Printer’s bed­room gave birth to IdleBeats

Shanghai Daily - - ART - Clara Marie Schultz

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

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