October 22, 2007

Creative Destruction

Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage, and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.
--Walter Benjamin

the last remains of a demolished home

Shanghai --as is often said-- is a lens onto China's transformation, baffling in scale and speed. The whole city is a (de)construction zone, and I often can't tell if I'm on the inside or the outside of the barriers. A few days ago, I roamed around the demolition of a few blocks of longtang housing between the Bund and the Old Town on Renmin Road. A few fragments of houses remained within the old masonry wall. These buildings were half removed, leaving their sections sliced open like an ant farm. Gordon Matta-Clark would have been impressed. When the public toilet that remained standing on the edge of the rubble was occupied, locals climbed the excavation for evacuation, using the debris-littered back rooms as makeshift toilets.

the public toilet at the edge of one of several cleared blocks

I met two migrant workers living on the site in a seven-foot tall three-by-six foot plywood box. They said they were "renovating" (修房子), but there was no house there. They were watching over a newly poured slab as it cured.

although she let me photograph her and the interior of her small shed, she wouldn't tell me her name nor where she was from. the footprint of shed is the size a single bed.

living room 1

living room 2

the character on the wall to the left means "dismantle"

About a mile from the site, the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center displays models, maps, and virtual reality fly-overs of the new Shanghai that is being built block by block over the dismantled old city. The recurring theme here--and in Hu Jintao's Party Congress speech--is "Harmony" (和諧).

the whole exhibit is quite impressively put together. above the model is a VIP-only viewing balcony. beyond that, you can catch a glimpse of the Green Shanghai exhibit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wow! amazing pictures! I'm glad you took the camera!