China Focus: A British artist's cartographic love letter to Beijing

Source: Xinhua| 2017-05-26 22:07:37|Editor: Zhang Dongmiao
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BEIJING, May 26 (Xinhua) -- A British artist who works under the mononym Fuller has been called a psychogeographer, someone who creates a geographical work driven by emotion and behavior rather than function or form. It is not a label he applies to himself.

"Someone once described my work as a 'cartographic love letter', I liked this description because having a relationship with the place I draw is at the heart of everything I do," Fuller, 36, told Xinhua.

Fuller first came to Beijing in 2014. "It was like being a teenager," he said. "Like when you meet somebody and instantly develop a crush on them."

Call it what you like -- love at first sight, a crush, infatuation -- it is a feeling that almost always peters out, but when it doesn't, very special things can happen.

After that ten-day holiday romance three years ago, Fuller is back to prove his love.

Step one of his plan was to walk the entire length of the sixth-ring road and draw a picture, a picture not only of the geography, architecture and infrastructure he encountered but of his own experiences and emotions. It is a picture of what he sees and what he feels: He calls it #Walkinprogress.


"When I was young, I had a passion to explore," he said. He knew it was a hunger that would not be sated in a lecture hall or library carrel, so at 17 he left school.

For almost a decade, Fuller made time for art alongside his fulltime career. While his jobs were varied, a theme eventually emerged: Fuller likes to tell stories.

In 2005, he began "London Town," a project he would not complete for another 10 years.

"London Town" was hand-drawn in black ink. Archival prints of the piece have been acquired by the British Library and the Museum of London.

It is a graphic rendition of Fuller's relationship with the city, and as much about the artist as the metropolis. In the work, London and Fuller are as inseparable and interdependent as James Joyce and the Dublin of "Ulysses."

Paddington Station is represented by a bear. Five interlocked rings hover over the Olympic Park in Stratford. But at Baker Street tube station, we see no Calabach pipe or deerstalker, instead panicked human figures rush out of the station.

"I had a friend who was killed in the bombing on July 7, 2005," Fuller said, referring to the terrorist attacks that killed 52 people and injured more than 700.

"Terrorism, history, cuddly toys, shared feelings, I documented them all," Fuller said. "From start to finish, it was a decade of my life, but the city is eternal."

A native of London, Fuller reckons he spent a total of 1,500 hours on "London Town," working a day job and conducting "research" -- walking, cycling, and taking pictures -- in his "spare" time.

"It is a picture of the many minds which define the identity of a place in the past, through the present, and into the future," he said.


Even locals find it hard to navigate the monumental vastness of Beijing, and Fuller has only the most rudimentary grasp of Chinese.

Many would question the feasibility, sanity even, of his current undertaking. Fuller aims to create a hand drawn picture of Beijing in just two years, but passion drives creativity, and Fuller is lacking in neither.

After his brief fling with Beijing three years ago, he returned to London, excited, inspired and reinvigorated by the Chinese capital.

"The vitality, the productivity, the development, so many elements of mystery. In Beijing, I felt like I was perched on the edge of an abyss of new and exciting times," he said.

When the Palm Tree Gallery in London suggested that he began a "Beijing project," he had no hesitation and returned to Beijing in March.

"I tend not to look at guide books," he said. "I spend a lot of time walking and cycling. It's like going to school every day."

His first objective was to circumnavigate Beijing by the Sixth Ring Road, a mere 187.6 kilometers marking the outer reaches of the city. It took him only seven days to walk the equivalent of the distance from London to Birmingham.

"I walked eight to 12 hours a day," Fuller recalled. "I just kept walking and didn't want to sleep. It is visual exercise. I want to document everything and build up layers of ideas."

A city as large as Beijing, even for a Londoner, can be overwhelming. "The traffic in Beijing is nothing like that in Europe. Once, it took me half an hour to cross a junction."

He is also interested in the industrial side of the city. "It was the first time I had seen such large factories. You really understand the scale of industry here. I see workers every day. Some look exhausted, but still full of energy."

During his walk around the ringroad, he crossed paths with different generations of Chinese, in village cafes, in supermarkets, outside the school gates -- scenes not dissimilar to the scenes of his native city.

In spite of the language barrier, Fuller tries to talk to everyone he meets.


Fuller is already drawing.

"The ring road walk will be just one element of the final picture," he said. "I also would like to talk about what is being done to address pollution, about the migrant workers, and the city's historical sites."

As a map-maker of sorts, it comes as no surprise that Fuller is interested in the topography of Beijing.

"There are hills in the northwest, with temples still dotted around. I am relaxed in the forest. It feels very far from the downtown frenzy," he said.

"The airport area is so similar to Heathrow, with huge movements of people from around the world, and planes taking off or landing every two minutes."

He was told that Tongzhou, where he now lives, was the ancient gateway to Beijing. "The government of Beijing is moving to Tongzhou so I am witnessing a critical moment of history." The more he sees, the better he perceives the lives of the people in Beijing and how those lives are changing.

On WeChat Fuller set up a group #WalkInProgress, where about one third of the 100-plus members are Chinese.

"People are my first tool of my work. I have to understand their feelings," he said, adding that he was learning Chinese.

When asked if he could complete his work in two years as expected, Fuller said "I am doing it full-time," which is hardly a yes or a no.

The picture, he says, "will be a story of Beijing. It is timeless."