Interdisciplinary. Community. Advocacy. Humor.
My last post about my trip to China focusses on the events that took place after the exhibition and conference concluded. With Design Week just underway, I headed out in the morning with Ruudt Peters and Jamie Bennett. Our destination was Dashilar, a well known “Hutong” or village in the heart of Beijing, and one of the main areas for Design Week events and exhibitions. After locating the narrow passage that lead into Dashilar, the first stop was at Ubi Gallery.
The gallery itself is bright, clean and well organized, in addition to being well situated in a vibrant traditional Beijing neighborhood. While the people of Dashilar may not be Ubi’s target clientele, the gallery feels like it belongs and as if it has always been there. We were greeted by Machtelt Schelling and offered a proper European coffee while we began to peruse the work on display. My eye was immediately caught by a shelf displaying a number of egg shaped brooches by Noon Passama. Each piece perfectly coated with colorful automotive paint and glistening in the sunlight. After sifting through the levels of drawers in the showcases, I found myself standing in front of a wall panel decorated with a selection of digital flower brooches by Heng Lee. We ended our visit at Ubi and Jamie and I moved on, leaving Ruudt and Machtelt to talk shop.
From there we ventured on, alley by alley, stopping at essentially anything that looked interesting. Many of the exhibitions in Dashilar were focussed on the Design Week theme of “Smart Cities” and design based planning and development. The “Hutong” became an ideal and culturally relevant focal point, as they are the last remaining zones of old Beijing that have yet to undergo gentrification. There is much debate surrounding whether to modernize the Hutong way of life, preserving culture, or demolish them completely, paving way for condominiums and high-rise architecture. The reality is, with a population of almost 35 million people, it is hard to justify the Hutong’s inefficient use of space. However, based on some of the architectural concepts being exhibited in Dashilar, a solution may be on the horizon.
After days of hustle and bustle, the three of us enjoyed meandering around Dashilar for quite some time. It wasn’t until we realized that we had been pleasantly walking in circles that we decided it was time to head over to our next Design Week zones, Art Area D-798 and D-751. After a taxi ride and a quiet lunch on a restaurant patio, we set out to explore the repurposed industrial zone, now brimming with permanent galleries, shops and pop-up exhibitions. Jamie and I headed in one direction, and Ruudt in another on his way to do an interview. With the day ticking away, it seemed as though we had arrived in a completely new city, and with a Design Week map in hand, we tried to make sense of what we should try to see. Planning proved to be a complete waste of time, and Jamie and I found ourselves unable to take more than a few steps without finding somewhere new to check out.
At a certain point Jamie returned to the city center and Ruudt and I made plans to reconnect somewhere in D-751 and find a glass of wine to enjoy. Little did I know that the location Ruudt had selected was the opening night party at the Swarovski Digital Crystal exhibition. I arrived to find the opening speeches in progress, and Ruudt and I procured seats at the back of the room. After words from the collaborating artists and Nina Swarovski, the exhibition was officially opened and Ruudt and I walked through with the first group. While there were several pieces that did not seem to belong, the exhibition was very interesting and Swarovski continued to assert itself as a leader in both technological and artistic accomplishments. To experience the exhibition, one was guided through a series ramps and walkways, leading from one chamber to another. The only light in the exhibition space was the light generated from the installations and projections in each chamber. Ruudt and I both commented that it was probably strategic not to serve wine at the reception beforehand.
I couldn’t have imagined what would happen next, and after leaving the Digital Crystal space, Ruudt and I found ourselves standing in front of the Dutch Design Pavilion where coincidentally the VIP party was just getting started. Ruudt being the Dutch celebrity that he is, managed to get us on the list and badges around our necks within all of five minutes. With what little energy we had left at that point in the evening, we entered the party and proceeded to the open bar to acquire the glass of wine we had sought out initially.It was quite a scene in there. Dutch design and Dutch designers were everywhere. I was delighted to see some of Marcel Wanders’ extruded carbon fibre chairs. The design is based on ‘balloon animals’, and the chairs are incredibly light weight. I had the pleasure of meeting Marcel who happened to be standing by his chairs at that moment. I snapped a photo as he picked one up with a single hand effortlessly.
