As I mentioned in my previous post I visited Shanghai in December with a group of MA students that I was teaching last term for a course entitled ‘(RE)Made in China: Appropriation, Subversion and Transformation in Contemporary Chinese Art’. The course is normally taught by Dr. Wenny Teo, Lecturer in Contemporary Asian Art at The Courtauld Institute of Art, who joined us in Shanghai for the duration of the trip.
We were in Shanghai for a week, but managed to squeeze in a surprising amount of museum, gallery and studio visits within a relatively condensed period of time. I have copied our itinerary below and in this post I’d like to share some of the highlights of the trip.
We started on Monday morning with a visit to Liu Jianhua‘s 刘建华 studio, who very kindly and graciously spoke to the students at length about his practice. While Liu is predominantly known for his porcelain and mixed media works (most recently on show in the UK at Pace London’s show ‘Between’ which ran til Dec 23rd), he also spoke about his participation in the collective ‘Polit-Sheer-Form‘ who marked their ten year anniversary with a large exhibition at Taikang Space in Beijing which opened on Dec. 12th. Liu also discussed the difficulties involved in achieving certain glazes (most notably the Langyao hong 郎窑红 or Ox-Blood Red Glaze shown below). The students were curious to know what Liu does with the many off-casts, rejects and shattered pieces of porcelain which never make it to exhibition: some of them are repurposed into new works of art.
Liu’s studio is located in a former warehouse complex which is is also home to a number of other artists’ studios, galleries and art spaces. In fact the whole area has been rebranded as the 五维创意园区 “Wuwei Creative Complex”, (Zendai Contemporary Art Space is in the same area). According to Randian: “Shanghai Fifth Chemical Fibre Plant Creative Industry Space (Wuwei Creative Space) was formerly Shanghai Huafeng First Cotton Textile Mill. It was established in 1946 by the Chinese entrepreneur Qiang Xilin. In 1954, it became a public-private partnership, and was passed into state-owned Shanghai Thirty-second Cotton Textile Mill in 1966. In 1971, it started to specialize in the production of chemical fiber and was renamed as Shanghai Fifth Chemical Fibre Plant. Since 2007, the plant area has been transformed into a creative complex. Now, there are nearly 20 studios for artists, architectural designers and photographers, etc.”
After leaving Liu’s studio we visited Liang Manqi 梁曼琪, whose studio is in the same complex. Liang is a young artist who paints large abstract works featuring geometric forms, she has had solo exhibitions in the last year at Antenna Space and Arario in Seoul. This was followed by a trip to see Zhang Ruyi 张如怡, another young Shanghai-based artist who uses concrete and other everyday materials to explore how architecture and technology influence social connections. She is also known for creating highly detailed drawings of cacti, which are usually enmeshed within hand drawn geometric grids, their meticulously rendered lines and shifts in chromatic gradation reminiscent of post-painterly abstraction and colour field painting. Zhang was awarded the Coroma Foundation Contemporary Art Scholarship (2010), LUO Zhongli Contemporary Art Scholarship (2012), and the Creative M50 Young Artist Award (2012). She has also had solo exhibitions at am Art Space (Shanghai), Muskmelon Man Commune (Shanghai), White Space (Beijing), and J Gallery (Shanghai).
Later that day met with Qiu Anxiong 邱黯雄, who spoke to the students at length about the process behind his video animation works Xin Shanhai Jing 新山海经 ‘New Book From the Mountains and the Seas‘ whose third instalment should be released later this year. Qiu has lived and worked in Shanghai for over ten years which makes him very knowledgeable about how the art scene within the city has developed and evolved, he also teaches animation at Shanghai Normal University, where he has worked since 2004. I first met Qiu nearly ten years ago, when I was the programme manager for Boers-Li Gallery in Beijing, and he had just released the first instalment of Xin Shanhai Jing, so it’s extremely interesting to see how the successive instalments of this work have progressed. Qiu has always been an extremely erudite and engaged speaker, one who is able to talk about his practice with clarity and precision, and I think the students gained some valuable insights into the thought processes of a multi-media artist.
Our final studio visit was to Gu Wenda 谷文達 who now splits his time between New York and a large, purpose built studio in Shanghai. Gu first came to prominence in the 1980s with his large scale calligraphic works, often featuring pseudo-languages, as well as his provocative installations which frequently employed controversial materials such as human hair and menstrual blood. The difference in studio visits between emerging and early career artists, such as Liang and Zhang Ruyi, versus well established, financially secure and internationally renowned figures such Gu also provided an interesting contrast for the students. Gu is also an entertaining raconteur, someone who is not afraid to speak candidly about the inner machinations of the art world, his role as part of the first wave of ‘diaspora artists’ and about the global market for contemporary “Chinese” art, from the 1980s to the present day.
