Santorini: the Lost Heart


When I peeked through the glass window of the blue-framed door that morning, a man was doing his morning exercise. He was a man in his early thirties, dark hair, small and slim. He wore spectacles and a brown T-shirt from the Japanese film Battle Royale. He was surrounded by shelves of books. “I was wondering what time you open?” I asked.

This was a small English language bookshop in the town of Oia, on the volcanic island of Santorini, of Greece. In a town without house numbers, Atlantis Books was located in the basement of one of the numerous whitewashed Mediterranean cave houses. A few years ago, Craig, Oliver and Chris settled a debt, found books, shipped them and came to Santorini. Together with some others, they collected driftwood from the beach, and built a bookshop with beds. From then on, Atlantis became a second Shakespeare and Co: a home to travellers, writers and their beloved books.

“Do you have a place to stay tonight then?” Luke spoke with a north London accent. I said, “Not really.” With his invitation, I was given a bed among the bookshelves, in the back room of the bookshop. After spending years in Paris, Luke was living and travelling between Italy and Greece. As a thirtysomething man with no money, Luke knew every single book in the shop and he was writing a novel.


When I came back from a swim in the cove, I met John, the poet. John was a good- looking young Welshman with an Oxford accent and a nervous look. He stuttered a wee bit when he spoke. He had been staying in the bookshop for a couple of weeks before moving to Berlin to write full-time. When Natalie came up to the terrace, John and I were sweeping off the remnants from a recent storm. Natalie was in her mid- twenties, tanned and spoke with a California accent. With half of her face covered under her novelty sunglasses, she stood, chatting with us while we were working. She had been on the island for a year and half. She fell in love with the place and decided not to leave, thus, she became an illegal resident after her tourist visa had expired. She worked as a waitress during the summer, and for the rest of the year, she just lived her life.

So it is, I began my island life in a bookshop. In the mornings, I’d get up at 10 am, make myself some breakfast and coffee; watched the shop while having breakfast. I’d hear curious tourists walking down the stairs with comments like “look, here is a bookshop!” Often they were Americans, sometimes British or Europeans. I’d talk to them, or help them find books. When it was quiet, I listened to Jazz and read Greek Mythology. I’d have my lunch in the glorious Mediterranean sun on the terrace, which overlooked the dark blue Aegean. My afternoons were often spent on the beach with a book, and a Magnum ice cream on the way home. Before the dusk, I’d go to where the tourists gathered to see the one most dramatic sunsets in the world. In the dusk, the Greek girl from the shop next door would call “Luke, Luke”, telling us to turn on the lamp outside the bookshop; and you start to smell the sweet fragrance of the honeysuckle flowers. In the evenings, I’d cook a dinner for whoever was there. More tea and poetry reading would follow after dinner, and some of the night time was spent smoking cigarettes and drinking wine under the stars.


Atlantis window

One of my nights in Santorini was making Greek meatballs in Natalie’s cave house at 3 am. We drank lots of wine, smoked lots of cigarettes, and patted street dogs who came in for a shelter. I asked Natalie whether she regretted her decision, that she would never be able to leave this country. She was leaning on the half-opened wooden door and having a fag. Her face looked tired after a long-day’s work, but her smile was all soft and sweet, “No. I think I’ve found my happiness. This is what I want in life.”

JohnSantorini sea

Santorini is a wonderland in the summer, but when winter comes, it’d become a deserted island with only whiteness but little sign of people. It’d become a lonely place with street dogs and cats. However, winter for Natalie was for fishing with a local fisherman. On this island, live many other people who know or do not know what they want in life. Nevertheless, for people who love all beautiful things in life, Santorini has its own pace, nice and slow.

When I left Natalie’s flat, the dawn was already breaking. I walked on the edges of the volcanic town, and the ocean was just waking up in the early summer twilight. Quietly I opened the bookshop door. Luke was soundly asleep. Raki, the street dog who came to the shop all the time, quietly followed me in, jumped into one of the beds and went to sleep.


Santorini guide








早已经过了背包旅行和住hostel的年纪,现在的我更喜欢酒店的舒适。但是当我在Instagram上看到这家旅舍时,仍然止不住的被它吸引。Oxotel是一家hostel,但却与我以往住过的所有hostel都不一样,它的设计感完全称得上是一家 “design hostel”,或是 “boutique hostel”。据说老板是一名喜欢住hostel的设计师,在游历了亚洲各国和澳洲之后,决定在泰国北部设计开发一家自己的hostel。于是将这栋70年代工业时期的老楼改造,在保留了其原有工业特色的同时改造出这栋用木、水泥和铁的结构的旅舍。

Oxtel 2


Oxtel in Chiangmai by KapaZhao


Oxtel 3





[Baan Saen Fang]


