Project Coordinator of the Bi-City Biennial of Urbanism/Architecture
Shenzhen (UABB) (until 2015)
Lan Mi graduated from Shenzhen University, majored in communication studies. Later she completed her master degree of cultural management at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She was the office director of UABB Organizing Committee Office till 2016. Now she lives in Sydney, continuing doing event planning and management for private companies. Before she joined the UABB office, she worked for Hong Kong International Art Fair/ART HK 09 (now is Art Basel Hong Kong). As event planner and organizer, she also participated in many arts and cultural projects including: “UNESCO: The International Conference on Digital Books and Future Technology”, Shenzhen NanShan Clocks and Watches Museum renovation project, “one day of Shenzhener”. Before that, as a fresh graduate from university, she worked for Shenzhen Media Group bao’an TV station and took part in the Study of Media Ecology and The Community Culture” (No. --76) carried out by the Department of Education of Guangdong Province.
1. What was your motivation to work on a biennial? What was your position/task?
I worked for a media company before I took the job at the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Shenzhen) [UABB], because I found culture and arts are in a way much closer to reality, to life. At the same time, current situations and problems can be touched upon and changed via this platform.
I was the director of the Urbanism\Architecture Organizing Committee Office in Shenzhen, and my job was to make sure the exhibition run smoothly, to make it more accessible to the general public, and to maximize its influence.
2. How can you describe the model of the biennial you worked for? Also compared to other biennials?
Established in 2005, UABB sets out to be an “ongoing urban experiment.” Its name has already disclosed the uniqueness: “Bi-City” and “Urbanism.” It is the only bi-city biennial, and it originates from the Urbanism\Architecture Biennale (Seoul just launched its first Urbanism\Architecture Biennale in 2017) .
UABB has evolved into a unique breed among its kind, in that it is held and is an interaction between twin cities, focusing on the unprecedented rapid urbanization in China and issues of cities and urbanization. Additionally, besides the participating projects worldwide, the venue itself is also an exhibition. An abandoned space is chosen for the Biennale venue, and the curatorial team work with the architect and the owner to accomplish the transformation. The venue is revived and reused by the owner to regenerate more value.
3. What goals/wishes are connected with your Biennale? What should be achieved? What were your personal goals?
UABB considers itself a catalyst, a live consultation platform, and a tool to reactivate urban space. UABB travels around the city, and has successfully revived a warehouse (now the most popular art space called OCAT), the civic center plaza (now reused as a public plaza), a glass factory, and a flour factory (now transformed into creative industrial parks).
UABB situates itself within the regional context of the rapidly urbanizing Pearl River Delta, concerns itself with globally common urban issues, extensively communicates and interacts with the wider public, is presented using expressions of contemporary visual culture, and engages in international and avant-garde dimensions as well as discourses of public interest.
In 2013, the chairman of the art and design center, Mr. Huang Weiwen, and I framed and urged the establishment of a “UABB school” section, which is the educational program of the Biennale. It has developed into a carnival during the exhibition with over 200 events that suit people from different backgrounds.
And this is exactly my personal goal: to make it accessible to people and to have it connect with people. Through educational programs, we invite the public to join in, to get to know the current situations, to reflect on the problems, and to search for solutions. It is a Biennale for all.
4. Biennials have proliferated as the art world has scaled in size and global reach in recent decades; however, very little information exists about the exact number, geographical reach, and funding and governance structures of these arts organizations. Can we compare biennials at all?
Geography, culture, funding, etc., can sometimes set up boundaries, but these boundaries can also be overcome. Each biennial is unique. Besides the basic statistics, maybe we should try to figure out the effectiveness of the information, whether the exhibition is digested by the audience. One effective communication exceeds thousands of void passing-by views. Maybe we don't need comparisons; we need to learn from each other and to figure out how to make full use of biennials.
5. Biennials provide a point of convergence for the art world, expose large audiences to art (and other disciplines and mediums), and catalyze interest in cities and regions with global aspirations. Do biennials necessarily have a positive social and economic impact?
With approximately 1155 pieces of excellent exhibits and 900 events, UABB has attracted over 1.65 million visitors. It has become a marked event on people's calendar, they will discuss about the projects and share the ideas. The owners of the venues also benefit from UABB, since it re-introduces the venues to the public and gets them noticed and increases their popularity.
However, it might be impossible to measure if all the investments really generate an equal or bigger outcome, or to find out if everyone is content with the consequences or impact of the event.
With all the resources put into the Biennale, we certainly hope it will always have positive impacts—that it is the goal—but still, we have a lot of work to do before we can achieve that.
6. Can you talk about the funding processes and sources? How do you think these affect the Biennale? Does it affect it at all?
UABB was originally conceived by the Urban Planning Bureau of the Shenzhen Municipal Government for the purpose of constructing a more influential, more professional, and more interactive exhibition. The funding comes from government sources and the private sector, mostly major developers and other service providers. Since UABB carries out an independent curator system, we try to minimize any unnecessary influence as much as possible. We stay connected with the curators and respect their decisions, and make sure the Biennale is on the right track.
7. What sort of curatorial, institutional, or technological innovations can help ensure the vibrancy and relevance of biennials going forward?
Interactive technology, social media, the independent curator system, and the international biennial network may help in a way—and most importantly, the people who have faith in it.