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September 21, 2009

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A current affair

A vintage electric machinery plant is crackling with current ideas as the city's newest creative park, 800 Show. It throws open its doors for a two-week-only contemporary art show. Nancy Zhang shares the buzz.

Shanghai has more than 300 creative parks and hubs, most of them in vintage factories, and the latest is 800 Show, a high-end extravaganza in a sprawling old electrical machinery plant in Jing'an District.

Before the high-end design and other tenants move in to the sprawling compound - it covers 20,000 square meters - a free public art show is welcoming visitors in a huge 4,200-square-meter space, its spectacular main hall.

The entire renovation is visually stunning. The art space itself is one any gallery would envy, so enjoy it now.

The address is 800 Changde Road, hence, the name.

The show "Rebirth" that opened on September 11 will run through the end of this month.

In many commercial parks, the creative company work goes on largely behind closed doors and the public doesn't see a lot. Other creative spaces, such as 1933 on Shajing Road in Hongkou District and Bridge 8 on Fuxing Road W., house smaller businesses, galleries, studios, open spaces, stages and other places where the public can visit.

When it officially opens for business in October, 800 Show will house high-end creative companies in art, design, advertising, film, fashion, architecture, music, IT, and other fields.

The exhibition "Rebirth" features 13 young Chinese contemporary artists working in many media, plus installation and performance art.

The title signifies both the rebirth of Chinese contemporary art and the rebirth of the factory buildings, some dating back 70 years.

"We wanted to find a common ground between architecture and art," says Curator Zhang Bing.

"The exhibition explores the concept of 'value' as in the changing value of historic buildings and the changing value of art. This is especially relevant today as Chinese contemporary art has gone through a period of over-valuation, and young artists are trying again to find the real value in art," Zhang says.

Highlights include Hu Jieming's installation "Altitude Zero" that invites spectators to look through a ship's porthole, half below the waterline of what is supposed to be the Huangpu River. Drifting by are flotsam and jetsam that once were valuable - posters, shoes and household items.

Another installation is Shi Jinsong's "Peach Blossom Prose." Uprooting a peach tree from northern China, Shi plucked off all the peach blossoms, stripped off the bark, set it on fire and brought the charred tree to Shanghai.

Here it was "reborn" as an "ornamental" rack on which to hang pieces of jewelry and trinkets from the artist's friends. Visitors are invited to bring their own decorations for the tree.

Interaction with art and architecture are major themes. "We wanted to bring people back into the buildings," says Frank Kruger, creative director of Logon, the architectural firm behind 800 Show renovations.

"Both architecture and art are created by people for people, and without an audience both would be meaningless," he adds. "The renovation aimed to bring life back into the old buildings, and history back to the life of the city. It helps retain the identity of the city."

After this exhibition, 800 Show will host the annual Creative Industries Week on October 15-21. Every year the event is hosted in a new creative park and the grand openings have been held in the parks.

The main hall of 800 Show has been rented by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in Shanghai for cultural programs as part of their World Expo 2010 offering.

Hidden away behind residential buildings, the old factories were until now unknown to most Shanghai citizens.

The main buildings used to be the Shanghai People's Electric Machinery Plant, including 15 buildings of various sizes, styles and age. The factory dates back to the 1920s, but before that time it had been a private villa.

Buildings blocking the compound's access to Changde Road were demolished to welcome people into this previously inaccessible space. The size of the project and different buildings posed a challenge for Kruger's team, which spent two years on renovation.

Using as light a touch as possible, Kruger sought to retain the old facades, just as "the wrinkles on an old man's face tell his life story."

Water fountains in quiet plazas dot the compound, representing "life in traditional Chinese culture," says Kruger.

The creative center is a sign that the Jing'an District government is trying to introduce more art and creativity into this predominantly commercial area.

Logon architects are old hands at creative parks. In addition to 800 Show, they designed the IIInshanghai Creative Park on Dingxi Road which houses their offices. They are working on four other creative parks around the city.

The emergence of creative hubs and parks marks a new level of urban development. Half a century ago, factories and industry drove the economy. That's why there are so many factories around, some in very central locations.

"Now there is a new economy and new industries occupying the old space," Kruger says, "and more recognition for their value."

"Rebirth" exhibition

Date: through September 30, 10am-6pm

Address: 800 Changde Rd


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