Category Archives: Cosmopolitan Shanghai

Roots Reloaded: Culture, Identity and Social Development in the Digital Age

Ayman Kole, Martin A. M. Gasinger (Eds), Roots Reloaded: Culture, Identity & Social Development in the Digital Age, Anchor, Hamburg, Germany, 2016.

Tatiana Pentes chapter ‘BLACK BOX V3: Painting A Digital Picture of Documented Memory’ http://bit.ly/RootsReloaded (Shockwave Player and Safari browser)

Abstract: ‘BLACK BOX V3: Painting A Digital Picture of Documented Memory’ is a digital art film where the protagonist Nina’s discovery of symbolic objects, ethnic dance, & musical forms (Hindustani, Rembetika, Chinese Jazz) reveal her cultural/ spiritual origins. The digital film is a documentary archiving an interactive version for download & play. LAUNCH: http://bit.ly/BLACKBOX_V3

blackBox interface still

Keywords: Interactive Media, Digital Art, Identity, Cultural Memory

Pandora’s Box

It is inscribed, as on Pandora’s Box…do not open…passions…escape in all directions from a box that lies open… (Latour, 1987, p. 7)

This article is an examination and critical positioning of my current digital media project blackBOX – Painting a Digital Picture of Documented MemoryblackBOX is an interactive CD-ROM ‘game’ and also an internet work. blackBOX seeks to exploit and enhance the creative potentials of digitally produced music, sound, image and text relationships in an interactive and online environment. This work seeks to reverse, obscure and distort the dominating/colonialist gaze in a playful manner. blackBOX is produced through the hybrid meeting of visual arts practice, digital film production and documentary dance performance. It also interacts with the notion of ‘electronic’ (image/sound/text) writing, that was in fact prefigured in early Russian avant-garde practices. In the words of El Lissitsky:

The new book demands the new writer. Inkstand and goose quill are dead… The printed sheet transcends space and time. The printed sheet, the infinity of the book, must be transcended… (El Lissitsky, 1923)

The protagonist of the blackBOX digital media work, Nina, undertakes a journey, a struggle and search for virtual objects. The idea of mobilising a series of myths cross-culturally is at play both in the inner workings of the game device and in the computer interface strategy. The visual screens are composed of the virtual surface fragments of the archival materials and objects. These spaces form an electronic stage where the narrative elements unfold as part cinema, part computer arcade game.

blackBOX has been devised for gallery installation. The digital story first emerges from the textile surface of heroine Nina’s (a Russian/Greek girl) red velvet dress, adorned with roses, through a bed of oriental cushions, where she writhes in her chrysalis. Sanskrit, Greek and Russian text are projected across her body. Images of the girl move into representations of a modern urban metropolis. The player/participant is invited to explore this interactive metropolis, as filtered through the digital experiences and sensations of the girl, and to discover three metaphorical ‘Chinese Boxes’, which contain three symbolic performances.

The key interface design metaphor at this stage is a Chinese ornamental window, and interaction with this interface frames the central narrative. Inside this framework, the girl discovers performances from three ‘imagined’ Australian diasporic communities; Rembetika (the Greek blues); classical Indian dance and music (Odissi and Kuchipudi traditions); and fragments of Australian jazz performed by musicians with Russian origins.

Interface design metaphor

The interface design metaphor for blackBOX is an electronic stage/screen surface where performances appear as if conjured from the imagination, or a dream. The participant/player moves around the digital surface of the stage, exploring through opening boxes, musical and dramatic performances, interviews with the musicians and dancers, documentary fragments of performances, statements by artists, text documents, newsprint articles, archival radio fragments, televisual and other related material. The action/performances appear within the immersive environment of a series of Byzantine (Greek), Sanskrit (Indian) and 1930s’ Russian jazz in Chinese diaspora.

Chinese-inspired screen frames combine electronic text and images in various assemblages trigger embedded material, a visual/audio hypertext (Hockey, 2001). Traditional modes of storytelling and music are challenged in this interface design, as the player/participant is provoked to engage with the music and performances.

As the player interacts with the screen, they consider the ways in which (traditional) musical and dance forms mix in various ‘compositions’ to create a hybrid of different cultural forms. This ‘game’ also acts as a digital archive and documentation of the metamorphosis of traditional cultural and musical forms, through the creative potentials opened up for cultural producers in the digitally manipulated performance, sound, image and text environment of interactive media.

These ‘compositions’ provide perspectives on the emergence of a uniquely Australian contemporary sound/culture that is an amalgamation and integration of three diasporic genres of music achieved through the creation of ‘electronic writing’, the assembling of an ensemble of fragments into image/ sound/text ‘compositions’.

Through the looking glass

The heroine, Nina, is the character with which the player identifies and observes through the unfolding of the digital media text. Screen events unfold through her eyes, revealing her projected/imaginary dreams and creating a narrative. The areas of interactive program content are mediated through Nina’s voice (Lou-Lou Sy), the voice of an Indian woman (Devleena Ghosh), fragments of a Chinese woman singing (Zhou Xuan recorded in the 1930s) and fragments of a Greek musician talking/singing (John Conomos and Rebetiki Ensemble).

These voices are integrated with archival documents, voice-over material and sound atmospheres, which gives the stories a space for reflection. Visual and sonic devices form signatures marking out the areas of program content. These sonic devices denote both the present (time) and the recollection of previous events. Areas of program content map the music/dance archive: a set of pathways; chineseBOX, which plays a form of jazz music that migrated to Australia with Russian refugees from China; jewelBOX, the dance music culture that has more recently emerged from Indian communities in Australia, people who migrated from Indian diasporas in Fiji, Singapore and Malaysia as well as from the Indian sub-continent; pandora’s BOX, Greek economic migrants/refugees, playing Rembetika, a politically engaged ‘blues’; and two conclusions, an electronic poetic reverie and a visual/audio collage of the various music/dance genres that speak of mixed origins.

Once the player/participant has entered an interactive ‘composition’, the program content is divulged through a series of virtual artefacts. These artefacts become icons that trigger  areas of the program content, and through the exploration of these configurations, ideas about the music/dance forms are revealed. Inside the jewelBOX story pathway, the narrative is revealed through interaction with the virtual dance jewels, which become icons representing the different levels of the narrative. Interaction with these dance jewels triggers performative spaces, revealing a number of classical Indian dances and artefacts, embedded into stylised electronic stages…. Read chapter http://bit.ly/RootsReloaded

Self-portrait with A Lady From 上海 Shanghai in Burwood Chinatown

Artist: Tatiana Pentes

Plasma display 1920 x 1080 pixels at 1080 dpi
Digital print 1920 x 1080 in a vintage gold bamboo frame

Highly Commended Award Burwood Art Prize 2022
View online 2022 Burwood Art Prize Catalogue
Watch ceremony https://youtu.be/qRXINGtz9gI

Exhibition

Friday 25 – 30 March 2022, Burwood Library and Community Hub (Level 1)
2 Conder St Burwood, Sydney, Australia.

