Article wrote when I were still working in Hong Kong :
Chinese version <<築照>> @ Magaristo Magazine

I love appreciating and finding the behind layer of photography. I used to look at western photographers and I never got attracted by any Chinese photographers. One day I stopped by a gallery in Hong Kong near my office, there was a photography series about Chinese cityscape. They were erotic in a way that merging common Chinese life into the rapidly developing landscape. Right before I stepped out the gallery I found the photographer was a Chinese architect, due to my interest on architecture, I decided to stay a while more in the gallery.

<<Great Third Front>>
The photos doesn’t triggered me to think of any of his architecture background : Chen Jiagang, a Chinese architect once worked for major developments in China. He decided to be a full-time photographer since 2001. The photo series <<Great Third Front>>, themed the rapid city developments in China, however showed a strongly erotic composition which spatially contributed to the exaggerated female models. The wild and uncontrolled light and dynamic motions are almost contradictory to common architect’s treatments, which aims to find logic, find the rules, to make things convincing. The photo is not what interested me the most, but his personalities and stories.

Image 1 : Furong Ming, <<Great Third Front>>.
The houses, flowers, old trees, trolleys and the female model seems to be fighting for the front position.

Image 2 : Frosted Dormitory, <<Great Third Front>>.
The purple balloon, floor mop and planter accidentally dominated the photo

Image 3 : 6000volt Tramroad, <<Third Front>>.
with a bit feeling of deconstructionism, Chen used series of Tramroads to build

Birthed in Chongqing, Chen Jia Gang was an architect. In 1999 he was awarded by the United Nations as one of the best twelve Chinese young architect. He joined the developers’ force in early 90s, which was the time with rapid developments on architecture development. It was under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership : “let some people get rich first.”, the developers were under big advantages. As both an architect and development, he wasn’t happy about this advantage. The tiredness of the rapid development speed could be seen in his later works <<Diseased City>>.

Image 4 : Chen Jia Gang

Image 5 : Cinema, <<Third Front>>.
The space has already lost all its furniture to describe the spatial arrangement. However the lighten structure did.

Undoubtedly his biggest photography production are <<Third Front>> and <<Great Third Front>>. The term “Third Front” was from 1964 to 1978 when Chinese was defending America and Russian, they phrased the developments into three parts. The Chinese government moved all the heavy industries on the Chinese-Russian border to the South like Sichuan, Guizhou and Yunnan. The economy of the southern region was therefore growing rapidly. In the project <<Third Front>>, Chen started from Beijing, traveled to the southern region like Yunnan, Chengdu and Chongging, started to record the different cityscape. This was the time of rapid development, people worked hard on constructing; ironically he found the reversed side where it looked ugly and undeveloped. Started from 1980, Deng Xiaoping changed the direction of industrial development and promoted light industrial works. This was a big attacked to the Third Front region and the speed and struggle inside the region were reflected in his photography.

At the time I researched about Chen Jia Gang, I found a line. “We don’t feel honoured, but ashamed. All the proprietors blame him, hate him”

This was the ShangHeCheng project in Chengdu, probably one of his biggest failure. Launched in 1998, ShangHeCheng project promoted itself as “The new city with memories”. With the luxury spatial arrangement “one house one garden”, this was the utopia of Chen. “Plant a evergreen Osmanthus tree in your garden then enjoy the greenery throughout the eco-window in your house. The architecture is a green castle.” Traditional Chengdu construction techniques, like using gluten rice paste as a material to make bricks, were incorporated in the project.

The first phrase development attracted a strongly positive reaction. The developer decided to continue with the second phrase development. However the company started to accumulated debts during the construction. In order to balance the budget, the design was changed. The utopia garden of Chen disappeared.

Image 6&7 : Villa with private garden
Photo Credits :

Image 8&9 : phrase two development, where the balcony garden disappeared
Photo Credits :

Image 10&11 : ShangHeCheng
Photo Credits :

Does Chen Jia Gang know how to build?

Project manager Yang XingXiang was the person who said the line to blame Chen. The ShangHeCheng development and Chen’s vision was commented as awkward, both on its theory and practical aspects. In order to change the bad housing topology of the first phrase development, the contractor changed the second phrase design totally.

Image 12 : ShangHeCheng Second phrase. Spacious and impractical space where a long thin corridor exist.
Photo Credits :

As he no longer build, we can only find in his photos some traces on understanding whether he can build. In <<Diseased City>>, Chen attacked strongly the “let some people get rich first” development. He described in the photo series the development as a mental illness. The panorama photos gave a sense of “superspace” which all the scales and layers were superimposed. The yellowish color tone gave people a unpleasant feeling. The most interesting is when you look at the sketches of <<Diseased  city>> you already found the spatial quality between the black lines. The realization process of photographer gave a sense of realism but at the same time exaggeration, which fit the development background of China at that time.

