It was the 20th anniversary of the massive Shanghai Tourism Festival that attracts millions of tourists to the city every year. The festival kicks off with a carnival and float parade with fireworks and then continues through September and October with dozens of diverse events and festivals throughout the city. They include the Souvenir and Gift Expo, the Shanghai Hip-hop Contest, the Rose Wedding Ceremony (for hundreds of couples), and even a German Beer Festival. This year the AEMI World Body-Painting Festival was introduced as part of the Vogue Life Carnival.
I was honored to take part in this bodypainting festival along with a cast of twenty international artists. Since it was the first event of it’s kind there, the Chinese government was cautiously apprehensive about allowing this art form into their culture. At times it felt like we were part of a scientific experiment to see how the Chinese people would react to seeing painted people; would they perceive it as pornographic and inappropriate or would they see it as the artistic vision that we all intended it to be. As ambassadors of bodypainting it was our privilege to share our talents and our goal was to get them to embrace the beauty and relevance of body art.
AEMI president, Chris Wang had previously produced the AEMI World Clown Festival and the AEMI World Balloon Art Competition as components of the Vogue Life Festival, but after witnessing the World Bodypainting Competition in Austria first hand, he set out to introduce bodypainting to the mix. Michael De Prycker of Fantasy-Worldwide was selected to be the organizer for the first annual AEMI World Body-Painting Festival. One of his tasks was to solicit entries from body artists all over the world and submit their portfolios and bios to the Chinese government for final selection of twenty artists. In the planning stages, it was decided that this would be a competition and that fifteen of the artists would be competitors and the remaining five would be judges. The selections were as follows:
Kimberly Buyssens, Belgium
Einat Dan, Israel
Emma Edworthy, New Zealand
Catriona Finlayson, United Kingdom
Mark Greenawalt, United States
Carrie Hoyle, United Kingdom
Filippo Ioco, United States
Birgit Linke, Austria
Lital Nave, Israel
Melanie Rodel, Switzerland
Anita Rorije, The Netherlands
Mario Speleman, Belgium
Craig Tracey, United States
Sabine Vogel, The Netherlands
Bella Volen, Bulgaria
Olivier Zegers, Belgium
Jodi Carr, United States
Karen Mills, United Kingdom
Yolanda Bartram, New Zealand
Clelia Marsadie, Canada
Note: Not pictured are Kimberly, Birgit, Olivier, and Clelia.
AEMI covered all of our expenses for airfare, hotel, three meals per day, and the reimbursement of our visa costs. Regardless of the competition results, we all felt like winners of a pretty exclusive all-expense-paid trip to China. We became a close knit group of friends for the two weeks that we spent together, staying at the Shanghai Ming Zhu Hotel, a government owned hotel that was a short 10-minute bus ride from the festival grounds. Also joining us at the hotel were the rest of the 115 artists making up the dance troupes, the models, the balloon artists, and the performance artists.
I was relieved that English turned out to be the common language spoken by everyone in the group. The only communication issues were with the Asian models, but AEMI had hired several translators to help us as required. There were four European models (Evy Vermeulen, Thessa Suzanne Grol, Christle Tjon A Man, and our only male model Pieter Van Mieghem), one American model (Lena Toney), and about five or six Asian models each day (Ice, Octopus, Landy, ViVi, and Jelly). When more models were needed, we recruited the dancers. There were six male break dancers in the group Come Correct and six female dancers in the group ELDC. Most days they only had limited availability since they were rehearsing for the mini-galas each night and the closing night gala.
Day 1 of the event was held at Yanzhong Park and though the drizzling rain tried to ruin our day, our individual tents protected us from the elements while we painted. The bodypainters and models had the whole park to ourselves. The group was split into two teams and it was the eight members of the ‘A’ team that competed on day 1. The theme was “Welcome to the Future - East Meets West.” The A team had first pick of the models while the B team were free to paint whatever they wanted on the remaining models (within the acceptable limits imposed by the government). Each evening there was supposed to be an outdoor mini-gala where the painted models would walk the runway, but the day 1 gala was cancelled due to the rain.
