EXHIBITION: China goes Urban

International exhibition on the Urbanization in China and the world

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展览时间:2020年10月16日~2021年2月14日
展览地点:MAO Museo d’Arte Orientale,都灵,意大利


(Please scroll to the end to see the English introductioin

 

活动日程及简介

WALKS AROUND THE EXHIBITION
由Cludio Jampaglia组织的博物馆大厅中的谈话活动

2020年10月24日下午3点 | Leggere la città: da vicino, da lontano
参与者:Alessandro Amaducci, Università di Torino;Samuele Pellecchia, 策展人

2020年10月31日下午3点 | Il potere dell’infrastruttura
参与者:Giorgio Cuscito;Limes;Francesca Governa, 策展人

2020年11月7日下午3点 | Il sogno urbano
参与者:Daniele Brombal, Università Cà Foscari;Michele Bonino, 策展人

2020年11月14日下午3点 | Materiali urbani e progetti di città
参与者:Augusto Cagnardi;Gregotti Associati International;Laura Lieto, Università di Napoli Federico II.
合作者:Biennale Tecnologia

LESSONS ON CITIES AND INNOVATION
Politecnic学者发表对中国和世界的观察即研究

2020年11月19日下午5点| Lezione di apertura
参与者:Plinio Innocenzi, Università di Sassari;Roberto Pagani, Politecnico di Torino and Scientific Attaché of the Italian Consulate General in Shanghai

2020年12月3日下午5点 | Ripensare il villaggio tradizionale cinese
参与者:Carla Bartolozzi, Politecnico di Torino;Du Qian, 上海交通大学

2020年12月9日下午5点 | Il progresso dell’industria delle costruzioni in Cina
参与者:Bruno Briseghella, 福州大学;Giuseppe Carlo Marano, Politecnico di Torino;Camillo Nuti, Università Roma Tre

2020年12月17日下午5点 | Towards Socially Integrative Cities
参与者:Francesca Frassoldati, Politecnico di Torino;the authors of the new book on sustainable cities in Europe and China (event in English)

2021年1月7日下午5点 | Un’idea orientale di postmodernismo
参与者:Antonio di Campli, Politecnico di Torino

DOUBLE INTERVIEWS
关于中国城市化的对话和观点交流

2021年1月14日下午6点 | Il modello Inner Mongolia: notizie dal fronte settentrionale
参与者:Steve Bisson, Paris College of Art;Alessandro Zanoni, art director and photographer

2021年1月21日下午6点 | New Districts and Beautified Villages in Urban China
参与者:Gary Hack, Massachusetts Institute of Technology;Tim Oakes, University of Colorado Boulder (event in English)

2021年1月28日下午3点 | Displaying the City
参与者:Ole Bouman, Design Society Shenzhen;Beatrice Leanza, MAAT Lisbon (event in English)

特别活动

2020年11月11日下午2:30~7:00 | China Goes Urban – The City to Come
城市研究、建筑及城市规划方面的优秀专家参与的国际研讨会
演讲者:Ash Amin, University of Cambridge;Bian Lanchun, 清华大学;Ann Forsyth, Harvard Graduate School of Design;Liu Jian, 清华大学;Lu Andong, 南京大学;Bernhard Müller, Technische Universität Dresden;Brent D. Ryan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology;Michele Bonino and Francesca Governa, Politecnico di Torino
合作者:Biennale Tecnologia (in English)

2021年2月4日下午6点 | Closing conference
参与者:Ole Bouman, Design Society Shenzhen;Beatrice Leanza, MAAT Lisbon (event in English)

 

▼活动海报
exhibition poster

2020年春,我们严格遵循“远程”工作模式,草拟了这篇简介,并确定了展览组织方式;3月初,与40亿居住在世界其它地区的人们一样,意大利人被迫居家隔离。2020年1月,新冠病毒在中国爆发,然后蔓延至欧洲、美国、中美和南美,给世界某些地区和某些人群造成巨大影响。5月初,意大利尝试缓慢 “重启”,工商业逐渐复工复产,人们也可以去公园散步会友。然而,我们还在祈祷传染病例曲线不再飙升。一场公共卫生突发事件已经成为一场经济社会突发事件,我们不知道经过两个月的封闭之后,还有多少企业可以复工?多少工人将会失业?预测显示形势严峻,正如我们这几个月所经历的严峻生活。这种情况似乎使我们的研究和学习成为徒劳。和许多人一样,我们不知道什么时候才能乘坐飞机去往中国或者其它地方。

当下时刻充满了不确定性,凸显了世界各地的相互关联,发生在意大利都灵或日本名古屋的事件越来越与中国或英国的决策密切相关;它凸显了世界不同地区之间的关系与流通,以及社会、经济和政治关系的日益紧密;它凸显了根植于资本主义历史的增长模式特点,以及气候变化和疫情流行所暴露的局限与矛盾,后者能否成为改变现行增长模式的诱因,似乎更像是异想天开而非现实可能。新自由主义及其“中国变体”确实被描绘成行使权力的生物政治图示,米歇尔•福柯(Michel Foucault)称其为永恒的“网格”,过滤、调和并融入了每一种干预和每一种现象,是“名副其实的存在和思维”,一种将个体变为经济代理的 “思想方法”。

在这种不确定的情况下,我们相信继续推进有关中国城市化的展览是个人面向集体的重要而有效的 “抗争”。如果 “以后”发生变化,这种变化也必须与新冠流行之前的情况相呼应。如果没有任何改变,我们至少像展览的参观者和宣传册的读者一样,在这段时间里以批判性地评估了我们所生活的世界。从城市的视角来看,我们不能将中国和世界其它地方简单地归入特定的模式、类别和确定性。我们需要充满好奇地仔细观察和质疑这个世界,我们需要的是问题而不是答案,因为一旦我们给出答案,它们就会变得简单和平庸;就像我们曾天真地以为,诸如“智慧城市”或“后碳城市”之类的关键词已经概括了城市现实,找到了“解决 ”办法。

