Research Log | Plugging-in into Shanghai’s Urbanized Landscape

Having recovered from the biennial/triennial and art fair frenzy of September, I once again journeyed to China’s largest commercial hub for its other major art event, ‘The Second Shanghai eArts Festival – Urbanized Landscape’. With imaginings and expectations, I plugged myself into the four days of opening events at venues across the metropolis.

The Second Shanghai eArts Festival, 18–21 October 2008

East of the Huangpu River

Since its development in the 1990s, Pudong, one of China’s special economic zones under direct administration of the Central Government, has become China’s financial and commercial hub. Without mentioning the district’s outstanding GDP ranking among international metropolises, its defining skyline of towering landmarks such as the Oriental Pearl Tower, the Jingmao, and the Shanghai World Financial Centre, exemplifies its vigour and vitality. This view provoked me to ponder whether the definition of landscape in today’s terms would still make one associate it with natural sceneries of mountains and streams, trees and flowers, animals and people against natural phenomena (snow, rain, mist and etc)?

Coming out of exit 8 on the subway line 2, the grandeur of Shanghai Science and Technology Museum is surprisingly as monumental as many state-funded institutions. The museum and its surroundings host the festival’s ‘Pudong Breath’ section, which consists of the ‘eLandscape’ New Media Art Exhibition (at the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum); ‘Horizon’, an outdoor project (on Century Avenue); ‘Feng Shui Omniscience’, an Outdoor Interdisciplinary Project and Performance (No. 10 Square, Riverside Plaza); and the opening project Streaming Objects - New Media Art River Event  (on Zhangjiabang River).

Unlike many other major art events in China, the artworks shown are by an array of international artists. Highlights of the ‘eLandscape’ exhibition are AVIE – La Dispersion du Fils by Jean-Michel Bruyere, which allows the audience into a world of 3-D images in a 360-degree panoramic environment; Y-Aller by the Chinese artist Du Zhenjun, a six-screen projection projected on differently slanted angles to mimic the human ascent to paradise; Mathhias Fritsch’s Parallaxe, which presents a 360-degree view of a beautiful, serene landscape of streams in the woods, as if one is suddenly present in that particularly environment – except that momentarily you realise such vivid visualisation is impossible, even in the real world; Diane Landry’s Le Declin Bleu, which seemingly offers the audience a virtual landscape made with plastic bottles but is in fact made of products constructed on the physical properties of light; and finally, Jeffrey Shaw’s The Golden Calf, displaying the animal’s body as an immaterial subject of an interactive process of disclosure – a possible reference to the biblical Golden Calf, a material substitute of immaterial and transcendental values. A paradoxical hint perhaps?

On a quick visit to the Zhangjiabang River before this evening’s opening performance, Streaming Objects, organisers were busy with last-minute set up and fine tuning. While having a quick coffee rest at Starbucks on the riverbank, I ran into video artists Zhang Peili and Geng Jianyi who are the advisor and director, respectively, on this project. Both were booked with last-minute interviews before the event, so I made a quick appointment with Zhang Peili for the next day to learn some details about this project.

On the ride over to Zendai Museum of Modern Art for the opening of the other part of the ‘eLandscape’ exhibition at 5:00 p.m, my curiosity was tickled: is electronic art only the visualisation of the virtual world manifested through digital technology? Do such artistic forms change our relationship as a viewer to the artwork? Does it challenge our conception of what is defined as art? Will the technology hinder our understanding of the artists’ intents and issues at stake?

My visual and sensory journey continues at Zendai MoMa, lured by inquiring into the artistic elements of this exhibition, I am trying to mentally mute the overpowering presence of projections and sounds. This exhibition features five international artists, some of whom I’ve already visited at the Science and Technology Museum. The two remarkable works on exhibit are Jean-Michel Bruyere’s The Path of Damastes and Julien Maire’s Low Resolution Cinema. Bruyere’s melancholic installation of hospital beds lit with florescent lighting in a room floored with fallen leaves is orchestrated with rhythmic movements raising and lowering the beds, as if they are part of an immobile ballet performance. Maire’s Low Resolution Cinema screen images from a slide projector that converts the projection into images of extremely low resolution, displaying pixilated monochromatic derivations of the original image that are impossible to make out.

