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Perceiving the Sounds of the Village

Exhibition by post-90s photographer captures the intersection of life and survival in Shenzhen’s urban villages

While interning at a clothing company in the summer of 2015, young artist Sylvan Shan lost on her way after buying vegetables after work one day, and discovered a hidden community in the heart of Shenzhen: Gangxia village. Inspired by her adventure, Shan has completed a series of film photography titled “Guan Shi Yin,” which is one of the projects included in her first solo exhibition, “Good Game,” at Parasol Projects, Rivington Gallery (2 Rivington St., Manhattan, New York) from March 24 to 27 .

Shan tells TWOC that the myriad shops and disarrayed trinkets reflecting the lights of the evening caught her eye the first time she passed the neighborhood. They told of a life that was alien to her as a young woman who grew up in an urban part of Beijing.

Inside these shops, many of which didn’t even have doors, Shan saw shop owners enjoying the cool breeze in between making sales and their kids doing homework by the store shelves, the award they won at school hanging side by side with their parents’ business license on the wall—the commerical space was also a living room, where every family in the community went about their lives. Elsewhere, a young man wearing headphones was engrossed in a computer game, unconcerned that the door behind him was wide open to the street, while a small child tottered completely naked across a few blocks in front of his father.

“It may seem trivial when you talk about it, but it’s just [I realized] that as I carry on with my life, I forget there are some many other people in the world,” Shan says. “A glimpse of their daily life reminded me of that fact…a sense of anxiety also hit me, seeing so many activities going on for the purpose of survival. My life is busy like them, but what is the meaning of all of this busyness?” Later, Shan researched other urban villages within Shenzhen that hadn’t yet been relocated, and printed out a map, and visited them all with a film camera.

The title for her series, Guan Shi Yin, is also the name for one of the most popular deities in Chinese Buddhism, sometimes known as the “Goddess of Mercy.” The name literally means “[The One Who] Perceives the Sounds of the World.” Highlighting the growing material divides in the modern Chinese society while embodying the youthful nostalgia of the post-90s generation, Shan captures moments of rural life caught between the gaps of urbanization with in the style of news photography.

Born 1994, Shan graduated from Pratt Institute Fashion Design in 2016. Her exhibition also includes a photo series and videos that she made by phone cameras in high school six years ago. Her also has an installation consisting of materials she either printed or wrote on while working these projects, including daily planners, travel booking confirmations, chat histories, and more, with the aim to simulate everyday life.


Photography courtesy of Sylvan Shan


author Liu Jue (刘珏)

Liu Jue is the co-managing editor of The World of Chinese Magazine. She has a Master of Arts in Communication from Middle Tennessee State University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Minzu University. She has been working for TWOC since 2012. She is interested in covering history, traditional culture, and Chinese language.

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