Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hong Kong and China were niu bi // Shanghai off spray paint


I am back in Chicago, almost too jetlagged to be a functional member of society, wondering if the less-than-87%-humidity will dry out my skin, and missing Hong Kong dreadfully (I may or may not have typed that with a slight British accent in mind—damn you, remnants of Colonialism, telling me to “mind the gap” and “queue for lifts”!).
Oh, just kickin' it with my uncles. No big deal.

Finally, I’ve uploaded my photos of the art in Shanghai and Hong Kong to Flickr and Facebook! (Beijing photos can be found in these two posts.) I’ll focus on Hong Kong in my next post. In Shanghai…

Respirator mask, dude.

…I’d been crashing in a room my cousin and his flatmate use to dry their laundry and stockpile their liquor (seems reasonable). My cousin’s girlfriend Maggie had the following to say about art in China: that “Beijing is more political,” whereas “Shanghai is more international,” and that, because of its political bent, “Beijing is more passionate about art and music” (the Chinese are all about rock, and I thank my Shenyang-living friend for introducing me to a colloquialism young people shout at rock concerts: “niu bi,” which is slang for “awesome” and literally translates to “cow vagina,” which makes the phrase even more awesome).

Second city syndrome, anyone? As a local, Maggie obviously has a much more nuanced assessment of Shanghai and its relationship with the arts than I would. My explorations of the city, however, led me to believe that Beijing’s art scene has a formidable rival.

Shanghai’s main art hub is the Moganshan Road art district, which, like Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, comprises a complex of old warehouses converted into art galleries and studios. It’s less grandiose than 798, unsurprisingly, but it feels more accessible, and it isn’t without its fair share of provocative art. Moreover, Shanghai’s “international” character permeates its artistic community; among the first artists and gallerists I met there, for example, were expats from Seoul during an art opening at a Korean restaurant in the French Concession.

But what I loved most was ambling beyond the central gallery cluster and losing myself in graffiti, whether it coiled along a wall or punctuated a vast expanse of vacant lots populated by squatter homes, roosters parading in and out of garbage piles, and urban ruins long forsaken, crumbling, simultaneously weighed down by time and held up by color, by paint, suspended in a silently beautiful balancing act.

I spoke with a couple of the graffiti artists writing in broad daylight, and they explained that graffiti is, more or less, “tolerated.”

What I also loved: When Maggie asked if Chicago still has gangsters “like in the movies.” My cousin and I told her that was almost a hundred years ago and that they bootlegged alcohol. Her response? “That’s not very gangster.”

14 comments:

  1. Shanghai is great. Spent six months there in 2002. Would like to go again. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. You're welcome, Dale! Thanks for commenting. What brought you to Shanghai in '02?

      I imagine it's probably changed a lot since then, so yes, definitely go again!

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  2. i've been to shanghai couple of times, i prefer it more than beijing, maybe the situation changed but when i was there end of the year 2006, it was quite dusty. didn't like it at all.

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    1. The last (and first) time I'd been to Beijing before this trip was in 2005, and, although I did enjoy it, I, too, thought it was relatively unremarkable, especially compared to the places I traveled to immediately afterwards. It /has/ changed a lot since then, however. No doubt the Olympics contributed to its recent growth. If the opportunity ever comes up for you, definitely visit again!

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  3. Welcome home to sweet home Chicago Jenny! You still have that 'stardust' clinging to you... good read on the blog,thx. relax, then continue the ascent!! continue to be fun and in the current stream...Remember that the Mainsream is whatever stream you are standing in!

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    1. Thank you muchly, Nancy! Haha, I love this comment.

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  4. The photos of the gallery art & street art fascinating (and those are the JL shoes by that box of spray paint -- I'd know those shoes anywhere). The marble sculpture of the empty sweatshirt and pants?! The mound of sumi bodies on the branch?! The floating green land with 3 barren trees and clouds above?! I am missing the references but the pieces themselves are hauntingly beautiful, repulsively beautiful and tragically beautiful, in that order...

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    1. (Apologies for the ridiculously late reply, Peggy; I probably just replied to you in my mind when I first saw this but didn't type it out. Yep.)

      Love your reactions to the artwork. Beautiful indeed. And ah, my trademark shoes [which kind of fell apart when I got to Basel but I got them semi-repaired--thank you, Swiss shoemakers!].

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  5. My brother is a spray paint artist, and every time I watch him work, even I wear a respirator mask for protection. That guy in your picture is sure going to experience nausea and headaches, that is, of course, if he’s not used to it already. Anyway, looks like you had a lot of fun in Shanghai. I wonder where your next adventure is going to be. =)

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    1. Artists: never strangers to self-destructive behavior! And thanks, Darren--I did indeed! Well, I do know that I'll be going to Art Basel Miami Beach, so that's the next destination, but! adventures happen every day, so who knows. :)

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  6. You're welcome for the photo op.

    Sincerely,

    -MELS and the rest of BMC (the graffiti writers you took pictures of)

    www.melsisdead.com

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    1. Hey! Which artist were you, and how'd you find me?

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