▼中国城市化图解
diagram of China under urbanization

▼全球每月二氧化碳排放图解
diagram of CO2 emmisions

本次展览并非当下的产物,而是历经数年的长期积累,是大量人力、物力投入学术研究的结果。2015至2017年间,都灵理工大学组织开展了一项有关中国新城的跨学科研究,参与人员包括来自洛桑联邦理工学院和北京清华大学的学者和研究人员,以及来自米兰Prospekt的摄影师(波尼诺等,2019;戈维纳和桑皮耶里,2020)。虽然这项研究早已结束,但在某种意义上它仍在继续,推动不断的研讨,引发更多的问题,激发更多的想法,在我们的思考、写作和项目中发挥影响。新城研究也在继续推动创新。此次展览作为科学与艺术的结合,将文字、图片和视频作为工具来叙述多重轨迹,不断组合和拆解空间。我们选择了四个截然不同的新城——通州新城、肇庆新区、郑东新区和兰州新区,这个选择既不全面,也不是各种情况和经验的集成。通州新城位于中国首都北京东部的通州区,肇庆新区距离地处珠江三角洲西端的肇庆市20公里,郑东新区位于中国内陆河南省郑州市附近,兰州新区则地处中国最贫困地区之一的甘肃省,国家在此建设新城的目的就是招商引资以促进当地的发展。四座新城既是研究案例,也是我们观察当代城市特征和当前变化特征的视角,通过观察中国新城来探究未来中国以及世界其他国家的城市究竟会变成什么样子。

在中国,每年有1600多万人口从农村迁往城市,被世界银行认为是世界有史以来最大规模的人口迁移,而且这些人口并非迁往其它星球。联合国人居署的研究表明,2007年世界城市人口首次超过农村人口,而中国的城市化则是全球城市人口增长的重要因素。

▼城市化下的中国,China under urbanization  ©Samuele Pellecchia

我们需要开展新的研究和进行新的评估,让参观者们看到无法适用现有任何“模式”或类别来认知的复杂城市空间,所有事物都混沌不清的复杂城市空间。我们如何利用图像和展示过程,让业外大众理解复杂的研究主题,认知空间对全球各地的人们的重要性?本次展览展示了精心挑选的照片、视频、地图和文件,它们作为认知工具和镜像,记录了持续快速变化的地域特征,反映了被尼尔·布伦纳(Neil Brenner, 2014)称为星球城市化(planetary urbanisation)的问题,可以认为是亨利·勒菲弗尔(Henri Lefebvre)在20世纪70年代所预言的 “社会完全城市化”的当代版本。我们通常所说的 “城市”是一种密集的人类住区形态,仅占地球表面的2%;全球城市化过程所涵盖的不仅仅是“城市”,而是一幅全球社会、经济、政治和功能关系的图景,确定了我们这个时代的城市的物质结构。与其说这些视频和照片描绘了现实,不如说它们在提出问题:城市的延伸形态是什么?一种在不同时空中演变的形式,不同于空间距离的限制,以及欧几里得空间确定性的挑战。这些看似反映现实的视频揭示城市环境的混乱和碎片化,质疑作为人类的我们先入为主的解读,引发与参观者的对话,并鼓励反思和思考。这些图片描绘了空空荡荡而又生机勃勃的空间,充满了各种矛盾和可能,催发对声音、语言和变化的想象。

▼现场展览海报
exhibition poster on site ©Giorgio Perottino

 

新的城市世界?

2011年,阿纳尼娅 · 罗伊(Ananya Roy)在反思亚洲城市在当今世界 的“全球化艺术”时指出一个悖论。人们通常将北半球的大规模城市化视为“成功”城市的国际典范,而将南半球的城市化指责为不宜居的过度城市化和“城市狂热症”的非理性聚集。这种泾渭分明的简单划分也出现在许多针对当代城市中国的解读中,尤其在解读被贴上新区、新城、新镇等不同标签的新住区的特征时,往往分化为两种观点。一种观点强调中国城市化的特殊性,关注中国的人口数据和中国城市化的“弊病”;另一种观点认为中国的城市化重新定义了国家与市场的关系,是一种“具有中国特色的新自由主义”形式(这个观点也许与众不同,但仍可以理解,毕竟只是已经固化的解释中的组成部分)。

以上两种观点都质疑了中国采纳的城市化模式,也都极端(和非常有效)地简化了中国的现实情况,并且引入(极端和非常有效的)“范例”,展示中国现在/将来的面貌,因为这种模式已经在其他国家得到印证。两者都认为中国的城市化进程有其“特殊性”,在“人类历史上前所未有”:数量大和变化快,新区里高楼林立,高速铁路网蜿蜒至中国内陆最偏远的省份。对中国城市化特殊性的强调也出现在诸多文章中,尽管这些文章的视点各不相同,但都对自相矛盾的术语和解读达成共识(诸如20世纪70年代以来新马克思主义地理学的代表人物戴维·哈雷(David Harley)的著作,以及世界银行的研究报告);当然,它们也制造和再生产出污名、偏见以及许多令人质疑的恐惧。因此,本次展览提供了多种定义,并将城市中国置入一个包罗万象但又万物混沌的框架中,唯一的目的带来摒弃已经固化的观点和确定性的变化。

当前,世界城市化重心正在从北半球转移至南半球,从西方转移至东方。我们原本以为模式和类别一成不变,现在被证明是无稽之谈,所以需要我们改变观点。这样,我们才能意识到,西方城市并非用来建构知识体系,进而通过关注城市差异来解释全球城市现实的唯一客体。如果说这种做法曾经行之有效,但现在和未来已经不再有效。根据联合国人居署的研究,在不久的将来,中国、印度和尼日利亚的城市人口增长将占据全球城市人口增长的三分之一。虽然这三个国家的城市并不属于西方城市化的模式和类别,但却可以用于建立理论框架,质疑中国、印度和尼日利亚,以及全世界其它地方的城市现实。多琳·马西(Doreen Massy)在《保卫空间》(For Space, 2005)一书中曾经自问:如果我们打开单一叙事的想象力,赋予(字面上的)空间多重的轨迹,结果会是怎样?这句话准确表达了此次展览的意图:从特定场所的特性开始,赋予空间多重的轨迹,证明它们有能力表达更多信息,(也)包括与全球城市化的空间和问题相关的其它话题。

