There is this sense or perhaps compulsion to make sense of the city through its cultural history, as if history were the whole story and not some narrative, which has been retrofitted to the needs of the moment. This is not to say that the needs of the moment are unimportant, merely to highlight that what counts as history and when history may come to count (so to speak) are themselves effects of other social processes which may or may not have anything to do with what happened, but are (nevertheless) important to understanding what we think happened. All this to say, answering the question “how did Hakka-scapes come to the foreground of Shenzhen’s current embrace of history?” requires double think: we not only need to rummage around to figure out what happened then, but also to posit why then-and-there have been positioned at the origin of here and now. Continue reading
December in Shenzhen is known as “Creative December”. The city has been officially promoting culture and creative industries since 2005, moving manufacturing to the outer districts, incubating start-ups, and funding creative spaces and so forth. Many of the large-scale, government promoted events during Creative December 2015 focused on history and memory and the scale of these imaginary formations. For those who often what to do on a weekend afternoon, this past December offered an embarrassment of choices in addition to the city sponsored Shenzhen-Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism/ architecture and the Shenzhen Public Sculpture Exhibition, every single level of government and private art spaces sponsored large-scale cultural events that ranged from the first Kylin Dance Festival (in Longhua) to the Indie Animation Festival in Overseas Chinese Town. In addition, every weekend has been filled with lectures, workshops and salons. For those of us who work in culture—we paint or run galleries or act or produce plays or think about society and take critical photographs of changes in the land—December is the month when we present a year’s worth (or not) of endeavor to the public.
In January, before Shenzhen turns its gaze back to the problem of making an industry of culture—Culture, Inc, we begin rounds of New Year’s dining privately with friends and family, as well as formally with colleagues. During these meals, culture and Culture, Inc are discussed in tandem; there is a potentially large market for culture because everyone is vaguely dissatisfied and looking for spiritual forms of satisfaction that are also economically viable. Continue reading
Shenzhen abruptly arrives at the edge of something new, some palatable, pulsing readiness that has been growing beneath our feet, and launches us into unanticipated desires. Or so it seems today. Continue reading
Yesterday, Handshake 302 won the first annual Shenzhen Creative Design Award in the category of creative synthesis. The other five categories included: architecture/space; product development; fashion; visual communication, and; interactive design. The awards recognized social design as an important element of design in general. The overall winners for “special contribution” included the Shenzhen based Ancient Village Network that provides technical and other support for village preservation and the OCT market, which provides young designers and artists a rent-free stalls to sell their products on weekends. Continue reading
Today I joined the opening for the Atron Art Centre, which boasts the largest book collection / book display in the world. Still under construction, the building glitters, as do Atron’s ambitions to promote and propagate knowledge and culture. Impressions, below.
…was the slogan of this year’s Shenzhen Maker Faire. I attended on Sunday, and then Monday afternoon joined researchers from the Institute For the Future on a tour of BGI (Beijing Genomics Institute) or “China Great Gene (华大基因)” as the name translates from the Chinese.
What did I see and learn?
That children love playing with gadgets. That most of the “products” were in fact toys. And that the most popular booths had the greatest room for serious play. In other words, the successful objects themselves structured a particular–and somehow “first”–experience. Hence, the wow moments that attracted children and adults alike.
That BGI has concentrated a massive amount of capital and resources in order to further the production of data. Moreover, as the cost of mapping genomes has dropped from $US 3B to around $US 3,000 in a little over twenty years, the data has proliferated to the point where the challenge facing researchers is technologies for storing and analyzing the data. I’m not sure what this volume of data means in terms of life experiences, but it does strike me that our imaginations constantly seek material form. And I learned the expression human augmentation, as if we are not enough.
That the Shekou Relaunch campaign has brought in interesting cultural programs to the area. In addition, these programs have been popular and attracted residents from all over the city to Shekou. So notable that–again–we’re looking at the design of experience. And all this hinges on the promulgation of culture and creativity as both the means and ends of socio-economic development.
Yesterday I visited Dafen for the first time in over a year. Noticed several tourists, better coffee shops, and a store selling Tibetan clothing. It seems that Dafen’s makeover from site of copy painting production to a shop-front / tourist site continues. Impressions, below:
Co-curated by Liu Ding, Carol Yinghua Lu, and Su Wei, the 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, Accidental Message: Art is Not a System, Not a World (偶然的信息：艺术不是一个体系，也不是一个世界) has two sections, “Unexpected Encounters,” which presents the curators’ take on pivotal Chinese work from the 90s, and “What You See is What I See,” which showcases international artists with whom the curators have engaged over the past few yeas.
