What Does Not Stand Cannot Fall: Wang Wei's Temporary Spaces


by Phil Tinari


0. A Radically Condensed Summary of the Exhibition:

Wang Wei, Beijing artist and photographer for the Beijing Youth Daily, uses two weeks and ten workers to build a 100 meter square, 4 meter high brick enclosure on the northeast fringes of Beijing inside a gallery that fancies itself an "alternative space" in a re-developed factory compound that fancies itself an "art district." The kicker is, it's really Wang's brick box that is the "alternative space," as no one can enter. The bricks are delivered on donkey carts by peasants who actually collect bricks from demolished buildings for a living. The artist takes pictures of the box getting bigger by the day, and of the peasants who make it get bigger. When it is at its largest, he holds a big party and invites everyone to the space, where they have to squeeze around each other because there is only one meter of gallery left on each side of this big brick box. Then, when the party is over, the peasants tear everything down and buy back the bricks that haven't broken, at less than half of what they sold them to us for. We all think the bricks are completely gone, and the whole thing is a neat commentary on construction and destruction and the leave-no-traces state of development in the capital. But the photographs, unlike the bricks, are going nowhere.

1. Brickmongers and Bobos Between Fourth and Fifth


It is summer. It is hot. They are holding blunt-edged butcher cleavers, hacking rhythmically at the mortar left mostly on the bottom surface of whichever brick in a very large pile they happen to be holding. Let's call them brickmongers, charged with salvaging the cells of buildings that have passed their expiry date and selling them at a margin. There are dozens of them, squatting in clusters atop the wreckage of some recently demolished homes. Donkeys, carts, and donkeys strapped to carts wait around the edges of the pile. It is 8 a.m. and they have just finished eating lunch; they have been up since 3a.m. Every fifteen minutes or so a man with a Styrofoam box strapped to the back of his bike comes by selling slices of watermelon. Their children play in rubble.


They shout back and forth in the dialect of their native Zhangjiakou, a provincial town in Hebei, just a few hours north of here by train, or a few days by donkey cart, which is how they make the journey each year come Spring Festival. "Here" is east of the East Fourth Ring but west of the East Fifth Ring, among the red clay remains of what was once a remote farming village and what will soon become an expensive suburb. The long corridor-houses and their vaguely traditional Chinese roofs have met the sledgehammer. On the main road just to the west, large characters on tall walls of brick painted white proclaim the area "the backyard of the CBD(1)," and provide glossy photorealist previews of the luxury low-rises to come.


The cleavers hack until about 11:30, when the brickmongers put them down and begin to make sense of the piles of clean and semi-clean bricks they have created. Some of the clean bricks are in near perfect condition, others are short a corner or split in two. Extending a left arm, a brickmonger stacks six or seven pieces vertically against the crook of that arm. His or her right arm then stabilizes the stack from above in preparation for the ten-meter walk from pile to cart. He or she lies the bricks longwise on the back of the cart, first coating the cartbed, then stacking three and four high, working around the wheel wells. A cart can hold a thousand bricks, a typical harvest for one day. Cartful by cartful, the bricks are hauled off by donkeys and delivered and sold even further from the city center, at RMB 0.13 a pop. In a day, a brickmonger might make RMB 40, about $5.


Ten kilometers north of here, legions of native Beijingers are heading to work. They wear name-embroidered jumpsuits and ride bikes, and are headed down a street that used to be excessively potholed, but is now smooth, macadam as epidermis. They come up from the tenements just slightly south of here, turn right at the gaudy red and pink Hongyuan Apartments, and enter the web of factory chambers that still function as factory chambers, here beside the Airport Expressway in the suddenly hip industrial neighborhood of Dashanzi. They use 1950s East German tools and die to produce components for cell phone batteries and fiberglass boats for amusement park rides. They work under the Bauhaus skylights of early Second World solidarity, in rooms that have been earmarked for gentrification months ago. Metal shavings pile up like sausage curls around the bases of the austere turquoise machines until it is time for lunch, and then again until it is time to ride the bikes back to the tenements. They make more than RMB 40 a day, but not by much.


Elsewhere in the compound, in the chambers of the former Factory 798(2), a few single women are beginning their workdays in more-or-less designer clothes. There is Sun Ning at 798 Space, Shi Shi and Wang Jing at Beijing Tokyo Art Projects, Wen Jing at 798 Photo Gallery. The wonders of development: in what we are now asked to call the "Dashanzi Art District," a room that used to require a hundred-some sweaty men for significant GNP contribution requires now just one perfumed alumna of an arts administration graduate program in London. These galleries are the reason why the street is now smooth.


