No Construction Without Destruction, 2007
A series of photographs and a found object on the persistence of memory
A demolished site in the heart of Shanghai is not an extraordinary view. During the constant city expansion, millions of people have been forcefully dislocated and moved at least once during their lives.
Chairman Mao once said that there is no construction without destruction. In China, many streets and alleys that were home, many buildings that were familiar landmarks in mental maps, many street markets that were meeting places – so many triggers of memories – have been bulldozed and replaced by boulevards, covered markets and plazas. Cities have been built in and out of the rubble of buildings.
Today, in this site, there are still people living here: they might well be nail households , or people that are refusing to move from the grounds, while trying to negotiate a better deal. Life is not easy for them. Other than their living conditions, the complete devastation around their makeshift house, serves as a stark reminder of the enormous power of economic forces at play in the game of urbanisation.
In the evenly bulldozed rubble, I find relief in the texture of small wooden terminals that used to decorate the traditional Chinese houses that once upon a time were here. These parts seem handmade. I take them as a statement of craftsmanship: the work of the artisan that is never wasted. They are like a message in a bottle, continuing its life in the foundations of the skyscraper that is going to be built on these very same grounds.
A deck of scattered cards on the ground offers a solution, an imaginary map to move through the site: an attempt to recompose an impossible puzzle. I can hear the loud chatter of friends and neighbours while playing cards; I can still see their faces cheering up after a good point.
Demolition is a coarse mechanical process, unable to compete with human refinement. Memory cannot be erased. The permanence of human life goes well beyond the surface of the ground visible today in our cities.