When I first came to Shenzhen in 1995, the idea was to find a group of people who were willing to be interviewed, fill spiral notebooks with handwritten notes, and return to Rice to write-up said notes in 1996, or at the very latest, 1997 and then writing my way into an academic position. That didn’t happen. Instead, I stayed in Shenzhen until 1998, finished the dissertation in 1999, held a post-doc for one year, and then began the transition from trying to secure a tenure-track offer at a US university to figuring out what an American ex-pat might do in Shenzhen, which was itself transitioning from being a manufacturing hub into an innovation city. Continue reading
I’ve just realized that all of Xi Jinping’s announcements refer to deepening “reform (改革).” Here’s the thing. Shenzhen has been about reform and opening (改革开放). I know. Quibble, quibble. But. I suddenly realized I wasn’t paying enough attention to the words used. And this in a country where words are serious politics. We were warned about the aggressive closing down of ideological alternatives, but because my eyes glazed over (from propaganda overload) when I got to “reform” in announcements, I unconsciously supplied the “opening” as if we were doing more of the same.
Friday August 25, 2017 I had the honor of participating in the closing meeting of the second edition of the “Shenzhen Oral History” project. It was a high level and exciting cultural event that commemorated the people who contributed to Shenzhen’s second decade, 1992-2002. A week later on Friday September 1, I attended the salon for Wu Xingyu and Zhong Yuxiao’s art project “Demolition.” Continue reading
This year I was in the Chinese northland during the first week of the Trump presidency, a fact which had me thinking about national geographies of opportunity and despair. (Honestly, how could I resist when we were celebrating the Year of the Cock?!) Of note? The pride and resentment, wellbeing and jealousy that I encountered in the Chinese interior resonated with my experience of the American heartland, where my parents were born, even as the valuation of Shenzhen and other southern cities seemed much like American valuations of the progressive northeast, where I was raised.
and I’m listening to music by 张广天, whose music simultaneously evokes revolutionary times and postmodern desires. Zhang Guangtian is considered one of the first figures of Shanghai’s 1980s rock and independent music scene. In 1990, he moved to Beijing, where he has collaborated with both theater practitioners and film makers, most notably with the National Experimental Theatre’s Meng Jinghui. In 2000, Zhang Guangtian burst into national consciousness with Che Guevera (切·格瓦拉), which he wrote and directed. However, today it is the vexed lyrics of Mao Zedong that have me feeling bittersweet about the Chinese Revolution and the aftermath of Reform. The song was written for the 110th Anniversary of Mao Zedong’s birth–how resplendent he was, Zhang Guangtian nostalgically sings–and although the lyrics allude to the need for revolution the images firmly tie Mao to the Party’s purposes. And the idolization. Simultaneously compelling and disturbing, I find it difficult to turn away from the Great Helmsman (below).
Last Friday evening, Yang Qian, Chen Hongjuan (Melon), and I participated in a public talk on “Designing Escapist Experiences”. The event was the first in a four-part series on experience design that is co-produced by the OCT A3+ space and the Baptist University of Hong Kong, Master’s of Visual Arts in Experience Design. As with many talks in currently salon obsessed Shenzhen, the talk quickly exceeded its proscribed limits, this time steering into discussions of whether or not art was by definition “escapist” or if it constituted an opportunity to re-imagine the world, with particular reference to the every changing utopian project of the PRC. Also as with many of these discussions, commerce came in, guns blazing: was it really so horrible to pay for the delights of Disney princesses or to imagine oneself as middle class if only for a few moments? Indeed, it is an exciting time to be in Shenzhen where public debate–especially minjian debate–is enjoyed and well-attended. Young and old, well educated Shenzheners and recently arrived professionals, everyone wants to learn and is eager to share “true thoughts” with receptive interlocutors. After two hours of intense conversation, we took a group photo and went home, refreshed and somewhat hopeful in the lingering delights of conversation.
Just back from the U.S. and the body rebels. Jet lag forcefully reminds us that the body and its functions are not under “my” control because if so, this nauseous compulsion to sleep would not creep over “me”. Inquiring minds want to know; who laid down? Continue reading
Important footnote or dissertation? Inquiring minds want to know, what is a natural village? Continue reading
After we left Tantou, we visited several other scenic spots in Kaihua. Beautifully other to Shenzhen’s clogged roads and noisy crowds, these scenes suggested that the gate to an other worldly adventure was just around the bend in the road or nestled snuggly behind a crumbling wall. And yet. Each time we spoke with local residents, they asserted, “There’s nothing here.” In turn, the visitors from Shenzhen responded that this beauty was enough, but the locals remained skeptical; beautiful enough to bring in tourists? Continue reading
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? Continue reading