A Belgian designer and a well-known Chinese film actor duo reflect on 13 years of life in one of Beijing most unusual homes - a 16th Century Daoist Temple, 'Nian Hua Si' (Picking Flower Temple), that has been shared with Beijing People’s University printing factory, and that has been recently sold off to Beijing Buddha Association, throwing the lives of long-term residents of the Temple and the Factory into disarray. Nobody knows what the outcome of this turmoil will bring, as the possibility of the important architectural and historical landmark to be developed into a concrete jungle is looming closer, and the eviction date approaches.
In recent years, most of the traditional Beijing ‘hutongs’, or alleys, have been turned into luxury high rises and expensive Western-style shopping malls, due to rapid economic growth, uncontrolled development, property speculation, and corruption. Narrated and filmed through the lens of Varvara Keidan Shavrova, a visual artist, curator, researcher and director, and a long term USSR-born Beijing resident, ‘Temple Run’ documentary film project offers a sharp and uncompromising view on contemporary China as it asserts its position in the Western and Eastern world.
Runtime:1 hour 10 minutes 22 seconds
Varvara Keidan Shavrova is a visual artist, curator, director, and researcher. Born in the USSR, in the family of artists of Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian, Jewish, Georgian, and Armenian ancestry, she left the Soviet Union in 1989, at the start of perestroika, and spent most of her adult life living and working between London, Dublin, Berlin and Beijing. Keidan Shavrova received MFA from Goldsmiths, University of London, and has been awarded prestigious AHRC London Arts & Humanities Partnership Studentship for her practice-based PhD at the Royal College of Art. She has exhibited and curated projects internationally, including: Across Chinese Cities: Beijing at the Venice Biennale of Architecture, The Opera at Gallery of Photography Ireland and at Espacio Cultural El Tanque, Tenerife, Untouched at Beijing Art Museum of Imperial City and at The City Museum and Galway Arts Festival in Ireland, Unruly Encounters at Dilston Grove Southwark Park Galleries and Haptic Codes at Patrick Heide Contemporary Art, London. Keidan Shavrova has contributed articles, essays, and reviews to international publications, including Visual Artists Ireland, Virginia Commonwealth University Arts Qatar magazine, and Yale Publications, among others. She has recently contributed the paper 'DIFFICULT PASTS. CONNECTED WORLDS: Lithuanian artistic and cultural struggle for self-determination as a symbol made relevant by Putin’s war in Ukraine' presented at the international conference ‘100 Years of Self-Determination’ at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. She recently presented her academic research paper ‘Ukrainian and Lithuanian artists’ struggle for self-determination during Putin’s invasion in Ukraine’ at the international conference ‘The Politics of Memory as a Weapon. Perspectives on Russia’s War against Ukraine’ held at the prestigious Museum of Documentation of Flight and Migration in Berlin.
Keidan Shavrova work in film started in 2005, with her debut video works 'Borders', filmed and produced by the director, focusing on the changes brought by rapid economic development that was happening along the longest uninterrupted border in Eurasia. The documentary essay 'Untouched' was filmed in rural Ireland and in the Old Beijing hutong neighbourhoods on the eve of the 2008 Olympic Games, juxtaposing the effect that speculative property development has on vernacular architecture and traditional lifestyles in rural communities in the West of Ireland, and in traditional neighbourhoods of Old Beijing. Keidan Shavrova's seminal film installation 'The Opera', that focuses on the life of gender fluid Peking and Shanghai opera actors was commissioned by Espacio Cultural El Tanque and the Tenerife Ministry of Culture in 2011, followed by its premier at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2014. Keidan Shavrova's latest film, a full-feature length documentary 'Temple Run', examines the preservation and mythology associated with Nian Hua Si, one of the last remaining Buddhist temples located in the heart of Old Beijing.
Beijing is one of the most ancient cities in the world, the seat of an amazing cultural continuity which stretches back over 5.000 years. Now, as the capital of the fastest growing, most voracious economy on earth, it is witnessing the destruction of the last vestiges of the ancient city. The rapacious Sino Dragon, fuelled by an unprecedented property boom and an exponential growth in individual wealth, is ripping the last flesh from the bones of Old Beijing.
Or is It? Perhaps that is just a Western, and more specifically a European, perspective. The notion of conservation of a city’s architectural heritage is well established in the west but is largely an irrelevance in cultures experiencing rapid economic growth for the first time.
'Temple Run' explores these questions and these ambiguities while simultaneously recording and bearing witness to the final rush to demolish the ancient 'hutongs' of Beijing. As recently as 10 years ago these ‘hutongs’ (alleys) made up most of the vernacular architecture of the Old City. Now only a few are left to bear witness to a vanishing world. In this way the specific destruction of these ‘hutongs’ becomes a springboard for a broader visual meditation on the effects of change in human society.
In this film I wanted to explore the reality on the ground of the destruction of these alley ways and the communities they house. But I also wanted to question whether, as a foreigner, I have the right to pass judgment on the Chinese for not adhering to my Western notions on the preservation of vernacular architecture.