Artwork


Artist Statement


“Self-portrait with A Lady From Shanghai in Burwood Chinatown” is a digital homage to my émigré (refugee) grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna from Shanghai  1930s. A contemporary self-portrait (Tatiana) collaged with a vintage portrait of Xenia by Josepho Schick in La Concession Française de Changhai juxtaposed with a classic Shanghai Calendar Girl poster pinup. Xenia’s ghostly image haunts the trompe-l’œil wall in Burwood Chinatown, outside an imaginary Paramount ballroom 上海百樂門 Shanghai, and oriental lanterns that light up the modern alleyways, serving traditional Chinese Street Food. An old Shanghai Seagull camera floating over the electric neon reflections illuminates rain.”

Coquette: Shànghǎi 上海 : Grandmother

a vintage portrait of Xenia by photographer Josepho Schick and a classic Shanghai Calendar Girl poster pinup

TATIANA PENTES


Further reading
Coquette: Shànghǎi 上海 : Grandmother
https://strangeblackbox.net/coquette-shanghai-grandmother


Burwood Art Prize 2022 Judges:

Danella Bennett
Manager Strategic Projects, Public Art
Create NSW, Department of Premier and Cabinet

Amrit Gill
Artistic Director/CEO
4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

Louise Zhang
Artist – a Chinese-Australian multidisciplinary artist


Artist Tatiana Pentes digital painting Self-portrait with A Lady From 上海 Shanghai in Burwood Chinatown won Highly Commended Burwood Art Council Prize 2022
Xenia Vladimirovna Shanghai French Concession 1936
Artist Tatiana Pentes digital painting Self-portrait with A Lady From 上海 Shanghai in Burwood Chinatown won Highly Commended Burwood Art Council Prize 2022
Digital print special thanks The Print Lab National Art School (NAS)

an imaginary Paramount ballroom 上海百樂門 

TATIANA PENTES
Artist Tatiana Pentes digital painting Self-portrait with A Lady From 上海 Shanghai in Burwood Chinatown won Highly Commended Burwood Art Council Prize 2022

“A digital homage to my Russe émigré grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna from Shanghai 上海 1930s.”

Tatiana Pentes

Scenes From A Shanghai Hotel (Film)

Contact Us

PO Box 78
Glebe, Sydney, NSW, 2037, AUSTRALIA

Scenes From A Shanghai Hotel: cabaret neon

Image from SCENES FROM A SHANGHAI HOTEL
An experimental film by Geoffrey Weary. Production Company: Strange Cities Productions
Director/Producer: Geoffrey Weary
Produced in association with Screen Australia (AFC)
Cast: Tatiana Pentes, Rose Tang

SCENES FROM A SHANGHAI HOTEL
An experimental film by Geoffrey Weary

TIME WAS…….
Geoffrey Weary 


SCA Galleries
Sydney College of the Arts
University of Sydney, AUSTRALIA


PORTRAITS 

Production Company: Strange Cities Productions
Director/Producer: Geoffrey Weary
Produced in association with Screen Australia (AFC)

Cast: Tatiana Pentes, Leakhena Sy, Rose Tang

PORTRAITS is an experimental digital work that explores three contrasting experiences of war and conflict in the middle and late 20th century. A woman living in Shanghai is expelled from China after the Communist Revolution in 1949. The ghosts of the Cold War appear and disappear in the crumbling ruins of the Berlin Wall in 1990. A young woman suffers a crisis of identity around the circumstances of her birth at the end of the war in Cambodia in 1978


SCENES FROM A SHANGHAI HOTEL

An experimental film by Geoffrey Weary

A Russian woman living in Shanghai is expelled from China after the Communist Revolution in 1949. Her story begins in a hotel room in Shanghai and ends on a suburban street in Sydney, Australia. Performative, fictional, and documentary elements are blended into a work that is suggestive and open to multiple readings. Extensive use of film leader and scratchy film surfaces add to the sense that what we are seeing resembles something that is illusive, dream-like, just beyond grasp…..or is it just a newsreel playing in someone’s head? Cast: Rose Tang and Tatiana Pentes


CAPTIVE

An experimental film by Geoffrey Weary

CAPTIVE explores the themes of repression, confinement and escape. These themes are expressed through the incorporation of grainy VHS footage shot in Berlin at the time of the collapse of the Berlin Wall, hand-held camera sequences shot in a maze-like forest and slices of footage composited out of archival Cold War films. As the real historical Wall crumbles under the blows of street hawkers and souvenir hunters, ghostly specters from the past appear then dissolve back into the scratchy surface of a long forgotten newsreel.

Captive by Geoffrey Weary from Strange Cities Productions on Vimeo.


My Mother Told Me

An experimental film by Geoffrey Weary

A young woman tells the story of her family’s destruction during the war in Cambodia, 1975-1978. Later as a refugee living with her mother in Sydney, Australia she suffers an identity crisis that is linked to the unexplained circumstances of her birth and the mystery of the father that she has never known. Cast: Leakhena Sy

My Mother Told Me by Geoffrey Weary from Strange Cities Productions on Vimeo.
My Mother Told Me

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online Australian Screen http://aso.gov.au/titles/shorts/my-mother-told-me/

Чужие города Strange Cities: A Russian bandleader in Shanghai – Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll)

Чужие города Strange Cities: Serge Ermoll Jr. Сергей Ермолаев birth certificate Mother of God, Russian Orthodox Cathederal French Concession, Shanghai, 1944.
Чужие города Strange Cities: Serge Ermoll Jr. Сергей Ермолаев birth certificate Mother of God, Russian Orthodox Cathederal French Concession, Shanghai, 1943, interface image from an interactive work.

This work is the transformation of a chapter my doctoral thesis, UTS, BLACK BOX www.strangecities.net. This interactive paper, an ensemble of image, sound, and textual research emerges from the ChineseBOX passage in BLACK BOX, exploring my hybrid cultural origins through discovery of the Russian jazz music culture from pre-revolutionary Shanghai and the Japanese occupation in China.

An examination of the documents left to me by my grandfather Sergei Lukyanovich Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) born 2 June 1908, Harbin Manchuria, reveals a rich insight into the cultural milieu of the Russians in Shanghai, (see V. D. Zhiganov Russians in Shanghai (1936), in particular the Chinese jazz world. Prior to his death, Sergei recorded an historical list of many significant acts (Russian, Chinese, Philippino, Japanese, American etc.) that performed in the nightclubs, cabarets, and ballrooms of quasi-colonial Shanghai.

Like Chinese cinema, Chinese jazz was a hybrid form. “Chinese cinema of the 1930s is believed to be a synthesis of indigenous art and foreign modes of production. (1) This point is best demonstrated by Ma Ning’s influential piece on a famous leftist classic, Street Angel (1937). (2) Ma argues that Street Angel exemplifies the practice of sinification among Chinese leftist filmmakers. During this period, Chinese filmmakers tended to view cinema as a specifically Western invention, yet they also felt compelled to incorporate indigenous forms appropriate for Chinese audiences.”

