‘Friendship must come from the heart. Otherwise, it means nothing.’

Blue Container: international cultural exchange along the Silk Route

The Silk Route, a rail route between East Asia and the Metropolis Ruhr, measures over 6,000 miles in length. It ends at the world’s largest inland port, in Duisburg, from where goods are distributed all over Europe. A freight train takes just 12 days to complete the entire trip from one continent to the other. By contrast, a ship would take 40 days. 25 trains arrive Duisburg from China every week. And going in the opposite direction at present is a very special ‘Blue Container’ – an ’art train’, which sets off from Duisburg on its way to Beijing via Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Ürümqi. Ten days of exhibitions and business presentations are held at all four stops along the way.

Business meets culture

‘When people do business with one another, it shouldn’t just be about business,’ says Juan Guo, who launched the project as chairman of the Association for Chinese Cultural Exchange for Art and Design (DCKD) in Düsseldorf. When he followed the visit of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Duisport on television in 2014, he wondered: ‘Why is there no culture in the containers?’ He believes that the train should not just convey goods to the various countries, but should also enable a cultural exchange. Mutual understanding is a key part of business life for Guo. With the Blue Container project, the 48-year-old is launching the biggest art campaign in relation to the revival of the Silk Route. Guo is presenting the first exhibition in the Rhine Park in Duisburg before the 180-day journey gets underway.

International artists present in Duisburg

The works of art have already been unpacked from the containers and are being set up in large white tents. The exhibition presents various pieces from China and the neighbouring countries along the Silk Route. ‘We are proud to present internationally renowned artists who have already appeared in places such as Paris and New York,’ says DCKD art director Yang Shu. She selects the top-class exhibitors according to strict criteria. One of the exhibitors includes film maker Wang Bing. He took part in the most recent documenta exhibition and is showing a film in one of the exhibition tents. Also involved is Kwok Mang Ho from Hong Kong, who works under the stage name ‘Frog King’. Sculptor and Duisburg resident, Gil Schacher, internationally renowned for his sculptures and wall objects, is also among the exhibitors.

An absolute highlight of the exhibition is the presentation of murals from the world-famous Mogao Caves, a system of many hundred cave temples in Dunhuang, China, for the first time in Germany. They can be seen through prints and virtual reality technology in Duisburg. The originals date back to the fourth to twelfth century and are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The exhibition of large ink drawings is particularly impressive. The participating artists are some of most outstanding ink painters active today and address the subject of man and attitude towards life.

When people do business with one another, it shouldn’t just be about business

Jian Guo, chairman of DCKD

Business is built on relationships

‘Many companies only look at economic factors when it comes to business. ‘They are focused on the product,’ Guo says, ‘but in order to engage in the right type of exchange, we need to understand the culture of our business partners and build relationships. This is the only way we can work together in business.’ Guo hopes that the Blue Container exhibitions will help people from different cultures to get to know one another better and exchange ideas. ‘Friendship must come from the heart. Otherwise, it means nothing.’