Friday, September 29, 2006

The Trouble With Physics

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a review copy and probably the only copy of The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin, in China. For those who don't know, this is one of two books recently released which some members of the media and blogosphere have picked up on and claimed as some sort of death knell for string theory. Peter Woit's book I can't comment on but having read the hype and occasional bitter comment about Smolin's book I was pleasantly surprised by the content.

Firstly, it's a well written account which is clearly a personal viewpoint on a controversial issue. The fact that Smolin makes it clear throughout that these are his views is an important one. He also points out that his aim isn't to stop all research into string theory but to allow more ideas which aren't string theory into the picture. Clearly there's a bias in everything which is said but that's because Smolin is a human being and will be affected by his personal experiences as well as his belief in what is real science. As has been stated many times all over the blogosphere and should be noted immediately is that string theorists will stop working on the theory when one of them, or someone else comes up with a promising alternative. Smolin's point is that the current socio-political structure of science is not conducive to such alternatives.

The book starts with a history of unification in physics showing that every revolution has been due to taking two, seemingly unrelated ideas and showing that they are really one. He follows this with a list of some of the remaining questions which we may need to answer in order to 'understand' the universe. This is a preemptive list which, having explained string theory in a concise but clear way, he goes on to explain how he feels that string theory has failed on most of these points. His problems with string theory are clear and although I agree with some of his comments, many I'm not convinced about. Unsurprisingly, as a physicist working in the domain of background independent theories, the fact that string theory is currently a background dependent formulation doesn't get his vote of confidence. So, here's a physicist who doesn't agree with string theory (in its current form) - big deal thus far!

One of his concerns is that the theory hasn't been "solved" yet. Indeed it has been stated many times by people both inside and outside string theory that we don't really know what string theory is yet. His point is that we've been working on this for over 20 years and we don't seem to have answered many of the fundamental questions which are quickly raised.

My personal feelings on this subject are that any truly fundamental theory which contains both QM and GR (or something like them as Smolin would like to believe) is going to be far more mathematically rich than theories which have been developed previously. The idea of understanding the structure of highly curved space-times requires us to go beyond what we can conceive by several orders of magnitude. Such a vast increase in complexity, even if it does come in the form of an 'elegant' theory is surely something which will also take us much longer to understand. If we come to the point where string theory is no longer progressing I can see this as a much stronger criticism but since the second superstring revolution there has been major progress in many areas.

KKLT type approaches and the landscape usher in a new kind of science whereby the theory may in many ways be far less predictive than previously thought (predictive in terms of the constants of the standard model), however, Smolin argues that this work has its origins in simplifications and unknown assumptions. If this is the case then surely this is a prime area to be studied in more detail in order to really understand what the landscape means. Secondly the idea that if the landscape is truly a result of string theory then just because we don't like it we should throw it, and the rest of string theory away seems ludicrous.

At this year's Strings conference there were talks on brane-induced inflation (KKLMMT) which offered falsifiable predictions. This will not falsify string theory if the signatures aren't found but if they are then it's certainly compelling evidence. You can read my former posts on the talks from the string theory conference as to what other progress has been made in the last year.

I think that it's also important to note that the claims that string theorists aren't concerned with experimental particle physics (something which Smolin admits is a generalisation) should be contrasted with the fact that a call was made at this years conference for people to get involved more and more in the LHC. This order from the more senior ranks is an encouraging sign which I hope will make more string theorists aware of what is going on in the wider community. At TASI 2005 a significant number of lectures were dedicated to collider physics, the supersymmetric standard model and calculations of multigluon amplitudes from twistor theory.

So, Smolin criticises string theory though I don't feel that he rubbishes it - he claims that he doesn't think everyone should stop string theory and start something new. I think that it's vital for people to raise questions about a topic which has such a proud community. From my perspective, string theory is an exciting, promising theory but it's healthy to be accountable. I think that currently it has a strong argument for many people to be researching it.

