Shanghai: OCD | Rén Space

January 2020

Shanghai (上海), dubbed ‘Demon City (魔都)’ by the Chinese, possibly originated from the same title written by Shōfu Muramatsu (村松 梢風) in 1924. Right in the heart of the demon sits Huangpu (黄埔), a district known for the bund, Nanjing Road (南京路), concessions, City God Temple (城隍庙), Yu Garden (豫园), Peace Hotel (和平饭店), shikumen (石库门), the list goes on, whether you are a tourist or a traveller, chance is you will never miss the great Huangpu, it’s old and historic, it’s rich and vibrant, you get the idea, it’s easily one of the most expensive districts in the entirety of China.

And yet there’s this little area inside the district called Xiaonanmen (小南门), known as ‘Small South Gate’, not far to the west of the Huangpu River (黄埔江) that cuts through the city. Venturing into a mist of the forgone once outside the metro station, you would begin to smell a drastically different air to the rest of the city, all sights of those insane estate developments are lost, along with the trendy influencers with their slinging fanny packs, and all the Chanels and the Louis and them fine French delicacies are no more. Here, it’s all about the everyday lives of ordinary people, you are back in the olden days, almost as if the area itself refused to evolve and rather clung onto the past, each brick and road is imprinted with memories and histories. You’ve perhaps seen it on Instagram already, an old geezer sitting on a campstool by the road with a cigarette in one hand, slowly inhaling and puffing, looking completely stoic, seemingly unfazed by what’s going on around – yup, you will come across just the right guy here.

Located within close proximity to the likes of textile, antique, flea markets and such in Xiaonanmen, right after gracing upon a cluster of shikumen houses, with laundries flying on wires above your head and motorcycles occasionally roaring past, here enters Rén Space (仁庐), a contemporary art gallery stationed in a century-old Western-style house (洋房), after years of witnessing the curse of civilisation and triumph, somehow managed to survive and still standing tall today against all the vicissitudes and calamities.

“An Annual Report of OCD (关于强迫症的年度报告)”, a solo exhibition hosted by Rén Space featuring Zhang Peili (张培力), extended to July 2020 due to COVID-19, is not an attempt in examining the mental and psychological condition but an endeavour in exploring the human condition from a perspective of ‘self’, using both a digital and physical approach simultaneously. Call it narcissistic but aren’t we all guilty, the artist in some way, bizarrely exploited himself and deposited all those elements of a human’s body, in this case the artist’s own, extracted and converted into tangible objects and digital projections accompanied by lighting installations, subsequently presented in a context where modernity meets the tradition, the outcome was quite something else. When every bit of flesh and bone is removed, are we still human, are we still who we are? All the philosophical and moral debates will follow: who am I to begin with; technologies advance like never before blurring the line between the virtual and the reality, what’s real and what’s not; this gruesome torrent just marches forward crushing everything in the way, perplexed, where does that leave us; where do our consciousness and memory come into play – an apparent ‘Ghost in the Shell’ reference – when all our bodily parts no longer cease to exist. And eventually it sparks the never-ending question of what makes us human.

I would perhaps not dwell on the significance of the exhibition title, a misleading one though it doesn’t take anything away from the exhibition itself nonetheless. While I was there I was glad to bump into other exhibition-goers, the fact that people made their way out of the regular art zones during the fair season to discover something else that the city had to offer. According to locals, the demolition and urbanisation of this part of town have been underway for over a decade, now forced into an accelerated trajectory, I’ve heard cute stories from now-grownups who described how they used to go on dates with their young love here, queueing up for some rustic but incredible local cuisines, surely there will be something for them to reminisce and moan about once the area is torn down and rebuilt.


Editor: Axel Wang

Words & Photography: Axel Wang

Design: Tracy Truong

We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. View more
Cookies settings
Privacy & Cookie policy
Privacy & Cookies policy
Cookie name Active

Terms & Conditions
Privacy Policy
Order and Shipping
Return and Refund Policy

This Privacy Policy (the “Policy”) provides information regarding the management and protection by SYNONYM of personal data processed from website visits, purchases, calls and surveys. It also explains the process to exercise individual privacy rights regarding one’s personal data held by SYNONYM. SYNONYM respects every visitor’s right to privacy and is committed to personal data protection. By using the site you agree to the terms and policies, which may change occasionally.


The personal information we collect from you may include name, contact details such as email address, telephone number and residential or work address, as well as payment information when you submit an online order, emailing us information in regards to an order, creating an online account, and/or subscribing to the newsletter.


The information provided by you will only be used for its intended purpose unless otherwise noticed. Such collected information is used for providing goods and services that are requested, as well as for communication and website operation purposes. We may admend the terms or policies occasionally, you may also be notified if we consider any of the amendments is important enough.


The information you provide may be disclosed to trusted partners of SYNONYM’s, who would need such information in order to provide goods or services on behalf of SYNONYM. You give the consent to the disclosure of the information when such request for goods or services is made. Any legal binding requests regarding disclosure of your personal information from government or law enforcement bodies we may have to comply. Under the circumstance where a request for information from other third parties is made, including potential buyers of the business or assets, we may be required to transfer collected data as assets, other data collected from you including website usage, browsing and operation histories and patterns may also be disclosed and transferred though statistics generated from our customers will remain anonymous and de-personalised.


Your data is stored and protected on our system for as long as necessary, our website and server provider will also ensure that your personal information is guarded against any illegal or unauthorised attempt or usage. No data transmission over the internet and wireless network is guaranteed to be 100% secure however, though we strive for protection any information you provide is at your own risk. You are within your rights to see, correct or delete all the information about you that is held by us; if you no longer wish to receive any materials from us you are entitled to withdraw your consent, please inform us at

5. Cookies

Cookies are pieces of information that a website transfers to your hard drive to store and sometimes track information about you. Cookies are common and won\\\\\\\'t do anything to harm your system – they simply store or gather information and for you to get the most out of the visit you make to the website. Information from your computer including IP address, operating system and browser type may also be collected, Cookies are unable to identify your passwords entered or credit card information; you may change your browser setting to prevent any acceptance of Cookies. The anonymous data we collect using Cookies on the website is only used for providing better services, it will never be used for the purpose of any targeted advertising. You agree to our use of Cookies by using the website.

Save settings
Cookies settings