changning

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Thanks to Katy and Jon’s suggestion, we took a roll up to the Malu Vineyards – home of Ai Weiwei’s Shanghai Studio. The creator of the Tate’s porcelain sunflower-seed carpet and advisor to the birds nest has seemingly been sailing too close to the wind recently. His newly built space is to be demolished thanks to point 55 of the seventh chapter of the don’t-tick-off the-government rulebook which reads: “don’t tick off the government”.

The route is another antitourism 70km round-trip (we did an extra 10 to find the dead ends) bisecting some of Shanghai’s less attractive suburbs straight up the middle.

Shanghai to Ai Weiwei (Malu)

Google map here

Heading across Huashan Road, soak in Fahuazhen in the daylight for the first time. Traverse the confluence of the elevated highways and turn north up the mostly monotonous Gubei Road. On the side passes the Water Park and a few massive markets; we’re not far from Tongchuan, seen during our last ride to sweden town.

Keep going until the buildings get bigger/less complete and at the massive gas towers hang a left. Shanghai has a penchant for the Pylon Park and tracking the left side of Jinding Road is a fine example. People get to walk their dogs and gently bask in electronic health-rays.

Pylon Park

Hypermarket

Goverment Circle

Depending on when you go, the far reach of this road will be just another smooth road through urban density or it will be like descending into the construction site at the centre of the earth. For now it looks like the building version of The Matrix. High rises aren’t so much being built but mass-incubated. An infinity grid of scaffolding-cocoon encased apartment blocks are emerging from the haze.

A million new homes

Chrysalis

Zigzag up and across the A20 and if you like, take it offroad through a tiny slice of countryside. There’s a path across the canal that google doesn’t recognise, you don’t have to return to the Taopu Expy. Head under the bullet train tracks and cut up to the A12.

A slice of countryside

A snicket of green

Then it’s a long, fast, straight line up the Luxiang Highway. They were laying tarmac so by now it should be super smooth most of the way. You’ll pass under two main motorways and see the signs for the Malu Vineyard.

Then the intensity gets dialled down a notch or two. Here’s a community around a bunch of vineyards. It’s no Stellenbosch but has a less-desperate and relaxed vibe, something like the eco village on Chongming. Someone has become a little overexcited, everywhere are laser cut wooden signposts with directions to “Malu orchard corridor” and the “Malu restrooms”.

Malu Onlookers

On the north east corner of the area is the Shanghai Studio; Ai Weiwei’s concrete & brick space for the artistic and architectural. It’s been a couple weeks since the “demolishing party” but there are a few of the dedicated monkeying around and strumming guitars.

Ai Weiwei Studio

We tiptoed around and, as you do, tried all the doors. The square building around a square courtyard has some beautiful spaces within. It’s stark, peaceful and balanced. I’ll leave the archispeak to the experts, in essence – it’s not utterly amazing but takes on an empty, macabre feeling – especially with the demolishing crane stood at-ease in the car-park.

Ai Weiwei Studio

Ai Weiwei Studio

Ai Weiwei Studio

Ai Weiwei Studio

a few more photos here

We got talking to a couple of the guys who had come from far-flung China to soak in the essence. One was incredibly proud of the bald patch across his scalp shaved by Ai himeself. He offered that we could go and visit Weiwei in Beijing, “If only to ask him for a sunflower seed” I offered. From a pocket his friend produced a little packet with a couple inside; “no need – take these”.

Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds