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Wonderland, Beijing, China (1)

Hallstatt See, Guangdong Province, China
I was recently contacted about and interesting project by two London based artists, Phil Thompson and Sebastian Acker.

Thompson and Acker, are in the process of making a film and a book about the current phenomenon in China, which sees construction companies building entire replicas of Western towns. Some towns are complete replicas, whereas others pick and choose landmarks in order to create a fictional landscape. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the production of these towns has been met with a mixed reaction from residents of the original places.

Over November and December last year the artists visited China in order to documented several key sites in which copy towns are being built. These included Thames Town (a replica of an English town), the Dafen Oil Painting Village (where masterpieces are copied on a mass scale), several miniature model worlds, and Halstatt See (a replica of the beautiful Austrian UNESCO town of Hallstatt). After filming three Eiffel Towers, two Tower Bridges, the Manhattan skyline twice and many other replicas of the western world the artists are now travelling around the world to document the ‘original’ sites.

Over the next month they will travel around The UK, to Paris, and to Austria. During this time they will interview many local politicians and residents, to sit alongside similar interviews they conducted in China. The research will then be brought together in a film and book. The former will explore these towns visually with a voice-over narration discussing the socio-economic conditions that have led to this trend. While the latter, will be used to publish interviews and travel accounts.

Describing why these towns may be becoming popular now, the artists have stated,

‘The cultural landscape of China has undergone unprecedented change over the past 50 years. The transition from Maoist rule to modern day China has involved the relaxation of many laws which has enabled China, and some of its population, to become very wealthy, very quickly. This coupled with a huge influx of people into the urban environment, means that a huge amount of new housing needs to be built. The sudden ascension of millions of Chinese into middle and upper class lives means that they want a way to showcase their new found wealth. However given China’s recent history it does not have a societal model for prosperity. So they have turned to the West for ways in which to display their new found fortunes. This adoption of Western styles may be an attempt to pick up an already established ready-made social attitude.’

Both Acker and Thompson recently graduated from the Masters course at the Slade School of Fine Art, where they impressed their tutors with their plans to investigate the phenomena of copy towns within China. The pair were awarded the Duveen Travel Scholarship, a monetary prize reserved for artists who want to travel in order to make a body of work.

As well as filming the copied architecture, the artists want to engage with the local communities and get their opinions on the copies. When plans were announced that the copies were going to be produced the media reported that many people were upset that their homes may be reproduced. However over time these feelings seem to have mellowed into the general view that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Although the artists are hoping to learn a lot on their trip, they are also hoping that the residents will be very keen to see the footage they collected in China, and that this reciprocal exchange could lead to some fascinating conversations about copy towns in general.

They are currently presenting their on-going research on tumblr http://ackerthompson.tumblr.com/

You can also help back the project on Indiegogo here