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Beijing inspiration for graduate

by Katrina Phelps

Madison Bycroft at an abandoned factory in Beijing.Undertaking a three-month residency at an art gallery in Beijing has opened up an eclectic range of artistic inspiration for young Adelaide artist and UniSA graduate Madison Bycroft.

Bycroft, an emerging video installation artist who graduated last year with Honours from UniSA’s School of Art, Architecture and Design, was able to undertake the residency at Red Gate Gallery thanks to funding from the Helpmann Academy and Carclew Youth Arts that she received at the end of last year.

“It was the first time in a long time that I was making art completely on my own with no guidance, for no specific goal,” Bycroft says.

“The lack of pressure was strange but felt good. It was a really fertile environment for art making too – I was located in an old factory building in one of the newest art districts, and close to other art zones.

Madison Bycroft in her Beijing studio.“The studio was perfect. A great size and it had everything I needed. It was a new experience to sleep and cook and eat in the same space as the work I was making but it was nice actually to have dinner on the floor in front of a heater and be surrounded by colour, mess and structures taking form.”

The old factory setting was fitting for Bycroft who has an interest in abandoned sites. She says a visit to Shougang, an abandoned factory, was a highlight as much as for the experience as for what she captured on film.

“There used to be 200,000 workers at the eight kilometre-long factory and I made the two hour journey there without much of a plan, only to find out that I was not allowed in because – as I discovered later – I was foreign and a suspected spy! The luckiest taxi pick-up ever introduced me to an English-speaking-50 cent-loving-government criticising-cabbie who knew a back entrance and snuck me in,” she says.

“I found myself drawn to the factory – the structures seemed impenetrable, confusing and alien but also kind of beautiful. I also liked that it was a nuclei of human labour, as well as the social implications of factories to the environment, local communities and individual livelihoods.”

Bycroft also got to experience Chinese New Year and the hours of fireworks that accompanied it. And while she says Beijing has a hardness and unapologetic grittiness to it, she learnt to embrace it, including the minus 15 degree weather that “made breathing difficult with vapour freezing to your mouth”.

Madison Bycroft capturing images at an abandoned factory in Beijing.Overall, Bycroft says she left Beijing with special new connections and a lot of happy feelings.

“I feel so lucky to have been able to have this experience, and that there are organisations like Helpmann Academy and Carclew Youth Arts that support emerging artists like me,” Bycroft says.

“I know that my time in Beijing will prove invaluable to my practice.”

Helpmann Academy CEO Amanda Pepe says they are seeing an increasing number of artists taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge to be gleaned from established artists overseas.

“The experiences and knowledge that these artists will bring back with them to South Australia will be invaluable in enriching our already flourishing arts culture,” Pepe says.

Back home in Adelaide now, Bycroft is busy working on material for her Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia project space show that is taking place from June 7 to July 14.