Cognoscenti behind flat-screen monitors, they sit amidst mediocre paintings and sculptures by local artists, beneath grandiosely vaulted cement ceilings, in the glow of indirect sunlight as per the Bauhaus precept that nothing in any of these massive rooms should produce a shadow. They answer the standard questions from the daily string of upper-crust Chinese and curious foreigners: off-duty CCTV producers, German radio correspondents, bohemian youngsters from the Central Academy. Everyone inquires about the rent.


And they sit in halls of brick, brick that seems permanent, and that has as much of a claim to permanence as anything in the People's Republic, laid neatly in the early 1950s, before Soviet friendship and money dried up. The funny part is that this whole postindustrial mise-en-scene, which looks at the moment completely evolved and in a word perfect, has really just been blinked into existence in a yearlong series of half-baked get-rich-quick schemes followed by supplicatory calls and dinner invitations to a man named He Xiaoming, administrator in the byzantine Seven Star Corporation(4 )that now administers this land. And despite the major money poured into renovations, the political clout of the new tenants, a celebrated drive to have the spaces earmarked as "cultural artifacts," and the legal obligations of the three-year leases most have signed, no one can promise that in a few months the brickmongers won't be feasting their cleavers on this set of demolished buildings.

1(a). Geography Lesson

Beijing is a city of concentric rings. At the center there is the forbidden city, surrounded by a moat, theoretically the first ring. The Second Ring runs atop the city's main subway line, tracing the route once woven by the municipal ramparts. The Third Ring was completed shortly after 1989, and is dotted with great temples of 1990s urbanization: the twin-towered China World Trade Center, the Great Wall Hotel, the Lufthansa Center, Ikea. Finished in 2000, the Fourth Ring does not run quite far north enough to encompass the great universities of the northwest, but far south and west enough to take in acres of farmland ripe for re-development, now mostly inhabited by old Beijingers whose inner-second-ring alleyway houses (called hutongs) were torn down to make way for glass and steel. Its eastern length begins just below the Lido, a bizarre hotel, mall, and outpost of Li Ka-hsing commercial capitalism whose millenial coming sparked a wave of development in the far northeast. From there it winds around SunPark-a city park that includes the site of the famed "East Village" of early-90s performance art fame-and south to SOHO NewTown, the most desirable of yuppie condo complexes.


Though a Sixth Ring is in the works, it is the Fifth Ring which, at this moment, delineates urban Beijing from its rural surroundings. Farther out is the land of uncomfortable juxtapositions, where the concrete shells of bankrupt McMansion developments give shade to sleeping peasants and forlorn roadside restaurants line the same bumpy streets as equestrian facilities, golf courses, and $20,000/year international schools. It is the zone between Fourth and Fifth-greater in area than that between Third and Fourth or Second and Third, as the rings also get farther away from each other as they get farther from the center-where new urban space is being created, and the flavor of Beijing as megalopolis will be determined.


During the determination of this flavor, a period expected to last at least through that great global signifier the 2008 Olympic games, (the stadium for which, incidentally, will sit squarely between the North Fourth and Fifth Rings), a long but finite series of daily equilibriums will be negotiated with the sweating, breathing collective that is the capital of the world's quickest-developing nation-state. And at both the allegorical and the real, physical levels, this negotiation is precisely the process of picking up bricks from one place, stacking them neatly and fleetingly on the back of a cart, hauling them farther afield, building something else out of them, and tearing it too down. Call it urban planning as alchemy, or progress as kinesis. Utterly unstable, the city is the brick box writ large.

2. Split Personalities, Running Dogs, and Biographical Determinism: Wang Wei and Himself


"When I was a kid," Wang Wei says to me, "you left the second ring and you already felt far from the city." He is at the helm of a 1996 joint-venture-produced Jeep Cherokee, and in the back seat is a mound of documentary equipment: cameras, tripod, DV cam. This stuff is all his. It is morning and we are out together in search of the brickmongers. He is waiting for the call from his work unit that usually comes just before noon, sending him first to the newsroom and then on assignment, dictating the rest of his day. Billboards around the city show pictures of his smiling colleagues and the masthead of his work unit, the Beijing Youth Daily. "Where There Is News, There Is Us," the billboards say.


