Across the city, renovations and revamps are all the rage. District competes with district to renew and protect the remains of times gone by, all the while pushing Shanghai into a brighter, more beautiful future, with art everywhere.
Innovation incubators, co-working spaces, pocket parks and preservation areas are springing up all over town.
Since the M50 Art Park was created at the turn of the millennium, over 150 galleries and art institutes have chosen to make the it their home.
On Moganshan Road in Putuo District, M50 was one of the first and most notable cases of industrial heritage being given new life as a cultural agglomeration. The site covering 24,000 square meters along Suzhou Creek contains 50 buildings that were once home to the New China Textile Co, an iconic enterprise of the city’s industrial development. It is one of the best preserved industrial sites downtown.
Now in its late teens, if the park is to retain it its status at the forefront of city culture, it too needs a revamp.
New street art on walls, corridors, street corners and parking spaces is set to reignite citizens’ enthusiasm for the location and call new attention to the history of the site.
Liu Yi, a professor with Shanghai institute of visual art and curator of the project, understands how the history of the textile company must remain central to objectives of M50.
“We want visitors not only enjoy the art here, but also to understand the history behind the heritage,” he said.
Park operators are ambitious to establish a “Life Aesthetics” brand, attracting more ordinary residents to the park.
In September, artists and students with the institute and with Shanghai art & design academy were invited to create new embellishments to the historical ambiance of the park taking full regard of vital historical elements in their work, said Liu. The results of these endeavors are now lurking, waiting to be discovered, all over the park.
On a water tower, Wang Hongyi, another professor at the institute, painted a group of giggling workers and a single child. The painting is an attempt to express to passers-by the happiness of the workers, as well as offering a glimpse into working conditions at the factory, Liu said.
Xu Shenchao, one of Liu’s students, painted a colorful cat playing with balls of twine outside a factory building. “On my many visits to the park, I saw many feral cats, especially at night. I think they are an indispensable part of the space, perhaps the true inheritors of this heritage,” Xu said.
“Crossroad” depicts an Indian traffic policeman, once a common site in the city, standing on a street corner. The names of the factory buildings are clearly visible.
In another work, a rusty old iron gate has become a enamel cup, much like those typically used by workers at the factory.
The new art is already popular among visitors. Many of the works clearly invite selfies, and there were many young visitors posing in front of them yesterday despite of the bitter January cold.
“It is a great place that has both heritage and art. I don’t think we have any similar place like this in Germany,” said Heinz-Wilhblm Bruns, a traveler from Berlin.
Swaantje Kaiser, a visiting violinist with a German orchestra, said, “It is important, even essential, for a big city like Shanghai to have such places.”