Saturday, May 8, 2010

Caochangdi update

Wrote this for City Weekend, reposting here in full:

The Beijinger blog announced this morning that “everyone in the area” of Caochangdi was “issued notices that they will be evicted and the suburb demolished.” While this is technically true, the one-page notice was actually received three weeks ago, on April 16, and, like previous notices last summer, was typically vague and noncommittal.

Government-stamped and originating from a village office, the April 16 notice read, in part, “Following the progression of urbanization, our village has been listed in the area of demolition and eviction, but the time has not been specified.” Three Shadows Photograph Art Gallery founders Rong Rong and Inri, along with artist Huang Rui, responded by quickly drawing up a petition to save Caochangdi. It was circulated electronically and via hard copies, in English and Chinese. You can sign it here.

So where does that leave us now? Same as before - uncertain. Many people, villagers and artists alike, believe demolition is inevitable, or are at least resigned to that fate. “There are rumors and everything, and it would be a great shame (if they tore this down), but Beijing is expanding and there’s a price to pay for that,” says Fabien Fryns, owner of F2 Gallery. But Caochangdi’s future is far from sealed. According to a Beijing News article on April 23, a town government official denied reports of any impending demolition.

Last month we put Caochangdi on the cover of this magazine hoping to draw wider attention to a bustling urban village that’s home to some of the better – though understated – art galleries in the city. We timed the publication with the opening of PhotoSpring, a photography festival spearheaded by Three Shadows and modeled after the world-famous Arles festival in France. And while it was impossible to ignore the sense of uncertainty and dread that permeated – Caochangdi faces the same fate as many art districts, the specter of being leveled by developers who believe the space is living down its economic potential – the area has proven remarkably resilient.

Residents have been conducting business as usual while PhotoSpring, which closes on June 30, is chugging along just fine. The festival attracted more than 5,000 visitors on the opening weekend, April 17-18, leading Jillian Schultz, a Three Shadows international affairs officer, to say, “I was certain there was no way (developers) could proceed.”

“But then again,” she adds, “it’s developing China, and you never know.”

“Right now, there’s no solid news,” says Rose Jiang Wei, owner of Art Channel Gallery. “We do hope we can stay, so people are working hard at it, but we’re not clear what stance the government is taking. We really don’t know."

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