Saturday, December 16, 2006

Shanghai Tour: Space and Expression

When we think of art presentation, what comes to mind? For me, art represents aesthetics in an enclosed environment especially established to accentuate the effects of the piece.

When we think of urban design, what comes to mind? For me, seeing the intricate design and construction of modern architectural in contest and collaboration with each other.

What if we loosen the rigid social and ideological conceptions we have and accept the world beyond physical and conventional standards into a fusion of the real and the surreal to create and team spatial dimensions, would that be an advance into the future or a farfetched sci-fi fantasy?

As the last Arts & Media class and sadly my last Thursday in Shanghai, I already feel nostalgia for this NYU abroad experience with my teachers (of course I will dearly miss you Defne) and of this ascending city. As our last class, Professor Defne Ayas collaborated with Professor Shi Mingzhen and took us on a tour of Shanghai to visit modern urban architectural designs, sites, art and people.

The first leg of the trip landed us in Shanghai’s satellite city Pujiang. Pujiang is one of the 9 satellite cities of Shanghai circling downtown. These satellite cities were are being developed to ease the growing population in the central city and shift the population outwards into the suburbs. Pujiang is known to have an Italian theme to the city and is referred to as Italian town. I realized how impractical the town is after looking at the miniaturized models of the city and given a brief summary of the cost, occupancy, distance and development of the town. The town strived to achieve a modern architectural design fusing European and Chinese concepts. My evaluation of the results: ugly. I understand that cynicism is toying with my judgment but I couldn’t see any positive features or pragmatism in the architecture or the city. Even though the town claims to resemble Italian architecture, the uniform red, yellow and gray colored buildings with their rectangular houses and walls only resemble individual cells. The isolating wall of the home is what strikes me most about the design of the town. The walls remind me of the historical Chinese infatuation with isolationism. All the old Chinese cities have remnants of walls around them, signs of China’s tradition as an exclusive and isolative nation. However, in contemporary China in which global values influence China’s development and the government’s slogan is a “harmonious society,” architectural reversion that creates the solitary homes in Pujiang conflicts with an individual’s integration into society.

After circling Pujiang, we headed for Lupu Bridge and climbed the 300 stairs to see the Huangpu river stretch across Shanghai. If only the fog didn’t shroud Shanghai in a misty gray, we would have been able to capture the modern beauty of Shanghai.

In our final leg of the trip, Giel brought us to Yangshupu Road and presented to us in a renovated factory. Unlike the desolate town of cheap material and bad architecture, Giel gave a detailed and expansive presentation touching on many aspects of contemporary art and space. What struck me most is the urban acceptance and adaptation of art. The concept of virtual space and urban installations representing art and human psychology are the two topics that impressed me the most. In modern urban fabric, such installations such as news stands, billboards, phone boots, shops and malls all incorporate and integrate into an elaborate urban design that reflects the aesthetic perception and expression of society. The fusion of trees, billboards, shops and malls along Huaihai Road blend together to illustrate Shanghai as a contemporary Chinese art piece. Virtual space such as massive online games are also a form of contemporary Chinese art. Many Chinese join online games because of the attractive presentation of video game characters. Chinese are able to express themselves outside the norms and conventions of society and perform upon desire. The new culture expands the network people live in and allow them to characterize themselves according to their imagination. Whether it is a warrior or a millionaire in the game, Chinese are increasingly able to interact with others and perform acts as individuals or groups that emphasizes expression. An example would be Giel’s screenshot of many colorful videogame characters protesting an unjust act that occurred in reality. More and more, these virtual spaces are becoming grounds for expression. And isn’t that what Chinese contemporary art strives for? To express in a society keen on restricting speech?

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