798 reasons to like chartruese

Red China is slowly becoming chartreuse.  In February my life-long friend, fashion follower and now Doctor Kristina Perez (having just gotten her well-deserved PhD from Cambridge for her dissertation on the occasional-goddess and Arthurian character Morgan La Fey) came over to China for the first time, with Wallpaper* and Elle Decorations magazines in hand.  So we went on a tour of a part of China that I knew almost nothing about:  the trendy part.


You know you are a trendy place in China when there’s lot of chartreuse.  The internationally known Suchow Cobblers off the Bund in Shanghai sold pairs of Chinese slippers lined with it;  Shanghai Tang (a Chinese brand so trendy even I’d heard of it) is in love with the color;  the brunch-place called a Future Perfect covered its banquettes with the stuff;  and other modernist white-walled boutiques line shops with the color. 


Trend-hunting hit a peak though at Beijing’s Green T. House.  Kristina and I laid down for dinner on cushions on the edge of a high-ceilinged all-white room with a row of 20 foot high backed chairs running down its spine.  Between the column of chairs and above the heavy black tables hovered candles on invisible strings, like something out of a Harry Potter novel.  To mark our reserved table, they painted my Chinese name in white letters on a dried leaf.  Little Miss Peaceful indeed.


But my relationship with dried leaves would soon sour.  A day later, Kristina and I were be attacked by them while wandering around apparently abandoned life-sized sculptures in an artist village called 798 (aka Dashanzi).   798 is one of those modern art enclaves, the kind that is so oversaturated with profundity that meaning lies there like bitter grinds at the bottom of a cup of cappuccino.  For instance, there was video of people walking down an up escalator.  I thought I understood the meaning of the video (“isn’t it fun to go down crowded up escalators!”) but apparently I missed the real point, as the placard explained:  “The work uses the construction of duality to explain the spacio-temporal difference between history and reality, poetically expressing a solemn question by placing it within the context of everyday activity.”*  Somehow still confused, I pulled Kristina down off a platform overlooking a room covered with broken words painted on construction paper, not dissimilar to how my name was printed on a tree leaf the night before.  Dr. Perez explained that this was artist-hua for the concept that history is the perception of reality, not reality itself.  (Or something like that.)  Of course “spacio-temporal difference between reality and history” has now become a catch-phrase for me, and one I am sharing with you, so I suppose the artist succeeded in getting his/her message across. 


But I still don’t know what it means.


Then again perhaps I should be careful with mocking the 798 gods and their divine if unintelligible language.  For after leaving that gallery in pursuit of a grind-free cup of cappuccino, Dr. Perez and I are walking down the street when suddenly the roof attacks us.  Wind blew so hard that roof tiles and glass started flying off at us, forcing us to flee into the safe haven of a cafe selling mulled wine.  I felt I deserved a glass after almost becoming spacio-temporal history.


But that would not be the last time that I would be attacked by wind-blown shrapnel.  For Chun Jie, the Spring Festival, known back home as “Chinese New Year’s,” Beijing becomes a war-zone of free spirits launching small fireworks from streets and courtyards and roofs.  The kind that explode right outside your 5th story window.  It’s just a wee bit disconcerting when men and children are holding pipes loaded with explosives and aiming them at you.


Fireworks are still a tradition that has yet to be broken.  Yet to be co-opted by the trend-setters, yet to be stylized and placarded over in 798.  I know this because of the hundreds of fireworks I’ve seen during the two weeks of Spring Festival, none were chartreuse.


Happy New Year! 


Many thanks to Sara Green who patiently waited while I wrote that quote down when we returned to 798 tonight for a cocktail party or four.  Also thanks to Sara for providing the idea, safety pin and pen to allow me to walk around aforementioned art exhibit with the following sign stuck to me: “EXHIBIT:  This person displays the tenuous relationship between art and its subject.  Or am I the subject?  Or maybe, are you?

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