There and Back Again: Our Chinese Adventure Part Two: Exploring the Area

When we weren’t fully consumed with the exhibition, its preparations and its launch, our hosts made sure we made the most of our time in Shenzhen…

Read Part One to find out what we were doing in Shenzhen in the first place.

Academic Institutions Pioneering Creativity in Shenzhen

On our first full day in the city we were lucky enough to attend the opening of a new department at the highly-regarded Shenzhen Polytechnic: the Cultural & Creative Products Development Institute.

To complement in the inauguration, which was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Urban Planning, there was an exhibition featuring an exceptional selection of work by the professors who would be leading the course, spanning diverse disciplines including woodcut block printing, ceramic, batik, sculpture, screen printing, papercut, and textile crafts specific to certain ethnic groups in China.

We were inspired by the demand and interest that the creation of this new department demonstrates in creative practices in the city, and perhaps across the country. 

We subsequently met up with the professors and some of their new students as they started their courses, chatting about innovation, sustainable materials such as washable paper, and the challenges of packaging ceramics and other fragile items for shipping – they had some really impressive solutions, designed in house by the course-tutor for packaging design.

We also met a startling woodblock printer who had a studio in the university. He did not actually teach woodblock printing as this wasn’t a course option, but he taught other disciplines and produced his own work on the side, demonstrating and inspiring students with his designs. They were astoundingly detailed large-scale panels, each one taking around one month to complete. Through his designs he explored themes such as materialism and escapism, and his work had a dystopian but curiously uplifting quality to it. 

Shenzhen's Creative Hubs

We visited several creative hubs around the city, notably OCT and F518 Idea Land (where our hosts at the exchange were based). With some pretty incredible graffiti, greenery, and hipster coffee hangouts these areas are now the workspaces of tech innovators and craftspeople, interchangeably creating solutions to the conundrums of modern life and the accessories to suit.

Both had distinct flavours and atmospheres, and perhaps catered to different creative demographics, but in both we were bowled over by the ingenuity of the products developed by their residents. We also had the opportunity to meet the directors of both Fire Wolf and Lofree in their F518 Idea Land based studios.

WuTong Artisan Village

We travelled to the WuTong artisan villages at the foot of a mountain beyond the city. Once we got over our shock of how greatly our expectations of an artisan “village” in the mountains differed from the reality, we embraced this new definition of village – more built up, commercial and larger than we had anticipated, and spent a delightful morning getting lost down alleyways, stumbling across vistas of the surrounding mountains, and meeting with artisans and designers specialising in silk embroidery, woodturning, hand-dyeing of fabrics with local plants, teapot making, screen printing and illustration to name but a few. The pace of life was undoubtedly slower than in the city and the atmosphere more tranquil.

Of course, to sustain our frenetic activity, our hosts ensured that we were more than amply fed. Taking charge of the chinese-language menus, they ordered an assortment of foods they felt it important for us to try: black tofu (surprisingly tasty), chicken feet (unconvinced), bubble tea, deep-fried turnip with chilli (most exciting tunip we’ve ever eaten), an array of dim sum (mostly a breakfast and lunch option it turns out), specially prepared squid, many different kinds of tea, sweet potato chips with dried plum powder (heaven), fish balls, Hong Kong style goose and pork belly, and several delicious soups. 

Our week in Shenzhen flew by and before we knew it we were boarding a plane, homeward bound, exhausted but happy, our trousers fitting a little more snugly, and certain that we will be returning to this incredible city before too long.