Wang Wei (b. 1972) went to the Central Academy, graduating from the mural painting department in 1996. He was among the very last to get their training on the Academy's original site, at Wangfujing, in the city center, before the campus was destroyed and rebuilt north of the Fourth Ring in Huajiadi. He is of the generation young enough to have no real recollection of the Cultural Revolution, but old enough to have been conscious of the avant-garde art scene during the brief heydays of the Yuanmingyuan and East Village artists' communities.


And when the underground exhibition Post-Sense Sensibility came along in 1999, he became a member of Beijing's last best avant-garde. Predicated on the idea that a new city was taking shape where technology and urban consciousness elided individual emotion, that show, or series of shows, set an agenda-theoretical, formal, political-from which the city's young art has not yet really strayed. Of the twenty-two artists included by curators Qiu Zhijie and Wu Meichun in Post-Sense Sensibility: Alien Bodies and Delusion, all but a few have launched successful solo careers. The show was the beginning of a major debate over the role of the body in art, which quickly escalated into works involving human corpses and fetuses. In the four years since that exhibition, these artists have gotten famous and negotiated their personal equilibriums with the city and the world beyond it, taking subsidized trips to Europe and drinking countless lattes. For everyone who said then that eating a fetus is not art, there is someone now saying that the Post-Sense Sensibility kids have lost their edge, or even sold out. Wang Wei seems above the debate, something of a prototype of the new Beijinger, at once native and international. Let us not forget that it was his work 1/30th of a Second Underwater that illustrated the story on the Guangzhou Triennial which ran on the front page of the Sunday Arts section in the New York Times, November 24, 2002.


The fact that Beijing is at the point where it has what can be called a "leading newspaper" is significant here. Sparing a discussion of "free press" in a one-party state, let's just say that there was a time, not so long ago, when the power of consumer choice in Beijing did not extend into the realm of the media. The Beijing Youth Daily, which cynics enjoy pointing out, is published by the Beijing chapter of the Communist Party Youth League, has followed a path into the new millennium similar to that of many of its readers. An uppity voice of political reform in the years leading up to 1989, it fell back in line after the crackdown, and made a shrewd decision somewhere in the early 1990s to attract advertisers and readers. Its full color broadsheets are now the daily voice of a silent majority: the consumers, the professionals, the folks who don't need to think so much about traditional politics-reformist or authoritarian-so long as the growth rates stay at 8 and 9%. It is the voice of a city that deep down kind of wants this government to beat SARS and develop the country, that hopes the cracks in the Three Gorges dam aren't that serious, that can deal with a few disingenuous Xinhua reports each day so long as they're accompanied by relevant classifieds and captivating features like "This Day in History." And its motto, "Where There Is News, There Is Us," which could appear on the side of a city bus in Peoria accompanied by smiling headshots of local TV-news anchors, signals a big Weberian shift away from news-as-politics toward news-as-information. This is Wang Wei's Beijing.

2(a). Wang Wei, Artist

I first met Wang Wei in Shanghai, at a very hip exhibition on the northern fringes of that city. It was the day after the opening of the 2002 Shanghai Biennale, Urban Creation. Under the curatorship of Xu Zhen, a smattering of young artists in Shanghai and Beijing had done the obvious: rented an abandoned warehouse for an exhibition. Depending on whom you ask, this "satellite show" was called either Twins or Fan Mingzhen and Fan Mingzhu(6). Wu Hung, the famous art history professor and curator was there with his wife Judith Zeitlin, the famous Chinese literature professor, grinning. Turning to me he said, "It's hard to believe they can still have exhibitions like this in China."(7)


The one-step-further was that since the exhibition was called Twins, each work was to have a doppelganger. In a confusing but ultimately good-natured attempt to make the viewers (who included many internationally famous curators and critics, MoMA types with big horn-rims) laugh at the idea of going to an exhibition, the artists hung cloth among the square white columns one often finds in a warehouse, forming a number of disjoined "rooms" and ultimately, in conjunction with the duplication of every work, disorienting the viewers such that they did not know what they had viewed and what they had not. Call it a dig at the exhibition-goer in each of us who feels the heavy burden of having to see it all each time they enter a display. It was funny.


In that show Wang Wei presented Empty Space, the first in a series of works predicated formally on the box, a series that I like to think he has culminated, even concluded here with Temporary Space. Wang Wei's box measured 3 x 5 meters and stood 3 meters high, the size of his apartment living room. It had wheels, and it was pushed back and forth by four students wearing facemasks months before SARS. The box was actually a steel frame, wrapped in a 360-degree panoramic jet-printed image of the warehouse before the artists had gotten their hands on it, empty except for the square white columns. It was lit from inside. The twin to this work was a set of ten square white columns made similarly of steel and vinyl, also on wheels, also pushed by guys in facemasks. At the end of the exhibition, the columns were stacked up and sawed into pieces by the facemask-guys.


