Does Not Stand Cannot Fall: Wang Wei's Temporary Spaces
by Phil Tinari
|0. A Radically
Condensed Summary of the Exhibition:
Wang Wei, Beijing artist and photographer for the Beijing Youth Daily, uses two weeks and ten workers to build a 100 meter square, 4 meter high brick enclosure on the northeast fringes of Beijing inside a gallery that fancies itself an "alternative space" in a re-developed factory compound that fancies itself an "art district." The kicker is, it's really Wang's brick box that is the "alternative space," as no one can enter. The bricks are delivered on donkey carts by peasants who actually collect bricks from demolished buildings for a living. The artist takes pictures of the box getting bigger by the day, and of the peasants who make it get bigger. When it is at its largest, he holds a big party and invites everyone to the space, where they have to squeeze around each other because there is only one meter of gallery left on each side of this big brick box. Then, when the party is over, the peasants tear everything down and buy back the bricks that haven't broken, at less than half of what they sold them to us for. We all think the bricks are completely gone, and the whole thing is a neat commentary on construction and destruction and the leave-no-traces state of development in the capital. But the photographs, unlike the bricks, are going nowhere.
and Bobos Between Fourth and Fifth
It is summer. It is hot. They are holding blunt-edged butcher cleavers, hacking rhythmically at the mortar left mostly on the bottom surface of whichever brick in a very large pile they happen to be holding. Let's call them brickmongers, charged with salvaging the cells of buildings that have passed their expiry date and selling them at a margin. There are dozens of them, squatting in clusters atop the wreckage of some recently demolished homes. Donkeys, carts, and donkeys strapped to carts wait around the edges of the pile. It is 8 a.m. and they have just finished eating lunch; they have been up since 3a.m. Every fifteen minutes or so a man with a Styrofoam box strapped to the back of his bike comes by selling slices of watermelon. Their children play in rubble.
They shout back and forth in the dialect of their native Zhangjiakou, a provincial town in Hebei, just a few hours north of here by train, or a few days by donkey cart, which is how they make the journey each year come Spring Festival. "Here" is east of the East Fourth Ring but west of the East Fifth Ring, among the red clay remains of what was once a remote farming village and what will soon become an expensive suburb. The long corridor-houses and their vaguely traditional Chinese roofs have met the sledgehammer. On the main road just to the west, large characters on tall walls of brick painted white proclaim the area "the backyard of the CBD(1)," and provide glossy photorealist previews of the luxury low-rises to come.
The cleavers hack until about 11:30, when the brickmongers put them down and begin to make sense of the piles of clean and semi-clean bricks they have created. Some of the clean bricks are in near perfect condition, others are short a corner or split in two. Extending a left arm, a brickmonger stacks six or seven pieces vertically against the crook of that arm. His or her right arm then stabilizes the stack from above in preparation for the ten-meter walk from pile to cart. He or she lies the bricks longwise on the back of the cart, first coating the cartbed, then stacking three and four high, working around the wheel wells. A cart can hold a thousand bricks, a typical harvest for one day. Cartful by cartful, the bricks are hauled off by donkeys and delivered and sold even further from the city center, at RMB 0.13 a pop. In a day, a brickmonger might make RMB 40, about $5.
Ten kilometers north of here, legions of native Beijingers are heading to work. They wear name-embroidered jumpsuits and ride bikes, and are headed down a street that used to be excessively potholed, but is now smooth, macadam as epidermis. They come up from the tenements just slightly south of here, turn right at the gaudy red and pink Hongyuan Apartments, and enter the web of factory chambers that still function as factory chambers, here beside the Airport Expressway in the suddenly hip industrial neighborhood of Dashanzi. They use 1950s East German tools and die to produce components for cell phone batteries and fiberglass boats for amusement park rides. They work under the Bauhaus skylights of early Second World solidarity, in rooms that have been earmarked for gentrification months ago. Metal shavings pile up like sausage curls around the bases of the austere turquoise machines until it is time for lunch, and then again until it is time to ride the bikes back to the tenements. They make more than RMB 40 a day, but not by much.
