This year, China in Arles revolves around four exhibitions bearing on the output of the Dashanzi art district – also known as 798 – in Beijing.
Created in 2002 at the instigation of a group of visionary artists wanting to establish a creation/exhibition platform open to the public, this enclave – situated in old Bauhaus-style factories in the northeast of the city – is something unprecedented in China.
In the four years since its founding, 798 has become a locus for socially oriented speculation and dialogue. With the international, multidisciplinary DIAF (Dashanzi International Art Festival), the neighbourhood’s artists and independent curators have organised events that open the site up to the public, at the same time as they have generated debate and even resolved certain problems. The proof that it is possible to initiate new modes of thought and creation in the China of the 21st Century and, by establishing an official existence for the neighbourhood, to preserve an industrial heritage otherwise doomed to demolition.
798 is now the contemporary art site in China, with some fifty artist’s studios, a hundred galleries and another hundred art-related organisations, not to mention a flourishing local retail scene. Ironically it is this commercial expansion which, for the owner of 798, is the sole justification for the preservation of the site, not the presence of the artists, who are beginning to be expelled.
The common denominator in the Arles exhibitions is thus a specific place, but above all one with a spirit of independence that has left its mark on the first four years of the district’s existence. Our ambition is to present output revealing artists’ disquiet at the urban and social changes taking place in China in the 21st Century.
The exhibitions Chai-na/China and Liu Li Tun (originally titled Intimate Beijing) are both exhibitions that were presented at DIAF 2006 and offered the general public major works in an unadorned context before they were taken up and absorbed by the art market. The two solo exhibitions, by Huang Rui and the two Gao Brothers – all three of them considered, for very different reasons, outsiders in China’s contemporary art world – also reflect the district’s major artistic emphases. The iconic 798 figure Huang Rui, who set up his studio in 2001 and got the neighbourhood’s main art activities and public debate under way, is creating a distinctive uvre that is a vital part of Chinese contemporary art. And the photography of the Gao Brothers, whose studio/gallery opened in 2005, remains off the beaten track.
The four China exhibitions at the Rencontres d’Arles are not limited solely to the art coming out of 798. Rather, the intention is to approach an art output that escapes the dictates of a very tempting art market and which points up the creative energy of a generation of artists engaged with the world around them: the first Dashanzi generation.
Project curator: Bérénice Angremy, Dashanzi International Art Festival director, assisted by Marie Terrieux.
Gao Brothers: curated by Janette Danel-Helleu.