My model's name was Ice and she was very patient with me. She didn't speak any English and I didn't speak any Chinese, so there weren't any conversations during the painting proecess. My interpretation of the theme was to comment on the recent "space race" that is going on between China and the United States. We both are setting goals to be on the moon by 2020. I thought it might be interesting to imply that "East meets West" on a new common ground in the future and instead of this being a race, we could collaborate and reach the moon (and the planets beyond) together. This painting featured a space mural on the upper torso with an extraterrestrial landscape that wrapped around the model's waist. The astronauts are flying the flags of China and the USA and a spaceship with solar panels floats above. Airbrushed stars and planets complete the mural. To complete the theme of space, I painted the rest of her to look like a futuristic space suit with silver and teal airbrushed paint from Reel Creations. The finishing touch were the accessories of the painted bald cap, headset microphone, and goggles.
Day 2 was group B’s chance to shine on the “East Meets West” theme and this day the weather cooperated with us. Once painted, the models and their artists took a private bus over to Fuxing Park where the rest of the Vogue Life Carnival was taking place. The painted models worked the runway at this evening’s mini-gala. Other entertainment included flamenco and break dancing, jugglers, and the renown balloon fashion show.
I was not competing this day, but I did have an opportunity to work with one of the very talented dancers named Carin Van Den Bosch. You may not be able to tell it from this picture, but she is stunningly beautiful. I'm not sure where this idea came from, but on the way to the park I had a brainstorm that a face full of eyes could be very interesting. It seemed like it would be a fairly quick face painting, but I added a lot of detail so it took much longer than expected.
Here is a photo of some of the bodypaintings from Group B for the East Meets West theme:
Day 3 was a free-form day for both groups A and B. Since there was no competition everyone took the chance to practice their art and showcase their skills. A favorite painting of the day was Yolanda’s blue and green gremlin creature painted on Piter that displayed the wonderful special effects of prosthetic nose and ear pieces. On the evening of day 3, we were honored with the presence of Zhao Wen, Vice Mayor of Shanghai, and several other government officials for our evening banquet. They were treated to a mini-bodypainting show, a balloon fashion show, and several other performances.
The incredibly talented bodypainter Einat Dan is from Israel. I had just seen her work in Illusion Magazine so I was anxious to meet her. On Day three she decided to take a break from painting and wanted to be a painted model instead. I was thrilled when she asked me to be her painter. I had planned on doing a liquid latex leather jacket with Bruce Lee painted on the back. Once she heard the idea, she worked with Lital to make her hair wild. I used Maximum Impact liquid latex for the black and red jacket and then painted the Bruce Lee figure with the new Lux airbrush paints from Mehron. The metal studs and zipper were glued on last. The painting was a hit with the Chinese officials who kept pointing at the painting and saying Li Xiao Long. I didn't understand them, but they were pointing and smiling when they said the phrase so I assumed that they were giving some kind of compliment. I later asked Daisey, my favorite translator, what they were saying. She seemed confused that I didn't understand them, she pointed at the picture and said that is Li Xiao Long and I said, no, it's Bruce Lee. Together we figured out that Bruce Lee is his American name and Li Xiao Long is his Chinese name.
Here is a fun picture of a government official being "attacked" by Yolanda's gremlin bodypainting and prosthetics on male model Pieter. The other model is Evy with a body art design by USA's own Craig Tracy.
Day 4 was moving day. The government had decided that bodypainting was, in fact, ART! and that it would be OK to move our tents from Yanzhong Park to Fuxing Park so that the larger crowds would see us. Unfortunately the largest crowd that came into the park was only about 200 people in a venue large enough for several thousand. Everyone had a late start, but there were still some great bodypainting designs completed.
My painting for the day was another free-form bodypainting on one of the beautiful European dancers named Gea Catharina Maria van Nobelen. We were going for a superhero/animae/alien-esque motif. The alien texture was created using a silicon crack stamp designed by movie magic make-up artist David Ayers and I experimented with the new rainbow cake that was in our welcome bag from Diamond FX. The glitter mask was applied with spirit gum and the accessories included a black tank top with long fingerless gloves.
On day 5, the theme was “Street Performance, The Art of Surprising People!” and both groups were competing together. Some of the best paintings were completed this day and all of them were prominently displayed on the runway. Bella Vollen painted an absolutely beautiful giraffe on a male model. This painting alone made her a top contender for the first place trophy which she ultimately earned.
We were given the themes about 2 months before the event so we had some time to brainstorm ideas. At first, I was having trouble thinking of an idea that fit this theme, but I really liked the idea of a human painted as a statue that would be a street performer who would later "come alive" to surprise people. Next I wanted to decide what material the statue should be painted to look like (concrete, marble, gold, copper, etc.). While doing a google search for "famous statues in Shanghai", I came across several images of the famous Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, Denmark. I started reading the article to find out why it was coming up when I was searching for Shanghai and I was really surprised to find out the answer. This famous statue was going to be moved to Shanghai next year for the World Expo 2010. I knew I had found my theme!
