yesterday at 派意馆, the shenzhen sculpture institute (深圳市雕塑院) hosted the opening ceremony/press conference for its multi-cultural documentary “immigrants and sea (official translation of 移民与海). paiyiguan is an exhibition space located in the oct loft area, right near the art center. the documentary explores the question of (in word for word translation of the chinese) “coast cities immigrant culture way of life (滨海城市移民文化生态).” a string of descriptions that force grammatical impositions in english. safest translation, perhaps: the immigrant culture of coastal cities.
the entire project has three parts: a documentary film about cultural life in latin american coastal cities; a public culture project in shenzhen; and an exhibition in the shenzhen architecture biennial. the documentary recounts cultural moments in various south american countries and cities. in havana, the shenzhen photographer xiao quan (肖全) takes the audience on a tour of havana’s charms. “he passes through cuba’s big streets and small alleys, searching for and recording cuban smiles and happy faces, ceasely uncovering the native warmth of cuba’s powerful culture and integrative force.”
in chile, liang erping retraces the footsteps of pablo neruda, citizen of a country of only 15 million people that nevertheless produced a nobel laureate. in brazil, shenzheners are less interested in rio than they are in brazilia, itself a famed overnight city. our guide in brazilia is shenzhen television personality, hong hai. the documentary pays special attention to carnival. in buenos aires, a shenzhen designer han jiaying explores the richness of argentine tango, soccer, and architecture.
that brief sysnopsis helps define what the film makers mean by “culture”; it is not only high culture, but also culture as giving a city definitive international identity. what kind of culture would shenzhen’s immigrants have to create in order to attain similar recognition?
historical alleys like havana? the attempt to package the ming and qing dynasty county seat at nantou has not succeeded.
noble prize worthy literature? one of shenzhen’s most famous author is an ze, a woman who broke out of being a laboring daughter (打工妹) by exposing the gritty and sexualized underside of shenzhen’s development. unlike the protagonist in wei hui’s better known book, shanghai baby who attempts to realize herself through writing and sex, the protagonist’s of an ze’s (also banned) books use sex to get ahead. sex in shenzhen, the story goes, is not liberatory, but cohersed and mercenary.
municipal festivals like carnaval? at windows of the world themepark, shenzheners already participate in carnival, oktoberfest, and water festival. there is, however, no city wide festival, in part, because most native festivals are village based. indeed, going with a local festival would entail shenzhen’s urban elite recognizing the contributions of local villagers to urban culture, something that hasn’t happened as of yet.
architecture like in buenos aires and brazilia? this seems the most likely, and shenzheners continue their pursuit of architectural excellence. it is telling that this project is entering shenzhen’s public culture through the architectural biennial.
fat bird enters this picture in part three, the sculpture exhibition. the sculpture instute is the same organization that sponsored fat bird’s inclusion at the guanshanyue museum’s tenth anniversary celebration. they have also invited us to participate in the biennial. we are currently working on a project about remembering nanshan’s now banned oyster farming as our contribution to shenzhen’s coastal culture. in fact, remnant beaches (in yantian district) of oyster cultivation could become an important and unique marker of shenzhen cultural identity. the catch is that oyster farmers immigrated generations ago, and shenzhen’s cultural elite are interested in creating high culture out of their immigrant experience.
yang qian and i left the press conference with a purble paper bag stuffed with gifts: a neckless, advertising materials, and purple immigrant & sea shirts. unfortunately, my camera was uncharged, so i didn’t photograph the event. so i have included a picture of yang qian modelling the purple shirt. he is standing on the balcony of our houhai apartment. faintly visible in the background is the land reclamation project, which is perhaps shenzhen’s most concrete contribution to coastal ways of life.