Research Log | Shanghai Biennial 2004

1 October, 2004

For the last week of September, Shanghai was elated. There was the Formula One: Chinese Grand Prix racing followed by the Shanghai Biennale 2004, the major art event of the year. The opening coincided with the Moon Festival. It was a vibrant, hectic Shanghai that one could imagine, yet in the past week Shanghai was busy with art crowds from all over the world - many on their first visits to China.

Curated by Xu Jiang (President, China Academy of Art), Zheng Shengtian (independent curator), Sebastian Lopez (Director, Gate Foundation) and Zhang Qing (Director, Shanghai Biennale's office), the theme of this year's Shanghai Biennale (28th September until the 28th November) was "Techniques of the Visible" and focused on the close relationship between art, science, and technology, in particular how art has revealed the interdependent social and political forces that produce and subject technology and humanity. The "Techniques of the Visible" was divided into several sub-themes including "Museum of Chinese Photography" Project, Reflexive Reflection, Site of Fiction, Film Studio, Theater, Darkroom, Studio and Cinema.

Although provided with this well-structured curatorial framework, when going through the exhibits (by more than 110 artists and groups from over 30 countries), I found it difficult to follow these lines of thought confidently. I could not see the forest for the trees. This is not to say I was not impressed, I enjoyed several individual works. Here I try to highlight site-specific works that excited the spectators most.

Shanghai conceptual artist Xu Zhen's "Dang, Dang, Dang, Dang", made the chiming clock atop Shanghai Art Museum run 100-times faster, "suggestive of the velocity and energy of urban construction". A Russian artist who went to see the Biennale commented that this piece was perhaps evidence of a loosening-up of censorship of the art scene in China. Media artist Hu Jieming (who lives and works in Shanghai) mounted 25 TV monitors on a red, steel structure of 22 metres high outside the Museum wall, entitled "Go up, go up". Gu Xiong's "I am Shanghaiese", huge portraits of humble yet assertive migrant folks in Shanghai, were hung on the facade of the Shanghai Art Museum.

Vong Phaophanit, Laos-born London-based artist, has installed a SAM version of his on-going work "Atopia" by displaying a minimal piece. He installed machine-made plastic spikes for refraining birds from landing on this historic building. With this work, he continues to probe the notion of intervention in a selected space. Emerging female artist Feng Qianyu from Yangjiang, Guangdong affixed her light box advertisements to the exit signs in the Museum, adding another layer of meaning to her commentary on city girls. Taiwan artist Lin Shumin's laser work marks what used to be ground zero of SAM. The museum has sunken 173.4 cm since its foundation in 1933, reminding us that Shanghai (our world) is sinking.

In this Biennale the works of some highly acclaimed names in the art world like Yoko Ono, Cindy Sherman, Bill Viola, Jeff Wall, Coco Fusco, Stan Douglas were exhibited side by side with established artists from China (mainly from Beijing and Shanghai). I agree with some artists' observations that the aesthetics were very "settled and international" and there was not much room for the new. How does this Biennale reflect the up-to-date status of the contemporary art scene in China? How does this exhibition compare to other international biennales? These are questions need to be considered.

It took me two and a half days to slowly go through the exhibits and complete my documentation. In between attending exhibits I also met with Julia Schipper (Head Librarian) and Sannetje van Haarst (Artists Archives) of the Gate Foundation to discuss further the International Archives Workshop - co-organised by AAA and Gate Foundation - scheduled to take place in April 2005. [Watch the AAA newsletter for up-to-date information regarding this Workshop].

On the occasion of this major event, a number of exhibitions and events by local art spaces and galleries were also staged. I navigated the city's exhibitions, they included:

International Meeting between Autonomous Cultural Centers Stemming from Citizen and Artistic Initiatives, a five-day workshop and exhibition on artist-run space culture, co-organised by BizArt (Shanghai, Shanghai) and Artfactories (France);

Odyssey(s) at Shanghai Gallery of Art;

Shanghai on Sale art exhibition at Advance Art Centre (Nr 50 Moganshan Road);

Matchmaking at Suzhou Creek at Eastlink Gallery;

The Heaven - The World, Solo Show by Shi Yong at H-Space, which is a new space by Shanghart Gallery at Nr 50 Moganshan Road;

Shanghai Duolun Exhibition of Young Artists at the newly established Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art.

Check out photos and details of these exhibitions in AAA’s World Events section.

For Shanghai Biennale 2004, visit:; or check out the official catalogue at AAA library.



Phoebe WONG, 黃小燕

Fri, 1 Oct 2004

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