I Love Shanghai

Six artists on what they love about the city

Shay Kun
This month Art Labor asks 12 international artists to portray their views of China’s most cosmopolitan city in a new exhibition, I Love Shanghai. Time Out finds out what they love – and why

Shay Kun (Israel/USA)
My work deals a lot with memory and perception and one of my first memories was watching Blade Runner as a child and asking myself is this China or some sort of apocalyptic future? I read recently that the pollution over there is so out of control you can actually see it from space and it made me go back to the movie. In contrast, I wanted to capture a very intimate moment, something that encapsulates the feel of a place I have not been to but fantasise about.

In ‘More Brief Encounters’ I try to playfully challenge the viewers’ scale and foreground. The recurring theme of these raindrop paintings is the clarity of the water, the path the water has travelled to its location, and the nostalgia such images invoke. Like a film noir still, this painting confronts the viewer and brings forth memories. The fuzzy, off-centre colours behind the window are just as we think they should be. As we drive along the interstate of our lives our memories grow hazier in the distance, much like looking through the windows of a moving car and only seeing colours without clear, definitive shapes.

These images fade into the distance and become part of our memories. I am trying to capture how distorted our memories of these events are. The reality as it happens – looking out of a window on a rainy day – is never remembered exactly as it was.

Jonathan Leong (Singapore)
I love how the various sources of light in Shanghai bounce off one another to form a visual orchestra across the night sky. Just getting into a cab and riding around the city at night can make for quite a Blade Runner (one of my favourite films) experience.Architecturally it is a fascinating place, there is this continual dialogue between the old and the new. I’ve also had some of the best crabmeat and pork dumplings in Shanghai.

My artwork ‘The SHANGHAI-PLEX’ is a play on the idea of Shanghai as a giant living robot, with iconic parts like the Oriental Pearl Tower and various facets of the city melding together like a giant transformer-like techno organism, a juxtaposition of the old and the new, a gateway into the future with an eye on tradition and culture reinterpreted into the living hopes and dreams of its inhabitants and everyone in between. Shanghai is also one of those cities that has the ability to perpetually transform itself upon each visit.


Xinjian Lu (China)
Shanghai is a decent place for me, because it’s very close to my parents’ house, and moreover, it’s a very open and modern city. Plus it doesn’t have heavy pollution. I love to live in a green city. I love its dynamic culture and international city vibe.

I am always fascinated by the beautiful neon lights in the streets, it brings me great images of beauty, life, and old Shanghai. Therefore, I developed a new work based on the city’s DNA concept: ‘City Light’. This installation illuminates the inner beauty of the city.


Greg Girard (Canada)
For those of us lucky enough to have spent time in the early-to-bed Shanghai of the 1980s, and watched the lights come back on in the ’90s and beyond, there is probably a sense that something gets lost when a place ‘grows up’ (or becomes modern ‘again’ in Shanghai’s case). But fortunately the loveable essentials remain here: it’s a walkable city, people wear pyjamas in the street, cocktails matter, and ocean-going vessels still pass on the river between Pudong and Puxi.

My pictures from ‘Phantom Shanghai’ are about that brief moment when two versions of Shanghai were occupying the same space at the same time: the early 20th century city frozen for decades after 1949, and the new modern one being built on top of it. I’ve always had a weakness for the overlooked, and that was something I tried to show: what those disappearing neighbourhoods and homes looked like as the new Shanghai was being built.


Emma Fordham (Sweden)
I love the vastness of Shanghai. There is no sense of a beginning or an end. You get the feeling that the city can’t be contained within any kind of boundary. You can travel ‘out’ of Shanghai for hours and still feel you’ve not left. In fact you can go all the way up to Beijing and not be quite sure where the suburbs of one city end and the other begin. I love the fact that I will never get my head round Shanghai. It’s too vast. Things are always changing, evolving, merging or disappearing, with little or no regard to the individual human being caught up in it all.

I love the elevated highways that surround and divide Shanghai. When you travel on the highways you get a temporary sense of overview and perspective. I especially love Yanan Lu and how it cuts through the very heart of the city, almost slicing it in two. I’ve been up and down Yanan Lu hundreds of times and Shanghai always looks different with each journey: the light is always changing and everywhere buildings are going up and coming down. Building sites fascinate me. They embody the frenetic energy and continuous construction and expansion of the city.

I’m trying to capture that moment when something new is in progress but has not yet become a defined part of the official urban landscape. Whatever it is that’s being built is still mysteriously under wraps, draped in that green netting that you see everywhere. At night these construction sites look almost beautiful when everything is floodlit and silhouetted. In my canvases I have tried to capture this artificial light and the fragile shapes of the tall and gangly cranes.


Eric Leleu (France)
Shanghai is like a giant energy pill. Hectic, never still, always looking forward. Shanghai’s pace is a drug. Even after almost 10 years here, I am amazed to still be amazed at the city. It is ever changing. One has to follow Shanghai speed. Speed, pace, rhythm, beat. This city is a mix between a hard-beat electro track and a hip hop slam session.

The photo I am exhibiting is an extract of a three year long project, still ongoing, called Subtitles. The print that is shown at Art Labor shows The Bund, a classic part of the city, an icon we could say, but shown in a different light, with a twist, something that makes the photo different from the classical tourist snapshot. In the middle of the photograph, a fake propaganda banner says: ‘This is a photo opportunity’. I think it is a great summary of what Shanghai is, or least of my vision of Shanghai.


I Love Shanghai is at Art Labor until January 5.