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E-culturele ontdekkingen in Shanghai


China 2008 door Annet Dekker

— Samen met nieuwe media kunstenaar Martine Neddam, uitgenodigd om deel te nemen aan Intrude: Art & Life 366 van het Shanghai Zendai Museum of Modern Art, reisde Annet Dekker in december 2008 naar Shanghai. Dit verslag geeft een overzicht van e-culturele activiteiten in Shanghai.

Naast het Intrude: Art & Life 366 project worden onder andere het eArts festival, FAR architects - Giel Groothuis, en het Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art belicht. Lees het volledige verslag in het Engels.

A moment in time. Explorations in Shanghai, 2008
Many things can be said about Shanghai; the most obvious is that it is a vibrant, energetic and active city with a 24/7 economy and a feeling that everything is possible. It is hard to stand still, to look back and even to think too far into the future – everything happens now, today and tomorrow, although probably tomorrow will bring something else. Shanghai is something that New York once was: a thriving city, a city that lives.

Together with new media artist Martine Neddam ( I travelled early December to Shanghai. New media artist Martine Neddam was invited by the Shanghai Zendai Museum of Modern Art (http:// to take part in the project Intrude: Art & Life 366 ( Martine Neddam was invited to give a presentation and workshop of her new work Virtual Person ( Virtual Person is a web interface that allows anyone who is registered to compose pages of texts and images around the idea and the design of a Virtual Person.

Designed to develop narrative content, it uses the superimposition of texts on large size images, and cross/fade effects that allow a feeling of fluidity in the circulation of meanings between the texts and the images. Students from the Visual Art Institute, University Shanghai, participated in the workshop. Although new to the software they managed to make interesting new Virtual Persons. The mission of the Intrude project is to make contemporary art more approachable to the general public. 

While it could be said that biennales and art fairs cater to a specific viewing public, Intrude’s goal is to make art accessible to a diverse audience. This idea fits the general aim of the Zendai Museum. The young and ambitious museum was established by the Shanghai Zendai Group in 2005. Its goal is not only to exhibit original art works but also to encourage academic debate and to ignore the traditional definitions of what an art museum is supposed to represent. 

I had a talk with one of Intrude’s curators, Liz Coppens, to hear what the Intrude project is about and where it is heading. Coppens explained that public art or even conceptual art and contemporary art museums are still very new in China. The normal public doesn’t have much idea of what it means and the threshold for visiting a museum is very high. To acquaint people with contemporary artforms Zendai Museum decided to bring art to the public, as art made for the public, by the public and presented in public space - hence its subtitle Art & Life 366. The number reflects the number of days the event will last but also emphasizes that each day another art project will be presented – a playful pun to the Olympic Marathon. 

Due to the limited number of Chinese artists that are involved in making art in public space, for obvious reasons, a large part of the artists is foreign. Presentations vary from large music concerts, dance performances, to video screenings on Urban Screens, interactive installations, small-scale workshops and lectures. The artists get selected through an open call and by making studio visits by a small curatorial team that is formed especially for this project. The focus is on interactive, playful artworks with a low threshold and most of the work is site specific. 

Foremost Intrude is an experiment, to offer a platform and to write the cultural program. The project has proven its success already; many people have visited, participated and heard of the events. But there is still a long way to go, as Coppens stresses people from outside of China tend to have a romantic view on the country and its possibilities but in reality everything is just starting up. 

On the one hand this presents many possibilities and there is a lot of energy, projects like Intrude get organized on the spot (in contrast to the bureaucratic system in Europe) but on the other hand because of its speed people tend to take little time for reflection. But many things do happen; another excellent example is the eArts festival ( Now in its second year, eArts is already the world’s largest digital media festival that takes place in the public space. Next to that eArts has just been given a huge building with space for exhibitions, workshops, screenings, lectures and artist in residence facilities. 

The government, as a means to enforce and promote Shanghai’s position as technological and creative city, supports the festival. Under the banner 'Urbanized Landscape' this year's festival saw more than 150 artists at the vanguard of the electronic age transform parks, avenues, rivers and malls into interactive hubs for curious citizens. V2 is one of the Dutch organization that has been in China for a few years, looking for collaborations and new platforms. This year they participated in the eArts festival as one of the members of the curatorial team. In the future they will continue and strengthen their relations with the organisation. 

Organisers Art Yan and Shu-ping Huang explained that eArts is an increasingly important platform for fresh talent. Well-known international and Chinese artists (Ulf Langheinrich; Julien Maire; Feng Mengbo; Jeffrey Shaw) present side to side with those just breaking into the genre. As Intrude, eArts tries to bring art to the public by encouraging chance encounters. The good thing about China at the moment is that it has skipped the old media, as Yan explains, there is no history so history is made at this moment. When there are no formal models and stereotypes anything can happen and curiosity is transferred into possibilities. 

This is not to say that there is mere play and experiment with technology, there is also a real interest to look at the meaning and significance of the medium that is used. Whereas in many western practices there is still a divide between the real and the virtual, Chinese artist are thinking from the virtual into the real thereby making new and innovative choices. Not only the government is supportive of these experiments, artists also get a lot of attention from large companies who are looking for new solutions and possibilities. 

The main goal for eArts is to give space to artists to enter into the unexpected, to design the empty space and to look over the border where things are still loose. Even though not everything is achieved as is wished, by trying and a ‘just-do’ attitude things happen and in the end they have an impact on society. If it's time to redefine our ideas about the future cities of the world, there's no place more evidently willing to embrace the new than Shanghai. This is also one of the reasons we find Dutch architect Giel Groothuis in Shanghai. 

