As part of our class this session, we're required to complete "excursion projects" that are meant to get us out and about in the city, rather than just being holed up in a classroom. I decided to do my excursion project on 798, a complex of art galleries in north-eastern-ish Beijing. The 798 galleries are fairly well known, and I had heard of them before and wanted to go visit. But contemporary art isn't really my thing, but I figured if I had to do a project on it, then I would be far more likely to actually go visit. And so, last Sunday, I dragged Kimberley, Louis, and Eddie along with me to the galleries.
798 (or in Chinese, 七八九) is so named after the street which runs through it, shockingly called 798 street. It's an old manufacturing complex, so many of the galleries are in old warehouses and buildings, which was really cool. The complex had a festival like feel - all the galleries had their doors open, and there where street musicians and jewelery makers selling things on the street. There were also quite a few small cafes scattered on corners, many of them selling Western food, which is where the first part of the title comes in. While I was off discovering the deeper meanings of pictures of bamboo burning, Kimberley, Louis, and Eddie had stopped and ordered french fries and pizza at a cafe. I met up with them just as the french fries arrived, and they were delicious (the cafe even had ketchup!). The pizza was equally delicious, but it didn't taste like pizza - just cheese bread with chicken and seasonings. I guess I feel kind of reluctant to eat Western food - after all, I can eat it all the time at home, so there's no reason to eat it here. As much as I can sometimes get tired of Chinese food, I guess I'm trying to keep the experience as realistic as possible.
The art itself was actually really interesting - I went there with a list of things to look for in the art, such as how Chinese traditional painting aspects were incorporated, whether it was a critique of the government, and if there was a disdain towards the new consumerism mentality China has shown. The most prevalent theme I found was a critique of urbanism and consumerism, such as the painting that depicted 'moments' in a life, such as getting married, with a picture of an Audi imposed on the scene. It was kind of random, but for the purposes of my presentation, it's a critique of consumerism. :) The best part of 798 was that it was free, only .40 RMB bus fare to get there. An excellent way to spend an afternoon in Beijing, if you're ever here.
And anecdotally, I also went to China fashion week. In the midst of trying to find where Kimberley had went, I turned a corner and found myself surrounded by a bunch of glamorous people wearing black with nametag credentials. Amidst the suits and insanely fashionable dresses, I felt a little out of place in my UChicago sweatshirt and jeans and quickly turned back around that corner, but now I can say I went to China Fashion Week! :)