On Nov. 1, 2007, Metropolis Magazine recently printed an interview
with urban planner Sun Huasheng 孙骅声
(if you do not know Sun Huasheng, think Shenzhen urban development from 1980 to today). In this interview, Sun states: "I usually say that an architect or planner who wants to do urban design, if they neglect people’s movement and their feelings, their work is without any soul. In a word, it must be people-oriented because the soul of urban design is people." While this may sound obvious, the reality of urban planning in contemporary China is in fact quite the opposite, and - given Weng Peijun's striking images of Shenzhen as a place of defragmentation and functionalized desolation - Sun's words strike me as almost preposterous.
This gallery of photographs (most of which were taken in various galleries in China in the past 5 years) includes many artists as critical of urbanization as Weng. Obviously, modes of expression differ: the Gao Brothers use the naked body as the last line of defense against an environment which increasingly becomes ungovernable. Zhou Jun's b/w photographs of Beijing's structures, partially dipped in red as if the site was bleeding, are striking examples of how profound the body and the soul of the city of Beijing are affected by change. Song Feel, a Korean artist working in Beijing, places a person not unlike Rodin's Thinker on top of a large pole sticking out of a Beijing map. He can't make sense of the place obviously. And Hong Haochang needs to bring his Yunnan color palette to Beijing in order to create a visual narrative of Tiananmen Square which is striking both in its degrees of reverence and distortion. Yang Xiaobing (theorizing about the effect of urban noise), Miao Xiaochun, Daniel Lee are included here, too, as is Song Dong with his extremely interesting installation of the house of his deceased father, displaying all belongings that once were his, thus reminding us of the specific spatial and ecological footprint of a previous generation.
Thomas H. Hahn
Ithaca, NY, November 30, 2007 (updated June 26, 2010)