Elsewhere in the compound, in the chambers of the former Factory 798(2), a few single women are beginning their workdays in more-or-less designer clothes. There is Sun Ning at 798 Space, Shi Shi and Wang Jing at Beijing Tokyo Art Projects, Wen Jing at 798 Photo Gallery. The wonders of development: in what we are now asked to call the "Dashanzi Art District," a room that used to require a hundred-some sweaty men for significant GNP contribution requires now just one perfumed alumna of an arts administration graduate program in London. These galleries are the reason why the street is now smooth.
Cognoscenti behind flat-screen monitors, they sit amidst mediocre paintings and sculptures by local artists, beneath grandiosely vaulted cement ceilings, in the glow of indirect sunlight as per the Bauhaus precept that nothing in any of these massive rooms should produce a shadow. They answer the standard questions from the daily string of upper-crust Chinese and curious foreigners: off-duty CCTV producers, German radio correspondents, bohemian youngsters from the Central Academy. Everyone inquires about the rent.
And they sit in halls
of brick, brick that seems permanent, and that has as much of a claim
to permanence as anything in the People's Republic, laid neatly in the
early 1950s, before Soviet friendship and money dried up. The funny part
is that this whole postindustrial mise-en-scene, which looks at the moment
completely evolved and in a word perfect, has really just been blinked
into existence in a yearlong series of half-baked get-rich-quick schemes
followed by supplicatory calls and dinner invitations to a man named He
Xiaoming, administrator in the byzantine Seven Star Corporation(4 )that
now administers this land. And despite the major money poured into renovations,
the political clout of the new tenants, a celebrated drive to have the
spaces earmarked as "cultural artifacts," and the legal obligations
of the three-year leases most have signed, no one can promise that in
a few months the brickmongers won't be feasting their cleavers on this
set of demolished buildings.
Beijing is a city of concentric rings. At the center there is the forbidden city, surrounded by a moat, theoretically the first ring. The Second Ring runs atop the city's main subway line, tracing the route once woven by the municipal ramparts. The Third Ring was completed shortly after 1989, and is dotted with great temples of 1990s urbanization: the twin-towered China World Trade Center, the Great Wall Hotel, the Lufthansa Center, Ikea. Finished in 2000, the Fourth Ring does not run quite far north enough to encompass the great universities of the northwest, but far south and west enough to take in acres of farmland ripe for re-development, now mostly inhabited by old Beijingers whose inner-second-ring alleyway houses (called hutongs) were torn down to make way for glass and steel. Its eastern length begins just below the Lido, a bizarre hotel, mall, and outpost of Li Ka-hsing commercial capitalism whose millenial coming sparked a wave of development in the far northeast. From there it winds around SunPark-a city park that includes the site of the famed "East Village" of early-90s performance art fame-and south to SOHO NewTown, the most desirable of yuppie condo complexes.
Though a Sixth Ring is in the works, it is the Fifth Ring which, at this moment, delineates urban Beijing from its rural surroundings. Farther out is the land of uncomfortable juxtapositions, where the concrete shells of bankrupt McMansion developments give shade to sleeping peasants and forlorn roadside restaurants line the same bumpy streets as equestrian facilities, golf courses, and $20,000/year international schools. It is the zone between Fourth and Fifth-greater in area than that between Third and Fourth or Second and Third, as the rings also get farther away from each other as they get farther from the center-where new urban space is being created, and the flavor of Beijing as megalopolis will be determined.
During the determination
of this flavor, a period expected to last at least through that great
global signifier the 2008 Olympic games, (the stadium for which, incidentally,
will sit squarely between the North Fourth and Fifth Rings), a long but
finite series of daily equilibriums will be negotiated with the sweating,
breathing collective that is the capital of the world's quickest-developing
nation-state. And at both the allegorical and the real, physical levels,
this negotiation is precisely the process of picking up bricks from one
place, stacking them neatly and fleetingly on the back of a cart, hauling
them farther afield, building something else out of them, and tearing
it too down. Call it urban planning as alchemy, or progress as kinesis.