到清迈前除了Oxotel外一直想订一家叫Bhodi Serene的boutique hotel,但是一直订不到那一家,后来在Instagram上又发现了同一家酒店公司开的Baan Saen Fang。在住了两晚Oxotel后就跟致姐姐打了个tuk tuk搬到Baan Saen Fang去住。

Baan Saen Fang是一个以泰国北部经典的兰纳 (Lanna) 建筑风格建造的精品酒店,整个酒店只有5间房。每间房则是兰纳建筑风格的独栋villa。兰纳建筑以柚木结构为主体,房体高于地面,用来保护房子抵抗雨季的潮湿。




每一天,酒店会让你选好第二天想吃的早餐和吃早餐的时间,早晨酒店的女孩便会用大托盘将你选好的早餐送到你的阳台,并轻轻敲门,然后离开,以示早餐准备好了。Baan Saen Fang就在同名的寺庙Wat Saen Fang的背面,傍晚日落时寺庙便开始敲钟,和尚也开始念经。游完泳的黄昏我们看书、喝茶,在暮鼓晨钟里看着天色渐渐黑下来。

住在Baan Saen Fang的几天里,半夜都会下很大的雨,而天亮时雨便会停。雨水顺着兰纳建筑的房顶瓦片流下来,雨声潺潺,仿佛是住在溪边。旅途中,我们比平常睡的更加安稳。



[Raming Tea House]


从Baan Saen Fang出来,左转再左转就可以到清迈的夜市。去夜市的路上会经过清迈的中国城,而这家青花瓷店就在中国城的边上。经过时它已经打烊,我好奇透过玻璃门向里面张望,看到的是一个漂亮的兰纳建筑。玻璃门上写着”Raming Tea House Siam Celadon”。原来青花瓷店的后面是一家吃饭的茶室,而它每天营业的时间是到下午5点就结束了。

我们第二天再回到Raming Tea House时,仿佛是爱丽丝掉进了梦里仙境。这栋始建于1915年的兰纳建筑在几经转手,从建筑材料商店变成意大利餐厅,再到2003年由Raming Tea Company茶叶公司重新开业成为前面是卖青花瓷的店铺后面是茶室和餐厅的现在。

Raming Tea Room


[Tong Tem Toh]

Tong Tem Toh 1




Tong Tem Toh这家专做泰北菜系的餐厅据说是时髦的本地年轻人喜欢光顾的。餐厅不管在环境上还是在菜的价格上都算不上高档,但是有着大榕树和绿色植物的院子却叫人觉得既有氛围又不会浮夸,亲切得像泰国人的笑容。


Tong Tem Toh 3









Art Hong Kong’s Last Edition Before Art Basel Sees Asia’s Market on the Rise

By Xing Zhao

With men in their sharp designer suits and women in their black tie event dresses, a glass of wine in hand, the striding guests at the VIP vernissage of the Hong Kong International Art Fair, aka ART HK 11, gives the feeling of a high-profile fashion event. “Every time I came to the Fair I felt like I was dressed like a student” says a Shanghai-based gallery director, “People are very serious about it.”

During the five-day event in Hong Kong, art is serious business. Although still a very young art fair, ART HK has been recognized as Asia’s leading international contemporary art fair. Every May, artists, gallerists, museum professionals, curators and collectors from around the globe flock to Hong Kong for the non-stop feast of art and the business opportunities that come with. This year, the Fair opened its fourth edition on the 26th of May (with the preview on the 25th of May), showcasing 260 galleries from 38 countries, bigger than it has ever been before.


Divided into three sections, the main fair section featured 168 leading galleries showing world class artists including Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson‘s new works exhibited by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery of New York, South African artist William Kentridge‘s anamorphic projection What Will Come, presented by Goodman Gallery from Johannesburg, Kazakhstani artist Erbossyn Meldibekov‘s group of politically-charged resin busts showcased by London-based gallery Rossi & Rossi and Tracey Emin‘s pink neon light installation You made Me Love You, presented by New York’s Lehmann Maupin Gallery.

Tracey Emin You Made Me Love You, Art Hong Kong, by Xing Zhao

However, what really brought out the fair’s uniqueness was its two new sections. ASIA ONE is dedicated to showcase solo presentations of Asian artists brought by galleries in Asia Pacific and the Middle East. The ART FUTURES section, which showcased emerging artists represented by 45 of the world’s best new galleries under five years old, gave guests the opportunity to spot fresh talents.

Throughout the Fair, the Hong-Kong-based non-profit research center Asia Art Archive (AAA), as the fair’s official education partner, presented a series of panel discussions Backroom Conversations, as well as a new perspective of recent history of Indian art by staging a recreated Delhi studio of critic and curator Geeta Kapur and artist Vivan Sundaram.

