Phenomenology is the new black

Songzhuang Artist Village Beijing

Only in China!

When I say artist village it is just that – a purpose-built area that hold some 2,000 artists all in enormous studios churning out work ad infinitum – extraordinary – I can think of nowhere else on the planet where a city specifically organises space for their artists to create. It really gives you a completely different insight into how this all works. In the west we read of artist studios being demolished and they are moved on – yes this is true – Beijing is constantly destroying the old to replace with the new – leases are very short here, you would be most fortunate to have a studio longer than five years! So, indeed you need to be flexible in this town. Artists are used to being shifted at a moment’s notice and some how it all works – well that’s what I am lead to believe.

This unique experience to meet and mingle with some of Beijing’s rich plethora of incredible artists was brought about by Catherine Springer (fellow RGG resident) organising a road trip to Songzhuang to meet Australian artist Denise Keele-bedford who not only lives and exhibits here but also does the same in Australia. Please visit her website for an insight into her extraordinary merging of cultures in her arts practice.


image of Denise Keele-bedford

Denise Keele-bedford

Not the best pic I know!

image of Denise Keele-bedford artworks

Artworks by Denise Keele-bedford


She is fluent in Chinese and is totally immersed into the life and culture of Beijing – her art is strident yet extremely feminine and she draws your eyes to unexpected things – a wonderful host to have, not only to showcase her own work but as a guide to demonstrate to us the extent of Beijing’s enormous art world and the proliferation and self-promotion that is tantamount to survive in this crazy metropolis. She of course knows everyone and each artist is in turn excited to meet others from abroad and are extremely generous with the giving of catalogues and large tomes of their work – printing books in China is dirt cheap and if any of you artists fancy doing a mass print out of catalogue raisonnees look no further than China, half the cost to print them here. So, we met a great many artists and were literally bogged down with books, leaflets, cards and wonderful conversations and general joy at having this incredible opportunity to talk, view and experience art flowing here like Niagara falls – there is so much – all technically brilliant – subject matter a little strange at times but then ‘they‘ in turn find our work somewhat peculiar too – lost in translation maybe? One can still be gob-smacked at the talent of some of these marvelous artists.

We had the wonderful opportunity to meet and take tea with Zhao Yi in her home/studio and view her extraordinarily sensual pieces that include ramie silk, silver foil, rice paper etc. – these artworks are huge measuring some 257 x 152 x 40 x 23cm numbering 18 or more in total and recently displayed in London Olympics Fine Arts 2012, New York in 2008 and Japan. She gave us all 2 books showcasing her work – sublime!


image of Zhao Yi's studio

artwork Zhao Yi


Zhao Yi’s studio and works


image of Zhao Yi

Yhao Yi serving us mortals tea!

Not a great pic I know – she is gorgeous!!

Other artists included:

Zheng Xuewu (artist and curator, currently heading to Nottingham UK for exhibition)

Tan Yi Feng who emigrated to Australia in the 1990s and exhibits regularly in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney as well as Beijing and Shanghai – he is very fortunate to live and work 6 months in Songzhuang and also in Canberra – my kind of artist as he works with 3D bronze, paints huge canvases and dabbles with etching – very flexible artist likes to move between mediums – is in many collections in Australia, China, Singapore, New Zealand & Paris.

Gao Yang

incredible character of Mongolian extraction who is forging a very unique form of artwork encompassing canvases roughly painted in oils with found objects glued randomly helter skelter-like and these works seem to go into the hundreds – passionate about all things Italian and rattled on in his best Italiano – just brilliant recourse!! His influences are the Arte Provera period of the 1960s. His studio was utter madness – little or no ventilation and no WPH&S that I could see so complete inhalation of toxic substances – hence his insanity – but on a sociable level!! Loves the ladies!! Recently exhibited at the 2011 Venice Biennale.


image of Gao Yang

Gao Yang with artists Denise Keele=bedford and Josie Martin

Gao Yang

Gao Yang with artists Catherine Springer & Josie Martin


Wang Fong – whose works consisted of huge canvases and 3D works in stainless steel of the insect Mantis – no shots unfortunately but try this site:

The last artist, Dongdong, was in the chinese army for 15 years then left and has now forged a very lucrative career based on his past life! Endless canvases, Mao like statues in Stainless Steel, chess sets of the chinese communist party, all in endless amounts, jam-packed into this huge studio.

artist studio

inside artist studio

Dongdong’s studio

artist studios

artist studios Songzhuang village

Gao Yang, Tan Yifeng and Wang Yong have studios here

plaster casts

plaster casts artist village Beijing


image of artwork in Beijing artist village

artwork in Beijing artist village


image of statue

random statue in Songzhuang village


residency image

residency image

image of old grinding block

possible old grinding block outside Dongdong’s residency building


We left Songzhuang weighed down with artist books and more inspiration than we could possible contain and boarded the last bus back into the metropolis and then the subway – what a joyous day!








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  1. Posted August 27, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    Amazingly amazing, Sonia! It makes Warhol’s “The Factory” look like a teensy craft workshop…

  2. Warren Maynard
    Posted August 27, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful, the prints look just stunning. It must have been an experience to be in a place purpose built for artists.

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