Coming to You from China

As promised, this blog post is coming to you from China—the bullet train from Shanghai to Beijing, to be exact. I’m a seasoned world traveller, but this was little preparation for China. It’s vast scale and the mixture of ancient with state of the art and the blend of communism with capitalism are mind-boggling. So, where does one begin…? I’ll be sharing some observations about Chinese museums—and the opportunities and challenges that American institutions have for collaboration—in another post. But now, I’d like to give you an overview of the Shanghai Biennale, the opening of which I attended Saturday evening. This is the 10th Biennale and it is presented in the sprawling Power Station of Art—as the name implies a renovated power station and Shanghai’s answer to London’s Tate Modern.

Power Statin of Art, exterior

Power Station of Art, exterior

Power Station of Art, interior

Power Station of Art, interior

An international curatorial team lead by German chief curator Anslem Franke chose ninety works by seventy artists from twenty countries.

In his opening remarks at the press conference, Franke described this year’s theme of the “social factory” as reflective of “China as it is remaking itself.” I was attending with a group of artists, critics, and gallerists. Many in my group commented upon the conceptual nature of this Biennale and that the works in previous exhibitions have been more object-focused. As with any large scale, contemporary group exhibition, there are some outstanding works, while others are good, mediocre, or even downright silly.

Chief Curator Anslem Franke

Chief Curator Anslem Franke

An international curatorial team lead by German chief curator Anslem Franke chose ninety works by seventy artists from twenty countries.

In his opening remarks at the press conference, Franke described this year’s theme of the “social factory” as reflective of “China as it is remaking itself.” I was attending with a group of artists, critics, and gallerists. Many in my group commented upon the conceptual nature of this Biennale and that the works in previous exhibitions have been more object-focused. As with any large scale, contemporary group exhibition, there are some outstanding works, while others are good, mediocre, or even downright silly.

Of the works that resonated with me, many incorporated film or performance. Included here are a few of my favourites.

Hu Liu

Xintianyou

Mixed media installation

Click here to watch: Xintianyou video

In this work, Hu Liu led a donkey throughout the countryside in northern Shaanxi. She stopped along the way giving red carnations to the local villagers and collecting their unused bowls and vases. The musicians are performing a local folksong.

Xintuanyou, video still

Xintuanyou, video still

Libbie D. Cohn and J.P. Sniadecki

People’s Park

HD video

Click here to watch: People’s Park video

This poetic video provides a wonderful slice of everyday life.

There were two artists who created post-apocalyptic themed works that particularly resonated with me. Chen Chieh-jen created a complex installation exploring industrialization and globalization using photography, video and text. In Factory, he documented workers who occupied their workplace after the owners ordered it closed. Ho Tzu Nyen describes Earth (Black to Comm) as “a post-apocalyptic tableau alternating between day and night and between consciousness and unconsciousness.”

People's Park

People’s Park, video still

 

Chen Chieh-jen

Factory

Mixed media installation

Factory

Factory

Factory 2 of 2

Factory

Ho Tzu Nyen

Earth (Black to Comm)

HD video

Earth (Black to Comm)

Earth (Black to Comm), video still

Click here to watch: Earth (Black to Comm)

Finally, this beautiful and lyrical installation by Liu Chuang, an artist whose video of the tandem of cars driving around Beijing at the speed limit (neither under nor over) is included in My Generation at the OKCMOA. Segmented Landscape, installed above the Power Station of Art’s vast lobby, is a series of windows with anti-burglary grills whose delicate curtains are fluttering in a gentle breeze.

Ho Tzu Nyen

Segmented Landscape

Mixed media installation

Segmented Landscape

Segmented Landscape

Segmented Landscape

Segmented Landscape

I look forward to sharing more of China soon.

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