What is it? IAS is a coordinated effort by 18 independent gallery spaces in Beijing to present a loosely cohesive weekend of "exhibitions, performances, concerts, screenings, lectures, book releases and more". Spearheaded by Antonie Angerer and Anna Eschbach of I: Project Space, IAS aims to "launch a platform for the diffusion and exchange of experimental and innovative approaches for the production, dissemination, presentation and exhibition of contemporary art in Beijing." The presser continues:
Beijing has one of the most vibrant and active art scenes in the world. In a city awash in an inexhaustible array of exhibition openings and events, 2014 made evident a growing network of new and alternative art platforms in all sorts of environments, from the small alleyways in the cityʼs hutongs, to programs in artists' studios, to exhibitions in rooms and spaces in residential buildings in different parts of the city.
To provide a syncretic snapshot of what this all looks like, Antonie and Anna and a handful of other gallerists, artists, and curators have put together a program of 20 exhibits, talks, open studios, wangba net-art showcases, experimental music performances, and more, and more, all jammed into a tight three-day whirl around Beijing's creative sub-matrices.
I: Project Space
When and Where? IAS kicks off on Friday and runs through the weekend, wrapping up with a closing seminar on Monday, August 31. The exhibits and events happen in three main nodes. On Friday, most of the action — including the official launch party — happens in Heiqiao, a loose cluster of artists' studios and galleries way out past 798 and Caochangdi. On Saturday most of the events happen at spaces in the hutong areas between Dongzhimen and Gulou, with a few outliers in Haidian and Chaoyang. And on Sunday it's a field trip to Yanjiao, a Hebei town with a small cluster of artist-run galleries and studios. (IAS is providing shuttles.)
Find the full IAS 2015 program in the listing, and head to iasbeijing.org for deeper info on individual events and participating spaces, and to find an interactive map to get you from points A to Z.
To get a better handle on the whole thing I asked Anna and Antonie where the idea came from, what it offers the discerning spectator, and how to navigate the rather unwieldy beast that is IAS 2015:
SmartBeijing: Can you give a bit of background on this project? I know you've been working on it for a while, responding to the surge of new independent and non-commercial space that opened in 2014, mainly in the hutong areas between Dongzhimen and Gulou. How did you first get the idea and who were some early supporters?
Anna: The idea for an event that would showcase the sheer number of new spaces and diversity of programming was born at the end of last year. There was a conference organized by the curator Thomas Eller at IFP to connect Berlin-based spaces and Beijing spaces with each other. It was an amazing conference and also led to a lot of further collaborations, but it also made clear that the new independent art spaces in China are not as visible as they should be. As a result there was a second conference with the help of CCAA (Chinese Contemporary Art Award) which included a lot of spaces that you find in the program, like LAB 47, Banshichu, ON SPACE, and IFP. This was an important moment for the scene of spaces itself and paved the way for a public event to show the world what is happening right now in Beijing.
Antonie: Parallel to our first encounters, media and other institutions started to pay attention to the recent developments in the independent art space scene. Due to different information channels and language barriers they often stayed in certain geographical districts.
Antonie: Starting from this spring we worked closely with spaces like LAB47, ON SPACE, Banshichu and Arc Space on this program. After hours of discussion and hard work we have organized a three-day, open-space event. The goal is, on the one hand, to get the spaces connected so new projects and a kind of support system will get started, and on the other hand to make the scene more accessible by creating the first map of independent spaces and the first common website. This project should be seen as the beginning of a discussion about what has happened in the last year and also a start for a deeper understanding and discourse of independent art in the future.
SmBJ: I've covered a few of the participating galleries here in the past — like I: Project, Aotu, IFP, Jiali — but some of them I'm completely unfamiliar with. Can you profile a few of the newer or more underground spaces that are participating in IAS?
