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Helen Couchman

In Helen Couchman on October 14, 2009 at 2:07 am

Processes of exchange in the landscapes of urban renewal. What is the significance of what we change, preserve or destroy?


Beijing 2008

My area of research is into the reciprocity and exchange between inhabitants, business, architects and governments who develop land, change cities and thus society’s behaviour. Themes I see as particularly exemplified in the work of anthropologist Marcel Mauss.

A considerable part of our morality and our lives themselves are still permeated with this same atmosphere of the gift, where obligation and liberty intermingle.     …themes of the gift, of the freedom and the obligation inherent in the gift, of the generosity and self-interest that are linked in giving… a dominant motif too long forgotten.
M. Mauss, The Gift, 1950

Last year (2008) for the first time more than fifty percent of the world’s population lived in cities. Currently living in Beijing, my work and research has focused on the changes to the massive urban sprawl that is China’s capital.

I am interested in exploring Utopian ideas of developing communities and what the communities have to relinquish in order to move towards what is frequently promised to be an improved future, but often isn’t. For example, a family is relocated to a modern apartment from an old house that has been used by the family for generations. How is this transition made in terms of the promise held in a new dwelling and what value judgements are made to ease this transition. I am interested in land and cityscape’s where the view is fast changing and in exploring the reasons for, and immediate outcome of, such dramatic changes.

My principal aim is to show how communities decide upon what is to be kept and what is to be discarded in the fabric of their existence. To discover what is kept and what is disregarded in terms of land use and city planning, nostalgia and memory, restoration practice and fantasy landscapes both past and future. In addition I want to provide a theoretical reflection upon the role of the artist in recording and giving an artistic expression to these developments.





Wang Zijun, Bai Xiaoning and Wang Huimin. Portraits from WORKERS 工人,  published 2008