He talks in detail about this community and talks about its structure and politics, and the fact that very often directions of research are dictated strongly from the top and that people who want to work in other areas may find it harder to get positions at the end of it.He also points out the two of the greatest steps forward in the last ten years have come form two young researchers, Bousso and Maldacena. I don't know what sort of pressure was laid on them to work in particular directions but clearly there is room in the community for exceptional people to make breakthroughs. As I'm somewhat detached from the bulk of the community of which he speaks, I don't know how much dictation there really is from these 'higher authorities'. Having spoken to many young US researchers at TASI, they all seemed to have ideas and directions of their own.

He speaks briefly about the concept of groupthink, though he quickly acknowledges that this is a simplification. Any social commentary is going to be up for criticism simply because such self-examination will have biases due to very many factors. I feel that with all of Smolin's book, as long as one acknowledges that this is the view of one man, be it a man who has been on both the inside and outside of the community, and not a sudden realisation of the particle physics community that it has completely failed itself, that this book has some interesting messages. Whether or not you believe Smolin's particular ideas about quantum gravity, evolving universes or the foundations of quantum mechanics, my own opinion is that it is clearly vital to have some new and perhaps radical ideas thrown around, and not just by the 'outcasts' who come up with them. Unless the community accepts and rationally discusses the views of outsiders and alternative insiders the chances of breakthroughs from surprising directions will surely be less likely. The contrast in the book between craftsmen and seers is a nice one and the handwaving budget estimates whereby a larger percentage of more unusual ideas are allowed on the table is a low risk, high yield exercise.

From my own point of view as one who straddles the boarders of the string theory landscape and QCD phenomenology I feel somewhat distanced from the core of the community (also because of my geographical location). The subject I work on is one that seems to be progressing year on year and for this reason I don't feel any hesitation in continuing this line of work. I feel I can make genuine steps towards a goal that is easily stated.

Just as Smolin intimates, there are more foundational questions which I would love to delve into and play with but the current pressure to publish papers in areas in which you will be noticed and the competition for the next position simply doesn't allow the time or freedom to do this.

This is a book written by a scientist about a subject from which he appears to have been excluded, initially by himself and then the community (by some but not all). This makes an unbiased view of the current climate difficult but I think that Smolin has done a good job given the pressures. This doesn't mean that I agree with everything he says but there are bits in the book which are genuinely inspiring. I doubt that this book will change the politics of peer review or even the decision of a recent graduate to go into string theory or not, but I think that an opinionated view of the current situation must be a healthy thing for the community (not just of string theorists) to take into account. If the string theorists can't take criticism then there is clearly something deeply worrying. There is a flip-side to this argument which says that the string theorists have answered these questions before and this is just another embittered outsider trying to rock the boat. Being outside the US means that I just don't know the answer to this question but my feeling is that within this book are a number of important issues which should be addressed.

Don't take my word for it, have a read but for those outside the scientific community I think that it is important to take into account the personal situation from which Smolin argues. All in all a worthwhile read.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Home from Home

Today's post starts with a bright photo of a fairly typical Hunan dish, which often beats Szechuan for punch though never lacks other interesting flavours to boot.

Shockingly, I've become dad! Not a dad, as far as I'm aware but for a week I've gone into protective fatherly mode. Two of my good friends from back home have just left Beijing having stayed here for a week. Two extremely self-sufficient women who would have survived absolutely fine I'm sure without my help but somehow when people come out here I take on the guise of protector, feeling that a hidden danger lurks around every corner. Despite the fact that together with my over the top sense of looking after my two girls came a new repertoire of dad-style jokes, it's been an absolutely wonderful week, seeing old friends and laughing till the early hours like I haven't done for too long.

To round it all off yesterday we headed for a foot massage which soothed the feet of S and E who had been out for a trek on the Great Wall all day. In a rather murky basement the heating pipes had been decorated with fake greenery and the damp walls had been painted with classical Chinese garden scenes. The place came on recommendation but now that I think about it, this recommendation had been particularly expressive of the fact that this place was cheap. Anyway, 80 minutes of battery and kneading left us all rather calm, despite the television which had smoked and sparked when turned on and the fact that my masseuse had insisted on concentrating on putting all her weight on my lymph nodes. As I contorted in agony, feeling like she was putting red hot pokers around my groin, she asked if it hurt, I yelped "yes" to which she smiled gently and continued a little harder, presumably knowing that it was therefore doing good. S's masseuse kept repeating ba guan to me and when I pleaded ignorance she gave me a look which made me feel like it should have been the first word I'd learnt. Though she repeated it several times I didn't know what she was talking about (though I knew I recognised the word). She left the room and came back with two glass cups, a lighter and some unknown liquid. Of course, as everybody knows, ba guan means the Chinese medicinal technique of cupping which is used in reflexology to help circulation amongst other things. When the masseuse came at S's foot with a blue flaming cup her natural reaction was to back away. However, on the second attempt the cups were securely fastened and the ba guan did its thing. Anyway, the three of us, all rather ticklish, had minor hysterics at various points in the evening but left relaxed and light-footed, if a little dazed.

