Not much is likely to be written about Arrow Factory’s ‘Collection Highlights’; this is not because it is a bad exhibition or lacks interest. Paradoxically, it is the nature of the venue itself that has propelled it forward as one of Beijing’s few truly ‘alternative’ art sites (as Robin Peckham pointed out in an earlier ArtSlant review) and at the same time, keeps anything beyond a small returning audience at a distance. Others remain aware of Arrow Factory’s activities - and excited by them - but do not necessarily see them first hand. This is partly to do with time and space. A visit to an exhibition invariably involves some time and movement within it: one walks around, looks, turns – if it is sculpture one might explore some different angles, the same for installation if it’s possible. But at Arrow Factory, the small-scale store front concept kills all those possibilities for encountering a work of art because you usually can’t get in. As has been pointed out, the onus is on its local site-specific-ness; this is not a gallery through whose doors one enters, but essentially a flat window directly after a food stall down a hutong lane, chanced upon even if it’s what you came to see.
Yet here it is and, unlike other non-profit spaces which can so often be short-lived, Arrow Factory is showing no sign of going anywhere. If you press your nose against the glass now you will see ‘Collection Highlights’ - some works from Arrow Factory’s small but growing permanent collection. The exhibition text is careful to note that the works assembled in the space now are ‘exceedingly fragmentary and/or partially reconstituted’, but it is an impressive list of names including Zhang Peili, Wang Gongxin and Yan Lei. There is something very agreeable about this compact arrangement of works. The two videos by Patty Chang and Wang Gongxin play out in the back-right and front-left corners; in the centre at the front is a small, rusty square table on which lie two ping pong bats made of cardboard and a ball from Rania Ho’s “Stop Action” installation. Atop a square unit are some toilet rolls and washing powder that come from “Snowman,” an installation by Li Jinghu that is the most pedestrian-looking piece when extracted from its original context. The back wall is actually Zhang Peili’s recent piece “38 Jianchang Hutong,” though now of course it is not permitted to move glacially back and forth, almost unnoticed, as it did for his exhibition. Lying by the left wall on the floor is a pile of luminous blue strip lights – remnants of Edinburgh artist Euan Macdonald’s “Take the Dark Out of the Night Time,” which engages in polite visual conversation with an upended LED box-sign leaning against the back wall; this is by Wang Wei, and says in Chinese ‘I won’t make any trouble for you’.
A conversational metaphor is apt relative to ‘Collection Highlights.’ It’s unusual to see quite different works by ten different artists so close together, overlapping in a small space. Although the exhibition is simply to show, as it says, some highlights from what Arrow Factory has acquired, the resulting ‘look’ is worth noticing. No particular piece is on a pedestal, and the proximity of the objects and screens is well-balanced (more care has been taken with their placement than is obvious at the outset). For some it may be an unfulfilling way to see the works; few will have seen them all in their original form in preceding shows. It is tempting, however, to find this a refreshing display that brings together without great furore a juicy slice of contemporary artistic production, and in a way that is simple and unselfconscious. If the latter appeals, you have until 17th February to drop by a satisfying 15 square metres of art.
-- Iona Whittaker
(All images courtesy of Arrow Factory and the artists.)