I was lucky to be invited to the new artists residency project sponsored by Swatch group and Jin Jiang Hotel group in Shanghai. The project placed within the Swatch Art Peace Hotel, opened for the first time during autumn 2011. This amazing 1909 building, located in the middle of the Bund on the Huangpu river banks, was restored to perfection. It’s architectural features like the period ceiling, hardwood staircase, railings and wood panels decoration were all preserved beautifully. In this building, one of the most prestigious places
in Asia, Swatch established a state of the art artists residency program with facilities that won’t shame a 5 star hotel. The company commissioned the Paris based designers Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku to design the interior and the residency spaces. The complex is spread over two floors that contain 18 live-work spaces with large studios for visual artists and more modest ones for scholars and writers. There are two major communal spaces that allow the artists to relax, read and chat together in great comfort. A massive hardwood streamline table that
can serve more than 12 people together dominates the communal kitchen. The idea behind the cozy communal spaces is to attract the artists to spend more time together and interact between them and fertilize their creativity. Artists are selected from all continents from diverse backgrounds and cultures. They will be working and living in the same spaceor have to walk two steps across the corridor from their rooms to their studios. The interiors are spacious and bright thanks to plenty of natural light, white walls and many patches of white on the furniture that looks great against the natural hardwood floor.
I actually came to visit Song Yige an artist I have followed for the past 2 years, but it was impossible not to be amazed by this place and the extent of investment and effort made by Swatch and its designers. This place is probably the coolest and most luxurious artist residency I have ever seen, the question that struck me was, how an artist who spent three, four or six months in this luxury will feel when they return to their cold & dark studio?
I was very pleased to see the progress in Song Yige’s new works. I initially saw her art at Art HK in 2010 then later at her Beijing gallery ARTMIA and last November at Hanart TZ gallery in Hong Kong. Song deals with her childhood memories and emotions through the creation of emptiness in the spaces and composition she paints. The majority of her work doesn’t feature a living creature and mostly deals with banal objects that look lifeless but have a past and a story to tell. This emptiness can reflect death or missing souls that were once filling this space or using this painted objects. In other works, where you think that there is life, you realize that the birds are stuffed and the fur is of dead predators. Song said she struggles to understand and express the meaning of life, existence, beauty and eternity and will keep exploring these themes.
On the second day in Shanghai I visited Shanghart Gallery’s artists studios and spent most of the day with Zhang Enliwhom I’m a great fan of. He is the most friendly and easygoing artist who takes his time walking around, thinking and talking about his work while sucking and puffing on his cigarette. His studio is full of canvases he is working on and an endless number of found objects on the floor. Cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, PVC pluming pipes, empty vases, plastics cups, hoses and many others. This “Junk” is the source for his creation and you will quickly make the link to the large canvases with a pile of pipes or a hanging garden hose painted on them. His ability to find the beauty in any given object is his greatness. Without any “effort”, much detail and layers of paint he manages to transform this object into a fine 3D sculpture. With few brush strokes and a well-washed brush he gives these neglected pieces life. You could
spend a long time examining an old urinated tiled wall or a broken plastic chair when Enli paints it. Objects that usually you try to ignore and at times can disgust you look incredibly attractive. Not only a great artist but also a fine and generous man who makes you feel comfortable and welcome.
Enli, later drove us with his car to Taopu where his gallery Shanghart have a massive warehouse that includes an exhibition space, storages, offices and a “coffee shop”. In this complex, and in the nearby buildings, many of their artists are in residence inlcuding: Xu Zhen of MadeIn and Shen Fanthe
established abstract artist. MadeIn’s art is a whole different and exciting concept as Xu Zhen set up a cooperative of artists that collaborate and create the most interesting and bizarre works. It functions like a company and their ambition is to build a state of the art brand of creative production and products.
Eli Zagury, January 2012
Swatch hotel: http://www.swatch-art-peace-hotel.com/project