Monday, September 11, 2006

Wandering in Shanghai Art Museum

Last semester for Henry's class, I did an observational exercise with Amanda and Karen, by which we looked at people's usage of their personal media in the setting of a museum space. Habitually, when our group was taking a tour in Shanghai Art Musuem on July 14, I paid a lot of attention to the museum visitors, how they interact with the exhibition and the engagement of their personal media in the gallary.

Pictures allowed. Cell phones allowed. Food and drink prohibited.

The lower levels are holding an exhibition of photography. They are gorgeous pictures. And visitors are replicating the pictures with their digital cameras or camera phones. On the second level, there is actually an exhibition of photos taken by cell phones.

My favorite part of the exhibition was the comic books section. The title says "read a missing age". Chinese people who were born in the 1960s and 70s, me included, grew up in a golden age of little comic books. We call these comic books "little people book", which I guess both because the size of the book is small and because they are made for the little ones. These books were illustrated by the best artists of the time, telling stories ranging from legends, classics, to reality. Even though many of the stories, seen from today's perspective, were propaganda about class struggle and wars, the kids just enjoyed. Like film-going, reading and collecting little people books were an irreplaceable fun part of the childhood of Chinese kids spent in the 70s and early 80s. Sadly, the advent of TV and the transformation of the nation's socio-economic pattern wiped the little people book out of the media scape in the late 1980s for its "inappropriateness" with the times. But the memory lingers.

Besides some original collections of little comic book, the musuem also provided an interactive electronic reading experience to visitors. By clicking the arrows on the screen, you turn the pages of a virtual little people book.I conducted a quick interview with two sisters visiting the comic section. One was around the same age as me, who showed deep nostalgia over seeing the little comic books after a "long time no see"; the other was a much younger girl born in the 80s, who more or less felt distanced from the strange-looking, yellowish, poor-paper-quality little books.

Two ladies in their fifities stood in front of this photo for at least five minutes. They were trying to figure out how many characters on earth were depicted in this picture. They first tried to count by the head, which they knew would produce inaccurate result unless they fill in the missing part with their imagination and reason. And it's six! Just to make sure, they then decided to count by the feet, which turned out to be a more challening approach since they're more intertwined with each other. And, guess what, there're feet of six persons again! The ladies left with full satisfaction.


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