Utterly unstable, the city is the brick box writ large.
|2. Split Personalities,
Running Dogs, and Biographical Determinism: Wang Wei and Himself
"When I was a kid," Wang Wei says to me, "you left the second ring and you already felt far from the city." He is at the helm of a 1996 joint-venture-produced Jeep Cherokee, and in the back seat is a mound of documentary equipment: cameras, tripod, DV cam. This stuff is all his. It is morning and we are out together in search of the brickmongers. He is waiting for the call from his work unit that usually comes just before noon, sending him first to the newsroom and then on assignment, dictating the rest of his day. Billboards around the city show pictures of his smiling colleagues and the masthead of his work unit, the Beijing Youth Daily. "Where There Is News, There Is Us," the billboards say.
Wang Wei (b. 1972) went to the Central Academy, graduating from the mural painting department in 1996. He was among the very last to get their training on the Academy's original site, at Wangfujing, in the city center, before the campus was destroyed and rebuilt north of the Fourth Ring in Huajiadi. He is of the generation young enough to have no real recollection of the Cultural Revolution, but old enough to have been conscious of the avant-garde art scene during the brief heydays of the Yuanmingyuan and East Village artists' communities.
And when the underground exhibition Post-Sense Sensibility came along in 1999, he became a member of Beijing's last best avant-garde. Predicated on the idea that a new city was taking shape where technology and urban consciousness elided individual emotion, that show, or series of shows, set an agenda-theoretical, formal, political-from which the city's young art has not yet really strayed. Of the twenty-two artists included by curators Qiu Zhijie and Wu Meichun in Post-Sense Sensibility: Alien Bodies and Delusion, all but a few have launched successful solo careers. The show was the beginning of a major debate over the role of the body in art, which quickly escalated into works involving human corpses and fetuses. In the four years since that exhibition, these artists have gotten famous and negotiated their personal equilibriums with the city and the world beyond it, taking subsidized trips to Europe and drinking countless lattes. For everyone who said then that eating a fetus is not art, there is someone now saying that the Post-Sense Sensibility kids have lost their edge, or even sold out. Wang Wei seems above the debate, something of a prototype of the new Beijinger, at once native and international. Let us not forget that it was his work 1/30th of a Second Underwater that illustrated the story on the Guangzhou Triennial which ran on the front page of the Sunday Arts section in the New York Times, November 24, 2002.
The fact that Beijing
is at the point where it has what can be called a "leading newspaper"
is significant here. Sparing a discussion of "free press" in
a one-party state, let's just say that there was a time, not so long ago,
when the power of consumer choice in Beijing did not extend into the realm
of the media. The Beijing Youth Daily, which cynics enjoy pointing out,
is published by the Beijing chapter of the Communist Party Youth League,
has followed a path into the new millennium similar to that of many of
its readers. An uppity voice of political reform in the years leading
up to 1989, it fell back in line after the crackdown, and made a shrewd
decision somewhere in the early 1990s to attract advertisers and readers.