Anna: One space that joined our hutong family is J Space. They are brand new but already made quite an impression on Beijing’s art scene. Definitely one of the spaces to watch. After a visit to J Space you should go a little bit further down the street to visit Lab 47. The space is run by Geng Han and Aurélia Martinaud, and shows powerful artistic statements in a small space. If you have the feeling that you saw enough art on Saturday, you should go to LE YUQIAO and just close your eyes and listen to an incredible music performance. Then you will be recharged on Sunday and can go to 301 and ON SPACE. They both are a little bit like hidden treasures, and totally worth the hassle to get to YanJiao.
Antonie: There are some spaces that have been doing great work and are very important for the young artist scene in Beijing. One of the spaces we have worked with before is Banshichu, the artists Song Xi and Yang Xinjia founded this "space without a space" last year with their first big project, "Apartment of Dreams Come True". This was a three-month project, where they invited eleven artists to each live for one week in an apartment in a migrant worker village and work there. Some of the most interesting young artists living in Beijing took part in it.
LAB 47 is a newer Hutong space that opened in the end of last year. They are also a 24-hour gallery, since the exhibition can be viewed through a glass window from the street. The most interesting thing about this space is how so far every artist has changed the feeling of the room completely.
Antonie: Last but not least, ON SPACE is a really great space in the very southeast of Beijing. It is located in Yanjiao, which seems far outside of everything, but has become a hub for a new, young generation of artists. ON SPACE is located on top of the studio of the artist Liang Hao, and was founded by him and four other artists. Even though the space is not big, their exhibition projects have all been highly ambitious, integrating a large number of artists. It's all very well documented on their website. Other than these spaces, we are very much looking forward to the weekend and the time after, because already through the preparations we have gotten in contact with other super exciting art projects.
SmBJ: Friday's program is heavily skewed toward exhibits and events in Heiqiao. To someone who's never been, what is the vibe at Heiqiao like? What kind of community has been built there, and what kind of art can we expect to encounter there this weekend? How do you get there?
Anna: Heiqiao is a real art district, in the sense that a lot of artists have their studios there. There are literally thousands of artists. Due to this enormous number of artists there is also of course a need for spaces to present works, to talk about new pieces and working process. Blackbridge, One Unit Gallery, Aiyo Space, and B-Space are offering artists a space to connect and also invite people from outside to join this discussion. If you are really bored of places like 798 or Chaochangdi, Heiqiao is offering a real and kind of rough alternative.
Antonie: Heiqiao is the place where worker culture and artists meet. Many of Beijing's artists have quite big studios in Heiqiao. The vibe is comparable to the hutong area, rawer, more confrontational and in a way also closer to the art practice. Most hutong galleries show art that is being produced somewhere outside the fourth or fifth ring. Heiqiao is the place where most artists live and work.
Antonie: It will be a great mix of spaces that are in the main road mixed together with the little shops and community, as well as open studios turned into exhibition spaces. It will be a great mix of local and international artists that often very much react to their direct environment. Everyone will then meet in the end in B-Space for the opening party. The best way to get to Heiqiao is by bus, bus 688 goes directly to Heiqiao from Dongzhimen. Get off at Heiqiao station.
SmBJ: In addition to uniting many Beijing-based galleries, curators, and artists, IAS is also inviting select individuals and galleries from abroad to participate. Who are some of the international guests coming in for IAS? What will their role be in the dialogue among predominately Beijing-oriented spaces and works?
Anna: We invited 186f Kepler to join, a space without a location in the traditional sense. They do projects all around the world and are very much relatable to a specific trend within the independent art spaces in China. Also projects like Banshichu or Space Regeneration Project leave one fixed position behind and always re-form, re-group and re-structure for every new project. We invited people like Ma Yongfeng from Shenzhen, who is one of the pioneers for the scene in Beijing, and Carola Uehlken, who does very interesting exhibitions in Shanghai, to join the festival and discussion. We are also happy that Kira Simon-Kennedy from China Residencies will be here during the festival and share her knowledge on how to apply for funding and sustain yourself with the spaces.
The idea behind the festival is that we want to explore what “independent” in independent spaces really means and for that it is helpful to invite people to give us an outside impression.