Yeh Yueh-yu , “Historiography and Sinification: Music in Chinese Cinema of the 1930s”, Cinema Journal, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Spring, 2002), pp. 78-97


SHANGHAI: Eastern Hollywood ?

Serge Ermoll Сергей Ермолаев and His Orchestra, the Astor House 礼查饭店 Hotel Ballroom/ Bandstand with peacock fan half shell and Pathe label collage – Peacock Hall the cities first ballroom, Shanghai, China,1930.

Serge Ermoll and His Music Masters was managed by Dick Hamilton-Mills Vaudeville Entertainments, Shanghai located in Hamilton House and enjoyed residencies at establishments such as the Tower Nightclub in The Cathay Hotel with trio, The Paramount Ballroom (1934-36), Ladlows Casanova, Lido (1936) Astor House Hotel (1930), the big band at Cercle Sportif Français (1938-1943 French Club) and signed with Dick Hamilton for exclusice cabaret the Arcadia club in the French Concession. It is at the Arcadia club (1937) that Sergei met the celebrated crooner, poet and singer/ composer Alexander Vertinsky, during his Shanghai sojourn. The collision produced the immortal A and B side of a record – Чужие города Strange Cities (Chuzie Goroda – music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and Ira Bloch, and Над розовым морем Over The Rosy Sea/ The Pink Sea – (Nad Rosavuim Morem), music and words by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and George Ivanoff, [Registered Copyright Agency USSR & APRA]. Sergei claimed to have played with Whitey Smith’s band at Chiang Kai Chek’s wedding to Mei-Lie Soong, and held a residency at the Majestic Hotel

Strange Black BoxCharlie Chaplin’s sojourn in Shanghai visiting the Paramount Ballroom pictured with Russian jazz orchestra leader Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) c.1936 Paulette Goddard & mother in background.

Strange Black Box
Vertinsky was the originator of black Russian cabaret, where he embodied the figure of a dark Pierrot. His sojourn in Shanghai 1935 – 1943 via Harbin, China, before his return to soviet Russia (USSR) was a fertile ground. Vertinsky published in the Russian journal RUBEZH рубеж News of the frontier, Harbin, Manchuria, 1939, his great poem ‘Shanghai’.

41e54baa-03a8-4c85-97cf-59ba24f8c1d5

Чужие города Strange Cities a portrait of Xenia Vladimirovna (Ermolaeff) by Josepho Schick 1935.

This is a portrait of my grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna Ermolaeff. Xenia was a Russian émigré in China. She arrived with her mother Evgenia and sisters in Harbin after the Boshevik revolution in Russia. There are family stories that she met my grandfather Sergei in the Hotel Modern, or was it the Fantasie cabaret, Harbin where she was performing as a singer and dancer, early 1930s. The portrait was taken later in Shanghai by Josepho Schick, a photographic studio that documented many in the Russian émigré community living in Shanghai and Hong Kong. 

In 1996-97 I won a development grant to produce a script Чужие города Strange Cities, from Screen Australia, the Australian Film Commission (AFC). I traveled to Shanghai and Tokyo to conduct research and write an interactive script. In search of Xenia’s Shanghai, I became a voyeur, walking the city, writing and shooting photographs/film with Geoffrey Weary. We stayed in the Peace Fairmont Hotel, the former Cathay Hotel, Room 314, I was searching for traces of the old decadent jazz culture. The Чужие города Strange Cities digital media documentary work, was based on a tune by by Alexander Vertinsky, Serge Ermoll and Ira Bloch, a musical illustration, an imaginary vision of old Shanghai (looking back to motherland Russia – St Petersberg), composed and played in the old cabaret’s of 1930s Shanghai. I had found a vinyl record in Sergei’s music collection and the original musical score.

In 1999 with funding from Screen Australia, the Australian Film Commission (AFC), our team photographed the interior of the Peace Fairmont Hotel, the former Cathay Hotel, interior and architecture. We photographed the sound stage, Level 7, where Serge Ermoll and His Orchestra had played as resident band leader  and many photographs were taken, the golden dragons & pheonix design haunting the interiors. Looking out of the exquisitely ornamented window panes onto the Bund and across to the Pudong district and the oriental Pearl Tower, I imagined James Ballard’s bloody descriptions of the Battle of Shanghai or Battle of Songhu 淞滬會戰 the Japanese war ships in the harbour. A decade later these audiovisual fragments were shaped into a film Scenes From A Shanghai Hotel, 2008.

The interactive work would ultimately be Чужие города Strange Cities , as reviewed in Asiaweek based on the tune composed by Alexander Vertinsky, Ira Bloch and Serge Ermoll. Independent radio broadcaster Eurydice Aroney produced the work and Roi Huberman created the interactive sound design. This song and the lyrics, which spoke of the longing for motherland St Petersberg (Russia), encapsulated my search for origins. Later, another film score composed by the Vertinsky/Ermoll would be the signature tune in the Merchant Ivory Hollywood classic The White Countess, 2005. The strange music Serge played, a mix of Russian cabaret, Chinese pop, and American jazz, I would later understand to be the treasured hybrid genre of trans-pacific contemporary music, the renaissance of which is making many a million.(1) and (2) Whitey Smith and L. McDermott, I Didn’t Make a Million, Manila, 1956.

In my grandmother Xenia and the portraits she would show me, I saw a cosmopolitan Eastern woman of urban sophistication, paradoxically at odds with the Australian life we were surrounded by in the Sydney suburbs. Her black coiffured hair and gold jewelery provided endless fascination, she looked so different from the ladies at the local RSL. I wanted to be like her.

“The favoured past of shanghai is that of the ‘modern girl’ in a qipao, the feminine city of exquisite Russian refugees, decadent European expatriates, Chinese gangsters and marlene dietrich in Shanghai Express (dir. Joseph von Sternberg, 1932). These are clichéd character sketches of the city, but they resonate powerfully with the international imagination. Dietrich, in the person of Shanghai Lil, continues to produce affect in cinema-goers worldwide as a persona for shanghai…. if cinema has done nothing else for shanghai, it has convinced the world and the city itself that they are, simply and utterly, superior to any others. Shanghai woman is the epitome of modern China, and the image of 1930s is the enduring foundation of the magnetism of shanghai’s identity. [sic] ” (2)

(1) Donald, Stephanie and Gammack, John G. Tourism and the Branded City: Film and Identity on the Pacific Rim, London: Ashgate, 2007. http://www.iis.uts.edu.au/research/Shanghai_Ch6_Extract.pdf(2) Whitey Smith and .L. McDermott, I Didn’t Make a Million, Manila, 1956.

