Shot by Jiang Xiaowei. Edited by Jiang Xiaowei. Subtitles by Lin Lixin.
A studio in Shanghai’s Jing’an district has made a habit of picking up trash from the streets and using it creatively.
He collects things people throw away but has memories attached to them. He then recycles them for their stage performances, hoping that people will find something interesting in them.
The walls of Regenerate Lab, a tiny, messy studio on Hanzhong Road, are splattered with colorful posters and stamps from Inner Mongolia. It is mostly filled with boxes, watercolors, crafts, and various types of trash such as light bulbs and plastic foam.
It is run by three young people – Yu Lei, who is the director, Yu Weiyi and Wodele.
Yu Lei is from the city of Hulun Buir in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in northern China. He graduated in scenography from the Shanghai Theater Academy in 2015.
He regularly went to a store in the Shanghai Cultural Commercial Building on Fuzhou Road to buy equipment and eventually became familiar with its owner.
In 2019, Yu Lei took over the shop and renamed it “Yu Lei Model Shop”.
Although the shop’s lease expired in October 2021 and was closed, he knew many interesting friends. The store, anyway, could accommodate four to five people at most.
During his college years, Yu Lei took part in dozens of performances, but he hated it when he discovered that the exquisitely designed tools were randomly thrown away after the play.
In his model shop, he exhibits handicrafts made by him and his father, which are popular with customers.
Yu Lei’s father is good at making decorations with leftover bones, wood, and stones of all shapes. He can make dolls and give them meaningful names. This influenced Yu Lei to some extent.
“I used to make small crafts out of clay, and they sold well in my shop,” Yu Lei said. “Dolls made by my father were also popular.”
These handicrafts became larger, and Yu Lei began to participate in art shows regularly.
He found that passers-by of all ages were interested in their crafts and actively interacted with them.
“I once made a car in the shape of an octopus. A friend asked me, ‘How about we put on a show for these crafts?’ I agreed.”
In a startup contest, the trio of Yu Lei, Yu Weiyi, and Wodele won first prize. Since then, the Jing’an District Human Resources and Social Security Bureau has provided the team with financial and other support.
In July 2020, Regenerate Lab officially saw the light of day.
The trio divided the tasks – Yu Lei and Wodele are responsible for the visual and mechanical design, while Yu Weiyi takes care of the commercial part. Sometimes they take care of the crafts themselves.
“Bosa and Uwe” was the first piece of the laboratory.
It’s an original story about a little girl named Bosa, with one green eye and one blue eye, and a bird named Uwe. They both have differences, but they help each other and give each other company.
The studio focuses on creating children’s plays and puppet shows. So far, they have staged four original plays, the other three being “City Myth 18-Face Night”, “Nonsense Factory” and “The End of My Room”.
“I used to collect materials from bird and flower markets and secondary markets during my college days,” Yu Lei said. “But most of them are closed now.”
But that was no problem as they had plenty of other “sources”.
“People were curious about us and kept watching us when we were working in the studio,” Yu Lei said. “They are warm and very enthusiastic about collecting different types of waste for us.”
As long as Yu Lei can imagine a character in his mind, he accepts other people’s trash.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE
This year, most of Yu Lei’s materials come from his hometown of Inner Mongolia as he works on a new performance. It is a musical inspired by Manggusi, a character from an Inner Mongolian folk tale.
During the Spring Festival, Yu Lei returned to Inner Mongolia to research and learn about relevant historical stories from local artists and history teachers.
Some of Yu Lei’s relatives still lead a nomadic life in the grasslands. They collect various kinds of raw materials for him, such as cattle and sheep bones of various shapes.
In his spare time, Yu Lei buys gadgets or “picks up trash”. While walking the streets, if he spots something “useful”, he picks it up.
Pointing to a black headgear, Yu Lei said, “I picked up this circuit table at a clothing market.”
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE
“Little Boy” is a cyberpunk style character from “Nonsense Factory”.
“Her hairpiece was purchased from Yuyuan Garden,” he said. “His arms were made of bicycle handlebars. His face is stuffed with handkerchiefs and his body was made of plastic foam salvaged from my old shop.”
Using waste for creative work is something Yu Lei enjoys.
“They can be used after washing and sterilizing them,” he said. “Because they’re second-hand, they’re older and textured.”
The studio has a motto: “Pick up trash with joy and make it fascinating.”
Uncertainty is the main character of Regenerate Lab. “Use whatever is available,” Yu Lei said. “We present interesting things and stories, letting the audience dissect the show.”