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Modern Art Rejuvenates Ancient Beijing Street

updated: 2011-10-13

Xinhua, October 10, 2011  
With buckets of volcanic ash and broken glass, Icelandic artist Gudrun Kristjansdottir has been creating new works of art on a wall in Dashilan, which is a famous ancient street, or "hutong," near Beijing's Forbidden City.
"I wanted to combine two items: the 'dust of nature' from Iceland and ordinary waste from Beijing, to create an image on the brick wall," Kristjansdottir said.
Artists from both home and abroad have gathered in Dashilan to create new works, introducing modern vigor to the alley's ancient walls. Located just south of Tian'anmen Square, Dashilan is an old street with a history of more than 600 years.
"Sometimes, I can hardly understand what they are drawing about. My son refers to it as 'surrealism' or 'post-modernism.' Whatever it is, it is much more better to look at than the red brick walls with peeling paint," said a woman surnamed Jiang who has lived in the hutong for over 30 years.
She said that she has acquired the habit of sitting under her roof to watch the artists at work. "It is so magical to see how they match foreign and Chinese styles," she said.
Dashilan has experienced a revival of sorts, attracting artists and designers with new workshops, themed coffee bars and small art stores.
A Finnish artist named Jane Withers has taken a more practical approach to her art, creating a "water footprint" menu for local restaurants. '
The menu displays how much water is consumed in the creation of each dish, from planting crops to transporting and cooking the ingredients. For example, a bowl of tomato and egg soup consumes 589 liters of water, while a cabbage-and-mustard dish consumes 607 liters. The menu has received favorable reactions from restaurant patrons.
"I never thought the Chinese would be so keen on saving water. I hope that I can get similar feedback when the menu is promoted in Helsinki next year," Withers said.
A "water calligraphy bike" created by Canadian artist Nicholas Hanna has caught the eyes of many visitors to Dashilan. The device consists of a water brush attached to a small tricycle. The tricycle receives pre-coded instructions from an iPad, propelling itself along sidewalks and "painting" Chinese characters on the ground.
"I came up with the idea when I was watching people practice calligraphy with wet mops in Beihai Park. Although I am not good at writing Chinese myself, the computer does a decent job," said Hanna.
Foreign and local designers have so far refrained from changing the essential nature of Dashilan's culture and history in their works, according to Li Shu, who is a planning director of the Beijing Dashilan Investment Company.

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