SHANGHAI NOSTALGIA: Old Shanghai Mood Board

Film star & songstress Li Xianglan (李香蘭) a hybrid matrix of Japanese and Chinese modern girl. Born Yamaguchi Yoshiko (山口 淑子) to Japanese parents in Manchuria, Remembered for 1940s film Shanghai Nights 上海の夜), the tune The Evening Primrose 夜來香

MECCA cosmetics corporation has recently launched its
“Shanghai Lil” make-up range, a homage to the high fashion
(haute couture) & make-up used in Von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932).
Image source http://www.meccacosmetica.com.au/

Hui Fei (Anna May Wong) and Marlene Dietrich (Shanghai Lily) in Jospeh Von Sternberg’s SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932).

Image source MOTO Nostalgia campaign 2004

The Parisian wave (coiffure) and the fur coat over the shoulder evoke the Shanghai gesture, a powerful imaging (and re-imagining) of the Shanghai advertising lady, her urban face charmed the packaging of a plethora of mass products from face powders to cigarettes. She is the face of Motorola’s 2004 mobile phone campaign. These evoke director Josef von Sternberg’s The Shanghai Gesture, 1941 an American film noir starring Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature, and Ona Munson. It is based on a Broadway play of the same name by John Colton.

Reminiscent of a 1930s Shanghai calendar girl, an evocation of the legendary film star Ruan Lingyu (阮玲玉), or perhaps Hollywood’s Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai or Anna May Wong in Josef Von Sternberg’s Shanghai Express (1932) or Street Angel 馬路天使 (1937) starring Shanghai songstress Zhou Xuan (the “golden voice”) and pre-revolutionary film star. Perhaps Motorola’s Shanghai lady resembles the famous Li Xianglan 李香蘭 a hybrid matrix of Japanese and Chinese modern (modeng) girl (!) She was born Yamaguchi Yoshiko 山口 淑子 to Japanese parents in Manchuria, and became a famous Chinese and Japanese film star. She is remembered for 1940s film Shanghai Nights 上海の夜, made by Manchuria Film Productions and singer of the immortal tune The Evening Primrose 夜來香. Nostalgia for decadent old Shanghai and its hybrid brand of quasi-colonial East meets West is articulated in the plethora of contemporary Hollywood, Hong Kong and Chinese films devoted to the Shanghai gesture. Academy Award winning director Ang Lee’s offering Lust Caution (2007), a case in point, Merchant Ivory’s The White Countess (2005), to touch the tip of the iceberg.

The “Motorola advertisement appearing on billboards and in glossy magazines… means ‘MOTO nostalgia’ or ‘MOTO era’, highlighting the Shanghai 1930s feel of the image.” The evocation of the Shanghai lady in this MOTO campaign contains echoes of a contemporary Ballardian neo-landscape, the Bladerunner megalopolis that is Shanghai. This kitsch, pastiched, noirish sophistication is a parody without the humour and articulates Jameson’s postmodern and consummerist project of futuristic nostalgia (Jameson, 1985, p116).

Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism and Consumerist Society”, in (Ed) Hal Foster, Postmodern Culture, Pluto Press, Great Britain, 1985.

Another confirmation of the currency and commodification of the old Shanghai lady as an aesthetic still capable of marketing a dream about a city that has entered into the postmodern vernacular in “Selling Cosmetics by vending machine ?”, Hong Kong Hustle: Hong Kong nightlife, streetculture, and cool www.hongkonghustle.com/shopping/389/cosmetics-vending-machine/#more-389.

Shanghai! …during the 1930s and 1940s was referred to internationally as the “jazz mecca” (1) of Asia, the Paris of the East, conjuring in the Western imagination a romanticised landscape of coolies, opium, and spies. In reality Shanghai was the pearl of China’s orient, occupying a unique political and cultural place as China’s modern Metropolis. Historically, China had granted concessions to the international powers in Shanghai, British, French, and Americans occupying colonial settlements in the treaty port.

At the level of representation, Shanghai was an appropriated “exotic” location, an orientalist back-drop, and the subject of a plethora of Western novels, literary and cinematic creations. The allure of Shanghai as a mysterious cultural locale wove its way into American Hollywood cinema and popular song as an orientalist fantasy and landscape upon which the West imagination could play out illusions. Shanghai as a colonial International settlement was inhabited and visited by passing Western entrepreneurs, government officials, tourists, traders, and entertainers. American actor Charlie Chaplin’s tour in Shanghai 1936 with actress Paulette Goddard and stay in the Fairmont Peace Hotel (Cathay Hotel) in Shanghai is well documented. He visited the famous Paramount Ballroom where Serge Ermoll and His Orchestra were the resident Russian jazz orchestra. A personal collection of family photographs pictures band leader Ermoll with Chaplin and Goddard. The first exhibition of cinema in China occurred in the Yu Yuan teahouse in Shanghai (2) , eight months after the “…Lumiere brother’s epochal unveiling of their new Cinematographe…December 28, 1895, in the basement of the Grand Cafe in Paris.” (3) The Yu Gardens was a place that I wanted to visit, and would take many photographs.

The black American jazz trumpet player Buck Clayton’s legendary journey to Shanghai was “precipitated by brisk trans-Pacific traffic in record music. Gramaphone records of the music of Duke Ellington and other artists had already reached Chinese shores, spurring a rage for black bands in the city’s nightclubs and dancehalls.”(4) The playing of this black American jazz and its local idiom performed by Russian, Filippino émigré and Chinese bands heralded the circulation of a hybrid trans-Pacific culture. Until very recently, the Chinese academies viewed “yellow music” and its Russian, black American and colonial precursors as not worthy of scholarship. Colonial modernity as articulated in pre-revolutionary Chinese film with its jazzy Chinese popular screen music was understood by its leftist critics as “decadent sound” (mimi zhi yin) (5) and opposed to the modern Republican ideology.

Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll) Russian Jazz Orchestra leader on the cover of RUBEZ News of Harbin, Manchuria, 1937

In the contemporary context, this trans-Pacific culture and music is experiencing considerable attention and re-discovery by the Chinese government and international community, as Shanghai overtakes Hong Kong as China’s major trading port city. The cover of the American Time magazine proclaimed “Shanghai! Inside the most happening city in the world” and the accompanying article “Shanghai Swings! The long slumber is over, and Shanghai is grooving to an exuberant beat”(6) Hannah Beech, “Shanghai! Inside the most happening city in the world” and the accompanying article “Shanghai Swings!”, in Time magazine, September 20, 2004. The image of the contemporary Shanghai Bund skyline glittering with electric lights evokes the former glory of Shanghai’s jazz age when the colonial façade of the Bund housed China’s wealthiest banks and trading houses. Indeed it is no mystery a musical metaphor has been woven to paint a picture of the re-emergence of Shanghai as a global destination. The article chronicles the restoration and the re-opening of Shanghai’s most legendary nightclub the Paramount Ballroom. Another Time magazine article “Cholera, Cables, Piano’s”(7), alludes to a Chinese symphony of chaos to evoke the human crisis of colonial modernity in Shanghai. The dischord between images of extreme opulence and wealth, manifest in the architectural spaces of the colonial dance-halls at their zenith: the Paramount Ballroom, Majestic Hotel, the French Club, the Cathay Hotel, Astor House, the Canidrome, Ladlow’s Casa Nova et al – juxtaposed with the struggle of the underclass of Russian émigrés working inside these spaces and the exclusion from these spaces of the desperate and displaced Chinese refugees, reveal the economic, class, and gendered dimensions of Shanghai’s urban metropolis, a cultural entrepot forming the ‘modern’ Chinese man and woman.

