Xucun International Art Commune

Artist: Qu Yan
Location: XuCun, SongYan Town, HeShun County, Shanxi Province, 032707, China
Year of completion: 2015
Researcher: Dan Wang

Xucun International Art Commune is situated in a mountain basin of Taihang Mountain, which is located in Heshun County in Shanxi Province of northern China. The village has been here for 2,000 years and still keeps its graceful and abundant oriental tone and the characteristic Chinese traditional common-style dwellings and ethnic look. Heshun County has a beautiful landscape and paradise-like villages. The climate here is agreeable and the people are warm-hearted. The abundant historical buildings, completely preserved, trace back to the Ming or Qing Dynasties.

According to reliable documents and interviews with the elderly people in the village, the history of Xucun goes back even farther to the Spring and Autumn Period (approximately 771–476 B.C.), and the village is located at the border between the ancient states of Jin and Lu. Fuzi Ling, the south end of the village, is still spreading stories of Confucius. The site of Xucun village is the site of the army camp of King Li Ke (the king of the old Tang dynasty), and villagers are still calling the old village sites dazhai (outposts). Xu's ancestors were mainly composed of four families—Yu, Yang, Fan, and Wang—who lived scattered in the mountains and then moved to the mountain village during the founding of the Ming dynasty.

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The International Art Festival is the regular activity held every two years at the Xucun International Art Commune. Artists from all over the world are invited to participate in this festival. The first Heshun County Art Festival, held in July 2011, was successful and set a precedent of conducting contemporary art creation activities in the traditional Chinese culture hinterland. Fourteen international artists and six Chinese artists joined the first festival. Activities mainly included (1) international artists’ residency, (2) visiting folk art culture sites, (3) exchanges and discussions among Chinese and Western artists and cultural scholars, (4) public art education and counseling, and (5) residents’ creative exchange and exhibition.

The Xucun project is the first international contemporary art commune for artistic creation that has been established in the heart of a traditional culture area—in this case, Shanxi ancient villages. The project began with Qu Yan’s artistic intervention and became an interactive process between artists, architects, scientists from different fields, sociologists, and farmers by government intervention.

The village is not simply a project that artists constructed, and it is not a center for rural tourism. As an emerging nonprofit art institution in China, Xucun International Art Commune’s aim is to keep the original village and its local culture. Artists’ intervention left the other scientific experts far behind, and artists’ emotional intervention was more inspiring than that of the others. The specific things that Qu Yan did in Xucun looked like public affairs. For example, Qu led farmers to pick up rubbish, which made the village clean. The process took five years, and the complicated relationship between farmers and local government was aided through persistence and compromise.

Qu Yan said: “We are trying to protect, trying to keep the original conditions of the village, on the basis of no destroying to build a new village. Besides, we put the new contents into the ‘new village.’” Here, the so-called “new” refers not to the outside but to the inside. Attracting younger people to come back is the essential issue of county recovery.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency