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untitledc-print, 20 x 24 inches, edition of 3

Urban Gaps (2013)
Photography and Space Production

The modernization of Chinese society produces images of fast pacing global cities. New buildings come along with the destruction of older areas. The demolition creates blank spaces, an urban wasteland of shredded bricks with traces of broken furniture, a chair, a curtain and plastic bags. In the background there is the horizon of newly erected high rise buildings. The wasteland is called short-term potential spaces ready for development and exists as a metaphor for fast-paced capitalism. The gaps in the urban environment are a kind of discrete sign for the hidden and obvious social gaps. The so-called socio-economic harmonization process of the society narrows the chances of space-seeking migrant workers. Real life chances are replaced by a simultaneous identification with prosperity. Next to the destroyed area there are still a couple of old buildings that are nearly ruined but still inhabited. The urban wasteland is a chaotic interruption in the continuity of the cities structure. Temporary urban wasteland can be considered as a model of a border zone in urban society. It is a zone between the past and the future, a sort of a blank space in the present. The marginal inhabitants of the area have no hope that their half-shattered homes will resist the brutal forces of the city’s reconfiguration.

The portraits of the inhabitants show what is left for them: the dignity of one day that could be the last in their area. There are images that show a young mother with her boy on her arm posing in front of her old home, an old lady on a chair sitting in front of her unheated house to grasp some warmth of the sun and the self confident look of a young man passing a narrow lane. Shanghai's rapidly  changing urban environment appears as a pattern of multiple places, fragments of temporary, potential spaces, spaces that are not yet used, but are in transformation between two conditions and times. Fragmentation is an essential aspect of the picture of modernity. There is an inside problematic of the idea that the image is communicating through the fragmentation of the visualization but the viewer's failure to find meaning despite the disjointedness, is that truth and reality are uncertain and only knowable by analyzing the broader context. The city as a social form is inserted into a far larger global network of economy, demographics, ecology and communication. Global culture is shaped by world cities and those are in turn shaped by global cultures. 

In Shanghai culture is viewed as a source of cohesion in China's rapidly changing environment. But what if a culture tolerates the oppression of the public:everyday people, students and artists? Most people in Shanghai live in high-rise buildings. A lot of them were asked to leave their old houses in order to make way for the construction of high rise apartment blocks. Living and working in those buildings with their monolithic infrastructure makes it really hard to establish a relationship to one’s surroundings.The outside world is structurally isolated and serves the needs of cars  and public transportation. Most of the this space is not perceived as something other than transit space. An additional factor that creates the sense of isolation is the space between the blocks. Your neighboor in the opposite building is visible when you look out of your prefabricated home. Although you are visible as well for the people who live in the next building, it is hard to imagine that the space between the buildings is a space for interaction.

Finally there is the question for the role of photography in the described environments and social contexts. Can photographs go beyond the illustration of interior and exterior within the frame of the image, which is communicated on the surface, and the unspoken, unseen context? Photography can in this way be seen as a medium of space production. It is concerned with exploring social spaces, focussing on frames and fragments that appear as parts of an interconnected reality. The interplay between the meaning of the visible space and the simultaneous isolation of the image uncovers different layers of representation of reality and power structures. The human being appears as an integral component of the narration. Photography as space production goes beyond documenting places, and serves as research into the relations between the human and the environment. The personal and social landscape is juxtaposed within the urban environment, the question of space is vital. In that sense the exploration of the blank spaces introduced in the beginning of this text creates a new space: a social counter-space in a visual but also literal sense.