Sleepless in Shenzhen

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    A Brief Introduction to Shenzhen Biennale

    Orhan Ayyüce
    Dec 9, '13 11:44 AM EST

    I am sleepless and I can't get used to the idea that I am in Shenzhen, China. I might as well be in Las Vegas hotel room with a gold leaf framed watercolor print hanging on the wall and a laptop with a spotty internet access.

    This is my first time in China with a mission to attend and journal the opening of Bi-City Biennale of  Urbanism\Architecture a.k.a Shenzhen Biennale in a four day trip as the lone participant from Los Angeles. Normally I don't travel in the jet set manner but I was flown here by an invitation from the biennale's creative director Ole Bouman, a man of many talents and hats whom I interviewed for Archinect few years back and I couldn't refuse the offer. 

    Shenzhen is a port city, like my birthplace Izmir  and it has graduated to its current importance as a global player from a small fishing village of  30,000 people just a few decades ago. It is a brand new home to 3.5 million Shenzeners who are made up from different nationalities, trading partners and Chinese working population trying to join middle class, still chancy but not at all impossible given the local and national growth rate. 
    It is an incredible development  for a city coming of an age in such a short time. The pains of urbanization in this rapid pace are somewhat apparent but I would say the city is dealing with them rather skillfully. 
    Since Shenzhen is new, so are my shoes, socks, pants and shirts.

    Biennale's main venue in Shenzhen is a defunct plate glass factory in the urban border zone called Shekou. It is the center of the Biennale's ambitions to turn it into a cultural zone of preservation and perhaps leave it as the living history of the industrial past with a newly energized use, co-existing with the vicinity's inevitable gentrification into a high end residential development, an omnipresent transformation pattern in the world's developing cities as it's towering chimney looking over one of the most familiar sceneries of global trade, a shipping container port and other supporting warehouses, not too far away from a creeping shopping mall, a 7-Eleven, a Sea World© and a Wal Mart.

    The Glass factory now named as the Value Factory is an irresistibly beautiful industrial building where glass was manufactured to be used on China's modern buildings as recent as 2005. It is next to a bank of silo towers also defunct and turned into exhibition spaces. Biennale, capturing the opportune process is determined to turn it into a cultural value and educational centerpiece all at once. The Value Factory is unlike China's brand new shiny museums of late, designed by missionary architects from the Western Europe and United States and hastily filled up with blue chip art through the deals made in New York, London, etc. This is an interesting difference not only from a preservation and re-use point of view but also helping to build a unique Chinese experience in the "biennale" making to further activate local discourse of cultural value making, a veiled agenda and political act in itself.

    Last Friday the Bi-City Biennale officially kicked off inside that factory by energetic speeches of local politicians and by Ole Bouman himself. It was attended by hundreds if not thousands of young Chinese architects and urbanists, foreign guests, the tall queen of Belgium and yours truly.
    The exhibition areas are pop up styled rooms of the old glass factory occupied by various participants including Sao Paulo Biennale, Studio X, MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism, Shenzhen Hong Kong Special Material Zone, Victoria and Albert Museum, Maxxi, OMA, Volume Magazine, Droog Design, the New Institute of Netherlands, MoMA, Berlage Center and many other cultural and creative institutions offering special installations and educational components. In addition to those sponsors area hosts many real estate developers from Hong Kong (hence, Bi-City) and Shenzhen. The pop up style exhibition spaces have the everydayness of the displays without overwhelming the viewer-participant and as in the case of some, adding humor to the exhibitors' efforts.


    • I never thought internet could be this spotty and slow from an international hotel. It took me long time to post this with couple of start overs.

      Dec 8, 13 7:46 pm  · 

      welcome to china! its a whole new world.

      any chance of a side trip to tokyo? would be more than happy to host you.

      Dec 10, 13 3:17 am  · 
      chatter of clouds

      Maestro Orhan, hopefully we will hear from you all your reservations and doubts. This is the dark side you have crossed over to (i do not mean geographically of course)  and it must be seductive...

      Safe journeys.

      Dec 10, 13 12:44 pm  · 

      There trying toactivate Orhan's reptile dna.  It starts with th jetset (disorientation being step 1).  Next thing you know, he'll be scarificing chinese babies & drinkgin their blood in ritual sacrifices.

      tammy is right, this is dark territory.  be careful of the temptationz.  watch your drinks & food for drugging.  and those teenage boys & girls in your room mayb be party favors but there not free. assume  you r being recorded for blackmaile later.

      Of course, if something should happen & orhan "accidentally" dies, rest assured that at least some of us out here in the hinterlands will know the truth an d remember you bravely.

      Dec 11, 13 9:09 am  · 

      It is a whole new world, if you've never been in a dictatorship.   Makes you wonder what's behind thier soptty internet access.

      BTW, what's the Chinese word for bienalle?

      Dec 11, 13 10:34 am  · 

      A few months ago Glen Small's 'peoples fountain' was removed and put in its place a memorial to another dictator, Hugo Chavez.  The fountain was a monument to Nicaragua democracy.

      full story here

      Dec 15, 13 1:11 pm  · 

      The article is about the Biennale. I fail to understand why this has to do with Glen Small and a political discussion about dictatorship? It was a little inconvenient for my old laptop but I wasn't particularly offended that Chinese didn't care about facebook. They have their own social media.