A few months later, that work was re-instantiated in the show Re-Construction 798, curated by Qiu Zhijie at 798 Space, as part of the eponymous festival that marked the formal opening of the Dashanzi Art District to the public. (8)Much attention has been paid by journalists and gallerists to the self-contented irony of turning these emblems of early-PRC heavy industry into spaces for the consumption of bourgeois art. Wang Wei gave material form to this debate by re-creating his Shanghai box, this time with pictures of the current Beijing gallery in its earlier state of dilapidated factory, complete with much-touted Cultural Revolution-era slogans painted on walls.


But what we take from these installations is less any exogenous idea he, as an artist, wants to foist upon us, and more a validation of the things we have been thinking about on our own, in the form of a theoretically savvy and visually gratifying material incarnation of this or that intellectual/artistic debate. Both boxes mentioned above actually served as meta-summaries of the exhibitions in which they were included: Twins was built on the tension of transforming empty space into exhibition space, just as Re-Construction 798 was a celebration of the commercial re-vitalization of a previously useless factory. Wang Wei's boxes were parodies of winks


He is interested in spaces, but also in how they work on people. He enjoys the discomfort brought on design not meant for humans. On this front, the uncomfortably narrow passageways in the current installation 25000 Bricks continue an experiment he began with his work Contact from the Sound 1 exhibition of 2000. In this work he used four sheets of glass to transform a door into a maze, and installed speakers playing the sounds of hands beating backs in the style of traditional Chinese massage.


As image-makers, news photographers are some of the most powerful actors in visual culture, often creating pictures with more staying power and exposure than professed works of art. One of the ideas behind the current exhibition is to examine a largely false dichotomy between Wang Wei the photojournalist and Wang Wei the artist. His day job, which makes him that rare commodity among contemporary Chinese artists-a professional photographer-provides him with a venue to hone his technique. And now, it has provided the subject matter for his first solo show: he met the brickmongers in 2002, on assignment, shooting a photoessay for Beijing Youth Daily.


Just as journalism has informed his art, perhaps Wang Wei's art may be best viewed in the way we read good journalism. Well crafted and astute, it blends the aesthetic pleasure of beautiful composition -here visual, there literary-with the intellectual pleasure of subtle exposition. It contains "deeper meaning," hidden just far enough below the surface to make the viewer's work of digging enjoyable. After we view Wang Wei's work, we get the joke. He makes us feel smart.


Maybe it's simpler than all of that. When we first sat down to lay out this exhibition, I proposed a title, "bu li bu po," which I thought was a witty reversal of the Maoist proverb "bu po bu li," meaning roughly, "if you don't tear down [the old], you can't build up [the new]." Cutely reversed, it would mean something like "if you don't build it up, you can't tear it down," which seems appropriate given what he is doing here. In any case, I pitched what I thought was a very cool title to Wang Wei over iced coffee in another renovated corner of the Dashanzi Art District. He went lukewarm, thought for a second, and replied, "that sounds like a title for people who think they're smarter than they really are."

3. Center Envelops Periphery: Demolition and Benevolent Hegemony?


Demolition has been a near obsession not just of Chinese contemporary art but of Chinese mainstream intellectual culture, and of Western journalistic writing about China. We all know Zhang Dali's facial silhouette, spray-painted onto or sledge-hammered into a wall marked for destruction. We have read, or at least heard of, Wu Hung's articles on ruins in Chinese visual culture, which argue that yes, they still exist, although they're not going to be preserved in anything like the Roman Forum. We have seen Erik Eckholm's reports in the New York Times, bemoaning the imminent destruction of this or that corner of the inner-Second-Ring capital. And if you hang out at the most fashionable of the bars on Houhai (literally "rear lake," Beijing's equivalent of Central Park), you may have seen New Yorker correspondent Peter Hessler sporting a navy blue baseball cap embroidered with the single character chai, which indicates a building is about to be plowed over.


What is the significance of all this attention to destruction? I'm going to go ahead and say that it is a way of expressing left-handed loyalty to a phenomenon we see as basically good, i.e. economic development. At the Asia Society dinner in late April, Clinton, reflecting the general liberal consensus, noted that:


China's decision to look outward into the world even as it has tried to maintain more closure within its society than most of us would like has accelerated the movement of the world toward inter-dependence. It certainly has done so economically, but it also involves other things.


