The Topography of Ghost Cities

This map indicates the topographical relations for the field research, as a mapping of performative acts that were undertaken during the research in different parts of China. My experiences during my travels are reflected in reflexive, ethnographical documents made up of sounds, images, and artistic performances in situ.

  1. Beijing – Disappearing Neighborhoods [2011]
    I have visited several sites in Beijing over the years, starting with an artist in residency position in Beigao, 5th ring road. The symbol 拆 (chai) is marked on the buildings selected for destruction. From this desert of rubble, people are extracting bricks and recyclable materials. Rapid urbanization has erased the old structure of the cities. Old neighbourhoods and hometowns have disappeared. Nothing will remain to remind us of these villages.

  2. Boluo Hallstatt See – Double Happiness [2012/13]
    Hallstatt in Boluo, near Huizhou, was planned as a luxury real estate project copied from the Austrian village of the same name. The landscape was transformed and eradicated, the mountains were divided and reshaped to resemble the region of the Alps. The town became the perfect background on which to project an imagined life in Austria. It turned into a busy tourist attraction and backdrop for wedding photography and soap operas.

  3. Ordos – Colossal Palaces [2013]
    Ordos, Inner Mongolia. Ordos, meaning ‘many palaces’, is a completely new city with a futuristic museum built by star architect Ma Yansong. Arriving in the city at dusk, only a few lights were visible in a horizon of high-rises. A gigantic trick fountain, operating once per month, was flushing lights and water, accompanied by music echoing in the surrounding emptiness. Only a few visitors were watching the spectacle.

  4. Beijing – Wonderland Amusement Park [2016]
    Wonderland Amusement Park, Wo de lan you le yuan, Chenchuang village 陈庄村, is an abandoned and never-completed amusement park outside Beijing. The concrete castle is the last reminder of this demolished dreamland. In the far background, there is a new luxury shopping outlet district to replace the failed amusement project.

  5. Jinan – Exhaustion of Modernization [2016]
    Jinan is the capital of the Shandong province. More than 300 museums have been built in China in the last two years and have remained without any exhibition or audience. These empty museums and cultural institutions—it seems to me—are the result of the surplus production of the culture industry as the monument of our times, where modernity has exhausted itself. Modern society turns people into both audience of and actors within their own spectacle.

  6. New towns on the coast of Shandong Province
    Along the coastline one high-rise after the other is being built. One luxury villa community after the other. Many of the high-rises look old. Some have never been finished. Concrete skeletons piling up. Deserted villas without fences, broken doors, or windows. Nature reconquers these urban ruins. Nobody lives here. People only come for vacation. Some are practicing Tai chi in front of the Dutch-themed real estate. The coastline is still under development, although too much has already been built, too many buildings remain empty.

  7. Chongqing - The Gigantic City [2016-2019]
    Chongqing on the Yangtze River is, with 30 million people, the most populous city in China, or even in the world. It is not only considered a mega city but also one of the four municipalities in China. The government is building infrastructure ahead of demand, and it is visible all over the city that there are far more buildings constructed than needed.

  8. Chengdu – City of Abundances [2016]
    Looking for the new development in the real estate market in Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan province, we took the subway to the last stop and continued to drive southwards for another hour by car. The newly built real estate developments seemed endless. Empty blocks of high-rises lined up alongside multi-track roads. According to the World Population Review, Chengdu, with 7.8 million people, is expected to grow to 10 million by 2030. It is heading to an unimaginable future.

  9. Tianducheng – Ghost of the West [2016]
    Tianducheng is the Chinese Paris near Hangzhou, with Parisian-style architecture and a French-themed amusement park. The new urban space is haunted by fantasies and dreams, offered by the government and the real estate market to foster contemporary fairy tales, the spectre of living somewhere else, in another world. I visited Tianducheng on a rainy day in December, when the air pollution exceeded its healthy level. The Eiffel Tower slowly dissolved into invisibility in the smog.

  10. Huaxi - The world Nr.1 village [2016]
    Huaxi village, in Jiangsu province, a two-hour drive from Shanghai, proclaims itself not only the world’s no. 1 village, but also the richest one. Huaxi is a commune village, where every citizen can share the benefit of work. Surrounded by the smoking chimneys of factories, a skyscraper rises in the middle as a monument to prosperity, with theme parks and villas for everyone. The village, frozen in a glorious past, serves as utopian evidence of the Chinese communist economy.

  11. Shenzhen – A film studio for real estate advertisements [2017]
    Real estate advertisements project dreams and fantasies of ideal living, at the same time promising the assurance of the customer’s investment and all kinds of accomplishments. The film studio stages a glamorous living room, clean and pale. These ‘living spaces’ are built with fragile plywood sheets only for filming illusions, appearing flimsy and ghostly. Today in China, urban spaces are haunted by fantasies of modern life, which are offered by the government, urban planning, and real estate to altogether fabricate contemporary fairy tales of living.

  12. Urban Villages
    Urban villages in big cities like Shenzhen or Guangzhou are the last reminders of the rural within the urban. The buildings in these villages are also called ‘handshake-buildings’, because of the narrow distance between them. Outside the village is the glittering, modern metropolis with high-rises, banks, and shopping malls. The urban villages are on the verge of disappearing, and many of them are being torn down, but the villagers refuse to move out. Red flags on their building mark that they are still living there. The ground is shaking from the destruction, roads and connections disappear. A performative scene in staging the disappearance.

New towns on the coast of Shandong Province (6)


Beijing, searching God-an (1)

Charles, the owner of Swallow hotel (7)









See the  References

For performative acts please scroll over the map

Casting of a construction worker (11)

Ghost Hits Wall, 2021 (2)

Jinan, Performing Exhaustion (5)

We will always have Paris, 2020 (9)