Shanghai Nights

enroute.aircanada.com, October 2010

In the city of Shanghai (featured in our October 2010 issue) an emerging generation of artists, musicians and designers is aiming to define the city’s next cultural epoch. And while Beijing is still considered China’s true artistic capital, Shanghai is proving to be a scrappy upstart. “In Shanghai, you are less constrained by history and by expectations…” says the artist Su Chang. “Beijing is a Chinese cultural centre, but Shanghai is global,” he says. “Our artists are more experimental and forward-thinking; they’re influenced by many other forms of art. Shanghai is developing its style.”


Berwin Song, 29, Deputy Editor of Time Out Shanghai
Song has family roots in China, but he was born and raised in Solon, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland. He moved to Shanghai almost two years ago, and now works as deputy editor of the city guide magazine Time Out. Song, pictured here at Vue Restaurant, on the top floor of the Hyatt on the Bund, is always out hunting for Shanghai’s next cool thing.


Yan Yang, (aka Lezi, aka Andy), Record label head, venue manager, drummer 
Few characters are as central to Shanghai’s emerging music scene as Yan Yang. Yang is photographed backstage at Mao Livehouse, the new concert venue that he manages. (The Livehouse is an outpost of an established Beijing venue of the same name). From his office here, he also manages the upstart indie record label, Zhu Lu Hey Fung (Bamboo Waterdrop Lily Wind).
“In Europe and the USA, rock ‘n’ roll is part of mainstream culture,” he says. “In China, many people think that rock ’n’ roll is evil. It’s angry…I’m trying to change those perceptions.”
Yang also shared the story of the first time he heard live music. “When I was a senior in high school, I went on exchange to Australia. My homestay took me to church. At the church, they played live music. They had drum, bass and vocal. This really shocked me because the music was live! I’d never seen it before. I will never forget the feeling of the bass drum knocking my chest. After I came back to Shanghai, my classmates and I discovered rock ’n’ roll – bands like the Eagles, Nirvana, Guns N Roses, Metallica.”

Su Chang, 26, artist

Chang is a multimedia artist, raised in the rural suburbs of Shanghai. His art focuses on what he calls “documentary realism.” For one project, Chang explored the notion of his own uniqueness and found three other Chinese with the same name. He filmed himself as he chatted with Su Chang, a girl who’d recently graduated high school, about their ambitions and dreams; he had his hair cut by a 30-something barber named Su Chang in the Shenyang province; and he bought a dog from a breeder named Su Chang in the Gansu province. Chang showed the work, Name is a Title, as a video installation. He was photographed in his studio.


Tang Dixin, 29, artist
Dixin is Chang’s roommate. They share a small, unfinished two-bedroom apartment in the distant Shanghai suburb of Putuo, using one room as a studio; the other houses two cots. Like Chang, Dixin focuses on many media. He says that if there’s a particular Shanghai style that defines his work, he’s not aware of it. “My job is to create art,” he says. “Art critics are the ones who critique it. Perhaps they will see something, or audiences will see something that represents a Shanghai style. I do not.”

Gao Ming Yan, 28, artist

As with many of his contemporaries, Yan’s approach is varied: He focuses on drawing, painting, performance art, video art and more. “Young artists here are in an experimental phase,” he says. “As they progress, they’ll get recognition for certain works, and through this process, focus on a particular medium.” A Shanghai native, Yang recognizes that his city is still a difficult place for artists. “…It’s very hard to make a living here. The city is lacking good galleries to help manage young artists and sell their work. I’m still selling more in Beijing and Hong Kong than here.”

Dong Ying, 24, gallery assistant
Ying is Yan’s girlfriend. They often work together in their studio, which is in the raw, unheated basement of an office building. Ying also works as an assistant at the OV (Oriental Vista) Gallery, where Canadian Rebecca Catching curates some of the city’s most provocative and acclaimed contemporary Chinese art.

Alison Mary Ching Yeung, shoe designer

Alison Yeung has roots in Hong Kong and England, and graduated from London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design. With Mary Ching, her line of outrageously sexy heels and luxe cashmere slippers, Yeung is attempting to create China’s first made-in-China luxury brand. So far, Mary Ching has found fans in Western tastemakers like Beyonce, Eva Mendes and Elton John, but the brand hasn’t yet hit it big among China’s elite.

Alex Zhou, 32, Bacardi China brand ambassador

If Alex Zhou is there, you know it’s a party: As Chinese warm to Western cocktails, Zhuo’s job is to bring cases of free booze to various events and make sure Bacardi’s products are in the hands of the right people. We met Zhou at the Leo Gallery opening, where guests enjoyed complimentary martinis.

Sean Leow and Adam Schokora, creative curators

Leow and Schokora like to say they “sit on top of Shanghai’s creative community”. These American ex-pats – Leow’s from the Bay area; Schokora’s from Detroit – have both been in Shanghai for about eight years. During that time, they built Neocha, which started as a social networking site for creative professionals and evolved into a creative agency. Now, Leow and Schokora represent their talent to international clients. So when an American sneaker company or a European booze brand wants to collaborate with a Chinese illustrator or musician, they’ll go to Leow and Schokora to broker the deal. Neocha represents one of the first efforts to help Shanghainese artists make a living from their art. The fellows are pictured in Neocha’s studios in the French Concession.

View the slideshow at enroute.aircanada.com