Precarious Accumulation

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In China, progress is often synonymous with a particular vision of urban development. An evidence of this is the prevalence of urban billboards and hoardings that promise an utopian future with spectacular skyscrapers and happy citizens. Yet, this desire of having a harmonic and dreamlike future collides constantly with the conditions of precarity that have become a common sight in China and elsewhere. In the city of Guangzhou, the precarity of life is epitomized in the surreal landscape of Xiancun, an urban village inside the Central Business District. As a legacy of socialist collectivization of rural lands, urban villages are collectively owned enclaves engulfed and progressively erased by the hyper-expansion of China’s megacities. Caught up in the politics of urban renewal, the urban slum encountered here is left in a suspended state of destruction. Whereas light boxes are frequently used to display real estate commercials in public spaces in China, the final products of this project are light boxes advertising the unreal estate of Xiancun’s dystopic present. Blending documentary and conceptual photographic practices, these images expose the foreclosed future of the urban poor, especially migrant workers, in a society that emphasizes high-speed growth and conspicuous consumption. By casting light literally on the city’s spatial ruptures, these images suggest that in societies where state-sanctioned facts are inseparable from spectacle, fictional images may in the end come closer to the truth.