As the sun goes down on one Shanghai cultural extravaganza with the close of Expo, another is just beginning. Shanghai Biennale
opened at the Shanghai Art Museum
this weekend, taking Rehearsal
as the theme and title for the event’s eighth edition.
What's in a name? The most obvious connotation is that of theatre and performance, both of which are peppered throughout this year's show. The most striking, perhaps, is a vast and complex installation called And all the question marks started to sing
. The very name evokes one of those crazy dreams that wake you with a jolt, the kind that you relive, each time remembering different parts of a confusing, elusive jigsaw. And that's how it feels. In a grand, high-ceiling-ed room of the Art Museum, a concert is playing. The musicians, though, are DJs, robots and sinister looking contraptions comprising bicycle wheels and crocodile clips, all casting eerie shadows on the dimly lit, white walls. Utterly mesmerizing, quietly terrifying, the work by the Verdensteatret collective is a must-see.
On the ground floor, visitors are greeted by a huge 450-year-old wooden memorial temple, transported all the way from Quzhou in Zhejiang Province. It literally sets the stage for a visual interpretation of the Handel's opera, Semele
, which was produced by artist Zhang Huan in 2009 and is based on Ovid's Metamorphoses
Rehearsal also alludes to a certain inside-outness, a peeling back of layers on the preparation and practice that goes into the pursuit of perfecting an artistic expression. It's something that gallery-goers rarely see: the unpolished imperfections that are so often more revealing than the finished piece. Whilst the afore-mentioned question marks
does just that, it's an area that the curators could have perhaps pushed a little further.
Shanghainese artist Maleonn has moved his entire studio to the Shanghai Art Musuem. It's theatrical, a treasure trove of the stagey elements that inhabit the photographer's fantastical work: a stuffed tiger and skeleton appear alongside feathered costumes and mannequins as well as the more mundane, down-to-earth tools of the artist's trade. It's behind-the-scenes, the rehearsals for Maleonn's public face: the finished product that is his work.
Film artist Yang Fudong is there too with a seven-screen installation called The Fifth Night
. Seven different cameras capturing different depths, perspectives and movements shoot two versions of the same movie at the same time. The first is the polished, 'feature film' Fifth Night
, whilst the other comprises all those elements that make up the building blocks of the final version. It's simultaneously an unraveling of a piece of art and also crescendo towards its production.
Sosolimited's Set Top Box
installation takes this idea of breaking something down into its individual components to a different, more day-to-day level with impressive results. In a dark room, the spectator is presented with a TV and remote. On the huge screen behind, a rolling grid breaks down each word spoken, analyzing them for emotional response: remorse, anger, exuberance and so forth. The audio/textual element is interspersed with a recombining of the video/picture element making for weirdly distorted images and sounds, still recognizable but also far removed from the immediacy of television. It's like a big brain exposing the layers, nuances and suggestions that we absorb so effortlessly in the perhaps not so brainless act of watching our screens at home.
again and there's the idea of learning something by rote, reciting and story-telling. One piece that takes on this role in a particularly absorbing way is Guan Wei's Development Zone
Fantasy maps are painted onto those drab, beige hanging folders more commonly seen in office filing cabinets. One marked 'Acid Rain' shows a black cloud over Utopia, whilst another labeled 'Contagious' shows a strong wind from AIDS Island blowing across the ocean. The paintings chart a disintegration of geopolitics, as well as offering a stark inventory of human and environmental disasters imagined – anticipated – on a fictional earth.
Also in the story-telling vein are Delphine Balley's grisly, dark and disturbing photographs. Awkwardly contrived, they reconstruct news items, family scenarios and true stories, all laced with a fantasy horror. Like playlets, each succinctly captures a story, retold through quirkiness, allusions ranging from the classical (think Velázquez's Las Meninas
) to the modern (anything by Kubrick), and a dash of dark, dark humour.
JR, French street artist du jour
, widely touted as the new Banksy and currently showing at the Bund's 18Gallery
is there too. Immense blown up images of wrinkled faces line the museum's walls, elderly Shanghai residents who hold countless stories of a changing city, beautifully captured through JR's lens.
, as the name could also suggest, is by no means perfect, and a lot of works feel a little out of place. However, the gems are there and with three floors of international art and associated events to boot, there's much to enjoy at Shanghai's 8th Biennale.
Shanghai Biennale runs from 24 October, 2010 – 23 January, 2011.
Verdensteatret's Question marks will include a live performance until 30 October, and be installation only until 31 December.