Its full color broadsheets are now the daily voice of a silent majority:
the consumers, the professionals, the folks who don't need to think so
much about traditional politics-reformist or authoritarian-so long as
the growth rates stay at 8 and 9%. It is the voice of a city that deep
down kind of wants this government to beat SARS and develop the country,
that hopes the cracks in the Three Gorges dam aren't that serious, that
can deal with a few disingenuous Xinhua reports each day so long as they're
accompanied by relevant classifieds and captivating features like "This
Day in History." And its motto, "Where There Is News, There
Is Us," which could appear on the side of a city bus in Peoria accompanied
by smiling headshots of local TV-news anchors, signals a big Weberian
shift away from news-as-politics toward news-as-information. This is Wang
|2(a). Wang Wei,
I first met Wang Wei in Shanghai, at a very hip exhibition on the northern fringes of that city. It was the day after the opening of the 2002 Shanghai Biennale, Urban Creation. Under the curatorship of Xu Zhen, a smattering of young artists in Shanghai and Beijing had done the obvious: rented an abandoned warehouse for an exhibition. Depending on whom you ask, this "satellite show" was called either Twins or Fan Mingzhen and Fan Mingzhu(6). Wu Hung, the famous art history professor and curator was there with his wife Judith Zeitlin, the famous Chinese literature professor, grinning. Turning to me he said, "It's hard to believe they can still have exhibitions like this in China."(7)
The one-step-further was that since the exhibition was called Twins, each work was to have a doppelganger. In a confusing but ultimately good-natured attempt to make the viewers (who included many internationally famous curators and critics, MoMA types with big horn-rims) laugh at the idea of going to an exhibition, the artists hung cloth among the square white columns one often finds in a warehouse, forming a number of disjoined "rooms" and ultimately, in conjunction with the duplication of every work, disorienting the viewers such that they did not know what they had viewed and what they had not. Call it a dig at the exhibition-goer in each of us who feels the heavy burden of having to see it all each time they enter a display. It was funny.
In that show Wang Wei presented Empty Space, the first in a series of works predicated formally on the box, a series that I like to think he has culminated, even concluded here with Temporary Space. Wang Wei's box measured 3 x 5 meters and stood 3 meters high, the size of his apartment living room. It had wheels, and it was pushed back and forth by four students wearing facemasks months before SARS. The box was actually a steel frame, wrapped in a 360-degree panoramic jet-printed image of the warehouse before the artists had gotten their hands on it, empty except for the square white columns. It was lit from inside. The twin to this work was a set of ten square white columns made similarly of steel and vinyl, also on wheels, also pushed by guys in facemasks. At the end of the exhibition, the columns were stacked up and sawed into pieces by the facemask-guys.
A few months later, that work was re-instantiated in the show Re-Construction 798, curated by Qiu Zhijie at 798 Space, as part of the eponymous festival that marked the formal opening of the Dashanzi Art District to the public. (8)Much attention has been paid by journalists and gallerists to the self-contented irony of turning these emblems of early-PRC heavy industry into spaces for the consumption of bourgeois art. Wang Wei gave material form to this debate by re-creating his Shanghai box, this time with pictures of the current Beijing gallery in its earlier state of dilapidated factory, complete with much-touted Cultural Revolution-era slogans painted on walls.
But what we take from these installations is less any exogenous idea he, as an artist, wants to foist upon us, and more a validation of the things we have been thinking about on our own, in the form of a theoretically savvy and visually gratifying material incarnation of this or that intellectual/artistic debate. Both boxes mentioned above actually served as meta-summaries of the exhibitions in which they were included: Twins was built on the tension of transforming empty space into exhibition space, just as Re-Construction 798 was a celebration of the commercial re-vitalization of a previously useless factory. Wang Wei's boxes were parodies of winks
He is interested in spaces, but also in how they work on people. He enjoys the discomfort brought on design not meant for humans. On this front, the uncomfortably narrow passageways in the current installation 25000 Bricks continue an experiment he began with his work Contact from the Sound 1 exhibition of 2000. In this work he used four sheets of glass to transform a door into a maze, and installed speakers playing the sounds of hands beating backs in the style of traditional Chinese massage.
As image-makers, news photographers are some of the most powerful actors in visual culture, often creating pictures with more staying power and exposure than professed works of art. One of the ideas behind the current exhibition is to examine a largely false dichotomy between Wang Wei the photojournalist and Wang Wei the artist. His day job, which makes him that rare commodity among contemporary Chinese artists-a professional photographer-provides him with a venue to hone his technique. And now, it has provided the subject matter for his first solo show: he met the brickmongers in 2002, on assignment, shooting a photoessay for Beijing Youth Daily.
