Updated: Oct 28, 2018
Earlier this week, I arrived in the city of Chongqing, China to begin a 3 month artist in residence with the Dimensions Art Center (DAC).
Not ever having been here before, I honestly didn't know what to expect. You hear stories while growing up in America about what it was like to be in another country. Through reading books and watching American made movies, we began to form an understanding about the cultural and ideological frameworks that serve as the foundation for our understanding of life in another country. But how much of it is true?
After just just one week of being here, I've realized that, in truth, I don't know much about what life is like in China -- A lot of my preconceived notions are just wrong.
So I've wiped my expectations away and one of the first things I learned here is that Chongqing is an absolutely awesome city.
The city of Chongqing is located in the south central area of China. It has a total population of 33 million and a metropolitan population of 8 times that of Manhattan. It is one of the main transportation hubs for the country since many new highways and high-speed rails had been constructed. As far as manufacturing goes, Chongqing doesn't export foreign goods like other cities because it's landlocked...but it has a special purpose within the county. Chongqing is China's main city for military weapons and research development.
Because of this fact, the city is absolutely covered with factories. In the past, Chongqing used to be the place where tanks were produced for the military but now many of these factories produce motorcycles instead.
The part of the city where I am living is called 九龙 坡 (Jiu Long Po) or something like "A nine-sloped dragon". The hills here are insane and put San Fransisco to shame. The main streets flow through the valleys, but If you want to go to a shop or someone's house, you'll need to walk up a series of steep hills. When I first got here, I asked a friend of mine where I could find a gym. He looked at me quizzically and laughed, "Why do you want to go to the gym? Just go walk around."
Besides the numerous hills, the city is completely intertwined with the natural world. Trees, grass, and various shrubbery envelope many buildings and line the sides of roads. In many neighborhoods, there are community maintained parks where you might see children playing, older people dancing, or people practicing 太极拳 (Tai Ji Quan) or what we call Tai Chi.
Nearby my artist residency is the famous Sichuan Fine arts institute, one of the four main art academies in China and the only one in the southwest region. Because there are so many art students in this district, the number of art stores around is just ridiculous. The top 5 most popular types of shops in the district are:
1) Hot pot restaurants
2) Fresh food markets
3) Boutique convenience stores
4) Art supplies stores
5) Ma Jiang (mah-jong) gambling houses. - I'm still not bold enough to go in yet although I'm told they will happily take my money. ^_^
Because there as so many artists around, many of the buildings have been covered with hand-painted or wheat-pasted murals. An artist friend of mine tells me that the Sichuan art institute in conjunction with the Chinese government hired more than 300 artists to paint the buildings. The scale of the work around the city is just insane.
Another result of all of the artists in this district is how they've transformed the main street. So many of the walls have been converted into free-use "graffiti walls" open to everyone and anyone to tag with some spray paint, brush, or pen. On many walls, you will see small notes handwritten in Chinese-- and the local art supplies shop keepers are more than happy to supply tourists with something they can use to draw on the walls.
Every day after I finish walking and taking photos, I come back to work in my studio at the 十方國際藝術駐留項目 (10 Dimensions Artist in Residency or DAC) building. The campus of the building has a really tight multi-story floorpan with a minimalistic vibe, but don't let the looks fool you, this place is amazing for creativity.
The residency building is quiet, open, has tall ceilings, and many different disciplinary workshops such as a calligraphy studio, photography studio, recording studio, and wood shop. The organization also hosts frequent art & cultural discussions and even has 5 large exhibition halls where artists can show the work that they make during their residency.
In addition to workshops, the residency also has space to board more than 20 artists and each individual artist's studio is just what someone needs to have minimal distractions. The space pictured below is my studio, complete with a simple desk, couch, lighting, and a single loft-style bed. I've gone ahead and decorated it with various artworks of local Chinese artists that I find to be inspiring. I've also already stocked up on various drawing and painting supplies that I will need to create.
It's been less than a week since I arrived but I've already learned so much. This place is better than I could have ever imagined and I am so excited to be here. I can't wait to share more of my adventures next week.