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.”