glass factory pictures

Walked the old float glass factory yesterday. Less than a year ago it hosted the Biennial of Architecture and Urbanism. Today it stands empty, but magnificently so. The fearless waste of high modernism and steely industrialization. We take our temples where and as we find them. Continue reading

shekou relaunch

So the Biennale has been extended two weeks. Good news and great press for the curators, the SZ Center for Design, and China Merchants. And that–generating a Shekou Buzz–has been the point of all this productivity, or as the current campaign is called “Shekou Relaunch”.

This afternoon, I attended one of the final scheduled events, a forum on how to renovate the Dacheng Flour Mill, which has been designated the site of the future Shekou a Industrial Culture Center. The program included repurposing the buildings and designing more public space, a visual culture center, a theater, and an office building. The responses hinged on determining the purpose of the renovated buildings; just what does China Merchants hope to accomplish through these renovations? Just what is being launched again? And why?

Indeed, there is both something primal about the campaign; we are setting off, again (再出发), and yet something equally unsettling; again? How many times do we need to remake society? Or is it just the persistent dissatisfaction of capitalism and vague anxiety that we may never get it right?

I actually believe that creative activity makes people happy, but not redundant assembly line production. I have experienced happiness in creative activity that nourishes my connections with others. I am particularly enjoying 302 because it brings together research interests, social commitments and friendships. I also really, really like working with my hands. This seems to me the goal of social transformation; improving the quality of life of family, friends and neighbors, and not just achieving higher economic indicators.

Today, I’m thinking that to the extent that traditional socialist industrial culture aimed to improve the lives of worker, it offers inspiration for possible renovations and building. However, without a discussion about what’s being relaunched and why, another round of pretty and smart and interesting construction seems to me to be beside the point.

venue a walkway

One of my favorite details at the Value Factory is the approach. Impressions below.

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impressions from urban fetish

A few shots from the performance! From handpuppets through sandcastles to silver models of buildings that landed like science fiction extraterrestials, urban fetish was a a celebration of creativity, desire and excess.

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urban fetish / baishizhou


Fat Bird premieres another play!

This Saturday and Sunday afternoon at the Value Factory, Fat Bird will perform Urban Fetish / Baishizhou. After the performance, I will lead a discussion about “Life, Labor and Desire” in and around the Shenzhen Dream. The show and discussion begin at 2:30 and will end between 4:30 and 5:00, depending on how lively the discussion gets.

Here’s the curatorial statement from Yang Qian (urban fetish baishizhou curatorial statement english):

Discussion Theater
A Historic Interlude that did not, will not and cannot Exist

Sun up; work
Sundown; to rest
Dig well and drink of the water
Dig field; eat of the grain
Imperial power is? and to us what is it?

The fourth; the dimension of stillness.
And the power over wild beasts.

– Canto 47, Ezra Pound

The life that Ezra Pound described was once quite close, with memories only three generations away from the present.

However, today we live in a world where you are what you own. This is a material era, transforming fetishism into poetic theater.

At 2:30 p.m. on the fourth and fifth days of January 2014, during the Fifth Edition of the Shenzhen Hong Kong Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism/ Architecture, in Venue A, Fat Bird Theatre invites each member of the audience to travel to a future Baishizhou. As one of the lucky property owners, you will experience unimaginable luxury from your seat in the theatre. Indeed, this surreal, poetic experience will make your neighbors – homeowners in Portofino, Shenzhen’s most expensive real estate development – envious because their future has already been built. But you are about to create a future that can only belong to you. Compared to them, you are successful.

In the theater, you will see a community buried, and on its ruins a dreamlike city emerge, and you and others like you will own this new world. You will see a place where 140,000 migrant workers once lived. Like you, they came to realize the Shenzhen Dream: wearing designer clothing, luxury housing, and lazy shopping mall days. But you are the lucky one; they have been pushed aside. Compared to them, you are successful.

You own a car, but sometimes you walk the streets of Shenzhen, and when you do, you see the posters that read, “When you arrive, you are a Shenzhener”. But in this theater you are sure of one truth: “Arriving you live in an urban village, when you get out, you are a Shenzhener”. So your experience in theater will tell you – the urban village is not Shenzhen. Urban village residents are not Shenzheners. Compared to them, you are successful.

If this theatrical experience confirms your belief in objects, your desires, and your optimism about the future then you should have no doubts about what you do and will obtain.

The discussion theater Urban Fetish / Baishizhou is a symbolic exploration of architecture and its objects, urban forms and what it means to create an environment. It is a meditation on the meaning of the urban village, a historically specific artifact. It is part of a search to discover the meaning and problems of urbanization.

