good bye OCAT

By now you probably know that the Overseas Chinese Town Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT) has closed, marking the end of an era and no doubt (in retrospect we will discover) the beginning of another. Those of us who were here when OCAT opened in 2005, remember it as contemporaneous with the first Shenzhen-Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Architecture\Urbanism (UABB). Indeed, three of the first four biennales were held in Overseas Chinese Town, a massive endeavor that was facilitated by OCAT and its influential first director, Huang Zhuan. Circa 2005, OCAT was an important signal, a sign that Shenzhen was thinking about urbanization in relation to a diversity of urbanisms and futures.

In the early 2000s, Shenzhen was shifting gears, preparing its (mandated) launch from manufacturing hub to what we called then, cultural industry. From 2003-2005, Urbanus worked on the repurposing of Overseas Chinese Town (OCT), transforming factories and warehouses into places for cultural production and consumption. The physical symbol of that transformation was the OCAT building itself, which Urbanus has described: “The warehouse shed where the new art center will be located is transformed by wrapping the entire structure with framed metal mesh , an inexpensive and hand on industrial product, therefore leaving the exterior wall and the traces of all the changes made over time intact. In addition, the cavity between the wall and the wrap houses all mechanical devices. By wrapping the structure with permeable material the existing structure is returned and monumentalized to its archetypal form- still a shed, but an art shed (project photos, here).”

In 2005, all sorts of things seemed possible chez SZ. Many of the art practitioners and institutions that I would (and still) work with emerged that year, most especially Fat Bird and UABB (especially through the Shenzhen Design Center, then led by Huang Weiwen). Shenzhen, it seemed, was unstoppable. There was a sense of getting it down, quickly and efficiently, finding a way forward, much as shanzhai had transformed Huaqiangbei from an industrial park for electronics into a maker-wonderland. Moreover, the second line, while technically still in place was no longer being enforced; it felt like we moving forward.

Or at least that’s how it seems in retrospect. I glanced through the first month of blog posts (when I blogged on livejournal), when I was collecting found objects and photographing throughout the city and realized how frantic it was. We were shedding one skin and moving into another. I know that Handshake 302 is a product of that era. Not only the work that we do, but also the people that we work with; all were part of that change or grew up during those changes.

So today, I am sad in a way we were kind of vibe…In retrospect, we were all so young and beautiful, finally ready to move beyond the tragedy of 1989 and the nihilistic greed of the 1990s. In that moment of re-opening, Huang Zhuan and OCAT shimmered on a shared horizon. Inquiring minds unironically want to know: how did we get here?

3 thoughts on “good bye OCAT

  1. Pingback: li liao: labor at PAM | Shenzhen Noted

  2. Here is an interesting piece about the latest development of gallery scenes in the region. It talks of OCAT, and this was published 4 days ago…so, is OCAT gonna be shut down for sure? (Ps: I’m just glad that this piece didn’t once mention “cultural industry”, “value” or “market”…)

    • Has the author actually come to Shenzhen recently? Everyone who worked for OCAT is now in other jobs, so if they’re rebooting, I haven’t heard.

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