Despite the topic “Art Must Be Beautiful”, a debate held by the Intelligence Squared Asia Debate, remains contentious, the fair was full of eye-candies.

A Marketplace Where East Meets West

This year the fair received 63,511 visitors, including high-profile collectors from Asia, Europe and the US. Paris Neilson of Sydney’s White Rabbit Collection finds the ASIA ONE and ASIA FUTURES sections refreshing, “And that’s why experienced collectors come to the fair, to get exposed to new things” says Neilson. Don and Mera Rubell of the Rubell Family Collection and the Contemporary Arts Foundation (Miami) take the fair as an opportunity to learn about Chinese art, “There is a unique opportunity at the fair to compare and contrast Eastern and Western art, to see the similarities and the differences” say the Rubells. 

Galleries made major sales to mainland collectors see an increase in mainland collectors with a broader interest in Western art.

While high-profile Western collectors made a strong appearance at the fair, the number of mainland Chinese collectors hasn’t caught up with its Western counterparts. International galleries expecting to meet more collectors from mainland China find most of their big Asian collectors coming from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia.

Nonetheless, galleries made major sales to mainland collectors see an increase in mainland collectors with a broader interest in Western art. “We have placed works by artists including Bharti Kher, Christopher Orr, Whihelm Sasnal, Phyllida Barlow, Henry Moore and Roni Horn in major Chinese collections and private museums in Beijing and Shanghai” points out Neil Wenman of Hauser & Wirth from London, New York and Zurich.

Cheim & Read Gallery sold works by Louise Bourgeois and Zao Wou-ki to mainland Chinese collectors on the first day of the fair, and the New-York-based gallery is also pleased with its experience at the fair. “We met a large number of collectors,” says Adam Sheffer, partner of the gallery, “All from the East and all previously unknown to the gallery.”


Many exhibiting galleries find the visitors “open, curious and interested” in what they were showing. “We really enjoyed the positive reception we received from the visitors” says Amy Gold of L & M Arts from Los Angeles and New York, “and we believe in ART HK and feel the potential.”

A Bright Future

A few weeks before the opening of ART HK 11, the Swiss MCH Group, organizers of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach made the announcement of the purchase of sixty percent of ownership stake in ART HK. While retaining its current name and directorship, ART HK will become the third global contemporary art platform in the Basel brand. This integration further proves Hong Kong’s significant position as one of the world’s hottest arts hubs. ART HK 2012 is now set to take place from 17 to 20 May 2012, and hopefully with more mainland Chinese collectors.

This story originally appeared in Deluxe Swiss Made Magazine.


Text | Xing Zhao
Photography | Elliot Richards




Novelist Na Duo.jpg




▲ 小说家是一个喝茶的男人


那多: 有帮助,虽然不是新的视角。写小说需要对社会有比较深入的了解。我在专职写小说前曾做过7年的公务员和记者。2004年离开报社专职写作,从2004年到2013年,这10年的时间一直在家里。写作中所用到的社会经验都是那7年的经验,而在做餐厅后与社会又有了全方位的接触,会接触更多的人,对写作是有帮助。


那多: 我不是的。


那多: 其实是关于自由度的问题。之前在海关做公务员,但是觉得喜欢自由度比较高的生活方式。做记者的自由度比做公务员高,而没有比做作家的自由度是更高的了。


▲ 普洱在书架上叠得跟书一样


那多: 不会。因为是我写出来的。不过我老婆有时会有点怕。我有天生的想象力,容易想到奇奇怪怪的东西。




那多: 我觉得生活本身就是启发我的。只要不要长时间在一个循环里,不管是旅行或是看一本新的书,得到新的资讯,新的经验,去一个新的地方,住一个新的酒店,开启一段新的旅程,不能一直在家里,或者一直是上班下班,上班下班,要让生活更丰富一点。




那多: 对,脑子里的灵感其实也是由生活中的经验来的,而不是凭空的。


那多: 自由就是可以去自由地生活。如果约束越多的话,你的生活就约没有变化,越沉闷。

Chinese novelist Na Duo



那多: 不抽。


那多: 我喜欢打牌。但是没有像有的人抽烟或喝酒那样子程度。


那多: 转转圈。


那多: 希望我的书能在国际上更被接受。

Na Duo 1.jpg





汉娜是一半的德国人一半的法国人。她是我来到上海后认识的第一个朋友。她总是戴着帽子,而帽子底下是一头火焰般鲜红的短发。她在Vienna Café的吧台后面站着抽烟,跟坐在吧台的常客聊天。有客人招手时她便把烟搁下过去招呼客人。