▼城市化下的中国,China under urbanization ©Samuele Pellecchia

 

一场展览就像一次旅行

中国的城市化像是一个无头无尾的谜,或是让人着迷,或是引发人们的固化解读。我们以中国城市化作为研究对象,如果采用特定分类,那么当代城市世界就变得难以理解;因为这些分类是以20世纪的城市主义(urbanism)作为前提和方法,基于城市中心和城市郊区的建构,定义了精确的 “城市秩序”。本次展览通过展示城市的模糊性和混乱性,描述了城市的复杂性,超越了受到西方城市理论的启发、却被用于中国城市的模式;这种通用但却“薄弱”的模式常由关键词而非具体概念构成,可以适用于任何地方(也因此不适用于任何地方),并且常被赋予强烈的交流和说服的内容,然而无法直接映射我们正在建设、我们生活其中和我们反复改造的空间的物理属性。

毋庸置疑,中国新城具有以下众所周知的特点:中央商务区,步行消费空间,封闭式社区,科技园区,等等。然而,除了将城市的复杂性还原到支撑空间所包含的物体集合之外,持续的演变远远超出了构成支撑空间的物体本身。要克服支撑空间的技术(或技术主义)还原论,需要不断改变观点和试点,以开放的姿态探索建设中的城市现实;就像通过观察新区的发展,我们改变了对著名建筑师所设计的建筑和公共空间的看法。我们习惯于把空间和建筑置于或多或少统一连贯的城市肌理之中,与此不同的是,中国新城往往是在大环境尚未确定之时,其空间和建筑设计已跃然纸上,就像与周围环境毫无关联的巨大城市地块。但从结果来看,这些建筑和空间对于中国的城市化至关重要,因为新区城市材料的异质性,而不是因为建筑自身的辉煌,就像本次展览中创盟国际(Archi-Union)、葛雷高第国际(Gregotti International)、柯凯建筑事务所(Kokaistudios)和直向建筑(Vector Architects)的设计作品所展示的那样。它们不仅具有象征性,也是提高“客户”声望的工具,无论这些客户是私人机构、公共机构、还是城市。这些建筑也成为空间基础设施的组成部分,依托这些基础设施,新型城市化开始在中国和世界其他地区进入全球市场。

碎片化与解构、基础设施建设与模糊城乡差别似乎成为了当代城市性的基本特征,也是多元路径所蕴含的多重地理尺度和诸多参与者、利益和关系的基本特征,需要我们沿袭这些路径来理解这些空间。“中国迈向城市化”是一次经历新时期中国城市化的旅程。旅途中,参观者可以看到正在建设中的新城的异质,看到砖块、混凝土、人群以及他们的迁移,还可以窥视和想象构成城市的愿望、希望和挫折。这段旅程始于中国、环游世界,也是始于世界,最终回到通州、肇庆、郑东、兰州的四座新城。

▼创盟国际作品 – “互联网之光”博览中心(点击这里查看更多
Project of Arch-Union – Wuzhen Internet Conference Center (click HERE for more information) ©是然建筑摄影
More: Arch-Union on gooood

▼直向建筑作品 – 长江美术馆(点击这里查看更多
Project of Vector Architects – Chanjiang Art Museum (click HERE for more information© 陈颢 / 直向建筑
More: Vector Architects on gooood

▼葛雷高第国际 – 熊安新城效果图
Project of Gregotti International – Render for Xiongan New Town

 

展览路线

本次展览有两条逻辑路线。第一条始于中国城市化的最典型的场所——展览大厅,终于全球城市化。第二条始于遥远无序、空空荡荡的空间图像,终于人们的日常生活景象以及新区的“舞台化”形象。这两条路线及其相互交汇旨在表明我们在研究中探讨的主要问题,以及本次展览的主要发现。

▼舞台式的展览空间,exhibition space like a stage ©Giorgio Perottino

第一条路线鼓励参观者“摒弃”中国的独特性和特殊性的概念,通过再现展览大厅的场景,展示开发商和公共管理部门如何“布局”城市和在市场上推销新区,或者地方政府通过何种方式实现政府目标,包括增加GDP、面向农村人口开设有关城市生活的课程。采用展览大厅这样特定的中国元素可以使参观者确信,从第一展室就能看到中国城市的多样性;随着视频、图像、装置和说明逐渐揭开新时期中国城市化的面纱,观众的疑虑会进一步削弱。在参观者眼中,中国城市化越来越有辨识度,越来越本土化,甚至带来美学上的快感,最终发现,中国新城的生活和全世界人民的生活一样,是琐碎和普通的日常生活,因而不再陌生。同时,这次行程是有标识的,从简单的“城市特性”到城市,再到未及城市、乡村不再的相互关系,乃至将中国城市化置于全世界的关系、流动和交流网络中的更大范畴。

▼展示开发商和公共管理部门如何在市场上推销新区,how do the developers and public administration departments promote the new urban areas ©Giorgio Perottino

第二条逻辑路线在概念上与第一条截然相反。首先让参观者迷失方向:之前展示的迁移和空间不仅空洞,而且毫无生机;随后让这些空间逐渐鲜活起来:参观者越来越接近当地的人群及其日常生活,看到他们的脸庞和运动,并且意识到这也是我们的脸庞和运动。

▼城市化下人们的日常生活,daily life under urbanization ©Giorgio Perottino

“中国迈向城市化”使用了照片、视频、装置、图纸、模型、地图、图表等多种材料来陪伴参观者的城市中国之旅。要展示一项研究的成果,并且将理论发现和视觉图像有机结合,是一个相当大的挑战。如何阐释概念?城乡之间的关系如何?在物质空间转型与象征符号转换相互关联的城市化过程中,基础设施发挥怎样的作用?这些概念和过程并非抽象理论,而是每个人“通过体验”得到的知识,或多或少以及有意无意之间,每天都要面对的知识。一座城市起于何处?又终于何处?距离我家和工作单位有多远?我每天使用哪种交通方式在城市空间中穿梭?我的经济状况在多大程度上影响了我在城市中的“生活”?

