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

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By ZHANG KUN in Shang­hai


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.

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