Art Seen


A Conversation with ZOETICA EBB of The Secret Guide to Alternative Beijing

By Lori Zimmer

Fall 2012

Considering  I spend oodles of my time working on Art Nerd New York, I am all about guides that go off the beaten path. So when I saw that the multi-talented Zoetica Ebb was teaming up with old-timey glam hostess Shien Lee on a project, I knew I had to find out more. Rather than New York, the pair have joined forces with Daniel Frei to set their focus on the exotic and mysterious Eastern world, specifically Beijing.

Together they are fundraising to start The Secret Guide to Alternative Beijing.  With Ebb’s portfolio of outside-the-box makeup projects, as well as fine art and magazine editing, and Lee’s reputation for over-the-top, indulgent parties where glamour takes center stage (like Dances of Vice), I know this guide is going to whet my creative appetite and inspire me to take the plunge and make my first trip to Asia.

The crew will be deploying to China in a few days time, and have just a few days left on their Kickstarter campaign. I talked with Zoetica Ebb on just what goodies we can expect from this powerhouse creative trio, and what will set their guide apart from the rest. Their project inspires me to push my own projects to the next level, and I can’t wait to see what they create for us.

Lori Zimmer: You’re working with Shien Lee and Daniel Frei. How did the three of you come up with this idea?

Zoetica Ebb: Shien and I have been friends for many years and have always talked about exploring China together. After Shien’s recent trip to Shanghai, she returned with an intense sense of wonder and excitement about a side of China she had never anticipated. We decided we wanted to do everything we could to reveal China’s alternative side to our fellow adventurers, those young people who are excited about travel but bored with what traditional travel guides have to offer. We wanted to cater to people who are interested in more than the tourist attractions, who want to feel the pulse of the cities they visit.

A couple of months into the project, Shien introduced me to Daniel Frei. They had done a spot for a big German network last summer, and she was excited about his background as a documentary filmmaker and his insight into the Chinese contemporary art scene. We knew Daniel would bring the experience and finesse needed to make The Secret Guide really soar, and we were thrilled when he agreed to come on board.

LZ: Why Beijing?

ZE: Actually, we initially planned to do this in Shanghai! But the further we delved into our research and outreach, the more it became apparent that we would be doing our audience a disservice if we only focused on Shanghai. In fact, more than half the folks we connected with there said, “We love your project, but you should be doing this in Beijing!” So we listened. We’ll still be doing a chapter on Shanghai, but Beijing’s art, fashion, and music subcultures are booming to such an extent that we have to devote the majority of our time to this city.

LZ: You’ve chosen to do a video guide instead of a print one, how do you think this will make The Secret Guide even better than the competition?

ZE: We’re visual animals, and while I have all the reverence in the world for the written word and the power of imagination, when it comes to trip planning I like to be as prepared as possible. Speaking as a seasoned traveler who’s faced numerous unsavory surprises thanks to print guides, I think the documentary video format will allow for the sort of immersion and awareness that other formats never could. We want to include a simple reference directory online as well, but the footage is what’s going to engage and inform the most, while also giving everything we cover the chance to speak for itself. There is a certain truth factor to video, while print and photos leave a lot more room for adjustments. Video has to deal with reality much more directly. We want to bring an honest and in-depth report to people, and video allows–or, better, forces–us to do just that.

LZ: You mention hoping that The Secret Guide will spur a flurry of collaborations. Do you hope to also act as a sort of cultural ambassador to facilitate this?

ZE: We’ll be using a vast variety of platforms to distribute our guide, which will bring unique exposure of Beijing’s artists and musicians to our viewers, many of them creatives themselves. One of our chief goals is for this breadth of distribution to promote unprecedented international dialogue and inspiration. As an event producer and promotional powerhouse, Shien hopes to facilitate a creative exchange, and hopefully bring some NYC talent to Beijing and vice versa. As for me, I can’t wait to dive into the growing art and fashion scene, get inspired, and see what happens next!

LZ: Once The Secret Guide is off the ground, are there plans to expand into other ventures?

ZE: We definitely see great expansion potential for this guide! One of our main motivations was to show a different side of destinations which might not yet be on the “must see” lists of young travelers due to stigmas, insufficient travel information, or simply because of a lack of exposure. We almost feel obliged to return and give Shanghai a closer look. Other places that come to mind in China are Tianjin, Harbin, Xi’An, Shenzhen, Chongqin, and Chengdu–all thriving cities with populations in the millions that rarely get any travel attention. Expanding our horizons past China would involve less-frequented cities in Latin America and India. However, as a native Russian, Moscow is at the top of my list. I’m dying to introduce our viewers to ‘my’ Moscow.

Zoetica Ebb is an LA-based artist, photographer, and magazine editor dedicated to proving that life is as beautiful as we make it.


The Secret Guide to Alternative Beijing Kickstarter

Written by Lori Zimmer

Edited by Jonathan Metzelaar

Photography Courtesy of Zoetica Ebb

Design by Marie Havens


Pages 1-4:

All Photography Courtesy Zoetica Ebb

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