This Exhibition Venue in Hangzhou, China Highlights Mission-Driven Architecture
Many young artists need support to reach their full potential. One of the most effective ways to help budding talent, without just handing them a check, is to provide them with a space where they can showcase their work. This offering allows them to gather audiences, generate discussions, and gather valuable feedback on their creative endeavors. A vacant 2,900 square foot commercial studio in Xiangshan Art Commune, close to the China Academy of Arts campus in Hangzhou, has been regenerated for this specific purpose.
The idea came from Martin Goya Business, an agency founded by Chinese videographer Ran Cheng that organizes exhibitions and performances for creatives born after 1995 (Cheng named his company after an obscure movie character). He invited his local friend, the founder and chief designer of Pig Design, Wenqiang Li, to co-create a space that acts as a publicly accessible gallery and living room in which independent artists can network and exhibit for free.
“The whole contemporary art environment is institutionalized, commercial and serious, however, many artists are free, wandering and disorganized,” says Li, who is also a painter himself. The intention of this joint venture, named Martin Goya X Pig Design, is therefore to provide a “nest”, notes Cheng, where these young artists are offered space and the opportunity to grow, incubate and hatch. ideas, to spread their wings, and then take flight towards successful careers.
Li applied the metaphor not only to the design of the place but also to the manufacturing. He retained the basic building envelope and then, as in nature, constructed interventions from a wide mix of found and repurposed materials to assemble a sanctuary for its users. “The idea is for wandering birds to pick up the remains of the city to build a nest,” Li says, treating the project with an element of fantasy so as not to fall into art world tropes. “The act of removing seriousness is the balancing point between space and design concept.”
The concept is most obviously visualized at the entrance, where recycled steel rods cantilever at matching lengths to resemble a brush of metal twigs and continue inside to form a canopy and a tent-like passage. Visitors follow the horizontal lines into the main space, where the effect is mirrored on the other side of the doorway. More rods protrude from a gap along the top of a distant wall, enveloping the nest and visually weaving the areas together.
With time and budget constraints in mind, the project was completed in just one month. It took just a few days to cover the exterior and interior surfaces of the building with layers of emerald green canvas using a stapler, creating a waterproof shell of saturated colors. “Most visitors are surprised by the choice of materials,” Li reveals. The same verdant color – chosen for its association with life, growth and rejuvenation – is repeated on the low ceiling in an eco-friendly paint , wrapping the space in a monochromatic mantle. “For many people in our city, the green web has a definite sense of movement, transportation, or, more bluntly, a sense of wandering,” Li says.
Given the diversity of artworks and disciplines presented – from painting and photography to theater and musical performances – an adaptable and open layout was essential. Durability was also paramount, so black gravel was selected for the floor, filling in between rows of stone pavers that suggest, but don’t dictate, pathways through the room.
To offset the predominantly darker tones, warm lighting emanates from a few sources, including above and behind a curved bar. Located in front of the entrance, the counter acts as a café which helps finance the running costs of the place during the day, then serves drinks during evenings and parties. A series of freestanding triangular lamps that echo the shape of the entry hallway also illuminate the moody interior, while similar angled windows bring in slices of natural light.
Behind a glowing wire screen is a living room, populated with furniture selected from existing samples Li has created for past projects. All upholstered in matching green, some sofas and armchairs appear to grow human hands and feet in place of ordinary chair armrests and legs. The designer 3D printed the golden appendages from scans of his own hands and feet, again injecting humor and lighthearted energy into the project. “We hope that through spatial design, art can be more seamlessly integrated with people,” he says.
Martin Goya X Pig Design offers a model for regenerating commercial stocks in the post-pandemic era. Quickly, inexpensively and sustainably, Li and his team were able to transform a disused building into a cultural venue that almost immediately benefited the surrounding community. The hope is that once its initial cohort of users fly off to greater things, it will continue to provide opportunities for future flocks of artists for generations to come.