Talking about Family, Home: Artist in Residence Matthias Jochmann Brings Conversation to Xizhou
Matthias Jochmann, known affectionately to his Chinese friends and colleagues as “Xiao Ma” (小马), is one of the Linden Centre’s more recent Artists In Residence. Matthias is an established stage director, author, and video designer whose genuine curiosity and thirst for understanding first led him to the P.R.C. in 2014 when he was named a Goethe-Institut China summer Performing Artist in Residence. In the time since, Matthias has worked on several documentary theater pieces here in China, the most recent of which is About My Parents and Their Child, a work that takes an intimate look at the relationships between generations in China today.
As a side note, I absolutely love the title of this piece because I feel it does an incredible job of capturing the distance between generations in a subtle way—the space between the way Chinese parents view their progeny and the way that same child views themselves in relation to their parents’ ideals.
In December 2017, Xiao Ma came back to China for the touring of About My Parents and Their Child, in the 13th ACT International Theater Festival in Shanghai. Before he went back to Germany, he came to the Linden Centre for a brief residency. During his time here in Xizhou, the Linden Centre held two screening sessions of this piece, both of which inspired heated discussions. At both screenings it was apparent that the material being presented was incredibly relevant to all who were watching. I was particularly touched that one Xizhou resident, the owner of a restaurant and guesthouse next to the Centre, brought his father to the screening. Though his and his father’s relationship is very positive and based on open communication he shared that he recognizes that this is rare in China today. A colleague brought his 7-year-old son, hoping that the screening would give them a chance to talk about their own relationship. Others at the screening were visibly moved by the content of the piece, and one woman told the group afterwards that several scenes moved her to tears as they reminded her of her own difficult relationship with her parents.
Matthias’s method of research is based around interviewing people, getting to know them, and giving them a chance to open up to him. Especially impressive is Matthias’s focus on building trust with the people he interviews and his encouraging them to ask him questions as well. From his perspective, the artist’s job is not to provide answers but to ask questions. In seeing how a variety of people answer these questions, or don’t, there is revealed a form of unmanipulated truth that evokes a feeling and understanding more powerful than a simple answer ever could. To Matthias, the process of artistic creation is not the sole responsibility of the artist. Rather, Matthias’s work is as deeply shaped by the interviewees, the actors, and the audience as by him. As someone who was lucky enough to spend time talking to Matthias about his work, I was struck by his unassuming presence, his humility, and his respect for Chinese culture, different as it is from what he is used to.
Matthias asserts that his recent projects are inspired by his observations of China’s continuously evolving culture, rising economy, complicated history, and intricate relationships. In many ways, Matthias’s theater works in these recent years approach anthropological ethnographies. Yet instead of presenting his research in a book, he presents it on stage. During his residency at the Linden Centre, he began to dive into a new research topic – home. The central question around which his new research is based is deceptively simple: What is home to you? He is curious to find out “how do people live; what do they depend on; what do they care for in order to build up something they’d call home.”
Matthias writes: “Home is a universal topic. Therefore, there is not a single person that would not have an opinion or an idea of what home is, what home could be. It might be a specific location for one person, and it might be a feeling for another. It could be very important for some people, and yet it could be meaningless for others.”
Although his time at the Linden Centre was limited, Matthias still found the time to interview a diverse group of local residents on the topic of home. Those he interviewed include local business owners of Bai heritage, Xizhou residents who moved here from other parts of China, and even a Serbian expat who moved to Xizhou within the last year.
This one-week residency was just a beginning of Xiao Ma’s working process. The Linden Centre welcomes him to come back to conduct more research, and develop his findings into art. It would be a piece about Xizhou, for Xizhou, and in collaboration with the many people who call it home.
Here is a link to a short documentary about the creation of the piece About My Parents and Their Child. Background documentary: BY FAN POPO 范坡坡, Ibsen International 易卜生国际
Shanghai Performance: AN BIN 安斌 ｜Ibsen International易卜生国际 ｜2017 ACT上海当代戏剧节 13th ACT International Theater Festival in Shanghai
For more information about Matthias Jochmann’s involvement with the Goethe-Institut in Beijing please see https://www.goethe.de/ins/cn/en/kul/res/rek/20880669.html
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The Linden Centre’s Artist in Residence program strives to bring artists whose work reflects the idea that art is not just about physical creation but is about interaction with people, with culture, and with a place. We hope that our Artist in Residence program will inspire the artists who participate as much as it will the people of Xizhou. If you or someone you know may be a good fit for this program, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.