People watch as a bulldozer destroys artist studios in Beijing.

A man protests the bulldozing of studios and stands half naked in winter temperatures with the words, “Battle Till Death” painted on his body. (click to enlarge)

While we live our artistic lives in the West in relative calm, if sometimes obscurity and poverty, artists in China face some very serious dangers from an autocratic government that only allows art to flower when it fits its political agenda. So when artists in China create a flash mob to protest the systematic destruction of artist studios, it is shocking that no one notices. Thankfully, Austrian blogger Karel has written something for about this vast injustice:

Since January Artist studios are sytematically demolished within 3 days notice, prior shutting down electricity and water. And this in winter time. Why? Well the government wants to sell the land to investors, so before land is not freed, no investor invests.

What may be interesting for us in the West, who have been whining about the schlocky storyline of the Hollywood blockbuster, Avatar, (I admit to being one of those whiners) is that the imagery and power of the story has obviously resonated halfway around the global:

Many Chinese identify themselves with the Na’vi tribe in the movie Avatar – the tribe which rises up against the evil, with the help of Mother Nature and the animal kingdom. Government stopped the screening of the 2D version and instead launched the movie Confucius.

Some of the threatened (and now, we assume, demolished) studios in Beijing. (click to enlarge)

The Mélanie Loves… blog added the following poignant remarks about the tragic bulldozing incident yesterday which destroyed artist studios:

The deep roar of the bulldozer reminded of us the tanks at Tiananmen in 1989! Artist “Black Sheep,” half naked despite the cold, climbed onto the bulldozer and painted “Battle Till Death” on his chest, waving his hands; dripping and bloodied with red paint; in the freezing Beijing wind.

After the performance show at Zhengyang, we headed to the Dongzhimen Subway Station and donned Avatar masks to protest the violent destruction we had just witnessed. Today was the last day of Dongying Art Village’s existence. Today it was destroyed and disappeared forever. The real world is even more dramatic than films.

Artist flash mobs have followed the bulldozing of studios as a creative — and somewhat safer — form of protest. (click to enlarge)

Some artists in China have been responding with flash mobs to the events and rallying people together spontaneously and thumbing their noses at the authorities who look down at such protest actions, no matter how playful:

Question remains how intelligent artist can make the government aware how wrong the procedure is and how badly managed. I think organizing flash mobs through the city, spontaneous and quiet with good media and internet coverage is the way to go. Flash mobs organize through mobile phone network, passing instant location of meetings, they surface suddenly and they disappear into anonymity.

This story is developing.

All photos in this article are from Mélanie Loves…. There is also a complete Flickrset of photos from the flash mob and artist “revolt” here:

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

26 replies on “China Bulldozes Studios, Flash Mobs Follow, Avatar Invoked”

  1. Studio complexes like this are in a pretty bizarre situation in Beijing. The government has clearly chosen to destroy certain areas, making may for development, but others are supported and funded by the government of ‘arts’ business development, see 798 and recent policies on Song Zhuang village.

    Really weird, inconsistent stuff, but what else is new.

      1. Hey Jeremy,

        What is inconsistent is Beijing’s treatment of the cities’ different art neighborhoods. The art from the different art neighborhoods is politically dissenting to about the same degree, so it’s not right to argue that china is only demolishing one and supporting the other because they like the latter’s ‘message’.

        What’s interesting is that these art neighborhoods are actual centers of discussion, politically and artistically. I don’t understand why some survive and others don’t.

  2. Those looked like really nice studios for the artists’ – gave me chills to look at the pix
    great writing on this topic and thanks for exposing here in US

      1. That’s not what I said. You’re very good at exaggeration.

        “So when artists in China create a flash mob to protest the systematic destruction of artist studios, it is shocking that no one notices.”

        No, it’s not shocking. I see protests in China just as often as I did in the US. Nothing happens. I’ve even seen families protesting untimely deaths of loved ones in hospitals with not so much as a security guard asking them to leave.

        “… artists in China face some very serious dangers from an autocratic government that only allows art to flower when it fits its political agenda.”

        Is the danger any different than the danger posed by a farce of a democratic government? Also, artists in China have a lot of free reign as long as they do not support foreign governments trying to demonize and destabilize China with the ultimate goal of overthrowing its government.

        FYI, I helped Melanie write her prose that you enjoyed so much. One does not have to be a hate-monger to write about something.

        1. You’re funny. And actually, it’s sarcasm. And as you say protests are common but speaking against the gov’t is dangerous, so what was your point, we are talking about political protests.

          And farce of a democratic gov’t? You’re going to have to be more specific than that. Is freedom of speech is a problem for you? And what is wrong with overthrowing the Chinese gov’t? It’s awful. Artist have freedom? Huh? As long as they don’t get political, so what’s the point of that “freedom”? So they can make money without talking about what they really want to say?

          Then again, if you are passionate about the topic, I would love to invite you to write an article defending the Chinese government and what you see as the hypocrisy of the West. Would you be willing to do it? I would even pay you and post it on this blogazine.

          1. There are many examples of political protests in China. Factory workers, people who’ve been abused by the police, citizen against government corruption. STFW.

