Friday, May 28, 2010

The Colour of Change

The other day I went out to the 798 Art District to check out an exhibition at the UCCA or Ullens Center for Contemporary Art. On Thursdays it's free and it's a good thing I went there when it was free admission because there wasn't much to see.

Each successive time I go to this area, my feelings for the place become more disappointed. Granted it was a weekday, but there were more empty shop and gallery spaces, and constant demolitions of old buildings. The beauty of the place in the beginning was the old munitions factory itself; but now people thought a gentrified neighbourhood would make it even cooler. Not.

Nevertheless, I made my way to the UCCA and at the entrance the gallery, which houses an excellent collection of Chinese art from the 1980s onwards, was in the midst of preparing for the next exhibition. As a result, only the current exhibition was on show, called Feelings are facts by Olafur Eliasson and Ma Yansong.

This is the first collaboration between the Danish-Icelandic artist and Chinese architect. From the brochure it seems that Eliasson likes to experiment with light, colour and natural phenomena like fog and waves to see how they interact with people and influence our perception of our environment.

This led to Feelings are facts, conceived by Eliasson and then executed by Ma.

Visitors enter a low-ceiling room which is filled with smoke made by fog machines. It's a strange experience, going into this kind of an environment that is smoky and can be uncomfortable. At the same time, there are very intense colours in different parts of the room that gradually change different colours. One side is deep fuchsia, another dark blue to purple, lime green to yellow.

You can't see anything in front of you except colour. The effect is to try to bathe the visitors within colour and make them see things differently, or not?

While I understand the concept, it doesn't seem to have translated well in execution, as it's an almost unbearable experience walking in the smoke-filled space for more than five minutes.

And then, that was it. The entire exhibition. One room.

As it was drizzling outside, I didn't have much enthusiasm for wandering in the other galleries; one or two of my usual favourites were also busy getting ready for their next show so there wasn't anything else to see.

It's disappointing to see an area I was fond of three years ago lose its charm so quickly and become a pathetic version of itself.

That's the same with places like Houhai and Nanluoguxiang; once the local government gets involved, "development" makes these spots lose that element which made them so appealing in the first place.

It's a sad commentary on how the government and greedy landlords have no concept of how gentrification is a tourism buster.

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