Far, yet close by
Published: Oct 23, 2009 01:30 AM Updated: May 25, 2011 01:04 PM

By Matthew Jukes

After 20 minutes wandering through the hutong area around Lingjing it was pretty clear that we were lost. The darkened alleyways were offering absolutely no clue as to the place we were looking for. Turning a corner, like a beacon of relief was a sign, directing us toward an unassuming little siheyuan (courtyard house) close to Zhongnanhai.

Entering the archway and delving into the ocean of plastic beads that leads to the little hutong, a vivacious "Hey, nihao!"resounds off all corners of the house, marking the beginning of a vibrant feast of dinner, drinks and imagery, all thanks to a group of performance artists.

This was perhaps a fitting start for the evening, as walking in to the Overseas, Close By project, we didn't really know what to expect, much to our benefit.

These artists, in a collaboration between Switzerland and China, thanks to the Pro Helvetia, Swiss arts council are Elaine Ho, Monika Truong and Simone Truong, who were kind enough to give us an invite to one of their unusual nights.

"I think one of the main concepts that we're all revolving around is human relations and social relations and because of how we all have to work we sort of divided it,"said Ho, one of the founders of the evening of controlled impulse. And "we all"certainly involves lively and diverse bunch. Swiss, French and locals are all visibly involved and that's before you even get behind the scenes.

"We all knew each other before and talked about working together. Having a house and also living together and working together in the same space is creating a history,"she added. And thanks to that history, each of the artists can work to their own strengths, be they theater, film or art.

The project started out with a name (which is kept in Chinese) that many non-locals might not be familiar with: "Inside 9 outside 7, was the initial project we started with. Individual and collectivity, individual artists working together toward something,"said Ho, referencing the use of the phrase as a description of the old city gates, but also the significance of inside (close by) and outside (overseas). Hence the English translation.

Despite the light hearted atmosphere, the trio has managed to cover some interesting themes through their work: "The two of us [sisters] came in April/May to Beijing for the first part, for the research and interviewed local Beijing women, none of them I knew,"said Monika, providing a tantalizing insight into one of the topics they cover.

Leaving the hutong to a briefly enthusiastic "Hey zaijian!"You're likely to feel a bit confused, perhaps a similar experience to reading this article. Nevertheless dear reader that's the way it's going to stay. To put it simply, the less you know what you're in for, the more you'll get from the experience as all forms of art, and people come together.

Ho left a comment describing it that I couldn't resist: "You should open yourself up to explore, investigate and discover something and ways to move around and maybe get people to talk to other people."

Overseas, Close By is running until October 24. To make a reservation to experience an informal night of social spatial madness, check out their website at www.

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