Image 13 : Wedding Banquet, <<Diseased City>>

Image 14 : The sketch of Wedding Banquet, <<Diseased City>>

The <<Diseased City>> series was experiment in terms of lighting and composition, the lighting control was obviously not mature in this series. However the use of composition and light was found more successful in <<Third Front>>, which Chen no longer used complicated composition, but a simple and clear 5:4 spatial construction with light to create the hierarchy within the photo.

Chen’s photos expressed the elements of (I) non-building architectural elements (II) female (III)motion and (IV)light. Recent works <<Showroom>> was a great achievement on utilizing these elements. This photo series is the statement from the ex-developer : We are now living in the age which we have to work our entire life for buying a house. The showrooms were not just about the standardized space, but also about our dreams and desires. When Chen was young and studying in Chongqing for architecture, he was involved in the school publication. <<Jian Cui>> means “build outside architecture”, he achieved it by photography now.

Image 15 : People sitting in the room, <<Third Front>>
Using simple but strong lighting to construct space

Image 16 : Showroom 23, <<Showroom>>
The room is standard, but the motion and people inside are not standard.

Chen’s life, walking the opposite direction

He used to not follow the trend. When it was the time for developers, when every developers was thinking to build residential flat for earning money, he insisted to promote culture and construct museum. When he found the ShangHe museum, all the chosen artists were young and infamous artists. However they all became famous and important artists in China nowadays.

Last Word

It was a complicated feeling when I were researching Chen. All the critics on this visionary architect were bitter. The developed who worked with Chen Jia Gang said :

if it is good, people appreciate.
if it is bad, people sympathy.

But we need to be clear who is the client of art. Art is for people, not for the artist”

Reference :


article series Yīshízhùxíng for

Magazine Cittadino Globale
Mašta Magazine
Magaristo Magazine

 The famous Chinese idiom 「衣食住行」(Yīshízhùxíng) says the four basic elements of our existence what we dress, what we eat, where we live and where we travel. In this world all big cities are jumping into big capitalist pool. In this article series, we tell the story of different people in Berlin to find out how they work out these four aspects in an unorthodox way.

Located in Neukölln, a small fashion “boutique”, was opened by Juli and her friend. This “boutique” open once a week for sales. This is probably the cheapest place to get second hand clothes in Berlin as it costs you nothing. You can bring the clothes which you no longer want and take whatever you like in the shop. Or you can even just come, and take them. Since they opened, a lot of people came every week to  drop off their cloth, this small shop is full of clothes in different styles. The clothes might not be perfect as they are second handed. However they provided you perfect “service”, they are sewing machine and all different kinds of tools here. You can repaired you damaged clothes. You can also learn a lot from the people in the shop how to up-cycle your cloth. The first time when the writer visited the shop, Juli was making a cushion cover by some damaged clothes.My friend Federico was also making his own up-cycle project : to make a shoe by using old bicycle tires and jeans.

The winter I first knew this shop, I had a warm winter with lot of clothes from exchanging my summer clothes, accessories or even drawings. Several months ago in the city I live : New York, people celebrated Halloween enthusiastically. Those clothing and accessories you will probably use them once a year. You don’t want to dress like Buzz lightyear nor a vampire to go to school or work. Imagine how much people have spent in Halloween. I am not focusing on the amount of money one spends on clothing, but on the necessity of one to spend on clothing. Nowadays the businessmen are smart enough to advertise themselves not as a consumerism promotion, but as a cooperative with the sense of responsibilities on environment and society. We started to see green products and green fashion on the market. However when we review the story it is just a smart businessman try to rephrase his products into a tread which fit people’s taste nowadays. There are still millions of workers working in the factory to produce these products. The value of Juli’s shop is not to save money, but to learn how to really make smart use on the resource we have in the community, to share and to use.

Similar ideas but different approach to promote exchange and up-cycling was also done by the writer in 2012. In the youth campaign creACTION about creative activism, an up-cycling station was built. We walked around the street with our special bicycles and trucks. There were all different kinds of items and clothing’s in the baskets, from apple to jacket. We walked around on the street on Avilés, Spain to ask people “I want to exchange objects with you!”. The idea is to interact and share with people without money.

