|Fuxing Park, Shanghai, April 2019. Photo: Luise Guest|
|Shanghai laneway, April 2019. Photo: Luise Guest|
|Shanghai street scene, 2017. Photograph Luise Guest.|
I hired a young translator for my interviews with artists who introduced himself to me with his chosen English name as 'Troy Sailor'. He was certainly handsome and charming, but on our first trip to an artist's studio he unsmilingly told me that in China, old women like me stayed home to save their money to pass on to their children and didn't gallivant around the world on their own. A great start! But going back through my notebooks I am astonished to remember that on my very first trip, as the recipient of a travelling scholarship for art educators, in a single week I interviewed luminaries Hu Jieming, Yang Zhenzhong, Shi Qing and Pu Jie, as well as Shi Zhiying, Chen Hangfeng, performance artist Wu Meng and Monika Lin. And a very young Lu Yang, who had just recently graduated from the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. This is evidence of my own chutzpah, for sure, but also reveals the kindness and generosity of the artists and their galleries - I'm grateful to Shasha Liu and Martin Kemble from Art Labor, Lorenz Helbling from ShanghART, and to Art + Shanghai curator Diana Freundl, who had shown Shi Zhiying's beautiful paintings in a group show of women artists.
|Lu Yang with 'Biological Strike Back', 2011. Photograph Luise Guest|
In 2012 I was still describing Shanghai as a savage beast of a city - a jabberwock with 'jaws that bite and claws that catch'. When did this change? Perhaps it was in 2013 when I had enough Chinese to feel more confidently independent, or arriving in the Spring of 2014 and realising just how beautiful the old streets are.
|Former French Concession street scene, April 2019. Photograph Luise Guest|
The parks with their dancers and singers - of course. I love the impromptu concerts by students in the tiny park across the road from the Shanghai Conservatorium. On each visit I try to make a very early morning visit to Fuxing Park with its staggering array of activity including the very loud, and often completely tone-deaf, amplified singers belting out anything from Chinese opera, to cheesy karaoke ballads, to Puccini. I love watching the ballroom dancers doing rather stiff, upright, Latin moves under the watchful gaze of Marx and Engels.
|Doing the cha-cha with Marx and Engels. April 2019. Photo Luise Guest|
I love the tree-lined streets with their tiny shop windows where gaudy qipao and satin stilettos jostle against windows displaying rows of lacquered roast ducks or dusty mops and buckets in hardware stores. I love the lines of people waiting to buy baozi, pancakes and cakes at the famous places on Huaihai Road. I love the strange fashions in the windows of the 'Shanghai Lady' department store. I love peering into beautiful but run-down gardens behind walls and fences. I love the sheets, towels, quilts and undies hanging from lines strung from windows, between trees, and on power lines, and the padded jackets waving in the wind on coat-hangers hooked onto street lights.
|'Shanghai flags' in the French Concession. April 2019. Photo Luise Guest|
|Cyclists on Changle Lu, Shanghai, 2017. Photograph Luise Guest|
|Shanghai street scene, 2012. Photograph Luise Guest|
|Shanghai Longtang, Neighbours chatting, 2015. Photograph Luise Guest|
|Shanghai rooftops, 2011. Photograph Luise Guest.|
|Zhao Xuebing in his studio, 2019. Photograph Luise Guest|
|With Lu Yang, Shanghai, 2019|
|Chen Hangfeng in his Shanghai studio, 2011. Photograph Luise Guest|
The outcome of that conversation with a wonderful artist who jokingly describes himself as a 'half-assed literati' was published last year as Invasive Species and Global Trade Routes: A Conversation with Chen Hangfeng. Click on the link to read the article in Sydney-based online journal, The Art Life.
Artists, in Shanghai and everywhere, are continuing to work in their studios. Perhaps artists and writers, often somewhat introverted and solitary by nature, are among those whose lives are least altered by our current circumstances. I hope I shall return to see their new work and to wander those streets and laneways once again.
|Shanghai street in the rain, 2011. Photograph Luise Guest|