Vienna cafe

汉娜的世界是在上海的绍兴路上的Vienna Café:30年代的老房子的木家具与地板,阳光透过玻璃天顶柔和的照射下来,桌椅的摆设都仍是奥地利的样子,音乐播着Morcheeba,玻璃柜里摆着自家制的胡萝卜蛋糕。汉娜游走在桌子与桌子之间,像一尾鲜活的鱼,游刃有余。

Hannah 1


第一次见到汉娜时是我在Vienna Café跟她要烟,再接下来便是她带着我进入上海的夜色。C’s Bar的墙壁满是涂鸦,每个见到她的人都会上来亲她的脸颊来打招呼,她似乎认识每一个人。她最大的兴趣是Drum & Base,最喜欢做的事情也是去所有Drum & Base的音乐活动。她说话的时候手舞足蹈,总是非常的high。她很喜欢讲自己身世的故事,动情之处每每有些伤感。

Hannah 2.jpg

汉娜一个人住在法租界的一间老房子里。大片大片窗户的外面满是绿色的大树,夏天的时候微风吹进房间,她养的猫在窗台上走来走去。她似乎总是在Vienna Café,不管晴天下雨,不管你开心不开心,只要你去,她便会在。不论你是失意或是得意,你知道在那里都会有一个汉娜听你讲话。她总是站在她的吧台后面,抽着她的Mild Seven,喝一大杯加了苹果汁的自来水。于是对于许多人来讲,那个有汉娜在的咖啡馆,便是某一些人的港湾。

Vienna Cafe 3

Vienna Cafe 4


后来汉娜离开了Vienna Café,换了一个演艺活动的组织人的工作,组织郭富城或者是Rain在上海的演唱会。她仍旧是匆匆忙忙的样子,从出租车里出来时穿了迷你的短裙,仍是戴着帽子。只是她现在穿了长的靴子,走在淮海路的香港广场。不变的是她仍是个工作狂,每天工作十二个小时。她又交了新男朋友,这一次不再是日本人,而是一半爱尔兰人的澳大利亚人了。而不再夜夜笙歌了的汉娜,是一个下班以后和男友去超市买食物,周末在家看DVD,与男友携手在公园散步的女人了。


Hannah 3




Vienna Cafe by KapaZhao





09:00 AM
[Avani Riverside Bangkok]

住过曼谷很多的酒店,但对酒店的品味却是一只在变。从20岁时住的Khao-san Road上的小旅馆,到后来在Silom区的酒店公寓,再到W Hotel。上个月再去曼谷时我在Instagram上找到了一家在几个月前才刚刚开业的曼谷河边的酒店:Avani Riverside Bangkok。


Bangkok Avani Hotel travel blog by Xing Zhao

Avani Riverside的地理位置其实并没有像在Silom那么方便,附近没有skytrain。虽然曼谷的taxi很便宜,但是曼谷的交通拥堵,很容易一坐上车就堵在路上好久。不过酒店为客人提供免费的船,可以坐去对岸的skytrain,以及近年来曼谷的比较新的夜市Asiatique。


avani 6

02:00 PM
[Siam Discovery]

a hip bangkok siam discovery





到过曼谷的人都知道,来逛这座城市的shopping mall是来曼谷旅行中非常值得的体验之一。因为它的shopping mall摩登、干净、从高端时尚品牌到食品百货都可以用比中国便宜许多的价格买到。在零售业面临巨大挑战的今天,曼谷的shopping mall集团Siam Piwat新开的Siam Discovery将shopping mall和department store的概念相结合,为大众推出的体验式的shopping,而非单纯的传统意义上的零售。

除了Issey Miyake和Comme des Garçon等品牌的boutique外,更难得的是Siam Discovery拥有许多泰国本土设计师品牌的boutique,从男装潮牌、西装到泰国本土的香水品牌。而泰国的消费者也是东南亚最不买西方大牌的帐的消费者,他们更愿意为本土设计师品牌买单。泰国的创意产业和本土设计也为此能够得到健康的发展。




整个零售空间分成一层男士用品的His Lab和一层女士用品的Her Lab,再坐扶梯往上是一层的生活方式设计品、家具设计品、餐厅、咖啡店,还有公共休闲区域。

我们到Siam Discovery时刚好有一个与Instagram有关的体验式艺术装置。排队,在电脑上将你的Instagram账号输入后,再进入到一个四面墙都是LED屏幕的大房间,然后你的instagram上发过的照片会全部出现在四周的屏幕上。


我们最喜欢的Siam Discovery里的咖啡店是这家白色基调、性冷淡风格的Cafe Now。

KapaZhao at Cafe Now Siam discovery Bangkok

当然还有这家 I+D Cafe:



