Round tripping

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-7-29 9:30:00

By Vera Penêda

The twins vs. the dog bomb by Mercedes Garay. Photos: Courtesy of Transhumants

Chinese twins and a dog with a bomb attached to it walk alongside the soon to be extinct hutong in one of the images that mirrors changing China at the first exhibition at the new gallery Liberty Village Art Center in Songzhuang. A mix of criticism and breakthrough, wonder and anxiety reveals the impact of China on foreign travelers in Transhumants, a collective exhibition that features over 30 artworks by seven artists from Spain, France and Argentina in residence in Beijing.

The assorted selection of artworks in techniques and styles mirrors the first impressions of the artists from different backgrounds, living together and adapting to a new and distinct cultural setting. Adjusting to the fast paced artistic scene in Beijing, foreign artists talked about the discovery of a new market where creative opportunities abound but artworks don't sell.

Creative shock

"I initially was against China and its current system," said Mercedes González de Garay, whose ironical works usually portray social relationships and conflicts in modernized societies. "But I tend to go to places where somehow I'm reluctant to, so that I can learn and know what I'm talking about," she explained.

With a pop aesthetic and symbolic language, Garay's twins and hutong carp on China's one child policy in conjunction with the population boom and the destruction of traditional architecture provoked by the demolition of hutong. "I fear China as a world power because the country is developing tremendously fast with a big imbalance between rich and poor, with mass production of low quality and without a new identity," the 30-year-old artist said.

In Garay's spoof strip, the dog with a bomb is half-stray half-pet, and is leading the characters toward China's unknown future. "My idea of China changed after being here," Garay admitted. "Some of my viewpoints persist but I realized this country is very interesting and has great potential. I like Chinese people, one just has to step a bit away from her mindset to understand them better because the culture is very different," said the artist in Beijing for the first time after stays in Florence, Lisbon, Istanbul, New York and Barcelona.


Landscape 52 by Julio Sarramián. Photos: Courtesy of Transhumants

Julio Sarramián's abstract landscapes stand out as works that could be of a Chinese signature and inspired by calligraphy and Chinese painting aesthetics. "I work landscape, within an abstract and postmodern romantic perspective," said Sarramián. "It's curious that Chinese people often tell me they recognize an oriental essence in my works. Maybe because oriental landscapes tend to represent man's encounter with nature with a magic and romantic connection," added the 29-year-old artist. So far it is involuntary, he said: "But I'm going to be here for two months and I might take some influences from traditional Chinese art."

Sarramián perceives cultural disparity abstractly. "My paintings emerge spontaneously from the subconscious when I'm in contact with natural spots. I hope each spectator finds a way to see his own landscape," he said. The artist said he's still discovering China: "China is an emergent country and an artistic powerhouse, which makes it very appealing and intriguing."

"As soon as you get off the plane in Beijing, the impact is tremendous and you have a thousand new things to soak up," said Carlos Corres, 37. "The first couple of weeks are difficult to adapt but after that, we become sponges," said the artist, who's in Beijing for the second time. For Corres individual traits and behavior are like a map, from which he creates abstract portraits of people that both artist and spectators meet in daily life. "My work is certainly more universal now and I believe that by personally absorbing this culture all our works show an interesting crossbred," Corres stated.

Compared to Diego Sainz's fluorescent punk images that portray the lifestyle and entropy stirring up Chinese cities, C. López Garrido opposes a tranquil and meditative picture of Chinese cities. French artist Tamara Hauvuy's photo series capture the illusions and dreams of Chinese people in a relaxed atmosphere and Abel Robino, from Argentina, the only artist to present an installation, explores the interaction between memory and itinerancy with a group of objects designed for a nomad life. "It's a fresh vision of that new Chinese world which is arousing tremendous curiosity, doubts and intrigue on the international community" as mentioned in the exhibit catalogue.


Red share series by Tamara Hauvuy. Photos: Courtesy of

Clogged market

Artist residencies recently became an alternative way to look for new markets and offer fresh works when financial crisis hit the art market and forced artists and galleries to reinvent themselves. Although an artist residence in China might offer a new positioning and growth to the artists, this hardly translates into sales.

Artist residencies recently became an alternative way to look for new markets and offer fresh works when financial crisis hit the art market and forced artists and galleries to reinvent themselves. Although an artist residence in China might offer a new positioning and growth to the artists, this hardly translates into sales.

Artists said the opportunity to expose artwork to a wider audience; the guanxi and individual growth, are the benefits of spending time in China. "Beijing is steaming with creative energy," said Corres, "Here we live and work surrounded by artists and we can easily make contacts with galleries, museums and collectors."

Although the doors aren't wide open to new foreign art, Corres said the country's economic boom generates possibilities. "Materials are accessible here and the environment drives us to produce a lot. China became a reference to the world and is a great opportunity for us to be here."

"China only recently opened to the world so it's somehow understandable that the Chinese market is very hermetic and Western art is difficult to sell here," Sarramián added. "But everything is more dynamic and that pushes artists to work very quickly," said Sarramián. "Then somebody sees your works at the studio and tells you that you have an opportunity to show them. This doesn't happen in Europe where projects take a long time."


Clockwise: Mercedes Garay; Diego Sáinz; Carlos Corres; cocurator Esteban Andueza; the owner of The Liberty Village, Da Cao; and Julio Sarramián. Photo: Vera Penêda

Creative itinerancy

"Transhumants conveys the idea of itinerancy. Unlike nomadism, it refers to travelers on a roundtrip," said Esteban Andueza, co-curator of the exhibit. "Transhumancy entails a constant interaction between the origin point and the host as well as the establishment of links between both environments in order to improve the cultural and economical status in the involved communities," he added.

Andueza co-curated the exhibition with Judith Arteaga, owner of the gallery Arteaga located in La Rioja in Spain that endorses the International Residence for Artists in the village of Songzhuang. Arteaga regularly sends well-established professionals to Beijing as part of the institution's international program that also includes exchange with Paris and Berlin.

"This exhibition actually developed by coincidence. Artists had one month to create the works and the exhibit was put together in one week," said the co-curator. Unusually, seven artists from Arteaga met in Songzhuang because they all came to China to participate in a series of activities at the Shanghai Expo Spanish Pavilion.

Andueza is particularly happy to promote the exhibit in one of the most genuine local hotbeds for artists: "I believe Songzhuang is the only place that will survive as an artistic residence village after local authorities dismantle many of the artistic clusters in town." Less popular than 798 or Caochangdi, Songzhuang has a thriving art scene and is home to over 4,000 artists, a community that keeps on growing and growing.

For the curator, the atmosphere of this far off village, about 30 kilometers and a 40-minute ride from the city center, can be compared to what 798 was 10 years ago.

"There's a huge community of artists based here who create places to show and sell their works next to their studios. Alongside, galleries and museums pop up but all this is done without a specific art program," he added. Songzhuang is developing fast and while it's showing a postmodern artistic scene, the surroundings still care for the atmosphere of a genuine old Beijing village, for now.


Abel Robino, Carlos Corres, C. López Garrido, Diego Sáinz, Julio Sarramián, Mercedes González de Garay and Tamara Hauvuy. 11 am – 8 pm, until Aug 1 at The Liberty Village Art Center, Xiaopu village, Songzhuang.

Posted in: Metro Beijing

blog comments powered by Disqus