We visited nearly twenty exhibition, making a detailed analysis of each one beyond the scope of this post. Instead I’d like to focus on several exhibitions which I think are deserving of more attention, both in terms of the artists included, the curatorial intent, the use of space, and what they reflected (if anything) about the state of contemporary art in Shanghai at the present moment.
Power Station of Art: Emerging Curators Programme 2015
Hosted by the Power Station of Art, “the Emerging Curators Program is aimed at supporting outstanding young Chinese curators from both home and abroad, and providing them with the fairest platform, the most professional resources and the friendliest supporting services.”
The emerging curators programme was initiated in 2014 and is designed to showcase both emerging curatorial talent as well as the latest achievements of young artists, many of whom may not have previously participated in large scale exhibitions. The programme solicits curatorial plans through online contributions, after which the top three plans are selected by PSA’s Academic Committee, who provide the teams with the funds to realise their exhibitions within PSA’s upper halls (floor plan shown above.) Each of the winning teams receive 330 000 RMB [approx. £35,000] to execute their curatorial proposals, they also receive promotional support from PSA, China’s first state-funded museum of contemporary art.
This year’s winning curatorial proposals were as follows (in order of the number of winning votes):
1. Yao Mengxi and Zhang Hanlu [姚梦溪、张涵露], “Zhanlan de Emeng (II): Shuangxiang de Juchang” [《展览的噩梦（下）：双向剧场》] (translation: “The Nightmare of Exhibitions (II): a Two-Way Stage”)
2. Chen Chenchen and Lin Shuchuan [陈陈陈、林书传], “Ya-Ziyou” [《亚自由》] (translation: “Sub-Freedom”)
3. Zhang Wei and Yuan Wenshan [张未、袁文珊], “Shijian-bing: Kongzhi Shijian de dou bei Shijian Kongzhi” [《时间病：控制时间的都被时间控制》] “Chronopathy: Controlling Time Always Means Being Controlled by Time”)
Some of the most interesting exhibits for me were a video work by Mao Chenyu 毛晨雨 entitled Xìmáo jiāwū chǎng jiǎ shēn yīnyáng jiè 细毛家屋场甲申阴阳界, “Between the Yin and Yang Worlds in Little Mao’s Village” (2004), a work by Zeng Xiaoyu 曾晓嵛 entitled Gòujiàn zhě yǐ bùtóng xíngshì cúnzài 2 , 构建者以不同形式存在 2, “Builders exist in different forms, Part 2” (pictured below) and Huang Yan’s 黄彦 Xúnzhǎo yǒngbié dì nà yītiān 寻找永别的那一天, “Looking for the day of farewell forever” which questions the role and use of big data and its invasion of personal privacy. Huang kept a minute record of every aspect of his daily life for two years and then visualised the data by displaying it as a wall infographic, with each activity apportioned a ‘frame’ so that the artist could “analyse, examine, categorise and scheme his own life.” By putting his life effectively ‘on display’, including such intimate details as how many minutes per day he spent on social media, ate, drank or even had sex, the artist poses challenging questions about the contemporary urge to monitor, quantify and broadcast the most mundane and explicit aspects of our existence.
YUZ Museum: Liu Shiyuan 刘诗园, As Simple as Clay 像泥巴一样简单
As Simple as Clay (2013) was first created by Liu after she moved to Denmark and began learning the language. According to the catalogue which accompanied the exhibition: “As an experiment, or simply out of curiosity, she bought a piece of clay and wondered what kind of ‘terrible’ work she could make out of it. The act of shaping it into every possible form and examining it from every angle reminded the artist of her first experiences manipulating malleable material. She then decided to input the term ‘clay’ into a google image search. By inputting the term ‘clay’ into a search engine, what translated through the search was not only clay per se, but an array of ‘clay-like’ objects, such as butter, tofu, soap, foundation, etc, that represented the various attributes of the material. Furthermore, the search grew exponentially as the term was translated into different languages in which its meanings expanded from cutting, sculpting, to even creating and experimenting. The artist extracted these online objects from the iconographical context in which they were first featured and replaced their backgrounds with chroma-key blue to restore a visual common denominator. Whilst this common denominator unifies the visual experience, it also obliterates the geographical and cultural context in which the objects were originally found.” Through the spectrum of images generated in the ramifications of something “as simple as clay” Liu Shiyuan not only unveils a globalised view of the world but also exposes the mechanisms by which visual knowledge, especially online visual knowledge, can be both manipulated and made malleable.