Just as journalism has informed his art, perhaps Wang Wei's art may be best viewed in the way we read good journalism. Well crafted and astute, it blends the aesthetic pleasure of beautiful composition -here visual, there literary-with the intellectual pleasure of subtle exposition. It contains "deeper meaning," hidden just far enough below the surface to make the viewer's work of digging enjoyable. After we view Wang Wei's work, we get the joke. He makes us feel smart.
Maybe it's simpler
than all of that. When we first sat down to lay out this exhibition, I
proposed a title, "bu li bu po," which I thought was a witty
reversal of the Maoist proverb "bu po bu li," meaning roughly,
"if you don't tear down [the old], you can't build up [the new]."
Cutely reversed, it would mean something like "if you don't build
it up, you can't tear it down," which seems appropriate given what
he is doing here. In any case, I pitched what I thought was a very cool
title to Wang Wei over iced coffee in another renovated corner of the
Dashanzi Art District. He went lukewarm, thought for a second, and replied,
"that sounds like a title for people who think they're smarter than
they really are."
|3. Center Envelops
Periphery: Demolition and Benevolent Hegemony?
Demolition has been a near obsession not just of Chinese contemporary art but of Chinese mainstream intellectual culture, and of Western journalistic writing about China. We all know Zhang Dali's facial silhouette, spray-painted onto or sledge-hammered into a wall marked for destruction. We have read, or at least heard of, Wu Hung's articles on ruins in Chinese visual culture, which argue that yes, they still exist, although they're not going to be preserved in anything like the Roman Forum. We have seen Erik Eckholm's reports in the New York Times, bemoaning the imminent destruction of this or that corner of the inner-Second-Ring capital. And if you hang out at the most fashionable of the bars on Houhai (literally "rear lake," Beijing's equivalent of Central Park), you may have seen New Yorker correspondent Peter Hessler sporting a navy blue baseball cap embroidered with the single character chai, which indicates a building is about to be plowed over.
What is the significance of all this attention to destruction? I'm going to go ahead and say that it is a way of expressing left-handed loyalty to a phenomenon we see as basically good, i.e. economic development. At the Asia Society dinner in late April, Clinton, reflecting the general liberal consensus, noted that:
China's decision to look outward into the world even as it has tried to maintain more closure within its society than most of us would like has accelerated the movement of the world toward inter-dependence. It certainly has done so economically, but it also involves other things.
Transparency aside, we know that this acceleration toward inter-dependence comes at the cost of visual landscapes many of us would like to preserve, if only for selfish, nostalgic, aesthetic reasons. We also know that a) this isn't our prerogative and b) we'd probably rather sit in the café, or live in the apartment, that they eventually put up on whatever site they tear down. So we write and make art about demolition, but in doing so, voice mainly a reluctant agreement with the prevailing political/economic/dialectic consensus that moving forward is on the whole more important than looking back, at least for now.
Notably absent from the tone of Temporary Space is the moral judgment that demolition is wrong or bad, or even worth getting very nostalgic about. Wang Wei has been around this block; his childhood home met the sledgehammer as his parents' current home might any month now. Facing this, he is less regretful than amused. His penetrating stare seems to lock not on the fates of the farmers who once lived in these corridors but on the entertainment value of the way in which this land will now be marketed as the next hip place to live. This is not advocacy art.
The other major political angle on demolition is of course that the brickmongers are exploited and overworked. If an Ivy Leaguer came over here on a summer documentary studies fellowship with a Nikon, she wouldn't let us forget this. This doesn't seem to be a big concern of Wang Wei's either. Sure these people work long hours for not much money. In the face of this, Wang Wei seems more respectful than sympathetic. He describes their work as "xinku," "hard; strenuous; toilsome; laborious," a word that not only describes toil but elevates it into virtue. Students, officials, artists, brickmongers-if they're doing their jobs, they should all be xinku.
