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HU Yang | Shanghai living (series) 2004-05 | Type C photograph on paper | Purchased 2006. The Queensland Government's Gallery of Modern Art Acquisitions Fund

Hu Yang ‘Shanghai living project’ 2004-05

With the economic reforms of the 1990s, the Chinese city of Shanghai was transformed from a ‘socialist state-planned economy’ to a ‘socialist market economy’. Over 3000 skyscrapers were constructed as millions of square metres of old housing was dismantled and almost 400 000 households displaced between 1991 and 2004.

In January 2004, Hu Yang commenced his encyclopaedic ‘Shanghai living’ project, which documents more than 500 families living in Shanghai. Interviewing and photographing foreign residents and local Shanghainese, the wealthy, the middle-class and the impoverished, Hu Yang asked each participant the same three questions: ‘What is your current living condition?’, ‘What is your most desired thing to do if without any particular concern on time, money and energy?’ and ‘What is the biggest torture now in your life?’

By turning the camera on the internal lives and homes of his subjects, Hu Yang also documented the frantic urban development of Shanghai, one of the most rapidly changing cities in the world. Attendant problems including unemployment, the commodification of labour and housing shortages, are also apparent in these images, which range from suggesting obsessive consumerism to the creation of a domestic space that will shut out the external world. Hovering between documentary and incisive social comment, ‘Shanghai living’ captures the multiplicity of home environments and conveys both intimacy and individuality.

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