In most historical and popular accounts of Shanghai nightlife (post 1930s) the White Russian émigrés, who fled the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, are notoriously depicted as desperate refugees finding work in the bars, clubs, and nightclubs Shanghai as either “taxi-dancers”, “body-guards”, or prostitutes. The project argues that the affinity between “yellow music”, foreign jazz, specifically the Russian émigré jazz and its interpretation as “pornographic” and decadent evolved from the social spaces where this music was performed. The contribution of Russian émigrés to the cultural modernity of Shanghai is considerable. The Russians, many stateless and without citizenship, occupied a liminal place in the city below the oppressed and poor Chinese. The construction of the “White Russian” refugee stereotype founds its way into trans-Pacific popular media culture and has long been associated with “Sinified jazz music”.(8)

This brief account of Shanghai’s history and the role of Russian émigré jazz shows that this underclass of refugees were central to modern notions of urban Chinese identity. Scholarship in the field of musicology, ethnomusicology, media, history and sociology in China, America, Britain, and in Europe has not previously focused on the remarkable contribution made by Russian émigré jazz during the pre-revolutionary period in China, precisely because this cultural history was erased with the formation communist Republic in China.



The recuperation of this history through Russian émigré sources abroad, Chinese scholarship, archives that were moved from mainland China to Taiwan, Hong Kong, France, England, Russia and the United States and an existing archive of material in the possession of this project could recover an inform through interdisciplinary, cultural studies method a new historical case study. (9)

_________________________________________________________

NOTES

(1) Andrew F. Jones, Yellow music : media culture and colonial modernity in the Chinese jazz age, Durham [N.C.] : Duke University Press, 2001, p1.

(2) Yingjin Zhang, “Teahouse, Shadowplay, Bricolage: ‘Laborer’s Love’ and the Question of Early Chinese Cinema”, in Zhen Zhang (Ed), Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, Stanford University Press, USA, 1999.

(3) Jones “Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age”, op cit p11.

(4) Jones “Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age”, op cit p1.

(5) Jones “Listening to the Chinese Jazz Age”, op cit p8.

(6) Hannah Beech, “Shanghai! Inside the most happening city in the world” and the accompanying article “Shanghai Swings!”, in Time magazine, September 20, 2004.

(7) Foreign News, “Cholera, Cables, Pianos” in Time magazine, September 27, 1937.

(8) Jones op cit p73.

(9) Andrew Field, “Chapter 5: Selling Souls in Sin City: Shanghai Singing and Dancing Hostesses in Print, Film, and Politics, 1920-49 inZhen Zhang (Ed), Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, Stanford University Press, USA, 1999. See forthcoming publication Andrew Field, Shanghai’s Dancing World: Cabaret Culture and Urban Politics, 1919–1954.

The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu: online documentary

Interface still: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary - scrolls
Interface still: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary

Explore The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary

The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu presented/exhibition by Prof Andrew Jakubowicz, China Cultural Centre Sydney http://www.cccsydney.org 2015 in association with Jewish Refugees and Shanghai Exhibition. Curated as an installation in Crossroads: Shanghai and the Jews of China, Curator Jane Wesley, Sydney Jewish Museum, and, Carnivale, Performance Space, 2001. Creative Director, Tatiana Pentes and multimedia designer. Reviewed by Keth Gallasch RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001. Read online

VECTORS: Journal of Culture & technology in a Dynamic Vernacular
Issue 1. Winter, 2005 http://vectors.usc.edu/projects/index.php?project=40

Flames on Menorah The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu presented/exhibition by Prof Andrew Jakubowicz, China Cultural Centre Sydney

“What can a single artifact tell us about history? For an archaeologist schooled in deciphering subtle traces, a lone relic can speak volumes. So it is with the 19th century brass menorah at the center of Andrew Jakubowicz’s The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu. Serving as a metaphor for the intertwining stories of four Jewish families living in Shanghai in the late 19th and early 20thcenturies, this object also provides evidence of a community that has since disappeared from the city, having joined the worldwide Jewish diaspora during World War II, only to make their way to Australia. Their stories are told and this history is pieced together through interviews with surviving family members and collections of photographs, documents and testimonies that describe a strikingly similar set of experiences. Jakubowicz’s exhaustively documented site offers a model for constructing a multi-perspectival portrait of a moment from the past that cannot be otherwise reconstituted. The family stories that constellate around the image of the menorah describe a set of common themes emerging from individual experiences with immigration, community and participation in an economic system. At the same time, the stories remain separate and distinct, a subtle evocation of the fact that none of the families knew each other when living in Shanghai; it is only through this reconstruction after the fact that their lives have been woven into a larger historical narrative. As a piece of historical evidence whose origins can only be conjectured, the menorah also functions as a metaphor for Jakubowicz’s investigation. The graceful folk tune that emanates from the music box in the base of the menorah is at once familiar and indecipherable, some of the notes having been long since worn away, but leaving enough of the tune intact to provide a suggestive starting point for historical enquiry. Like the films of Hungarian Peter Forgacs, who constructs historical narratives out of home movies shot by WWII era European Jewish families, Jakubowicz’s work resonates with traditions of oral history and history-from-below, implicitly arguing that the stories of “ordinary” people should not be excluded from the historical record.”

— Professor Tara McPherson and Steve Anderson
Division of Critical Studies, School of Cinematic Arts,
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

Interface still: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary presented/exhibition by Prof Andrew Jakubowicz, China Cultural Centre Sydney
Interface still: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary

SYNOPSIS
“The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu is a brass menorah (a Jewish religious candelabra), probably dating from the late nineteenth century. It was found on a second hand stall in a Shanghai antique market, in October 2000, more than forty years after the last Jews had left Shanghai. In its base is a wind-up music box, playing out a tune that has yet to be identified. Its simple chords evoke the many cultures of Jewish China. The antique market stands near the main entrance gate to Fang Bang Lu (or Fong Pang Road as it was known when there was a Jewish community in Shanghai from the 1840s to the 1950s). Fang Bang Lu is the main street in the old Chinese city (just south of the former French Concession and International Settlement), and leads to a tea house the original that has haunted western fantasies of China since the eighteenth century.