Before the final night's activities we'd spent a great week, with S and E exploring in the week-days and meeting up in the evenings but with a full weekend. Having been to the Temple of Heaven for Christmas day, I thought it only proper to go to Yonghe Gong, the Lamasery, for Rosh Hashanah. As one of the few working Buddhist temples in Beijing it's a hive of activity with the locals coming and praying for good luck, wealth and health, something that I find distinctly strange knowing the little I do about classical Buddhism. One of the four noble truths in Buddhism being the cessation of craving which leads to the cessation of suffering, many Chinese I've spoken to say that they're not religious until they need something, then they go and pray to Buddha to get it.

Anyway, with the incense burning and people gently milling around, it's a relatively relaxing place despite the crowds. The highlight of the temple is the sandalwood Buddha. At 18 metres tall (plus 8 metres underground) it's the largest carving in the world made from a single piece of wood (plus extra ornamentation). Its size is truly startling and you really have to crane your neck to get the full view.

From Yonghe Gong we wandered to a tea-house near the Confucius Temple and sat down to sample some brews, a little wary of stories of people getting ripped off for hundreds of pounds in these places. However, it all went smoothly and we tried three very different teas, each one prepared in the careful, classical style appropriate to it. The three teas we tried not only had different flavours from one another but changed their own flavour dramatically over time and with temperature. It's a wonderfully relaxing way to spend an afternoon and the road that leads to the Confucius Temple is one of the last authentic tree-lined avenues left in the city, making for a pleasant stroll after your thirst has been sated. We only spent an hour or so in the tea-house but you can easily spend two or three in there as, once they've explained about the tea and its subtleties, they will continue to refill your cup as long as you have room for it.

Onwards to the theatre where we watched a sometimes spectacular, sometimes farcical but always enjoyable display of Chinese acrobatics, Kung Fu and Szechuan mask changing. Impressive diabloing and body-crunchingly confusing contortionism was contrasted with Kung Fu masters hitting themselves over the head with metal poles and getting attacked with swords. The farce came from the fact that though they were clearly very good, they kept mucking up routines, dropping cups, hats, swords and each other all over the place which only added a dimension to the enjoyment.

As we still had some time before the clubs started to fill up we made our way towards Gongti (The Worker's Stadium) along a lantern lit avenue which must have had somewhere around two or three hundred restaurants of all styles, from Guandong to Russian, from Arabic to Yunnan. We went for the latter and though the menu was full of the most incredible delicacies, we were all pretty stuffed from lunch and had a light meal. I will have to go back there some time soon and try the dishes of bee pupae and bamboo worm which look exquisite. The fried milk snuff I'm not sure about but will probably give that a go too.

Our final appointment for the evening was a trip to show S and E the Beijing clubbing scene and so we decided on Mix, where one can see all ends of the spectrum of the Beijing style-conscious. This place is also nice as it hasn't got too many expats in so somehow it feels more authentic. One of the things I like most about the Beijing clubbing scene is that though there are people who are there looking beautiful, who clearly know it, there is none of the attitude you usually get in British clubs. People are there to have fun and whether you've just stepped out of Prada or the local outside clothes market, nobody really cares as long as you look happy to be there. From those who really know how to dance (a troupe of modern dancers from my gym) to those who know how to spend money, there's no code and no rules except to enjoy yourself.

