Dear Shaded Viewers,
Dashilar Alley is the wide hutong in the Qianmen hutong area just south of Tiananmen Square. This is the second year that design and art exhibitions have been staged here and one of the big goals of BJDW’s presence in Dashilar is to convince the city government that this ancient-hutong area is well-suited to this marriage of creative culture and local Chinese business–thus saving the ‘hood from a wrecking-ball fate that has befallen many other hutongs.
Our tour of Dashilar started out in the best possible way: with prosecco and canapes out on the sun-drenched terrace of Capital M, a luxe restaurant with a stunning view of Tiananmen Square, and a delicious lunch inside. (Like Mesh, the cocktail lounge at Opposite House, Capital M is the sort of place where you will always run into members of Beijing’s cosmopolitan crowd of movers and shakers.) As you can see, I was really enjoying the picture-perfect weather, thanks to the Ministry of Weather Modification. Thank you, Communist Party! (And thank you Capital M for inviting us.)
We paid a visit to No. 38 Paizi Hutong, which used to be the residency of Manchu
nobility in the late Qing Dynasty and later was converted into an elementary
school, and then a hostel. It’s pretty run down now and it’s difficult to imagine what the life of a noble was like here way back when.
Some local and international artists were invited to create work here in No. 38. We only saw 2 pieces (above 2 photos) and frankly, I found them underwhelming (I’m mostly with my pal Camille Paglia, who recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal that “the visual arts have been in slow decline for nearly 40 years”). But I did enjoy this jolt of acid-trip color in the decaying courtyard house, at least on a visceral level.
Handsome husky in the hutong!
I love all the jerry-rigged bike-vehicles that the hutong residents create.
And then there are examples of contemporary art that I think are absolutely sublime, like this transcendent chandelier that was installed in The Factory at the far end of Dashilar. The piece is called Milkywave and is by the design team of Rolando Rodriguez-Leal and Natalia Wrzask of AIDIA STUDIO, who have a presence in Beijing, London and Mexico City.
I like the way they describe the piece: “For
this installation we depart with a found object, a quintessential part of the
hutongs’ DNA: the old yoghurt ceramic bottle. We are drawn to it by its
materiality, its concealed transparency and subtle shine. Native to the Beijing
cityscape, millions of bottles circulate the streets uninterruptedly meeting
Beijingers on their corner shop, subway stall or local square. The result is a
collection of 1664 bottles reconstituted into a new entity–familiar enough to
activate old memories and radically new to enable new sensations.
With Milkywave we celebrate the re-use of
mass produced objects as core components for the design of new systems and
Although the artists don’t mention it, I thought Milkywave was meant to resemble a gigantic octopus’ tentacle, like the one from one of my favorite ’50s sci-fi flicks:
Rich Humor by Shan Design Studio. “The common fruit has a mystical inner power. Following this line of thought, we used fruit from the video, which illustrates how to charge an iPod with an apple, a mandarin and a banana, as a base element; changing its colour to silver and gold, thus, expressing the fruit’s inner and outer conflict. The resulting metallic effect,combined with the arrangement of the fruits and the tasty flavour of the fruit itself, presents a unique visualexperience.
Our ultimate goal is to deliver a visual shock. In our culture, we are particularly fond of gold and silver,
viewing these elements as a symbol of wealth. The end result mirrors the Chinese idiom: ‘Gold Mountain, Silver Mountain’, which is often used to express riches.”
Got It by Lulu Li. “My work is a useful and funny response to the DIY video entailing lock picking. Using the technique learnt, I initiated an intervention and hacked the lock to the rooftop balcony door above my apartment (the beautiful view has been a great temptation ever since I moved in). Once through, I placed an illuminated smiley light installation there, and even hosted a small rooftop party too!”
Well, if I did that here in NYC, my landlord would throw me out on my ass!
I will never tire of wandering around the hutongs and stumbling upon sights like this. There’s so much subtle, humble beauty in these old neighborhoods.
I really liked these rubber flower-petal necklaces.
On our first night in Beijing for this edition of BJDW, the international press was invited to dinner at my second favorite restaurant on Dashilar Alley, Tian Hai. (My first favorite is a very local hole-in-the-wall that serves soup with hand-pulled noodles that are freshly made and boiled out in the open in the front of the restaurant.)
While this tower of fried julienne potatoes with jumbo hot chili peppers didn’t elicit the same level of delirious hysteria as the CCTV Tower, nevertheless James Gaddy of Surface magazine and Ana Dominguez Siemens of El Pais whipped out their cameras for souvenir snapshots.
This bucket of fried tofu & fried rice was one step away from being a trough! Oink!
This piece by Brazil’s Campana Brothers was a crowd-pleaser. Titled “Campana Cashew Tree”, it’s meant to be a tropical tree in the heart of Beijing. I liked the way it added a fresh accent of green to the unrelenting greyness and gritty elegance of many of Dashilar’s buildings.
More of my BJDW 2012 coverage: