#31 – reading list

December, 03th 2013

5+5 五加五
A cabbie driving for art: Artists and Villains in a Beijing Village

Supplementary Materials


« Cinq plus cinq », un hymne à la liberté (in French) | download

天真的与实际的 (in Chinese) | download

Extended Synopsis

To a certain extent China is a country with a malformed body. Its anomalies, present in many aspects of social life, are manifested often in an extreme degree: too much, too little, too high, too low. One plausible explanation suggests this as the price that a breakneck growth is deemed to pay.

While skyscrapers, luxury and opulence are everywhere, hard to miss, to discern the opposite requires a different perspective. The contrast is such that it becomes an inexhaustible source of humor, undeniably cruel sometimes.

Thirty or some years ago, it was hard for Chinese to imagine that art could be bartered for money, but in recent years, time and again, the Chinese contemporary art has been caught in the spotlight of the international art market.

Forty kilometers from the city of Beijing, Songzhuang, once an unknown village, has become a world-famous art community in a short span of time due to an influx of over 5,000 Chinese and foreign artists. Thanks to their settlement the village has witnessed the complete loss of its original character, as well as the dramatic change in its political, cultural, social and economic life. The self-acclaimed artists come and go, bringing with them dreams and leaving empty-handed, making the village a merry-go-round for gamblers, a springboard to success for some and an alien, arid land for many others.

With a wisdom typical of Chinese peasants, Songzhuang’s natives immediately sensed an enormous business opportunity. They all became petit entrepreneurs. Eateries tailor-made for artists, shops selling painting materials, supermarkets, galleries, ateliers, food markets, entertainment parlors are opening up one after another.

Laojin (Old Jin) comes from a peasant family which is native of Songzhuang for generations. Unlike the others, he is an illegal cabbie and enjoys a luck unheard of by his ancestors: a connection with “artists”. When these artists started coming, Laojin bought a cheap second-hand car and set to do his business. Different from other black (illegal) cabs, his is fully covered, both inside and out by graffiti, artists’ signatures, epigrams and small drawings alike. It has become a sight of the village and Laojin’s great pride.

There is not a single artist in Songzhuang that Laojin does not know, and the artists will give a hearty laugh when telling the many funny tales about him: our Laojin, he loves art! From Laojin’s own mouth, we get to know his views on Picasso, Dali, Pollock and Kandinsky. He loves to expound. The satisfaction he draws from learning to do so, provides him with a temporary shelter from the daily miseries and nuisances, and brings him into an undefined dimension, a spiritual realm.

As mentioned at the beginning, excess and deficit made China an unbalanced country. In the person of Laojin – his poor education, his peasant background that leads him to mutter bitter complaints about the type of daughter-in-law who he deems unfit to look after him when he gets old – the sharp contrast can become humorous.

Laojin is also Songzhuang’s unofficial spokesman. Nothing happens without him knowing it. This is the reason why we chose him as the subject of this documentary.

Through the eye of Laojin, the documentary “Five+Five” captures the everyday life of this black cabbie, as well as the life of the artists he befriends with. It also reflects, in Songzhuang, a small village as big as the 21st century’s China, an absurd, distorted and laughable reality from his point of view and by confronting the different approaches, his and the artists’, toward art and life.

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