▼模型,models ©Giorgio Perottino

所有这些问题都有一个共同特点,问题的答案不止一个,甚至多到会引发更多的问题。我们利用答案和问题之间的联系,在视觉和说明之间建立起对话,使参观者在走过了一个又一个展室之后,构成多面、流动、线性和分层的行程。视频呈现给参观者的内容在表面上是线性的,但实际上它们是利用音乐的组合和迷离的蒙太奇方式,从语境中“推断”而来。模型的展示或者脱离了语境,例如第一展室中呈现的展览大厅的重建,或者专为本次展览而设计,以便为持续的变革特征提供更加具体的图像。照片则被编辑成组或者顺序排列,以展示有人或无人状态下的物体和空间;单独来看,它们各自都提供了具体的、准确的信息;综合来看,它们共同组成一个不完整的拼图,参观者可以通过自己的想象决定如何将之拼凑完整。

▼影像截图,screen capture of the video ©Samuele Pellecchia

考虑到本次展览筹备所面临的特殊情况,“中国迈向城市化”被设计为“后新冠疫情”展览的试点项目。为了避免展室内的人群聚集,在必要情况下,参观者会被要求暂时进入虚拟空间,那里有丰富的视觉盛宴和额外的详细信息。展览图里包含有楼层标识,确保参观者即可畅通无阻,又能避免拥挤。鉴于我们生活在一个充满不确定的时代,这些预防措施也成为我们始于中国,探讨当代城市及其带来的恐惧或期望的叙事过程的重要组成。

▼展览中的标识
igns in the exhibition ©Giorgio Perottino

 

 

 

English Introduction

While in the western part of the world there seems to be a growing sensitivity and interest towards the theme of the countryside, China is experiencing a constant and incessant movement of people from the countryside to cities. New infrastructure and new settlements change the Chinese landscape, transforming property rights, overwhelming administrative borders, eroding rural spaces and villages. This phenomenon is the protagonist of an exhibition that opens at the Museum of Oriental Art (MAO) in Turin on October 16, 2020, where it will be on display until February 14, 2021. Curated by Politecnico di Torino (Michele Bonino and Francesca Governa,with the collaboration of Francesco Carota, Maria Paola Repellino and Angelo Sampieri) and Prospekt Photographers (Samuele Pellecchia, Francesco Merlini) with Tsinghua University in Beijing, “China Goes Urban” is organized in collaboration with Intesa Sanpaolo.

The exhibition is the result of years of research and offers the public a new and broad perspective that traces a line of continuity between past, present and future, connecting the culture of traditional China with the impressive transformations of contemporary Chinese cities. An opportunity to deepen and question the challenges posed by the urban changes taking place not only in China, but all over the planet. Starting from the exploration of some new Chinese cities and the contradictions triggered by the frenetic processes of urbanization and urban expansion, the exhibition aims to stimulate a reflection on the city of today and the future.

Every year, more than 16 million people in China move from rural to urban areas, creating what is considered the largest mass migration the world has ever seen. This is not an ‘exceptional’ process, but a global trend. But the phenomenon of planetary urbanization does not only imply an increase in the population of cities or the development of settlements, but also an intensification of social, economic, political and functional relations between different regions of the world. This model of development, which has established itself over the centuries, has limitations and contradictions, both from an environmental and socioeconomic point of view, particularly evident in the current phase of uncertainty due to the health emergency and the consequences in economic terms and the worsening of inequalities.

“China Goes Urban. The City to Come” aims to question the urban, architectural and socio-economic change processes of contemporary China, considered as a mirror in which the possibilities and limitations of the contemporary city are reflected, in China as elsewhere. Intertwining research and imagination, the exhibition is an exploration of four new cities -Tongzhou, Zhengdong, Zhaoqing and Lanzhou- through which to investigate the new Chinese urbanization and lead the visitor to question himself about (our) common urban future. At the center of the exhibition are three main themes that define the characteristics of Chinese urbanization: the fragment, as a specific feature of the contemporary city and its architecture; infrastructure, a key element of urban functioning; and the overcoming of the city/country dichotomy in favor of new forms of urbanization extended to overcome entities defined as stable.

The path of the exhibition unfolds along two logical sequences: the first one starts with the reconstruction of an exhibition hall, an iconic place typical of the Chinese new towns, where public administrations and construction companies stage the city to promote its lifestyle and successes, and arrives at global urbanization. The second sequence moves from empty and atonal spaces to people, to individuals filmed in their daily activities or in portraits “located” inside the new settlements. The two sequences intertwine continuously, gradually dismantling the reassuring concept of Chinese “exceptionality”: what appears exotic and distant from a superficial glance is much more familiar than we think. The new Chinese urbanization no longer appear as “other than us”: in the new towns of contemporary China daily life is made of the same small gestures that life is made of at every latitude and the people who perform them are no different from us in their behaviours, practices, desires.

 

Picture of an epochal change

China Goes Urban. The city to come

In 1978, 18% of the population in China lived in urban areas. Since then the number of inhabitants in cities has increased approximately 1% per annum and currently makes up 60% of the total population. New infrastructures and settlements have gradually modified the landscape, transformed property rights, swept away administrative boundaries, and “gobbled up” rural spaces and villages. The rapid, disruptive process of Chinese urbanisation unfolds before our eyes. Understanding it is not easy. Existing categories and models are useless. If we believe Chinese urbanisation to simply be an exaggeration and a flaw, we are effectively ignoring the fact it constitutes an epochal change, one which redefines roles and relationships not only from a geo-economic and geopolitical point of view, but also from the point of view of culture, imagination and possibilities. A change that the current pandemia makes ever more deep and hard. China Goes Urban proposes to change viewpoint, to look at reality rather than pigeonhole it in predefined categories and models. It is an invitation to explore the world by travelling through the city and architecture of today and tomorrow and circumnavigating the concept of city: although we all think we are familiar with and understand this seemingly simple concept, it shatters in the multiplicity of the contemporary urban. Tongzhou, Zhaoqing, Zhengdong e Lanzhou are the new towns where we start to explore and where the exhibition begins.

