Songs of the Feetless Fish

#curatorial public project,  #post-pandemic migration

In the water of Shanghai, there exists a map of migration, identity and emotion, flowing around and through the people there. Shanghai is a city built on the movement of people, capital and water, but its transience hides beneath its layers and layers of hard concrete surfaces. In the post-pandemic time, facing our own situation of leaving and staying, we ask: what forces pulled people to this city, and why are they still staying?

In 2023, _ao_ao_ing ensemble began to work on the generative, cross-media art project Songs of the Feetless Fish, discovering how the interconnected water system in the Shanghai city invokes emotional and spiritual energy during this post-COVID period of instability and restructure. Using a mixture of public walks, publications and performance, the ensemble searched for a spiritual "map" from people's collective bodily and emotional experience through this project, in the hope of finding possibilities to re-position ourselves and navigate our ways during this clouded time.

The project includes three main chapters: walking workshops, a performance and a book that traces the "map" on print, threading the past with the future. With collective bodily actions they created the map. With the map they composed the book. With the book a song is sung, sharing a different dream about Shanghai and its migration.

Top: photo taken during one of walking workshops in the summer of 2023
Bottom: performance photo, January 2024

I. Walking Workshops

During the summer of 2023, we invited the public for four walking workshops, each opening up a part of our collective feelings towards Shanghai in an embodied way. We initiated actions to rediscover our emotional, physical, ancestral and spiritual connections with the city. Together we chased cargo ships on the Huangpu River, performed healing rituals in public W.C.s, resurrected a dead river by evoking migratory memories, and explored meridian flows within their bodies.

Photos from the four walking workshops in Summer 2023

II. Performance

In a winter night of January 2024, we took a new group of audience for another walk. In the middle of the Shanghai city center, where there used to be dense river networks, we led them into a world of fish, a world that was carefully generated from all the public walks of the previous summer with traces of people's memory or actions.

Top: an audio performance around the Bund
Bottom: the performance ended with a Karaoke with people who have moved out of Shanghai

III. Book

Records of all these actions and people's participation were carefully archived. Currently, we are making the book that documents the project and reimagines the city and its movement. (Check out our instagram @_ao_ao_ing for the most recent updates)

A participant’s drawings of family migration from one of the walking workshops

IV. Newspapers

We also created three special editions of newspapers for the Khek Dhang Ke programme of Shanghai RockBund Art Museum as part of this program, inviting workshop participants, writers and artists to conversate remotely through their images and texts. The newspapers are free to grab at RAM's sixth floor.

*Co-commissioned by the Urban Walks Project and Khek Dhang Ke of Shanghai RockBund Art Museum, the project also involves the public as a key creative force.

Walking in groups during the 1.6 performance

Concept & Facilitation: _ao_ao_ing ensemble (Lin Cuixi, Fang DT, Eva, July)

Photography & Videography: Wei Ding, Zhenyi, Yike

Special thanks to all the participants of the walking workshops


I. Walking Workshops

2023.07.21 21:00-24:00
Midnight Whale-Chasing
@ Huangpu River’s west bank

2023.7.28 19:30-22:00
All WCs Lead to the Sea
@ the Bund area

2023.8.4 19:30-22:00
Spells to Awaken the Dead Rivers
@ a road where Yangjing River used to be

2023.8.11 19:30-22:00
River Meridian Foot Massage
@ RockBund Art Museum

II. Performance

2024.1.6  16:30
@ the Bund area and the RockBund Art Museum

III. Newspaper

Published on December 2023 as part of Khek Dhang Ke programme of Shanghai RockBund Art Museum.


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