B76 is having an art show. As a mall, it sells clothes and accessories from foreign brands in Europe and the United States, Korea and Japan. You walk in and you are surrounded by mannequins wearing the latest designs, the hottest hats, the most minuscule bathing suits, the most dazzling eyewear—none of it designed here in China although some is secretly made here. This is its first art show, held in a series of interwoven rooms located in the basement, large enough to accommodate the crowds it hopes to welcome.
Oh, the bustle! The birds in the foyer must be made to snuggle against one another for the perfect photo, the bushes must be ornamented with mustaches and monocles. We’ve got guards and volunteers to direct the crowds and here they are, lining up already, down the red carpet that leads to the escalators which have been painted red for the occasion. The elite of Shanghai, a private invitation so easily shared over WeChat with its texts and links and gifs. We’ve got gowns and high heels mixing with the casual dress of students with backpacks (or maybe the artists themselves?). We’ve got balloons for everyone and some pretty Russian women, too. Cocktails make the rounds but you can’t bring them near the art, oh no. Only in the mingling area so you can drink and drink then make drunken pronouncements about the meaning of it all, art and life and pleasure and malls.
It’s only when the birds suddenly rise up from their cages—their escape the gentle eruption of a spewing volcano—that we feel transcendent, the way art is supposed to make you feel. They litter droppings on the hats and the shoes of those both alive and not, and it seems as though out come more and more birds, more than could’ve fit in those whimsical cages shaped like palaces and castles. What a magic trick! A splendid show indeed.
But there are people screaming and streaming down the halls and running up the down escalators and there is blood on your face and hands. The quiet boom that opened the cages came from a smooth, black marble art piece, the tiny shards of which embed themselves in skin and wool and wood. Calm down, calm down, we say to everyone and no one in particular, maybe even just to ourselves. There are people lying prone on the marble floor, pretending to be dead. Shattered glass from cocktail glasses—those martinis have lost their olives and the manhattans their maraschino cherries. Blood drips down your elbow when you lift your hands to push your hair back from your face.
Outside the mall, the shrill whistles of police, preventing anyone from entering the mall, as though there were passersby craning their necks to gawk in but surprisingly enough, the streets and sidewalks of the French Concession are empty. The birds have landed on the highest perches they can find, railings on the topmost floor, clothing racks and the heads of mannequins. Glass glitters; the rise and fall of sparkling backs and stomachs of those on the ground makes it seem as though the mall itself is breathing. You, now, are the only one standing and you wonder if you, after all, are part of the show. You are inside, the police are outside—the art, the bomb, the performers all inside this great glittering spectacle, waiting for the next scene.