The utterly unpretentious Wang Wei actually befriended a group of these guys while shooting his photoessay last year. "Their personalities are like their horses," he remembers. At the end of that shooting, as at the end of this little construction project, Wang Wei and his artist buddy Zhao Liang took their brickmonger friends out for dinner, spending 70 RMB, $9, on a meal for eight. "These guys eat mostly noodles and vegetables, and were thrilled to have some meat," he recalls. Absent here is the sense that he had done his good deed for the day, or that he had discovered himself by helping others. He even sidesteps a common prejudice in Beijing-that of the native toward the migrant provincial laborer-telling them that he is not really a Beijinger but a Shanxi person, and thus a waidiren, a "foreign-place-person," just like them. He is patient and non-condescending and generally very cool in replying to the questions they inevitably have about why he wants to tape them with his DV camera or buy their bricks for this unorthodox purpose. Instead of trying to preach his art, he just explains that though he is shooting video, the footage will not appear on the TV news. He also enjoys the idea that the brickmongers are in a sense freer than most, as they generally own their carts and sell their bricks at their own will. Even photojournalists have bosses.
And so we arrive at a seeming paradox, namely that a work that appears surface-wise quite concerned with social and political issues actually is not. We could call it a sort of lyrical apoliticality. It is a loaded and hackneyed claim to say that a given artist or writer is simply presenting the facts. That being said, there is a tendency in Western interpretation of Chinese art to make things seem more political than they actually are, summed up best by a wall text from Xu Bing's solo show Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing at the Sackler in 2001. (9)
This section of the essay was supposed to discuss the movement of center toward periphery in contemporary Beijing, a trend that includes the urban sprawl that provides a livelihood to the Bobos and the brickmongers alike. But as any college humanities graduate can tell you, center and periphery are more than geographic concepts. It is Wang Wei's position in a relatively central information apparatus that gives him leeway to visit the social periphery as an image-collector. And it is Beijing's emergence from the global periphery into a newly and increasingly central position on the world-stage that gives his newspaper the imperative to do human-interest stories that sent him there in the first place.
Broader trend: part
of China's becoming a center involves its own right to move in on its
internal peripheries. Here I cite the recent publication of Zhongguo Zizhu
You (roughly Independent Travel in China), a book identical in format
to Lonely Planet China. In Orientalism, Said provides a stinging dissection
of 18th and 19th century travel books about the East. But what happens
when the East starts publishing travel books about itself? China's current
standing in the world gives it new power, or perhaps a new imperative,
to navel-gaze. While some of the forms this self-scrutiny takes may be
recognizably similar to, even derivative of, their Western precedents,
there is certainly room for some interesting, perhaps instructive departures.
|4. The work itself
Temporary Space makes no pretense of permanence. On June 30, a stream of donkey carts came up Jiuxianqiao Road and turned right into the factory compound housing the Dashanzi Art District. 25,000 bricks, harvested from formerly outlying villages torn down to make way for Beijing's expansion, assumed temporary positions on the sidewalk outside the 25000 Cultural Transmission Center. 25,000 x 0.13 RMB was paid to the brickmongers for the load. For five of the next twelve mornings, instead of making their daily income by hacking at bricks, ten of these men and women worked with Wang Wei to erect four walls, pasting their bricks together with mortar. During the afternoons, Wang Wei used his camera to interpret the construction of a new space. On the thirteenth day, when construction is through, art luminaries will enter for an opening. On the last few days, workers demolished what they had built and bought the salvageable bricks back at 0.05 RMB apiece. Wang Wei continued shooting, the donkey carts arrived once more, and the bricks left for a new home somewhere else, probably also between the Fourth and Fifth Rings. The space is empty again.