Leo Xu Projects: Chen Wei 陈维 The Last Man 最后一人
“The Last Man” marks the second solo exhibition of Beijing-based artist Chen Wei at Leo Xu Projects. Chen Wei is known for his photographs composed of carefully handcrafted objects and architecture, and meticulously staged mise-en-scène that blur the boundaries between reality and cinema. According to the press release: “The Last Man” marks the last episode of Chen Wei’s three-year long project that has explored China’s youth culture through the sphere of dance music and club culture. This solo exhibition takes its title from an eponymous deadpan still-life photograph—a sheeny leather jacket hung in the pitch dark—developed from Chen’s cloakroom installation from his solo project “In the Wave” at K11 Chi Art Museum (Shanghai, 2015).
“Marked by a sense of solitude and a state of emotional limbo, the show highlights a new body of photographs featuring aspects of club interiors ranging from walls, floors, lighting fixtures, to stairs, and deliberate studies of human bodies and bodily expressions captured during raves. These up-close pictures are accompanied by a selection of large-scale photographs that translate the architecture of clubs into monumental institutions of youth culture and transport young rave dancers by the use of highly staged lighting. On view on the top-floor gallery is an uncanny archive of printed matters: a table display of artist books, fake music magazines, underground fanzines, and rave party journals, using the artist’s own works and found images as materials, and a set of photo-collages featuring fragments of visual essays developed from Chen’s choreographed party scenes and artist-designed stage and fabricated dance floor objects. The archive represents an artist invented and re-imagined history.”
Rockbund Art Museum: Hugo Boss Asia Art Award for Emerging Artists
Presenting artworks by six nominated artists; Guan Xiao 关小 (Mainland China), Huang Po-Chih 黄博志 (Taiwan), Moe Satt 莫萨 (Myanmar), Maria Taniguchi 谷口玛丽亚(Philippines), Vandy Rattana 万迪拉塔纳 (Cambodia), and Yang Xinguang 杨心广 (Mainland China). The second edition of the award in 2015 continues to honour emerging contemporary artists who are in the early stages of their artistic creation and exhibition practices. The exhibition was open to the public from October 30, 2015 to January 3, 2016.
Curated by the Rockbund and developed closely together with the participating artists, the exhibition demonstrates the rich diversity of practices these artists are developing in Asia. The selection of artworks ranged from painting to video art; from sculpture to installation and performance; from anthropological research to more conceptual and poetic representations; from observation of the localities to their formulation into a universal artistic statement.
In November, Maria Taniguchi was announced as the winner of the prize, although I personally found Vandy Rattana’s and Guan Xiao’s work more interesting. Vandy Rattana’s series of photographs “Bomb Ponds” (pictured above) examines recent Cambodian history and is particularly striking. During the height of the Vietnam War, the US undertook sustained carpet bombing of the eastern parts of Cambodia next to Vietnam and Laos. Dissatisfied with his own ignorance of this period of history, along with the inadequate historical records of the war and its effects on Cambodia, the artist decided to search and record the remnant bomb craters in the areas most severely affected by the bombings.
As his photographs document, these bomb craters have now become ponds covered by grass and water and teaming with life. Indelible to these lush fields are the traces and memories of the violence of war; though repaired somewhat by time and by nature, the scars are still visible- thus imparting a sense of anxiety and an indelible impression in viewers who are forced to re-examine the photographs in light of what they depict.
Guan Xiao is a multi-media artist who works in sculpture, installation and video. Her works incorporate readymades and artefacts which she has encountered in daily life, as well as images obtained via the internet and other media. Her work “The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture” (detail above) is an installation that juxtaposes new and old materials. In the foreground of the work the artist has placed different tripods of various shapes and sizes, accompanied by a variety of lenses, both photographic, video and surveillance, as well as two hands, which serve to highlight the ‘frame’ of viewing. These objects are designed to serve as tools of observation, and possess both a strong functionality and a highly finished, industrially designed surface. Juxtaposed with these objects, she has placed different ‘core samples’ from various cultures, including the ouroboros, the snake that bites its own tail, symbolising infinite circulation; and clay sculptures signifying the Moai statues and ruins of pillars on Easter Island. These temporally and spatially divergent objects are consciously placed and grouped together against three large screens in the background, which recreate the environment of a photographic studio.
