Introducing: Salt Projects

The lowdown on Beijing’s latest hutong micro-gallery

Salt Projects is the latest entrant in the tiny, one-room hutong gallery phenomenon that’s been slowly spreading through the city’s centre over the last few years. It sits on Langjia Hutong near the corner with Beiluoguxiang, a rapidly developing neighbourhood – The Other Place and 8-Bit are a stone’s throw away – that still boasts the relative cultural charms of not being Nanluoguxiang. It was formerly a convenience store, but now serves an adamantly non-commercial purpose: Salt’s inaugural show, Triptych, consists of a few jagged collages of cut-up cadavers assembled by current CAFA student Lei Ming.

Co-founder Yuan Fuca, originally from Dongbei, is testing the waters with her new space. At 28 years old, she’s part of an emerging generation of young, multi-tasking art world mavens, blending her interests in writing, curation and performance into a practice that attempts all of those at once. While studying journalism and literature at Renmin University, Yuan spent time at industry-leading publication ArtForum as an editorial intern. She also interned at Meishuguan, and continued her dual role as curator- and critic-in-training with several gallery internships, writing positions and artists’ assistantships when she moved to New York after graduation.

Yuan returned to Beijing in autumn 2014, where she connected with Liya Han, another aspiring young curator, to organise a group show at Ying Space in Caochangdi. At the end of last year, she signed the lease on what would become Salt, naturally gravitating to the hutong backdrop. ‘There's a sense of community, I feel more comfortable here,’ she says. Han came on as a partner, and the duo has since organised a handful of readings, performances and small shows for emerging Chinese artists within the tight confines of their space.

Time Out met up with Yuan at Salt recently to talk about testing the waters with fresh and potentially provocative art, and the act of writing as a form of performance in itself.

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Yuan in front of recently closed Shanghai space Bank Gallery

When did you first have the idea to open your own space? Why?
Last November. Actually, I found this place in November… I always wanted to have a gallery myself. So I went on [real estate site] 58 and found this place. This is the only place I looked at, it used to be a convenience store. I thought it’s the perfect size and the rent is OK. So I told Liya Han, a friend I’ve collaborated with before, that I found this place and asked if she wanted to have a look. She liked it, so we decided to do it together.

What kind of art or artists do you want to showcase here?
The first exhibition, Triptych, seems very violent. Actually our interest is not about violence, it's about image-making. It's risky to do certain things… The next show will be a group show of erotic art. We're still preparing it. It'll be sexy, I think sexy is very important. And I don't see that much here. I think in the music scene, it's very obvious. But in the art world, it's refined but in a really boring way. So that will open in September.

Are you worried about censorship or unwanted government attention?
I was kind of scared about this one [Triptych], and it opened right after June 4. [laughs] Sometimes you just don't know. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. You have to test the waters. I feel with music or theatre it's different, you have to deal with more censorship, but galleries somehow are OK. If you do a performance with a bunch of naked people in a gallery it's fine, but in a theatre no way. So there are just certain things we need to figure out.

Where do you find new artists?
Through friends. I met Lei Ming [in the current show] through another artist who went to an erotic reading event that I organised. It was a reading from New Lovers, a series of modern erotica put out by Paul Chan’s publishing company, Badlands Unlimited. I like this kind of thing, so I did a small event around it at Wu Jin [a small cafe operated by hutong gallery Arrow Factory]. One of my friends who came said, ‘Oh, maybe you would be interested in working with Lei Ming, he's kind of crazy!’ So it just happened. I usually meet artists through other artists. I do studio visits, but not that often.

You've organised a few performances here also, right?
Yeah. I studied performance in school, I was in a drama troupe. I started from theatre. I like that kind of engagement. When thinking about the structure of the space, one of the things I wanted to do is performance work. We want to do at least one performance every month. Last month we had a performance by William Wen, who’s only 24. He studied film and directing at NYU’s Tisch art school. He doesn’t have a typical visual art background, but he's very familiar with the content. He set up a trampoline in the space, and he had a big piece of flatbread hanging from the ceiling, and he cuffed his hands and tried to eat the whole piece of bread while jumping on the trampoline.

william wenc

It was so funny, all the neighbours were outside watching, like, ‘Is he getting married or something?’ The comments were so funny. We had another performance called Playground by an artist duo after that, and they were saying, ‘Oh, today they’re going to eat some baozi or something?’ I was surprised. I feel that’s kind of the magic of performance, because you can’t predict what kind of outcome you’ll get. This month we’ll have a performance by Tian Tian, she’s a Chinese artist who also studies in New York. She's going to feed chicken here. [laughs] It's called Wei Ji.

Do you plan to run Salt as a commercial gallery eventually?
It's not for profit, but if we have resources we're totally willing to help artists sell their work. In the beginning we just want to explore, work with new people. I like collaboration a lot. I like just talking to people. My partner and I both try to incorporate our own ideas. Sometimes it's OK, sometimes not. But we don't want to just show something, or exhibit something, we want to come up with interesting ideas together with artists. It’s collaborative and it’s very research-based. It takes time. Our emphasis is on research itself as our own way of making art.

What else have you been working on as a writer?
Right now I'm preparing a long manuscript. There's a thing called the National Art Fund, it’s a government fund similar to the National Endowment for the Arts in the US. Every year an organisation will apply for the fund, and then when they get it they find artists or art professionals to do projects. A magazine called Art Spy got it this year, and commissioned seven emerging critics to write a piece, including me.

It will be a small book, around 50,000 words. Other people's topics are more thesis-based, but mine is very weird. It's related to the things I'm interested in, like performance, awkward moments in criticism, darkness of the art world, things like that. I think writing is a kind of performance, of identity, memory. I want to make my book into a play actually. It's three scenes: the first is about the body, sex and stuff. The second is space, memory, and then the third is about community, immigration. Being influenced by American education, you always want to talk about identity. [laughs] Which is kind of cliche, but I want to work with that.

Salt Projects is open from Thursday-Sunday, 3-8pm, by appointment. Contact them by email (info@saltprojects.net) or by phone (13810629464) to schedule a visit.

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