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Baishizhou Project (2016)


Baishizhou Project, sound installation, 2016



The artwork collects ambient sounds and uses a speaker made from objects and materials found in the neighborhood, image from Theodore Kaye for ChinaFile


During two months residency in Handshake 302, I work on series works, walking, recording, installation and sound that related to urban-rural in Shenzhen, China.

About Baishizhou and urban villages:

Shenzhen is many of recent migrants moving to, for a new life in one of China’s most prosperous cities, it including a unique phenomenon called ‘urban villages.’ Along with urbanization, the formerly rural areas envelope by sharply expanding urban and forming into rural-urban. With the unincorporated and administratively independent, the urban villages often become migrants housing communities, labeling by poor, substandard roads, and infrastructure, cramped living conditions, and crime. However, with the rule by the policy that divided urban and rural districts, which leads to unequal distribution of public investment. The phenomenon of ‘urban village’ symbolizes a historical Chinese divergent policy and development, which allows the non-urban areas within the city, through concentrate on migrants move into urban villages that make them facing challenges to the microscopic disenfranchisement of workers and peasants from these necessities in a progressive, dynamic social ecology. But, it is also causing serious problems such as land sales uniquely distributed and forced evictions of resistant residents, lead to riots as protest compensation. Due to such concerns, this project started at Baishizhou, one of a largest urban village in Shenzhen. Not only for recording the street design or the sound from an environment, but also considering the political economy of the street lights plan. How is the lighting functioning on the road, and distribute to everyone?


这件作品是延续2013年噪音盒的尝试。受到Luigi Russolo,John Cage以及David Tudor作品的启发,开始创作以声音主导的作品。声音是时空性的,任何物体通过振动都会产生声波,是透过振动的介质在空气中传播并被听觉生物所感知的现象。而这种特质决定了声音很有可能是昙花一现的,过了这秒就不会听到。可能我们很不想听到一些声音,可我们生命中的一大部分确又不得不由它们组成。

这件作品的材料是通过回收,弃置品和垃圾而来,通过共振式喇叭变成了共振箱,消除了普通喇叭的方位指向性, 观者则可在一个空间之中聆听透过材质本身的共鸣。在听觉体验上会丧失一定原有的纯度,却也伴随了这些物体在空间中形成了自身的在场。



The critique of this installation:

‘It is one of the ironies of publicity that site and time-specific artworks are regularly transformed into texts. On Sunday, September 31, for example, resident artist Zhang Mengtai held an open house in Handshake 302. He built an amplifier that transmitted sounds he had collected in Baishizhou and then compiled into a soundscape. Abstracted from the noisy jumble of handshake allies and crowded streets, the honking cars and migrating dialects that Mengtai recorded seemed delicate, almost lyrical in their evocation of Baishizhou. We were entranced. But this text is not that experience.

Of course, it is also true that the work of creating site and time-specific objects involves textualization, which is to say the transformation of one experience into a form that allows for another experience. In fact, art mediates between at least two disparate experiences—some original experience (on the part of the artist) and some secondary experience (on the part of the audience). There is ongoing displacement as we imaginatively connect this here-and-now (of listening) to that there-and-then (of when the sounds were made) by way of discarded stools, a worker’s glove, and a digital recording. Indeed, the elegant complexity of Mengtai’s piece stood in contrast to its assumed origin—Baishizhou. The fading sounds and rhythms, silences and abrupt transitions had a musicality that we do not associate with the chaos of an urban village. But perhaps that’s the point: an artistic soundscape does not refer to an actual place with a traceable address. Instead, a soundscape evokes possible worlds, which are always already imagined.

I suspect that the presentation allowed us to hear otherwise. Mengtai has a soothing presence and the amplifier provided a focus for our gaze, which in turn allowed us to concentrate on what we heard. The conversation ebbed and flowed, words and the pauses between. There were silences, which were not empty, but moments in which the mind could discover that the path from ear to mind is not as smooth as we like to think. When honk does not take us directly to a car, where does it take us? This moment of hesitation, of questioning, of re-hearing stops the usual flow of understanding (honk = approaching car) and forces us to ask, what does it mean to listen? And as we reconsider what it means to listen, perhaps we also begin to let go of ideas about what we think we heard when we walked from subway exit A via Shahe Road to Mengtai’s experimental studio (du jour) in Handshake 302.’

by Mary Ann O’Donnell



Sound recording:

Baishizhou images documentary:



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