BackCui Cancan:Whose Dreams — Shi Jie Zi ten years


Whose Dreams — Shi Jie Zi ten years
Article|Cui Cancan

In 2008, after the completion of a 3-year journey as a "Beijing artist", Jin le returned to Shijiezi, his hometown. At that time, it took 18 hours to travel from Beijing to Tianshui Station of Gansu Province by train, and another hours from the station to the downtown to catch a long-distance bus to Shi Jiezi. At that time, the village road was still under construction. At night, it was as dark and dull as life in other  villages on the Loess Plateau.

Shijiezi village included 13 village households with less than 60 villagers. Each household is a branch gallery of Shijiezi Museum. Peasants living in the village, just as many other villages of northwest  China, toiled over the dry soil generations after generations.  Instead of a nice landscape, rice terrace here only served as the source of food. Villagers planted everything that can be grown in the barren land but only a small amount of crops survived. Prickly ash and apples were the only local specialties, let alone promoting industry or tourism. Shijiezi was not special. It was the same as other villages in China. They have the desire for better development but no way to go. Therefore, Shijiezi represent typical Chinese villages and their practical problem. Compared with other towns, it does not have a heritage of impressive tradition, or the basic condition for developing modern models.

In 2008, when the Shijiezi art Museum was first established, it faced harsh conditions. The barren lands remained the same as the age of Jin Le's grand and grand grandfathers'. The desire for change is like a sizzling firecracker, but the gunpowder is nowhere to be found. Things have to be moved in a silent and slow way. After 2010, many art in villages emerged in China, village art became a brand new art field, where artists could tap their great potential. Shijiezi stayed ahead of this trend because it took action for its dream two years ago. Compared with other artists and their rural projects, Jin Le was not an intellectual from outside, but a hometown changer with his developed theories and passion. He is a villager of Shijiezi, who spoke local dialect and grew up in the village. The village is never his experimental object. Instead, he and his fellow villagers are the subject of the career. They are the stakeholder of Shijiezi, regardless of its development or backwardness. Changing themselves is the synonym of changing the village.

During the ten years, maybe nothing happened. However, the same time period may also be a vessel that brewed deep changes, and contains both hardship and pride. Since 2008, Shijiezi has held nearly a hundred events, large and small, with thousands of visitors. All the visitors hold the same idea and expectation -- heading for a brand new area which is ignored by Chinese temporary art, changing oneself and the reality, improving the relation between oneself and the mass. The past ten years have witnessed huge changes in Shijiezi.

| The improvement of infrastructure as a result of ten years' construction.

"Art matters, rains are even more important", wrote by Le Nvnv, a villager of Shijiezi. Such sincere and  simple word was an urgent issue to be solved. It was also the major goal of "Shijiezi Model" during the past ten years. Since 2008, various art events held in Shijiezi both increased its influence and improved the cultural and living conditions of local villagers. The infrastructure in the village was upgraded. A road to the village and gravel roads inside the village were built to make the Shijiezi more accessible. A water channel and drinking water facility were built to deal with drought; the upgrade of toilets and bathroom as well as the introduction of solar power improved local sanitation. The village also established a specialty store, planted trees around the village, set up street lamps and installed internet. Just in ten years, contemporary arts took roots in the remote village of northwestern China. Street lamps light up its night across the vast fields on loess plateau. With sweet water from the water channel, villagers no longer need to pray for rains from the heaven. Internet signals pass through mountains and valleys instantly, which enable villagers to receive the same information as in Beijing and Shanghai, sharing the hope and dream brought by arts. Moreover, it makes Shijiezi art village a unique presence in the art filed for its sincerity, passion and simplicity.

