Hou Hanru and Hans Ulrich Obrist, 'Introduction'
In: Cities on the Move. Edited by Hou Hanru and Hans Ulrich Obrist. Ostfildern-Ruit: Hantje, 1997.
Economic, cultural and political life in Asia is shifting rapidly. Apart from the already established economic powers such as Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, new economic powers are being developed in China, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam and other countries. The most visible "peak" of this rapid development is the pace of construction in cities of different scale. Connected to this is the pervasive expansion and explosion of urban space and metropolitanization. A considerable number of new cities have emerged all over the Asian Pacific Region. Typical examples are China's "Special Economic Zones" such as Shenzhen, Zhuhai, and the Pudong Area of Shanghai. Thousands of high-rise buildings have been erected from grounds which were agricultural fields or abandoned land until a very recent past.
The urbanization and high speed construction in Asian cities are also a process of international exchange of architectural and urban planning ideas and practices between Asian and foreign professionals. Many internationally known architects are attracted by such a dynamic context, while Asian architects are increasingly exposed to international influences. This process of confrontation and exchange has generated some very innovative but also controversial models of architectural/urban conception and practice specific to the particular context of Asia. Rem Koolhaas observes on his research trips to China that "some architects can design a skyscraper in three days or four in Shenzhen". This proves to be a new system of speed and efficiency. Such spectacular transformations are also a process of re-negotiation between the established social structure and influences of foreign, especially Western, models of social structure, values and ways of living. A kind of mixture of liberal Capitalist market economy and Asian, post-totalitarian social control is being established as a new social order. Culture, in such a context, is by nature hybrid, impure and contradictory. According to Koolhaas the new urban growth is bringing about a kind of Cities of Exacerbated Difference (COED), which "is not the methodical creation of the ideal, but the opportunistic exploitation of flukes, accidents and imperfections". Such a process of urban transformation inevitably causes contradictions, con-testation, chaos and even violence. It lays bare a fundamental paradox behind the pragmatic conviction, which believes in the co-operation between Asian lifestyles and social orders and a globalising liberal consumer economy. Meanwhile, this incarnates perfectly the image of the post-colonial and post totalitarian modernization in the region and in our world today: the impulsive and almost fanatical pursuit of economic and monetary power becomes the ultimate goal of development. But, in resistance to this new totalitarian power of hypercapitalism, new freedoms and social, cultural and even political claims are being made by the society itself. These new claims are pushing the social actors to reconsider society's structure and order, especially in urban spaces which are called "Global Cities" because of their active roles in the global economy and relationship between established economic, political forces and emerging forces: The City is a locus of conflict.
Asia's modernization, urban growth and globalization are also a process of opening to other cultures and geographies. It should be noted that the fundamental motivation of such a process is a collective consciousness or desire to (re-)establish Asia's strong position in a modern world through competing with other, especially Western contexts. Tokyo based critic Koji Taki evaluates the potential of the city to transgress national boundaries, to become a model for post-nationality. In recent decades, especially in the 1990s, Asian countries' new policies of development have coincided with the rapid globalization of a late-Capitalist market economy, of the electronic mass media and communication industry, as well as a general disintegration of all established notions of boundary, nation, identity, morality ...
Modernization in many Asian countries, which has been considered as a process of re-enforcement of national identities, sometimes even religious and ideological identities, is ironically accompanied by a general deconstruction and disintegration of established values and cultural modes. A schizophrenic, anxious but enthusiastic aspiration for a more modernised, somehow Westernised way of living and a society with more freedom and democracy is becoming the dominant dynamic. From this perspective there is no such thing as a collective Asian identity. Often such an aspiration is in conflict with traditional values and even the goal of modernisation itself. The implicit double-binds render the situation uncertain and unstable. Uncertainty, along with the disintegration and liquification of the Self hence become the main issues that Asian people are about to cope with. The "theme-parkization" of urban space which mixes cultural clichÃ©s and mere consumerism of differences is a clear symptom of such an anxiety, a kind of horror vaccui.