This seems to be in rather stark contrast to the night before when we had gone to Sanlitun where there are a lot of expats along with locals drinking far too much cheap booze and occasionally getting aggressive. When I've been there before we usually stay inside in a bar but we found a seemingly nice, cheap spot to sit outside and have a few beers. In the couple of hours we were sat there we witnessed a couple of pretty nasty fights between Chinese and foreigners which included broken bottles and chairs being thrown around. Frankly I'm not surprised that the locals get pretty irate with the arrogant foreigners who come in to take advantage of the cheap drinks, lack of imposed night-life laws and overly affectionate local women. It all sounds pretty extreme but this is the first time I've ever witnessed a fight in China and my feeling is that a night in most British cities will see a lot more action than that.

Anyway, Mix was a complete contrast and we stayed with friends until the early hours having a great time and dancing like fools (I speak for myself, there's photo evidence so I should probably come clean now!).

For anyone looking for a bargain and some enjoyable haggling I would recommend going to the Qianmen street market before it's bulldozed. This was the first restaurant I went to in Beijing, nearby the market:

We spent Sunday with some other English friends buying tea, fans, paintings and other miscellaneous odds and ends which make great presents. Again, having friends out here has given me a boost of confidence for my slow but steady progress with the language. Though I still spend most of my time in a state of confusion I do have moments of lucidity where it genuinely appears that I'm having a conversation.

So, now I have a week in which to get lots of work done, next week is the national day holiday though I shall probably work for some of that too. The current projects are progressing nicely and both the local project with my boss, another postdoc and a PhD student and the collaboration between here, Poland and Japan is making steady, interesting progress. Postdoc applications should really be getting first priority now but the lack of a single definitive deadline is detracting from my motivation to drop the work and get on with what I know must be done. Speaking of which...

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Little More Conversation, a Little Less Action, Please!

Work is going slowly today. The fact that it's going at all is a minor miracle. Sunglasses and very quiet music are the order of the day after a lively night last night.

Through family friends, one of whom is a very well renowned sculptor and the other an academic, I was invited for dinner with a top Chinese science academician. This is a big honor and I was a little nervous about the meeting. Arriving at the Szechuan restaurant we were taken to one of the private rooms, the most lavish I've seen yet, with a round table for ten or so, an emperor's style bed and its own private bathroom. We chatted until the great man arrived. Making small talk and attempting to use a little Chinese, food was ordered and wine procured. The wine was moutai, an infamous devil of a spirit, with a price-tag as high as its proof.

(JES can skip the following paragraph)

Amongst the dishes was a new one for me. I can now tick camel off the list of the weird and wonderful. Camel foot is a strange combination of textures and flavours, it's a little tough with fatty attachments and doesn't taste all that strong. In searching for information on how it had been cooked I came across this website boasting information on some of the world's strangest foods. I'm doing pretty well, but not that well apparently. Doing a little research on wikipedia it turns out that while the camel does not fall under the cloven hoof criteria, it is considered unclean and banned in the Torah. It also appears that some recent cases of eating raw camel liver have resulted in human plague, great! Most camel meat is extremely fat free because almost all the fat is in the hump, however it appears that the foot still has its fair share.

Toasting in China is big business and when the host toasts in your direction you drink. Our host likes his Moutai and can take it. Somehow whenever anything of any positive nature was mentioned, be that food, mountains, friends, Chinese history, Moutai, travel...we drank to it. Gambei is the equivalent of bottoms up, so every toast you finish your drink. After 15 or so I lost count and it was only because of the speed of consumption and relatively early finish to the meal that I didn't have time to embarrass myself completely. I really enjoyable night chatting about many things, meeting new people and trying some new delicacies, until I got home and paid the inevitable price.

Still, I'm in work and attempting to finish the calculation that I started many months ago with my Japanese collaborator. Life and other calculations have simply got in the way but I now want to push to finish this one off.


Away from tales of dangerous Chinese liquors I have a couple of good friends staying here at the moment, having arrived at the beginning of the week on the train from Moscow. I'm still not sure what they thought of the trip which I'd like to take some day. Six days going through what sounds like rather barren countryside on a very dusty train with just a few minutes here and there to buy supplies from the platforms seems a bit too quick so I would hope to stop off a couple of times on the way to see what little there is to see.

