One question, many answers
This year’s Shanghai Biennale, the most hi-profile annual contemporary art event in China, urges audiences to question the pluralism of truths in life
Themed “Why Not Ask Again: Arguments, Counter-arguments and Stories”, this year’s edition of the Shanghai Biennale places an emphasis on being inquisitive and looking beyond a perceived arbitrary truth.
“Because the truth could be changing,” said Shuddhabrata Sengupta, a member of Raqs Media Collective, the curators for the biennale.
“When people give different answers to the same question, and can’t have an agreement, why don’t they ask again?”
Taking place across three floors in the Power Station of Art from now till Mar 12, the Shanghai Biennale will this year showcase works by 92 artists and groups from 40 countries. Since its inception in 1996, the Shanghai Biennale has grown to become China’s most established contemporary art event and is considered one of the most important biennales in Asia.
Raqs Media Collective has designed the exhibition in a way that visitors will feel as if they are taking a trip through the cosmos.
“If you look at the map of the exhibition, you will find on each floor an orbit, shaped like an Ameba. You can find a path by linking all the stations in the orbit. An orbit is the path of a wandering star or a planet. As a visitor, think of yourself as a planet on an orbit in a universe,” said Sengupta.
“While there is a suggested route to take, we ask of you, the visitor, to make your own connections. Find your own path through the exhibition. Getting lost is fine. You’ll find your way again.”
A large installation piece titled So Far by Beijing-based artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, which features three drumlike objects held up in the air by cranes, takes centerstage on the ground floor of the exhibition hall.
This particular art work reflects “the tension between the three objects and how they hold up in space” and pays homage to the science fiction trilogy The Three Body Problem by Chinese author Liu Cixin.
Delhi-based artist group Raqs Media Collective said that they were inspired by the trilogy when putting together the Shanghai Biennale.
“One is a solid existence and two is binary or duality; but three is the beginning of many, because when a third entity comes into a relationship, nobody knows for sure what will emerge from it,” said Monica Narula, of the philosophy behind the installation.
Over the past four months in Asia, a series of biennale exhibitions have been held in cities such as Gwangju, Taipei, Singapore and now Shanghai, with curators from all over the world putting up shows of varying themes, and this reflects how Asian countries are the new rising force in the art realm, said Narula.
With regard to the organizing efforts of this year’s biennale, Narula likened the process to a journey when one “breaks away from the established rules and make repeated attempts at artistic expression and creation.”
The exhibition this year also includes works by the School of Inter-media Art at the China Academy of Art. Created by dozens of artists and art students under the supervision of Gao Shiming and Guan Huaibin, The Great Chain of Being – Planet Trilogy is the largest group effort being showcased at the biennale.
The project is designed to take the audience on a journey into the underground world. Upon entering a tube-like structure, visitors embark on an exploration of a dark space and are interrupted by various surrealistic art works on the apocalypse, transmutations and microcosms.
The biennale also features a number of performance art works where artists use their bodies as instruments of thought. Sengupta said that performance is becoming a very important form of expression in contemporary art scenes all over the world
“In China, if we look at the Zen tradition in ancient Chinese philosophy, you will find it to be full of gestures and acts. We could say that performance art in China and contemporary performance art has a history of about 800 years.”
A performer at this year's Shanghai Biennale which is taking place from now till Mar 12.