Transparency aside, we know that this acceleration toward inter-dependence comes at the cost of visual landscapes many of us would like to preserve, if only for selfish, nostalgic, aesthetic reasons. We also know that a) this isn't our prerogative and b) we'd probably rather sit in the café, or live in the apartment, that they eventually put up on whatever site they tear down. So we write and make art about demolition, but in doing so, voice mainly a reluctant agreement with the prevailing political/economic/dialectic consensus that moving forward is on the whole more important than looking back, at least for now.


Notably absent from the tone of Temporary Space is the moral judgment that demolition is wrong or bad, or even worth getting very nostalgic about. Wang Wei has been around this block; his childhood home met the sledgehammer as his parents' current home might any month now. Facing this, he is less regretful than amused. His penetrating stare seems to lock not on the fates of the farmers who once lived in these corridors but on the entertainment value of the way in which this land will now be marketed as the next hip place to live. This is not advocacy art.


The other major political angle on demolition is of course that the brickmongers are exploited and overworked. If an Ivy Leaguer came over here on a summer documentary studies fellowship with a Nikon, she wouldn't let us forget this. This doesn't seem to be a big concern of Wang Wei's either. Sure these people work long hours for not much money. In the face of this, Wang Wei seems more respectful than sympathetic. He describes their work as "xinku," "hard; strenuous; toilsome; laborious," a word that not only describes toil but elevates it into virtue. Students, officials, artists, brickmongers-if they're doing their jobs, they should all be xinku.


The utterly unpretentious Wang Wei actually befriended a group of these guys while shooting his photoessay last year. "Their personalities are like their horses," he remembers. At the end of that shooting, as at the end of this little construction project, Wang Wei and his artist buddy Zhao Liang took their brickmonger friends out for dinner, spending 70 RMB, $9, on a meal for eight. "These guys eat mostly noodles and vegetables, and were thrilled to have some meat," he recalls. Absent here is the sense that he had done his good deed for the day, or that he had discovered himself by helping others. He even sidesteps a common prejudice in Beijing-that of the native toward the migrant provincial laborer-telling them that he is not really a Beijinger but a Shanxi person, and thus a waidiren, a "foreign-place-person," just like them. He is patient and non-condescending and generally very cool in replying to the questions they inevitably have about why he wants to tape them with his DV camera or buy their bricks for this unorthodox purpose. Instead of trying to preach his art, he just explains that though he is shooting video, the footage will not appear on the TV news. He also enjoys the idea that the brickmongers are in a sense freer than most, as they generally own their carts and sell their bricks at their own will. Even photojournalists have bosses.


And so we arrive at a seeming paradox, namely that a work that appears surface-wise quite concerned with social and political issues actually is not. We could call it a sort of lyrical apoliticality. It is a loaded and hackneyed claim to say that a given artist or writer is simply presenting the facts. That being said, there is a tendency in Western interpretation of Chinese art to make things seem more political than they actually are, summed up best by a wall text from Xu Bing's solo show Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing at the Sackler in 2001. (9)


This section of the essay was supposed to discuss the movement of center toward periphery in contemporary Beijing, a trend that includes the urban sprawl that provides a livelihood to the Bobos and the brickmongers alike. But as any college humanities graduate can tell you, center and periphery are more than geographic concepts. It is Wang Wei's position in a relatively central information apparatus that gives him leeway to visit the social periphery as an image-collector. And it is Beijing's emergence from the global periphery into a newly and increasingly central position on the world-stage that gives his newspaper the imperative to do human-interest stories that sent him there in the first place.


Broader trend: part of China's becoming a center involves its own right to move in on its internal peripheries. Here I cite the recent publication of Zhongguo Zizhu You (roughly Independent Travel in China), a book identical in format to Lonely Planet China. In Orientalism, Said provides a stinging dissection of 18th and 19th century travel books about the East. But what happens when the East starts publishing travel books about itself? China's current standing in the world gives it new power, or perhaps a new imperative, to navel-gaze. While some of the forms this self-scrutiny takes may be recognizably similar to, even derivative of, their Western precedents, there is certainly room for some interesting, perhaps instructive departures.