On the same evening, Streaming Objects – New Media Art River Event by the Zhangjiabang River, officially kicked off the second edition of the Shanghai eArts Festival. A project put together over six months, while negotiating with the festival’s organising committee and the Shanghai municipal government, the final performers scheduled for the three nights of performances range from students from the New Media Department at China Academy of Fine Arts to sound artists; from musicians of traditional Chinese instruments to acclaimed DJs from the U.S. and Europe. Of the three nights of performances, the Japanese artist Masayuki Akamatsu’s Cloud, left me with vivid impressions – an interactive work using iPhones as a platform, holders of the device were able to use the touch screen and the GPS technology to collaborate in an image of overlapping clouds without being in each other’s presence – an symphonic experience for the ear and the eye with a twist of sentimentality. Other memorable works included the Beijing ensemble 8GG’s Air Being Broken, which presented a integration of digitally manipulated images with rhythmic sounds; a 40-minutes piano solo by musician Wang Changsun that showed no signs of a physical piano, instead just a computer; Wu Wei and Carl Stone’s Shanghai Rhythm, using traditional Chinese instruments such as the erhu, sheng, and the flute, and which did not emit any of the music these instruments normally make.

In my conversation with video artist Zhang Peili the next day, he informed me of the Shanghai government’s support of this project, granting curatorial freedom for the project, as well as providing a sizable budget to realise it. As the head of the New Media Department at China Academy of Art (former Zhejiang Academy of Fine Art), Zhang emphasised the learning opportunities Shanghai eArts Festival offered his students, not only as platform of exchange with other international counterparts in this field, but also in gaining first-hand experience on the prerequisites in leading an artistic career. Moreover, as a unique artistic language, Zhang hopes the performances and the festival help the audience to re-examine the definition of aesthetics – is beauty only manifested poetically and romantically?

On my ride to the other side of the Huangpu river, passengers on the subway are talking on their cell phones, listening to music on their MP3s, the subway televisions are blasting the latest news, a boy is playing his Playstation, surveillance cameras zooming in and out – all of which we have became accustomed and adapted to in our day-to-day lives, and are composites of this new urban landscape, forcing us to reinvent new forms of communication with each other and the world.

‘Xuhui Finalcuts’, curated by Davide Quadrio and Defne Ayas, founders of the non-profit organisation Arthub, presented a platform for the Shanghai public to glimpse the potential of digital art by engaging them in their familiar environs. Set in Xujiahui Square, the heart of commercial interaction in the district, LCD screens aired Takeshi Murata’s psychedelic animation of Rorschach-like fields in vibrant colours; Eric Siu’s Super Mario Brothers integrated with action figure Jackie Chan’s films; the interview project 40+4 by Davide Quadrio, compiling all streams of artistic production in Shanghai, presented with a stream of images; as well as Aaajiao’s (Xu Weikai) simulated variation of wavelength.

Next to the commercial centre, at Xuhui Park, the young emerging artist Wang Yuyang’s The Artificial Moon (made with energy-saving light bulbs), installed among the lush greenery tucked way in the bustling metropolis, offers couples moments of romance while watching its reflection in the lake.

Over four nights of performances at Xuhui Park, where the Shanghainese usually gather for social dancing in the evenings, the organisers of Xuhui Finalcut presented a range of collaborative performances engaging artists, musicians, dancers and, of course, the public. Patience for the Man – a work in progress, a collaborative project by B6, Alizia Borsari, Nunu and others, merges dance and visual arts, andr Feng Mengbo’s Q2008, a cinematic reconfiguration of a video game, enabled the public to engage in the production of art in their familiar surroundings.

In the northwest of Shanghai, the group exhibition ‘Nature of Cities – The Next Generation’ was held at the KIC (Knowledge and Innovation Community) in Yangpu district. More than 20 artworks were on display by artists and students with average age of 27. While applying this unique artistic language of the digital age, the artists expressed their experiences as part of the ongoing urban development. Some navigated through space poetically (Chen Zhou’s KML Poetry), some explored our sensory system (Xia Peng’s Hui), others pondered over philosophical questions of our existence in visual representation (interactive installation Horizon). Although these artworks might appear introspective or inexperienced, their vitality and energy contribute as fragments of our ever-changing society.

Throughout the four-day opening event, seminars and workshops were held at the eCommunity center, although unfortunately I was not able to make it to any of those talks. Unquestionably, such platforms facilitate the exchange and communication of international art communities in updating each other with specific artistic endeavours and the most cutting edge technology applied in the realm of art.

Wishing I could clone myself to have seen everything over this four-day opening of the Shanghai eArts Festival, more awaits me in the capital. Plugged in, charged and energised, Shanghai eArts Festival offered a refreshing experience. Despite many puzzled looks and confused whispers at the performances and outdoor installations, Shanghai successfully offered its citizens a class on contemporary art against the backdrop of this urbanized landscape.




HE Xiao Fiona, 賀瀟

Sat, 1 Nov 2008

Relevant content

AAA Project Space, Archiving Materials
Ideas is AAA's New Online Journal

Ideas is AAA's New Online Journal

Asia Art Archive publishes new essays, interviews, and curated journeys through the research collections

AAA Library is currently closed for renovation. Please stay tuned on our social media for the opening date. We look forward to welcoming you back.