I was in Shanghai visiting my brother and sister-in-law last Summer and I stayed with them in a delightful (but very badly restored) traditional courtyard property. Each time I go to Shanghai, I am amazed and disillusioned in equal part by how the city has changed and expanded.
By all counts, Shanghai is probably one of the biggest metropolitan areas in today’s world, surpassing London. Sitting in a cab heading towards Shanghai’s biggest metropolitan park – the Shanghai Forest Park in what is equivalent to Zone 6 in London – I couldn’t help but wonder at this endless city that is becoming a simulacrum (albeit a little more polluted) of another endless city that fascinates and disgusts in equal measure – Tokyo.
This time I took the opportunity (while not spending time with my family) to check out the newly gentrifying art district of Moganshan – touted as Shanghai’s answer to the 798 Art District in Beijing – that once-edgy-but-now-totally-gentrified-and-commercialised contemporary art cluster. Quite sadly, Moganshan appeared to me to be going the same path as 798, if it hasn’t already. Which I suppose, is completely in keeping with Shanghai’s identity as a commercial centre for art, rather than Beijing’s centre of art creation.
Here is a photo-journal of the area around the precinct.
The Endless City – It takes almost an hour by cab dashing at breakneck speed through Shanghai to get to Pudong International Airport, much longer than the time it takes to London Heathrow. Along the way, there are nothing but high-rises, nondescript, self-replicating, soul-less.
A Contrast in Lifestyles – there are still a few pockets of traditional housing precariously clinging onto existence in the city centre. This is where I stayed. The contrast between somewhat-old and new is stark.
Hustle and Bustle – As a Mega-city, the hustle and bustle is never far away. Where I lived, one could hear traffic all day and night long. I was a little exasperated those first evenings at my brother’s.
A Moment of Respite – Surprisingly, within the city centre, there were still spaces and moments of respite for its residents, which somehow humanised the city and made it a little more approachable. This is a view down the courtyard of the compound my brother lived in. I loved this tender moment between the elderly couple, though I recognised that it felt VERY out of place.
Shanghai Gongqing Forest Park (上海共青森林公园) – for the space-starved denizens of the city, the nearest real park is miles away, in the Zone-6 equivalent of metropolitan Shanghai. Yet, it is immensely popular and thronged with locals. Which makes me think: clearly Shanghai really needs more parks in the city centre. If only the Capitalist-communist Government would pay attention to what it’s people need.
Art in the Public Spaces
A Contemporary Art (当代艺术) Manifesto – “Contemporary Art as a Career provides people with a sense of hopelessness. We need to drag in other kinds of artistes as audiences, in order to be able to achieve a sense of playfulness in what we do. But then even this is not easy. Everyone these days is an artist and doesn’t have the skill to be an audience anymore. In addition, our demands on the audience are becoming unreasonable. To be a qualified audience, one first needs to be an artist. The crisis of artists, is actually due to a shortage of audiences.”