      Dec 15, 13 2:29 pm  · 
      chatter of clouds

      Excuse me Orhan..but on this...

      As usual, eric chavkin' biases render him either a deluded individual who consumes mainstream US/Western media like one of those unforunate obese people who consume Coca Cola in the gallons or is a right wing liar (the combo is now formulaic). 

      Ortega along with Chavez had greatly benefited their countries and raised the levels of people living below poverty by a great deal.  The 2011 elections of Ortega had more than double the votes of his closest competition and it is nearly universally understood that this was not owing to voting irregularities (which most likely did happen - and which would not have greatly affected the ballots) but to the overriding support of the lower class. As such, its imbecilic to call him a dictator. One might be better off calling Hollande, arguably Obama but certainly Bush 2 and other leaders dictators...individuals who never stood for the actual will of their people. On the other hand, Chavez and Ortega - even while taking in their weaknesses- were infinitely more considerate to their people and were driven to improve the situation in their countries apropos a history of acquiescence to the US that had led to detrimental effects on their people. 

      Dec 15, 13 3:03 pm  · 
      chatter of clouds

      I hope there will come a time when the US wakes up to its own leadership, to its successive hypocrisies in calling other peoples'  leaders dictators in reflection not of the actual history of the latter but in reflection to whether they bent over to be sodomized by the interests of the affluent spine of liberalism. I hope they start seeing their CIA for what it is - not a neutral intelligence gathering agency but an active parallel 'executive' body that is not answerable to the US public and that conducts illegal and inhumane (torture, assassinations..etc) activities in other countries'. We don't see Venezuela or Nicaragua going to invade Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Yugoslavia...we don't see it meddle in others affairs through the subversive activities of its CIA and associated NGOs. 

      why don't you, instead, focus on the dire strait of democracy in your countries and their active involvement in destabilizing the evolution of people representations across the globe?  

      Dec 15, 13 3:23 pm  · 
      eric chavkin

      O. Sorry I was responding to Thayer-D comment on dictatorship after we talked on GS

      Tammuz> go dig yourself a hole.

      Dec 15, 13 9:39 pm  · 
      chatter of clouds

      No thanks. I don't want to descend to your level eric chavkin

      Dec 15, 13 11:41 pm  · 
      chatter of clouds

      correction: affluent spine of liberalism = ....neoliberalism

      Dec 16, 13 12:05 am  · 

      I'm with those obese coca-cola drinkers on this one.  Chavez is an a-hole, period.  Sure latin america has had a long history of racism and inequality that Chavez sought to aleviate, but the wiff of power got to him just as surely as if he was a 10th generation white caudillio.  And while America has certainly been involved in some questionable activities and should always be held to a higher standard, by any super-power standard, we still come off smelling like roses.  The real stentch is the worst of human nature, not any one group or country.

      China can certainly block facebook if they like, but they block real news sights such as the NYT's and they are tightening their grip, which is a euphamism for repression.  Buying the services of starchitects shouldn't cover up the fact that they represent an oppressive regieme.  I think tammuz was simply saying that you should look at the work with-in the context that China's government would like you to see it, becasue that's the way it's been presented.  As for America the awful, I agree we have a lot to fix before going out and preaching, but like judging  architecture, a little context would be helpful. 

      Dec 16, 13 6:48 am  · 
      chatter of clouds

      Thayer, either you drink Coca Cola that way or you don't. You're not just "with them on this one". Also, your stance is based on nothing short of hubris - the US goes into other people's lands, kills, pillages, sets their intelligence to corrupt and manipulate, to assassinate and dupe. Even internally, the US feeds you -as a mass- faux food, doesnt provide you with medical care if you require it, throws you out of your home if you can't pay off mortgages...because you lost a job that the system priviledges giving someone else far far away, that pummels down your throat medicines that prove to be malignant to your health just to make big Pharma richer and richer, that sends your sons and daughters to wars that are unjust and in no way defend the US against any threat, manipulate you, spies on you......

      to deduce from this that you actually live in a democracy where you have a say...let alone a presence that exceeds a numerical addition of ridiculous. Your defense does not in actual fact rely on anything but your sense of hubris as a superpower and your ignorance of the state of countries outside the US. 

      A basic question is this: If the media that you rely on is inherently biased to reflect world affairs from a US-centric point of view (and by that, I mean the US-rich-bastard- club-who-wouldn't-give-a-shit-about-anything-else-but-selling-their-products-to-the-other-countries-at-a-high-rate-and-buy-their-local-products-for-very-cheap centric), how the fuck do you deem yourself intelligent and knowledgeable enough to determine what truly is going on? 

      Do you read what their their intellectuals have to say? Do you read it within a context of alliance? Who is being paid off? Where the root of local corruption( linked to global corrupting agencies) is? You mention a wider context - thats exactly the wider context.

      You know next to nothing if Coca Cola is all you drink and it seems to me thats the only thing your limited scope of vision allows you to drink. 

      Dec 16, 13 2:02 pm  · 

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Orhan is blogging his thoughts and impressions late at night.

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