4. The work itself


Temporary Space makes no pretense of permanence. On June 30, a stream of donkey carts came up Jiuxianqiao Road and turned right into the factory compound housing the Dashanzi Art District. 25,000 bricks, harvested from formerly outlying villages torn down to make way for Beijing's expansion, assumed temporary positions on the sidewalk outside the 25000 Cultural Transmission Center. 25,000 x 0.13 RMB was paid to the brickmongers for the load. For five of the next twelve mornings, instead of making their daily income by hacking at bricks, ten of these men and women worked with Wang Wei to erect four walls, pasting their bricks together with mortar. During the afternoons, Wang Wei used his camera to interpret the construction of a new space. On the thirteenth day, when construction is through, art luminaries will enter for an opening. On the last few days, workers demolished what they had built and bought the salvageable bricks back at 0.05 RMB apiece. Wang Wei continued shooting, the donkey carts arrived once more, and the bricks left for a new home somewhere else, probably also between the Fourth and Fifth Rings. The space is empty again.


The exhibition includes three works. The first is the building itself, which has been categorized as an installation and named 25000 Bricks. The second is a video projection in one dark corner of the space, an eight-minute DV about the brickmongers entitled Dong Ba, after the former village in which they are currently working. The sounds of brick-sellers hacking mortar from old bricks waft from a pair of speakers, in subtle contrast to the sounds of the same brickmongers, physically present in the space, putting what may be the same bricks together again. The video's tone is lyrical and documentary. The only text comes in the opening shot of a sign proclaiming the area "the backyard of the Central Business District," and in a closing panel that explains that "around Beijing, three thousand people survive on the city's destruction." The final shot is a 360-degree panorama, a classic vista of workers whipping horses, piled debris, and new apartment buildings-still swathed in green mesh-rising in the distance. And thus, a video about a project so connected to the ideas of center and periphery end with a shot that takes in, from a single point, circular landscape.


The third and perhaps enduring work is a black and white photographic cycle, What Does Not Stand Cannot Fall. Like Wang Wei's earlier works, the photos, displayed originally on the gallery's back wall, behind the building they depict, are studies of people (in this case the peasant workers he has hired for a construction project) in an environment (in this case the 25000 Cultural Transmission Center, and the 25000 Bricks). The photos chart the rise and fall of the brick box. Beginning with and returning to the empty white cube of the gallery, they hint at the instability that has become one of the few constants of the visual landscape of Beijing. But they also humanize and obscure its creators: the workers, present in the first few images, disappear behind what they build.


In subtle subversion of the exhibition system, we have ensured that at no single point can the all three works be perceived in their entirety: when the building is at its highest and most complete, the series of photographs will remain unfinished. Once all twelve photographs are present, the building will be gone.


And yet while not calling itself performance art, this experiment is less an installation or a photographic cycle than a series of everyday interactions with an urban economy that needs donkeys and brickmongers at least as much as it needs avant-garde artists. In this economy, perhaps the successful artist is less a creator of permanence than a practitioner of strategic building and tearing down, someone like Wang Wei, who captures the zeitgeist if only for a few days at a time. Up and down and up and down and up and down, from now until whenever.

(1)Central Business District


(2).(3)"Factory 798" and "Dashanzi Art District" both refer the 1950s military electronics factory on the northern fringes of Beijing built by in the Bauhaus style with Soviet aid and East German blueprints in the early 1950s. If you are not familiar with the artistic topography of Beijing, know that the renovation of this factory into a SoHo-esque district of galleries and loft apartments has been the story of the year, summed up by a February 6 New York Times headline, "A Factory is Transformed by the Art of Real Estate."


(4)A newly assumed name looking to signify only the most advanced means of production, "Seven Star Corporation" presumably derives from the 7 at the beginning of the number for each of the dozen or so factories it includes. One day in recent history, the state-owned factories decided they weren't going to be numbers anymore.


(5)A Chinese-English Dictionary (Revised Edition), Foreign Languages Teaching and Research Press, 1997. This is the revised version of the PRC's first Chinese-English dictionary, a pet project of Zhou Enlai, which appeared in 1978.


(6)These being the names of a pair of twins, one of whom dates the curator, whose smiling faces appeared on the postcard/map that served as the exhibition's invitation, which was passed out just hours before the opening. It contained no actual reference to art, and looked rather like a perfume handbill. This is how you keep your cover in Shanghai.


