Earth without art is just 'eh'...
Helen gets Fridays free from lectures, which means we generally up the ante with regards to what we do on these days: Last Friday was The Great Wall of China and this Friday was The 798 Art District. We took directions from a strip of paper on the notice board in my hostel which gave us the bus number and destination (having grown up in West Bridgford we are very good at taking buses now) and we reached the bus stop with no problems. It was when we got off the bus that it became clear that the Hostel instructions weren't as precise as we'd have hoped. So in a jovial fashion, I suggested to Helen that we ask the next 'cool-looking people' who walk past, as they'd obviously be going to the same place as us. And it was (secretly) to my delight that our successful attempt to gage directions came from asking a pair of thirty-something-year-old women fitted with leather jackets, boots and very nice handbags.
As soon as we entered I knew I was in for a treat: ahead of us stood a street with art galleries and decorative sculptures on both sides; and there were side roads, hosting more galleries, boutiques and more obscure sculpture. I don't want to come across as one of those 'art-types', or even worse, one of those 'trying-to-be-an-art-type's. The 798 art district is very much about the people's art. All galleries (bar one - which we boycotted) were free entry, and the subject of the galleries was accessible and fun. We saw propaganda icons altered to include panda faces, we saw pictures of flowers made up of small msn emoticons, we saw big displays of colour, size and shape. .. And we saw more.
I was glad that the subject of modern society cropped up a lot (what else would you expect at a modern art exhibition in China?), because it was a chance for the Chinese artists to express how they felt about the developing world (or jump on the bandwagon with those of us who want to). One example that has stuck in my mind is an oil on canvas sketch of a blossoming tree, very traditional; except that the birds fluttering around its branches were made up of metallic nuts and bolts: less traditional. Do note, that I don't intend to imply beauty in my description of 'traditional' or not; in this case the tree did look beautiful but the birds did too. I know one person who would argue (very well) that the birds were perhaps more beautiful than the picture of the tree.
In fact, I have many examples where new innovative design has proven to be more beautiful than traditional style (in my opinion, at least) and this was proven so later in the evening when Helen and I visited the Olympic stadium to view the Bird's Nest lit up at night.
While we sat and ate our pizza in the art district we read the graffiti (a number of 'joints' in Beijing allow customers to write/draw meaningful messages on the walls); and apart from the odd one or two individuals who felt the need to write Avril Lavigne's name, or the 'Chingland!!!' exclamation, the majority of messages were about love or peace. We saw 'love not war' crop up a few times and we saw a number of 'you will never know that I love you' and 'I will love you forever' variations. Obviously, lots of people felt the need to write their names and the date too. To be honest, the graffiti fitted the pattern of what I'd expect to see if the walls were recreated by any nationality. So we're not that different after all, are we?