Huang Cheng’s Soundtrack to Guangdong’s Urban Villages

Over the past two years, Shenzhen has been the centre of much discussion about the fate and the future of villages such as Baishizhou, Hubei and Gangxia. Unfortunately media pieces dealing with the fate of these historical sites tend to come and go, but it is the work of such actors as Huang Cheng that keeps the ever revolving conversation alive as Shenzhen continues to urbanise and space in the city becomes more scarce and valuable.

Huang Cheng is an artist better known for projects that deal with ideas like Catharsis via traditional Chinese medicine, the ideal life – a la Soren Kierkegaard – using former US President Barack Obama as an example – and the use of blood as a raw material for painting.

Recently the artist has taken on the highly discussed, and very controversial, topic of urban renewal in his adopted home-province, Guangdong.

Over the past two years, Shenzhen has been the centre of much discussion about the fate and the future of villages such as Baishizhou, Hubei and Gangxia. Unfortunately media pieces dealing with the fate of these historical sites tend to come and go, but it is the work of such actors as Huang Cheng that keeps the ever revolving conversation alive as Shenzhen continues to urbanise and space in the city becomes more scarce and valuable.

This year however, this conversation has turned blazing hot. At the end of 2017, the UABB, the Bi-city Biennial of Urbanism Architecture, announced that their exhibition was to be held in Nantou Old Town, one of Shenzhen’s famous, and endangered, urban villages. This effort by creative folk to shine a spotlight on low-income, inner city areas also shows how important these areas are for creatives and the communities that they strive to create on a limited budget.

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Cheng’s project began back in 2015 at a previous iteration of the UABB. His first project focused on Baishizhou. His journey through the village sounds more like a narrated tour of the sights, sounds and folks that you are likely to meet there.

We hear snoring, we hear conversation, birds, interviews with folks who speak about Dongbeiren, their history in the Urban Villages and how or why they came to live there. It is clear that necessity brought many to live in such places, but memories and emotion made them to stay, or at least to remain faithful.

For folk outside of Shenzhen, the prevailing idea seems to be that the city is a hi-tech and heartless place. That’s untrue, for now, although as efforts continue to renew Urban centres like Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the soul and the history of these eclectic neighbourhoods is falling by the wayside in favour of shiny new high-rises.

Design 360 recently devoted a volume of its bi-monthly magazine to discussing the question of urban regeneration. Given the outrage that has accompanied the modernisation of Beijing’s Hutongs, this question of Urban Renewal reaches the length and breadth of country.

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The focus of Cheng’s microphone can be disconcerting as he tunes into pleasant aural reactors and unpleasant alike. His production is barely manipulated, and it is both the realism and the humanity of his voice and his recording style that hit home with the most force.

To hear Huang Cheng’s Baishizhou series, please go visit his Douban page.

 

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