The globalizing modernization as a form of social, economic and cultural development involves processes of "invasion" of international capitals and global capitalism. It also unavoidably opens up a window towards Western cultural modes and values promoted by the late Capitalist media, especially electronic media. These media have been considerably influenced by the Western modes and turned towards a commodity orientated mode of production and consumption. This is obviously opposed to the established official ideology and its implicit cultural values. Confrontations and conflicts between the two camps have become a driving force in Asian urban cultural life for the last decade. There is a tension between modernisation and tradition which is embodied by constant shifts of openness, freedom claims, criticism, oppression and resistance ... However, in the long run, and for the common interests which are mainly to increase the condition of investment and development, local and national authorities and international corporations have tried to go around the ideological obstacles in order to attain a certain compromise. Culture, or creative activities, including art, and especially popular culture and media, are being deliberately sterilized into commonly acceptable and profitable formulas. One of them, as a Hong Kong television tycoon puts it, is that the TV programs should be "no news, no sex, no violence". One of the results it that, since the early 1990s the Hong Kong based Star TV has succeeded in covering almost all major cities in Asia with its spectacularly aseptic entertaining through music videos or soap operas. All this actually means an indirect, invisible and almost "comfortable" censorship and deliberated reduction of spaces for non-commercial cultural activities. Especially endangered are those for experimental activities and critical voices. On the contrary to the boom of new skylines full of high rising buildings and commercial spaces, artists and intellectuals are losing spaces and infrastructures for creation. An increasingly important new task for Asian artists now is to invent alternative "sub-spaces" or non-institutional "artist-run-spaces". This is often spontaneous, ephemeral, highly flexible and even immaterial. Process counts more than the object. Good examples are artists' museums such as Tsuyoshi Ozawa's "Nasubi Gallery" of Judy Freya Sibuyan's "Scapular Nomad Gallery". Both structures are extremely flexible museums without fixed locations which migrate within the city and permanently question their own parameters. They are situated inbetween situations - they are "Museums on the Move". Other artists like Lin Yilin, Shi Yong, Chen Shao Xiong, Liang Juhui or Arahmaniani develop direct tactics of intervention in urban space through their mostly ephemeral actions. These gestures are often temporal interruptions of the high speed of urban mutation in order to open a kind of "emptiness", or moments of suspension, in the very centre of construction turbulence: "DÃ©tournements", supplements, shifts or disturbances amidst traffic and business. In other works, alternative languages, informal expressions and temporal actions are used as effective strategies of intervention. The urban flaneurs are now turned into city guerrillas or what Geert Lovink calls "camcorder kamikazes" who are rebellious users of the camera instead of passive consumers (see David d'Heilly or Ellen Pau). The heroes of tactical media are all kinds of activists, nomadic media warriors, pranxters, hackers, street rappers ...
Cities on the Move tries to trigger more exchange between art and architecture. According to Tapei-based architect Chi Ti-Nan, this "conjugation of imbeciles" is necessary as:
- contemporary art is suffering the loss of value in the conflict of social production forces. The art scene seems impotent in dealing with the reality we face in the every day world;
- architecture is suppose to be a mechanism for generating habitable physicalities and therefore risks to be turned into an utilitarian instrument.
The big interest in interdisciplinary dialogues is a global phenomenon in the 1990s and is as present in European and American discourse as it is in Asia. A significant number of artists and architects work in ever changing "promiscuous collaborations" (according to Douglas Gordon these open forms of collaborations are more like affairs and not like marriage). A good example is the loose team of Thai artists Navin Rawanchaikul and Rirkrit Tiravanija, who for Cities on the Move decided to work with cinema painters and Tuk Tuk producers. Results of their numerous collaborations are a road movie, a billboard, a comic book and a real Tuk Tuk performance in the streets of Vienna. As with many other artists projects in Cities on the Move, their Tuk Tuk adventure has neither beginning nor end: from every point of view the spectacle has already started. The line between inner and outer landscape is breaking down. The project takes place in the museum but is also spead like a virus across the city.
"Cities on the Move" is the first joint presentation of art and architecture from Asian Cities in Europe. The exhibition endeavours to shed some light on the incredibly dynamic architecture and art scenes of these cities which are mostly unknown in Europe, and will try to introduce more than one hundred different positions and points of view to the European audience. Recurrent themes are Density, Growth, Complexity, Connectivity, Speed, Traffic, Dislocation, Migration, Homelessness and Ecology. The different positions make clear that there is no such thing as an "Asian City" but that there are manifold heterogeneous concepts of the city.
"Cities on the Move" is the first chapter of two main events to celebrate the Secession's centenary before touring to other Western institutions. In 1998 Robert Fleck will organise a historical and contemporary survey on the Secession as one of the most important laboratories and sites of exhibition for art of this century. The Secession-movement in the later 19th century was highly influenced by Asian culture. That the Vienna Secession is one of the most significant places where Western Modernism was generated and developed provides not only an interesting space to present the story of Asian Modernisation and urban development, but also, more importantly, a "tourbillion ... in which the West wind and the East wind encounter each other".