The “Urban Village” section, subtitled: “Hybridity and Coexistence”, is the main themed exhibition of this Biennale. The narrative line focuses on urban villages, representing a unique urban reality in Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta region.The exhibition responds and interprets the theme of “Cities, Grow in Difference” from multiple perspectives, including historical research, in-depth observation, on-site intervention,and future imagination.
Urban Village: Arrival Community and Future of the City
The urban village is a product of the conflict between and integration of the rapid urbanization caused bythe market economy and the urban-ruraldual system during the planned economy period in China. It has become a typical urban issue in Pearl River Delta cities, most notably in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. In Shenzhen, the original rural land under collective ownership was expropriated and converted to state-owned property; Villagers become urban residents through two urbanization initiatives in 1992 and 2004 respectively.Villagers lost their farmland but still retained their rural residential plot, and when they saw the large influx of immigrant workers and the subsequent surging demand for rental housing in the high-speed urban expansion, they started to expand their private residential buildings for rent.Hence arose the characteristic phenomena of the urban village -an urban enclave encircled by the city, which presents a sharp contrast between the modernized city outside and the underdeveloped village inside. While some people think of the urban village as dirty, messy, shabby, crowded, ugly and unsafe, others can see how it mixes traditional clan culture and friendly community of original residents with mobility, multi-regional cultures and inspiration for modernization from their tenants. By hybridizing and integrating in spontaneous ways, the urban village forges these influences into a dynamic, diversified and inclusive social ecosystem, which now serves as an arrival community for the exploding population of new immigrants to the city.
In different historical periods,the shifting nature of the urban/rural dual structure has shaped the spatial model of China’s cities, no longer where rural areas encircled the city, but now urban districts sprawling to enclose villages and, then to urban-rural integration and the urbanization of rural areas. It is no doubt that urbanization has changed rural areas fundamentally, shifting from using land as direct means of production to spatial production. Land afterward becomes the means of production of China’s rapid urbanization and through this process, traditional villages are transformed into industrial villages, Taobao (e-commerce) villages, urban villages and many other unique types of urban models. All previous sessions of UABB have included works about urban villages,which have conducted continuous and in-depth researches on the current life, cultural and spatial complexity, diversity and the renovation strategies of the urban villages in Shenzhen and the PRD region.
The urban village is an alternative example of urbanization in China and its value as our contemporary heritage should be fully recognized. Facing the pressure of extensive demolition and redevelopment,it is now a critical moment to carry out thorough research and evaluation of the urban village. The spatial and social structures of urban villages are characterized by their inclusiveness and diversity. Compared with many generic cities, streamlined by rapid urbanization and globalization, the living spaces in urban villages are extraordinarily dynamic, showing the indigenous charm of humanity in creating their own homes. The urban village, as an alternative presence in contemporary city, is independent from yet integrated with its surrounding urban districts. It combines both unimaginable density and urban dynamics.It is an urban frontier that still stimulates the imagination in the mist of today’s excessively regulated and rigid city.
As we focus on the importance of the urban village in conveying the history of the city and the role of supporting urban functions, we care even more about its future. With the development of the city and its soaring land prices, most urban villages are in danger of being demolished and replaced by high density redevelopment. Currently,the urban village is a place for young migrants to live,people who are the fresh new energy in creating the future of our city. Ina time of anew social environment, with the rise of booming new economic models and innovative entrepreneurship, are there new chances or possibilities for urban villages in the future? Is it possible to achieve a new balance between spatial regeneration and social reconstruction? There might be chances to discover innovative ways of using and operating urban villages,and also to develop new economic models based on the highly versatile, adaptable,diverse and dense spatial resources of the urban village. They can also provide a new experimental ground or incubator for young start-up entrepreneurs. The future of the urban village is a reflection of the future of our city and we believe it is time for a change in our conception.
Urban Village: An Exhibition of Heterogeneity and Coexistence
The Urban Village section contains a series of themed exhibitions, research presentations, on-site exhibitions scattered throughout the old town, and miniature shows embedded within the main themed exhibition.It establishes the overlapping and coexistence of multiple exhibitions. The structure of the exhibition is as complex as the city itself and the narrative is dense, polyphonic and multi-faceted. It follows a main structure, but sometimes grows divergent. It is carefully crafted and yet adaptable to the uncertainties of the venue. As a whole chapter that fully presents the observation, research, case study,and on-site intervention, this section has three sub-sections: Archive, Armory,and Laboratory, respectively focusing on the knowledge base, renovation tools and methods,and spatial practices of the urban village. Meanwhile, the Urban Village Club, as special events session,is planned to encourage the participation of local residents.Through the duration of the exhibition these public events will be implanted into the daily life of the urban village community.