(7)What I think he meant was not that such an exhibition would be politically sensitive but that the underground consciousness and general rebellious zeitgeist that produced all the "experimental exhibitions" of which he is the leading scholar had more or less changed into one of quasi-official petty capitalist anomie, and that finding a way in which to be genuinely and creatively underground about art in China was .now a bigger problem than the traditional hassles of keeping your exhibition from being shut down by the authorities and your artists from being locked away on charges of pornographic performance as happened many times in the 80s and 90s. Twins was successful on all counts.


(8)The managers of the Seven Star Corporation did not like the necessity implied by a festival title that translates better as "Re-building Factory 798." An amusing discourse-control measure was imposed the These being the names of a pair of twins, one of whom dates the curator, whose smiling faces appeared on the postcard/map that served as the exhibition's invitation, which was passed out just hours before the opening. It contained no actual reference to art, and looked rather like a perfume handbill. This is how you keep your cover in Shanghai.


(9)An early work by Xu Bing, a series of oversized chops engraved with the Chinese characters which phonetically represent the letters of the English alphabet was glossed for the uninitiated by curator Britta Erickson. The characters for the letter "X," (ai-ke-si), were taken as a pun on the transliteration for "Marx" (ma-ke-si), as the second two characters-"ke" and "si"-are identical. While the transliteration characters are the same, English letters are rendered in Chinese according to long established lexicographic convention. Xu Bing was laughing not so much at the impossibility of transplanting Marx as at the queer system by which letters become characters.


























在这个厂区的另外一些地方,原798厂的几个车间里,几位衣着入时的女士也在忙着她们各自的事儿。孙宁在“798空间,史诗和王菁在北京东京艺术工程,而文琳在百年印象。发展所带来的神奇之处便是,我们现在叫做大山子艺术区的这个地方,从前可能得有一百来名工人为了国家的生产总值在这里汗流浃背地工作。而现在呢,只要一位从伦敦的艺术管理专业毕业的一身香水味的女孩儿就可以了。艺术空间的管理者们坐在宽大的穹隆状水泥屋顶下不停地回答着人们的一串串提问:他们有下班后的CCTV 制片人,德语电台记者,还有中央美院来的波西米亚式的年轻人,而每个人都少不了会问起场租这个问题。



1(a). 地理课

北京是一座城市道路多环同心的城市,心就是紫禁城,围绕紫禁城有条护城河,边上的路构成理论上的一环。二环循老北京城墙遗迹而建。三环完工于上世纪90年代初,现在道路两边星罗棋布着 90 年代城市化进程中矗立起来的巨大神殿:双塔式国贸中心、长城饭店、燕莎中心、宜家家居等等。2000 年建成的四环向南和向西延伸得很远,大片大片的农田被囊括其中,如今这些农田已被重新规划成新的社区,而新区的居民很多是来自二环内胡同平房里的老北京,为了给今天的玻璃幕墙楼群让道,他们居住过的胡同早已消失。四环蜿蜒绕过朝阳公园(因90 年代初行为艺术表演而闻名的东村原址就在这个公园里)再向南延伸到 SOHO 新城,一个十分引人动心的雅皮居住社区。

虽然六环已经开工,但到目前,还是只能以五环作为北京城乡的分界线。五环之外呈现出的是一派让人见了感到极不舒服的情景:那些已经破产、尚未完工的混凝土框架大楼,成了农民遮风蔽雨的休憩场所。一排排门可罗雀的饭馆与出售马术器械、高尔夫用具的商店以及每年2 万美元学费的国际学校在路面高低不平的街道两旁共享秋色。四环与五环之间形成的面积比二环到四环之间的面积都大,而今的北京正在建设一个新的都市空间,然而这个空间的完全确立还需要相当一段时间,至少要到北京 2008 年奥运会(奥运会的主要体育场馆就将坐落在北四环与北五环之间)开幕前才会停止。在这段时间里,汗流浃背、心潮起伏的人们必须要以一种平衡的心态去适应每天发生的各种变化,这就是世界上发展速度最快的国家的首都里所发生的情形。


2 .多重性格,奔波的苦力,传记: 王卫与他自己

王卫对我说:我小时候,一走出二环就觉得不是北京了。说这话时,他正开着一辆 1995 年产的二手切诺基吉普,车后座上搁着一堆摄影器材。这时是上午,我们正一起去找砖贩子。平时报社的电话通常在中午以后打来,然后分配给他一些拍摄任务。城里到处可以见到印有他的同事们笑脸的照片和北京青年报标志的广告牌。广告语这样写道:有新闻的地方就有我们

