墙迫症–my white wall compulsions

302 will start a new project–my white wall compulsions. The title is a pun: 强迫症 means obsessive compulsive disorder, while the characters for strong (强) and wall (墙) are homonyms.

The project itself is quite simple. 302 is a one room efficiency with four white walls. We’re looking for four individuals and or teams to transform one wall in the way they have always fantasized. And you know who you are. Staring at a white wall imagining all sorts of paint and bas-relief interventions! The project begins September 27 and ends with a party on November 21. Right now we’re accepting project proposals. We will also provide 500 rmb to pay for materials. If you’re interested in claiming your white wall compulsions and in Shenzhen contact me.

For those who’ve been wondering what’s up with community art in Shenzhen, the pictures below are from an August 29 performance in Shuiwei. The workshopped performance piece “feeling stones to cross the river” was part of the opening ceremony for the Futian International Images Festival, which celebrated documentary images and films.

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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 superhero!

Baishizhou Superhero has been installed at Handshake 302. Come and see and play with the first urban village superhero photo stand-in!


Below, the curatorial statement for the installation.

Baishizhou Superhero

Superheroes navigate the debris of urban despair, haunting the rubbished alleyways and crumbling staircases that lead to cramped spaces at the end of unlit hallways. They appear as exaggerated silhouettes or bursts of neon light. They leap over tall buildings in a single bound and rescue the victims of unfettered greed and malignant desire. Most importantly, superheroes represent the fantasy of latent potential and unlimited transformation in these techno-modernized times; mild-mannered, nerdy and bureaucratically inclined Clark Kent steps into a telephone booth and strides out a decisively manly man, who rights systemic wrongs through physical prowess. Hooray!

In the installation Baishizhou Superhero, Liu Wei’s playful cartoon characters transform Handshake 302 into a magic telephone booth. Visitors step into the space and through the power of a photo stand in become one of seven possible urban village superheroes – Methane Man, Wonder Granny, Stir Fry Fly, the Amazing Beer Babe, Village Guardian, Super Dog, or Cat-a-go-go. Friends can then take pictures of each other as they model the most common social roles in any of Shenzhen’s urban villages.

At first glance, the installation seems a tacky party game until we remember that these social roles – deliveryman, child care provider, food hawker, beer waitress, and village fireman – are the vehicles through which migrant workers transform their lives. Each migrant worker undergoes the sometimes exhilarating and often bizarre transmogrification from ordinary peasant to urbanite. However, the Baishizhou Superheroes also sustain Shenzhen’s economic boomtimes. After all, these superheroes provide the services and social network that Shenzhen’s factory workers need to make themselves at home in the city.

At second glance, the insidious charm of the installation becomes even more apparent. There is no doubt that human beings have latent potential to transform ourselves and our lives. The Shenzhen Dream hinges on this fact and migrants come to the city in order to improve their material lives. Within the maelstrom of globalization, however, the latent potential of human beings to transform ourselves has been limited by the necessity to commodify ourselves. The super power of an unpaid grandmother, for example, is to create value by providing unpaid childcare so that both fathers and mothers can join the gendered labor force, as deliverymen or waitresses.

The “super power” of all Baishizhou migrants is, in fact, the power to sell their labor on an unregulated market for as long as their bodies hold out. A popular expression maintains that migrant workers “sell their youth”. As individuals, there are limits to the scale of transformation. When a deliveryman’s legs can no longer pump a bicycle or when a waitress’ breasts succumb to gravity, these workers are replaced by younger, more energetic migrants. And there’s the fantastic allure of the superhero myth – unlimited strength to endure and transcend physically exhausting and emotionally alienating jobs.

