Reconstruction Scene - Sanlin Public Art Project

Artist: Shanghai Institute of Visual Art
Location: Pudong, Shanghai, China
Year of completion: 2012
Researcher: Leon Tan

Reconstruction Scene – Sanlin Public Art Project was an ambitious public art exhibition mounted by the Fudan University Shanghai Institute of Visual Art in the area of Shanghai known as Pudong. The project involved 50 local and international students from the Fine Art Department’s undergraduate program researching the area and its resources and circumstances, and executing 15 public artworks on site, under the guidance of the Institute’s faculty. The locale itself has a rich history. Pudong lies on the east of the Huangpu River, while the Bund lies on the west. The Bund was home to the International Settlement and derived its name from Persian (meaning embankment) after Baghdadi Jews settled there and established businesses during the nineteenth century. Pudong, on the other hand, remained relatively undeveloped until the 1990s. While it used to consist of village settlements and natural landscapes, Pudong today is a site of rapid construction, urbanization, and social change.

The 15 site-specific works, including murals, sculpture, textiles, light and video, were conceived as a means of fostering public interaction as well as personal contemplation or reverie. Bringing together Sanlin residents and local and international art students, the project is commendable both as a pedagogical activity and as a collective reflection on spatial change, particularly the displacement of traditional Chinese landscapes by industrial construction, and its impact on local resources and residents.

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One of the 15 works, the blue tent which echoed the style of traditional Chinese architecture, for example, drew the attention of the public to the stark contrast between classical Chinese and modern industrial aesthetics. By allowing audiences to step into the makeshift ‘home’ the work facilitated reflection in a playful atmosphere, encouraging a convivial spirit in the random social encounters it facilitated. Another work used the materials and vocabulary of industrial construction and urban development—in this case, traffic cones and wooden workbenches—to stage a sculptural form familiar to the Chinese, a dragon, against a natural backdrop of trees. Like the other work, this too asked the public to contemplate the dissonances and possibilities for harmonization between the natural and industrial/artificial components of contemporary Pudong life.

In the view of the philosopher and Sinologist François Jullien, the Chinese were not as swift to develop the sciences as Europeans because of an entirely different aesthetic sensibility. The Greek/European aesthetic tradition valorized a close study of the objective domain in which the world of nature to be represented and subsequently manipulated through science and technology. In contrast, the Chinese tradition emphasized the unifying ‘energy’ or ‘life force’ that connects people and landscapes within an overall process of natural transformation. While the Greek tradition sought to confront and intervene in nature, the Chinese tradition focused instead on harmonization with nature. This project manages to highlight this aesthetic difference in a moment in history when the legacy of Chinese aesthetics confronts that of European aesthetics, suggesting that a middle path may be possible through a kind of social-spatial hybridization.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency