Laura Tan


Beginning in the year 2000, Chinese artists and art groups began resettlement of factories in an area known as the Dashanzi district, a northeastern segment of Beijing that had gone relatively unnoticed after the Cultural Revolution. Formerly electronic production warehouses, these factories were created during the 1950s for greater socialist (and particularly military) aims (Kiang 5). Although this phenomenon of artists inhabiting factory spaces is rather commonplace in American or European cities, the Chinese government has, in a unique moment of lax governance, “supported” such a district by allowing for its continual existence and growth. Reading the district according to Henri Lefebvre’s interpretations of space provides an approach that unifies ideology and the physical site, and reveals the multi-layers necessary and active in the sustenance of the arts district. Lefebvre’s seminal work The Production of Space bridged binaries of mental and physical space, drawing attention to its role as a locus for change and revolution. Space is produced, and the ideologies and cultures that are behind the composition of an area are as important as the physical constructions built upon it. Therefore, an area needs to be understood as a “social space” that is dialectically created by a multitude of relations (Lefebvre 68). Neither the history of the arts district, its structures, nor the art that it produces is singularly responsible for creating successful (if short-lived) grassroots urban planning, but rather the dialectic among several competing social facets, as well as our current era of globalization, can be viewed as responsible for this unique moment and physical site of contemporary art.

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