05:00 PM
[The Commons]

the commons a hip bangkok

曼谷另一个最新的时髦hang out是位于Thong Lor Soi 17的以“market + village”概念所成立叫做The Commons的社区建筑 。所谓“market”是指这个几层高的木结构建筑中经营着好多家美食餐厅,从一楼的精致版的food court到顶楼吃brunch的餐厅Roast;而“village”的概念指的是这是一个大家都可以来闲逛、吃饭、喝咖啡、约会、见朋友的hang out的community空间。

The Commons根据东南亚炎热的气候所设计,整栋楼全部是开放式,用到许多的木结构,和巨型风扇,与密闭式的整年开着空调的shopping mall甚是不同。也是一个让人的生活空间更接近自然的概念。

Roots BKK a hip Bangkok guide

我们在一楼的咖啡店Roots点了一杯orange flavored tonic ice cooffee。有趣的是他们的冰咖啡是从tap里像倒生啤那样将带汽的咖啡倒进杯子,再在咖啡中加入橘子糖浆调好,放入冰块和新鲜柠檬片,并冒着汽,是带着清凉的咖啡因。

the commons a hip bangkok 2.jpg

08:00 PM


夜色中,曼谷河上凉风习习。我们上岸,经过Anantara种满了兰花和巨大菩提树的热带花园和夜晚无人的大游泳池,回到Avani Riverside。



Men in Uniform: Male Masculinity and Intimacy

An American artist based in Beijing, Ain Cocke‘s florid yet ‘historical’ portraits of soldiers from the World War I and II eras intentionally capture the nature of masculinity and the intimacy among men in the context of military and war. 

Beautiful to look at as they are, Cocke claims the portraits are his investigations into what it means to be human.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you grew up.

When I was very young I went to Israel with my mother and stepfather, who were doing work on archaeological digs, and my earliest memories began there. This is also where my first fond memories of men with machine guns were born, because of the constant military presence around us.Goff-062510 0017

Since there was a bit of the “terrorism ” going on at the time I had to leave ahead of my parents due to the heightened risks. Incidentally the next plane out after us was highjacked. On fleeing the violence and landing in Cyprus to meet my grandparents, I remember being greeted by a statue of Priapos, the greek god of sexual desire. The statue had an extremely large organ and I made a loud proclamation about my discovery to the giggles of tourists and the embarrassment of my grandparents. Sexuality and violence to me were curious, intriguing, beautiful and related.

While I was living in Los Angeles I developed a fascination with the G.I. Joe, the military, war and the television reruns of old Hollywood musicals.

What was your perception of the male identity when you were growing up? Has this idea changed over time?

I never really had any direct male role models or heroes when I was young, so the male identity was kind of a nebulous idea. I had to take my cues from other children, which could be awkward, as I never really knew how to act on my own. I watched a lot of movies for answers when I was young, and I still do now.

As I have become older I still  think the male identity is malleable, there are of course many historical precedents as to how to behave as a ‘man’, and there are probably also genetic factors, but we can still make our own decisions. Over time my perceptions have evolved. I have developed an intellect that is better equipped to analyze my perceptions.

Kapa Zhao Ain Cocke 2

Are these paintings romanticized portraits of masculinity and power?

On one level the paintings I make can be seen as cultural portraits about who and where we are as humans. How we want so badly to believe we are beyond or going beyond violence but in actuality force is still the dominate vehicle of change and containment. These portraits are about power and how it is extended, romanticized, glorified and desired. As well they are an intensely personal investigations into what it means to be human for me; they are kind of questions or searchings for a way to make a self-portrait or become my own hero.

A man in an expression of masculinity is often beautiful whether we want to like it or not.

Most of your paintings and drawings have rather florid and decorative backgrounds, is it intended as a contrast to the masculinity you want to portray?

Certainly on a first impression they appear as a contrast, but maybe on closer inspection they are the reality. A man in an expression of masculinity is often beautiful whether we want to like it or not. And besides, lets face it, the military is ‘the church of man love’, and I don’t mean sexually, although I’m sure that exists. I  try not to editorialize the paintings too much, I think they speak for themselves.

Have you drawn any inspiration in terms of narrative and style from films set in the World War I and II eras?

Yes; when I was between the age of 8 and 16, I loved watching films from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. The cinematic quality that exists in some of the paintings comes directly from there; however not so much the fighting type of films, although I did like those too, I much preferred the films that provided entertainment and distraction during times of war. Maybe our distractions say more about us as people than the reality of what is happening.

Kapa Zhao interviews Ain Cocke

Besides the figures from the old photographs you collect, do you use yourself or those around you as models?

Only in the way that the accumulation of my knowledge about the human form comes from observation of  those around me, not to mention countless years of schooling. Some of the photographs I use for paintings are really not very good in quality, so in a way the finished pieces become portraits of myself and those around me just as much as the actual person in the photo.

