Years ears ago, looking through my collection of travel references mainly teared pages and meticulous cuttings from hundreds of different International magazines ( Internet was not available at that time ) , I noticed a beautiful and colorful Chinese interior . The article was written in French so I deducted that the featured living room belonged perhaps in Paris or Brussels.
It is only a few months ago that, looking back in the carton box I realized I had assumed wrong. The red columns corridor with beautiful Ming sculptures , Suzani rugs and exotic plants was pat of a residence in one of the older Hutongs of Beijing, The house belonged to a Belgian costume jewels designer Jehanne de Biolley and her husband , the Chinese actor and contemporary furniture designer Harrison Liu.
Wow! This is just perfect as I will be heading to China in a month- I am thinking - and if I am lucky enough, I will be able to reach out and ask for an interview. Exited wit my new challenge I call my mum who lives in Brussels and knows everyone in the city . " Of course cherie, her mum and I have an acquaintance in common, Giselle Croes, you know her my dear, she is the owner of the most beautiful Asian antique gallery in town and you have met her recently at the Asian show in New Yortk remember?
There you are, another third degree of separation. But who says it's easy to find them? No easy English website, no Google, just a few Chinese articles, Wallpaper and local Time out. I finally find the phone number and wait till 10 pm ( 10 am Beijing time to call) " Hello? Yes? " Is this Harrison Liu? Yes." " My name is Joelle Maslaton, I would like to talk to Jehanne please"
The grave elegant Chinese voice on the other side of the ocean replies on a reasonable cell connection that Jehanne is not there but I can call later. I ask an e-mail address to better show my work , introduce myself and my intentions. Liu recites a long list of consecutive numbers. " Excuse me? Is this an e-mail address?. " Yes, in China the latest thing is to insert one's phone number as an e-mail address. Thank you Mr Liu, hope to see you soon inBeijing, please do not forget to send me the address of your studio ok?" I say.
5 Weekes have passed and just arrived in Beijing, we are on our way to meet with dear Jehanne who happens to find my Joelle Magazine "very colorful" . Very kindly has instructed our driver and guide Annie about a supposedly easy way to arrive to their studio.
In the middle of a dusty Hutong , the car stops in front of a gate of a possible factory with a few chicken, broken ladders and a cat. I am sure this is not the place I argue with the young guide Annie who nonchalantly ignores my observation eating dumplings and after opening my door leads me into a more dusty alley where cars are forbidden in.
Irritated with the strange situation and frustrated to have been literally ignored, I walk in direction of an old house . A South American lady greets us with effusion and invites us to follow her into a very old stairway in wood to the upper floor, apparently the library of a former Ming temple and now the showroom of the creative couple joint artistic activities.
A small door now opens into an internal attic framed with Ming window panelling . A dozen of healthy and radiant green shrubs in a collection of similar blue- and-white Chinese porcelain planters, is organized asymmetrically as if they were welcoming soldiers.
The surrounding natural light is sharp and blends in with an with artificial array of halogen spots directed to large and very colorful canvases all over the large barn loft filled with contemporary interesting furniture.
Embroidered velvets and Indonesian textiles are masterly displayed s into a large a1900 Chinese Opium daybed.
A handsome and tall man, with a green khaki cap receives us warmly. For a few minutes , impressed by the unexpected artistic oasis in the heart of a hutong, we are unable to sit. The beautiful South American woman, brings a tray with Jasmin tea and getting our hands warm we walk around the room among art pieces and contemporary design furniture in red and black lacquer finish.
" Jehanne will join us soon,. She 's organizing a few last minute things for the Elle magazine visit tomorrow and since we we are working for the Milan furniture showcase the showroom is a bit of a mess, I hope you don't mind he says in a perfect English" ." No, no, no of course not. Please tell us in the meantime about you, I hear you were an opera singer is that right? "
In 1972 , opera singer had become a career , just because ' he looked too good to be in the field, and Mao's people of revolution was in great need to at last to acknowledge " some culture and new performing talents" . With the teachings of Chinese masters Liu learns as a boy for 10 years to sing Italian Opera at the city of Shenyang military theatre in the North of China, cross the great wall , later he is initiated into acting into a military studio in the same province.
Liu finds the acting naturally easy , he believes to have the movie talent and acts during 10 years. He decides through daydreaming to direct his own movies, always sponsored by the government of the republic of China. " Art is from life, if you love life day by day you create art naturally."
Liu then moves to Canada, as a new immigrant he opens a new low budget production company with a friend. In the spare time he offers friends to fixe, curtains, cottages and furniture " easy as a piece of cake and for half their budget - In Mao's time, during cultural revolution half of the year at university, the study takes place in the farms, and learning from real life, so I used this experience in canada, where he learned how to master materials and different techniques for assembling and creating new furniture, Chinese do not ever rest,the are hard workers."
Jehanne comes in,red haired and also wearing a green kaki vest. The phone rings several times and she takes a little moment to accommodate and sit with us at last.
With a strong French accent, she tells me about the beginning of of her career curating Asian artifacts in London and Brussels. ' I was always looking for subjects that would not bore me. Western Medieval tapestry was not her cup of tea." After traveling to Burma and India in 1991 China opens the doors to her and as her Chinese sign is Tiger, against family's advice she decides to move in the country concentrating her efforts into the creation of jewelry and subjects no one ever looked at before.
Her inspiration comes from nature, her dreams and mostly rooted on the research of Oriental and European art, cultures that she still continues to discover through her trips . She admires Belgian Interior Designer Axel Vervoort, loves Hong Kong flee markets, and Tibet. Jehanne starts playing with the crossover of modern jewelry and antique buckles and handbags, improvising lifestyle and clients and her way to meet one day, in a theatre in Beijing, by introduction, her husband who had come recently from Canada as a successful contemporary furniture designer in a modern China to be.
" We are constantly evolving, we are inspired by each other, this gallery with friend's art work is a joint project, the brand new hotel Duge as well." she says. Jehanne does weaving, she loves it but has not much time. " The East West connection give us the right flavor of life "
Future projects? New Shops? 100. 200 employee, a factory, or 1000 employees? 1.000.000 turn over but more responsibilities? liu is thinking if this is what he really wants. After all life's possibilities are unlimited.
Jehanne offers some more tea. Our interview is almost over... but I have another question that intrigues my spirit. I show her the a photo of the magazine I have kept for years.A living room that does not look art all like the showroom..Is it gone? Was it destroyed by the fire? Dis it ever exist?
Jehanne smiles, just because our mothers are aquatinted she will let me in her home close by.. Her educated children open the door and ....like in a magic enchantment, next to a large and colorful Christmas tree the red columns and all objects rearranged appear to me like in the magazine.maybe aged a bit by the cold.
I have made it to my reference page in a world where time and distance no longer exist and this has nothing to do with the internet.
All of us, speak French now including the angels kids.
I feel the power of the creative mind surrounding me and all like never before.
Another temple. Another life.
Jehanne de Boiley and Harrison Liu
Add?Chaoyang shibalidian nanqiao 88 Beijing
Tel? 86-10-51281829?FOR CHINESE? 86-13901246125(FOR ENGLISH)
The Asian Antique store Brussels : Giselle Croes