conditions of possibility – grassroots discourse at the wutongshan arts festival

The title of this post shouts “academic theorization”, but in fact, the post itself is far less ambitious. I’m simply speculating about what conditions we need to put in place in order to cultivate cross cultural discourse in and about places with vexed histories, like Wutong Mountain, Shenzhen.

Creating models and forums for cross cultural discussions in and about places with vexed histories is difficult. On the one hand, most of us are not familiar with the values and concerns that inform the ethos of another people; indeed, even when we are relatively knowledgable about cross cultural differences, often we do not share our interlocutor’s priorities. On the other hand, cultural groups are not monolithic entities, but rather vexed by class, gender, and regional differences, creating what Bhaktin called “heteroglossia” – a situation in which context (including history and culture and politics and economy and one’s interlocutor) is more important in determining the meaning of an utterance than is the text.

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With the Wutongshan Arts Festival (梧桐山艺术节 – impressions above), organizers Gigi Leung and Michael Patte (founders of the riptide collective) aimed to generate conversations between village residents, local businesses (including Canyou), and artists who have moved there. The situation was clearly heteroglossic with both foreign and Chinese participants, who represented a range of different class backgrounds as well as different relationships to and with Wutong Mountain as well as Shenzhen. We came together to discuss future development in and of Wutong Mountain. Continue reading

Shenzhen Spirit

Two months ago, Canyou Animation opened a new production center near the Wutong Wenti Park and future site of the Wutong Mountain Scenic Area Museum. Yesterday, Yang Qian and I joined good friend and Canyou executive, Liu Jingwen to tour the premises.

The Canyou story is inspiring. Canyou founder and CEO, Zheng Weining (郑卫宁) was born with a hereditary blood disease that has necessitated ongoing blood transfusions and left him handicapped. Now in his 60s, he has used his condition to make Shenzhen not only more accessible to handicapped people, but also to provide opportunities for living integrated lives. In 1997, he established 残友(Canyou), a foundation that both funds architectural and social projects to help the handicapped, but also provide economic opportunities to create economic independence. The result of that effort was the establishment of Canyou Animation (残友动漫), which specializes in advance 3D animation production, like that used in the movie, Avatar. The emphasis on economic independence and the means to achieve this independence distinguishes Zheng Weining´s vision and efforts. Notably, the organizational structure of Canyou Animation repurposes the Chinese work unit, combining residential and economic functions in one large unit. Zheng Weining is also the founder and CEO of the Zheng Weining Foundation, which works with domestic and international organizations to make China more accessible.

Yesterday´s trip to Wutong reminded me about early Shenzhen both because of the environment (small village in a beautiful mountain setting) and more importantly because of the spirit of reform that once distinguished the Special Zone, when the point of reform was not to flip flop from collectivism to capitalism, but to use aspects of capitalism to achieve socialist goals.