You are based in Beijing. How long have you been living in the Chinese capital?

 I’ve been living in Beijing for 3 or 4 years. I first came to China in 2006 and eventually just stayed. It is as fascinating as it is maddening, a bit like the Wild West, essentially lawless. The expressions of masculinity are quite different here, there appears to be much less machismo, but on a closer inspection it is there, it just takes a different form than the West.

What made you decide to move to Beijing, and has the city influenced your creation of work at all?

I came here in 2006 to do a project with another artist: I just found it fresh here. There is a kind of freedom of space here to make things I may not make back in the States. My next show will have many different kinds of sculptures in it as well as paintings. I wouldn’t say there are direct Chinese influences in the work. For me, it’s more about the possibilities that working here opens up.

Kapa Zhao Ain Coke 6

Have you done any research about China during that period of time and have you thought about making work based upon Chinese male relationships during the era of and between the two World Wars?

Yes, I have done some research into that specific subject. I have also collected many photos from that time and shortly after. I have thought about painting them but I am hesitant; it makes more sense to me at the moment to focus on American soldiers. I’m now in the process of creating a series of very high-resolution photo portraits of contemporary young Chinese military men, which is a bit of a departure from the older photographs. I say in the process because it is very difficult to get into the right situation where I can take those photographs, it is not ok to photograph the military in China, especially if you are a foreigner. So the process may be the more interesting part of the project.


This story originally appeared in the Art Issue of OutThere Magazine.

Shen Wei: Almost Naked

“You can never have a real friendship with foreigners here in New York,” Vivi, a Shanghai native living in New York says to me in a café in Manhattan’s Soho area. By “foreigner”, she refers to anybody who is not Chinese. Several weeks later, photographer Shen Wei tells me his thoughts on the exact same topic in his Wall Street apartment. “I find it much harder to have a deep conversation with a stranger in China, while in the US it’s much more possible to have deeper communications with someone you’ve  just met.”

Shen Wei 1Born in Shanghai in 1977, Shen Wei grew up in the Shanghai of the 1980s and 1990s. “It was then a conservative China,” he recalls. “Individuality was not something important.” Over a decade ago, Shen Wei moved from Shanghai to the US to study photography and video art. Upon arriving in the US, Shen remembers how the relationships between people in American culture came as a shock to him, but they soon grew to become an inspiration for his work. He says relationships between people in America are much simpler and more straightforward. “I wanted to explore the ideas of identity and sexuality,” he says, “and to understand the complexity of emotion, desire, introspection and instinct.”

Shen Wei began to photograph portraits of strangers he met on the street, friends of friends, and random people he found online. He photographed people in their homes, some naked, some half-naked, while others are fully-clothed. He named the series Almost Naked to highlight the fact that these people are revealing their most intimate and vulnerable moments in front of the camera.

My sexuality is an important element which I enjoy exploring, but my work is also about human nature, desire, struggle and rebellion.

After the Almost Naked project, he wanted to take a personal journey to reconnect with his roots, to make sense of the China that existed in his memories but also with a China that is rapidly changing day and night. Shot in various Chinese provinces as well as Shanghai Chinese Sentiment is a mixture of poetic landscapes, nostalgic cityscapes and intimate portraits of people in their personal spaces.

I Miss You Already is Shen Wei’s most recent series, a series of self-portraits of himself in various settings: standing by a waterfall in the mountains, bending his body inside an isolated cave, gazing behind blooming flower trees, carefully posing like a Renaissance statue on top of a white table, leaning against the railing on a balcony of a New York apartment, mostly naked and alone. The photos carry a sense of theatrical mood, as if the man portrayed is wandering around, thinking and looking for something, reflecting on his or man’s relationships with nature.


For Shen the project is “a process of self-observation and self-discovery. It’s also a way to explore my sense of security through understanding the tension between freedom and boundaries”. His interest in such exploration, again, goes back to his past life in China. “I did not have many opportunities to be naked when growing up in Shanghai,” he says, “But now I can be naked as often as I want, it’s not only a free and relaxing feeling, but also liberating.”   

Although most of the time he is the only figure in these pictures, Shen is occasionally accompanied by a second person: sometimes another man, sometimes a woman, and sometimes just a mysterious hand. He won’t reveal the nature of these relationships,  nor even the relationship between his portrayal of himself and the ‘real’ person behind the camera. Insisting that it’s the mystery of these unknown elements makes the images intriguing. “It’s up to the viewers’ perceptions, it’s not for me to impose my narratives” says Shen. But he does confess to having complex relationships with both men and women, “They are both very important in my life, I cannot live without either of them; they bring me different experiences.”

