A young architect who has grown weary of her profession, Cao has been carrying out a study of Shanghai’s itinerant peddlers, investigating their political economy, interpersonal relationships, understanding of life’s needs, and the skills they use to survive in the streets. Itinerant peddlers are human measuring sticks of the dimensions of streets; they are also a source of the vitality of street life. As some of the most important utilisers of the streets of the city, they are the assessors and interpreters of the logic of the streets.
Cao will use a ‘notebook’ format to record her observations of peddlers. Beginning on 14 November, during the first week of the Biennale exhibition, she will start publishing her observations on WeChat, and continue doing so every week until 51 are introduced.
51 Personae presents 51 dramas that feature 51 real-life scenarios, and so it provides 51 stories—though not answers—expanding the possibilities of the 11th Shanghai Biennale: Why Not Ask Again: Arguments, Counterarguments, and Stories. While arguments and reasoning do not always come up with rhetoric sufficient to accurately reflect one’s contemplation, stories are embedded with uncertainty, diversity, and vitality, as is indicated in the proverb: “There are a thousand Hamlets in a thousand people’s eyes”. From the stories of others, one enters their lives, causing a reflection on one’s own life, and in this sense, the stories of others are linked to ours.
51 Personae engages life, emotions, common sense, nature, history, economics, society, culture, and art, responding to and exceeding our speculations. It takes its chance in the way individuals present their dramas to become mobile power stations.
51 Personae, like the weight of human life on the streets of a city, is ephemeral and enduring.