If you are tired of wasting your time in crowded and boring shopping malls and you are looking for something unique with a literary-artistic atmosphere, then TESTBED2 贰厂 is the place for you. Located in Yuzhong District at Eling Main Street n.1, right next to Eling Park, you can find this cultural and creative hub in the former paper money-printing Eling factory. The factory was built in the Kuomintang era, but was later transformed into Chongqing No.2 Printing Factory in 1953.
TESTBED2 贰厂is a primary example of the retention and renovation of existing structures in Chongqing. The birth of this place happened almost accidentally, tells us Chen YiZhong, Executive Vice-General Manager of TESTBED2 贰厂 : “I studied arts at Sichuan Fine Arts Institute and, in 2011, I went to Germany with an exchange programme to study experimental filmmaking. In 2012, once back to Chongqing, I was looking for a job and I met Alex Zhou, who is my current boss. Alex, with a background in economics and real estate, owns an interior design company and, in 2010, opened a contemporary art gallery in Eling Park, related with art, design, media and business field. In those years, the cultural and art events of Chongqing mostly took place in Huangjueping, in the old Jiulongpo District. In 2014, while we were looking for a space to store his art collection, we finally arrived here and, despite the place was crumbling and dirty, we immediately saw the great potential of this area. After renting some rooms, we decided to take over the whole factory, for a total of 30,000 m2. Before everything started, we did a lot of research to understand how to best renovate this place, including visits to TestBed, a creative events place in London. We really liked that concept so we invited over its Director, Prof William Alsop, and, together with his company All Design, we imported the brand to Chongqing and we named our project TESTBED2 贰厂.”
The innovative thing of this place is that it perfectly combines the old with the new – Chen YiZhong explained us. “When we started to cooperate with All Design, we discussed a lot on how to mix the idea of Chinese market with the English concept. They offered us a very avant-garde design, but part of it was hard to realize here in China, due to high costs, as well as refined techniques and materials. In the end, we decided to combine the unique visual elements from the original structure of the factory with something new and innovative. As you can see, there are some buildings from the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘70s which, despite the restructuring, still represent the aesthetic of those years.”
The idea of Yizhong and his boss, Alex, was to create a place for artists and art-lovers where to gather and share common interests. No matter the diversity of the activities carried out, what mattered the most was the innovative aspects that these people could bring. In this way, they built a very dynamic platform for artists, designers, and cultural related people. Lots of people compare TESTBED2 贰厂with Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, but the funding concept is different. According to YiZhong, “in Beijing, once the artist has become famous, the studio’s rent often rises and the artist has to leave. Then commercial art gallery and design company occupy the area making it a commercial place, which as a result lose the true artistic essence. On the contrary, at TESTBED2 贰厂, we try to protect our artists by keeping price for the studio rent low and, by operating the whole hub, we constantly organize art and cultural exhibitions and events to support artists.”
In 2016, the very popular Chinese film “I Belonged to You” made the TESTBED2 贰厂 famous, and attracted many visitors and tourists to experience the film scenes. Nowadays, TESTBED2 贰厂 is rapidly growing. In this area, we can find four art studios, one art centre, five halls, including multi-level complex of restaurants, coffee shops, men’s and women’s cloth shops, design stores, household goods and offices, a gym, even an indoor archery club. In addition to this, during the weekend, markets of antiques, second-hand goods, handcraft objects take place.
Given the rising popularity of this project, the Government of the Municipality of Chongqing realised the importance of renewing the old areas of the city. Yuzhong District, being rich in historical sites, has an advantage over other districts in town. From Liziba to Eling stretches a history-related belt including the Relics of Anti-Japanese War, Former Residence of General Stilwell, Fotuguan Park, Eling Park, Soviet Red Army Martyrs Cemetery, and Former Residence of Soong Ching-ling.
The construction of TESTBED2 贰厂 is still in progress. We can expect great news from this place in the future.
In the next edition of Chongqing Stories, we will meet Ben, the owner of Riverside Craft Brewery, and Janet, owner of Mama J’s Bistro, who will tell us more about TESTBED2 贰厂and their lives as expats in Chongqing.