This fall, the Museum of Contemporary Art
(MCA), Chicago, presents Urban China: Informal Cities, an exhibition that draws parallels between how cities across the globe, from Chinese cities to Chicago, grow and transform. This retrospective of the only magazine devoted to issues of urbanism published in China, marks Urban Chinas first U.S. commission. With its unique multidisciplinary inquiry into the rapid state of change in China -- employing diagrams, photographs, texts, and archive of artifacts and images -- Urban China has become a databank recording the fastest urbanization in history. Utilizing a network of correspondents and collaborators around the world, Urban China has become a research network, think tank, documentary archive, and tool for artistic production and urban activism.
For the interactive Chicago presentation, the magazine's visionary language of display explodes out from the pages onto the walls, with space available for the public to comment on the issues presented. Comprised of an interactive image database; massively scaled interactive wall graphics; a suite of scavenged readily remade objects; a re-creation of ad hoc refugee housing; and a retrospective of past magazines, the installation fuses interrelated elements to better understand common issues between Chinese cities, Chicago, and cities across the globe. The wall graphic includes Urban China magazine's Editor-in-Chief Jiang Juns research of historical and contemporary urbanization in China, Chicagos Mas Studios Iker Gils history of the urbanization of Chicago, and texts from experimental architect Kyong Park, and director of New Yorks Skyscraper Museums Carol Willis. The presentation highlights the dynamics of urbanism as metropolitan cities adapt to multiple influences, including re-urbanism and informal transformation. Also included are objects and remnants of American manufacturing in China, which suggests how informalism can be used as a strategy for individuals.
Urban China uses informalism as a catchall term that combines notions of the informal, or underground economy, with popular vernacular modes of remaking objects, buildings, and lives. The idea of the informal plays against the rigorous order with which Chinese cities have historically been planned and policed, as well as US cities which historically have been planned such as Daniel Burnhams "Plan of Chicago." It also refers ideas, places, and objects, which are repurposed from their intended use, such as a basketball made in a factory in China used as an ad-hoc water bucket. By understanding and strategically utilizing informal systems -- spatial, economic, and utilitarian -- Urban China proposes that individuals can harness informalism to reconfigure or strategically subvert the highly structured nature of urban spaces.
By looking at how cities can and have transformed, Urban China is engaged in making what is often perceived as invisible, visible. The exhibition provides an analysis of Chicagos and urban Chinas growth through history to highlight the similarities within the differences of all cities. The exhibition also offers space in the gallery for discussion where people can respond to questions about urbanization, informalism, and collectivism. With half of the worlds population living in urban areas, Urban China aims to offer processes and interpretative strategies to better understand China and Chicagos socio-political conditions, and ways for individuals and groups to have more direct agency upon where and how they live in the global world.
Urban China magazine, founded in 2005, has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, and under the guidance of its Editor-in-Chief Jiang Jun, has received accolades from around the world. Jiang Jun (b. 1974, Hubei, China) is a designer, editor, and critic and has been the Editor-in-Chief since 2005. His work had been presented in numerous exhibitions, including Get It Louder (2007), the Guangdong Triennial (2005), and the Shenzhen Biennials (2005 and 2007), among others. Jun has lectured at universities around the world, and is now on the faculty of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Guangzhou, China.