First look: Independent Art Spaces 2017

This year's festival explores the theme of transformation

Institute For Provocation
Back for its third annual edition this month is Independent Art Spaces (IAS), a series of exhibitions, events and workshops that seeks to unite Beijing's patchwork of alternative, non-profit and non-commercial galleries in the spirit of sharing knowledge and purpose. Like last year’s edition, IAS 2017 is inclusive to a number of site-less, conceptual initiatives in addition to more traditional brick-and-mortar galleries – a necessity at a time when many of the city's inner-city hutong spaces face an uncertain future.

i project 1
I: project space.

Each year, Independent Art Spaces selects a different theme. This year, it's the rather loose, but certainly topical, theme of change. 'Periods of change hold distinctive creative potential,' say the IAS organisers, I: project space. 'When it comes to the city of Beijing, it is a morphing environment whose only constant is its inevitable transformation. The question for artists, curators, cultural practitioners then is: to what extent do we see art as merely reflective, illustrative, or representative of its specific cultural and sociopolitical context, rather than endowed with the capacity to transcend difference and engage critically with change, readapt, redesign, or influence change?'

yi pai
Yi Pai Hutong.

To answer these loaded questions, IAS 2017 has enlisted eleven participating spaces and organisations, including Aotu Studio, who've just emerged from the rubble of a forced renovation of their facade, and Yi Pai Hutong, a new collective and gallery dedicated to documenting the rapid pace of change as its affecting Beijing's hutong today.

Other participants include Fruityshop, one of Beijing's most vital independent record stores, and Salt Projects, another one-room hutong gallery that expects to lose its street-facing door and window imminently.

salt projects
Salt Projects.

IAS 2017 will comprise a loose constellation of events and talks on August 26 and continuing through Saturday September 9, with the bulk of the events happening in the final two days. Though the program has yet to be fully fleshed out, the organisers say to expect 'experimental strategies and playful interactions that create new stories' and 'an open forum for innovative, untested approaches to cities and their inhabitants and the solidarity in between.'

One interesting event on the agenda is a 'Curated KTV' event on Friday September 8 at the Melody KTV in Andingmen. Continuing IAS's longstanding fascination with spaces that blur the line between public and private – they hosted a pop-up exhibition in a public wangba last year – 'Curated KTV' will bring six people from different corners of the world together to exchange energy through the unparalleled magic of belting out tunes in a gaudy, awkwardly lit Beijing karaoke room. The official event description is loaded with references to Michel Foucault and Frederic Jameson, and the event will assuredly be postmodern in flavour, but no previous reading of dense theory is required to engage in the fun of it.

Generally speaking, IAS promises to provide an enlightening, engaging, and perhaps challenging entry point to Beijing's roiling artistic underground as it copes with what's been a rather turbulent year so far. Check the IAS website for updated program info if you want to plug your own perspective into the mix.

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