VENUS LAU You’ve visited Shenzhen twice for this show—first in March 2016, then again in November. The first spot you visited was Window of the World, a theme park at Overseas Chinese Town in Shenzhen which features vivid replicas of the world’s wonders and historical heritages. Did you already know about it before you came?
SIMON DENNY I had heard about it, but only in the vaguest terms. I knew that it had miniatures of different buildings from around the world. I’d also heard that it had a relationship to the opening up of China to capitalism—that it was a sort of metaphor for its entering free markets when Shenzhen was declared the first Special Economic Zone. I remember a quote about Shenzhen: “Technology, knowledge and a window to the external world.”
VL You’re right. When the park opened in 1994, China was in the early stages of “Reform and Opening Up,” an economic push led by Deng Xiaoping as the government began to shift from socialism to a capitalism with “Chinese characteristics.” The economic change gave rise to local tourism, as more and more people could afford traveling, but going to foreign countries was still not an easy thing. The Window of the World is a theme park comprised of miniature cultural landmarks from more than twenty countries, from the Eiffel Tower to the White House. It’s where the world opens up to the Chinese people on their homeland. The park presents a world view from above, a vision that it is there but not there, like a transcendental being looking at the world from above—not a drone-based God’s gaze, but rather the perspective of an angel, just a bit further off ground than the mortals. It’s similar to the view of a customer looking down at the productions from the glass vitrines at Huaqiangbei, „a major electronics manufacturing hub and sprawling electronics marketplace“ in Shenzhen. How do you compare the theme park and the vitrines, two of the major imageries of your show?
SD To me, they act as cultural windows for trying to understand and interact with globalism: the theme park is literally a visualization of foreign places, and Huaqiangbei is a meeting place for global entrepreneurs. For me, the counters where all trade is done in Huaqiangbei seemed like monuments to the triumph of inventiveness: the promise of innovation, of global trade, of access to global markets for the small business owner. For everyone I talked to in Shenzhen—from people that worked in electronics factories, to people creating the sculptures for theme parks, to shop owners in Huaqiangbei, to Western entrepreneurs participating in accelerator programs in Shenzhen—the markets at Huaqiangbei had a special symbolic significance. They represented the triumph of small, global, niche electronic businesses—and the promise of a true meritocracy in technology—in a way that Silicon Valley is not able to provide. So there are these connections to the global in each place. They are frames for understanding and experiencing the world, for people within China as well as visitors to China. Everyone that comes to Shenzhen is a Shenzhener.