 

Two logical itineraries

The exhibition can be viewed following two logical itineraries

The first itinerary gradually deconstructs the idea that Chinese urbanisation is exceptional. Visitors are “welcomed” in an exhibition hall, one of the “urban materials” typical of the specificity of the new settlements in China in which developers and public administrations “stage” the city, either in order to market the new settlements, or to illustrate how local administrations have helped to achieve the objectives established by the central government, whether they be an increase in GDP, teaching modern urban living to those who move from the countryside to the city, or the pursuit of “modern” lifestyles by the emergent middle class. This point of departure reassures visitors who in the first hall find the diversity and exoticism normally associated with Chinese cities. A reassurance that we gradually chip away at by showing videos, images, and installations and providing explanations that make new Chinese urbanisations recognisable, and therefore more “familiar”. In fact, life in the new settlements is like any ordinary everyday life, made up of small gestures and movements (riding a bike, eating, working, walking…) – all activities everyone does all over the world.

The first itinerary also helps visitors understand the scale changes involved in “city making”: from the individual “urban material” to the ensemble of fragments that make up Chinese new towns, but also the hybrid spaces that are not yet city but no longer countryside and then, on a more broader scale, the network of relationships, flows, and exchanges that embrace the whole world. This is how urbanisation processes in China have become part of the economic and urban development model that has taken root over the centuries, a model with limits and contradictions that are particularly evident in the current period of uncertainty due to the current health emergency and its economic and social effects.

The second logical itinerary is conceptually the opposite. In this case the initial impact is confusing: the first spaces are empty, distant, and lifeless. Gradually, however, these spaces become more animated: the photographs and videos narrow the gap between the visitors and the persons portrayed, their faces, gestures and movements. So similar to our faces and movements.

 

Two objectives

The exhibition has two main objectives

The first is to dispute mainstream view that considers Chinese urbanisation as an “exception”. An interpretation that feeds on prejudice and “distance” (on other than self and elsewhere) and is extensively found in reports by international institutions and organisations and the press. To debunk this interpretation and contradict this perception, we formal alter the videos. Non-linear montage triggers a new focus in visitors; it invites them to pause, question, modify their perspective, and constantly change their viewpoint.

The second objective is to increase knowledge about the city and, as a result, about the world. In fact the exhibition has been designed so that visitors observe and question the urbanisation process underway in China, its positive features (e.g., rapid decrease in infant mortality rate and drastic reduction in the poverty rate) and negative features (e.g., increase in urban and regional inequality, ecological problems, the huge increase in the number of urban inhabitants, and the sprawling enlargement of settlements). Our goal is to give visitors the knowledge they need to understand the contemporary cities and urbanisation processes, in China and elsewhere.

The exhibition pursues these two objectives throughout the aforementioned logical itineraries, in brief using (i) photographs and videos which, by gradually zooming in on the spaces and persons, make the current transformation process “normal” and (ii) installations, data and infographics that deconstruct the Chinese exception by inserting it in the planetary urbanisation.

 

Four Topics

The main topics of China Goes Urban – urbanisation processes, urban fragments, infrastructure and urban/rural divide – drive visitors to explore Chinese urbanization and question the features of the contemporary city.

Urbanisation processes

The statistics and speed of urbanisation in China could be defined as ‘exceptional’ and ‘unprecedented’. The 2014 report on urban China by the World Bank is more than eloquent. Every year over 16 million people move to urban areas; between 1980 and 2010 the number of inhabitants in cities, especially big cities, increased by 500 million units; another 300 million people living in rural areas will relocate to urban areas before 2025.

In the early twentieth century the rate of Chinese urbanisation, i.e., the percentage of the urban population compared to the total population, was barely 10 per cent. This figure remained modest until 1978 when Deng Xiaoping began to implement economic reforms. Since then the rate of urbanisation has increased rapidly and is currently almost 60 per cent. In a little over 40 years this rapid transformation has radically changed China from a rural country to a country that is the symbol of so-called megacities, i.e., cities with over 10 million inhabitants; from a poor, backward country to one of the key players in current global economics dynamics.

These concise statistics tell us that the numbers involved in the current urbanisation process in China are staggering, as is the relentless development of infrastructures and settlements. The physical expansion is so violent and pervasive that in his book published in 2009 Jianfei Zhu wrote that China is currently the biggest worksite in the world.

And yet the fact Chinese urbanisation is exceptional, albeit exceptional in absolute terms, is much less exceptional if we put it into perspective, if we look at it carefully and try and disassemble and reassemble what lies behind the numbers and figures. In China everything is bigger, but if we change our lenses we still see the same things. The advent of the so-called ‘Urban Age’ in a country with 1.4 billion people defies categories and certainties; it requires us to shift our gaze, to change our viewpoint, to go backwards and forwards in time and space, to focus on China but also to look beyond China. For example, the urbanisation rate in Europe is approximately 75 per cent, while in the United States the percentage of the urban population is 82 per cent. These figures were recorded in the twentieth century, in particular during the period of intense economic growth in the second half of that century. Not surprisingly the trend was described by Eric J. Hobsbawm in his book The Short Century as ‘extraordinary economic growth and social transformation which probably modified human society more profoundly than any other similarly short period’.

If the relationship between economic growth and urban development is one of the constants of urban history worldwide, this relationship is also busily at work in China. Since 1978 pro-capite GDP has risen by roughly 10 per cent per annum; the increase in China’s GDP always remains decidedly above the global average, even in recent years when slow growth became the ‘new normal’. In addition, economic growth and urbanisation sparked changes in the lives of many people: they caused a decisive drop in infant mortality and an increase in the population living in houses with facilities such as a drinking water network, multiple household appliances, and private transportation.

