Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Naive Melody: This Must Be The Place

Trying to find a unique sense of place in Shanghai can be a daunting task. The city's history is fundamentally based on a hybrid relationship with Eastern and Western cultures, and the cultural identity of Shanghai becomes a mesh of the two. On a daily basis, the streets of Shanghai are a constant battleground between cyclists, pedestrians, street vendors, and locals and tourists alike, all vying for space in a huge but overpopulated city. Yet Shanghai runs on functional chaos, and there is a flow to the city that seems to be in constant motion. Michael Lin's What A Difference A Day Made uses the daily product store as a metaphor for the quest for identity in contemporary Shanghai. Lin's installation is an exercise in contemplation, trying to find order in seeming chaos. After first walking through a re-creation of a product store- a small space crowded with every type of domestic merchandise- the viewer is led into a dark, solemn space, with video images of acrobats juggling these mundane objects. Even further into the space, the objects are classified according to type, meticulously organized in wooden crates. By giving each object its own room to breathe and announce itself, Lin places a newfound importance on the individual object, in an almost meditative way. But how are we to view this gesture? Does it dignify the object or critique the mass-produced form? 

While the meaning of Lin's installation is intentionally subjective, Yang Fudong's East of Que Village makes well aware the sense of alienation that increasingly defines contemporary Chinese society (and for that matter contemporary society in general). Fudong's video follows a pack of wild dogs in a rural setting, trying to survive in an abandoned environment. The dogs become signifiers for the inevitable isolation and loss that the individual is to encounter, and paints a bleak picture for cultural progress. Michael Lin and Yang Fundong both explore notions of the self, and leave us with a central question: Is the road already paved for perpetual alienation, or is it up to us to set our paradigm? 

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