The balmy days of installation gave way to cold winter rain for the opening of “This Time, This Place” in Shenzhen’s Central Park. Our brief as participants was to respond to the site, and in this sense the weather reminded us just how different indoor and outdoor exhibitions can be. But that’s not what I want to talk about. Today, I’m wondering: is there art that ameliorates rather than is predicated on class privilege?
Participants came from a range of professions–fine arts, architecture, and anthropology, generating ideas that a local production house realized. The ideas themselves did engage the immediate environment. Yang Guang, for example, installed rafts of cd-roms on the Futian River, a direct reference to neighboring Huaqiangbei and the contamination that used to be discharged into the river. Meiling Leung designed a series of fish carefully crossing the river as the try to avoid the fishermen. Zhang Kaiqin designed a mosaic bear that when photographed looks like a low resolution bear in the middle of a high resolution setting. Sly and fun.
And yet. The quality of the art and engagement notwithstanding, the organization of the event reproduced the division of labor that constitutes Shenzhen as a manufacturing city with creative culture aspirations. The past few days, I’ve been interacting with the workers and their foreman, himself a capable craftsman. Today during the opening, however, I watched the ritualized confirmation of authorship on the participants through introductions, a tour, lunch, a public talk, and then dinner. The workers were noticibly absent from these events, except for the foreman who joined the opening, but was not publicly acknowledged and not invited to lunch.
In 2007, SiloTheatre came to Shenzhen and we collaborated on “Floating Lives” during the second architectural biennial. Silo members emphasized the importance of making to their art. Construction, they offered, might be a link between art and the working class. There’s the rub. I don’t know if working with my hands would bridge the privilege gap separating participants and the workers who built and installed the pieces. I do know that learning to weld and building objects brings me joy.
Contradiction du jour: I have enjoyed a process that is antithetical to my political beliefs. And what am I to make of that uncomfortable truth?
Impressions of the opening, below. Documentation of the installation process in previous post.