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Curating in Asia
Caochangdi Art Village, Beijing: “Art, Harmony, Joy, Justice, Abundance, Peace”
After his internationally contested arrest in April 2011, ArtReview Magazine has named Chinese artist Ai Weiwei the most powerful person in the art world. Though his public figure is acclaimed by the media arena and his works are shown in international art museums such as the Tate Gallery in London or the Haus der Kunst in Munich, Ai Weiwei still occupies a liminal and controversial position in his home country. As political commentator, Ai Weiwei has encountered a strong resistance by the Chinese establishment and not only in a strict juridical sense. So far the artist has never been invited to exhibit his work in Chinese national museums, being the latter mostly controlled by the State. As a response to the influence of political power on the museum sphere in China, Ai Weiwei, and like him many other artists and curators, started his own space at the Beijing’s Chaochangdi Village, one of the capital’s 500 peripheral urban villages. Since the opening of Ai’s house and atelier in 1999 several major and international art galleries, cultural centres and artists followed him and gathered together with the local population, mainly composed by farmers, illegal developers and floating workers. My paper will deal with the history of this urban village and its recent development into one of China’s most interesting places for contemporary art production and exhibition. My reading of today’s Chaoghandi Art Village, enabled through a collaboration with Urs Meile Gallery in 2009/10, will explicit the intimate connections between Ai Weiwei’s activity as a trans-national and “global artist” and the hybrid urban tissue of the district. The methodology adopted follows the semantic categories of “citation” and “ex-citation”: the introduction (citation) of an alien typology of architecture, either for functionality or aesthetics, has provoked (ex-cited) an independent and informal reshaping of the village by its traditional inhabitants. The a-synthetic balance between art and life, as well as between original and copy, global and local provides us with a paradigmatic example of the contemporary trends of cultural translation and appropriation, which are transversally affecting all aspects of our lives.