It happens on a Monday

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.

Other discussions were into the writing of Tom Friedman for the New York Times, specifically his recent article ‘In China We (Don’t) Trust’ who questions the “trust deficit” in China and whether ‘what’s missing in China today is not a culture of innovation but something more basic: trust.’ An interesting point to raise, and I feel a reoccurring issue right now. Then onto experiences from when all, at different periods of our lives, lived in New York, where Francesco Clemente referenced the work of photographer Tseng Kwong Chi, his examinations of East and West through his self-portraiture often dressed as Mao. It was a special time together that morning, an occasion and meeting of minds that will never happen in the same way again. And that’s why I love Shanghai.
Last night, I went to meet a good friend Sun Li and artist Chen Xiao Chuan. He wanted to show me around a possible exhibition space in the city, that again, like the Monday before, I had no idea about. It was the SOHO Century Plaza on Century Avenue in Pudong, Shanghai, built by AIM Architecture, as shown below in all it’s reflective, minimalist, textural, architecturally-defined glory. Their use of space is so well-considered and perfect for artworks…the Cork and Sky Garden rooms used for events, meetings and functions. Seriously look at the lighting though. I’m still finding it difficult to comprehend that I have the option to use this space to curate an exhibition if I want to in the next twelve months. We’ll see if there’s an appropriate proposal. Thinking, constantly thinking. We were the only ones in the building that night and it felt very secretive, like a private party, a very privileged experience. I remember thinking how lucky I was to be there in that situation as I was the Monday before. One sentence has stayed with me from my Monday adventures, specifically from Richard Hsu. As soon as he said it I felt it resonate through me, defining my role in the world, and now I think I’m going to reference it every single day…I might even use it on my business card.
“Connecting the dots that people can’t see.”
I really do feel that it is what I do in life, definitely here in Shanghai and I’m somewhat known for it. If I see shared interests, I will make a connection and meeting happen…and why not? You never know what might come of it. As I said to my friend in new York after emotional chats last night – “People are important in this world…talk to each other, take care of each other, dream big with each other. “

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