I knew of Mimi Xu as a wonderfully creative expert in sound design – which to this point I understood to mean that she worked on sound concepts at the request of clients. When Veronika and I met her for a coffee in Paris (after overcoming the obstacles that were a result of the Nike Marathon taking place in parallel), we realized that she’s working on a lot of other very exciting things.
No wonder – the producer of soundtracks for fashion shows and films grew up in Shanghai and Copenhagen, has degrees in law and journalism. She also works for a number of music labels in Sydney and Paris. (Mamma mia, what a resume!) Mimi also works as a DJ under the pseudonym Misty Rabbit. Since 2014, along with the amazingly trained pianist Rosey Chan, she’s been part of the performance duo known as Carnet de Voyage and thus was part of the 30-day “Station to Station” festival (curated by artist Doug Aitken) the Barbican in London.
These days, she’s part of a performance for the Royal Academy of Art and is also showing two of her projects at the Palais de Tokyo. Reason enough for hey woman! to send Mimi a couple of questions a few weeks ago.
What we couldn’t have known: shortly before the performance terrorists attacked the French capital. The multi-tasking artist tells us about her artistic practice and her experience with these troubled times in Paris.
What sort of performance did you, together with Rosey Chan as Carnet de Voyage, have at the Royal Academy of Art? (Video)
When the Royal Academy (RA) commissioned us on this project, we were really excited about the idea of working within such a historical cultural institution in England. We created a special event and multimedia performance to mark the start of the RA’s 250th anniversary (2018) and the redevelopment (known as The Burlington Project) designed by David Chipperfield.
The performance includes a short film by director Mike Figgis and we live scored it. Carnet de Voyage prides itself on being (wherever possible) site specific so when we visited the RA to learn about the project and the the route that Chipperfield’s “link” was going to take, we decided the best way to approach the concept was by combining music with choreography and filmmaking (with a midnight shoot in the vaults of the RA). In the past we’ve collaborated with film maker Mike Figgis, and we mutually agreed to bring in Zack Winokur a very talented young choreographer from New York. We then brought in four dancers from the Central School of Ballet and three contemporary dancers who worked with Laban and McGregor. It was a challenging yet exciting project.
And what exactly were you considering for the performance at the Palais de Tokyo?
We were given a fantastic space for one day at the Palais de Tokyo (one of the top Parisian contemporary art museums) to create a live performance. The art deco building with some brutalist elements in our space was the starting point for us.
We based ourselves on the concept of acoustic ecology which studies and establishes a sonic relationship between the human and their environment. We would collect noises, improvisations and various sounds throughout the day, harmonise them and construct a narrative by creating a 20 minute performance at the end of the day. It’s like collecting dots all day and connecting them at the end.
Unfortunately, the Paris terrorist attack happened the night before and all museums and performance spaces were closed down the next day. France was in disarray and still is. It was a traumatic time for everyone but we will do this again soon. Actually, it gave us the motivation to write more compositions and overcome these difficult times.
How did such an exciting idea come about?
We formed Carnet de Voyage quite soon after we met at Venice Biennale a couple years ago. It was an exciting prospect to join forces on pushing/exploring the boundaries of live performance by creating site specific projects which uses the frame (architecture) as one of the starting points to our show. Our music has a deep connection with visual art that we incorporate into our performances, tailored to the space.
CDV is about exploration of time and emotions. We combine our original compositions to film, theater, dance, poetry and new technologies such as visual mapping, motion triggered graphics, 3D within an architectural context.
So far our “playground” ranges from Larry Gagosian’s le Bourget in Paris (a former plane hanger re-designed by Jean Nouvel to a 18th century ballroom) at the US ambassador’s residence in Paris or the Barbican Center, part of Doug Aitken’s “Station to Station” 30 day happening. Each time, our performance morphs according to the acoustics, the audience and the design of the space. It forces us to think outside the boxes and constantly evolve.
How important is it to you to be in a cultural setting and how connected is it to the fashion industry? Do you actually want to have a strict separation?
A cultural setting is the most appropriate environment for us as it gives the necessary creative freedom we need to construct a performance and the audience is more culturally savvy than for example a typical fashion crowd. More than just cultural setting, we are also interested in working with extraordinary architecture and get inspired by it. We don’t purposely separate what we do from fashion but there are only very few fashion brands that truly care or understand culture in an un-opportunistic way.
Where do you see Carnet de Voyage in the future?
More explorations with architectural spaces, sound and new technology. We are interested in VR and 4D sound system but they need to be integrated to our journey and be part of our narrative, not just a gimmick.
Is there a dream project that you want to realize?
For us, a dream is never that far away from reality. Let’s call it wish list of spaces we would like to create performances for…
- Fondazione Prada has various inspiring spaces within its OMA designed building. We’d play with some really interesting architectural perspectives.
- Architect and curator Joseph Grima’s RAM house, an experiential habitat which can isolate you completely from electromagnetic fields. We are curious to see how our creativity would function if we were completely unreachable and virtually left in peace.
- Explore the colors and sounds of our extraordinary mother nature and see what comes out of it. Immerse ourselves in the acoustic ecology of a raw environment – the desert would be amazing.
A look back: What has been your favorite moment in terms of your career?
There are many and each one has been a different challenge and strangely pleasurable, it was the same whether we play for 40 people or for 2000 people… We put the same effort and attention to each one to create something special.
In retrospect, what event has been the most impressive?
Impressive in size may be… Our second performance at the Meltdown festival at Queen Elizabeth hall in London. It’s hard to give that perspective from inside. You need to ask our audience this question.
Your agent is in Berlin. How did your collaboration begin?
Our agency Geist is a good fit for us. Its founder, Goli, has a history of understanding her artists. She has a great roster of electronic artists such as Nicola Jaar, Cobblestone Jazz, Soundwalk Collective, just name a few. It happens she is based in Berlin so we will be planning a show there for 2016 for sure.