However, Chinese urbanisation is not without its problems and contradictions. While the environmental issue cannot be ascribed (or even less attributed solely) to on-going changes in China, the building boom — not only in the megacities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, but also in other cities different in size and political role — is scarring the country with railways, dams, bridges, motorways, gated communities, skyscrapers, and shopping malls, like a dystopian nightmare in an imaginary land very similar to that of Blade Runner. On a macro-regional scale, the age-old gap between eastern seaboard settlements (that have grown to incorporate some of the most populous and economically dynamic cities on the planet including Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen) and those in the western part of the country (with some of the poorest provinces in China) has gradually widened even further. At local level the traditional distinctions between urban and rural have intensified and changed vis-à-vis institutional organisation, land ownership, and the living conditions of the population. Even in cities, the differences between the urban population de jure and the urban population de facto, triggered by the 1958 registration system of the population, has led to a sharp increase in inequalities and divisions within urban spaces.

Urban fragments

‘Urban park around a lake, a railway station for high-speed trains as a way to trigger urban expansion, a housing complex for the up and coming middle class, an industrial cluster, a cultural centre, an urban village inhabited by migrants, a museum designed by archistars’. At

the first glance, Chinese new towns could ostensibly be described as a long list of heterogeneous and discontinuous urban materials. Like Borges’ taxonomies in the first few pages of The Order of Things, it would appear that the only place where they can meet lies in the voice that pronounces them, in the pages that transcribe them, or in the space of this exhibition where they are represented. Chinese new towns can be considered as cities of fragments, as close-knit spaces and moments, without a clearly defined relationship; an ensemble that cannot be inscribed within just one description or interpretative hypothesis.

However, this intrinsic idea of fragmentation is not typical of Chinese new towns. Fragments do not make these new Chinese settlements special, exceptional or unique. On the contrary, in an apparent paradox, fragmentation helps us understand Chinese cities in the ‘city’, and in the discourse about the city. As far back as the early twentieth century scholars at the School of Chicago described the city as a mosaic: every fragment was considered a tessera which, when placed with others, would spark an urbanity that was as extraordinary as it was variegated. However not until recently was it possible to overcome the nostalgia and dangerous twentieth-century illusions of recomposing in a unicum what was not a unicum. In the wake of these observations, over twenty years ago the architect and critic Oswald Mathias Ungers pointed out how contemporary cities could not be treated as unique and unitary entities. More than ever before, cities were never, and are never, just one place, but multiple places. This vision contrasts radically with the dictates of part of the discourse of architecture and urban planning which, inspired by the idea of a city as an art object, or the idea of an alleged authenticity of the past lost in the transition to an industrial city, has often considered cities in terms of units, continuity and system. Michel Foucault’s ‘heterotopia’ reminds us of the discontinuity of urban space, its multiplicities and pluralities in which physical proximity is not synonymous with morphological, economic and social proximity.

After all, Chinese new towns prove that to observe the contemporary city we must confront the vastness and dilation of its boundaries, and the fact we are unable to identify its increasingly blurred limits. We’re not talking here of a change of scale, but of the size of the parts that make up the urban fabric that dilates exponentially until it turns these monads into microcosms. Planning and building cities in big blocks first started in the United States and reached its peak in the construction of Asian cities. After this people shifted their attention towards what George Baird defined a form of inward-looking urbanism where streets could be considered as waste spaces or merely tracks employed to accommodate different transportation modes. Recent residential developments in Chinese new towns are a case in point: although often externally gated, inside they contain not only multiple places and functions to satisfy the needs of urban communities, but also all major public buildings. One excellent example is the brand new museum in Changjiang, designed by the Vector Architects studio. Externally it is an imposing, closed and compact mass, while inside its spaces vary like those of a small city.

Finally, although authors like the architectural critic Colin Rowe have taken the time to try and find a way to confront the fragments and rearrange them into a unitary image, their attempts have been unsuccessful. This exhibition illustrates many different kinds of urban materials; it accepts their contradictions and reveals new spatial forms and social practices. Accepting the fragment does not mean resigning oneself to a sort of ‘end to the city’, instead it means studying a picture where the main aspects and facets of urbanity are internalised in each single part; it means studying the relationships dynamically established between places. Because, deep down, however different these urban materials are, they assume a meaning that always differs if they are considered as parts of a continuously evolving system.

Urban Infrastructures

A traveller in China will probably use his eyes, as well its camera, to linger, absorb and record big infrastructures such as viaducts, airports, railway stations and train tracks — transportation networks that snake across the vast lands of China where the most important transformation processes are taking place. These bulky objects are not just signs, visible physical footprints resting on a territory in continuous transformation, instead they represent the materialisation of the virtual network of exchanges, flows and interactions that accompanies, guides, directs and enables multiscalar processes of urbanisation and territorial rearrangement. Take the new high speed railway, for example. In the last ten years 29,000 kilometres of railway track have been laid, undoubtedly facilitating the political objective specified in the 2006 and 2011 Five Year Plans to link the inland areas of China which up until a few years ago were partially excluded from rapid urbanisation processes. This huge infrastructure plan affects both national scale and individual localities. At the local level, the pros and cons of these large-scale infrastructure initiatives have polarised the expansion of cities and established more or less strict boundaries between the lots earmarked for urban development and the land that was to remain agricultural.

