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Notes from China: Blackbridge Offspace in Beijing

Notes from China: Blackbridge Offspace in Beijing
Blackbridge Offspace. Image courtesy of Blackbridge Offspace 2010

In continuation with Kirsi Hyotyla's series Notes from China, Kirsi interviews the founders of Blackbridge Offspace in Beijing and shares a look into this unique art space. 


This small dusty village in the suburban Beijing is an hour north from the city centre by taxi. Among migrant workers, electric bikes, local carryouts, speeding trucks, and never-ending road works, old warehouses have been transformed into art spaces and studios where a large number of both Chinese and international artists now live and work. It is one of the thriving additions to the numerous art zones in the capital city of People’s Republic of China.


Blackbridge Offspace is housed in a neat studio space, in one of far-off Heiqiao’s old warehouses. I speak to Bianca Regl and Anna Hofbauer, the two Austrian founders of the art space, about the concepts of using artists as curators, community engagement in arts, and the emergence of artist-run spaces in Beijing.  




KH: How did Blackbridge Offspace end up in the suburbs of Beijing, the capital of China?

BO: Blackbridge Offspace started in China. We were both resident artists in China between 2009 and 2010. Bianca has worked as a curator as well for Kunsthof and Wohnzimmer in Vienna, Austria, and later for travelling exhibitions shown for example at Kunstraum Innsbruck in Innsbruck and Atelierhof Kreuzberg in Berlin.


When we first got in touch with the Beijing art scene, the only non-commercial spaces were there were namely Arrow Factory and Vitamin Space.


Coming from Europe, we felt that there was a lack of artist initiatives as something of a void. Coupled with our interest in better understanding the motivations of Chinese artists, we decided to start our own space.



Exhibition curated by Xie Molin, Wang Yifan and Zhou Jingsi, September 2013



KH: How do you engage the community in your projects?

BO: Heiqiao, our village, is very limited architecture-wise. When we first arrived here, there were no public places or bars where people could meet. Most of our friends who lived there had no idea who their neighbors were. Our aim was to open a spot for communication.


The situation is different now though - quite a lot of new spaces have opened up; artist-run bars and restaurants surround us, and it feels as if people were able to communicate better.


Unfortunately, there is limited communication with the locals who also live in our village (Heiqiao), though.



Exhibition curated by Wang Guangle, March 2013



KH: How do you collaborate with the artists that you exhibit?

BO: We ask artists whose work we appreciate, to curate the exhibitions. Thus, we only select the curators, who in turn select the artists they want to exhibit. Sometimes we co-curate, especially with international exhibitions.


We choose our curators based on their work, and a gut feeling. What our curators have in common is that they are artists and not new to China. We try to give them a level of support they need to create their exhibitions. We try to accompany them throughout the process from their initial idea of an exhibition to the installing of the shows.


We want to offer a space where artists have the opportunity to discuss. This is also why we decided not to have solo presentations at Blackbridge Offspace. We see art developments not as singular virtuoso jumps but rather as genuine, ongoing mass movements. That is why we are keen on collaborations, connections, and differences.



Exhibition curated by Katrina Daschner, November 2013



KH: What do you think is the role of artists as curators?

BO: We feel that artists curate differently than curators who come from a theoretical background. Usually our shows turn out warm and heartfelt. Curating exhibitions at Blackbridge Offspace also serves as an opportunity for the artist to explain ones surroundings. For an artist, it is stimulating to change the role from being an artist to being a curator.


To look at other artists’ work from the point of view of a curator provides you with a certain distance or objective dealing with an object or a piece of work, which can be difficult to allow oneself as an artist. It is dreadful to experience to fall into the trap of traded hierarchies or relation patterns. We believe that it is good to play these positions as often as necessary to arrive at a form of communication and a relation between all figures in the art world.



Exhibition curated by Markus Proschek, June 2013



Exhibition curated by Xie Molin, Wang Yifan and Zhou Jingsi, September 2013



All images courtesy of Blackbridge Offspace

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