Antonie: Next to events happening in the different spaces, we organized a conference in I: Project Space, which is meant to discuss the definition, function, content, financing, and geography of independent spaces. For this conference we found it important to also bring some voices from outside of Beijing to the table to discuss these questions. One of these voices is the independent space 186f Kepler from Switzerland. Her concept and space has many similarities with some of the spaces, but of course also operates in an absolutely different art system. We are very excited that we could bring her with the help of Pro Helvetia to the conference. During the Saturday program in the hutongs, she will also present her space in the premises of I: Project Space.
SmBJ: Over the weekend there are events spread around Heiqiao, Yanjiao, Haidian, Chaoyang, and of course among the various inner-2nd-ring hutong galleries... What would an ideal route or itinerary be for someone who wishes to see as much of the program as possible?
Anna: The spaces are extremely wide spread, but we tried to group them in three main parts: Friday will be mostly the events in the Heiqiao area with the opening party at B-Space, Saturday will be the day of the hutong area, and Sunday is concentrating on the projects in YanJiao by 301 and ON SPACE, which are really far outside. To make it easier for people to get there on Sunday, we organized a shuttle bus. You can check the website and the Wechat posts for the meeting point and the departure times.
SmBJ: Besides gallery shows featuring work in static media, IAS also incorporates some non-traditional exhibition formats, such as the Speed Show featuring web art in an internet cafe, and the "Southern Shore of Hawaii Project", which I honestly don't fully understand... Can you explain some of the more non-traditional events or exhibits featured in IAS? How do these respond to the artistic climate of Beijing or China specifically?
Anna: The fun part of running an independent art space is that you can search for totally new formats to present art, to showcase art. In a profit-oriented gallery or a ponderous museum you are much more bounded to certain expectations. The hype of independent spaces could also mean that people are not that interested in the structures of the art world in China anymore and are all looking for alternatives.
You will see how innovative some of the formats are during the festival. We curated an exhibit called Speed Show together with Danish artist Astrid Myntekær, where artists will show their works within a typical wang ba or internet café. This show features the works of 35 artists from all around the world that we can bring to Beijing for one day thanks to the internet. Our space at Banqiao Hutong will be a platform on Saturday for other spaces, and besides our visiting space 186f Kepler, Alessandro Rolandi will present the work of the Social Sensibility Department, a program that is run at a factory in Beijing.
Antonie: The question of how to work with new media art as an art space is a question we have been working on for a while now, and the Speed Show format that was developed by the artist Aram Bartholl in 2010 is an interesting way of exhibition. For one day you go to an internet café nearby and rent their computer to show works that are possible to be exhibited on a computer screen. We have video art, performance, interactive internet art, gif art, etc. We'll also feature Michelle Proksell's curated online gallery netize.net as an exhibition platform taking place only within the WWW.
Antonie: Another big “non-traditional” exhibition program is happening in both Yanjiao spaces. 301 is a space that just recently opened. They invite artists for one day exhibitions and often have performance works happening there. ON SPACE “Southern Shore of Hawaii project” is a public art project in the compound where ON SPACE is situated. It will have many different artists doing art projects for one day. A shuttle bus will take everyone out to Yanjiao and everyone will meet at the meeting point at 3:30, and then we'll have a tour around the whole project.
I think in general these projects show the possibilities that little spaces not embedded in the institutional structures have. It is a chance to see young Chinese artists in exhibitions that are either organized by themselves or friends or in a close collaboration with the people organizing the space. All of the projects featured this weekend happen and function out of a simple wish to create platforms for artists and people interested in art. Places to meet, discuss, rethink and create new things.
SmBJ: Later in September we'll see the next iteration of Beijing Design Week, at this point a very large, entrenched, well-funded institution. Where on the spectrum of city-wide art events does IAS fit in relation to BJDW? What alternative or parallel perspectives does IAS offer in this context?
Anna: There are certain overlaps between Beijing Design Week and IAS, but there are major differences. Even if we are speaking with one voice for the festival and try to make it happen together, the spaces are all completely autonomous when it comes to their program during the festival. Also when it comes to funding we had to rely on the structures we also use for our normal events throughout the year. Besides the map and the conference we were lucky to get support from proHelvetia and Kelly Wang. The money for the festival itself was raised through crowd funding. But the amount that we collected showed us also how big the interest in the festival really is!
