Monday, June 04, 2007

Beijing Bound: 798 Space

Thus far, being directly exposed to nothing except for Shanghai art and artists, I’ve found the art scene here in China to be underwhelming. I didn’t know whether to blame this on the my previously conceived high expectations, the art itself, the venues the art showed in, or the way in which (some) of the artists/gallery owners presented themselves to us.
The Beijing art scene may have altered this opinion of mine. Of course I had only spent a few hours at most, but what mainly impressed me was the magnitude of art being produced as well as the various different gallery clusters where one might choose to visit-each proving to be its own little community and sanctuary cut off entirely from the city. On our trip, one of the areas I visited was 798 Space.

Quick Catch-up: wah wah. 798 Space is composed of around 300 artists in residence, 50 galleries as well as bookstores, cafes, bars, a tye-dye clothing shop, shops selling smaller versions of giant art pieces, etc. Built in the 1950s, the buildings here are converted factories representative of the heavy industry and Communist ideology that supported electronic technology and flagship for Mao’s vision of socialism. In the 90s, funding for state operated factories were revoked, and buildings were left vacant—making room for independent artists.—(info taken mostly from various sources when googled 798 space)

If you had arrived at this space- on a Sunday at 5, you would have been one of a few hundred artists/viewers/workers roaming the compound-- a surprising number in comparison to the two or three people wandering around Mognashanlu at any given time. The gallery that I took the most liking to was Long March Space. A show entitled NONO was going on—featuring eleven contemporary artists--installation, Video, photography--none in which had any particular connection. Unfortunately I was pen-less at this time and CANNOT remember Chinese artists’ names for the life of me-- sorry Barbara. I took a liking to three videos in the space—in which I’ll describe two: One video flashed at one-second intervals featuring object after object as a voiceover of ‘liangyuan’ repeated in an endless manner. This displayed everything that the artist bought for 2 RMB, and displayed the 2 cents on top of the object in view. Another video I took liking to was a piece where a few performers dressed in camouflage, donned a camouflage dragon suit, and performed traditional dances against a camouflage backdrop.—there was a whole lot of camouflage. The video jumped back and forth in a steady /repeated manner to the men performing with the dragon suit on and then to clips of the men performing without it on- all the same routine in sequence so your mind had to distinguish when exactly what was happening.

There was also a pretty cool sculpture of a dinosaur split down the center and divided into two glass cases enabling the viewer to walk in between and check out the ‘guts.’ Anyone who sees this immediately relates it to Damian Hurst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. Although the sculpture wasn’t a live shark floating in formaldehyde and instead was a representation of a fake dinosaur standing in water mid-high, the grandeur and interactive display made it a more pleasing piece.

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