2013 szhk biennale of urbanism/architecture, thoughts on

This year’s Biennale occupies two spaces, the The Value Factory (venue A) and The Border Warehouse (Venue B), which are connected by a shuttle bus. Metonyms for Shekou history, the two sites index the industrial zone’s early manufacturing and connections to Hong Kong.

Team Ole Bouman curated The Value Factory with an eye to making it a catalyst for urban change. They cleaned up and slightly modified six areas of original factory complex — the entrance, the machine shop, two silos, the warehouse and the grounds themselves. This clean-up allows the site to be repurposed for new kinds of production. The grounds have been transformed into a garden, for example, and the silos opened for viewing, while the machine shop houses exhibitions as well as spaces for creative encounter, such as workshops, performances, and lectures.

Team Li Xiangning/ Jeffery Johnson conceptualized the Warehouse as a space to reassert the importance of knowledge and research to urban design. The exhibition includes a vast catalogue of investigations into borders and intances of boundary crossing, including a timeline, case studies, videos, installations, and national and regional pavillions. The sponsor, China Merchants has also curated an exhibition of Shekou history, which is displayed in the warehouse.

China Merchants Shekou (which built the ferry terminal and float glass factory) sponsored the fifth edition of the Biennale as part of its Shekou Relaunch campaign, in turn an element of the larger project to rebrand Shenzhen as a creative industry hub. This underplayed, but vital fact predicates visitors’ experience of the Biennale as a cultural enterprise. Creative activity in the Factory produces the knowledge archived in the Warehouse, which in turn provides tools for new creative activity in the Factory… Consequently, although some exhibits critically engage the inequalities that comprise capitalist production, nevertheless the Biennale as a whole ultimately celebrates accumulation as the highest social value.

In this context, my perception of Pierre Bourdieu’s critical analysis of The Forms of Capital abruptly shifts. Instead of a blueprint for socialist intervention, I see a conceptual toolkit for transforming the SEZ into a nexus of cultural industry:

“[C]apital can present itself in three fundamental guises: as economic capital, which is immediately and directly convertible into money and may be institutionalized in the forms of property rights; as cultural capital, which is convertible, on certain conditions, into economic capital and may be institutionalized in the forms of educational qualifications; and as social capital, made up of social obligations (‘connections’), which is convertible, in certain conditions, into economic capital and may be institutionalized in the forms of a title of nobility.”

Thought du jour: I’m not sure if it is necessary the Biennale Borg as it is easily avoided, but I do wonder about my continued participation in these events. To redeploy the theme of this edition: just when do we cross the boundary between engagement and complicity? Or is it more the case that “boundary crossing” is simultaneously both a judgment call and an instance of social speculation?

To get to the Biennale, take the Shekou Subway to Shekou Ferry station and walk about 500 meters. To then move between the spaces, take the shuttle. Or, if in Nanshan, my favorite bus line, the 226 stops at both venues. Jump off at Shekou Ferry Terminal (to visit the Warehouse) or Glass Factory (玻璃厂 to visit the Value Factory). First impressions from The Value Factory in previous post. Impressions from The Border Warehouse, below.

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