Magazine article Earth Island Journal

All That Is Solid Melts into Air

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

All That Is Solid Melts into Air

Article excerpt

Ever since 1842, when the Treaty of Nanjing opened Shanghai to the world, the former fishing village has been modernizing in a hurry. The French, British, and Americans who lived there in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries hired Western architects to build neighborhoods vaguely reminiscent of Paris, London, and New York. Contemporary Shanghai, host of the 2010 World Expo, has aesthetically edgy skyscrapers, a cosmopolitan vibe, and a newly minted middle class whose members enjoy higher standards of living than their parents did.

One's attitude toward this constant tide of modernization depends on perspective--or one's position in Shanghai's social hierarchy. One hundred years ago, Shanghainese workers staged some of China's first strikes. Today, some residents protest the mass evictions that often precede construction of glittering high-rises. Across town from a ritzy waterfront, more than three million migrant workers labor in factories and struggle to access basic social services.

Enter Sun Ji, a Shanghai-born artist whose photo collages suggest a nuanced view of the city's past and present. A curator says the 29-year-old artist's two-part "Memory City" series is "part cubist collage and part hyperreal landscape." In one work from his "Memory City I" series, Sun juxtaposes black-and-white photographs of factories, smokestacks, and industrial errata. Glimpsed from across an art gallery, the kitchen-window-sized collage resembles a real photograph. …

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