After the performance, Dr. Mary Ann O’Donnell will lead a discussion with the audience on the topic, “Life, Labor, and Desire”.

baishizhou update

We’ve known for a while that the Tangtou rowhouses had been condemned. In fact, for the second half of 2012 and a few months in 2013, CZC tried to rent a room for our art intervention, but could not because even though people still lived in the houses, there had been ongoing evictions. Instead, we ended up renting a handshake efficiency (302!)in Shangbaishi, near the Jiangnan Grocery Store.

Yesterday, I saw that they had actually begun the process of sealing off the alleys between buildings. But the eviction process is just that, a process and there are still signs of inhabitation. In addition, the well at the southern edge of the Tangtou row house plaza has been hidden behind a white screen. The screen, however, has created a semi-private area, where women seem more comfortable doing their laundry. In fact, I haven’t seen this many women working at the well in a while.

I also wandered south across Shennan Road into the actual Baishizhou, where the wall between the urbanized village and Window of the World dramatically announces mixed-use with post-modern characteristics. The Baishizhou side of the wall reads like a half-built and abandoned handshake building, while the WoW side models the Corcovado mountain range just outside Rio de Janeiro, where Christ the Redeemer blesses theme park visitors.

Impressions, below.

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2013 szhk biennale of urbanism/architecture, thoughts on

This year’s Biennale occupies two spaces, the The Value Factory (venue A) and The Border Warehouse (Venue B), which are connected by a shuttle bus. Metonyms for Shekou history, the two sites index the industrial zone’s early manufacturing and connections to Hong Kong.

Team Ole Bouman curated The Value Factory with an eye to making it a catalyst for urban change. They cleaned up and slightly modified six areas of original factory complex — the entrance, the machine shop, two silos, the warehouse and the grounds themselves. This clean-up allows the site to be repurposed for new kinds of production. The grounds have been transformed into a garden, for example, and the silos opened for viewing, while the machine shop houses exhibitions as well as spaces for creative encounter, such as workshops, performances, and lectures.

Team Li Xiangning/ Jeffery Johnson conceptualized the Warehouse as a space to reassert the importance of knowledge and research to urban design. The exhibition includes a vast catalogue of investigations into borders and intances of boundary crossing, including a timeline, case studies, videos, installations, and national and regional pavillions. The sponsor, China Merchants has also curated an exhibition of Shekou history, which is displayed in the warehouse.

China Merchants Shekou (which built the ferry terminal and float glass factory) sponsored the fifth edition of the Biennale as part of its Shekou Relaunch campaign, in turn an element of the larger project to rebrand Shenzhen as a creative industry hub. This underplayed, but vital fact predicates visitors’ experience of the Biennale as a cultural enterprise. Creative activity in the Factory produces the knowledge archived in the Warehouse, which in turn provides tools for new creative activity in the Factory… Consequently, although some exhibits critically engage the inequalities that comprise capitalist production, nevertheless the Biennale as a whole ultimately celebrates accumulation as the highest social value.

In this context, my perception of Pierre Bourdieu’s critical analysis of The Forms of Capital abruptly shifts. Instead of a blueprint for socialist intervention, I see a conceptual toolkit for transforming the SEZ into a nexus of cultural industry:

“[C]apital can present itself in three fundamental guises: as economic capital, which is immediately and directly convertible into money and may be institutionalized in the forms of property rights; as cultural capital, which is convertible, on certain conditions, into economic capital and may be institutionalized in the forms of educational qualifications; and as social capital, made up of social obligations (‘connections’), which is convertible, in certain conditions, into economic capital and may be institutionalized in the forms of a title of nobility.”

Thought du jour: I’m not sure if it is necessary the Biennale Borg as it is easily avoided, but I do wonder about my continued participation in these events. To redeploy the theme of this edition: just when do we cross the boundary between engagement and complicity? Or is it more the case that “boundary crossing” is simultaneously both a judgment call and an instance of social speculation?

To get to the Biennale, take the Shekou Subway to Shekou Ferry station and walk about 500 meters. To then move between the spaces, take the shuttle. Or, if in Nanshan, my favorite bus line, the 226 stops at both venues. Jump off at Shekou Ferry Terminal (to visit the Warehouse) or Glass Factory (玻璃厂 to visit the Value Factory). First impressions from The Value Factory in previous post. Impressions from The Border Warehouse, below.

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2013 biennale opening impressions

The biennale is up. Venue A, the old float glass factory has been cleaned up, but the space retains its high modern industrial charm. First impressions of the Machine Shop, below:

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