return to dalang

Yesterday, for the first time since Covid lockdowns began and ended (three years!) I visited Dalang, where “Fashion Town 时尚小镇” continues to thrive and the biennale continues to serve as a transitional event, where art and creativity replace manufacturing. So two streams that converged. First, the exhibition itself was small, but interesting, occupying two floors in a repurposed late 80s early 90s factory. Indeed, this sub venue reminded me of early biennales, when the exhibitions were situated in such marginal places that curators had degrees of freedom that the main venue no longer enjoys. For example, while the Brewery main venue is larger and more interesting as a space, nevertheless it is obviously part of a redevelopment scheme. In contrast, while the Dalang venue signals the closing of an industrial park, nevertheless the artworks on display were edgy (for the times), several created onsite using the garbage that had accumulated in the park and its abandoned factories.

While in Dalang, my friends and I were also fortunate enough to get a tour of the Marisfrolg headquarters, which is located about 500 meters from the biennale sub venue. The Marisfrolg campus has been under construction since 2008. Staff actually started working there in 2016, and are looking forward to the public opening this year. It has taken fifteen years to construct the campus, which was designed by the New Zealand firm, Van Brandenburg. Marisfrolg moved into Fashion Town in 2002, when it was set up and Shenzhen was trying to move design closer to production, jumpstarting the relatively “backward” or “slow” economies of peripheral areas in the outer districts. In fact, Dalang is still difficult to reach, requiring a half an hour cab trip or 45 minute bus ride from the nearest subway station.

The campus itself feels like a time warp. On the one hand, there is the “what is Gaudi doing in China?” moment. On the other hand, there is the visceral disconnect between this campus and the surrounding not yet demolished remnants of Dalang’s manufacturing economy. When Marisfrolg moved its headquarters to Dalang, it was one city and at the construction of the campus witness the area’s transition to the creative economy. In fact, construction began two years before the second line was demolished and top-down removal of low end manufacturing parks and infrastructure began.

The disconnect between the Marisfrolg campus and the surrounding environment is similar to that in Longgang, where the city and district are investing in high tech campuses especially AI. As in Longgang, in Longhua the city is betting on design to keep the economy running.

2 thoughts on “return to dalang

  1. Lately I read an article that discusses the prospect of cities like Shenzhen and Abu Dhabi becoming the world’s art capitals. It says that the way Shenzhen builds its cultural infrastructures (huge in scale, world class, gov planned) is very much opposite to the international trend: constructing smaller scale, locally designed museums and exhibitions that serve communities. What is your thought on that?

    • I think that Shenzhen is very interested in participating in high culture, and willing to invest in global trends. Many Shenzheners, for example, go to Art Basel HK. The Biennale has also staged large, global oriented exhibitions. I’m not sure, however, how (and if) investment in established art and cultural events will translate into strong support for cultivating young artists and experimental forms of art. The conversation is still very much about 价值, and the ways in which art creates economic opportunities.

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