Gallery/fair/shows are retail arenas for art. They operate in different tiers to support the art world superstructure but which one earns the big bucks? What should they look like? How does one design heritage?

An art space built on top of the Rural Commercial Bank is so direct that it left me speechless in the mall-like car park.

If it succeeds, let’s make it bigger! Newer residential places are given up to bank on the sudden influx of artistic interests. Dafen is now a brand, offering art tutoring classes, painting materials, crafts workshops and even buyers’ schools.

Unsatisfied with the industrial appearance of existing buildings, many new investors tear out other services to stamp their own opinion of artistic architecture for the 21st Century painting village.

The perplexing thing is, it doesn’t look like a typical village. Dafen, along with the rest of Shenzhen, is less than 20 years old. It’s original buildings are concrete modern high rises. Tourists are often confused by the surroundings against the expectations of a stereotypical nostalgic tranquility in the term “artists’ village”.

Old building materials and antiques are scattered across the back alley ways of major museums. Antiquity is the new modernism. Pockets of a history that never existed mushroom in Dafen’s cultural hotspots, constructing a heritage that is integral to authority and filling in the gaps for a smooth touristic experience. In the blink of an eye, you might see the Poundbury of China.

This is one of these rare occasions where commerce and cultural exchange has made a village look back into phantom history. The shift in time is also geographic, Northern Chinese rather than Southern traditional architecture. Heritage faces a capital complexity, it seems that the more we try to remember the more we forget.

Written by Lisa Ma

Lisa Ma socializes activism. Combining ethnographic research and speculative design, Lisa creates platforms of engagement from surprising insights and processes that deeply resonate with the global technological community. The emergence of clicktivism – to protest at the click of a mouse – is trivializing activism. Lisa argues that although activism doesn’t necessarily benefit from technology, we need to evolve how activism contributes to technological societies. To illustrate this, she designs dilemmas and creates social events that are perceived as activism but function as services.


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