798 Factory¡¯s great attraction lies in that it has changed square miles of old factory buildings into a formidable live art happening with dozens of gorgeous art galleries. The complex now provides a free sky for creative artists, and has become the representative place for modern art in China. Old system and modern thought have gotten in a perfect combination here.
The Factory¡¯s History
798 Factory was originally occupied by a state-owned electronic plant, and erected in the 1950¡¯s. It was designed by Soviet and German architects, in the Bauhaus style ¡ª a rarity in Asia.
With China¡¯s industrialization process, large plants streamlined their processes and relocated, leaving former buildings unoccupied. Since 2002, a large number of artists began occupying the place, and use it as their workshop.
The area gradually developed into an art center which features a gallery, artists studios, design firms, and fashion shops. In the past two years, it has become the largest and most influential art compound in China.
Walking through the gates, I felt entering into one of those old Chinese monster factories. From outside the building, I could not find any artistic feeling. This totally changed after penetrating in the monster¡¯s belly.
The shock is immediate. Whereas on the outside the factory walls are dull, gray, and most ordinary, inside they are beautified by the most magnificent art.
The first workshop I saw was a very big space. Several canvas painted with vivid colors were on display, signed by an artist named Linda. The theme of the series was little Chinese girls.
The artist used non-objective proportions, generating a stunning visual effect. She must like dogs very much, since if you observe her art carefully enough, you can always find a dog in her works, though it can sometimes be blurred.
By drawing my attention this forced me to think more.
On The Left
On the left side of the factory central alley, there is a line of such workshops. Every one has its own theme. The artists use various materials to reflect their thought: ceramics, paints, photos, cloth, even some scrap stuff. Every workshop is surprising.
I saw for instance a series of photos demonstrating China¡¯s development by showing office desks at different moments in time. I was there, touching history.
There was another series of photos showcasing government and residential buildings in several poor places of China. On one side, you could see magnificent official buildings; on the other, shabby residential projects. The courage of the artist is to be saluted here. This series is an open criticizing of decaying politics.
Another sign of changing times: today, the artists can publish anything they want. Past and present China. Food for thought.
A Hidden News Conference
In a dark alleyway, I observed a cartoon painted on the wall, waving to say ¡°hello¡±. I decided to explore what was veiled in the recess of darkness.
The passage was pitch dark, and silent. At the other end, I passed through a small gate, and suddently entered a studio of large dimensions, crowded by hundreds of people.
A Tibetan artist invited by an American art association was holding a news conference. His works were hung on the walls, and the topics of many animated conversations in foreign languages. Several series depicted the Tibetan Buddha, and Tibet scenery.
I was specially attracted by a group of digital photos which had recorded the entire process of an ice Buddha sinking in the Lhasa river. The regal sparkling Buddha stood alone in the center of the cold river, melting very slowly, until it disappeared in the water.
A sense of admiration for this Buddha rose from deep in my heart. He spent his life defending his dignity, until melted into water. But his noble head stayed raised all along. I thought of our indomitable nation, of the elapsing history.
Too Cool, Too Short
798 Factory closes its gates at six o¡¯clock. I had spent three hours there, yet I only had visited half of the workshops. I don¡¯t know how many more interesting things were still hidden.
Yet another reason to come back and visit! By the way, the visit is free of charge.
This is such a supernatural place, I strongly recommend you spend a half day there. You will not be disappointed: 798 factory is a true source of inspiration.
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