Antonie: I do not think that IAS can be compared to BJDW. BJDW is now a well established event happening in many different areas, often occupied by designers and creatives for that week. I think it is also an important platform to show what is creatively happening in Beijing. IAS on the other hand is an event that opens the doors to spaces that are operating throughout the year. It is about giving an insight into something that is happening in Beijing that many people might not be aware of. But of course, like BJDW or other events like this, a common event gives the chance to unite and showcase creative projects happening in Beijing.
SmBJ: I know you have to remain a bit impartial, and you also have your own events in the program, but: what are you most excited to see this weekend? Be it an artist, work, exhibit, curator, event...
Anna: Of course I would recommend every event and space during the festival, but if I had to give some recommendations, I would advertise the exhibitions “Love at Second Sight” by Xia Tao and “Mana” by Astrid Myntekær at IFP. Both emerging artists worth watching. Astrid will also do an artist talk at IFP on Friday.
One project we did not promote that much is an installation by Cai Zhisong and Katrin Hornek in Feijiacun. Cai Zhisong’s “Cloud” series was shown at the 54th Venice Biennale in 2011, spread in front of the Chinese Pavilion entrance, floating in a sea of white, artificial fog. Taking a walk on a smoggy day behind the Artist Village in Feijiacun where Zhisong has his studio, Kathrin Hornek rediscovered his work in the wasteland there.
'Mana' by Astrid Myntekær
Antonie: I have to say that I am just super excited to have the chance to actually see all of these spaces at the same time. Having the chance to compare their exhibitions, get to talk with everyone and see what different approaches everyone comes up with. Since we will have our own show on Saturday in the internet café, I hope I will still have a chance to see the other projects. And I think for us the conference on Monday is a super important and exciting part. Having a very good crowd and discussing issues that have been a topic for us since we opened our own doors is fantastic. We are very much hoping that this conference will have the chance to go into depth with some of the issues we know a lot of the other spaces are also discussing.
SmBJ: What are your plans for developing IAS in the future? Will it be a formal, annual event? Will there be more ad hoc collaborations between the participating galleries?
Anna: We have a very unique situation in Beijing and the spaces are already extremely connected and constantly working together in comparison to other cities or countries. But there is always room for more collaboration! One of our goals after the first edition is over is to collect the ideas, discussions, and impressions and publish a book at the end of the year. This publication should be a tool to better understand the movement of the independent spaces and start analyzing this also in an (art) historical context. Our second goal will be to make this year's event an annual thing. But let’s start with the first one...
Antonie: I think there are different parts. First we want to take the start of the website and map developed for this event and complete it with the other projects that weren’t able to participate this year. We hope new collaborations and events will come out of it. In the end we hope that we will have an event like this every year.
SmBJ: Will the interactive map you're designing for IAS be up by the weekend? What value will this add to the overall experience?
Antonie: Yes we will have a first draft of the map, and now we've gotten funding to develop a real app in the near future. This map will make it possible to find the mostly hidden spaces. The website, our official Wechat account, and the map will become a platform where everyone can get informed about what's happening in the independent scene at once. Something that has been very difficult before.
Anna: We are working on this map, because we constantly got the feedback from visitors that they are vastly interested in the art spaces and would love to visit more, but have a really hard time finding a lot of them. The idea behind the map is also to create a platform where the spaces can promote their upcoming events, so that interested people finally get a better overview about all the events happening at the independent spaces in Beijing. So the work on the map won’t stop with the festival and we want to see the map grow!
SmBJ: Anything else you want to add here?
Antonie: Only that we hope some people will leave their usual paths this weekend and check out the different spaces and join us for a weekend of art that Beijing has not seen yet.
Anna: Hope to see everyone at the festival!
Independent Art Spaces 2015 kicks off with an opening party at 5pm on Friday, August 28 in Heiqiao and runs through the weekend, wrapping up with a closing seminar on Monday, August 31. Find the full program in the listing and visit iasbeijing.org for more info on individual spaces, events, artists, and curators.