王卫1972年生于北京,在北京新街口附近的一条胡同中长大,那儿在上世纪八十年代末就已被拆掉了。他的父母都是五十年代后期从山西来到北京的;父亲当时来京是因为考上了中央美术学院附中。王卫1996 年毕业于中央美院壁画系,中央美院原位于市中心的王府井地区,后来搬迁到北四环外的花家地,他便成为最后一批在旧校址学习的学生之一。

当先锋派在1999年举办地下展览《后感性:异体与妄想》时,王卫成为了其中的一员。包括组织者邱志杰和吴美纯在内的21位年轻艺术家,多数人后来在他们的艺术事业中都取得了成功。而这次展览,则引发了一场关于身体在艺术中扮演何种角色的大讨论,随后迅速波及到了那些使用了人的尸体和胎儿的作品。展览后的四年里,这批艺术家渐渐有了名气,开始以平衡的心态适应了北京这座城市和城市之外的世界,他们拿着补助去欧洲旅游,豪饮 lattes

当时王卫似乎是跳在了那场大争论之外,像一个典型的北京人,集本土特色和国际感觉于一身。我们千万不要忘记,他的装置作品《水下三十分之一秒》,带着完完全全的先锋派思想出现在广州三年展上 。王卫现在拥有的这份职业使他可以基本上用自己的钞票去从事创作并在这其中寻找自我实现的满足。

北京青年报成为北京的一个主流媒体,这个事实在此很有意义。就在若干年前北京青年报还是北京团市委的机关报。到了 90 年代初期它开始采取了吸引广告和读者的精明决策。现在它的彩色大开页广告代言着普通民众的日常心声。它的座右铭有新闻的地方就有我们,出现在城市大巴的车身一侧,配着新闻工作者的微笑照片,传递出这样一种信号:一个庞大的媒体网络正从传播政治转为传播信息。这就是王卫所在的北京。


2a.   艺术家王卫

初识王卫是在上海北边一个人流如潮的展览上,应该是 《2002上海双年展:都市营造》开幕式后的第二天。徐震带头,和一小群来自北京、上海的年青艺术家一起搞了个另类的展览,他们租下了一处废仓库来作为他们的展厅。展览的题目被一些人称为双胞胎,而真正的题目叫作范明珍与范明珠”-这对双胞胎姐妹开幕时就分别坐在展厅的两个入口处。著名的艺术史教授与策展人巫鸿和他的妻子Judith Zeitlin--著名的中国文学教授也出现在展览现场。他一脸微笑地对我说:真难以相信,在中国他们还能像这样来举办展览。


王卫在那次展览上展出的作品名为《虚伪的空间》,是正式以空间为题材的系列装置作品之一;我自己喜欢把他的这个系列想成是他的颠峰之作,即使是面对当下这件作品《临时空间》也不改初衷。王卫的那个作品,是一个面积为15平米,高3米,和他公寓的起居室大小一致的“房子”,只不过这个“房子”下面被装上了轮子;SARS 流行之前,有四个戴口罩的学生把它不停地来回推动。实际上,房子是用金属材料做成的框架,外罩以喷绘出的这个仓库在一个月前的巨幅景观照片,那时仓库里除了柱子以外空无一物。而它的孪生品,是10只同样用金属和乙烯基材料做成高3米的长方体柱子,每个柱子也装着轮子,同样由四个戴口罩的年轻人在展区内来回推动。到开幕结束时,那些戴面具的年轻人用锯子把这些柱子锯了个稀烂。






3. 中心包围边缘:拆迁与慈善的霸权?

对拆迁所产生的情绪长期以来不仅困扰着中国的主流知识分子,也同样困扰着中国的实验艺术家们。我们都看到了张大力所做的作品,即在北京那些被标明将要拆迁的建筑上用自喷漆或者用镐头猛烈敲打后做出来的巨大头像。我们也读到过,或者至少是听说过巫鸿教授关于中国视觉文化废墟的文章,他的看法是,那些废墟仍会在那儿一直存在着,即使它们不会被像罗马竞技场那样地保护起来。我们也在纽约时报上读到过Erik Eckholm的报道,它为北京二环内到处所发生的迫不及待的拆迁行为而扼腕叹息。还有,假如你经常在后海最时尚的酒吧外闲逛,你说不定会碰到纽约客杂志的作家Peter Hessler,他戏谑性地戴一顶海军蓝色棒球帽,帽上绣着一个字。










        (田霏宇: 25000文化传播中心副艺术总监 美国哈佛大学东方学系硕士研究生)