Caochangdi – artist village

Scene from Caochangdi

After a short stay back home in Berlin, I started my second residency this year which brought me to the people’s republic of China – to Beijing. The program that I was selected for has an »Art & Science« theme initiated by Tsinghua University (China’s answer to the MIT, so they say) and is kindly supported by Goethe Institute Beijing.
My project is tied to the research topic »Sensorium of the Extraordinary« initiated by TASML (Tsinghua Art & Science Media Laboratory) which is an open collaboration between researchers at Tsinghua University, Parsons New School and EPFL in Switzerland who are hosting the residence.

However, I’m staying in the most peculiar place that I’ve ever visited before, a »village« called Caochangdi where I live in a spacious loft-flat provided by a well-established gallery/commercial artist residency called Platform China.

The village is a settlement that has been started by migrant workers, who live here in a semi-legal state and were quickly followed by a growing scence of individual artists, collectives and huge art galleries; their main motivation being the cheap real estate that can be found beyond the 5th ring road of Beijing (which very far from the center with no metro station less than a good 30 minutes bus ride away). The most famous buildings around here were in fact designed by Ai Wei Wei who also runs a studio at the edge of the village.

Night market scene at Caochangdi

The village is certainly a place that needs getting used to. There’s the hustle and bustle of everyday Chinese life as it is lived on the streets, with a market selling fruit, vegetables and duck-blood tofu, with less fortunate chickens waiting in tiny cages for their final destiny, a plethora of small restaurants, shops, street vendors and people happily going about their daily business. And then there’s the art world, securely hidden away from it all behing thick walls of huge brick fortresses. Entry is only granted by personal invitation (a privilege that I unfortunately lack) or by visiting those parts that are art galleries.

Apart from 1-2 local restaurants that people from the creative scenes visit (and you have to be in the know to find them) it’s really hard to catch a glimpse of the art people that live and work around here in the numerous studios. For everyone who wants to visit Caochangdi, here’s were artsy folks hang out:

  • Restaurant Fodder Factory has an English menue but the staff hardly understands English, so just point and wave your arms.
  • There’s a brand new tiny Sichuan restaurant right in the centre of the village called »Mum’s Sichuan« which only has a Chinese menue but the friendly lady is very welcoming, speaks some English and is keen to help you with your order (excellent food!). It’s on the way to the little market to your right side. You can’t miss it, as it clearly stands out from the other places, being so clean and neat.

Deserted art buildings on a Saturday afternoon

Susanna Hertrich / / Countries, Residencies / Permalink

About Susanna Hertrich

I work with devices, photography, graphic, sculpture and video. The essence of my work are stories that describe alternative realities. I encourage the viewer to break free from accustomed perspectives on everyday life and take a position beyond valid norms. I build devices and scenarios in which I combine my imagination for the functionality of objects with actual scientific possibilities – thus linking reality with fiction. Being interested in technology I find myself working with scientists in research labs from time to time. Sometimes I even publish papers at tech conferences, yet I consider myself a complete non-tech person. Three years ago I returned to the city that – most of all other places – I consider my 'home'. I had partly lived in Norway, studied in the UK and did residencies in research labs in Japan and the US. So currently I find myself in the awkward situation of being a German in Germany. Being on the move again now after three years in Berlin is essential for my work, my stories – and my mental well-being.

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