Urban infrastructures are not just transport infrastructures, not just the very flashy, enormous, some would say ‘disfiguring’ infrastructures we see turn into bridges, viaducts and railways. The term infrastructure also includes a hidden sub-strata of the city that Bruno Latour and Emilie Hermant dubbed ‘ville invisible’: an underground network of pipes, cables, ducts and so forth, that sometimes break through the surface of spaces, enter houses, and reduce the boundaries between public and private. They become what Matthew Gandy defined as ‘interconnected systems’ supporting human life. Although this ‘vast underground kingdom of urban services’ — thus defined by Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift — is often kept as concealed as possible, it is imbued with a strong symbolic value especially in new urbanisation areas where infrastructural engineering works are displayed, exhibited and enhanced to attract investors and encourage the realization of any form of innovation, wellbeing and modernity. In the twenty-first century, however, other kinds of equally invisible, lightweight and immaterial infrastructures are being developed. Another sub-strata of urban growth, not only in China, but the world over. In fact urban infrastructures currently include all the satellite systems, communications networks, sensors and microwaves that use the object-symbols of our age as their hub: smartphones. China is emblematic in this regard. 90 per cent of users in China use a smartphone to access the internet and navigate in WeChat, the famous Chinese application that last year registered 1.2 billion accounts, making it a fundamental digital infrastructure to not only remotely connect to one’s contact list, but also to perform key financial transactions, access augmented reality contents, and perform many other functions that facilitate everyday life in our cities, from paying a taxi to booking a showing at the cinema or a table at a restaurant.

All the infrastructures that breathe life into new towns in China, or in all the other urbanised areas of the world, are not just technological, material and digital objects and devices. They are also, and above all, political, economic and social structures. Take for example the legislative and financial infrastructure that makes it possible to establish and promote many of the new urban areas in China as ‘special zones’, the famous Special Economic Zones that facilitated the market economy of the 1980s, or the new special development areas that are part of the ambitious twenty-first century ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. Obviously these special zones were not invented in China and their geography goes well beyond China. Data provided by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisations (UNIDO) show that rapid growth in the ‘special zones’ began in the 1970s. So much so that these areas — characterised by strong investment incentives, availability of a low-cost workforce, very little protection of workers’ rights and safeguard of the environment — became the norm recommended by international organisations and institutions to promote development in the Global South. A typically Chinese example is the political and social infrastructure of the hukou, the famous system of household registration classifying every individual based on a series of parameters assigned to him or her at birth. While the relationships between the city and the countryside are increasingly blurred and nuanced from a physical and settlement point of view, the hukou still provides a clear distinction between what, or perhaps better still who, is ‘urban’ and who is ‘rural’. Hukou system seems to be a good example of Keller Easterling’ statement, i.e. the infrastructure as the ensemble of ‘rules governing the space of everyday life’.

Infrastructures are either very visible or hidden, material or immaterial, physical or virtual. They are not however exclusively technical, but rather a composite ensemble of technique, society and politics. Infrastructures are the basis of urbanity even if we sometimes take them for granted and only realise the role they play in our lives when they are unavailable, do not function, or do not satisfy our needs. As stated by Fran Tonkiss, without them we could not talk about the city.

Urban and Rural/Rural and Urban

The city and the countryside. It would appear easy to identify them and understand where the city ends and the countryside begins. The city is lights, skyscrapers, roads, traffic, teeming with people… the countryside is farmers, tractors, sown fields, and a rarefied and suspended atmosphere.

The relationship between the city and the countryside is one of the most debated topics in urban studies and, at the same time, one of the topics least suited to simple, dichotomous interpretations. It is often considered as a juxtaposition between two worlds, urban and rural, inevitably in conflict. An uneven or unequal relationship, because the city ‘‘wins’ over the countryside. The city is the ‘monster’ devouring all that is authentic and real in the countryside — from forms of living to the creation of lifestyles.

The roots of this perspective are to be found in western thought, one that continues to fuel a nostalgic, regressive image towards an alleged lost past and towards a presumed ‘naturalness’ of the countryside, juxtaposed against the totally artificial urban environment. Almost as if the city were still surrounded by walls and the countryside was still characterised by a farmer with a hoe over his shoulder whistling his way on foot to tend to his kitchen garden. A perspective that denies the evidence, as clear-cut as it is disturbing, that even we, as human beings, are natural beings, and that we are the most infesting beings on the planet. Far worse than weeds, locusts, viruses and bacteria. When Mike Davis examined the ‘city of quartz’ in the California desert, with ill-disguised irony he wrote that we are infesting beings running God knows where, sheathed in our ridiculous runner outfits and watched by baffled pumas.

In China, city and countryside, urban areas and rural areas, have undoubtedly very little to do with the forms and characteristics of settlements. City and countryside, urban areas and rural areas are first and foremost categories established by the State that decides what, legislatively speaking, is urban and what is rural: there are two land regimes (urban land is public property; rural land is collective property) and two categories of citizens (according to the so-called hukou which since 1958 has divided Chinese individuals into urban or rural citizens). However this regulatory ‘pigeonholing’ does not help us understand what we see; it doesn’t help us understand whether there truly is a distinction between city and countryside, between urban and rural areas.

The small villas and small squares in the new towns built along the Yellow River in Henan Province are ill-suited for tractors or threshing floors to dry corn. ‘Urban villages’ are expanses of countryside literally surrounded by skyscrapers, Central Business Districts, motorways and high speed train stations. We can instantly understand there is no separation between the urban and rural area by observing the city of Zhengzhou and its linear urbanisation towards Kaifeng, the sprawling urbanisation of Beijing or in the Pearl River Delta. Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift wrote that the city is everywhere and in everything. These cities/non-cities and these countrysides/non-countrysides, whether in China or elsewhere, seem to be increasingly chameleonic. According to Ananya Roy, urban chameleons either hide or camouflage themselves, advance and withdraw, appear where you least expect them.

Perhaps it is only in our minds that the division between city and countryside, urban areas and rural areas, is clear-cut. But it is a distinction that shatters as soon as we try and look at reality. Any reality. For example the ‘urban sprawl’ in the high plains at the foot of the Lombardy hills or the linear urbanisation along Via Emilia… Because even in Italy, the country of the ‘one hundred cities’ and ‘small metropolises’, the dividing line between city and countryside, urban areas and rural areas, is increasingly blurred.

