I met the talented artist Xi one day and she took me to her recent installation, Check-in on Nanchang Road. Up one floor on creaky wooden stairs to a small apartment in an old Shanghai building she has created a totally white room filled with white objects and foam balls. It was a quite extraordinary feeling being there. Her intention is for people to rent it for 24 hours, to disconnect from the outside world and just experience being in this space, filled with whiteness. There is a bed to sleep in and odd pieces of old furniture standing topsy-turvy around the room, half buried in the foam balls. All white or painted white. She is very interested in how environments affect people. “This is art-rental, you rent a space with unlimited possibilities. It will not exist for long, so that no one can possess it permanently”, she explained. Xi is currently designing her next project that is going to be about furniture that doesn’t have a function. Sounds intriguing!
Another great experience was a visit to a massage parlour called the Ganzhi Blindman Massage. It was brilliant! Who better has the right feeling in their hands than a blind or partially sighted therapist. It turned out to be the best ever massage I’ve had. The particular massage I got is called TuiNa and is based on the traditional Chinese Medicin TMC, and it’s more than just a traditional massage. It is a combination of massage and acupuncture, working not only on muscles but on meridians. I guess my therapist couldn’t believe his hands when he got me as a client, a challenge if any. But he worked relentlessly through painfully knotted and tough muscles and though painful at times it felt wonderful afterwards! Unblocked Qi, check!
I also stayed for a couple of days in an amazing artist loft situated in an old industrial building in Wu Wei Creative Park. This is both the home and workplace for Jonas, a furniture designer and maker and his wife Nina, a photographer and their little daughter Anna. However just days before I arrived, they moved to the other side of Shanghai, due to having suddenly received a very sought after kindergarten place for Anna. So unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Nina and Anna. But I met Jonas who is still working there and we had some nice talks about his work.
He is passionate about up cycling and has his work on display all around the vast studio. His biscuit box lamps with touch sensitive lamp control are an interesting combination of Chinese vintage meets German technology. Other items are old Chinese furniture with thin steel sheet tops or big pieces of furniture such as a massive wooden table made of recycled wood from old buildings that they use as a dining table, to mention just a fraction of the multitude of products this very creative Swiss designer produces.
It was an interesting experience to stay in a home which contains a work shop, a photo studio, an office space and showroom for all the products produced here. Obviously creativity and work are very central and essential in this home. As an old industrial building with all the markings of it still in evidence it enhances the feeling of a work space. Jonas and Nina added a loft a couple of years ago, where they have their living room and office as well as a bedroom for themselves and their daughter. The openness, airiness and large space that could accommodate all of this is what made them choose to make this their home.
Wu Wei Creative Park was earlier mostly frequented by artists but is now more or less taken over by wedding photographers. On a daily basis one can see numerous photo shoots taking place. Wedding photography is apparently a huge business here.
They have built fake storefronts in the streets such as a Hello Kitty store and check out the way the word Telephone is spelled on the “old English phone booth”. One also has the choice of an European car as propping with the fake number plate FBI007…The whole thing is so cheesy that I was delighted to find a real artist at work in his studio a few doors down from the loft. We had no words to exchange but I hope he perceived how happy I was to have found him, and I hope that he is still there for many more years to come.
Visited the art fair Photo Shanghai, a part of Shanghai Art Week. Apparently “photography is widely enjoyed in China although the understanding of it as an art form is still developing”, I read in a magazine. Well I don’t know if they have cottoned on to viewing photography as an investment yet, but I do know that they certainly enjoyed viewing them at the art fair. Apart from Chinese galleries there were several international galleries too, with some real classic photos on show.
Contrast is one word that comes up when I reflect on Shanghai. The modern skyscrapers, all steel and glass soaring into the sky, silhouetted in fantastic shapes. And huddled beneath them small enclaves of old, low lane houses, not yet swallowed up by progress.
Sleek shopping malls with all the bling bling as well as all the prestigious international brands and simple street stalls filled with vegetables or household goods. Wealth and rampant capitalism, but also simple life and humble circumstances.
Copyright and photo: Anita Martinez Beijer