ART LIVING ROOMS IN TOWN
Text / Zhang Zihua
When evaluating a city, we should consider the life options and variety it has to offer, on top of the yardsticks such as total population and economic growth. In addition to economic achievements, in areas of art and culture, the “Shenzhen Mode” has brought about changes and evolutions to the city in artistic and fun ways to meet people’s needs for urban public spaces. The formats of existing space have been upgraded through artistic touches, further stimulating vitality in urban spaces. Here, multiple cases relating to the city of Shenzhen, including public art events by OCT- LOFT, “Art x Commerce” exploration by China Resources Group, and art life in Shekou, are introduced to discuss how different pubic art designs can be utilized in creating urban public spaces with strong appeal and inspiration, establishing “art living rooms” dispersed across the city, and contributing the power of culture in fueling the continuity of urban memories and sustainable development.
Commercial Cultural Spaces Revitalized through Creative Fashion
China Resources Group, a real estate enterprise that has been dedicated to Shenzhen local market for over a decade, started its effort on integrating art elements with commercial properties in 2016, following the idea of creating more options for the city and locals and enabling aesthetic nourishment, outside of regular business modes.
The much-expected Shenzhen MixC Shopping Mall was inaugurated in 2017, along with a permanent large- scale outdoor installation – Bubblecoat Elephant , specially made by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman. Upon its launch, the installation soon became a new art landmark of the city. The giant bubble elephant lying on the roof, curiously looking down, invites people to break through the boundaries of daily life and join the fun vibe. During weekends, the elephant would spray water out of its trunk at certain hours, attracting many kids and kidults. MixC has also worked with other global artists to create different artworks for its public space, including Chroma Ora by Carsten Nicolai, the first large-scale new-media clock installation globally, and Diaphanous Bloom by James Tapscott, an installation that cools the air down during hot summer days. Dispersed across its complex and close-by street corners, the artworks have brought people pleasant surprises.
The MixC (Shenzhen Bay), which opened at the end of 2018, has been built with art elements. When you look through the window of Yan Bookshop into the direction of the China Resources Headquarters (nicknamed “Spring Bamboo Shoot”), or enter the mall through the main entrance next to the building, it’s impossible to miss the IBUKI by Hirotoshi Sawada. Made of light strips of stainless steel, the creation resembles willow catkin in gentle spring breezes. In the mall, a 918-meter-long installation mounted on a white wall – Shenzhen Bay – was created by Chinese Canadian artist Dennis Lin. Using a copper-plated stainless steel strip of 3,120 inches (918 meters), the artist outlined the golden coastline of Shenzhen Bay in wave-like patterns, creating a contrast of “softness” and “rigidity” in flowing dynamics. The public area of Yan Bookshop is installed with five pieces of artwork created by multi-national artists, enabling a unique artistic atmosphere against the backdrop of a vast collection of books.
Amid accelerated urban regeneration, public art has become an ideal choice for renewing the neighborhoods, thanks to its openness and artistic proclaims. In the old neighborhood upgrading projects in Luohu District, China Resources Group made an innovative effort on art regeneration. At the opening ceremony of the Shenzhen MixC Phase I Renovation Project, Windspiel, a kinetic installation by Anselm Reyle in the lobby, was revealed to the public – the very first water-drop-shaped art piece released by the artist to the world. In silver- white, the hollowed-out art piece is hoisted overhead and spins slowly to the music, showing delicate changes that reflect the ever-changing light and shadow. Propping each other up, the installation and the mall space easily capture people’s attention when they walk through the complex, adding to the special charm of the public spaces of MixC. Walking on the streets and finding yourselves surrounded by stunning artworks by talented artists and designers has been part of the urban experience in Shenzhen.
Creative Park Activated by Art
When new changes in public space are enabled by art, it is finding more accessible ways to integrate with the system of city cultural life.
Located in the former East Industrial Zone of Shenzhen Overseas Chinese Town (OCT), the OCT-LOFT has been long liked by artistic fans as a long- standing avant-garde art area among all public spaces in the city.
The OCT-LOFT kick-started its continued exploration of public space art with a 2007 public art project at the OCT- Contemporary Art Terminal (OCAT).