In 2005 Groothuis moved to Shanghai where he co-founded FAR Architecture Center Shanghai ( The non-profit organization FAR is an intercultural platform for architects, designers and related professionals both from inside and outside of China. In cooperation with Chinese architectural companies, universities and cultural institutes FAR organize events and projects related to designs, such as exhibitions, competitions, urban tours, lectures and workshops. 

Their aim is to enrich the architectural culture in China by triggering a process of cross-cultural discourse for professionals as well as a more general public. Next to their Pecha Kucka evenings that take place in a different location every couple of months, in 2006 they started Sinocities. With this platform they want to display the fast process of urbanization in China. Sinocity is a fictitious city in an imaginary Chinese province. It stands as a metaphor for the hundreds of cites that are absorbing the flow of migration in the heartland of China, multiplying their population in just years. As entire new urban forms come into existence, planners and developers face a simple problem: can public space be created from scratch? 

With their project Sinocity FAR is observing, researching and finding new models for the future of public space in China. They organize seminars, lectures and in 2007 posted a contest where they asked the participants to change the urban space of Sinocity – the imaginary city that was build on the premise of current Chinese city planning. The concept of Sinocity is also translated into an educational project for primary school kids to teach them the design of the city and buildings they live in. Guided by a real architect and urban planner the pupils design the city of their dreams. Art education is becoming more and more important in China. 

Since a few years the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai ( has its own educational department. With a focus on modern and contemporary art MOCA Shanghai provides several different workshops for highschool students, primary school, academies and universities. On top of that there is a special kids corner every Saturday in the museum. The focus is on encouraging fantasy and less on learning how to paint, use video or digital media. As elsewhere younger kids are easier with abstract thinking and teenagers are hard to please. On my last day in Shanghai I visited the event “ReUnion” organized by Liu Yan and Aaajiao of 3S Media Center ( in collaboration with eArts Festival. 3S is an independent and non-profit organization for art, media technology and academic research. 

The organizers are interested in the experimentation and embedding of new media in the urban context. Liu Yan has just returned to Shanghai after having lived and worked in the Netherlands for almost eight years. What struck her most upon returning is the disinterest of people in history. With one of her projects she tries to bring back forgotten stories of the city and its occupants. By using mobile technology she wants to organise special tours around the city that bring the stories of its past back to live. For this evening though the team of the new (since 2007) Shift electronic arts festival in Switserland ( was invited to introduce their festival, its artistic achievements and management practices. 

The presentation was followed by a discussion on public participation: how to initiate an open curatorial platform; reflections on web2.0 strategies, what are the tools, how are they used and perceived; and how do different festival deal with the engagement of the audience? A very interesting point that surfaced; the new art festivals are turning into platforms where outside (inter)national curators are invited to present a program the festival being the host and producer of the events. Shanghai is the fastest growing city in the world. 

In terms of population it is the largest city in China and it is already one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. With its recent history, Shanghai didn’t come to importance until the mid and late19th century, today Shanghai is all about the new and the happening. The process it is going through is its reality and it is writing its (cultural) program on the spot. Of course Shanghai has its downsides, it’s over crowded, polluted, poor, and for those with little or no income very hard to get by. And how public is public space with video camera’s following your actions or how private is your own home when ‘innocent’ Chinese neighbours will report your actions immediately to the police. 

On the other hand, neither Europe is getting more free, our liberties, privacy and freedom are more and more restricted by those same surveillance camera’s, rules and legislations that we accept because ‘we-have-nothing-to-hide’. At least in Shanghai things happen, people are active, organise events on the spot, try to make changes even if they are bound to fail, they don’t give in, and foremost they don’t see themselves as victims and repressed but as entrepreneurs and facilitators. Without a time out for reflection this speed might prove to be unproductive in the long run. 

But organisations like the ones mentioned are aware of this problem and take on a significant role in cultivating and nurturing the emerging media culture. In their surge they are breaking up existing conventions, increasing public involvement and at the same time introducing new expressions. Hopefully their enthusiasm and energy will bear up the pressure of the World Expo that takes place in Shanghai in 2010. But then again that is probably just my worry and maybe that of the international crowd, the Shanghainese are living now, at this moment. 

Other places of interest: Moganshan Lu A cluster of galleries and studios best known as M50. An old factory area on the list for demolition started as a refuge for struggling artists but now hosts some of the city’s reputable galleries, foundations and art studios. 

Most interesting at the time of writing: ShangART Gallery 
BizArt Center M97
OFOTO Gallery
Bridge8 A former car factory turned into a creative hub by a group of young architects. 

One City, Nine towns A series of satellite communities around Shanghai, each inspired by a country that played a pivotal role in the colonial and commercial history of the city. The nine countries are the UK, the USA, Russia, Spain, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. The towns are planned and designed by international architects, and they are all built to be ecologically sustainable. 

The Bingjiang Creative Industry Park Re-development by famous architect Deng Kunyan of a 1920s warehouse into a cultural industrial park. Kunyan’s work is characterized by being not merely “design,” but a form of social action, where he initiates a remapping of Shanghai spaces and its urban legacy from the bottom up. Kunyan seeks to integrate Daoist and Buddhist philosophy in his work, lending modern spaces an atmosphere reminiscent of ancient Chinese traditions. 

Urbanatomy Shanghai 2008 The book combines the advantages of a helpful guidebook and an extensive reference work. It presents a comprehensive portrait of Shanghai's physical, social, cultural, technological and economic existence precisely, in an accessible way. Good photography and interesting side stories by local and international expertise make an optimum balance between intimate familiarity and objective perspective.



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