Complete with DJ and dancing, the party continued to pick up steam. At one point, Ruudt and I found ourselves in a booth dedicated to defiling the image of a noted architect who had prepared stacks of his own laminated image, along with easels and permanent markers. I added an eyepatch and some “pirate-esque” dental work, while Ruudt produced one of his blind drawings for the makeover. It was shortly thereafter we realized we had had enough for one day and proceeded to the nearest taxi stand.
I spent most of the following day with Jamie exploring Beijing. Beijing is the kind of city that probably takes multiple visits in order to familiarize ones self with the layout. We met near Tiananmen Square and walked around a pedestrian zone before heading into the square itself. From there we walked over to the National Gallery and spent the afternoon looking at a small sliver of the permanent collection. Chinese history is long and well documented, and this was on display in full force at the Gallery.
After returning to our respective hotels to rest up before dinner, Jamie and I met back up for what would be my favorite dinner of the trip. Jamie had made plans with a former student of his from Taiwan, Lynn, and her boyfriend Patrick, to meet us for dinner. I was tasked with selecting the restaurant, and I used this as my opportunity to refer to CNN Travel’s list of top spots to eat in the city. I chose a restaurant called Ding Ding Xiang, known for their Mongolian hotpot and chic decor. I had little to no previous experience with hotpot, but was attracted to the fresh ingredients and social dynamic of the hotpot methodology. It turned out to be a great choice and the four of us dined in great company. The food was fantastic, and I would recommend to anyone going to Beijing that this spot is worth trying. www.dingdingxiang.com.cn
Over the course of dinner, Jamie and I began to concoct our plan to leave the city the next day and visit The Great Wall of China. After reading through a few of my travel books, I chose Mitianyu as our destination. There are roughly five Great Wall sites reachable from Beijing within two hours by car. With some assistance from my hotel concierge, I arranged for a driver to pick us up and take us there and back. When Jamie arrived at my hotel in the morning we set out with our driver for the day. The road to Mitianyu took us from Beijing’s periphery, through industrial towns, farmland and fishing villages, until we finally began to ascend into the mountains. As we came around a final sharp turn, the Great Wall became visible, snaking along the ridge top of the mountains like a spine.
We parked the car, and the diver assured us that he would be there when returned, and would wait as long as we liked. A steep and stepped incline, littered with vendors selling souvenirs, led the way to the cable car that transported visitors up to the Wall. You really can’t possibly imagine the sheer scale of the wall until you are actually on it.
Looking out in either direction, the wall appears to continue forever from one peak to the next. The walking surface is far from flat, nor is it level in any way. The grade shifts from one side to the other, curving and twisting along like a roller coaster. Watch towers are dotted along the way, and at your own risk, it is permissible to climb them. I continued walking for quite a distance and along the way realized how lucky we were to be there on a day essentially free of tourists.
I found myself doing what I expect most visitors try to avoid, capturing pictures with people in them. At the point at which we felt we had spent enough time on the mountain, we took the cable car back down, picking up a couple of souvenirs from the vendors on the steps, and found our driver.
I had one more day in Beijing that I spent on my own in an area called Sanlitun. While making some notes in a coffee shop that afternoon, I began to realize how much my trip and experience had been impacted by the people I had been surrounded by. Beyond making new friends and contacts though, the community dynamic that I participated in was both personally and professionally inspiring. I live in relative isolation, socially and geographically, and find that my interactions with other artists, jewelers, or creatives in general, takes place at these types of events. It really reinforced my appreciation of collective projects, group interplay, and the power of chemistry between people in general. I certainly look forward to the next opportunity I have to be surrounded by such an amazing and talented group of people, and I'm already thinking about my next trip to China.
Additional photos from the exhibition, conference, and design week can be found on my Facebook page in the photo albums.
This is an impressive collection of images. Thank you for taking time to share your experience.
It is my pleasure Harriete! Thanks for taking the time to share with me :)
Thanks so much for sharing your adventures with us.
I've enjoyed this 5-part series about Ezra's experience in China. It expands our horizons as jewelers and travelers.
Thank you Wendy, that's very sweet! And thank you for following along through all 5 sections!
i kept this in my inbox all this time so i would finally get to reading it all. thank you so very much for taking the time to share this experience with us. i can only imagine the joy you must have experienced participating in this event. and btw, your work is amazing. i didn't even realize it was your piece i have pinned to my inspiration board!
Thank you very much. That means a lot and I have really enjoyed being able to share this with all of you !