YE SHANGHAI 夜上海 – Roberto Paci Dalò

This morning, on the way to what I call “hot-desking” at my friends office…this is actually something I do quite a lot in Shanghai as I seem to be more productive out of the apartment, away from home distractions…I saw a toddler, a Chinese boy no older that two years old, who obviously had some sort of physical injury or disability and was going through rehabilitation. He was trying to walk with a super 21st Century red walking trolley, step-by-step, little-by-little…and was doing a great job. I gestured to the mother with a “keep the positivity going” smile as she looked exhausted, wishing I could talk to her about my experiences through growing up with my brother and his Osteogenesis Imperfecta (brittle bone disease) and my health concerns. These experiences in life help you grow and I truly believe introduce you to people and things that change your life. Once I’d walked by, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that illness, disability and well, charity isn’t really a focus in China. It seems to be ignored, hidden away, on the peripheral…occasionally made reference to in an almost compulsory societal way. There’s a similar feeling given to history and nostalgia too, that it gets forgotten about as soon as it happens, that it “turns to dust” (thanks Anthony for that conversation last night!), with no lasting memory…preoccupations turn to the now and the future, always to the future of China. This feeling was discussed over and over again last night whilst at a friend’s rather special birthday party largely instigated by the performance and film work, ‘Ye Shanghai 夜上海’  by Roberto Paci Dalò.

The party took place at a privately owned pavilion on Lake Xinting in the Xin Hongqiao Center Park off Yili Lu in Western Shanghai. A very special opportunity, as are many of the experiences here in China, with very special people. I’ve got to know Roberto well over the past few weeks as the work ‘Ye Shanghai 夜上海’ was originally created for  ShContemporary 2012 (I’ll be posting about ‘NOW INK’ later on today) where there were actually a world of organisational, logistical and digital troubles that meant it never got appreciated in its full capacity or seen as a “package” as such…only fragments had been experienced. Beautiful fragments nonetheless…visuals shown below.

‘Ye Shanghai 夜上海’ deals with several aspects of the Shanghainese life before 1949 where at the core of this work is the incredible story of the Shanghai Ghetto, formally known as the Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees (無国籍難民限定地区 mukokuseki nanmin gentei chiku). 
The Ghetto was an area of approximately one square mile located in the Hongkou District of Japanese-occupied Shanghai housing about 20,000 Jewish refugees relocated by the Japanese-issued Proclamation Concerning Restriction of Residence and Business of Stateless Refugees, after they fled from the German-occupied Europe before and during World War II. The work is also related to the Japanese occupation of the city. Although Japan and China had fought intermittently since 1931, the occupation of Shanghai started in 1937 when the city fell during the Battle of Songhu. The Japanese forces occupied the Chinese administered parts of Shanghai outside of the International Settlement and the French Concession. The International Settlement was occupied by the Japanese on 8 December 1941 and remained occupied until Japan’s surrender in 1945.

This work is packed with history, knowledge and emotion…so much emotion that it brought a friend to tears. The music accompanying the imagery was infectious, meditative, transitory, crawling into my psyche…repetitious beats reinforced the clarity of the images, their power and resonance. I questioned their context, locality, understanding and place in China, place in the now, place in the future. How can any of this be forgotten? It stirred a very deep train of thought between friends last night as we stared out across the lake discussing mortality, life and memory after death, myth, ritual through histories and stories passed on through generations, regrets or non-regrets, and our basic existence, the fact that those that no longer live obviously outnumber those alive today in huge, huge numbers…but what happens to all that lost history? Does it just “turn to dust”? In the case of ‘Ye Shanghai 夜上海’, and that evening, past realities were re-lived, re-played, re-negotiated, given new beginnings, new histories, new understandings between friends, in the city of Shanghai, in China, in the now and in the future.

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