Just before the July/August print edition of ArtAsiaPacific went to press, Chinese-Australian artist Guan Wei, who lives and works in Beijing, received a call from the landlord of the studio he had been leasing for the last 18 months, informing him of a government notice to demolish several buildings in the neighborhood the next day. The target area, just 30 kilometers from the city center, included Guan Wei’s sprawling studio compound and its accommodation block. The reason for the demolition was uncertain. According to Guan Wei, the landlord explained that the Beijing city government’s decision to clear the area of so-called “illegal” buildings had been taken in the wake of an alleged factory fire that had taken place earlier in the Daxing district, in which more than ten people had purportedly died. The landlord could not be reached to corroborate his account.
The demolition notice posted on the studio door had given the tenants three days to vacate the compound. This was the second studio in two years Guan Wei has lost to demolition by faceless developers. There was no compensation for the damage and no appeal against the demolition. The government did, however, provide assistance in the evacuation process. On the morning of May 28, the contractor overseeing the teardown of the buildings sent eight trucks and 40 workers to help Guan Wei move his paintings, including those destined for a solo show in Singapore, to his artist friend Ba Wei’s warehouse 20 kilometers away in Chaoyang.
Despite losing a considerable sum of money in renovations that the two razed studio complexes had required, Guan Wei remains composed if somewhat bemused by the turn of events.
Since the demolition, Guan Wei has found a new studio in an old factory that forms part of an art community in the Chaoyang district, about a ten-minute drive northeast of the commercialized 798 Art Zone. “It is in a complex where several collectors store their work and it also houses a small private museum,” Guan informed AAP. He hopes to be in possession of the new premises until the very end of the one-year lease he has signed. “But you never know. Nobody knows why these things happen. This is China,” he said.