It may seem odd that among the highlights of this year’s Beijing Design Week (September 26 to October 3) will be the goings-on in a handful of empty, run-down spaces in Dashilar. Many have asked why we would focus on an historic neighborhood known more for its kitschy tourist attractions and overall shabbiness than the sophisticated sheen normally associated with design. But wedged between the faux-historic simulacrum of Qianmen Avenue and the vast socialist-utopian void of Tiananmen Square— and comprising of every stratum of Beijing’s past (making it a pastiche in the most authentic sense)— Dashilar can if anything be said to exist in a kind of in-between state. It is, like design at its most fundamental, a perpetual work in progress. In collaboration with Beijing Guang’An Holdings and Beijing Dashilar Investment Limited, as well as Liang Jingyu of Approach Architecture, Beijing Design Week will present Dashilar Alley, an event whereby a number of vacant buildings throughout the area will be opened for exhibitions, pop-up shops and artist installations. Photographer Eric Gregory Powell was invited by LEAP to record some of these spaces in the run-up. And whether in a former electrical relay factory or a one-time brothel, Powell has skillfully produced rigorous compositions that either reveal or impose (you’re not sure which) any number of hidden logics. For Powell, photographic technique takes precedence over storytelling. And that’s perfect: As the commercial heart of Old Beijing, inhabited by the ghosts of opium dens, tearooms and Chinese opera houses, Dashilar already abounds in a richness of stories. And so, with redevelopment pressure growing every day, our aim now is to encourage people to find the beauty in what’s simply there.
Creative Director, Beijing Design Week 2011