Art+Village+City: On Art, Culture, Village, or City in the PRD

Posted on by Genise Choy
Filed under: Art+Village+City

Art+Village+City in the Pearl River Delta is one of two interdisciplinary courses being sponsored by the Global Urban Humanities Initiative in Spring 2015. Students in this research studio are utilizing a variety of research methods from interviews to video documentation to explore the ongoing evolution of relationships between urban and rural spaces and people, and the emerging role of the arts in China’s Pearl River Delta.

The research studio conducted roughly 15 one-on-one interviews with individuals from the PRD or who had lived there. This resulted in reflections from the class on the interview as a method from individual students’ disciplinary expectations, and insights gained from the aggregate of the class’s presentations of interviews.
— Winnie Wong

“Shenzhen is a great place to live, better than Hong Kong, but it has no history. The villages are beautiful and a great place to escape into nature, but they are not where the wealthy people live. Villagers are so nice and welcoming. Villages have culture but urban villages have no culture. Artist collectives are moving from the cosmopolitan centers to the countryside.”
— a South African artist, from Brittany Birberick (Anthropology)

“One of the primary themes I drew from Tuesday’s interview presentations is the undeniably migratory and global nature of the Pearl River Delta. We heard about wine importers; families who move back and forth within the region, within China and between the US and PRD; the Chinese diaspora in South America; and, of course, professors and students who study, are from or work in the PRD who are currently amongst our local networks. I would be curious to interview someone who has never left their hometown or village in the PRD and get their perspective on life in the region. More importantly, I wonder how they would describe their interactions (if at all) with the global economy that has emerged there. I suspect that even those who do not physically travel away from their home feel the effects of the outside world quite deeply on a daily basis…”
— Genise Choy (City Planning)

“I learned about a class of nouveau riche she called tuhao 土豪 - in my dictionary 'local tyrant' but slang for this new group of people, which according to [my interviewee], are visibly distinguished by their urgent need to show off their new wealth. Interestingly, as she pointed out, the first character means soil or earth. I’m not sure whether this class includes newly wealthy people from the villages or not, but from a quick internet search it seems to apply to the 'uncultured' nouveau riche from mainland China, and it is a term that has gained fluency since 2013 in the media internationally.”
— Susan Eberhard (Art History)

“[My interviewee, a Shanghai urbanite] stated contradictory ideas: on the one hand, she hopes for an improvement of facilities in urban villages, in order to offer better ‘rural experiences’ to citizens (and we know this need is increasing); on the other hand, she think those situations are ‘not that special,’ probably without a strong cultural identity. She even stated that preservation is not needed, except for particular heritages. This means she doesn’t perceive the social conditions of villages as a heritage. This point is quite crucial: even when people see the potential of urban villages in terms of rural experiences, are they perceiving them as part of the collective culture of the nation? Or they are just touristic attraction? Really impressive is the statement: ‘since urbanization is going on, there is nothing about living without a city.’ This must be deepened: did she mean that we can consider rural life as part of the urban life? Or did she think that there are not possibilities for rural life in China anymore?”
— Ettore Santi (Architecture)

“In my own interview one of the most striking comments made was the fact that Shenzhen has no history or culture of its own. Sharing this comment with the class the question was raised as to what my interviewee deemed culture. I think partially because I knew my interviewee well and he knew my research interests in terms of visual arts and other forms of 'high culture' (for lack of a better term) such as theatre, literature, and dance, his articulation of 'culture' related to this type of art production. Thinking past this obviously narrow definition of culture, I am curious to explore what other types of creative production and/or strategies of placemaking are taking place in the Pearl River Delta that might be seen as modes of history making or preserving and/or cultural production. I am not sure how to approach this question or what I might be looking for – outward displays of staking claim to a place/space? Interactions amongst people or groups that constitute some type of social cohesion or creative production?”
— Katie Bruhn (Southeast Asian Studies)

“Overview photos of the PRD at night prove the density and aliveness of the area—it’s quite shocking….Although Hong Kong is investing a lot of money in culture/arts, it’s not supporting upcoming/unknown Chinese artists. The government’s funding is mostly given to internationally acclaimed artists (mostly westerners)…People on Mainland China, specifically in the villages, are depicted to be happier and more humane than one’s within the city (expected in the citizen / villager dichotomy)….Scholars from the area seem to be harder subjects for interviews.”
— Jose Figueroa (Art Practice)

“…the global south connections between China and South Africa and South America: The fact that Chinese mine workers were ranked at the bottom in South Africa, but now have attained mythical (?) status for their ‘Chinese work ethic,’ links to Valentina’s exploration of similarities between the creation of Brasilia and the ‘chaos of recent birth’ in the PRD. These cross continental comparisons seem promising for the ways they relate or don’t relate, just as I continually find myself taking what I learn about the PRD back to the US and questioning how different or similar things are (or were) here. In that same vein, I found it interesting that China might be the new New York of the art world (based on Brittany’s interviewee’s choice of graduate school location). And this makes sense, since Greenwich Village, or even Brooklyn, certainly now bear very little resemblance to the cheap, gritty, and potential-rich urban condition that attracted artists in the first place.”
— Story Wiggins (Landscape Architecture)