Liu Ding and Carol Yinghua Lu have written that their decision to juxtapose 1990s Chinese artwork with recent global artwork (including several Chinese artists who now travel on those circuits) in terms of a “secret glue” and the “mental bonds” that exist between creators, rather than needing “to be delineated according to artificial art politics and planned boundaries of the art system (exhibition catalogue page 25).” In other words, this is not an exhibition about the developments in sculpture over the past two years, or even about placing sculpture into conversation with other medium to get a sense of how digital art and video (the two strongest elements in the show) have reshaped our appreciation of what Benjamin once identified as sculpture’s yearning for immortality. Instead, Accidental Message is a celebratory catalogue of the desires, taste and experience of three people.
I actually get the curators’ urge to categorical disruption and their yearning for “unexpected encounters, chance glances, open hearts and respect for individuals (p 25)”. We all of us want to be recognized as unique personalities, creating connection through idiosyncratic gestures and resonating heartbeats. Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure I get the impulse for random hook-ups because alienated, individual and individualizing subjectivity and celebration thereof are symptoms of neoliberal political economics and I was raised in the neoliberal suburbs of New Jersey and currently reside in a neoliberal with Chinese Characteristics Shenzhen neighborhood,  where pleasure is derived by crafting oneself into a subjectivity that can be picked up and broadcast over diverse, global networks, unhampered by borders or culture or paychecks or jobs or even history, in short to become a “creation of serendipity and individual spirit.”
Thus, point du jour is actually quite simple. Liu Ding, Carol Yinghua Lu, and Su Wei did not randomly encounter artists and ideas, but did so within the institutional context of art schools and certification, art grants and residencies, and arts funding choices, all which increasingly reflect the ongoing privatization of art for the benefit of corporations and their shareholders.
This year’s show, for example, coincided with the decision to rebrand the Shenzhen International Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition as the Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale and hold it at the Overseas Chinese Town Contemporary Arts Terminal and B-10 gallery. OCT is a major Shenzhen real estate developer that has marketed itself through appeals to high cultural consumption, personal taste, and of course individualized pleasure. Indeed, the event also signaled the general upmarketing of OCT culture industry as an integrated component of its real estate projects. OCAT has been formally established as an independent, not-for profit art museum and as Overseas Chinese Towns (now a recognizable lifestyle brand) develop across the country, the Museum will take the lead in creating a series of art centers under the “Art Museum Cluster Program,” which the curators will take an active lead in developing.
Accidental Message runs until August 31. I enjoyed some of the pieces. I worry that taken as a whole, however, the show is not as subversive as the curators hoped, but instead exemplifies “business as usual” in Shenzhen’s push to become a player in global cultural industry. I close with impressions, below:
 In her paper Enjoying Neoliberalism, Jodi Dean provides a relevant definition of neoliberalism as “…an economic doctrine that channels state intervention toward the elimination of projects of social solidarity in favor of privatization, economic deregulation, tariff reduction, and the use of public and monetary policy to benefit corporations and their shareholders.”
Yesterday, I met Chen Hong (陈宏), executive producer of the Shenzhen Villages documentary mini-series (桑海桑田：深圳村庄三十年) and was gifted my own set of DVDs and associated book! No longer dependent on the odd youku upload, I can now finish my review of episode 5, The Background of Xiasha (下沙背景).
The opening begins with the last Song Emperor fleeing the Yuan. His grave, of course is in Chiwan, but it turns out, over 800 years ago, Xiasha villagers met the imperial refugee and his ragtag army with large casseroles of chicken, seafood, pork, and vegetables or pencai (盆菜) as they are known in Shenzhen. The mini-series narrator solemnly intones that although the Emperor died before his ninth birthday, the pencai tradition lives on in Xiasha Village. Continue reading
Yesterday, enjoyed a lovely walk and conversation with Sara, a young curator visiting from Canada. We took a bus to Fuyong, one of the Baoan precincts which abuts the old Guangshen highway and is now more commonly known as National Highway 107. Guangshen / 107 is (in)famous for its factories, migrant workers, and more recently container dwellers, which have entered Shenzhen conversation as extreme examples of the SEZ’s cost of housing problems.
Sara’s interest in urban gardening brought us into conversation with Aunt Xu, who migrated from Fujian to live with her son in Lixinhu (Establish the New) Estates, a 90s era housing development located next to the Lixin Reservoir. Aunt Xu had come to live with her son and take care of her grandchild. But five or six years ago, the grandchild started school and no longer needed childcare. Aunt Xu abruptly had time on her hands. Uninterested in television programs and full of energy, Aunt Xu decided to cultivate peanuts on the banks of Lixin reservoir. Continue reading