DIAF – Dashanzi International Art Festival Review, Frieze Lorenzo Marsili The Dashanzi International Art Festival (DIAF

) is quickly establishing itself as one of the most significant artistic events in the contemporary Chinese panorama. China boosts an impressive number of Biennials and Triennials, but DIAF clearly stands out for its independent nature, lack of institutional affiliation, and peculiar curatorial stance. The festival is hosted and organised by Beijing’s artistic village, Area 798, and curated by “village chief” Hou Hanru, together with Berenice Angremy. The Area develops around a dismissed Bauhaus industrial complex, chosen by numerous artists in the early 90s for its affordable accommodation and generous spaces. The artistic offer is truly varied; from a retrospective on the work of Huang Rui and Ai Wei Wei, to an overview of the development of the Chinese avant-garde, with iconic artists such as Xu Bing, Fang Lijun, and Zhang Xiaogang, who recently took the New York auction week by storm. Also in the program, a perspective on the London art scene, a solo exhibition of Loris Cecchini held at Galleria Continua’s new Beijing space, and numerous independent shows. A particular note should be reserved for the architectural forum Soldiers at the Gate, a three-year long project developed by Huang Yan, Huang Rui, and Feng Boyi, analysing the new urban reality of Beijing. This first edition focuses on the identity of China’s capital, undergoing transformation and re-definition at an incredible pace. The Forum was accompanied by the exhibition China/Chai-na, where “Chai-na” [Demolish here], the mark placed on the numerous buildings facing immediate destruction, serves as the guiding thread for the work presented. Also included is a show by famous photography couple Rong Rong and Inri, reflecting on public/private intimacy together with Dutch artist Marrigje de Maar.

The Festival seems to follow a “chaotic creativity” principle, with several often disconnected works shown in the same exhibit. Whereas this technique can create a happy symbiosis with the post-industrial exhibition spaces, the visitor may sometimes feel the lack of a precise curatorial vision. In addition, the role of commercial galleries in the district is increasingly overwhelming, and rarely the exhibitions put up by private spaces conform to the general aims of the Festival. This edition of DIAF shows a particular attention to notions of modernity. The theme of the festival is Beijing/Background, and it would not be a mistake to claim that Beijing, today, is the modern, understood as perpetual social transformation and ceaseless disruption of the architectural order. Judging by some of the works presented, the process of the modern is sometimes viewed more as a destructive then a creative force. One exhibition, Seduced and Abandoned, features the work of eight Chinese photographers investigating the unfolding of progress. A telling and technically exquisite photograph by Zhu Yan presents a lonely, nude, withered tree at the centre of a flattened field at the edges of the city. What it once was – blooming countryside, or perhaps a small urban enclave – is rendered sacrificial object to the passage of time. And what approaches? At the far edges of the photograph, we can distil the relentless advance of anonymous, alienating, frightening tower blocks. DIAF confirms once again to be a lively and informative festival, and although some curatorial problems need addressing (the invitation of guest curators, for example, would benefit pluralism), the visitor is confronted with an intriguing, albeit sometimes arbitrary, selection of work. Parallel projects, such as the architectural forum, prove well-grounded and artistically significant.