One of these friends is not only vegetarian, a problem in itself in China, but she's also exceedingly allergic to nuts. So much so that she carries a needle round with her in case of going into anaphylactic shock . I've given her a Chinese note to be taken round at all times and shown to waiters wherever she goes to eat. Thus far she hasn't been laughed out of a restaurant by what is a rather rare request here. I'm told that there are very very few Chinese people with this particular allergy, I fear I may know why!

Plenty of photos to put up soon but I should be finishing this mathematica script for now.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A little Less Gassy

It's far too late and I'm in the office so this will be a short one. Beijing clearly has a problem with pollution as many of the photos I've posted in the past show. The authorities are doing some things to relocate the problem and some things to solve the problem. One of the things I noted when I arrived here first was that most of the buses here run on LPG, a much cleaner form of fuel. I was even more impressed however to see a fuel cell bus today. In a city choking itself to death this is definitely a step in the right direction. If only they could do something about the number of horrendously inefficient cars and two-stroke carts that buzz around it would be even better but this is still a good step to be taking. The figures when I arrived were pretty worrying: A million cars on Beijing's roads and little in the way of a used car market. This is simply because few people have owned a car long enough for there to be a market. This means that only a small percentage of people can afford cars. Consequently as the market opens up, the already gridlocked runs are going to become a disaster zone unless something is done about the problem.
I believer that Shanghai's solution has been to limit the number of used cars entering the city though I don't know if Beijing will follow suit. I'll look into it...

Right, a quick post indeed. I'm heading home to finish Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics which I've been sent to review. I won't give the punch line away yet but it's an interesting read which I'll talk about soon.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Coincidentally Disconnected

Another interesting paper today with rather miraculously good results by my former supervisor and his newest recruit here. The idea being that in the AdS/CFT correspondence the asymptotically free UV of QCD will not be well modeled by classical supergravity, so this region of the space is simply removed with a cutoff. Using techniques often used in lattice QCD where artifacts of finite lattice spacing are important, irrelevant operators are introduced and tuned to fit data. What's impressive and perhaps surprising about this work is that with this technique, the resonances of the rho meson are predicted to around one percent. Indeed, the correct high 'n' scaling derived by Karch et al is demonstrated numerically. The anomalous dimension of the operators in question is studied briefly answering some questions about the validity of this approach. AdS/QCD is a really exciting area to be working in with genuine steps forward being taken all the time.

I've just returned from what was nominally called an English lesson, but in reality was a meal at a very fine restaurant chatting and occasionally writing down a phrase or word for clarity. This is an exceedingly enjoyable way to spend one evening every couple of weeks and because my student has had amazing opportunities to see and do things in China which are beyond the scope of most, I'm also learning as we go along.


I was hoping to write about the huge festival held this weekend in Chaoyang park where Supergrass amongst others were playing, however, consigned to my flat, moping around with a throat infection and miserable cold meant that I resigned myself to reading a book on the history of mathematics rather than jump and mosh with the best of them (not that I've ever moshed in my life). The book is actually a simple highschool level text (perhaps occasionally undergrad where it turns to number theory and logic) the key is that concepts are introduced alongside the original texts on the subjects, be they by Galileo, David Hilbert or some ancient Sanskrit writings. I'd advise this book as a present for any keen 15 year old who could do with something with a little more depth than the usual highschool text book, without removing any of the content. 15 is a guess as I find it harder and harder to know what would have baffled me and what would have grabbed my interest at different ages.

Anyway, apart from being ill (now much better thanks to TCM) I've been working hard. The lack of science recently on the blog is not for lack of interest on my part. As a blog primarily for friends and family as I get to grips with life out here, in an attempt to keep as many friends interested as possible I figure that a site with as much science as many of the fine blogs on mixedstates (see right for link) would probably not do the job. I also hope that it gives some hint about the life of a physicists outside the office, whether this be a typical one or not.

In terms of science or perhaps scientific communication however, I'm finding internet instant messenger programs (various) to be a gold mine. Though the department here has many very fine physicists, there are few who work in areas similar to mine and the instant connectivity to friends around the world to discuss work related issues with is great. It makes up to some extent for the lack of coffee break physics discussions which we'd have regularly as PhD students in the UK. It may be my lack of language skills but though I see the students here working incredibly hard all hours of the day, night and weekend I don't see the interaction that I'm used to. We may have been particularly lucky in Southampton but, as I've said before, to me that dynamic was a creative and healthy one, just a thought...

