Printer’s bedroom gave birth to IdleBeats
In 2009, while working as a web designer in Shanghai, Nini Sum started to think about getting into screen printing. She started printing in her bedroom, and eventually ended up finding a basement studio space to start IdleBeats.
“I didn’t want to make the name of the printing studio too serious, so my friends and I came up with a funky name more related to music rather than art — IdleBeats.”
Around the same time, Gregor Koerting and his wife had just moved to Shanghai from Dresden in Germany. She had accepted a position in Shanghai; he was looking forward to a “change of wallpaper” as they say in German. Koerting, a freelance visual artist who specialized in murals and illustration had been exposed to screen printing in his hometown, occasionally making posters and flyers for local events, even helping a friend who had their own studio. But Koerting wanted to expand his skill set and work on his own prints in his new home.
A couple of months after starting IdleBeats, Sum put on her first printing event and Koerting just happened to attend. After discussing their artistic and musical tastes, even printing together a few times, their relationship gradually became an artistic partnership that culminated in Koerting joining the studio.
As self-taught artists with no formal training, they both feel that art shouldn’t be hidden away in galleries, but should be accessible to ordinary people.
The duo started out making event posters for well-known underground music venue The Shelter. They created a wide variety of posters that featured many local and international bands. Mostly various subgenres of electronic, rock, punk and metal bands. The posters they printed at the time were often dark, subversive and rebellious, as each poster was specifically suited to the band it represented.
After the initial success of their poster printing, Sum was able to quit her day job to focus on IdleBeats. While constrained by the specific format of band poster, Sum and Koerting had a similar style of printing. However, once the studio became established enough for them to expand beyond commissioned band posters and work on personal projects, the difference in artistic vision and style between the two became more apparent.
Sum is unconstrained by any norms of screen printing and freely changes her printing style as she explores new aesthetic possibilities and forms of self-expression. Her past work ranges from a relatively mundane and aesthetically pleasing series of portraits honoring various minority cultures all over the word, to disembodied skulls in trees and even anthropomorphized reptilians.
She explains: “I learned how to print by running the studio — by working. My style changes with personal growth, now I know more what kind of person I am and where my roots are. I have tried printing the Western way, more experimental ways, figuring out different printing skills.
“But now I have kind of circled back, printing more about daily life and things that are more personally touching to me.”
Koerting’s artistic style is more unified as his artistic inspiration is more consistent, but as unique as Sum’s. Influenced mostly by science fiction movies and books, but also by traditional Japanese woodblock printing, Koerting describes most of his work as “cyber-punk.”
His current series of prints, called “Real Big City,” embodies the cyber-punk sub-genre. Bright neon colors in a futuristic setting with retro vibes, juxtaposed with a degree of chaos and disruption in the social order. Exposing the disparity between daily life in a technologically advanced international mega city and the uncivilized chaos that is the essence of humanity.
The pair has an upcoming gallery exhibition with Dutch visual artist Mara Piccione tentatively scheduled for November 24 at The Space, a gallery cafe two blocks from Metro Line 10 Yili Road station.
Described by Sum as the more “patient and friendly” of the two, Koerting has taken to expanding the screen printing scene in China by hosting beginner classes at the studio at weekends. The class is about gaining experience with basic screen printing in a casual laidback setting. The new studio they moved into this year is a large open space with ample natural light.
Described by Koerting as a “community space” where art lovers can work on their own individual work in a group setting. Participants get to complete the entire screen printing process, from selecting their own digital image, hand drawing specific elements, transcribing it onto a screen, mixing their own paint, to printing the final product on either poster paper or T-shirts.
Participant range from local schoolchildren to foreigners. Those with more experience work independently, as if in their own studio. While those who do not have a background in screen printing can look to Koerting for help and guidance.
As Koerting explains, these classes serve as more than just a way to give people an opportunity to explore the medium of screen printing, and the influx of different people from all over the world “gives us a lot of creative input.”
Over the years, IdleBeats has cultivated a reputation for exceptional quality and creative prowess, enticing hundreds of brands, labels and musicians from China and all over the world to seek collaboration with the studio. This community-centered, yet globalized vision of IdleBeats has made the studio a pillar of Shanghai’s underground music and arts scene.
From a solo bedroom endeavor, to an internationally recognized printing center, IdleBeats has led the development of Shanghai’s screen printing scene though its ever-changing artistic vision.
Nini Sum and fellow artist Gregor Koerting pose in their studio. They started out making posters for events. — Ti Gong