For anyone interested in learning more about Guan Xiao’s work, she is participating in Modern Art Oxford’s upcoming exhibition ‘Kaleidoscope’ designed to celebrate MAO’s 50 year anniversary. The exhibition opens on February 6th.
A+ Contemporary: Evolution of Model 模型演进
I’m going to quote here from the curatorial statement about the theme and impetus of this exhibition: “In this exhibition, ‘model’ is present on three planes. The first being an actual model, like the mould and module in sculpture; second, there is a fictional or imaginary model, like the many visual models and kinetic models used in simulation software, as well as the paradigms existing in the consciousness of artists and audience. Third, we have the model of knowledge, like the framework of artworks’ database and other various models of art discourse. In a specific case, these three ‘models’ are often situated in a nested structure, while modules are frequently used in sculpture, the creation of a module structure is in conflict with paradigms in the brain, and paradigms inevitably are influenced by all art discourses, while, at the same time, these discourses latch themselves onto the physical matter of art, known as the execution of matters.”
While the curatorial text could win a prize as a prime example of ‘artspeak’, the works featured in the exhibition were quite thought provoking and I would like to devote a separate post to exploring some of them in more depth in the future.
OCAT Shanghai: The Ballad of Generation Y (Y世代之歌）
Curated by Zhang Ga 张尕 and featuring the work of ten new media artists spread over two of the exhibition halls at OCAT, this exhibition incorporated video, electronic devices, installations, documentation, as well as other new media and aspects of online visual culture. Among the artists featured were Miao Ying 苗颖 (who I’ve featured in an earlier post), as well as Guo Cheng 郭城, Chen Yijun 陈逸云, Guo Xi 郭熙,Zhang Jianling 张健伶, Ye Funa 叶甫纳, Liu Jiayu刘佳玉, Lin Ke 林科, Liu Xin刘昕 and Shen Xin 沈莘. I’ll also be devoting a separate post to exploring certain works from this exhibition in more depth, especially since it highlights the rich diversity of new media and internet art currently flourishing in China.
The Ballad of Generation Y expands from 电子世界的民谣 ‘Folklore of the Cyber World’, Zhang Ga’s parallel online exhibition project conceived for the Chinese Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale. The exhibition, which germinated in virtual cyberspace, was therefore presented for the first time in its physical form at OCAT Shanghai.
“While LIU Xin displays the “tears” she collects from participants around the world via the Internet, SHEN Xin assembles a stoic closed-door meeting that adapts symbols of traditional Chinese mythology into animation. After experiencing 86 long days adrift at sea, GUO Xi and ZHANG Jianling present their accumulative work “Grand Voyage”, from traveling to material evidences, while blurring the boundaries between the virtual and the real in an attempt to establish a new order. LIU Jiayu’s rhythmically breathing, mechanical petals poetically echo the pulsating narrative of the Great Voyage, as GUO Cheng and CHEN Yiyun’s “long-armed robot” explores the new index gauged by the conflux of mechanics, emotions, and life. Implementing various mediums on assorted screen sizes, LIN Ke launches into space travel out of the darkness of enclosed space that transcends material and conceptual limits. In contrast, MIAO Ying utilizes simple GIFs to expose the crude real politics of cyberspace, while YE Funa’s “nail machine” transforms into an assemblage for aesthetics, collectivism, the Internet, and the tangible reality.”
The 1st Asia Biennial and the 5th Guangzhou Triennial: Asia Time
On December 11, the Guangdong Museum of Art (GDMoA) in Guangzhou unveiled the newly amalgamated 1st Asia Biennial and 5th Guangzhou Triennial. Already one of the largest festivals in Asia, the event was hosted by the GDMoA. The exhibition shows works that have “intimate ties with Asian culture, trade and history”. Forty-seven artists from seventen countries contributed more than fifty works that represent the theme of “Asia Time”—a response to the sociopolitical and economic changes that have occurred in Asian regions over the last few years, and the challenges they face under forces of capitalism and globalization. A symposium was organized to accompany the exhibition, to which scholars, curators and cultural historians from museums and universities all over the world were invited to attend.
I was invited by Sarah Wilson, one of the curators of the exhibition, to take part in the symposium as a respondent to Julian Stallabrass, who gave a paper on “Photographic Time”. I’ve included some photographs from the symposium and the exhibition below.