Thursday, September 07, 2006


What of this week so far? Well, busy as always, working really hard on an AdS/QCD problem which seems to be resolving itself slowly but surely at the moment. There has been a great deal of work over the last year or so on creating phenomenological holographic models of QCD and two recent papers have offered exciting advances in this field. However, both of these papers admit to having gaps and big question marks in some parts and this leaves a good opportunity to find less than obvious answers to the obvious questions. So, that's what I'm doing together with a postdoc and a student here. It's a fun collaboration at the moment and we hope to be able to get some good results in the not too distant future.

One of my other collaborations is currently taking place between here, Poland and Japan and Skype is proving to be a valuable tool in keeping us all on the same page.

After the trip to the art community (see previous post) on Saturday I headed out to the local Korean pool hall followed by a local club. It's currently fresher's week here in China though there weren't any signs of that in the club as there would be in England. On my campus there was the usual set of fresh-faced, slightly nervous looking new students though there was a definite absence (at least from my slightly detached point of view) of the debauched goings-on which seem to go hand in hand with a European first week at university. The lack of piles of vomit, overly self-conscious girls with far too much makeup, and recently bestubbled boys looking rather pleased with themselves did little to make me homesick.

Other than that, Monday evening was a good, three hour session of English corner which is continuing to be a great source of enlightenment for me in terms of the student's lives and thought patterns. All of their English is good enough that really it's a chance for us to chat and find out a bit more about everyone's ideas and backgrounds. Starting off with a debate about business ethics, we quickly got sidetracked into many issues, both personal and global and finally we had a game which was essentially 'truth or, er, truth'. Next week I suggested we all go for a picnic in one of the Tsinghua University parks which should be a nice break from the office.

Yesterday evening I was due to start teaching private English lessons once a week, though my student was stuck in a business meeting leaving me time to sit in the office and continue increasing the number of mathematica files stuffing every nook and cranny in my computer.

Today was my first Chinese lesson for almost four months and I was happily surprised to see that although my written Chinese has deteriorated, my spoken Chinese has increased a great deal in the mean time. Generally I speak my best Chinese in taxis where I have nothing else to do and the drivers rarely speak English. It's a good chance to run through some topics which I'm likely to know most of the vocab for. With a little under half my time here already elapsed, I do want to concentrate on the spoken side so that when I leave I can at least hold a basic conversation which isn't just about where someone's from and whether they've eaten their lunch or not. I WILL get there!

Tomorrow I must devote to finishing a research proposal I'm currently writing for a postdoc application. It's a long process but good for getting a lot of my thoughts in order. Anyway, again it's getting late in the office so I should head back for a bit of reading and a good sleep.

In the mean time, thank you to Uncle Pee for sending me a link to this superb juggling video from the World Juggling Federation. Having just been giving an excellent five ball set I now have something to aim for, though I need a really really big telescope to see it. Five ball Mills-Mess (as seen on the video at 26 seconds) is my aim for the next five years. Seven club juggling I will need to lose both my job and my sanity to aim for.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Blooming Art

Well, that was a truly spectacular afternoon! During the week I received a rather anonymous e-mail inviting me to the opening party of a gallery at the Dashanzi art district. Presumably I left my e-mail address when I went to one of the galleries for a Christmas Eve party last year. Though it was a superb evening spent with a group of extremely enthusiastic architects from Singapore and Macau I had been a little disappointed in the 'art'. In effect we were in a design gallery, though really the design was a production company which made extremely authentic looking copies of classic furniture (by classic I mean 20th century classics). All very impressive but it seemed a little too reminiscent of the reverse engineering for which China is rather renowned for. At the time we had arrived there around midnight and left in the early hours of the morning so I hadn't got much of an impression of the site.

Anyway, I figured that I should give it a second chance and head to this party which I thought might be kinda fun. I headed off on my own to the other side of the city, hoping that the jeans and t-shirt wouldn't look to strange at an opening party for a new exhibition, I needn't have worried, but more of that shortly.

