Roundabout 《环岛》(2023)

This video documents a gesture that was performed at a demolition site. December 2022.
The demolition site is in the north of Beijing, in the Luoge Zhuang Village of Shunyi District. Luoge Zhuang Village is about an hour’s drive from Beijing’s city center and is a village that in the early 2000s, turned much of its farmland into purpose-built studios to rent to artists. At that time, many villages outside of Beijing built rental properties on their farmland; the villagers realized that being a landlord was much more lucrative and less labor-intensive than farming. There were so many studio compounds built in this village that they named them sequentially: Art Studio District A, District B, District C and District D. Each compound had between 8-20 studios, and each compound had a different landlord. The rental prices at that time were relatively inexpensive, and many young artists could afford to live and work there.

My partner and I worked out of a studio on the outskirts of Luoge Zhuang Village (Yes, even the unincorporated land outside of the village had studios built on them). Our studios were not part of the A-D studio compounds mentioned above. In the fall of 2021, the city government announced that our studios on the outskirts of the village would be demolished to make way for a road. This road was intended to facilitate the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, to give access to the newly built Para-Olympics headquarters nearby. Winter was coming, and we all began frantically packing up and moving. It was a stressful time, but artists in China anticipate this kind of instability—one artist friend has moved her studio seven times in the last nine years.

The Olympics came and went. The road was never built. Our studios never got demolished.  These spaces sat empty, the weeds tall and overgrown.

The next summer, in 2023, the artists in Districts A-D inside the village were suddenly notified that their studios would be demolished. The village committee gave two weeks’ notice. Another phase of frantic shuffling ensued. I heard there was conflict between the villagers who were making money off their rental properties and the village committee who was making none. Wrecking balls and bulldozers soon arrived, and in one month, all the A through D art studios were reduced to rubble.

There is so much to lament about this tragic waste of resources, but one of the most unfortunate was that the village committee not only severed the income stream for the landlords who were managing their properties, but also for all the merchants, restaurants and service workers who served the village and the community of artists. The economy is already hurting from three years of covid restrictions, and now there is little chance for revival. Many of the vendors left the village. The only commercial street of the village is very quiet.

To be fair, Luoge Zhuang Village has been slated for demolition for more than a decade. Everyone living in that village knows they are living on borrowed time. Perhaps the village committee had some inside information and had a pressing reason to demolish the art studio structures so quickly. Perhaps it came to light that these studios were illegal construction, and the village committee was cleaning up their affairs? It is unclear.

The Gesture
In the video, I am walking in circles spraying water on the ground. The water comes from a bright green tank that I am wearing on my back. The act references the ubiquitous disinfecting that took place all during covid. Most everyone is familiar with these portable backpacks filled with disinfectant, and the humming sound they make while spraying. The perfect circle is created with the aid of a stanchion, a ball bearing, and a string to create a fulcrum.

I wanted to mark this former site of creative production through a ritualistic gesture. The water leaves a mark that is clearly visible, yet temporary and impermanent. Using water to draw the circles is partially inspired by calligraphers who use water to practice their script on the pavement in public parks. The evaporation of water also marks the passing time.

I imagined the overlay of the circles on the remaining foundations to be akin to ripples on the surface of a lake after skipping rocks over it, or crop circles in the middle of a lush field.