B&Bs in rural areas add artistic flourish to farmland holidays
After driving three hours southwest from Shanghai, interior designer Li Mingliang arrives at a white, modern-style courtyard in a green valley of the Moganshan scenic area in Zhejiang Province.
A mountain stream flows past the rural homestay. Dogs and cats lie lazily about the place. Vegetable plots dot the greenery.
Li likes this place, called the Orieco Club: Valley. It’s his weekend home, where he owns a small apartment still awaiting interior decorating. After it’s finished, he is considering entrusting it to the club for homestay guests when he is not there.
“This is an ideal place for a ‘life of two cities,’” Li says. “The property is in the countryside amid nature, and you can have a small plot of land to grow things. At the same time, it has some of the amenities of a metropolis so you don’t have to forsake all the comforts of home.”
One of the homestay’s metropolitan features is an exhibition organized by the Tinseng Art Studio, a group of city-based artists.
Combining art and rural accommodation is a trendy new concept in China’s bed and breakfast market. It benefits both sides. Homestay owners create an artistic environment for their guests, while city artists get inspiration from a rural getaway that shakes them from their normal routines.
Walking around Orieco Club: Valley, Li says he really appreciates the mostly post-modernist artwork there. He passes by a set of colorful glass installed along the mountain stream. Next to a swimming pool, he enters a big, inflated ball filled with white fog. There, a bar screen airs a video about a girl dancing with her face hidden in headgear.
“Everything here is inspiring,” he says. “It all encourages me to put more energy into finishing work here on my own rooms here.”
While most of the devices might be removed after the short exhibition ends, the glass work called “Walking With Light” will be a permanent fixture at the property.
Created by Qin Ling, a glass artist from the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art, the device adjacent to the mountain stream uses glass, mirrors, steel and laser film to create an environment composed of colorful lights and shadows. People walking among the glass can see themselves as well as people on the other side.
“I hope ‘Walking With Light’ will give people the sensation of being between reality and fantasy,” Qin says. “The first time I saw the construction of Orieco Club: Valley, I knew that the space would be ideal for my work.”
This is not the first time the art studio has worked with a rural homestay to create and display unique works. Last year in Jijiadun, a village on the border of Shanghai and Jiangsu Province, a similar event was organized.
People call Jijiadun “the ideal village” or the “utopia.” It is a typical Chinese watertown, with ducks swimming in a lake, wheat rippling in the fields and flowers blooming across different seasons.
The area, which has a population of about 1,000, has been transformed into a tourism community, combining a farm life experience with artistic flourishes for up to 500 visitors at a time.
Artists draw inspiration for their works from the village itself. There are collage paintings depicting the lives of the residents of Jijiadun, a mandala pattern created on pieces of locally recycled PVC sheets, and a light and sound device mimicking thunder and rain in a forest.
Monica Zhu, who works at the Tinseng Art Studio, is the organizer of exhibitions at both Moganshan and Jijiadun. She says that assembling artists in rural areas creates a world beyond time and space.
“For some days, the artists are isolated from the city environment and immerse themselves in nature,” she says. “They communicate only with one another, which provides a precious opportunity.”
Sometimes artists stay for several nights as guests. Some even buy rural properties.
In Liaoning Province, a “writer’s town” has been founded to attract men of letters and artists to experience the traditional farm culture of northeast China.
In mountainous Xingdun Village in Zhejiang Province, artists rent studios to create tile paintings and their works then go into the décor of guestrooms.
Zhu Shengxuan, a landscape designer and founder of Orieco Club, says that the traditional rural homestay style, which people usually call nongjiale, or agritainment, is evolving into a more community-like mode.
“With a history of thousands of years of farming, most Chinese people have a complex connection to farmland,” he says. “We want to create communities for those who share the same nostalgia so that they can share ideas and find inspiration together.”