Interview: Concrete China on View in Paris

Exhibition poster for  Concrete China

Exhibition poster for Concrete China

In May 2018, The Shanghai Literary Review (TSLR) published a special edition book titled Concrete, which included essays and photographs on Chinese cities. This month, our visual editor Alex Gobin extended it into an exhibition called Concrete China—Réalités Urbaines en Chine Contemporaine. The show is being held at Raibaudi Wang Gallery and features the work of Zeng Han, Aurélien Maréchal, Luo Yongjin, Han Qian, and Deng Jiayun. Based in Paris, France, the gallery is run by Alexandre Raibaudi and Wang Xiaokun. TSLR's associate visual editor Jady Liu interviewed Gobin to tell us more about the show, which ran from May 5–19, 2019.

Special edition of TSLR,  Concrete

Special edition of TSLR, Concrete

Jady Liu: Tell us about yourself and the gallery.

Alex Gobin: I’m Alex Gobin, 31, from France. I studied history and art management applied to contemporary art. I spent a big part of my adult life in China, from 2012 to 2018. Now I live in Paris and I am the visual editor of The Shanghai Literary Review.

Raibaudi Wang Gallery, which was founded last year, is run by Alexandre Raibaudi and Wang Xiaokun. The gallery is in Place des Vosges in Paris, which is really a beautiful location. Although the gallery is young, Raibaudi and Wang are very actively engaged in the Paris contemporary art scene and they support very interesting French and Chinese artists. Some of them are emerging artists; others a lot more established, like Li Chevalier.

Opening of the exhibition  Concrete China

Opening of the exhibition Concrete China

JL: How did you get involved with the exhibition?

AG: I had it in the back of my mind to set up this exhibition when the artists and I were making the book Concrete with TSLR Editor in Chief Juli Min. I wanted to show the works of the photographers featured in the book and I initially thought it would be great to do an exhibition in Shanghai. It turned out that I moved back to France, so I looked around for a gallery to partner with for the event in Paris. I met Alexandre Raibaudi and Wang Xiaokun and from then we got the ball rolling. Other photographers were brought in along the way, which added strength to the project.

Block #11 , Aurélien Maréchal. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Block #11, Aurélien Maréchal. Photo courtesy of the artist.

JL: What’s the exhibition about?

AG: The exhibition features the work of five artists interested in China’s urban development. These artists, of course, are working with different perspectives, but there are very evident similarities between their works. They share this idea that today's massive development of China’s landscape, this great reshaping of the territory, is resulting in something very profound: a reshaping of the way that people experience reality. It’s redefining relationships, social life and culture at large.

The artists are trying to get a grip on this new reality and trying to find the right tools to talk about it, which to me is the most interesting part. Zeng Han talks about “hyperreality,” a concept he borrows from Baudrillard. It’s difficult to find appropriate words because we’re in uncharted territory and too deep within it to have any critical distance. I like to say that in photography, China is a futuristic genre. In a lot of photography from China today, you sense a situation that’s forthcoming, something that’s not fully born yet and at the same time you know it’s a situation that has no precedent.

Hyperreality China , Zeng Han. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Hyperreality China, Zeng Han. Photo courtesy of the artist.

JL: How does the show fit into the larger concerns of the gallery and your own curatorial curiosities?

AG: I spent a great deal of my time in China interviewing artists and writing about the Chinese art scene. And I came to realize that because China has been going through such extreme changes in the last decades, Chinese artists have important things to say about a wide range of questions, especially questions related to culture, collective structures and what it does to people to live in a context of accelerating modernity.

I met Luo Yongjin a few years back for an interview and I was particularly interested in what he had to say about these questions. I also came across the work of photographer Zhang Xiao (who isn’t in the exhibition), which was a bit of an epiphany for me: it made me understand a few things. Or rather, it made me realize there was a lot that needed to be understood about China’s contemporary development, not just to learn about China but to gain insight on what it is to be a human being today, to gain insight on what it is to be defined by culture in a time when there is uncertainty about what culture really means.

City Center on Qingming  (detail), Luo Yongjin. Photo courtesy of the artist.

City Center on Qingming (detail), Luo Yongjin. Photo courtesy of the artist.

JL: The artists are quite diverse. In your mind, what tales do they tell in their own unique perspectives and how are you going to curate them?

AG: Of course the works of these artists have unique qualities, but I wouldn't say that this exhibition stands out for its diversity. It features photographers influenced by the same context, drawn to the same questions. Visually I think the works show a lot of connections too.

