798 – Dashanzi Art District

Last weekend I made a trip to Dashanzi, which used to be a factory that once employed some ten thousand people, but now is not used anymore. A few years ago artist started to use the large production halls that were now longer needed and turned them into art studios and galleries.
The factory area is also called 798, what made it a little bit difficult for the driver to understand where we wanted to go as “98” is pronounces the same way as “bar”, but at early afternoon we were definitely not heading for a drink but to watch some interesting pieces of art.

Laundry at 798
Factory backyard? Art gallery? You never know… This was a still existing laundry.

The factory was built in the 1950s, actually with the help of (East) Germany and some of the equipment needed for the construction was shipped to Beijing all the way with the Trans-Siberian Railway. By now there are little remains that there once were more than 10000 workers laboring in the huge halls, but here and there one can catch a glimpse on how it might have been looking at the time when the factory was a model factory with special benefits for its workers: When we explored the area, we saw a still running laundry emitting white clouds of steam or an old blackboard were absent workers’ names were notes among other things.

But there was a lot of new, modern or even avant guard items placed in the area, the contrast with the old factory building was making it even more interesting. Furthermore the large halls that often looked alike were filled with so many different artwork, one could not even be sure whether the dozing security guard was meant to be part of the artwork.

Graffiti at 798
Artwork was not only inside the halls but also on the street walls.

Outside and inside the halls were still remains of large slogans from the Mao era, some like “Long live Chairman Mao” (毛主席万岁) seemed to be renovated. However, in one exhibition there was even artwork about the slogans of the one-child-policy or to promote working together in harmony – slogans that are still common on house walls in China’s rural areas. I guess these lines cannot not fully reflect the special atmosphere, Christine, who visited 798 in April did a better job than me. If you can read German, you should check her post.

The Space Gallery at 798
The “Space Gallery”, one of 798’s most important and biggest galleries.

Although by today the factory is described as an insider’s tip in every travel guide, we therefore assumed that it now longer is a tip only given to insiders – but we were wrong. Even if it has turned into a tourist area to some extend (the galleries do have more or less large signs, the prices written out in some art galleries are exorbitant and the menu in the “spacy café” had Chinese captions next to the English), the original spirit has remained and foreign tourist are not by far not the only visitors as we had suspected, we could see quite the contrary as the majority of the visitors were Chinese. As Chinese, they tended to take a lot of photos – well, fair enough, I need to admit the we took quite a few shots, too. I will upload some to my Flickr account soon.
As the factory area is quite big and the day we went there the weather was incredibly hot, we only saw part of it and will mostly go there again at some point.

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2 Responses to “798 – Dashanzi Art District”

  1. Terrific Trips: Places to go in and around Beijing « Beijing 2007 Says:

    […] one-day trips included the 798 art district in Dashanzi, the Botanical Garden and Beijing Zoo. The Botanical Garden was very nice to talk a walk, however, […]

  2. Germany - a far away country « Beijing 2007 Says:

    […] more outstanding for my eyes. The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) who is also involved in the 798 factory was one of this year’s documenta’s stars. He brought 1001 Chinese people to Kassel with […]

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