It has been only three weeks since my arrival in Shenzhen, but it already feels like ‘home’ and I am really thrilled about the idea of spending the coming few years in China working on the V&A Shekou project. It was also a wonderful coincidence – and hopefully an auspicious sign – to be able to spend my first day in Shenzhen (24 October) with my colleague Zhang Hongxing 张弘星who curated the pioneering exhibition ‘China Design Now’ in 2008 at the V&A. Several works by graphic designers from Shenzhen are now part of the museum’s collection. It was nice to meet with him the designer Bi Xuefeng 毕学峰and the senior curator Huang Zhicheng 黄治成from the Guanshanyue Museum.
As all foreigners moving to China I spent the first few weeks finalising all the paperwork needed for my long-term residency permit and the ‘Foreign Expert Certificate’ (外国专家证), both issued by the State Administration Foreign Experts Bureau (中国人民共和国国家外国专家部). On November 14 I official became a Shekou resident.
On my first day I was introduced to my colleagues in China Merchants Property Development (CMPD), the branch of China Merchants Group that is managing the Shekou project. Our offices are located on the 26th floor of the China Merchants Tower in Shekou, right next to the museum location. It is absolutely brilliant to be able to see the progress of the building work from the balconies of our floor. New staff members are asked to compile a form with key information about their education and professional experience that is forwarded to the whole company. An effective way of introducing everybody and make them feel welcomed.
Daily communication in CMPD, as in many other Chinese companies, is mainly done through messenger systems like QQ or though the ubiquitous ‘we chat’ (weixin 威信), while emails are mainly used for official or more complex conversations. I quickly catch up and open my own accounts on both platforms. The impact of digital technology onto Chinese society in the last few years cannot be underestimated. I soon realise that weixin is much more than a social network or a Chinese version of Facebook, What’s up and Twitter combined. It is an incredibly powerful new way of communicating and engaging with the world, including – crucially – its more practical daily aspects, from managing bank accounts, booking taxis and restaurants, and receiving updates or newsletters. It is not surprising that it’s advertising motto states: ‘weixin – a way of life’ (威信-一个生活方式). It could not be more appropriate.
The team working on the Shekou project is still small but already in full swing. Zhao Rong 赵容 , a graduate from CAFA and with a MA in Fine Arts from the University of Chicago, is the project manager and main liaison with the senior management of CMPD. She is supported by Wu Sichao 巫思超, a graduate in Design from Central St Martin in London, while other colleagues from HR and Finance are involved in more practical aspects of the project. As Head of the V&A Gallery in Shekou, my main role is to oversee our collaboration with CMPD in China, provide support to the development of the curatorial content, and build up a local network. We immediately start defining priorities and milestones for the weeks to come and we regularly meet to catch up on work progress and new developments. In the meantime, I am in touch with the London- based team through regular meetings on Skype. This system seems to work very well.
A few events took place in Shenzhen during my first week. On October 27, Zhao Rong and I were able to attend the workshop organised by the China Merchants Shekou Industrial Zone group on the redevelopment of the industrial zone that hosted the Biennale last December. After a few days (31 Oct – 2 Nov) we attended the Forum on creativity – ‘Créer Le Futur’ – taking place in Shekou to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sino-French diplomatic relationships. Jointly organised by the Shenzhen government and the Chinese National Commission of UNESCO, the Forum gathered some excellent French and Chinese speakers from the fields of Culture, Education, Sciences and Urban Planning and it was a great networking opportunity. It was a pleasure to see again Shan Jixiang 单霁翔, Director of the Palace Museum in Beijing, who gave an inspiring talk on strategies directed to give the general public and specialists wider access to the site and its collection.
Another important task of these last few weeks was the organisation of a two-week study trip in China (17-30 Nov) to be undertaken together with Brendan Cormier, Sunny Cheung and Zhao Rong. We are going to meet curator, academics, designers, architects and managers in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Guangzhou with the aim to get a better understanding of the design scene in China, share ideas, and explore the current state of Chinese museums devoted to design and contemporary art.
I am really looking forward to it and you will hear more about our trip very soon!