Just past the Fifth Ring
Road, off the ever-busy Airport Expressway, lies a dusty
path leading to a series of boxy concrete buildings. Among these
buildings are shops and stalls hawking street food, clothing,
household hardware, repair services and more – all for cheap. It’s
a village in the modern Chinese urban sense: small but
hardly serene. It’s teeming and noisy during the daytime. The
main stretch is packed with migrants buying necessities or doing
business. Off to the side from this busy main stretch the noise
recedes and a series of squat brick buildings become visible.
Inside are artists: painting, constructing and creating their art
through other means.
is Feijiacun, one of Beijing’s villages on
the northeast side of the city, outside many of the main areas
commonly associated with art in Beijing.
It lies past 798, the unapologetically commercial, kitsch-infested
tourist hub; past Caochangdi, the hipper, rougharound-the-edges art
district that’s home to Ai Weiwei. It’s closer to the city centre
than Songzhuang, another enclave for artists on the eastern outskirts
of the Fifth Ring Road. But unlike 798, Caochangdi or Songzhuang,
Feijiacun has only one gallery and no museums at all. It bears
no cafés or fancy restaurants. Feijiacun is a place for work.
area has drawn the artists who work there through one surefire
attraction: cheap studios. Most of the studios are occupied by
independent artists, although Red Gate Gallery also maintains a
series of spaces for its international artists visiting Beijing on residencies.
The artists may come to Feijiacun for the cheap rent and plenty of
space to work, but the out-of-the-way locale is convenient in some
ways, according to resident and artist James Ronner.
‘There’s all sorts of resources for materials, between the scrap yards that are out here and all kinds of
construction supply companies. You have access to a lot of stuff that you don’t in other parts of the city. In addition to that, you get to interact with a lot of interesting artists.’
There isn’t normally much to see or do for a visitor in this small village. But for one day this month, the normally closed doors of some of these quiet, modest buildings will be open to the public, offering us a glimpse into the workspaces and processes of some of the artists who have made it their home. It’s a good chance to see, first-hand and relatively unmediated, the work of artists like Xi Danni. Xi makes playful oil paintings and collages with flat perspectives and bright, vivid colours that transform mundane subject matter into something fantastical.
Nick Geankoplis – another resident artist – uses clay sculpture and video to create installations that reflect upon decay and the passage of time. Similarly physical in its creation is the work of James Ronner, who uses his space in Feijiacun to experiment with materials beyond glass. ‘I do a lot of collage work [in the studio],’ Ronner tells us. ‘But to be honest, it’s also the space were I break s**t.’
The open studios in Feijiacun are often casual and congenial affairs. Red Gate Galler y’s open studio in Feijiacun last month included not just art but also a vendor making tasty jianbing pancakes. In part, the open studios are a celebration of the arrival of warmer weather. ‘[The studio space] is great in the summer but awful in the winter – we have wood stoves,’ says Jeffrey Miller, a resident and artist who will also be participating in the open studio.
The studios aren’t luxury spaces, and Feijiacun’s hardly the most glamorous spot to experience art in Beijing. But there are already plenty of places for the Audi and BMW set to browse for expensive pieces of cultural cachet. What Feijiacun offers is a bustling example of everyday life on the outskirts of Beijing; a space in which the artistic process can be realised.
The Feijiacun open studio day is on Saturday 19. To get to Feijiacun, take Line 15 to Cuigezhuang station. From there, take bus 415 to Mananli or bus 988 to Maquanying. The journey takes around 30mins in a taxi