Shen Wei 2

While admitting sexuality has its notable role in his work, Shen thinks that’s not where the self-discovery in his work ends. “I am a sexual person,” he says, “and my sexuality is an important element which I enjoy exploring, but my work is also about human nature, desire, struggle and rebellion.”

Shen Wei lives in New York City with his dog Emma.

This story originally appeared in the Style Issue of OutThere Magazine

ShanghaiPRIDE: What Were We Celebrating?

With ShanghaiPRIDE celebrating its 10-year anniversary this month, we take a look at the very first edition of China’s own version of gay pride back in 2009, and to discover whether attitude towards diversity in China has changed in the past ten years.

Covered by a rainbow banner, a lust garden played host to an all-day long celebration of homosexuality in China. Here the joy and pride of Shanghai’s gays and friends came out, beckoning people outside to come in. Neighbors craned their necks to peek into the garden, migrant workers climbed onto the fence to watch the drag queens dance, passers-by stopped to listen to the singing  and an elderly lady wandered in, curious about a world unknown.

“Do you know what’s going on in there?’ With a rainbow painted on one side of my face, I walked around asking onlookers. The answer was mostly “no”. “It is a festival to celebrate homosexuality” I told the middle-aged couple, “Would you be curious to go in and take a look?”  With blank expressions on their face, the couple said “yes” and walked in. Soon they disappeared in a sea of celebrants.

As the festivity went on, men with masculine bodies took off their shirts to show off their muscles, cheerful drag queens danced flamboyantly to spread their fairy dust, volunteered “models” walked the runway,  an auction raised money for an AIDS foundation, and the big party went on with cocktails and BBQs. Although Shanghai’s first ever “big day” did not attract as many people as a few thousand like in the West, the self-contained celebration was not any less startling. 

ShanghaiPride b


As the country’s first gay pride comes to a close, we have to ask, what were we really celebrating? This “celebration of homosexuality” must have confused many passersby that day.

There is nothing about homosexuality itself that is worth celebrating. Homosexuality is merely a sexual orientation and heterosexual people don’t celebrate being straight. It wasn’t a celebration of who we are, but of what we do. In front of a camera documenting the event, a “newly wed” Chinese gay couple said, “It doesn’t matter whether we really are married. I’m happy there is an opportunity for us to stand here and let everybody know that we love each other.”

Many of the people at the event were not gay. A straight girl said “I’m proud of living in a city that is open enough to hold events like this.” ShanghaiPRIDE was not a celebration of being gay, but a celebration of people being able to come out and be who they are. It was to raise awareness of homosexuality, to present a positive image of the gay community and to promote tolerant attitudes. A rainbow has seven colors; difference is what we embrace. 

This story first appeared in City Weekend Magazine in June 2009.

All the Broken Ships

A Margaret Atwood book he left behind. A train ticket he used when coming to visit me from Liverpool. A Uyghur hat I bought for him in Xinjiang. A DVD we once watched together. A green hoodie that still has his smell… Do I keep them, do I throw them away, or do I simply destroy them now that he’s gone?

Many people find it painful to be reminded of the ones they used to love, of the relationships that are broken. Yet there are always things popping up now and then to remind us of someone we try so hard not to think about. In the Almodóvar film“Talk to Her”, Marco sleeps on the couch instead of his bed for months after his girlfriend leaves him. In Croatia, after their own four-year long relationship ended, artists Olinka Vištica and Drazen Grubišić decided to set up an art project together, displaying objects from people’s “failed” romances and the stories behind them. The Museum of Broken Relationships is dedicated to broken hearts.

All the broken ships by Xing Zhao

Years after I interviewed founders of the project,  Museum of Broken Relationships is finally traveling from its original location in Zagreb to Shanghai, bringing not only tokens but also memories of love.

Museum of Broken Relationships Shanghai 2018

During our interview with Olinka and Drazen, they sounded calm and humorous. When asking whether they still felt the pain from their previous relationship, Drazen smiled and said, “You are the person who you are also because of who you have been with. Every relationship shapes and defines you as who you are.” Despite their romantic history, they said doing this project together had helped them maintain their relationship and move on with their lives.

Olinka Vištica is a 40 year old art and film producer from Split, Croatia and Drazen Grubišić is a 40 year old artist from Zagreb, who is dedicated to participatory art. They both live and work in Zagreb.

Concept founders of the "Museum of Broken Relationships" exhibition Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisic pose in Singapore

▲ Founders: Olinka Vištica和Drazen Grubišić

What was your initial motive for creating this project?

It was during our break-up that this idea came to our mind during our numerous attempts to save, transform or ultimately overcome our relationship. However, it took a period of over two years before the idea was finally realized. We shared our thoughts with friends and it turned out that everybody we talked to reacted so enthusiastically to the concept. It is one of those really simple ideas that comes to one’s mind in normal conversation. What to do with all those tokens of love (material and nonmaterial) that you gathered during your relationship?