The exhibition includes three works. The first is the building itself, which has been categorized as an installation and named 25000 Bricks. The second is a video projection in one dark corner of the space, an eight-minute DV about the brickmongers entitled Dong Ba, after the former village in which they are currently working. The sounds of brick-sellers hacking mortar from old bricks waft from a pair of speakers, in subtle contrast to the sounds of the same brickmongers, physically present in the space, putting what may be the same bricks together again. The video's tone is lyrical and documentary. The only text comes in the opening shot of a sign proclaiming the area "the backyard of the Central Business District," and in a closing panel that explains that "around Beijing, three thousand people survive on the city's destruction." The final shot is a 360-degree panorama, a classic vista of workers whipping horses, piled debris, and new apartment buildings-still swathed in green mesh-rising in the distance. And thus, a video about a project so connected to the ideas of center and periphery end with a shot that takes in, from a single point, circular landscape.
The third and perhaps enduring work is a black and white photographic cycle, What Does Not Stand Cannot Fall. Like Wang Wei's earlier works, the photos, displayed originally on the gallery's back wall, behind the building they depict, are studies of people (in this case the peasant workers he has hired for a construction project) in an environment (in this case the 25000 Cultural Transmission Center, and the 25000 Bricks). The photos chart the rise and fall of the brick box. Beginning with and returning to the empty white cube of the gallery, they hint at the instability that has become one of the few constants of the visual landscape of Beijing. But they also humanize and obscure its creators: the workers, present in the first few images, disappear behind what they build.
In subtle subversion of the exhibition system, we have ensured that at no single point can the all three works be perceived in their entirety: when the building is at its highest and most complete, the series of photographs will remain unfinished. Once all twelve photographs are present, the building will be gone.
And yet while not
calling itself performance art, this experiment is less an installation
or a photographic cycle than a series of everyday interactions with an
urban economy that needs donkeys and brickmongers at least as much as
it needs avant-garde artists. In this economy, perhaps the successful
artist is less a creator of permanence than a practitioner of strategic
building and tearing down, someone like Wang Wei, who captures the zeitgeist
if only for a few days at a time. Up and down and up and down and up and
down, from now until whenever.
| (1)Central Business
(2).(3)"Factory 798" and "Dashanzi Art District" both refer the 1950s military electronics factory on the northern fringes of Beijing built by in the Bauhaus style with Soviet aid and East German blueprints in the early 1950s. If you are not familiar with the artistic topography of Beijing, know that the renovation of this factory into a SoHo-esque district of galleries and loft apartments has been the story of the year, summed up by a February 6 New York Times headline, "A Factory is Transformed by the Art of Real Estate."
(4)A newly assumed name looking to signify only the most advanced means of production, "Seven Star Corporation" presumably derives from the 7 at the beginning of the number for each of the dozen or so factories it includes. One day in recent history, the state-owned factories decided they weren't going to be numbers anymore.
(5)A Chinese-English Dictionary (Revised Edition), Foreign Languages Teaching and Research Press, 1997. This is the revised version of the PRC's first Chinese-English dictionary, a pet project of Zhou Enlai, which appeared in 1978.
(6)These being the
names of a pair of twins, one of whom dates the curator, whose smiling
faces appeared on the postcard/map that served as the exhibition's invitation,
which was passed out just hours before the opening. It contained no actual
reference to art, and looked rather like a perfume handbill. This is how
you keep your cover in Shanghai.
(8)The managers of the Seven Star Corporation did not like the necessity implied by a festival title that translates better as "Re-building Factory 798." An amusing discourse-control measure was imposed the These being the names of a pair of twins, one of whom dates the curator, whose smiling faces appeared on the postcard/map that served as the exhibition's invitation, which was passed out just hours before the opening. It contained no actual reference to art, and looked rather like a perfume handbill. This is how you keep your cover in Shanghai.
(9)An early work by Xu Bing, a series of oversized chops engraved with the Chinese characters which phonetically represent the letters of the English alphabet was glossed for the uninitiated by curator Britta Erickson. The characters for the letter "X," (ai-ke-si), were taken as a pun on the transliteration for "Marx" (ma-ke-si), as the second two characters-"ke" and "si"-are identical. While the transliteration characters are the same, English letters are rendered in Chinese according to long established lexicographic convention. Xu Bing was laughing not so much at the impossibility of transplanting Marx as at the queer system by which letters become characters.