|West Lake, Hangzhou, photograph Luise Guest|
On the website of the Shanghai Biennale: "Free of charge for active army men, retired cadres, and dependents of martyrs, visitors with disabilities, and seniors over 70"
I have arrived in this exciting city of Jetsons-style futuristic overhead freeways, and flyovers, a veritable concrete spaghetti, after the increasingly usual unexplained flight delays out of Beijing. Colonial and art deco buildings poke their heads above the freeway walls, and apartments with gold domes and cupolas gleam in the sun. At Hongqiao airport an exhibition of traditional ink painting sits side by side with a Chrysler show-room full of gleaming vehicles. This too is "socialism with Chinese characteristics." I have to get used to taxi drivers saying "Qu nali? " (where are you going?) Instead of the Beijing "Qu narrrrrr?" Immediate observation: Shanghai street style is very cool indeed compared with the more pragmatic and prosaic Beijing. The streets of the French Concession district are full of young guys in big overcoats with designer glasses and geometrically sharp haircuts. The notable exception to the high style aesthetic is that truly eccentric Shanghainese habit of wearing pyjamas - often bright pink flanellette, printed with Hello Kitty or Snoopy characters - in the street. They are sometimes paired with high heeled shoes and ankle socks. The addition of a puffy down jacket in a virulent shade of electric blue is often a notable feature as well.
In Beijing it is rare in most places outside the diplomatic area or 798 to see another Westerner - Shanghai is much more ethnically diverse. On my very first visit to this city in 2011, after spending a month in Beijing, I was surprised to see mixed race couples. This is generally a Western man with a Chinese woman, almost never the other way around. My young postgrad student translators, however, (mostly girls) talk to me about the pressure from their parents to find a good Chinese husband. In Beijing last week "Shirley" told me that every time she returns home to Shanghai her mother sets up a series of blind dates with eligible bachelors, worrying that she is leaving it too late. She is 22. She thinks her mother chooses a "better quality" man than the rock musicians with whom she has had disappointing romantic experiences, and says she would never, never marry a man that her parents disapproved of. "Family is the most important thing of all," she says, and as an only child she must not disappoint the parents who have lavished her with love and educational opportunities.
|In the French Concession, Shanghai, Photos Luise Guest|
An early work in her student days started with the used bars of soap with which a range of different people had washed their bodies. Yu Ji made plaster casts of these worn and humble objects. Arte Povera interests her - the use of simple inexpensive materials such as concrete and plaster. This has been partly out of necessity, as a student and then as a young impoverished artist just beginning to make her way, but it is also a distinct aesthetic and conceptual choice. It is something seen in the work of other Shanghai based artists, too, such as Shi Qing, and again represents a distinct contrast with the grand ambitions and enormous scale of many Beijing-based artists. Yu Ji loves the amputated limbs and battered torsos of Classical sculpture from the ancient world, and was also inspired by the Buddhist statuary of the Mogao caves along the silk route. She is interested too in the connection between art and daily life, and one of the works currently showing in Paris is based on the very particularly Chinese experience (outside the big "first-tier" cities) of the communal public toilet. For more about this interesting sculptor you can read my forthcoming article about ten interesting emerging Chinese artists in The Culture Trip!
|Yu Ji December 2014 Photograph Luise Guest|
|Yu Ji, image courtesy the artist|
|Local officials on a West Lake junket? Photograph Luise Guest|
|West Lake Vista, Photograph Luise Guest|
|Wang Zhibo in her Hangzhou studio, December 2014, Photograph Luise Guest|
|Images courtesy the artist|
More on Shanghai art, and more of my random #OnlyinChina observations in a later post. Off to the Shanghai Biennale now, followed by more art, as much as I can cram into the day. I will give a few museums a miss, though, including the mysterious but terribly dull-sounding "Exhibition of Deeds of Good Eighth Company of PLA on the Nanjing Road."
From Chinese Posters site: The following example from early 2001 may serve as an illustration of the continuous redefinition of Lei's exemplary status. Falun Gong members undergoing "re-education through labor" were taken to the Lei Feng Memorial Hall in Liaoning Province, in order to learn from Lei's self-sacrifices. According to the report in the Liberation Army Daily [Jiefangjun ribao], the visitors "spontaneously repeated and copied down inscriptions" from his diary.