For a traveler to China, one of the most striking things about the country are the dramatic changes taking place everywhere. As you drive through the cities there are countless enormous cranes hovering overhead. As our Shanghai guide, David, said, “ the crane is the national bird of China”- ha! As we moved through contemporary art galleries, one of the themes that emerged from a lot of the work that we saw were artists who seemed to be grappling with these monumental changes to the Chinese culture and environment.
At the 1918 Gallery in Shanghai, photographer Michael Wolf, in his series “Architecture of Density” takes large-scale photographs of office buildings, skyscrapers, hotels (many from Hong Kong), etc. The images are cropped so that the facades of the building completely fill the image- creating abstract grids out of steel, glass, and concrete. As we drove around the city of Shanghai, we were continually bombarded by vistas that reminded us of Wolf’s photographs.
At ShangART gallery the work of Hu Yang, also a photographer, was captivating in its depiction of ordinary people struggling with the pressures of modern life. His work Shanghai Living which paired a photograph of a “ successful” person in their home with an image of someone struggling to find a job, a place to live, pay for school or just survive, were extremely poignant and arresting. For example, with this image, the caption reads:
Sheng Chaozhen (Shanghainese, Retired Worker)
Fan Jiujin (Shanghainese, Retired Worker)
An estate agent spotted this land and urged us to move. We have had this stalemate for more than two years and life is very inconvenient. We are surrounded by builders’ rubbish, dust, flies and mosquitoes. We hope the government can help us to solve this soon.
Many of these people were living in older homes which were being eyed for demolition in preparation for new building projects.