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.


Benjamin said...

Hi Jon. What a week of cultural delights you have had. Those photographs of sun and clouds between Munich and Beijing are staggering. And this is a beautiful tour through some art galleries. I like the laughing Buddha people or whatever they are. Good to see you having fun in China and with this website. I'll be in touch soon, m8 x

Anonymous said...

It's a trap I tell you. Those sculptures are filled with sticks of dynamite.

Unknown said...

Hi Ben, Thanks for the message and the e-mail. It's been a strange, mixed couple of weeks with some stunning highlights. It's amazing how many people I find in Beijing who don't know about some of the really interesting, if off the beaten track, things going on here.

Will be looking out for your film recommendations for sure.


Clearly the next Brian Sewell, I thank you for your kind and thoughtful advice and shall be more wary around innocent looking sculptures with dynamite in next.

All the best,


Anonymous said...

As well as spotting explosives amongst sculptures, I also thoroughly enjoy the spot-the-difference photo competition you included. Does the photo of the hand come with the industry standard 10 differences? I can only spot one so far and that is the photo is of a boy in one and a girl in the other?
Can anyone spot any more?

Anonymous said...

Oh hang on.
The flash reflection is different on top left and right hand corners which makes 3. The reflection half way down is on opposite sides which makes 4. And the amount of length shown of the forearm also differs which makes 5.
Come on!!!
Do I win a prize?

Anonymous said...

That was me who just posted the above comment - thought i'd let you know incase you don't know who to send the prize to.

Unknown said...

Your prize is simply the satisfaction of completing this intellectual pursuit. Congratulations indeed.


Anonymous said...

Talking of prizes - nothing at all has now been posted and shouldn't be getting to you in the near future. Annoyingly, for customs, I've had to list the contents of a certain package so don't read the back of the package in too much detail to avoid ruining surprise.

Anonymous said...

Some truly amazing pix here Jon. I was wondering how to fill my time at work this afternoon, now its poring thru some of the names you've remembered from your Beijing odyssey. Now, if only we could turn Hull's Wincolmlee into a giant industrial arts space instillation (and do summat about the smell)


Loz/Laurie/Mr Eldred Jiggle

Unknown said...

Hi Eldred,

Happy to be able to enthuse anyone. If you find anything in your search that you think may be of interest, please give me a shout. Indeed, if Hull or anywhere else for that matter could create a space with as much dynamism and creativity as this one it would be superb.

All the best,