatives have been built up and they have been generating an entirely different situation from that which we faced 15 years ago when CEAC was founded. More and more artists and curators come from different cities with different backgrounds. Artists who are based in Xiamen are very active, they often get together for discussions in their studios or organize exhibitions and events together. It forms a very relaxed atmosphere for artists and their artistic practice, research and investigation. In the near future, we believe that there will be more and more art-initiated projects coming up in this city, and that they will stimulate an exciting contemporary art scene here in Xiamen.

CR: How did you two meet?

IG & ML: Haha, we often say to each other that we are both the biggest and luckiest gifts falling from the sky. We met each other just from a very ordinary situation between interviewer and interviewee.

CR: CEAC also organizes exhibitions, concerts, and film festivals, and is one of China’s earliest non-commercial art spaces. What’s a typical week at CEAC like?

IG & ML: It starts with selecting artists from applications through looking at works and documentation, artists’ statements and proposals for the residency. Afterwards we will have discussion about selection and decide on the final invited artists. On average, we have four to five artists in the residence program at any given time, and we are busy with assisting, arranging and organizing things for them from the very beginning of their research to the final presentation or exhibition. We have one or two exhibitions per month, so we need to assist the artists in mounting the exhibition, arranging press interviews and opening receptions. We organize regular dinners, meeting and trips with residents to introduce them to local art community and friends. When there are exhibitions, lectures, activities, we always go with the residents.

CR: What kinds of artists does your residency host?

IG & ML: CEAC welcomes artists who work in different disciplines to apply for the program. Besides having artists who already have established careers, we also particularly like to provide a platform for young, talented artists who wish to share their artistic research with public. Since 2011, the residency program has also been open for writers, musicians, designers, curators and architects to apply.

CR: That’s great, and your website also specifically lists resources for composers, fashion designers, and translators. Is it important to CEAC to expand the residency beyond the visual arts?

IG & ML: Definitely. CEAC's aim is to provide cultural exchange and contact between China and Western countries. After so many years’ experience and having mostly visual arts in our program, we think it is very interesting to invite residents who work with different disciplines. This is not only important to CEAC’s program but for the residents to have an opportunity to communicate and work with artists who come from different backgrounds. The process of exchanging ideas and experiences bring out very fresh and unique perspectives. We and the local public are also excited to see these interesting combinations unfold.

CR: Although the program is called the Chinese-European Art Center, you’ve also hosted artists from India, Peru, and Cameroon, among other parts of the world. Is the program open to artists of all nationalities?

IG & ML: Sure, the program is open to artists from all nationalities.

CR: What are the shortest and longest residency lengths you'll consider?

IG & ML: Normally, the residency length is for three to four months, with a maximum of six months.We would suggest artists stay at least four months when possible to realize their projects, as it will give a bit more time to explore Xiamen and still give them the time for realizing their work for their solo exhibition. But from our past experience, there have also been a few artists who stayed for just one month to research and investigate to later come back with their proposals. Some artists have stayed at CEAC for six to nine months and a few of them later moved their studios to Xiamen permanently, or come back regularly for different projects.

CR: What kinds of facilities are available on-site for artists?

IG & ML: Over the past 15 years, CEAC has build up an excellent network of factories, workshops and laboratories of all sizes, making it easy for artists to experiment and produce their new work. We give organizational and technical advice, assist the artists in creating their artworks from start to finish, and arrange door-to-door shipment in China and abroad. Ceramic and porcelain workshops in Dehua are about a 3 hours drive from Xiamen, granite and marble workshops provide the possibility to work with a wide range of materials, and there are lacquer workshops in Fuzhou, an hour and a half away by high speed train. We also have access to glass blowing facilities and a glass casting factory. There are workshops specialized in bamboo, stainless steel, hammered steel and bronze all based in or near Xiamen. Local printers can provide engraving, letter press printing, lithography, silk-screen printing and print art publications. There’s also a textile and fabric market with more than 150 fabric vendors, tailor shops and garment accessory stores.

CR: Do you encourage the artists who come to CEAC to experiment with working in new media?

IG & ML: A lot of our residents end up working with mediums that are totally new to them. We like to encourage artists to experiment, and we help them communicate with local professional craft masters on possible projects. Working with traditional craftsmen is both very inspiring and changeling. The process gives the artists an entirely different way of thinking about their formal experience.

CR: What kind of artwork have the resident artists created? Can you give us an example or two of some of the most interesting projects by residents?

IG & ML: Wow, this is really difficult to answer because most of the projects what artists do are so unique!

CR: What are your plans for CEAC in 2015, and for the future in general?

IG & ML: Since 2010, we've organized large group exhibitions of artists who are connected with CEAC outside of Xiamen once a year. We titled these large group exhibitions "Rolling Snowball", and they travelled to Shanghai (at the Dutch Culture Center and the Shanghai Expo), Guangzhou Redtory, Quanzhou, and Djupivogur in Iceland. We are now organizing the next Rolling Snowball in Djupivogur for July. 

We would still like to keep mostly the same structure in the future, that focused on our initial goals for the residency program, the art center and the exhibition program. We'd also like to keep going with the Rolling Snowball series in order to promote CEAC artists and residents outside Xiamen. Last but not least, we would very much like to introduce more young and talented Chinese artists to our programs and present their interesting projects.

This interview was conducted over email by Kira Simon-Kennedy and edited by Iona Whittaker for China Residencies.