            Let’s take the US as an example of a farce of a democracy versus the Chinese government. Well, let’s see, the US has over 2 million people in prison (over 7.3 million people in the prison system, 70% of which are non-whites), just killed over 1 million civilians in Iraq alone, spends the same amount of money on killing than all the countries of the world combined, and calls itself a democracy, when, in fact, citizens do not vote for the president directly.

            Even despite the electorate system, most USians think they have only 2 choices for President due to censorship of other legal candidates. After election, citizens have virtually no say as to what their so-called representatives in government do in their name. The US is the perfect example of a farce of a democracy. The Constitution and what it stands for has become a religion rather than law.

            I’ve lived in China for 3 years now. I feel more free here than in the US. That’s for sure.

            It’s almost too bad that the Chinese government isn’t as savvy with media as the US and other foreign governments who are able to use media to demonize China (as well as other countries) as part of the plan to destabilize and overthrow it.

            The Chinese government is not awful. It’s not very different from other “democratic” governments. None are perfect. Artists have always been evicted due to urban planners. Paris is a perfect example. There are others. Don’t think that China is special in that respect. It’s fine to be upset, but don’t single out China for hate. At least, China does not spread death and destruction under the guise of “freedom” and “democracy” around the planet.

            China is doing what it needs to do get its people to the same level as the foreign countries that had almost succeeded in carving it up into little pieces in the beginning of the last century. There are many foreign nations who never want to see a Chinese on the same level as a white USian. Non-whites are to be exploited, according to their mindsets.

            As for artistic freedom, I think that for everything you think cannot be done in China, I can find a similar example in the”free” world.

            I’ll write an article defending the Chinese government. How much?

          2. If you think China is not a repressive, autocratic regime then you’re delusional. China’s is evolving but its nowhere near the level of Western democracies in terms of human rights, civic involvement, etc. It will probably get there but after the public gets rid of the current government that has the largest death penalty rate in the world, the most political prisoners, and no transparency, so we don’t know what they exactly are doing in places like Sudan (where China is supporting a genocidal regime). No one is saying the US is perfect, but at least information that challenges the authorities is freely discussed and not censored.

            You sound like a stereotypical jaded Western (are you Western? That I’m assuming). You probably benefit from not being native and I’m glad you’re in China and not here. Maybe you should give up your passport and become Chinese and let’s see what you say when you don’t have the privilege of that passport.

            More free there than the US? Really? Well, you’re probably not Tibetan, Uighur, black, LGBT (or if you are, probably self-hating), or an activist for democracy.

            Your vision of the US is so bizarre, so I can only assume you don’t really understand it, and its not a monolith. I’m not born here or raised here and I still find lots of great things in the ideals, but then again, to each their own.

            You may be interested in knowing that we were actually working on a series on artist communities around the world and placing the events in China in the context of gentrification around the world, but you assumed we were hating on China.

            Btw, love your handle, EUROTRASH.

          3. You didn’t say how much you’d pay me to write an article.

            China is certainly no worse than the U.S.

            Have you ever even been to China? Your opinions are simply that; opinions. No facts. There are LGBT nightclubs, “gay” nights at bars and lounges in Beijing. STFW! I have numerous friends who are gay and lesbian. They lead normal lives, even prosperous lives. What are you talking about? Oh, based on what you’ve written so far, fantasy.

            How is China sooo different?

            Not sure why you lumped blacks in, but Tibetans, Uighurs, even muslims, for that matter… They all leave normal, even prosperous lives. Don’t even get started with your “free Tibet” bullshit. I can already tell you’re going to show yourself to be an ignorant fool who didn’t check facts before forming an opinion. Once again, 70% of the US prison population is non-white.

            If you’d spent as much time learning about the true history of the U.S. as you did criticizing China, you’d know about the huge number of political prisoners the US has. Remember, 70% of the 7.3 million people in the prison system are non-white. One could say that they are political prisoners.

            However, without even going so far, don’t tell me you’ve never heard of Cointelpro? You probably haven’t, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion, so let me school you a bit: It was a series of covert, and often illegal, projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) aimed at investigating and disrupting dissident political organizations within the United States. –

            You think the US government is transparent, too? Cointelpro is just 1 example of the US’s “transparency.” The expansion of the US aggressions in the world into Pakistan is another. Only after 3 US paid killers (soliders) died there, was the public informed of what it’s government was doing. STFW, you will find many more.

            You are brainwashed by the media, a perfect example of what I meant by the difference between the way China censors and the US manipulates.

            You used the word “democracy.” USians like to use the word democracy as an excuse for taking people things, whether it be natural resources or their lives. When the US says “democracy,” it means, “we own you.”

            So, keep your “democracy” and your pathetic excuse for an art community to yourself. Don’t pollute and corrupt this world anymore with philosophies you don’t even understand and baseless information you cannot defend.

            I’m a US citizen. Born in the US. Raised in the US. Spent the rest of my life so far living around the world. I want the US to be the country I was taught it was. Because, it is far from it and getting further. Before people like you can start telling other countries how to do things. Fix the US first. I’m working on that. You should, too. Start educating yourself now. Otherwise, you’re just standing there with egg on your face.

            BTW, what kind of fucked up name is Hrag Vartanian?

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