Museum of Broken Relationships exhibits_7

You mentioned the project was to create a space of “secured memory” in order to preserve the material and nonmaterial heritage of “broken relationships”. Do you think most people keep things from their broken relationships, or is it quite the opposite? 

It’s hard to tell. If the break-up is painful often we are all tempted to destroy everything that reminds us of our “failure”. But eventually, I think, each of us keeps something. Maybe it’s hidden at the bottom of a closet or a drawer or at the bottom of the heart – but it’s still there. The Museum project is an attempt to bring all those memories to the surface for the richness of the human experiences they can tell.

Why do people still want to preserve their memories even when their relationships have failed?ad18df3c5e27fc4daad11df5d56d2e63

Whatever the motivation for preserving or donating personal belongings – be it sheer exhibitionism, therapeutic relief, catharsis or simple curiosity, we believe people embrace the idea of exhibiting their legacies as a sort of ritual, a solemn ceremony. Our societies consent to marriages, funerals, even graduation farewells, but deny such gatherings as the demise of a relationship, despite the strength of its emotion. In the words of French philosopher Roland Barthes in “Lover’s Discourse‘: “Every passion, ultimately, has its spectator… (there is) no amorous oblation without a final theatre”. It is not clear, though, and it will probably never be, whether we need this final showing to eradicate our love or to make it eternal. We like to think our Museum does both.

Unlike self-help books and prescriptions we think that love pains cannot be considered as an illness from which its protagonists simply have to recover. For us there has always been much more to explore in that feverish but yet introspective state of mind following a break-up. Throughout history,  pain has always been a great impulse for artistic creation. If we ignore it or if we try to eradicate it by destroying memories, we lose a precious opportunity for personal development and expression. That is, we think, a reason people still want to keep their memories alive.

Are you the kind of person who is attached to things?

I would not say I’m a person attached to things but for sure I’m attached to stories, memories, energy hidden behind things. And sometimes we need things to trigger memories.

museum_1Museum of Broken Relationships key

Is there a piece from you included this project? What’s the story of it?

Yes, this was the first exhibit in the museum collection. It is a small plush wind up bunny.  Since we both travelled a lot, the idea was to take the bunny on the trip each time we were not travelling together. The bunny was supposed to travel around the world but it never got further than Iran because the relationship fell apart just after that. But still there is a nice funny photo of the bunny in a desert near Teheran.

What’s the most bizarre piece in this collection?

A leg prosthesis…


“In a Zagreb hospital I met a beautiful, young and ambitious social worker from the Ministry of Defense. When she helped me to get certain materials, which I, as a war invalid needed for my leg prosthesis, love was born. The prosthesis endured longer than our love. It was made of sturdier material.”

How many cities has this project travelled to so far? What were the receptions like?

The project has travelled to 13 cities so far and despite the obvious differences in cultures and languages of different countries the response has always been overwhelming. We had never seen such great interests from people before during our 20 years of working in art and culture. One of the main reasons for that lies in the universality of love. It takes just a couple of sentences to explain this project to someone. They will immediately understand it, because they can relate to it. Heartbreak is a painful and formative experience for everyone, no matter in what part of the world you might live. The feeling is universal.

Museum of Broken Relationships bear

Do you play music in the background of the show? If you had to choose a song, what song would you choose?

Normally we do not play music as a background. If I had to pick one song I would pick a line-up from the Smiths or a French song used in one of the films of Francois Truffaut (Que reste -t-il de nos amours? Meaning: What’s left of our Love?)2What do you think are the most important things in a relationship?   

Tolerance, trust and humour.

How would you describe Croatia in a few words?

It’s a beautiful (and small) Mediterranean country, only 4.5 mill people, which still needs to be discovered. It is a country that needs to shape and develop its full potential.

Museum of Broken Relationships underpants

What is the art/culture/design industry like in Croatia? 

There are many talented and active artists and designers in Croatia (and also Croatians living and working abroad) creating interesting, globally relevant projects. But still we lack exposure and support to be able to talk about a general concept or brand that could be talked about as Croatian design or art in the manner we today know about Danish design for example, or French cinema.

What do you think happiness is?

That’s a philosophical question. I’m afraid I can only say that sometimes life passes by in our attempts to define happiness. Happiness is hidden in little, precious moments that are always on your fingertips.

What are the things that make you happy?

Discovering places, meeting people and creating.

Museum of Broken Relationships toys

This story originally appeared in the June 2009 issue of Zing


Museum of Broken Relationships
Columbia Circle
1262 Yan’an Xi Lu, near Panyu Lu
延安西路1262号, 近番禺路
Jun 15 until Aug 1, 2018