place: shanghai, people’s republic of china

Thea Baumann in Shanghai

Thea Baumann in Shanghai

Thea Baumann in Shanghai

reason for travelling

Following an on-again off-again long distance love affair with The Middle Kingdom, I’ve returned to the glittering embrace of cybercity Shanghai to present augmented reality apps and live performance Metaverse Makeovers as part of Jue: Music+Art, an annual open-source festival.

Another aspect of my visit to China, supported by the Australia Council for the Arts, is to instigate ‘Border-Crossing’ collaborations and partnerships with international live art practitioners and presenters.

whore or pearl of the orient?

Shanghai’s scent is like a certain Chinese brand of cosmopolitan spirit. Soaring above, gleaming neon and LED emblazoned skyscrapers punctuate an ever-evolving futuristic city skyline. On the lower levels crumbling alleyways, the Old Town and French Concession, sophisticated Art Deco buildings, dizzying marketplaces and shopping—oh so much shopping—over stimulate the senses (and my new ‘authentic non-faux’ Chanel purse).

Shanghai is the city for being seduced by historical charm and the aspirations of what-is-yet-to-be—witnessing the excess and paradoxical peaks of communism and capitalism colliding; having dalliances with the luxury and the gutter classes; and immersing yourself in the closest visual and sensorial experience you’ll find to Blade Runner.




for culture…

Beijing is known as the city for edgy contemporary art and as the base for China’s heavyweights, however myriad cultural hotspots are fermenting in Shanghai.

Located in a stately Art Deco building, The Rockbund Art Museum shows local and international contemporary artists. Night@RAM is worth dipping into—a series of free educational events held on weekends. Walk up to the top level of the Rockbund for a free cup of coffee and head out to the balcony for a fabulous view of Pudong, The Bund, Huangpu River, laundry laden shikumen [19th century style townhouses] and apartment rooftops.

Reminiscent of the 798 district in Beijing, M50 is located in an industrial park next to Suzou Creek. Here converted and revamped warehouses, a warren of studios, cafes, and the LED new media art collective Island 6 are located. ShanghArt is one of the more reliable galleries for cutting-edge contemporary mixed media practice, as is Eastlink supporting emergent practice in China. Walk down the street from the entrance to M50 and you’ll catch a glimpse of what is most likely the only trace of an underground street-art scene in China—a wall dedicated to graffiti art.

The Shanghai Biennale opens October this year and has moved to a renovated power plant—now the New Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art, formerly the Pavilion of the Future at World Expo.

Yuyuan Gardens, Shanghai

Yuyuan Gardens, Shanghai

Yuyuan Gardens, Shanghai

diy & propoganda…

For meeting Shanghai’s new media community, tinkerers, inventors, local and visiting artists, head to XinCheJian hackerspace. They stage hacker gatherings, presentations, workshops, robo-racing and show and tells.

Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre is a treasure trove basement museum of socialist realist graphic art, communist utopias, Mao portraits, little red book waving masses and, surprisingly, a fabulous archive of Shanghai Calendar Girl posters.

ni che le ma? (are you hungry?)

Che. Definitely. Shanghai is a city for eating, drinking, dining, clubbing, indulgence and debauchery.

For revelling with Shanghai’s glitterati, The Glamour Bar on The Bund is perfect for sexy cocktails with pink-hued lighting and vintage lounges graced with stunning views of Pudong: giant flashing billboards, the retro-futuristic Pearl Tower and sharp shiny modernist architecture.

On the Pudong side, head to the Jinmao Tower and take the ear-popping ride in the elevator up to the Skywalk—the tallest observation deck in mainland China. Then calm the vertigo and head down a level to Cloud 9 for cocktails and blindingly twinkly views of Shanghai.

If desperate for a good cup of coffee in Shanghai (after disgracing yourself with a Starbucks sprint), head to Old China Hand Reading Room located in the French Concession. This library cum cafe cum bookstore is owned by local architecture buffs who have published gorgeous books on Shanghai’s Art Deco heritage.

Time in China cannot be spent without sampling the myriad street food options. Chuanr— little chunks of seasoned meat on skewers cooked over coals on portable BBQs (sometimes an electric grill, mostly just an old iron gutter grate)—is unbelievably addictive. Ask for ‘la’—hot! Head to Yuyuan Gardens for bazaars and night time street snacks.

for sleeping…

If you’re starting to feel guilty about your love of Shanghai’s blinking neon display and need to alleviate your carbon emissions, sleep at Urbn, Shanghai’s first carbon neutral hotel with rooms fitted out in recycled wood from old concession era houses.

Foyer of the Paramount Ballroom, Shangai

Foyer of the Paramount Ballroom, Shangai

Foyer of the Paramount Ballroom, Shangai

bargain, haggle, sing, dance

Shanghai is dotted with experiential jewels and a multitude of opportunities to shop.
Cut label (seconds) designer boutiques line the streets of the French Concession. Pick up a stack of DVDs from the stores and carts that pepper the streets. Need some Shanzhai (Chinese imitation and pirated brands and goods)? An ‘iPhone,’ ‘iPad,’ or a Steve Jobs memorial iPhone case? Head to Pacific Digital Plaza. Or hire an OTT VIP Karaoke Lounge Room at MJ.98. And for an enchanted vision of a bygone era, stop at the Paramount Ballroom for ballroom dancing and champagne.

Shanghai: it’s a city that still provides an intoxicating and heady array of options to indulge your every vice.


Jue: Music+Art www.juefestival.com/

The Rockbund Art Museum www.rockbundartmuseum.org/en/en_newsList.asp

M50 www.m50.com.cn/

Island 6 www.island6.org/island6Shanghai.html

ShanghArt www.shanghartgallery.com/

Eastlink www.eastlinkgallery.cn/

Shanghail Biennale www.shanghaibiennale.com/2012/eweb/index.asp

XinCheJian Hackerspace http://xinchejian.com/

Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre www.shanghaipropagandaart.com/

The Galmour Bar http://www.m-glamour.com/

Jinmao Tower http://www.jinmao88.com/en/jinmao_edifice.htm

Urbn www.urbnhotels.com/


Thea Baumann is Executive Producer of Aphids where she co-directs Atelier Edens, a series of field laboratories sustainably creating cross-artform, digital and transmedia projects in remote and natural environments: OCEAN, WILDERNESS, SPACE. She conceived Metaverse Makeovers, augmented reality enhanced performances and AR apps for iOS, and is currently undertaking R&D in networked, collaborative live arts practice in China, Europe, and the US.

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8 May 2012