Interface still: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary
Interface still: The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu online documentary

This computer based project explores the patterns that seven Australian families to Shanghai, families whose paths crossed many times, but who never met there. These four families will be joined by three more over the coming months – their lives entered through the flames of the Menorah. Through common themes of arrival, community, economy, place, interactions with China and the Japanese occupiers, and then the tenuous journeys to Australia, we begin to sense the intertwining of serendipity and design that mark their pathways. From the Moalems, key figures in the Sephardic (Babylonian/Spanish) religious community, to the Krouks, active participants in the vibrant Russian Jewish community, the Gunsbergers, surprising survivors of Kristallnacht and an escape across Europe to Manchuria, to the Weyland Jakubowicz family in their arduous struggle through the USSR and Japan, we begin to understand the rich fabric of cultural heritage of these diasporic people, who came at last as refugees to Australia. We discover the stories of Leisl Rosner (Gerber), a girl from Vienna who became a woman in Shanghai, Rachel Kofman, a Russian woman from Harbin who returned to China from her studies in California, and settled in Shanghai, and the Szekeres, mathematicians living in limbo on the edge of the world. The arrival of all these families in Australia from 1946 was in circumstances of hostility that are not overwhelmingly different from those facing today’s refugees and tells us much about not only where they came from but what they found in the new land.

Writer/ Producer: Andrew Jakubowicz is Professor of Sociology at the University of Technology Sydney; his parents arrived in Australia via Shanghai in 1946 most of their families had perished in the Holocaust. He now works in the area of multicultural affairs, and was the executive producer of Making Multicultural Australia a multimedia documentary (1999).

Creative Director: Tatiana Pentes, a multimedia designer who created the AMY award winner (2000) Strange Cities, an interactive digital work built around memories of Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s, and the music of her grandfather, Shanghai orchestra leader Sergei Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll), a Harbin born Manchurian Russian.”

Black Box: a digital media work

Exerpt from Tatiana Pentes, DCA thesis, BlackBox: Painting a Digital Picture of Documented Memory, UTS, VDM Verlag, Germany 2009.

Black Box: Painting A Digital Picture of Documented Memory. Written & Directed by Tatiana Pentes, Digital Sound & Moving Image: Geoffrey Weary
Black Box: Painting A Digital Picture of Documented Memory. Written & Directed by Tatiana Pentes, Digital Sound & Moving Image: Geoffrey Weary

Launch BlackBoxv3 online

“It is inscribed as on Pandora’s Box…do not open…passions…escape in all directions from a box that lies open…” from Bruno Latour’s “Opening Pandora’s Box”, in Science in Action: How To Follow Scientists & Engineers Through Society, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1987, p1-17.

Abstract

This work investigates and records the production of a digital media artwork blackBOX: Painting A Digital Picture of Documented Memory, generated through the media technologies of interactive multimedia, exploiting the creative potentials of digitally produced music, sound, image and text relationships in a disc based & online (Internet) environment. The artwork evolves from an imaginary electronic landscape that can be uniquely explored/ played in a non-sequential manner. The artwork/ game is a search for the protagonists hybrid cultural identity. This is mirrored in the exploration of random, fragmentary and non-linear experiences designed for the player engaged with the artwork. The subjective intervention of the player/ participant in the electronic artwork is metaphoric of the improvisational tendencies that have evolved in the Greek Blues (Rembetika), Jazz, and Hindustani musical and performative dance forms. The protagonist Nina’s discovery of these musical forms reveal her cultural/ spiritual origins. As a musical composer arranges notes, melodies and harmonies, and sections of instruments, so too, the multimedia producer designs a ensemble of audio-visual fragments to be navigated.

Dance also becomes a driving metaphor, analogous to the players movement in and through these passages of image/ sound/ text and as a movement between theories and ideas explored in the content of the program. The central concern is to playfully reverse, obscure, distort the look of the dominating/colonialist gaze, in the production of an interactive game and allow the girl to picture herself.

One of my objectives is to explore the ways in which social research can be undertaken by the creation of an interactive program in the computer environment utilizing interactive digital media technologies. The study reveals that, through the subjective intervention of the player/ participant (user)* with the digital artefact, a unique experience and responsiveness is produced with the open-ended text. The work is comprised of a website http://www.strangecities.net; an interactive CD-ROM; a gallery installation; digital photomedia images: and a written thesis documenting and theorising the production.

Classical Indian dance music: Bharata Natyam

Nirmal Jena & Odissi Dance Co.

* The term player/participant (user), while widely debated has been in usage from the 1980s to refer to the unique human interaction with the digital artefact, electronic screen work, and computer interface.

Read the research paper: BlackBOX : painting a digital picture of documented memory. Published University of Technology, Sydney UTS ePress Institutional Repository
Australasian Digital Thesis Program http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/dspace/handle/2100/357

Black Box interface still by Tatiana Pentes
Black Box interface still by Tatiana Pentes

BLOWIN’ AT THE ROCCO: Saturday Night: A Jazz feature

BLOWIN’ AT THE ROCCO: Saturday Night

Blowin At The Rocco: Photography: Tatiana Pentes & Geoffrey Weary
Blowin At The Rocco: Photography: Tatiana Pentes & Geoffrey Weary

An Australian Jazz Interactive Treatment for Broadband funded by Screen Australia (AFC/ Screen Australia)

New Media Writer/Director TATIANA PENTES
Photography/ Cinematography GEOFFREY WEARY
Original Jazz Music SERGEI ERMOLAEFF
Dramaturg Prof BRUCE JOHNSON

1. STORY OUTLINE

Expermimental Online Documentary

BLOWIN’ AT THE ROCCO: Saturday Night is an experimental interactive work that seeks to exploit and enhance the creative potentials of digitally produced music, sound, image and text relationships in an interactive online Broadband environment. In this context, the delivery of interactive work online provides an innovative approach to the conventional narrative & documentary forms. In BLOWIN’ AT THE ROCCO: Saturday Night, the participant/player will experience new possibilities produced through the slippage across a series of interactive screen surfaces, engaging the participant/player in a spatial relationship with the program. The participant/player discovers the origins of Sydney Jazz milieu through the eyes of Serge Ermoll Jr. (Jazz Pianist/ Private Investigator) during, smoky sophisticated bohemian, Sydney circa 1968. In addition the user is revealed eight tracks of original Australian jazz, recorded live at the El Rocco Jazz Cellar, 1968.

2.1 COPYRIGHT INFORMATION
Serge Ermoll Jr (Sergei Ermollaeff) owns the copyright on all original compositions and recordings of his music. The production Budget would incorporate research fees and broadcast fees for the use of all other archival image, sound, text materials.