Everybody wanted to work with model Evy Vermeulen each day, but I asked her to reserve this day for me if at all possible. I knew that she would be perfect for the role since she had such beautiful classic European features. To help achieve the statue look I had taken an old wig (from the Scorpion King project at the UK bodypainting convention), asked Yolanda to braid it for me, and then pasted it down with liquid latex. Yolanda also came to the rescue again with the prosthetics for the breasts that were absolutely perfect for a mermaid statue. I went to the marketplace to buy a copper colored scarf and cut out the fins and glued them to her chins. Evy was then airbrushed from head to toe with copper paint from Lux. With just this one layer of paint she looked like a brand new shiney statue, but I wanted to add texture and weathering to make it look more like the real statue. I used a sponge with darker bronze paint and then with teal paint to give the effect of patina. Of course a few drips of white on the shoulders indicated either lots of weathering or maybe bird droppings (you decide). For the photo we were very fortunate to find a large rock in the park for Evy to strike this pose, but I will admit that I had to add the water with Photoshop (hopefully I fooled you). Here is a picture of my bodypainting and the real statue side-by-side.
Here are two more shots of this painting.
On day 6, the theme was “Shanghai World Expo 2010” and again both groups were competing together. It was very interesting to see the different interpretations. Several paintings included the Shanghai skyline and several included the mascot for next year’s Expo. Sabine’s painting paid tribute to her home in Rotterdam and it’s involvement in the World Expo. Carrie’s painting included scenes from around the world and a neatly hidden “Made In China” that was revealed on stage when the model hiked up his britches in the back. Again, all of the artists brought their “A” game and the bodypaintings were well received at the evening’s gala.
I chose an Asian model named Landy for this project. The motto of the World Expo will be "Better City, Better Life" and an underlying theme is sustainability. For my day job as and electrical engineer, I design energy efficient buildings and I recently became accredited as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) professional so I decided to incorporate architecture in my bodypainting design. I checked with the marketing department at my Architectural/Engineering firm and found out that we had designed a building that is slated to be constructed in Shanghai! What a fortunate coincidence. This building became the anchor painting on the back that represented the future and the current skyline of Shanghai was painted on the front. Knowing that most people would be viewing this painting from far away when the model walked on stage, I wrote "2010" in a very large font on her upper chest and then used glitter to spell out "expo" knowing that the stage lights would make it sparkle. Another fun feature of this painting was the LED lights that I glued onto the model that were battery powered to shine in the city skyline.
I had started to paint the skyline on Landy when she wanted to ask me a question. Again Daisey was able to translate for us that she wanted to know what I was going to paint on her face. I told her that I had planned to just make her face glamourous instead of painting a picture on it. I could tell that she was very dissappointed. I think she really enjoyed the masquerade of wearing a painted mask. I told her I would come up with and idea. Shortly thereafter, Michael of Fantasy Worldwide walked into our tent to show us a deck of playing cards that he had just bought that had all of the painted faces from the Chinese Opera and BAM! there was the idea I was looking for. I let Landy pick which face she wanted painted on her.
I didn't really have a game plan for the arms or the legs, but I did bring along some material that I used on a body sushi project several years ago. I thought it might make a nice headress or cape. As I held it up to Landy trying to figure out what to do with it, she motioned for me to hand it to her and within minutes she crafted this beautiful slit dress. I did loose points for not painting her legs, but I did initially plan to paint black stockings with a tiger print since the year 2010 would be the year of the tiger. Instead of stockings though I changed my mind and just painted a tiger tattoo. The arm designs were not planned out in advance, but instead I wanted to incorporate some of the local culture that I had seen during my stay in Shanghai and coordinate it with the dress material.
Day 7 was a little more laid back and the theme was to incorporate balloons into your work. This day was more of a jam than a competition. Several of the balloon artists were on-hand to create balloon accessories for each of the paintings. Kimberly painted Yoda on a model’s back and the balloon artist created a Darth Vader head piece made of balloons. Mario and Olivier stole some of the spotlight with a Freddie Kruger and Chuckie homage that came complete with small balloons filled with red paint attached with liquid latex to a baldcap like boils.
