Notes From Far Away: Culture Immersion at Songzhuang Art Village.

I couldn’t believe my luck.

Our apartment in Beijing had one of those mattresses that moulds to your shape yet gives a firm support.
Gone were the hourly turns to avoid further agonies throughout the night.  I’d slept like a baby.

I could see myself in the mirror of the wardrobes next to the bed – it wasn’t a pretty site – I had the look of the Banshee about me.

My first thoughts turned to the day’s activities.

A visit to an artist’s colony, then on the Great Wall, followed by either cocktails in town to see the New Year in, or hospitalization, which was yet undecided.

My earlier thoughts prior to coming to China were doubts over how I would cope with such a long journey, and at one point almost dissuaded me from coming.

This morning’s thoughts followed a similar vein – all I could see in my mind’s eye was the ski lift that was used to get up to the base of the wall, and I was terrified at the prospect.

Furthermore , Nick was also not looking forward to it, and we have both recently discovered the delights of vertigo – sometimes from something simple like just getting out of bed, so this day was going to present the greatest challenge – getting up to The Great Wall Of China.

Breakfast was being served by the girls in the main room next door, and Eve was already regaling Holly with tales of her last visit to the wall, and about the fun they were both to have as they were opting for a toboggan descent on a track down from the Wall.  Better them than me I thought to myself, as I discerned more than a passing furrow in Holly’s brow at the thought of this mode of transport.

Our driver was there at 8.30, and he spoke excellent English, which was going to give Eve a day’s respite from her role as translator.

I had resigned myself to the fact that having our younger family with us, we would inevitably follow the trail of some of the more hip hot spots of China, and sure enough, Holly’s nose was buried in her Wallpaper City Guide To Beijing within moments of getting in the car.

Today’s culture spot was to be at the SONGZHUANG ART VILLAGE
We drove through a ramshackle township on the very outskirts of Beijing, and I could see random installations along the roadside, and guessed we would not be far away.

Ever the pragmatist, I suspected that I would see a gaggle of gaunt-cheeked, impoverished young men, wearing paint daubed smocks, smoking roll ups with a paintbrush placed at a jaunty angle behind their ear.

How wrong I was.

As ever, fact and fiction rarely combine and so it is with the Internet and Real Life.

We came upon the colony and it was deserted.

Our driver had telephoned ahead, and we were soon greeted by the founder’s wife of this particular “colony” who had agreed to take us around.

It soon became clear that this was a seasonal venue where artists came to paint, share, exhibit and learn, but today there was no-one there, save the founder’s wife,her daughter, mother and grandchild.

I am sure this colony’s roots lay in the romantic annals of history where artists who felt shunned by the establishment were herded together in an area created by a few dissidents, and behind the high walls and closed gates of the surrounding area I was confident that an artist or two was daubing on an odd canvas, but our car had been parked in front of the Songzhuang Art Village Restaurant, which , for an old sceptic like me, rang out the bells of commercialism in my ears.

Interestingly, the article in the link above from CNN Travel says:-

“Unless there is a major exhibition, most of the galleries are vacant or closed.”

A pastiche on the notion of an artist’s colony – who knows?

With the meet and greet over, we were taken around an enthralling array of works generated within this location, and by our guide’s admission “this” was a seasonal artist’s school that people paid to come and visit.


It was also multinational with artists coming from far and wide to work there.

We spent a few fascinating hours there, and marvelled at the standard of the work on display, and felt very privileged to be shown around – it was like a private viewing, and I guess that’s exactly what it was.

Having exhausted the camera batteries and asked more questions than our guide could answer, we parted company and headed towards the hills and out of town.

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