Hero Artists Studios – Taopu

Wednesday, my usual PhD research day, was spent at artists’ studios in the Taopu district of Shanghai. It is one of the fastest developing art districts in the North West area of the city. The contemporary Chinese artist Jin Shan invited me to visit when we were at the Shanghai Gallery of Art dinner a couple of Saturdays ago. I spoke about it in a previous post here. On this very rainy day, I got subway line 11 from Jing’an to Qilianshan Lu and walked the five minutes up the street to where the studios were located.

Jin Shan‘s studio is in the factory and grounds of the ‘Hero Pen Factory’, which was established in 1931 so has been running for just over 80 years here in Shanghai. They have some of the lowest studio rental costs in Shanghai, paying only 0.68 kuai per square metre per day, whereas in the m50 art district people are paying as much as 4-5 kuai per square metre per day. A very big difference in cost but not in terms of facilities. They were fantastic spaces that they had only moved into in September 2011. A real find.

Jin Shan met me at the factory gates, showed me to his studio, collected the other artists on his floor, then took me to experience a lunch in the pen factory dinner hall with the factory workers. The artists called it a Communist lunch and you could see why. You have to take your own dish or bowl to eat from and your own chopsticks. This was certainly a new experience harking back to pre-Cultural Revolution times. As soon as I entered the dinner hall I was glared at, obviously, as a foreigner would be in this situation. You went up to the numbered windows to ask for what you wanted to eat…they gave me a little bit of everything, apart from meat…so I had two different types of tofu, spiced lotus root, white rice and some incredibly salty fried fish. They had run out of vegetables as we got there a little late…it was almost 12.30pm…remember lunch starts early in China. You also had to pay in tokens using these small pieces of coloured plastic originally from the Cultural Revolution era. You can see they are dated from 1987 and 1991. I’m so glad Jin Shan gave me a few to take home. The artists can buy these tokens in bulk from the factory and then go and eat with the workers, paying hardly anything for what is good, tasty food.

When you have finished eating, you going and empty the leftovers into a big tray and rinse your bowl in the long sink outside by the dinner hall. It was now time to talk art, to talk Jin Shan, to talk about his practice. He talked me through his recent years of practice, recent exhibitions and future projects. There was one artwork that I may well be including in a future exhibition…it has never been shown before so I can’t really speak about it here. He saw the creation of conceptual art as being formulaic…”A + B = C”…too dry at the moment and to easy to construct by artists in China, so he is attempting to move away from this and re-examine the conceptual as a theory through future works.

After the studio discussion, Jin Shan showed me round the neighbouring artists studios. One of the artists was not there…a few days later I found out that this was Chen Hangfeng‘s studio who I know very well! The other artists were Wu Ding and Girolamo Marri…I am coming back to the studios in a week or so to speak to Girolamo about his practice as his studio was then still being renovated. Below are images from Wu Ding‘s studio…

On my way out from the studios I managed to sneak a few photographs of the pen factory workers at their work stations…that was until a worker tried to find out what I was doing so I quickly ran off. Chen Hangfeng said he could take me round the factory next time I visit. I can’t wait. Until another PhD Wednesday…

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