Ten Thousand Waves

Published by Victoria Miro, London, 2010
Contributions by Christopher Connery, Isaac Julien, Andrew Maerkle, Mark Nash, Hsiao-Hung Pai, Gao Shiming

"Ten ThousandWaves had its Chinese premier in Shanghai in the summer of 2010, in the middle of the six-month-long 2010 Shanghai Expo, whose official English-language motto is "Better City- Better Life."  The literal translation of the Chinese motto -- "The City: Making life even better" --more accurately conveys a key ideology of the Expo, where China's transformation into a fully urbanized post-rural polity is not conditional on the city being made better, as the English motto more critically suggests, but is simply a fact to be welcomed.  In the Shanghai Expo's vision, technologies of speed, concentration, conservation, and spectacularity were to make life better for all, including rural China's surplus population. The City would show the proper way forward. 


Julien had originally chosen "Better Life" as the installation's title, changing it to Ten Thousand Waves after the Expo authorities had made public their own motto.    For many today, migrancy is the sole modality of that fundamentally utopian desire for a better life. And although we are all made virtual migrants by that desire, the othering of the actual migrant delegitimates a primary modality of that trajectory, and thereby seeks to regulate-as the Expo authorities also seek to discursively control-the human path toward better life.    Ten Thousand Waves resonates with the better life, and takes that desire's histories and modalities seriously.   One of the installation's crucial sequences is the Cultural Revolution-era footage of marching masses, red flags and painted slogans waving, on parade.  Viewers are reminded that the twentieth-century Chinese path toward better life- particularly for the rural population-led through the long Chinese revolution, which lasted for much of the twentieth century, and which continues to haunt the current era of reform and double-digit, though deeply uneven growth."

Christopher Connery - Ten Thousand Waves Preface (excerpt) 

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