Kate In China: Arriving

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Kate Woods is currently in China on an artist residency at 3Shadows Photographic Art Center. When not working on her own art she is the Assistant Registrar / Preparator at the City  Gallery Wellington.

She will be blogging  between residing.

Arriving in Beijing at 4am, in the torrential rain, felt as if entering a mythological-like waterworld. Falling asleep to the sounds of the heavy rain was surreal -  as though I was on the inside of a waterfall. The next morning I woke to a foreign new mixture of sounds and smells. Sulphur, chives, cabbage and cinnamon? Traffic, tooting, melodic voices, dogs barking and sounds of energetic industry (large objects being dropped and steel being struck).

3Shadows Photography Art Centre is at the end of a seemingly deserted tree lined road (in a suburb called Caochangdi, 45 minutes out of the central city). It’s a village dedicated to art and is a close neighbour of the well-known older art district 798. Artist Ai Wei Wei was one of the first to move to the village and his architectural designs are in evidence all around the area.

3Shadows is one of the buildings that Ai Wei Wei designed and when I first entered my living quarters it felt a bit like a medieval fortress with distinctive grey brick facade, high ceilings and small narrow windows (some with diagonal wooden shutters).  My rooms are on the second storey and look out over a courtyard, which has a stunning view of the rest of the compound. I can see all the details of the brickwork on the gallery buildings opposite and how well planned all the angles are.

A short walk away is the village proper. It is a hybrid of village life with chaos, noise, people and colour alongside the sleek minimal design of the newer galleries and compounds. The village streets are narrow and unpaved and at night come alive with stalls of hot cooked meals, fruit and clothing.  Last night I tried a street vendor’s flatbread with chilli, meat and coriander which was delicious. I’m finding that my favourite new phrase is “chi fei chang hao”. I’m hoping to say that the “taste is very good” but my Mandarin still needs a lot of work.

In the daytime the village streets are quieter and are populated with puppies playing in the mud, bikes and scooters constantly sending trilling warnings behind you, piles of eggs being steamed on the footpath, a local tip with a strange discarded decorative tree, kebabs on sticks alluringly placed at open windows and bright birds in cages. Walking down the next street you might come across a gallery. There are so many galleries I have only just scraped the surface. The sheer number is incredible and the minimal brick facades make some groups of galleries maze-like.  Some are well sign posted but non-existent when you find an entrance (one was rubble inside and hard to tell if it was a work in progress or was on its way out) while others are more humbly advertised and well worth entering with exciting artwork on display.

Things seem to change quickly in China which makes it all the more exciting being here and discovering what is around each corner. My next place to explore is the photography library at 3Shadows, which I can’t wait to delve into.