urban form and memory


joshua kauffman and gwendolyn floyd

the bienniale opens tonight. well, bienniale the third. but it’s my first. i missed the previous two. i’ve been hanging out at oct loft with fat bird and silo, and these past few weeks, with gwendolyn floyd and joshua kauffman, co-founders of regional, which they define as “an interdisciplinary design and research network that performs and applies original analysis of global society, culture and commerce, uncovering and developing opportunities for profitable innovation and meaningful cultural intervention.”

their installation is called “foreground”, which was built out of bamboo. the design is derived from GIS data of a recently removed shenzhen mountain ridge. over the past twenty years, shenzhen has aggressively reclaimed land from both its eastern and western coasts. in everyday conversation this process is called “moving mountains in order to fill the ocean (移山填海).” with foreground, floyd and kauffman have respond to this transformation by using bamboo to re-construct a mountain that no longer exists. the contrast between the structure and the ground actualizes the difference between shenzhen’s pre- and post-urban topographies, creating a visible and material history for the area. more importantly, the installation enables bienniale visitors to imagine the lay of shenzhen’s land before urbanization and, in doing so, re-imagine how the city might reproduce itself in the future.

at least i hope so. one of the illusions of land reclamation and disappeared mountains is how quickly they vanish from consciousness. when i go to houhai and look out at the new landscape i have to think, and think hard, to recall something about what was once there. most of the time, however, i end up taking another round of photos and then doing a little side by side comparison. that was then, this is now.

its hard work to keep the city’s past and present simultaneously in mind. usually, i depend on the material world to do that for me. the old buildings, certain parks, particular roads–these hold my memories, which i enter by way of an evening walk. to the extent that it remains in place, shenzhen keeps my memory intact. but the city keeps getting razed. or rebuilt. or refashioned. and as the buildings collapse and new edifices rise, or factories get a facelift and industrial areas are upgraded, i forget. or rather, i loose access to memory. all that stuff are also doors to memory, and when a building gets razed, i am locked out of my past.

click for images of gwen and joshua’s work in progress.

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