In 2011, the OCT-LOFT International Fresco Festival engaged with Chinese and overseas artists in creating large frescoes on eight full-sized walls in the South Zone and North Zone. Starting from there, the OCT-LOFT Public Art Exhibitions have featured art/ creativity/design to work with OCT- LOFT’s physical space and overall ecological conditions, in pursue of art features of being public and interactive, to convey the cultural perceptions associated with the exhibitions. As of May 2021, OCT-LOFT has held seven Public Art Exhibitions, each with a stand-alone curatorial perspective and art creation vehicle. In the 2011 event, the building exteriors were used for fresco painting; the Scrawl Something Program (2012) used elevator cars for art creation; the Rediscover OCT-LOFT invitational exhibition (2013) featured the use of OCT-LOFT map; In the Name of Plants – the Past and Future of an Old Factory outdoor exhibition (2017) worked with plants; Beyond the Scenery (2018) conceptual exhibition explored possibilities to connect modern life and traditional cultural values with OCT- LOFT; and On/Off Parking Lot Project (2019) utilized parking lots to discuss what they actually are and what is public art. In 2020, Trash New Order Project inspired new reflections on the “trashes” – things that are discarded, forgotten and idled. As a host of these exhibitions, OCT-LOFT has provided a platform to stimulate creativity and display art creations, where public art exhibitions have served as a unique artistic bridge to connect with the buildings, history, culture, and social ecology.
In themes of contemporary art, avant- garde music and creative designs, OCT-LOFT has offered a number of representative cultural and artistic events, including T-Street Creative Market, Tomorrow Music Festival, OCT- LOFT Public Art Season, OCT-LOFT Jazz Festival, OCT-LOFT Creative Festival, and OCT-LOFT “One and One” lectures, among others. These continued efforts have enabled OCT-LOFT to grow into the most active creative cultural zone in South China. The most influential event in the local community, among them, is the T-Street Creative Market. In each session, themed activities relating to seasonality or hot topics have been presented to attract creators all across China to sell their creative products and handicrafts or organize interactive courses, live performances and second- hand sales. Thanks to decade-long influence, “T-Street” has become an exclusive community brand owned by the OCT, attracting visitors from across the town and even across the country during weekends. In a busy city like Shenzhen, T-Street offers people a nice place to relax and meet friends.
Public art in the city, while enhancing the aesthetic taste of people’s everyday life, has also injected vibrant colors
into the local industrial upgrade. For example, Dalang Fashion Town, located in Longhua District, worked with six up- and-coming graffiti artists, including
Li Yuchong (professionally known as DZ), under a block upgrading project.
As an art genre originated from streets, graffiti symbolizes freedom and unique styles and naturally joins hands with fashion. Under the project, ten street-facing walls were prepared for the artists to create works following different themes, forming a long scroll of graffiti. It salutes to the traditional culture and, at the same time, sets free the imagination of future technologies, answering to the neighborhood’s aspiration of becoming an international digital art hub. Drawing wide attention from the younger generation of fashion chasers, this project has been a hot topic on social media, amid discussions on street art upgrading projects in Shenzhen.
Vibrant Communities with Traditions and Novelties
Shekou is where Shenzhen’s miracle lies. Boasted with mountains and sea, it enjoys a glorious history as a time-honored habitat for the locals and the largest community for foreigners in the city. According to the local media, approximately 10,000 foreign nationals from over 40 nations and regions live in Shekou, which has been voted as the “resident community most welcomed by foreigners” for 15 consecutive years.
In addition to its unique landscape, Shekou hosts a variety of modern cultural, entertainment and creative landmarks, including the China Merchants History Museum, Sea World Culture and Arts Center, South China Sea Yiku, G&G Creative Community, and Shekou Value Factory. Community events such as gallery openings, movies, creative markets, and outdoor camping during weekends or at night offer locals plenty of opportunities to hang out and enjoy themselves. Finding their ways into people’s daily life, the cultural facilities and activities have contributed to the lifestyles in Shekou.
Additionally, Shekou offers a large array of art, design, performance
and community activities, such as “Go! Design Community Festival”, “Shekou Car Free Day”“Good Life Festival”, “Seaside Concert”, “Night at the Museum”, and “Screenplay Reading Festival”. In 2020, the“Go! Design Community Festival” continued to build on the theme of community building and hosted cross-over collaborations enabled by art design. Thanks to engagements of companies, organizations, communities, educational institutions and art groups, the event provided a combination of “business + community + art” that motivated stakeholders to seek more possibilities in local history, culture and designs in a community- building discourse for broader social participation and influence.
Through these cultural and artistic approaches, people have been transformed into engaged participants from passive recipients, as they are motivated to explore more of the city and contribute to the identity and memories of Shekou.
The collective memory of a city is closely interrelated to its history, environmental changes and cultural context. As a living memory, each individual in the city writes their specific episodes with their experiences. The memory of Shenzhen, thus, reflects how the city is perceived by its people. Shenzhen offers a platform for creative professionals to grow, for public art to thrive, and for cultural life to prosper. Here, the identity of city culture is expressed in an art-enriched environment, enabling the city to grow deeper and richer texture through arts with upward momentum for harmonious development.