LOS ANGELES — Now that I’ve written so extensively about residencies and their benefits, maybe you’re wondering: which residency to join? As mentioned in my series of articles, the Alliance of Artist Communities is a great resource, with well over a thousand sites here and abroad.
But if I may, I want to put in a plug for Beijing. As Chinese contemporary art enjoys greater and greater prominence, I think it’s a more crucial time than ever for artists to see the Beijing art scene with their own eyes and come to their own conclusions. It’s easy to become familiar with the artists who are enjoying international museum success (like Cai Guo-Qiang, who just premiered his work at MOCA), but moving to Beijing lets you meet the artists just starting out, and the ones just on the cusp of greater recognition. It’s an exciting time to be there.
But moving to Beijing is no easy task, of course. Even without considerations for the flight costs, it’s also difficult to navigate the city without Chinese language skills. Whereas a foreigner can enter Shanghai and Hong Kong and get by with basic English, Beijing can pose more challenges. But those who make the effort will be rewarded with what’s certainly one of the most interesting cities and art scenes today. As one writer pointed out on Weibo, even from Los Angeles, I’m still reporting on events in the Chinese capital.
How to make Beijing happen? Residencies, of course! If you can afford to take a few months away, you’ll find a number of Beijing residencies. Here are the ones I’m familiar with:
Deep Into Songzhuang: Beijing Studio Center
Beijing Studio Center is one of the largest residency programs in China today. Directors Guo Xinxin and Zheng Xuewu host visiting artists and exhibitions and will be partnering with World Event Young Artists in 2012 in conjunction with the London Olympics. Located deep in Songzhuang, a thriving artists community in the southeastern outskirts of Beijing, Beijing Studio Center’s large space and resources help artists develop their work and then exhibit it to a broader audience. And the directors have an extensive network within China and abroad, so their events frequently attract influencers in the art world.
There are a number of residencies in Caochangdi, the dusty, lively artist community that Ai Weiwei calls home. You’ll find residency programs with Platform China, which keeps multiple studios available for artists’ use. The prestigious Galerie Urs Meile and Three Shadows also maintain studios there, though Three Shadows’s residency program is currently on hiatus. And I reviewed Joseph Delappe’s residency at Where Where, a studio and research center that shares a patio with Platform China. Caochangdi is also a short bike ride from 798 Art Zone, where you’ll find countless openings over the weekends.
Red Gate Residency
And, of course, no list of Beijing residencies would be complete without a mention of Red Gate Residency. Red Gate is a living residency program for international artists located in the southeastern part of Beijing, conveniently close (by Beijing standards) to both Songzhuang and 798 Art Zone. They also have studio space in Bei Gao, an artist village north of Caochangdi that is, in New York terms, the Bushwick to Caochangdi’s Williamsburg.
Hiking to the Hutongs: Home Shop
While not formally a residency, Home Shop has often been central to my experience in the art scene in Beijing, especially as an expat. Located in the winding hutongs in Beijing’s center, Home Shop hosts artist events, book readings, open studios and a coworking space, and they publish a bilingual journal of contemporary art. Founded by Elaine Ho, the space welcomes both local Chinese and expats and builds a bridge between these two communities.
Part of what makes Home Shop so welcoming is its laid back, drop-by-any-time vibe. Ho told me this evolved from her own experience as a founder. It was “a self-made residency,” and she began inviting others to join her. Their new space “still tries to explore ways of working and being together that beg the socio-political question of what it means to ‘live together’.”
Artist and designer Benjamin Bacon, who teaches at Parsons The New School for Design, found it ideal for his schedule. “The HomeShop community is easy going so someone like me who is really busy and can at times be absent from the space for weeks due to other commitments,” he told me. “But when I am at the space the community is alive and kicking. I would recommend it to others.” Indeed, in my third installment of my series on residencies, I argued that we need residencies that are more accessible to folks who can’t necessarily take time off for a full-time program. HomeShop is showing a viable model for this.
There are countless other residency programs large and small in Beijing and throughout China, but hopefully this list gives you a taste of what’s out there and available, for artists at any stage in their career. Beijing is a deeply inspiring city, both because of its art scene and because of the city itself. In Beijing, residencies have a particularly important role to play in fostering dialogue between international and Chinese artists.
I spoke with Gordon Laurin and Jing Yuan Huang, who founded Where Where in Caochangdi. When I asked them what makes Beijing so special for foreign artists, they told me it’s:
“The chance to explore the dynamic and developing contemporary art scene in Beijing and to discover first hand the complex and rich social landscape of China.”