|Shijiezi art gallery and art projects during the past ten years

Without art and strangers coming from every corner of the world, Shijiezi may be still bound by the land. In April, 2008, a villager inscribed "SHI JIE ZI MUSEUM" (石节子美术馆) on the wall near the pear tree of Jin Le's home. This marked the birth of Shijiezi Museum.  At the same year, Zhao Bandi brought a "fashion" team of artists to organize a art party titled "Pandas Going Down to the Countryside to Celebrate the Spring Festival" (熊猫下乡,欢度春节).   In 2009, the first opening exhibition was held, in which Ai Weiwei was honored as the director of the gallery.  Two years later, the first village film festival was held in Shijiezi. Solo exhibitions of several artists of northwestern China, including "I'm Sensible Enough", "Green Heart" and "Waiting..." were presented in Shijiezi. 2015 was the year when  Shijiezi's art events reached their peak. Qin Ga and Zao Space begun to implement "Fly Together -- the Shijiezi Village Art Practice Project", in which they convened 25 artists/group commuting back and forth to the village for four years. Beijing Film Academy held the Shijiezi New Media Art Exhibition in the same year. Like a rock cast into water, rolling waves were created for this art trends. Sui Jianguo wrote to the society, "let's go to Shijiezi". Since then, even more art events came to Shijiezi. China Academy of Art launched a project of "Are you there" in Shijiezi. In 2016, Feng Boyi planned "Actually Manchester is close to Shijiezi";in 2017, Public Art Camp titled "Village Code" was organized here; by the end of 2018, Gefei redesigned the whole set of vision system for Shijiezi art museum as a symbol for its ten years' development. During the past ten years, Shijiezi was the host for nearly a hundred art projects, large or small, short or long. Those art events were part of the glorious history locally. They brought rains and  the rain water gathered into a river. Lying on the riverbeds, they were the  stones of different shapes, which stirred up waves of arts with relentless shocks in Shijiezi.

|Village life and ten year's art exchange

Shijiezi is located in the north of Qin'an County. It took about half an hour to reach the village. Viewed from a distance, the village looks very exotic. It seems that numerous crystal clear droplets are encrusted on the loess against a green and yellow background.  Those droplets are actually artworks. Within ten years, Shijiezi village has preserved hundreds of art works, which makes it a best destination for art practice of dozens of colleges and universities. The 13 rural households of Shijiezi kept visiting photos, literatures and documents all over the wall of their living rooms, where we could found some old friends, such as famous curators, Li Xianting, Lv Peng, Feng Boyi, Guzhenqing, and well-known artists, architects, writers, sociologist, anthropologist, agricultural experts. They have introduced precious experience to the village. The exchanges were from both sides. Shijiezi villagers begun to leave their hometown for art events in Lanzhou, Xi'an, Beijing, Shanghai and other places. They left their soil and traveled to Manchester and Kassel. The village was no longer a place to live for one's entire life. When children interaction projects launched in the village, we found the hope of education, the rejuvenation of educating a person into a talent. The name of Shijiezi appeared on various books and exhibitions. It has became a special symbol and model for rural development. Its idea has been replicated to more villages. Indeed, without travelling to New York or Paris, Shijiezi is also an internationa arena.

In 2018, it took only 8 hours to travel from Beijing to Shijiezi. Shijiezi has grown into a carrier of art in the past ten years, with a brand new status and environment. For Jin Le, who stayed together with his fellow villagers, changed from a individual artist into the part of "us". The "us" reflects the dream of all villagers in Shijiezi to develop ourselves, the village and the reality. As Shijiezi held various art events during the past ten years, more and more people joined "us" and the group was thus enlarged. The artistic expression of "me" changed into the expression of "us", a whole complete group. "We" use art to describe "our" common environment and destiny, our hope and the reality.  

Who is "us"? Who is the subject? Shijiezi belongs to whom? What kind of equality and justice do we believe? This is the other side of dream and the difference between dreams. Shijiezi is the subject, a concrete and real self who is changing and growing; it is the village of all the villagers instead of a wishful thinking that exists only in the minds of intellectuals. Its development does not remain on the paper or the wonderful imagination of Chinese ancient literati.  Its core is villagers. Its dreams come from villagers. Shijiezi is both the subject and the hundreds of art events during past ten years. It originates from the exchange and discussion about dreams of thousands of people. They, jointly and voluntarily, build a wider social vision and art ambition. It tries to solve the real problem and meets the demands of local people in the modern world. It starts from the soil-based tradition and find a wider, core, and tough syndromes for the village. During the modern world, villages do not have a say on issues that matter and are left behind at the corner of the society. What's more the unbalanced distribution of social resources and a lack of modern management system consist many of the difficulties and dilemmas that villages were, are and will be dealing with. 

The past ten years of Shijiezi witnessed a the glory and dream of a special moment for the turn of Chinese contemporary art. It has left precious experiences and enlightenments through difficulties that beyond words. As the Marx says:"If we have chosen a profession that could create the most benefits for the humankind, we will not be overridden  by the heavy burdens, because it is contributing all the people; at that time, what we feel is not a little, limited and selfish joy. Our happiness will belong to millions of people and our career will quietly pass on and perpetuate. "