Canada represents at the 2013 Urbanism/Architecture Bi-City Biennale in Shenzhen

Canada is well represented at the 2013 Urbanism/Architecture Bi-City Biennale (UABB), which opened in Shenzhen, China, on December 6, 2013 and runs through February 28, 2014. With events in both Shenzhen and Hong Kong, this fifth-edition Bi-City Biennale focuses on issues relevant to the Pearl River Delta region, while providing a public forum for interdisciplinary exchange on the myriad enthusiasms and concerns shared by architects, designers, artists, curators, academics, cultural institutions, and public citizens around the world, each of whom have some stake (and responsibility) in the development of livable and inspiring cities.

At two primary venues in Shenzhen, hundreds of distinguished international contributors have addressed the overarching UABB theme of Urban Border. The more overtly spectacular interventions and prominent institutional installations are situated in the “Value Factory,” amidst the vast ruins of a former float glass factory at the industrial port of Shekou. Nearby, a dense cluster of more deeply researched exhibitions, national pavilions, installations, and films are elegantly packed into a former industrial warehouse adjacent to the Shekou Ferry Terminal, which actively serves travellers as an immigration and customs threshold to mainland China. It is in this venue, aptly named “Border Warehouse,” where the work of several Canadians may be found.

First to mention is the Canadian Pavilion, with an exhibition called Land|Slide: Possible Futures, curated by Janine Marchessault, Canada Research Chair in Art, Digital Media and Globalization at York University and member of the not-for-profit national arts collective Public Access, in collaboration with Yan Wu of the Gendai Gallery in Toronto, and the University of Toronto. The Land|Slide exhibition, designed by co-curator Yan Wu, together with Adrian Blackwell and Helmut Klassen, has gathered 15 conceptually related projects culled from a larger exhibition held this fall at the Markham Museum and Heritage Village. Each contributor addressed cultural boundaries that are difficult to visualize, reimagining the complex historical and ecological fabric of the city of Markham (and Southern Ontario’s Greenbelt) in ways that also touch on universal themes of urbanization and human habitation having bearing on the new megacity of Shenzhen. For example, Dim Sum City, created by Angel Chen (a Taiwanese-Canadian public artist), consists of an interactive performance (recreated at the opening ceremony) in which participants were invited to chose their meal from a menu listing not food but the basic ingredients of a city: including such delicious items as public parks, affordable housing, bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly tree-lined streets. Other contributors to the Canadian Pavilion are as follows: Aron Louis Cohen, Patricio Davila, Dave Colangelo, Christine Davis, DoUC (Christopher Pandolfi and Simon Rabyniuk), Frank Havermans, Phil Hoffman, Mark-David Hosale, L+ (Pak Sheung Chuen, Ng Ka Chun and Lee Soen Long), Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, Jennie Suddick, and Xu Tan.    

 Canada is also represented at UABB Shenzhen by Assistant Curator Zoe Florence, originally from Toronto, now based in New York. A graduate of the University of British Columbia (Environmental Design) and Columbia University (Master of Architecture), Zoe was not only an essential member of the Border Warehouse Curatorial Team, but also the lead curator for a series of special exhibitions exploring the theme of “Crossing Urban Boundaries.” One of these exhibitions, entitled City Case Studies: Past, Present, and Future, featured text and image interpretations of fourteen global cities: Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Singapore, Yangon, Ceuta, Moscow, Paris, Mexico City, New York City, Detroit and Winnipeg. 

The entry on Winnipeg was prepared by Lisa Landrum, professor of architecture at the University of Manitoba, in collaboration with her partner, Ted Landrum. Their contribution features three collages: mapping Winnipeg’s past as arising out of central Canada’s geological and glacial history; Winnipeg’s present as a “city poem,” showing a place shaped by language, loss and desire; and Winnipeg’s future as a collaborative work in progress by the next generation of promising design graduates. Students in Lisa Landrum’s architecture design studio contributed content to this city case study: notably, Hilary Cohen and Ting Wu. Three other students in the design studio, having been shortlisted for their entry to the International Student Video and Poster Competition, also have individual work exhibited: Sarah Stasiuk, with a collage revealing the diversity of habitation on either side of Winnipeg’s Red River; Liane Lanzer, with a clip-animation film of Winnipeg’s urban development called Heart of the Continent; and Yi Dazhong, for a video exploring the boundaries of sleep and dream in the city entitled Keep the Street Empty for Me. Winners of this competition will be announced at the close of the Biennale.

Thirty years ago, Shenzhen was a cluster of villages surrounded by farms. After being designated a Special Economic Zone in 1979, the area urbanized rapidly. Today, Shenzhen is home to more than 15 million people, nearly half the population of Canada. The global architectural community has much to learn both from the processes of urbanization taking place in Shenzhen, and from the critical and creative exchange fostered by this Bi-City Biennale.

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