Monday, March 23, 2009

Getting down to basics

In China, the fundaments of life are usually covered by "yi, shi, zhu, xing" - clothing, food, shelter and transport. The basic material things.

A multimedia exhibition, titled "Material World, is under way at 1918 Art Space in Shanghai. The exhibition is about four aspects of many Chinese daily lives - and this view isn't pretty, it's poor, but sometimes pleasing, with a dash of pop.

"Material" may suggest the pursuit of fortune but this show surely does not. It shows the pleasant and sad aspects of the life of the poor.

"Most exhibits are newly made," says gallery owner Zhao Yonggang. Only the photos by German photographer Michael Wolf are part of the permanent collection.

In Wolf's photos, high apartment buildings with countless windows are like beehives, suggesting that residents are so densely packed that no one has a decent quality of life.

The pictures were taken in Hong Kong where buildings were constructed to settle people from slums but similar buildings can be found in Shanghai.

Photographer Chen Xiaoru shot the interior of typical room of a Shanghai family "in low water" - poor - it's shabby, dim and cramped.

Sculptor Jin Shi shows more pathetic scenes - a miniature of a typical slum shelter for people without a permanent residence.

The miniature of a room is about the size of a desk. Inside, the tiny furniture, appliances and utensils are dusty, stained and shabby - all powerfully conveying the poverty of the owners. The small size emphasizes the crowded quarters and poverty.

Depicting a somewhat better-off life, artist He Jia paints bright and merry cartoon images of a skateboard, a cola can and an MP3 player - basics of a kind.

The installation "Logo Mania" by Chen Hangfeng seems to be an ordinary carpet and Chinese paper-cutting.

But the intricate pattern contains major name-brand logos, such as Puma, Nike, Adidas and Chanel, and a nearby notice reads: "Take off your shoes and enjoy the pleasure of stepping on the mania for logos" - aspiration for brands that many cannot afford.

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