3. THEMES OF THE PROJECT: Pathway Elements
BLOWIN’ AT THE ROCCO: Saturday Night is composed of eight storylines, a series of interactive immersive screen environments, characterising the narrative structure of the program. The pathways are named by eight musical movements recorded by Serge Ermoll Jr (Sergei Ermollaeff). The recurrence of musical allusion and composition (a) in the form of musical iconography and (b) in the rendering of musical score in sonic fragments – will resolve in each storyline as the realisation of these eight jazz tracks. From the surface of the computer screen each story unfolds inside a series of frames, inspired by (Black American) Blue Note modern jazz album covers and early Russian constructivist assemblages. The jazz tracks name each storyline expressively, evoking the emotive state of the compositions and shaping the narrative structure of the pathways.

OVERVIEW Story (Musical) Tracks
Opening Titles
Each story pathway is triggered by an visual icon in the music cellar. The Detective foregrounds each pathway with an image/text sound transition

Pathway (1) Movement # 1 – VALSE Kings Cross & Bohemian Sydney

Pathway icon: montage of Alamein fountain & a trumpet
Visual trigger: : movement across a cappuccino coffee cup

This story conjures the memories of the musicians, music entrepreneurs, and patrons. The pathway is inspired by written texts by Bruce Johnson, John Clare, Kenneth Slessor, statements by jazz musicians remembering the milieu, and news stories reporting on the phenomena of the jazz cellar.

Pathway (2)   Movement # 2 – FREE KATA Crest of freedom

Pathway icon: montage of Free Kata group
Visual trigger: movement across a Karate figure                                                                  

This story explores the FREE KATA jazz ensemble of the 1970s, evolving from the seeds of El Rocco jazz culture. This pathway is composed of photographic portraits of the musicians, album artwork, record labels, music publicity material, text from news article coverage of the ensemble, and locates the music in the context of images of urban Sydney in this period and references the larger jazz picture.

Pathway (3) Movement # 3 – JUNGLE JUICE International Influences on Australian Jazz 1968

Pathway icon: montage of Uluru & Wattle matches
Visual trigger: movement across a portrait of a soldier

This storyline contextualises Australian Jazz & the era in archival moments that iconicise the sixties and world events shaping the Australian spirit: (i) the anti-Vietnam war protests (ii) the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, (iii) Robert Kennedy’s campaign against Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam war. The imagery evokes the generational complexity & tension that produced the fresh and vital early Australian jazz. This pathway is composed of original photographs, digital reconstructions, news articles, archival photographs, digitized moving image and sound.

Pathway (4) Movement # 4 – CLOUDS Australia 1968 – Iconic cultural imagery

Pathway icon: montage of hands on a keyboard (piano)
Visual trigger: a framed portrait of a blonde tourist in the red centre

This story evokes Sydney circa 1968, and juxtaposes the Eastern seaboard city with imagery of the Australian red center, (white tourists) a family visit to Uluru in a light plane, in the context of political movements (the anti-Vietnam war protests – students) and populist imagery – Shrimpton wears the legendary mini-skirt. This pathway is composed of original photographs, digital reconstructions, news articles, archival photographs, digitized moving image and sound.

 Pathway (5)  Movement # 5 – PASSION DANCE Serge Jr. & Stamatia meet on the Patris Ship

Pathway icon: montage of young Serge & wife Matina)
Visual trigger – black & white portrait of an emigre couple on the deck of a Greek ship

This story is personal and exposes in a series of black & white photographs and interviews two immigrant Australians broadening their horizons and making the journey back to Europe.

Pathway (6) Movement # 6 – RASPUTIN Diasporic Music Memories

Pathway icon: black & white montage of parents
Visual trigger –movement across a portrait of Rasputin

This story charts the movement of Serge Ermoll’s forbearer’s diaspora from Russia in revolution through to Harbin, Manchuria and then international capital of the East – Shanghai, China where his father worked as a jazz bandleader. Serge and his Russian parents then immigrate to Australia with assistance from the International Refugee Organisation. Serge Jr reflects on the influence of his China born father on his contemporary jazz endeavors in Australia. This pathway is composed of dramatized interviews/statements & original photographs.

Pathway (7) Movement # 7 – FALLEN FLOWERS
Private detective – Sydney underworld

Pathway icon: montage of a dancing girl over Kings Cross
Visual trigger –movement across a portrait of a dancing girl

This story envisions Kings Cross and Sydney, 1968. The participant/player enters into the space of clubs and strip joints, café culture at night. The participant/player is provoked to uncover a criminal situation, revealed through the character of the detective (Serge Ermoll Jr/ jazz pianist) in a series of reconstructed & simulated photographic & filmic sequences that expose Sydney’s underworld.

Pathway (8) Movement # 8 – SERGERY

Pathway icon: young Serge with band on piano
Visual trigger –movement across a keyboard

Blowin’ At the Rocco 1968 – Serge Ermoll Jr Quintet
Visual trigger; movement across the keys of the piano

This story is a temporal montage of Serge Ermoll Jr music career from his emergence as a musician to 1968. The pathway is composed of news material – newsprint articles, magazine reviews

Resolution Sequence

 

The CosmoShanghai Project

The CosmoShanghai Project
http://www.cosmoshanghai.net/

The CosmoShanghai Project: Image Tatiana Pentes
The CosmoShanghai Project: Image Tatiana Pentes

The CosmoShanghai Project
http://www.cosmoshanghai.net/

CosmoShanghai is a growing online portal that launches digital research projects exploring Shanghai’s re-emergence as the cosmopolitan metropolis from its glorified memorial status in the 1930s – part entrepot, part settlement, part escape- that finds expression in the multiple contradictions of the struggle over the preservation and development of Hongkou and other districts of the cosmopolis.

In one online documentary projects The Menorah of Fang Bang Lu –  Dee Lay Jao Police district, becomes the focus for the local and international and diasporic forces seeking to define what the Jewish heritage of the city means in the current era. Set against an examination of a number of preservation and renewal zones, current Chinese modernity encompasses an historicised cosmopolitanism that accounts for the variegated social histories of the city and its global positioning as part of the New China on the one hand, and as a city state on the other. However to be effective this will require cross-cultural collaboration over the meanings of cities’ pasts and futures.

In another interactive BlackBox: Painting a Digital Picture of Documented Memory the artwork evolves from an imaginary electronic landscape that can be uniquely explored/ played. The artwork/ game is a search for the protagonists hybrid cultural identity. This is mirrored in the exploration of random, fragmentary and non-linear experiences, where the protagonist Nina’s discovery of musical forms reveal her cultural/ spiritual origins. As a musical composer arranges notes, melodies and harmonies, and sections of instruments, so too, the multimedia producer designs a ensemble of audio-visual fragments to be navigated. Dance also becomes a driving metaphor, analogous to the players movement in and through these passages of image/ sound/ text and as a movement between theories and ideas explored in the content of the program. The central concern is to playfully reverse, obscure, distort the look of the dominating/colonialist gaze, in the production of an interactive game and allow the girl to picture herself.

Strange Cities: An interactive digital work

Strange Cities: An interactive digital work

Strange Cities CD-Rom: Prima Volta from Strange Cities Productions on Vimeo.