Participating Artists: Lei Shenzheng, Liu Wei, Lv Linxuan, Mary Ann O’Donnell, Yang Qian, Zhang Kaiqin, Zhang Yan, Zhou Tianlu

Hours: Weds 19:00-21:00; Sat & Sun 15:-17:00, or by appointment.
Access: Baishizhou Subway Station Exit A, walk north to Jiangnan Baihuo Supermarket, make left down alley, follow to Shangbaishi Block 2 Building 49 (above the flip flop store). Ring bell and come up.

as shenzhen razes: the baishizhou urban renewal plan online

Shenzhen developer, Lvgem Group (绿景集团) has uploaded a video of the Urban Renewal Plan for the Five Shahe Villages in Baishizhou (白石洲沙河五村旧改专项规划).

Wow. Just wow. And not in the good way.

The current built environment of roughly 580,000 square meters will increase 10-fold, to 5.5 million square meters.

The argument for razing the current settlement and replacing it with high, high rises and skyscrapers is that Baishizhou villagers live in grungy unpleasant conditions that need to be upgraded. The proposed solution is for the developers will work with villagers in order to bring them into the urbanization process.

In a nutshell,  the problem is that the video conflates the idea of “villagers” with the ruralized current residents of Baishizhou. There will be a resettlement area for “villagers”, but who counts as a villager? The actual population of Baishizhou is over 140,000, of which 120,000 do not have Shenzhen hukou. So, inquiring minds want to know: is the plan calling for ten times the space to house the 20,000 residents who do have hukou? Or does “villager” only refer to the actual members of the five villages, which means we’re talking about less than 2,000 people with resettlement rights. And if that’s the case, who will live in all this new, upgraded, hyper-modern space after the current residents have been forced to leave?

A quick visit to 58 net reveals how cheap housing in Baishizhou is relative to the surrounding area. In fact, many young office workers and professionals from neighboring Science and Technology Park (科技园) also live in Baishizhou as to designers and creative talents who work in the OCT Loft. Providing this class with livable (宜居) housing is an ongoing Shenzhen concern. Indeed, there is now an official plaque for hanging on a rental building which confirms a building’s livability.

It is estimated that over half Shenzhen’s population live in the villages, which account for roughly 10% of the area’s land. Arguably, the villages are the city, while high end housing estates and neighborhoods might be thought as wealthy suburbs, with lovely gardens and huge tracks of private spaces. Consequently, the question of who actually belongs to an “urban village” is the social, political, economic question because as Jonathan Bach has argued, the villages have been the incubators where (some of) Shenzhen’s migrant workers transform themselves into urbanites and potentially citizens.

As Shenzhen razes. Stay tuned.

tangtou research begins!

After many months of waiting and hoping and wishing (and yes research is often an overplayed love song), the CZC Special Forces have begun our research in Tangtou, Baishizhou. Yesterday morning and afternoon, we began a survey of the buildings.

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CZC Special Forces

Am collaborating with a multi-national group of architects, urban planners, and concerned citizens to jumpstart an effort to renovate the Tangtou section of Baishizhou. Yesterday, at one of the Design Center’s Cool Tea (酷茶) events, I gave a short presentation on our four meetings to date and an introduction to sociocracy, the form of governance we are attempting to set up. The talk was well received, especially the discussion of how to run a meeting.

I have recently realized that there is not only desire to transform Chinese society, but also many such salons and talks springing up all over Shenzhen. Significantly, the terms of the discussion are the built environment. Last night, for example, the first talk by the Shenzhen Green Building Association charted the expansion of government sponsored discussions about environmental standards — their group has several hundred members and they are quite active. SGBA seems to be moving in the direction charted by Wang Yang in his recent address to the Guangdong Party and one of their core ideas is happiness index (幸福指标). As mentioned in an earlier post, Wang Yang has defined happiness in neo-liberal terms: a feeling of personal well-being brought on by doing what one likes to do. Upside, this definition leaves space for heterogeneity. Downside, it justifies all sorts of social neglect and individual appropriations of common resources. Nevertheless, the point remains: Shenzheners are talking about what it means to inhabit the city as members of a society AND the discussion is being coded in architectural and urban planning terms.

A copy of my talk (in Chinese), here; the accompanying bi-lingual powerpoint, here.