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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Climate Change: Unsinkable Shanghai

Climate Change: Unsinkable Shanghai

By 2050, much of central Shanghai will be submerged. By 2116, the city's contours will be unrecognizable. This is the genesis of the Shanghai Project, a collaboration of science and art whose second installation, Seeds of Time, focuses on climate change in China's boomtown — a timely reminder of a disturbing prospect.

The project, described as an ideas platform focusing on near-future sustainability, was kick-started in 2016 by the Shanghai Himalayas Museum; Seeds of Time is curated by the museum's executive director, Yongwoo Lee, with Hans Ulbrich Obrist of London's Serpentine Galleries. There is a utopian cast to the wide-ranging research on show, comprising live events, artworks, workshops and publications that collectively imagine a future Shanghai of harmonious coexistence between nature and humanity — a condition known in Chinese as “home garden” or “peach blossom spring”. China has, after all, unique traditions centred on this relationship and stretching back thousands of years.

Yet this is a project that vaults far beyond the local. Joining Chinese artists and scholars including Huang Rui, Qiu Zhijie, Qiu Anxiong and Kaimei Wang are the likes of US physicist Peter Galison and French social philosopher Bruno Latour (lecturing on how we might “reset modernity”). Experiments in how Western thinkers might be inspired by geographic otherness are just part of the cultural interplay in Seeds of Time.

In Route of the Future, artist Qiu Anxiong (perhaps best known for his animated 'woodblock-print' bestiary New Classic of Mountains and Seas; 2006) offers visitors a guided tour through the future city by bus. Science-fiction writer Ken Liu provides the script: a 48-hour itinerary for visiting the drowned metropolis of 2116. Satirizing lifestyle-trend pieces, Liu's text breathlessly describes the nightlife and cuisine for post-apocalyptic tourists, and portrays central Shanghai as a realm in which the elite inhabit underwater bubbles, while much of the population has moved to suburbs. Its optimistic vision of climate adaptation echoes Kim Stanley Robinson's sci-fi novel New York 2140 (Orbit, 2017).

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