We might not have some physical objects available for exchange all the time. However the idea of exchange is out of material sense, we can also exchange knowledge. An open university was created in creACTION, people can shared with us their unique knowledge and get the objects they needed.
Our public university

Our public university

It may be idealistic to say “don’t think about money”. And one day, I found the same free shop in the corner street of New York, one of the most expensive and tough cities in the world. (by the association “In Our Hearts” NYC)

for my CEP student, have fun

Exquisite corpse is a collaborative drawing technique invented by the Surrealists.

In the 1920s, invited by a group of surrealists in France, at first it was a story writing game. For example :

“The made-up shrimp hardly enlightens some double kisses.”

Andre Breton once commented the value of Exquisite corpse is not only to create interesting and discordant images, but also the interactions between the participants.

The ideas of “collaborative”, “interactive” and “participatory” are becoming one of the most popular trends in different art developments. Here are some examples :

Collaborative Panorama Drawing : Panographia
Screen Shot 2013-02-03 at 11.33.03 AM

Collaborative Drawing on Public Transportation : Bing Bahn

Collaborative Sculpture

Collaborative Community design project : febrik’s play pocket

The artist is present, Marina Abramović, MoMa


Reference :

“André Breton comments on the origination of the cadaver exquis”,

“Collaborative Art: Making Magic”

Archive on different types of participatory works :
IDEA Project, Hong Kong
Art Project
What is participatory art?
Book and Theory
<<Non-Plan: Essays on Freedom, Participation and Change in Modern Architecture and Urbanism>>
Co-operative Design

“They will tell you things that would help you a journey to help what you want to be. Draw, draw and draw. And sketch, sketch and sketch.”

Adebanja Alade

Super beautiful quote from from the additive sketcher. I hope I can have that kind of addition to not think too much but live in this city.


WordPress 20121124 top post

How much do you want to pay?
Social Campaign «THINK BIG, ACT BIG, MAD 2011», Hong Kong

a special thanks to voluntary helper : April Lam

“Housing price in Hong Kong is expensive.”

Yes, people from all over the world know this. The crazy housing price in Hong Kong also led to a pessimistic thought among the citizens. “What are we working for? We work all days and nights for thirty years but all our salaries go to the down payment of the flat.”

The “Think Big, Act Big”’s housing workshop aimed to trigger participants to rethink how much space do we actually need and explore the potential of housing within the limited space supply in Hong Kong.

The typical floor plan of Hong Kong’s public housing was adopted in this exercise. People have personal lifestyles today so their needs for space differ. The improvement of information technology also allow us to live in small space as the computer world almost condense everything.

Of course we want a big house. But this time I am asking “How much do you want to pay for your house?”

“I am not going to pay for a cat”HKD $ 5,500,000

“I am going to feed my children outside my  house” HKD $ 7,500,000

I have a little white shell on my necklace, this little shell is from Africa.

One day a Japanese colleague Shihori asked me about where did I get it. She told me her grandparent worked in Africa and they had a shell which look the same with mine.

That is a little coincidence.

The next day I were walking around Brooklyn to get some fresh icy air. And I saw a lot of these little shells in a garden of a house. They look exactly like my little shell ! The only difference is the size, they are as big as my hand. They were spreading all over the soil, like the shells on the beach.

I were wondering, are they also from Africa? Are there any connections between my little shell and Shihori’s grandparents and this little garden? Is this an innate or adventitious connection?

Or, we can also think of how Bateson defined them. They seems to be in the same story, they have the same form, but different size. Secondly, they all situated in Brooklyn. Thirdly, they were all from the sea.

Then I started to take away my perception and the above conclusion. If they are not shell, what are they actually connecting to?

How many spiritual leaders, how many writers believe in what this little girl did : a self-affirmation? I believe, therefore I am. We have been believing and praying for what we desire for. That can be another answer for how the world is created, if you are not interested in science.

René Descartes, started from 1639, started to argue on the world we perceived. In his treatise <<Meditations on First Philosophy>>. He thought the world we have in our mind is an representation of our mind. This representation actually separate our mind from the actual world. Let’s make an easy example, the yellow color I have in my mind is different from what you have in your mind. Although we have a “definition” on yellow, but the perception, which how this definition is transmitted to our brain is different.

The more affirmation we have like the little girl, the more connected we are with the “world” we perceived. Talking about this “world” is the perceived, or I would even say fictitious world of ourselves. Does this mean the affirmation and ego distinct us from the real world? It is a tough question, because if we affirm the answer of the question. We are denying the world we are living in right now. The airplane we took, the internet we are on at the moment are all from the imagination from our ancestors, imagination brought inventions.