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2006 06 16
Shanghai Missive, Part 4
Montreal resident Emmanuel Madan recently travelled to Shanghai to install an artwork called Ondulation. He sent us a series of dispatches about his experiences and we thought these were perfect for our feature on Shanghai.
Often it seems like all of China country is in a perpetual state of construction. Once the pool was set up and I was able to start working on the musical content of the piece, I had to start coming in at odd hours in order to hear the soundtrack and not be distracted by everything else going on in the building. Still a bit jetlagged, I managed to make it in at 6:30 one morning. I had 25 minutes of peace and quiet, then at 6:55 I was joined by the sound of jackhammers, doing some kind of modification to the outside of the building. Although this whole plaza had only been completed a year previously, it seems when they built this whole mezzanine-cum-balcony that goes around the pedestrian plaza they had left out an important detail: they were adding stairs.
I got more and more desperate to find a quiet time to work on the piece, trying to get an idea of what the sound environment would be like once the construction was over. Then suddenly it dawned on me: this is Shanghai. Construction is never over.
I remember taking a taxi into town one evening, watching yet another skyscraper go up on the Pudong side of the river. It was an as-yet-unclad frame of a building, maybe twenty-five or thirty stories high, and counting, just an enormous featureless three-dimensional grid of concrete. Up on the twentieth floor or so workers were welding. The only light coming from the whole building was the tell-tale sparks of the welding torches, falling all the way to the ground. David said it looked like the building was shedding tears.
The show came together just in time for the opening, after the requisite delays and complications and last-minute scrambles. It was well received, some curators came and expressed interest in doing another show in Shanghai in September. I have to admit to having some reservations aboout going back though. I guess especially once we saw some other cities, Shanghai - and especially Pudong - strikes me as the most dystopian place imaginable. Picture a bunch of brand new shiny modernist buildings in an atmosphere so thick with smog and haze you can't even see them. People whizzing around in taxis in a suburb larger than Shanghai itself, there is no centre, no life on the streets, no feeling of place. The construction workers and cleaners and other employees have to travel at least two hours one way to get home at night.
OK, ready? Got all that pictured in your mind's eye? Now go get a Starbuck's.
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