I’ve come to the conclusion that my most random encounters and adventures around the city of Shanghai seem to happen on a Monday (and Friday nights actually thinking about it), and at very short notice. I have no idea why but it seems to be a trend lately. Just over a week ago, when I got in at 2am from working very late, I saw an email from Richard Hsu, organiser of TEDx events here in China. He was asking when I was leaving Shanghai and then whether I was free the next day at 9am to join for a meeting. I said, if eyes weren’t too tired, I’d be there. I already felt tired thinking about it. He’d recently come across my blog and account of the TEDxShanghai 2012 event “I am Chinese” that took place on my 29th birthday, 20th May 2012, saying I reported on the event “eloquently” – thank you Richard (I hope this post is the same!). So that Monday morning, once I’d eventually and very quickly pulled myself out of bed, I went to meet Richard, artist Francesco Clemente and Arthur Solway, owner of the James Cohan galleries outside the Donghu Hotel on Donghu Lu, thankfully super nearby where I live. Francesco is currently on display at the James Cohan gallery in Shanghai.
We jumped into a people carrier and set out on the road. Richard explained that we were going to MAUS, the Museum of Art and Urbanity Shanghai…somewhere I’d never even heard of let alone been to before. Set up over the past fifteen years by Zhao Wen Long, MAUS faces the increasing threat to China’s traditional architecture, due to nation’s drive to modernity, destroying many ancient structures along with their cultural, technical and historical significance. MAUS is an effort to preserve this architectural heritage. It is a collection of rebuilt Ming and Qing dynasty houses complete with traditional gardens, statues and steles, and furniture. Teams of artisans trained in the necessary skills and knowledge assist in the making of this project by restoring damaged buildings that are transported beam by beam to the museum. Piece by piece these buildings are documented and reproduced using computer automated design tools. He began purchasing antiques and building up his understanding of their significance following the Cultural Revolution and today one of his main aims is to highlight the importance of maintaining Chinese culture to administrators and to the new generation. The funny thing is MAUS is actually run by three tango dancers. I found this so intriguing! Tango dancers running a cultural community. MAUS are not interested in the external exposure factor through media (and social media), but more through the holistic, natural and fluid development of audiences and knowledge, the sharing of information through word of mouth. A nice standpoint to take in our over-immersed media savvy world.
I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves…it was quite visually overwhelming experience with so many things to take in by the eye and by touch. Some of thoughts from the day included…and these are only ones I had time to note down as there was so much interesting talk going on…’Art has to transmit…we have to be OK with what it is and what it’s not, it is a constant battle all over the world…interested in artists which are transmitting something about life…beyond discussion to interpret at different kinds of levels…I don’t believe art is only money, it’s just part of the discussion…China is starting to welcome arts as having a meaning to life and we are bearing witness to this. It is part of this adventure. Young people are conscious of their world and want to find a way to contribute…there are not enough hero’s or right hero’s in China, coming to birth now are art hero’s, there’s not so much space for life hero’s.’ I need a hero right now.
Throughout the morning, Richard would recall inspirational stories from across the world, stories that would make you stop, think, and question your existence and place in the world. One story was that of a local school in Hubei province, China, who were allocated only 2,000 new desks for its 5,000 students, therefore 3,000 children had to source and bring in their own desk to school…and they made it happen. I would have loved to have seen the first day of school that year.
“Connecting the dots that people can’t see.”