Thursday, October 16, 2008

Shanghai Trans locomotion

The success of Shanghai's 7th biennal was visible the day we visited it. This year's biennal theme focused on Translocomotion and I personally cannot think of another better theme for Shanghai city. The diversity of this city is created by the constant arrival and departure of new and former residents. What existed a year ago may not necessarily exist today. Each one of us and everyone we see on the streets has a small role in turning this city alive. Yet as an individual person we may not bring any major impact but collectively as residents we turn Shanghai into the city that we love and hate.
Dutch artist Jeanne Van Heeswijk had a wonderful depiction of Shanghai's anonymous residents.

Each of the resident or migrant worker that he interviewed were located on a map of Shanghai and linked to a small piece of written work or article. Each article was related to these interviewee's story or background, then each little article would be linked through a thread to t-shirts with two phrases, one signifying their dreams and hope and the other signifying their disillusionment. As an example, one t-shirt had "American Dream=Day Dream". Shanghai in the eyes of outsiders is the pearl of China and symbolizes hope. However, many come to discover the harshness of this city and become jaded from their experiences. Shanghai is a city of opportunities but those who fail to grasp onto it will soon find themselves lost in this metropolis.

Yin Xiuzhen's massive art piece of weaving together a plane, car and tractor was also a piece of work that depicted the melting pot aspect of Shanghai city. Her works are famous for weaving cloth together and one of her most notable works are weaving portable cities into a small suitcases. This work of hers is impressive in its technical aspects (she weaved together a plane, car and tractor) but I thought her work to be a bit too forceful and superficial. Industrialization has created a variety of socio-economic classes in Communist China but the complexity of this society cannot be depicted by three physical objects. I just thought the work was not subtle enough but I do like Yin's previous artworks.

Another simple but compelling artpiece was the one of various suitcases, I believe by Wang QingSong (correct me if I'm wrong). I personally experienced, once again, the transient nature of this city when a close friend of mine told me that she was moving to HK. My friends in Shanghai are the people that make me feel at home and during my 8 months here, a handful of friends have already moved away. Some came back but some will probably not. Living in Shanghai, I constantly feel on the move. Whether its a leisure trip or family visit, I spent at least 2 weekends out of the city per month. It's the same with many people here, SH residents are constantly on the move. Which is why I thought Wang's piece to be so suitable for the biennale, thought there is nothing aethestic about it, it is close to many people's heart.

I accidently came across a poignant piece of art while I was at the biennal. On the second floor of the museum was a whole area dedicated to the history of Shanghai and the art museum. Among the crowd there, I noticed many senior citizens lingering in this area. One room was showing a documentary of Shanghai these two grandfather figures were there watching the documentary over and over again. It was beautiful seeing two figures of the past juxtaposed in a contemporary art scene. What did all this biennal mean to them? Did it offer them a visit into the past or remind them how far along they have gone? The scene was touching and many of them walked away red-eyed, and it was then that I was reminded of how much this city has gone through. The speed of change here cannot be understood by people who have only lived here temporarily.

Overall, the biennal was a success but I feel like to many visitors, the biennal just offered another venue with "cool" backgrounds and props for people to take photos. The reality of Shanghai's migrant workers, its poor residents and industrialization was only covered by colorful paint and creative installations. It was temporary haven from reality, a bit too overwhelming for me. I realized that I became uncomfortable observing Shanghai. The moment I walked out and was greeted by Uighur street vendors, I felt more at ease. I understood then that it is more comfortable to be part of this complicated city and play my role than observing it from afar. This city has so much to offer and so much to change that our perspectives change everyday and nothing can be fixed into a canvas.

1 comment:

cardinale said...

agree with the photo-opt observations. and yes, the installation of the airplane is a bit overwhelming...