Archive is a long-term research project which was launched long before the exhibition. Through commissioned research programs, cooperation plans, and open calls, the curators hope to put together a comprehensive collection of the massive numbers of studies conducted about urban villages in the past decades in China and abroad. The Archive is a huge database of the history and reality of urban villages. It is also a collective exhibition presented by participants from different perspectives through diverse media.It brings together individual experiences, observation models, and big data mining, and it juxtaposes the systematic analysis, academic researches, and various personal interpretations. The Archive is also an active space for knowledge production, where the audience can interact with local residents during the exhibition.We hope toleave behind a valuable urban archive and research database for future urban village studies after the Biennale.
Armory is a metaphor of the once existing armory in Nantou as military base recorded in historical literature. As a collection of tools, it gathers research and case studies on urban village renovation practices globally. As an observation station, it closely follows and broadcasts the local team’s insider perspectives and research in urban villages.
Laboratory, on the other hand, is the ongoing practice of urban intervention. It includes various projects,like the Nantou urban regeneration plan as well as outdoor installations and murals commissioned by the curators.It also includes UABB’s open-call initiatives to improve several outdoor spaces and storefronts in the old town, and to renovate some residential buildings. The top-down strategic planning and design process is complimented by self-initiated and spontaneous micro-interventions.
Public Art & Performance is planned in the hope to stay close to local life and pay back the local community of Nantou with a series of public activities. Additionally, launched by the curators was a series of CGD Lab (Cities: Grow in Difference Lab) activities that were held within six months before the exhibition. These will be extended through the duration of the exhibition. The Nantou Forum, set up in the center of the old town, is an attempt to further blend the exhibition and reality. It provides a public platform to allow decision makers, experts, and local residents to work together for preservation and regeneration of the old town.
The Urban Village Theme Pavilion, located in the center of the factory offers a series of closed rooms scattered on the ground floor, including a story den, game room, photo studio, drawing room, video room, music room, laboratory, future gallery, and so on. The contents of these rooms are from the studies and observations of urban villages, the names from the daily lives of the early urban history of the Shenzhen SEZ., are assembled in a novel and attractive way. The miniature streets and blocks are full of color and texture, and people will encounter small exhibits when they stroll around, as casually as if they were on the street. They are deliberately designed as a maze and chaos, echoes and reverberations. The curator tailored a unique spatial terrain for the themed exhibition, setting restrictions while encouraging improvisation and growth over time. Thus the exhibition becomes an endless experiment of adding and modifying, and a visitor’s experience is no longer watching, but full of discovery, serendipity and participation.
The Urban Village section is an ongoing exhibition. We initiated a series of open calls for exhibits and collaboration, including Urban Village Picture Book, Urban Village Photo and Video Room, Urban Village Data bank, Urban Village Library and Urban Village Info Center. “An Idea for the Future of Urban Village” can be an interaction of online exhibition and the on-site exhibition, while the “Urban Village Voice” is a revival of an unofficial tabloid newspaper. Using the Urban Village Bulletin Board, Sheet Ad Dialogue, and mini-posters are also encouraged during the exhibition. For the duration of the Biennale, the Urban Village exhibition will grow as a multi-layered maze filled with people strolling around. It will become a hybrid of an exhibition and reality, and of dream and utopia. It is a factory, a laboratory, a workshop, a library, a gallery, a playground,and theme park, and it is also a window into the future.
The Urban Village section is also an exhibition that spreads all over the city. Different from a typical collection-in-one themed exhibition, historical buildings, residential areas, streets, open spaces, and even unfinished buildings scattered throughout the old town are turned into venues to house interactive works or events. By taking the chance of the exhibition, interventions in urban village renovation help to improve the quality of public space. It responds to the question of what the Biennale should do for the urban village instead of what the urban village could do for the Biennale. Last but not least, a Biennale hosted in an urban village is destined to bedifferent from all the other exhibitions. The dynamic and vibrant urban villages are the arrival community of young migrants and their last affordable habitats in our current city. Preserving urban villages is not only preserving the history and memories of a city, but also planning a better and healthier future for the city. The exhibition also implies the persuasion to preserve the urban village and to start to review, reflect and reconstruct a plural and diversified urbanism-City of Hybridity and Coexistence.