14 March, 2018
Remembering The Hopeful Heart
The Lane Of The Hopeful Heart has survived war and peace, emperor and empire … bombs, bullets, fire and revolution. Its residents have dined on rice gruel and gorged on the poppy; seen the rise of Pragmatism and the spires of Pudong. A lane like so many others in Shanghai: of crumbling, red-brick walls and rusting bicycles, of clothes poles hanging overhead … the chatter of old men, the familiar shuffle of mahjong tiles and the smell of cooking from an open window.
To the casual observer, this lane is picturesque and charming, but those who lived here have a different tale to tell: of cold, dank rooms, a single, fetid toilet to be shared among five households. One kitchen too, And the rats, the cockroaches …
After the last of the lane’s residents are relocated to new apartments in the sterile hinterland of Pudong, the demolition crews from Sichuan arrive. These strong, dark-skinned people are efficient and ruthless, they are not hampered by sentimentality and nostalgia: and so one hundred years of community is razed in less than a week.
Even after demolition, the Lane Of The Hopeful Heart has character and ambience: romantic ruins amidst beautiful moonscapes of destruction, dunes of rubble … here and there a shoe, a rice bowl, a child’s doll … the debris of history and lives lived.
I had my workshop on this lane, in a condemned Art Deco mansion built in 1923. I shared the house with the enemy: the demolition crew and their families lived on the first two floors and I inhabited the rooftop. These polite assassins were kind to me: they fed me, and helped me to rescue wood and window frames from the rubble to mount my pictures.
Today, the Lane Of The Hopeful Heart is a temporary car park, and the men and women from Sichuan have moved on to the next community: there is still a lot of work to do before the brave new world is complete.