New Spaces of Shenzhen - An Analytical Examination of the Curatorial Discourses in the Art Spaces of Shenzhen


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Award date7 Jul 2021


Culture significantly shapes and is affected by systems within the domain of the economic, social, and political spheres. Art spaces are both contemporary cultural expressions and crucial players in the transformation of any given culture. Culture is not a passive actor, but actively shapes its own situation while exerting an influence upon that which lies beyond it. This assumption guides the research process and leads to the following research question: How is curatorial practice developing within the art spaces of Shenzhen? How are these concepts radiating within the urban infrastructure and beyond?

The art scene within Shenzhen is developing rapidly and the cultural producers and curators within the scene are all acting within an incredibly dynamic situation. While the economic implications of the reform and the economic growth are well documented, there is a paucity of scientific research on the cultural influence of art spaces. The present research will examine the curatorial discourses emerging within the massively growing art spaces in Shenzhen in an effort to further understand their intertwined roles and actual influence. It will investigate the ways in which these curatorial discourses are constructed, as well as examine the manner in which they are changing. The dense theoretical net through which I shall filter these discourses is derived largely from Cultural Studies, and I have borrowed my cluster-like qualitative methodology from Situational Analysis. All of this research has been done in the midst of continuous turbulence, with the Hong Kong movement of 2019 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

This research will examine different types of art spaces carefully: the gallery, the institutional space, non-commercial spaces and the urban space as platforms for culture and art. It insists on treating culture as a driver and not as a barrier. These spaces have been chosen because they are all somehow involved in contemporary art practice, which I take as an expression of the actual situation of a space in that very moment. I will investigate art spaces that feature different organisational types in order to compare and get an overview of disparate systems of curatorial practices and in order to re-question existing categories. The broad distribution of these spaces across the cityscape of Shenzhen affords me an insight into different districts of the city and trace the reciprocal relationships between the large scale of urbanity, the mid-scale of architecture and neighbourhood mapping and the small scale of the art spaces. An intersection of unpublished historical documents of the history of Shenzhen is brought into context with contemporary reality, showing their interwovenness.

Of special interest to this thesis are questions regarding the ways in which knowledge is constructed within these art spaces. What impact does a curatorial practice make? If these are “active forms of knowledge production” (Gronemeyer, 2015, p. 14), how can these forms be traced and what do they tell us? When is a curatorial practice impacting the surrounding space and viceversa? In the spectrum of Cultural Studies, I will discuss the concepts of knowledge construction, postcolonialism and their concomitant theories of power, hegemony, ideology, myth and space against the background of ongoing debates and necessary empirical re-interpretations within field of curatorial practice. When I talk about empirical re-interpretations I am expressly referring to a methodological re-thinking of existing methods, enforcing of empirical data collection and enriching the existing system of qualitative methodologies in accordance with necessities emerging in the curatorial field.

The PhD thesis will develop two major outputs:
(1) It will present specific findings derived from an examination of art spaces in Shenzhen, findings that will reveal how the curatorial structures of discourse within these spaces have been constructed, while tracing the significance of these discourses and their influence on the broader system of the urban infrastructure.

(2) a methodological framework: This thesis employs a cluster of diverse and systemic qualitative methodologies in its efforts to grasp the complexity of art spaces in Shenzhen. It is my hope that this can contribute to greater epistemological diversity through a curatorial practice. A methodological proposal will also be presented over the course of this study, that of an applied extension of the Situational Analysis method in the direction of Situational Convers(at)ions.

The setting and situation of the research, which are discussed in the next section, is crucial for an understanding of the research question. I will argue, from within a curatorial perspective beyond the arts and beyond curation as exhibition-making, that the way our cultural knowledge is constructed depends partially on actual discourses in the curatorial practice as it is manifested through art works and human and non-human like operating within an embedded urban grid. Today we confront an intersection of these phenomena. Reflection upon contemporary discourses guides the research question and explains why the setting of the research is crucial for this study.

The concluding reflection is to be seen as a prolegomenon for prospective projects and a re-casting of histories and theories, embedding this re-evaluation in the contemporary context of curatorial discourse in Shenzhen today while opening up a space for other curatorial strategies.

    Research areas

  • situated knowledge production, art spaces, culture as driver, urban embodiment