At the BBC today, Jennifer Pak has a fascinating report on the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism Architecture, taking place this month in Shenzhen (it starts 17 minutes in). The city, home to Foxconn and often referred to as “China’s Silicon Valley,” is also, Pak notes, sometimes called the “counterfeit capital of China.”
Some of the many fascinating objects on display—within an abandoned flour mill converted for the purpose—were curated by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which is establishing a design museum in Shenzhen in partnership with the Chinese Merchants Group. And they hint at an extremely contemporary iteration of Walter Benjamin’s century-old anxieties: What is art in an age of digital reproduction? What is creativity in the era of the network? What does it mean, really, to “invent” something during a time when technological improvements mean that good designs, and good ideas, can be copied in an instant?
Innovation, David Li of Shenzhen’s Open Innovation Lab tells Pak, is no longer “limited by my access to technology, or my access to design, or my access to manufactures.” That means on the one hand that manufacturing has been freed from the traditional constraints of corporate marketing. The V&A’s Brendan Cormier, demonstrating one of the cheap, mobile phones on exhibit at the biennale—a copy of a big-brand model, modified with large, well-marked buttons and heightened sound quality that make it perfect for use by seniors—notes that the people who might get use of such a gadget had previously formed “a market that was completely ignored by the larger phone companies.”