SYNOPSIS

An interactive digital work/ Musical CD-Rom by 
Tatiana Pentes (Writer/Director) & Geoffrey Weary (Co-Development/ Cinematography & Photography), Eurydice Aroney (Producer), Roi Huberman (Sound Design), Glenn Remington (Interface Design). Produced in association with Screen Australia (AFC). Online exhibition Australia-Japan New Media Gallery, Australian Embassy, JAPAN  http://newmedia.australia.or.jp/artist/info.php?name=tatiana

AWARDS

Strange Cities CD-ROM has been exhibited inter/nationally & winner of Best Arts/Cultural Title/Site, AIMIA Awards, 2000, and Most Innovative/Creative Multimedia Title, ATOM Awards, 2000, Australia. Acquired by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) Multimedia Collection, Australian Film & Television School Library, University of Hawaii, University of Sydney, UTS, the National Library Australia and many inter/national archives.

Strange Cities was selected for Dart 99 dLux Media Arts in partnership with Sydney Film Festival, the 1999 Experimenta Media national travelling Exhibition, The Red Room, & promoted  New Talent Pavilion, MILIA Games, Cannes, France in February 1999

Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)

Strange Cities is an experimental interactive multimedia work authored for CD-Rom release and exhibition. Through the disclosure of evidence, Sasha dreams, discovers and remembers the exotic identity of her grandparents Xenia and Sergei Ermolaeff (a composer and orchestra leader) in fragments and traces of their music and struggle to survive the Russian and Chinese Communist Revolutions. The dulcet tones of the legendary voice of ABC Radio – Tony Baldwin as Newsreader deepen the nostalgia of this interactive drama/history.

The inspiration for the work is a tune of the same name – a musical illustration, an imaginary vision of old Shanghai, Chinese metropolis and international settlement which conjures mythic, filmic, musical and personal images of the city port.

Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)

Strange Cities CD-Rom: Mordente from Strange Cities Productions on Vimeo.

Coined capital of the international underworld, the city of Shanghai became a seductively strange locale symbolized in the Western imagination. In reality however the city was most often the final port of call for political refugees. The visual imagery for the project was shot in St Petersberg, Shanghai, Tokyo, and Sydney and involves found photographs, film footage, simulated radio archives, and original musical compositions.

Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)

Strange Cities experiments with performance, sound, image and text and their dramatic representation in the interactive environment. Providing a challenging approach to traditional modes of story-telling and music in the interface design, the user is provoked to discover the Strange Cities tune in the graphic portrayal of its musical script, sonic perception of its vocal lyric, and orchestration through user interactivity.

Strange Cities CD-Rom: Lacrimoso from Strange Cities Productions on Vimeo.

In the exploration of Strange Cities the user will experience a questioning of the relationship between fictional, biographical, historical and musical narrative possibilities produced through the slippage between and across a series of interactive screens. Participation with the interface provides for the user an experience which challenges traditional modes of narrative in audiovisual presentation, the perception of musical structure, storytelling and in historical, biographical and fictional texts in the multimedia environment.

Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)
Interface still Strange Cities: A musical CD-Rom (2000)

Strange Cities was selected for the 1999 Experimenta Media Art CD-Rom Exhibition and has been promoted at the New Talent Pavilion, MILIA Games, Cannes, France in February 1999.

NEW MEDIA AWARDS FESTIVALS
Best Arts/Cultural Title/ Site, Australian Interactive Multimedia Industry Association (AIMIA) Awards November 2000, AUSTRALIA
Most Innovative/Creative Multimedia Production, Australian Teachers of Media, (ATOM) Awards May 2000, AUSTRALIA
This project has been produced in association with Screen Australia (Australian Film Commission)

Strange Cities has been curated as part of the Australia-Japan New Media Gallery, Australian Embassy Japan http://newmedia.australia.or.jp/artist/info.php?name=tatiana

Cast
Xenia – Xenia Wayne; Sergei – Peter Tartarinoff; Newsreader – Tony Baldwin; Sasha (Voice) – Katya Rozenblit; Young Sasha (Visuals) – Isabella Manfredi; Rose Tsing (Visuals) – Rose Tang; Tango Dancers – Katya Rozenblit & Evan Darnley-Pentes.

StrangeCities: Xenia Vladimirovna
Strange Cities: Xenia by Tatiana Pentes

Ultimately this project led to the production of a film produced in association with
Screen Australia (AFC), Scenes From A Shanghai Hotel (2008)

Scenes From A Shanghai Hotel by Geoffrey Weary from Strange Cities Productions on Vimeo.

Xenia’s journey to Shanghai, CHINA 1923

strangecitiesImage: Film poster for Strange Cities Чужие города – Russian film poster (AFC) my grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna & Sergei’s musical score

My grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna was born in Russia 1908. Her father was in the Tsarist Russian navy. After the Bolshevik revolution 1917 he did not return from sea. After a brief marriage to a widowed vet surgeon with five sons, Xenia told me, her mother Eugenia and three sisters Helena, Galya, and Marya made the journey by Trans-Siberian railway to Harbin, Manchuria in 1923 to find husbands in China. As a singer and dancer at the Modern Hotel, Harbin across the ballroom she met my grandfather Serge Ermolaeff (Serge Ermoll and His Music Masters). “I didn’t think Serge would notice but he did, we Russian girls wore beautiful gowns because at least we got paid, not like my Chinese friend Rose, who had to make money in other ways….” she told me half her life lease later in Sydney. Later in Shanghai she married Serge 1933 where they re-met at the majestic Hotel. My father Serge Jr was born 1943 in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation in China. After a successful career as a jazz orchestra leader in the big clubs and hotels of Shanghai: Paramount, Cathay Hotel, Ladlow’s Cassinova, the French Club, Wagon Lits my grandfather Sergei accepted passage on the Chan Cha ship to Hong Kong and then Sydney Australia 1951. Decadent jazz music became unfashionable with the Chinese Communist revolution, but he managed to continue working at the Russian Club, in Pitt Street Sydney. He brought with him my father Serge, his wife Xenia, his musical scores, and one Trumpet. The Australian government gave them a peppercorn lease on a Deco house on Monterey Street in Sans Souci. My grandmother always told my father a young jazz pianist also……”don’t dream about Melbourne “its such an old fashioned town!”…her sister Galya married a British businessman from the Shanghai Texaco Company and relocated there….Xenia and Sergei made the train trip on the Sydney-Melbourne over night express many times.

Xenia Vladimirovna, Harbin, Manchuria, China
Xenia Vladimirovna, Harbin, Manchuria, China

Xenia a Russian Lady from Shanghai

This is a portrait of my grandmother Xenia Vladimirovna Ermolaeff

Eugenia and Vladimir an Admiral in Russian Tsarist Navy, c. 1920

https://cacoo.com/diagrams/LdW6TSyMXa4ZNv19