China has got a lot of bad press recently, with Ai Wei Wei’s arrest and the backlash against his experience of the Chinese Government and the capital. But politics aside, on my recent trip I soaked up some great parts of Chinese culture (old and new).
Visiting the Terracotta Warriors near Xi’an was a humbling experience due to the scale, craftsmanship involved, and ambition of the gargantuan project. For those of you hazy on the particulars, it was orchestrated by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, and dates back to the 3rd century BC – he believed creating a terracotta army would protect him in the afterlife.
The army was buried in a subterranean city comprising three enormous pits – still live archaeological sites – with the largest measuring 60m wide and 200m long. NUTS. Incidentally Xi’an, the former capital of Ancient China, in the 6th century was the largest city in the world boasting a population of one million, and was an early example of large-scale urban grid-planning.
China’s current capital, Beijing is a thriving, modern metropolis witnessing rapid progress and development.It can be an overwhelming place to be at times but my highlights included visiting the numerous markets offering everything from ceramic, and textile Chinoiserie, to pampering, and unexpected edible delicacies such as deep-fried scorpions and amazing caramelized sugar lollipop-esque sculptures.
I ventured out to Beijing’s 798 Art District, the former German industrial area where factories have been renovated and transformed into beautiful, raw contemporary gallery spaces (both Chinese and international). It’s a surreal and surprising environment – a sort of art compound – on the outskirts of the city, and a reminder of the amount of foreign investment in the burgeoning Chinese contemporary art scene.
On the subject of international exhibitions, I saw TREKX featuring nine multi-disciplinary London based artists, sponsored by Chinese fashion label AnyWalk in the super swanky Chaoyang area of Beijing. The theme of the work was journeys, and work of note included, Ciara Phelan’s lovely paper artwork installation resembling a cabinet of curiosities and journey into the mind and imagination; Jens Black’s playful animated short film presented as a daydream and escape from the everyday; the excellent ContainerPLUS’ dreamscape installation that conjured up a child’s den; Eb Hu’s motion graphic projection which seemed to echo the frenetic, energy of the city, and Ross Olivey and Ed Roberts-Graver’s documentary about the artists exhibited and their working processes.