One exception is Han Qian. She's up to something different. With her, it's a reflection on time, and how to represent change. The blurry aspect of her photographs is a metaphor of our mental blur when one considers objects in relation to time. I think her work fits very well between Luo Yongjin, whose photo represents a landscape at different moments, in different seasons, as a way to assign temporality to it, and the works of Aurélien Maréchal, Zeng Han and Deng Jiayun that are also on the problematic of change, but from the angle of society. Han Qian brings an interesting extra layer to the exhibition.

Within Time 1 , Han Qian. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Within Time 1, Han Qian. Photo courtesy of the artist.

JL: Can you talk a bit about the title Concrete China?

AG: It was Min’s idea to name the TSLR book Concrete. I thought of translating it into French but then the polysemy of the word would be lost, so I kept it in English for the exhibition, adding “China” because I wanted people to get an idea right away of what the exhibition is about. Also, I like the fact that the title is somewhat upfront, to resonate with the “upfrontness” of the works exhibited. Because basically, it’s an exhibition where you’re looking at walls, facades and blocks of concrete.

The word concrete is tied to a certain notion of objectivity. It makes you think of something very definite, very static and tangible. It’s not something you would normally say about a country, especially contemporary China. We say something is concrete because it’s objectively there for everyone to see. And of course, there is no ground for objectivity when you comment on a given society at a given time, because where would you even stand to make that claim? To name the exhibition Concrete China is, if not a paradox, at least a slight provocation.

Parc Central , Deng Jiayun. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Parc Central, Deng Jiayun. Photo courtesy of the artist.

JL: You were involved in publishing TSLR’s book Concrete. How does its focus compare to the focus of the exhibition?

AG: In the book, I wanted shifts in perspectives, close-ups and larger angles. Generally, I wanted different styles of photography to coexist. I had in mind that, by superimposition, a possible portrait of Chinese cities would emerge. With the exhibition, however, the accent is much more on large scales, landscapes and architecture. There is very little human presence and little depiction of daily life. For the exhibition, it was best to sharpen our focus.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Geoff Mino has contributed to the editorial and reporting for this article.

Below are some images from the opening of the exhibition Concrete China: Réalités Urbaines en Chine Contemporaine, which ran from May 5-19th 2019 at Raibaudi Wang Gallery in Paris.

Gallery owners Alexandre Raibaudi and Wang Xiaokun

Gallery owners Alexandre Raibaudi and Wang Xiaokun

Jady Liu is the PR of and reseacher intern of media art at Center for Visual Studies Peking University. His articles and photos have been published on RadiiChina, SupChina, FTChinese and WSJ. He is also the founder of The Living Room, a project to connect creative minds and Beijing Hutong Team, a loose collective to document changes of historic alleyways in Beijing.

TSLR Book Club Meeting #15: Sunday, May 19

The Shanghai Literary Review’s Book Club will next meet on Sunday, May 19th at 6:30 p.m. We will be discussing two pieces by Victor Segalen: “Essay on Exoticism” and “Stèles. This month's discussion will be led by Ryan, an educator and writer currently working on a sequel to Stéphane Mallarmé’s Le Livre.


Images courtesy Amazon

About the Books (via Amazon):

Essay on Exoticism

Written over the course of fourteen years between 1904 and 1918, at the height of the age of imperialism, Essay on Exoticism encompasses Segalen’s attempts to define “true Exoticism.” This concept, he hoped, would not only replace nineteenth-century notions of exoticism that he considered tawdry and romantic, but also redirect his contemporaries’ propensity to reduce the exotic to the “colonial.” His critique envisions a mechanism that appreciates cultural difference—which it posits as an aesthetic and ontological value—rather than assimilating it: “Exoticism’s power is nothing other than the ability to conceive otherwise,” he writes. 

Segalen’s pioneering work on otherness anticipates and informs much of the current postcolonial critique of colonial discourse. As such Essay on Exoticism is essential reading for both cultural theorists or those with an interest in the politics of difference and diversity.


With this highly original collection of prose poems in French and Chinese, Segalen invented a new genre—the "stèle-poem"—in imitation of the tall stone tablets with formal inscriptions that he saw in China. His wry persona declaims these inscriptions like an emperor struggling to command his personal empire, drawing from a vast range of Chinese texts to explore themes of friendship, love, desire, gender roles, violence, exoticism, otherness, and selfhood. The result is a linguistically and culturally hybrid modernist poetics that is often ironic and at times haunting. Segalen's bilingual masterwork is presented here fully translated, in the most extensively annotated critical edition ever produced. It includes unpublished manuscript material, newly identified sources, commentaries on the Chinese, and a facsimile of the original edition as printed in Beijing in 1914.