My concept for including balloons in my work was to paint the photograph of the Hindenburg disaster that was featured on the cover Led Zepplin's first album. I used to really enjoy doing pen & ink artwork and one of my favorite techniques was to use stippling. This is making an image that is made up entirely of dots. I had never tried this with a bodypainting so I made it my challenge and I was lucky to have a very patient model named Thessa from The Netherlands. I used Lux airbrush paints for the base coat of white and then used Wolfe black for each of the painted dots. Making this into a T-shirt was actually an afterthought that I came up with half way through the painting. I decided to add the Led Zeppelin logo on the back and also added the symbols for each of the band members on the front.
Late in the afternoon each of the models and artists were brought on stage for the announcement of the overall winners of the event. The judges indicated that there was only one point separating Bella’s 1st place and my 2nd place and an additional point separation for for Einat and Mario’s 3rd place tie. It was a very close race and the judges were faced with some very tough decisions with such varied styles and techniques. The prizes included Chinese crafted trophies, a deluxe case of paints from Einat Dan, an impressive collection of paints, glitters, sponges, and brushes from Fantasy, a selection of prosthetics from Body FX, and of course a priceless subscription to Illusion Magazine! To see the work of some of the world's top bodypainters was very humbling. I was thrilled receive this trophy for second place in the AEMI World Body-Painting Festival in Shanghai, 2009.
Day 8, the last day, was at one point going to be a free day to go see the sights of Shanghai. The Chinese government, however, asked if we would do one more competition of just facepainting. We obliged. Birgit and Anita both painted stunning dragons (Anita’s was painted on Craig Tracey’s face) and Bella and Einat painted very intricate designs. Sabine took first place with a feather mask painting that incorporated real feathers and feathery eyelashes, Lital took second with a flowery design in black and white with blue accents and added glitter and jewels, and Catriona placed third with a ying-yang design made up of black, white, and blue paisley strokes.
This was my day to work with our male model Pieter from Belgium who was really a crowd favorite with his antics and outgoing personality. I found out that he was going to be bodypainted as a tree for the spectacular gala event later in the evening. I thought that I would do a face painting that could be used for the event if he was able to keep it on all day. I used Wolfe FX silicone to make the 3-D bark effect and then used some cotton and Maximum Impact liquid latex to make the tree knot. After the afternoon facepainting competition on day 8, most of the bodypainting competitors left the festival grounds to shop and sight see. Meanwhile the bodypainting judges went to work painting the performers for the evening Gala including Pieter and Evy, who were painted as trees with fall leaves sprouting from their heads and hands.
The break dancers were painted as skeletons and all of the female dancers and balloon fashion models were given either glamourous face make-up or decorative facepaint to accentuate their characters. The theatrical production was called Elementz and it was truly a first class show complete with a love story that showcased incredible balloon fashions and set decoration, wonderful dancing and choreography, and a sound track that was wrought with emotion. The bodypainting elements were subtle in the production, but added delicious icing to the cake.
Although the above journals the time spent at the festival, it can’t begin to share all of the fun and adventures that we all took part in during our free time in the evenings. We went in groups of eight or so to the karaoke “bar”. I use the word bar loosely since it was more like a living room that we rented out with our own private karaoke system, but yes, there was some drinking going on and there are a few pictures on the internet that prove it. Many of us went shopping at the market places and visited the Pearl TV tower. Sabine and Anita visited a zoo and got to hold baby tigers. We hit some nightclubs some nights and stopped at Tesco other nights to buy wine and sit in the lobby to chat.
The food was often the topic of discussion and we ate most meals together either at the hotel or at the festival grounds. Breakfast was a buffet that included about five things I recognized and twenty things I had never seen before. I tried a lot of new things and it was really “hit” or “miss”, but it was always interesting. Our lunches were TV diner trays with a main course and three sides. I usually liked at least two of the items, but I won’t comment on the others except to say that it was rumored that one day we had monkey brains. Supper was served family style at the hotel and again I tried to take in as much culture as I could stand. I’m a fairly picky eater, but I found enough that I liked to fill me up. Filippo lobbied to get our group moved into the higher-end piano bar restaurant for the last couple of days. The food there was much better, but I still had to draw the line at the large snails in the soup.
We will fondly remember this Shanghai event for the rest of our lives and some long lasting friendships were forged there. Next year when Shanghai plays host to the World Expo, the exposure will be greater and the event will grow exponentially. I truly hope that I get the opportunity to join in the fun again next year and I highly recommend it to the world’s most adventurous bodypainters.