Sunday, 14 January 2018

Lost in Shenzhen: dropping in on Shenzhen Fringe Festival


I've steadily been Way-Losing this year: getting lost in Xiamen, London and Brussels. The next stop on this erratic path was Shenzhen, China's modern boom city.


I spent two days with the Shenzhen Fringe Festival (who supplied these photos) leading  groups into less well known corners of the city. It is interesting to compare the character of the two trips as they are not at all alike.


One day we travelled wholly on foot and made our way around Nanshan District. The conversation was good and we saw layers of the city's history with more clarity than usual. The tour had a feeling of control which only relaxed when we began following people in the street. These stealthy pursuits brought us into gated communities.


They also brought us to hidden farms, spied upon through gaps. 


Previous Way-Losing tours have gained their sense of purpose through the conversations we had along the way, sometimes about the places we stumbled across and other times about the ideas and stories they triggered. In this way, narratives emerged which sometimes proved so seductive that they seemed to offer uncanny predictions of how the tour would evolve. That is the effect of a strong but open narrative: it creates a compelling frame with which you can make sense of what you see. Shenzhen was different.   


The places we found were certainly important but it was not so much conversations that brought the experience together for me, it was images. For the first time, the tour took on a primarily visual logic.   


The way this worked was through an accumulation of observations and photos such as this one of a sheet hanging in an alleyway that shows the stars and moon in the night sky. These observations, and the images that resulted from them, created a visual record that became increasingly specific and inter-related so that by the end of the tour I was looking for something very specific to complete the series. 


And at the end of the tour I found it: both the moon and a downward vertical movement from LED lights hanging in a tree that was like a shooting star. I was not looking for this precise image but rather one that had the necessary elements that could draw the series to a conclusion. Walking through and looking at the city in this way tunes us into the poetic potential of shopping malls and construction sites, overgrown parks and bubble tea stalls. 





Once again walking with the eyes closed was a useful addition to the tour; an effective way to sever the links in the mental map. What it also seemed to be very good at doing was to sensitise the ears to the diversity of sounds in the city. I think I usually perceive only the more immediate and important sounds and this experience brought to my attention a great many more sounds, and with them, people and activities. 


An interesting thing that one of the participants said was that they never felt really lost because they were always within a narrative of sorts. I can see how this can be true: even though none of knew exactly where we were we had a sense of purpose and within a story that we were spinning as we went along.


Finishing at a Sichuan restaurant was a quite ideal way to round off the journey and let everyone share something they had seen or thought along the way. It also marked the fact that we had now become a group and were no longer strangers to one another. This social side to Way-Losing is important to nurture as this experience is usually only as good as the people you have it with. I was lucky that Way-Losing and the Shenzhen Fringe Festival seemed to attract a fairly young, educated and curious crowd who threw themselves into it and embraced the proposition. 


And here is the Sunday group after a long day's walk and subway ride. Yes, that is a Christmas scene behind us: reindeers in a Christmas Grotto, lost somewhere in Southern China.

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