2016 | GULANGYU ISLAND, CHINA
As part of the Chinese Government’s campaign to achieve UNESCO Status for the Island of Gulangyu in the South China Sea, a study was commissioned of some this island’s current social problems, and for proposals to address them. One of Gulangyu’s most pressing issues is the tensions arising from tourism. The island has an indigenous population of approximately 4000 people, and every day approximately 40,000 Chinese, or ‘home tourists’ visit this beautiful island for a day trip from the mainland. The narrow streets are overflowing with government guided tours and a flourishing bridal photo industry staging pictures of Chinese couples in and around this small, beautiful and historically important island.
The local people are virtually invisible during the day, sitting on plastic stools at the side of the road, or in the doorways of dilapidated grand older houses watching the tourists eating, sightseeing and shopping at the newly built shopping centres. There is virtually no interaction between the islanders and visitors.
I was creative lead on this project and whilst out on site on the island, proposed re-placing the locals back in their home space, centre stage in the island public spaces to see what would happen. Using what I felt was the symbol and evidence of local life, the ubiquitous plastic stool, we experimented with the current state of public island space, moving and diverting groups of tourists using stools, for example, blocking roads and pathways with them. We ‘re-placed’ local stools into spaces they would have inhabited 10 years ago, the crumbling and decaying mansions that the island visitors now come to see. We invited and involved local people to work with us. After an initial wariness, they too made suggestions as to how they saw they could interact, control and share in the burgeoning tourist industry. We presented the project to UNESCO and Chinese officials on Gulangyu Island at China’s First Creative Forum in 2016