Suburbia lies between the city and the countryside: that seemingly endless expansion of small villas and warehouses, intersecting motorways connecting shopping malls, productive activities and residential compounds. The sprawl, the image of a city that ‘stretches’ over or in the countryside, that covers it, snaking like a ‘tentacled being’ and spreading like wildfire. Are we surprised? Do we long for a clear-cut, distinct separation between city and countryside, between rural areas and urban areas? And what is suburbia if not a little mix of everything, an indigestible combination often considered as proof that trying to regulate space is destined to fail? Are we sure we need to delimit, to establish limits and boundaries, or is this a vice, a vice of our minds accustomed to pigeon-holing the world so that we don’t lose ourselves in its complexity? Establishing boundaries means cataloguing and distinguishing. It involves applying Michael Foucault’s disciplinary power in which programmed division and delimitation allows us to assign a clear, precise and pre-established role to every small piece of space, and to every individual within that space. In the words of Georges Canguilhem, whoever tries to escape those roles, or whatever cannot be contained in this predefined delimitation, is pathological. Notwithstanding, urban life is hidden in the relationship between city and countryside, and in the obviously increasing difficulty, not to say impossibility, of distinguishing and separating. And the life wins over any diagram of power, any attempt at delimitation, and any apparent pathology or normality.

As far back as 1921 Max Weber told us that to understand anything about the city we needed to look beyond the city. Weber studied medieval European urbanism to define the characteristics of the city during his age. One of the many beautiful and important things he wrote in 1921 was that to understand the city we must look beyond the city, towards the countryside, because the city and the countryside are indissolubly linked. And this indissolubility is perhaps what makes us backtrack and think that maybe there is no need to pigeon-hole, but instead study relationships, understand where people sleep and work, and comprehend where everyday objects come from. The lithium batteries that power our computers, tablets and smartphones, the food we eat, the clothes we wear: what is their story? What geographies do they convey? Certainly not geographies of distinctions, but geographies of intersections and superimpositions, exchanges and flows. Follow the things: by following things we realise that if in the Middle Ages the hinterland of a city was the immediate countryside around a city, it has gradually grown and potentially includes the whole world. City and hinterland are a single entity; not two opposing entities but part of an ‘urban situation’ that has gradually grown to include, in the words of Neil Brenner, the whole planet.

 

Program of events

THE EXHIBITION

While in 1978 only 18 per cent of the population in China lived in urban areas, currently the number of inhabitants in cities makes up 60 per cent of the total population. Urban areas have profoundly changed and quickly extended. Through photos, videos, installations, drawings, models, maps and infographics, China Goes Urban. The City to Come guides the visitor on a journey of discovery of the contemporary Chinese city, connecting it with the planetary urbanization. The exhibition dismantles the alleged uniqueness of Chinese urbanisation, indicating to what extent today changes in China are not foreign to us and our existence in the world.

WALKS AROUND THE EXHIBITION
Talks in the museum’s halls, conducted by Claudio Jampaglia.

Saturday 24 October 2020 at 3 pm | Leggere la città: da vicino, da lontano
with Alessandro Amaducci, Università di Torino, and Samuele Pellecchia, curator of the exhibition

Saturday 31 October 2020 at 3 pm | Il potere dell’infrastruttura
with Giorgio Cuscito, Limes, and Francesca Governa, curator of the exhibition

Saturday 7 November 2020 at 3 pm | Il sogno urbano
with Daniele Brombal, Università Cà Foscari, and Michele Bonino, curator of the exhibition

Saturday 14 November 2020 at 3 pm | Materiali urbani e progetti di città
with Augusto Cagnardi, Gregotti Associati International, and Laura Lieto, Università di Napoli Federico II. Event in collaboration with Biennale Tecnologia

LESSONS ON CITIES AND INNOVATION
Observations on China and the world, in the words of scholars from the Politecnico.

Thursday 19 November 2020 at 5 pm | Lezione di apertura
with Plinio Innocenzi, Università di Sassari, and Roberto Pagani, Politecnico di Torino and Scientific Attaché of the Italian Consulate General in Shanghai

Thursday 3 December 2020 at 5 pm | Ripensare il villaggio tradizionale cinese
with Carla Bartolozzi, Politecnico di Torino, and Du Qian, Shanghai Jiaotong University

Wednesday 9 December 2020 at 5 pm | Il progresso dell’industria delle costruzioni in Cina
with Bruno Briseghella, Fuzhou University, Giuseppe Carlo Marano, Politecnico di Torino, and Camillo Nuti, Università Roma Tre

Thursday 17 December 2020 at 5 pm | Towards Socially Integrative Cities
with Francesca Frassoldati, Politecnico di Torino, and the authors of the new book on sustainable cities in Europe and China (event in English)

Thursday 7 January 2021 at 5 pm | Un’idea orientale di postmodernismo
with Antonio di Campli, Politecnico di Torino

DOUBLE INTERVIEWS
Dialogues and points of view on the places of Chinese urbanization.

Thursday 14 January 2021 at 6 pm | Il modello Inner Mongolia: notizie dal fronte settentrionale
with Steve Bisson, Paris College of Art, and Alessandro Zanoni, art director and photographer

Thursday 21 January 2021 at 6 pm | New Districts and Beautified Villages in Urban China
with Gary Hack, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Tim Oakes, University of Colorado Boulder (event in English)

Thursday 28 January 2021 at 3 pm | Displaying the City
with Ole Bouman, Design Society Shenzhen, and Beatrice Leanza, MAAT Lisbon (event in English)

SPECIAL EVENTS

Wednesday 11 November 2020 from 2.30 pm to 7 pm | China Goes Urban – The City to Come
International seminar with prominent experts in the fields of urban studies, architecture and urban planning.
Speakers: Ash Amin, University of Cambridge, Bian Lanchun, Tsinghua University, Ann Forsyth, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Liu Jian, Tsinghua University, Lu Andong, Nanjing University, Bernhard Müller, Technische Universität Dresden, Brent D. Ryan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michele Bonino and Francesca Governa, Politecnico di Torino
Event in collaboration with Biennale Tecnologia (in English)

Thursday 4 February 2021 at 6 pm | Closing conference
Stefania Stafutti, Università di Torino, in conversation with the curators

 

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