Date: Sunday, 6:30pm Location: Old China Hand Style, second floor OR first floor big table in back corner. Please connect with Juli via WeChat (ID Fialta) in order to be pulled into the Book Club chat group where we post more real-time updates, or if you need help finding the location/meeting table.

Directions: 374 Shaanxi Nan Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu, close to IAPM, metro stop Shaanxi Nan Lu

About the TSLR Book Club: TSLR hosts monthly group discussions about one fiction or nonfiction book related to Shanghai or China at large. Members of the book club choose and lead the books to be read. To learn more about The Shanghai Literary Review, please visit

Need further details about the book club or help getting a copy of the book/stories? Privately message Juli at fialta on WeChat.

Book Club FAQs:

Do I have to finish the book to attend a book club meeting? Whether you finished reading the book or not, we will still welcome you with open arms! We encourage everyone to read the book of the month, but some people come to meetings without fully completing it. We only require you to have an open mind when discussing the literary themes and Chinese history presented within the book.

Where can I buy these books? Because of the high cost of English books in China, we encourage everyone to buy an e-copy online. You can send a PM to fialta if you're having trouble finding a copy.

Do I need to RSVP?

Yes, for book club meetings please RSVP on our MeetUp page. This can help us better prepare for meetings and provide you the best literary experience possible.

Previously Read Books:

  • Destruction and Sorrow beneath the Heavens: Reportage by László Krasznahorkai.

  • Good Girl of Chinatown by Jenevieve Chang

  • Years of Red Dust by Qiu Xiaolong

  • Street of Eternal Happiness by Rob Schmitz

  • Night in Shanghai by Nicole Mones

  • China in Ten Words by Yu Hua

  • Little Reunions by Eileen Chang    

  • Border Town by Shen Congwen

  • Factory Girls by Leslie Chang  

  • The Family by Ba Jin  

  • Remembering Shanghai by Claire Chao & Isabel Sun Chao

  • From the Soil by Fei Xiaotong  

  • selected short stories by Mu Shiying & Yiyun Li   

  • The Invisibility Cloak by Ge Fei   

Open Mic Summer Series with TSLR

TSLR is excited to re-launch its open mic nights with a summer series. We will host the open mic every first Thursday from May to August at Lychee Lounge in Shanghai, starting 8 pm.


As a kind support for our event, Lychee Lounge is offering a 10% discount for us for pre-show reservations as well as drink specials. You can use the link for Lychee Lounge to make reservations.

We'll kick off the evening with a fun and generative writing exercise, and then we'll jump into our readings. All are welcome and readers can sign up via the QR code given below.


Our poetry editor, Alice Pettway, will also read from her newest collection, Moth, at the open mic on 2nd May. Moth will be available for sale at the venue.

Praise for Moth:

Moth is a flight. One I’m sure I will take again. At the last page, I realize Pettway has turned me into the eponymous moth, desperate for that beautiful and dangerous fire that burns in only the best poems but which seems to burn here in every poem. Pettway connected me to the easy longings and heavy sorrows of navigating life. And when a poet draws me back to see new humanity, to see more of my own, what else can be said, except thank you.” —After the Pause Literary Journal


The latest issue of TSLR will also be available for purchase on all open mic events.

Please limit your reading to 5–7 minutes. Only original material allowed. Readers can arrive by 7:45 to confirm their spot.

We hope to see you there!

Waves Launch Events in Shanghai

Our Shanghai-themed 3-story comic book collaboration with Shaving in the Dark is launching this week, and we have two exciting events coming up to celebrate its release!

Thursday, 2.28 - Waves Launch @ Unravel

Sunday, 3.3 - Waves Exhibit @ Egg 



Thursday 6:30pm: Our book will be revealed and sold for the first time at Unravel Shanghai, a live storytelling event whose theme of the night will be based on our book. Illustrators will be on hand to sign purchased copies.


Exhibit @ Egg

Sunday, starting 4pm Prints and books will be on exhibit and for sale.
Starting 6:30pm that evening, drink, write, & draw with us!

What Should You Attend? 

Join us on Thursday evening for a night of stories and entertainment and to get your hands on the book as soon as possible. Tickets are limited (and nearly sold out). 

Join us on Sunday evening to get your original poster-sized prints from the book and to exercise your creative muscles in a fun, free, and casual setting. 

Where Else Can I Get Waves?

We’ll keep you updated on where you can pick up Waves through our stockists over the next several weeks. For now, if you’d like to reserve a copy, you can pre-order on our website store: or email with your order request.