Textual Logic: life as gerund

For me calligraphy has been one of the real pleasures of learning Chinese. Indeed, even when I can’t read what I’m seeing, I enjoy trying to following the line and figure out the character. Yesterday morning as part of the Textual Logic (书与法) exhibition at the OCAT Contemporary Art Terminal there was a calligraphy performance by Qiu Zhenzhong (邱振中) and Wang Dongling (王冬龄). So I was kind of “wow, calligraphy onstage. Fun.” However, it turned out that I had approached the event naively; calligraphers may or may not be fun, but the event felt like a cross between a movie star press conference and an art seminar.

The audience for the calligraphy performance was not OCAT’s typical audience who tend to have western aesthetics and a passion for conceptual art. Instead, the audience (not including the calligraphers’ respective entourages) was made up of calligraphers and folks who might be classified as calli-groupies, whose comments ranged from how the room had been set up through how the ink was mixed to how difficult it was or was not to write at this scale for so long. Indeed, it was a happy, almost fair-like event with pauses for watching and then commenting. Needless to say, the audience also complained that photographers and videographers had been given front row positions and could follow the calligrapher.

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The level of audience participation in the exhibition struck me wonderful.  Continue reading

Generation 70

Shenzhen seems suddenly filled with creative people. In part, this may be the biennale and the cultural business that has been generated. In part, it may also be the upcoming Nanshan Fringe Festival. However, in large part its also due to the fact that generation 70 is now actively making decisions about how they want to live and contribute.

Shenzhen’s current “30-something” group, Generation 70 (70后) is an interesting cohort because they are clearly not residually socialist in the manner of Generation 60 (60后), but neither do they belong to the Rich Second Generation (富二代), even when they are the second generation of their family to live in Shenzhen. Instead, Generation 70 were raised to be respectable members of the middle class, have professional careers, and move China forward in solid, sober fashion. However, after graduating from college, getting that job, and starting their one-child-families, many members of Generation 70 have found themselves bored with the lives that their parents and grandparents and spouses and friends expect them to live.

Started by two members of Generation 70, ATU观筑 exemplifies the creative second career choices that some of Shenzhen’s 30-somethings are making. ATU观筑 is a non-proffit institution that organizes salons, workshops, and public education courses to debate the meaning and direction of urbanization and urbanity in Shenzhen. The directors are 30-something and the creative team is in their mid-20s. They dress fashionably, enjoy art, and want to contribute to a more vibrant society. They speak English, travel abroad, and think of transforming Shenzhen in terms of environmental and progressive values; in short, the folks at ATU观筑, like other creative 30-somethings throughout the city and the country may be the crest of a distinctly modern and Chinese wave of creativity that many – Chinese and foreigners – have been waiting to arrive since Reform and Opening began just over thirty years ago.

大望: Culture Highland

Yesterday, I visited the Dawang Culture Highland (大望文化高地). This is the second year that Dawang has been part of the Cultural Industries Fair; like Dafen, Dawang is using art and international art markets to urbanize. Unlike Dafen, however, Dawang is located at the foot of Wutong Mountain and is promoting a more natural and original art experience.

Dawang refers both to a particular village and the cluster of villages that nestle against the foot of Wutong Mountain and so development in the area tends to be village by village, leading to both unexpected convergences and contradictions. Importantly, the spatial layout of the area suggests interesting (if familiar) transitions between rural and urbane Shenzhen as well as the integration of neidi migrants and artists into the city. On the one hand, Maizai, for example, is the village closest to mountain footpaths and has developed a cobblestone pedestrian street for Shenzhen urbanites looking for weekend relaxation and local Hakka cuisine. Other villages specialize in selling lychee honey. There is limited, small scale production and commerce. On the other hand, transportation to the area is inconvenient, which means that land is cheap. Consequently, both artists and squatters have nestled into the edges of Dawang lychee orchards.

This layout highlights the important social function of urban villages in incubating new kinds of Shenzheners: locals as a new kind of renter class, artists as the up and coming middle class, and squatters as the lowest of the city’s urban proletariat. Importantly, the area’s distance from the city center means that its one marketable asset is precisely the feature it wants to destroy – its rural and undeveloped nature (in all senses of the world).

Dawang and its Culture Highland are featured in That’s PRD’s introduction to new artspaces in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Pictures of the lay of the land, below.

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