While we were in Beijing we noticed something present on all our maps titled ‘798 Art Zone‘. After we’d recovered from our hectic time tramping around Japan’s cities by replenishing (bloating) our weary bodies with depravedly large quantities of expertly fried rice, we thought we’d go and check it out.
On the day we chose to explore, it took a while for us to reach the place as we were staying in the Dongsishitiao area and we needed to catch a local bus quite far out. (This part was quite confusing and involved a lot of pointing at maps and hoping people knew what we were getting at.) When we eventually found it however, we wished we’d set off earlier, and here’s why.
The Art District is quite a sprawling site made up of a wealth of disused state-owned factories, and is named after a particular ‘Factory 798’; originally an electronics factory. Since 2002 the area has been repossessed as studios, gallery spaces and work shops, and has become a hub of contemporary art, sculpture, architecture and the like. For these reasons it has rather an agreeable industrial, crusty, moss covered, salvaged, reborn atmosphere and is supporting an ever-growing artist community, who’ve propagated them selves with enviable books stores, bars, art shops and restaurants. The fiends.
We had a nice time wondering around some of the exhibition spaces – one of the halls was showing a collection entitled ‘Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out’ which displayed the video piece(s) ‘Luis, Lucia’ by Joaquín Cociña, Cristóbal León and Niles Atallah – a pair of fairly gothy children’s-nightmare-generating whole room stopmotions, which some might argue are no more sensational than you’re average nisan micra advert, but which I personally am still pretty impressed with. This probably has more to do with the fact I could never be bothered to do it my self.
(watch them here)
The hall next door to this was also showing a large selection of the sort of grostesque, dreamscapey, animal infested painting/scuplture that you might expect to find if you took Matthew Barney’s head and shook it out over a nice white piece of paper.
I was kind of bemused as to why such a culturally important area had developed so far out of the city centre, but as it turns out, around the time that the factories were reborn as studio spaces, anything experimental or innovative being produced was generally frowned upon by the Chinese government. For this reason through-out the 80’s and 90’s beijing’s more avant-garde artists were clinging to the outskirts of the city, slumming it in run down buildings that they were inevitably evicted from, so the transition from here to the district of cheap cavernous workspaces of 798 must have been a no brainer.
There were also giant rubix cubes, giant gorrilla/man sculptures, trees cocooned in wool, a huge bird cage set up for people to picnic in (below), and a hell of a lot of other great stuff which I didn’t bother to photograph because I was enjoying my self too much.
Anyway, it is a historically interesting sight, an incredibly good idea and I am very jealous of every one who has the pleasure of practicing there. If you are in Beijing, Go and see it.