The 798 Galleries art district is set in around a square km of fifty year old former munitions factories and military installations. Since these have been decommissioned, over the last five years artists have descended on the area in hordes setting up around fifty studios in everywhere from the vast spaces of the former factory halls to the offices of people who worked there.

The result is the most spectacular art space I've ever seen, with an amazing vibrancy and excitement in a land where personal expression has historically been very difficult, if not dangerous. The combination of heavy industry with a newly blossoming scene of every sort of art imaginable is truly startling.

I first headed to the gallery which promised the party. In fact this turned out to be the smallest gallery I found which had just four paintings and two people (one of whom was me and one of whom was the artist, who I spoke with briefly). After that I spent a marvelous few hours wondering the maze of alleyways along which you stumble upon a plethora of interesting, often shocking art installations. Anyone who's in China and is interested in contemporary art must go and see this place. This ties in nicely with 'The Shock of the New', which I'm reading at the moment, a journey through the last 100+ years of modern art and is one of those wonderful books which not only teaches you about things you never knew before but also puts a new and exciting light on those things you do know about. Split into eight chapters, there's far too much to discuss about the subject on the blog so, again, I just recommend anyone interested in learning more about modern art, its interrelationship with politics and changing society and so many of the motivations to read this book.

Anyway, unsurprisingly I took a lot of photos at Dashanzi and so put them here with a few captions.

The German designed Bauhaus buildings still have the Maoist slogans above the modern artworks. I think that these spaces are some of the most dynamic, exciting ones I've ever seen for such exhibitions
One studio was devoted to the deconstruction (both physical and theoretical) of the chair.
Many of the studios are set-back or hidden along the alleyways, their position indicated with big signs jutting out into the narrow thoroughfares.

The pipes presumably taking fuel, water and other chemicals to the factories still run above the pavements, now occasionally adorned with their own decoration.

Bo Nie's Exhibition 'Parallel World' at Liana art space.

There are still some factories and now, new high-tech businesses springing up in Dashanzi which is a really worrying sign for the community which is on precarious ground in terms of their security here. Things are really not looking good and it will be a crime against the culture here if this area is bought out and redeveloped as seems likely in the current climate.

The factories which are still here have big piles of their own materials scattered all over the place so even when you're not in a gallery, there are interesting angles and perspectives to peer through.
Sheng Qi, who's highly controversial work gets the authorities particularly jumpy.
You can read more about him to find out what this is all about. I don't feel that I should talk about this here.
The gallery from the outside.
Since coming to China my mother has an obsession with photos of mops and I thought that two mops on the parallel bars (not a piece of art) would add nicely to her collection.
What appears simply to be a rather imposing set of sculptures suddenly becomes a much darker installation when seen from behind.

By the same artist is a series of dark, lonely, confused paintings the name of which I can't remember so if anyone knows, please tell me. I found this artists work some of the most powerful in the whole place.
Amongst the old factories are now tranquil gardens with sculpture and seating areas for the Beijing Bobo (Bourgeois-Bohemians) to come and drink their coffee.
I should have brought pencil and paper with me but I didn't know quite how extensive the galleries were. Unfortunately I've forgotten many of the names of the artists so shall just have to go back there to make a more detailed study some day.
This work however is by Liu Wenjiang and Ma Zhiguo at the Soul Art Collection who make some really joyous, but somehow powerful sculptures

I particularly like this one.

I presume that back in the fifties these speakers were used to pipe music and slogans constantly at the workers.
This exhibition about life in the mines by Yang Shaobin, called 800 Meters deep is a stunning mixture of realism and slightly surreal superpositions (At the Long March Space).
There's such a bizarre mix of building styles, some of which have been put up recently between the heavy industrial feel of the older ones.
Unfortunately I've also forgotten this artists name but all of his work was sculpture pebbledashed with miniature people in a sort of inversion of scales.
These pieces at the first sound gallery are a set of photographs taken with no computer post-production. They simply use the effects of warped, reflecting materials to make amazing vortex patterns. Some of them are taken in an art gallery in Chicago and though none of them say what the reflecting surface is, I wouldn't be surprised if there was an Anish Kapoor in there somewhere.
OK, that's it for now. There are as always more things to talk about, including I hope a discussion of a couple of really interesting AdS/QCD papers which have come out recently but they will have to wait for another time.