Field Notes from Shanghai: My Newest Avatar

Last time, I offered some perspectives on the current state of serious games in China, based on a conference I recently intended in Shanghai. Today, I want to share some other impressions of the place of popular culture and digital media in contemporary Shanghai based on other experiences and encounters I had in the country.

MY NEWEST AVATAR

shanghai figure.jpg

While visiting the Yu Gardens, I stumbled onto a series of craftspeople from the region, including a sculpture who was producing likenesses of visitors by carving colored dough. Being obsessed with multiple personas, I could not resist the temptation to have him sculpt a “mini-me,” my term, not his. The process took about twenty minutes from start to finish. Sitting for the clay portrait gave me a chance to watch him apply his skills as a craftsman involved in an activity which I am told goes back centuries. I have reproduced the likeness here (though the piece was damaged slightly during my trip back to the United States and seems to be falling apart day by day as the clay dries.) It was interesting to see what someone from another culture would emphasize in representing me. I’d just had a hair cut and beard trim before the trip so you don’t get the full ‘shaggy man’ Henry look, but he does capture my salt and pepper beard. He spent a great deal of time trying to replicate the precise pattern and coloring of my blue and purple striped shirt. I was wearing my black leather jacket so you don’t get to see my trademark suspenders.

The practice involves rolling very thin strips of clay which may be cut and shaped using tiny implements. He also mixes his colors from a more limited palette, a skill which especially came into play as he tried to match the coloring of my beard.