Young Chinese and French photographers, filmmakers, and designers joined hands in a collective show titled "Signs of Existence," which will soon set to travel to France.
The new cross-continental arts-fest, called Crossings (www.festival-croisements.com.cn) has also featured a contest of images and image-makers called "Objectif France" that set its sights on finding the best photographers in Chinese universities and art schools.
The works of five semi-finalists in the "Objectif France" photo competition have been exhibited at the French Cultural Centre in the Chinese capital, and "the two best photographers will be sent to an international photography exhibition in the French city of Arles this summer," said Olivier Guyonvarch, press attache at the French Embassy in Beijing.
"Many more Chinese artists will be invited to join cultural festivals across France as Crossings takes off in the future," Guyonvarch added.
The kaleidoscope of images projected onto Chinese cities during the Crossings Festival has thrown a spotlight on China's own history.
In an exhibition presented at the Dashanzi Art District in eastern Beijing, two photographers one French and one Chinese presented their camera-captured visions of daily life in the Chinese capital during the chaotic "cultural revolution" of 1966-76.
The French photographer, Solange Brand, worked in the French Embassy in 1966 and returned to Beijing this spring to open the show, said Guyonvarch.
Her hastily shot images cut from thunderous Red Guard rallies to truck-loads of red star-capped workers who are seemingly stunned into silence by the presence of a young female French photographer.
The spotlight on photos, videos and filmmaking during the first Crossings Festival is due in part to the background of organizer Pierre Jean de San Bartolome, French cultural attache at the French Embassy and one of the main forces behind the festival.
Bartolome began making experimental cinema in the 1970s with French actress Isabelle Adjani and playwright Eugene Ionesco.
After being mesmerised during his first trip to the East more than a decade ago, San Bartolome said he organized "the East Meets West festival (in France) to help the French people discover the cultures of Asia."
And despite being tapped to help direct France and China's cross-cultural extravaganzas of the past few years, the French cultural attache has stolen time to continue his career as a photographer.
His cool cyber-snapshots of Chinese cities, bathed in moonlight, neon and/or shadows, were featured in a retrospective at National Art Museum of China in 2005, and in a digital-age catalogue called "Ombres Chinoises," or "Chinese Shadows."
Feng Yuan, former director of the Beijing museum, opened that show by explaining the French attache's "images reflect the evolution of our country, the feverish rhythm of demolition and construction" across urban China.
San Bartolome said his top objective for the Crossings culture-fest is not just bringing together image-makers and other artists from China and France, but also linking up their imaginations.
"The guiding idea is to help artists from each side create something new together."
Building cultural dialogues
Some of the festival's leading figures suggest that building dialogues between artists, people and cultures might one day end the clashes of civilizations that have plagued humanity for countless centuries.
When the Berlin Wall, the Eastern Bloc, and the Soviet Union fell like a line of super-sized dominoes, one scholar-seer predicted the post-Cold War world would be threatened by battles between the planet's most powerful cultures.
Yet fears of a titan-like contest between the West and the East have since been countered by leaders across the continents launching a great dialogue of civilizations: One cross-cultural bridge created during the Year of China in France and the Year of France in China of 2003-2005 is now evolving into an expanding platform for collaboration by French and Chinese artists.
When China and France set up a massive network of cultural exchanges in the new century, they aimed "not only to help the people of each side sample the other's culture, but also to start a dialogue between the East and the West," said Sun Jiazheng, Chinese minister of culture, in an inscription to the book "Les Annees France/China 2003/2005."
Guyonvarch said that "the first two years of wide-ranging cultural exchanges have been considered a great success, and a web of friendships has been created that stretches from Beijing to Paris."
During a visit to France last December, Premier Wen Jiabao said the countries should continue these types of cultural exchanges and festivals, Guyonvarch said.
The Crossings Festival will be held each year and bring together an expanding coterie of French and Chinese artists in theatres, museums, galleries, academies, conservatories and parks across both countries, said San Bartolome.
"From the first contacts centuries ago between Louis XIV and Emperor Kangxi through the recent Year of France in China, each side brought samples and glimpses of its culture to the other," explained San Bartolome.
"But the new wave of exchanges moves beyond this by having artists from both countries work together, discovering similarities and differences in their cultures."
The destructive power of cross-cultural clashes can be found on the northern outskirts of Beijing, across the ruins of the once-fantastic Yuanmingyuan (Old Summer Palace) palace complex, which was looted and burned down by French and British troops a century and a half ago.
Pearl Lam, creator of a series of Contrasts art galleries across China, and a long-term patron of Chinese-French cultural exchanges, explains why she is such a fervent supporter of cross-civilization contacts.
"Pick up any newspaper in any part of the world, and the front page will be a compilation of riots, wars and bombings," she said.
"The majority of these events are a result of ignorance, intolerance or a combination of these eradicable evils."
Lam, a prominent promoter of the Crossings Festival, adds that "to combat the escalating violence that threatens every corner of the world, we must create open-minded communities by sharing with each other the differences that make our world cultures unique and precious."
Scholar Samuel Huntington would probably agree. He concluded his doomsday tome "The Clash of Civilizations" with a potential means to save the world and the future: "Different civilizations will have to learn to live side by side in peaceful interchange, learning from each other, studying each other's history and ideals and art and culture, mutually enriching each others' lives."
"The alternative," he warned, "in this overcrowded little world, is misunderstanding, tension, clash and catastrophe."
(China Daily July 4, 2006)