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Windows on the Hutong



2010 Gallery 49, Beijing, China

2011 Patrick Heide Contemporary Art, London


Windows on the Hutong

Patrick Heide Contemporary Art, Exhibition Catalogue

Press Release

New Landscapes from Ireland Press Release

Patrick Heide Contemporary Art 

Pekin Fine Arts & Gallery 49

In the heydays of the art market there was a massive influx of Chinese art into the western hemisphere to a good part driven by commercial greed and speculation. The really interesting early beginnings of contemporary Chinese art with radical live performances and unconventional happenings were long gone and new communist style market embracing strategies had taken over the art world. Many consultants and dealers went east to spot the newest talents and check out the then vibrant and fastest developing art scene in Beijing and Shanghai. Most Western artists though stayed put. Partly because there were many practical obstacles to settling in China, most residencies were highly censored. In most cases however the reason was phlegmatic attitude and lack of challenge to leave the comfort zone of established Western art communities. Varvara did exactly the opposite. And if your art is about social and global issues that is exactly what an artist should do. That’s what I have always liked about Varvara’s approach to art. She throws herself right in the middle of it, seeks to experience and experiment, to get to know people, systems and dynamics and then create powerful art works from that experience. Varvara does not come up with empty theories or over conceptualises her projects, her artistic endeavours are truthful and always have human scale. Her projects are hitting the wounds of social and global change, yet at the same time they are down to earth and hands-on. Varvara travelled to the far realms of the Chinese-Russian frontier for her “Borders” project in search for her roots and the relationship between a fading and an emerging superpower and its ethnic particularities. For “Landscape Fossilised” she wandered the fields of the Irish excavation sites in Ceide Fields to reveal the similarities in layering and research between archaeology and art, in particular the drawing processes. I have shown these project, one in Frankfurt and the other in Berlin, as both were physically too large in scale for a start up London gallery, but both projects were equally poignant and exciting. When I visited Varvara in Beijing in 2006 she was living in a traditional style courtyard house unlike most foreigners at that time. The week I spent there one could get a feel of what the communal living in these houses would be like, the courtyard being the epicentre of family life. Like an expanding and contracting ecosystem, family members and visitors would disappear to their respective wing and privacy of the hutong house, to then meet again in the centre, for meals, chats or drunken nights. Right from the start of her life in Bejing Varvara was fascinated by the traditional hutong neighbourhoods and their secret and silent vanishing. Weekly she went to visit, at that time the hutong closest to Tianmen Square, and documented the demolition of a whole quarter over the time of 4 years. She met many of its inhabitants and saw them disappear without trace. When we went there together a long row of houses that had been there the week before was gone, its families gone with it, their destiny unknown and not taken care of. Varvara spoke almost fluent mandarin after not even living for a year in Beijing and was chatting away as if she had become a part of it. She was one of the few if not the only artist to have a studio not far from 798 Art District. Her ability to dive in, understand and adapt is miraculous, the art that emerges as a result consequently aims at the human core of the subject. It is with much pleasure therefore that the first domestic scale gallery exhibition will be about the hutong neighbourhoods in Beijing. The “Windows on the Hutong” are light boxes of delicate beauty and intimacy revealing a glimpse of a traditional world that is about to be eliminated in modern day Beijing. They are accompanied by the sounds of the hutong where Varvara and her family lived in and I remember so well. Bustling, lively and very, very alien to our ears. After Varvara and I have been sharing weird apple cider with funny fatless cumin covered cheese in Frankfurt, in Beijing we shared a Mongolian meal of spicy salads, lamb chunks and lots of Chinese beer in her hutong corner café, to then move on to cut up sausage drenched in curry powder and ketchup in Berlin. I am almost glad that the next drink we might share will be a pint down the road. But then with Varvara you never know. Patrick Heide Director Patrick Heide Contemporary Art London, December 2010 ‘Windows on the Hutong’ was supported by Irish Embassy in Beijing, and Culture Ireland Award


Installation views (Beijing)

Installation Views (London)

Pingyao Festival

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