China goes urban
The exhibition titled “China Goes Urban. The City to Come” curated by the Politecnico di Torino and Prospekt Photographers with Tsinghua University in Beijing, and organized in collaboration with Intesa Sanpaolo, kicks off the Fall program of the MAO - Museo d’Arte Orientale in Turin.
This show is the result of long-standing research and offers its audience a new and broad perspective. It traces a line of continuity between the past, present, and future while comparing traditional Chinese culture with the considerable transformations of contemporary Chinese cities. This is an opportunity to analyze and explore the challenges sparked by urban change underway not only in China, but across the globe. Beginning with some Chinese new towns and the contradictions spawned by the frenetic processes of urbanization and urban expansion, this exhibition aims to stimulate reflection on the cities of today and tomorrow.
Each year, in China, over 16 million people move from rural areas to cities, thus giving rise to what is considered the greatest mass migration the world has ever seen. This is not an exception, but rather a global trend: in fact, according to the findings of UN-Habitat, in 2007 the world’s urban population surpassed rural population.
The planetary urbanization phenomenon does not only entail an increase in the population of cities or the development of settlements, but also a rise in more and more intense social, economic, political, and functional relations between different areas of the planet. This development model, which has taken hold over the centuries, presents limits and contradictions, from both an environmental and social-economic point of view, particularly evident in the current phase of uncertainty due to health crises and consequences of the economy and inequality.
“China Goes Urban. The city to Come” strives to explore urban, architectural, and social-economic processes in contemporary China, considered a mirror that reflects the potentials and limits of the modern-day city, both in China and elsewhere. By interweaving research and fantasy, this exhibition is an exploration of four new towns—Tongzhou, Zhengdong, Zhaoqing, and Lanzhou—through which to investigate China’s new urbanization and lead visitors to ask questions on the future of (our) cities. The show revolves around three key themes that define the character of Chinese urbanization: fragment, as a specific feature of the contemporary city and its architecture; infrastructuring, a key element to urban functioning; and surpassing the town/country dichotomy in favor of new forms of urbanization to bypass entities seen as stable.
The exhibition itinerary unfolds along two logical sequences: the first begins with the reconstruction of the exhibition hall—an iconic location typical of Chinese new towns, in which public administrations and building companies stage a city to promote the lifestyle and successes achieved—and closes with global urbanization. The second sequence goes from empty, anonymous spaces to actual people, single individuals immortalized in everyday activities or portrayed in these new settlements. Both sequences constantly intermingle and slowly dismantle the reassuring concept of Chinese “exceptionality”: what from afar may superficially seem exotic and distant is actually much more familiar than we may think. New Chinese cities no longer seem “something else”: in China’s contemporary new towns, daily life is made up of the same small gestures that compose life in all corners of the globe, and these people are not so different from us in their behaviors, practices, and desires.
Photo by Samuele Pellecchia