Monday, March 23, 2015

Connecting the Dots

One of the biggest struggles I had during the process of research on the 2000 Shanghai Biennale was the language barrier.  Due to its earlier existence on the international stage, there were not great abundance of material in English on the 3rd biennale.  As witnessed in some of the translation varieties and depth of meaning in the subtleties lost in English (using my very limited comprehension of Chinese as a young immigrant, now foreign citizen), the issues on the dominance of English, colonial tendencies, within globalization is back on the table.

Google image result for "2000 上海雙年展" (no able to title due to language)
Though I also want to acknowledge that due to my lack of comprehension of the local language, the sources I am drawing my concepts from are either second hand or those not of the "local narrative" (concept presented by Galit Eilat partaining the 31st San Paolo Beinnale).  The distance is significant to the discourse on globalization that comes hand in hand with global exhibitions like beinnales.  As the East (China) is taking these "Western" models and representing them through and with their own voice, the discourse we are having around these biennale are also a translation (representation) of the East (especially in context with the 2000 biennale).  The binary such acknowledgement creates seems to paradox with the idealization of a nation without boundary brought on by globalism and question the depth of meaning behind the word "global" (explored in dialogue in Global Citizenship: The Forum-Expressions of Globalization).

Art work part of "2000 上海雙年展" google search
I intend to set up this exploration on the 2000 Shanghai Biennale through series of juxtapositions (to complement the contradictions throughout the biennale) and as a movement from the local to the global.  Looking through the global eye at the many political (aftermath of Cultural Revolution) and the economic (Open-door policy) factors to the formation of the Shanghai biennale, the originating motivations are not dissimilar to that of Documanta (aftermath of WW2) and Venice Biennale (economic reform). Looking through the local eye, the 2000 Shanghai Biennale is significant landmark to the identity of the succession of biennales in Shanghai and the position of China in the global contemporary art world.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Measure of Success?

How do one come about in measuring the success of the 2000 Shanghai Biennale?  I feel that the questions is not one that needs to be answered but through looking at the critiques on the different units of measurement, it shines several interesting spotlights on the biennale.

 10th Shanghai Biennale - 2014
From the Open-Door Policy's point of view, if the goal was economic success and cultural reputation, than with the boom of the contemporary arts in China and the nation's rising power - the answer is clear.  Though the 2000 Shanghai Biennale was a "cautious experiment rather than a blockbuster showcase" (Barrett) that tested the possibilities of the model, since then with the "unconditional government support", the contemporary art market in China is an established global brand of easy political art (Wang 158).

Once art has being commercialized (profit orientated) the work has a new or added purpose to that of an iconic, easily recognizable, or branded quality for smooth entry into market (Velthuis).  Wang argues that since the officialization of contemporary art, the original meaning and significance is lost; the binary (unofficial juxtaposed with the official) is lost.  Of course such shifts is not specific to China but there is a global movement towards marketization through the stimulation of globalization.  As the market grows bigger and the exhibitions grow bigger (in frequency and quantity), the money involved grows with it.  Li Xiating (artist) discussed in Wang's writing that as the international world is more interested in the unofficial artists, those who are being "persecuted, there is a development of pseudo avant-garde artists who boast they have being raided, their works destroyed by the government, when they have not to claim international sympathy (12-15).  Is this global performance for acclaim or financial gain an ethical sacrifice for success?

Li Xu being interviewed on the 2000 Shanghai Biennale

For the curators, it was acknowledged that there were numerous compromises made during the process of the 3rd Shanghai Biennale and it was the Beijing Cultural Ministry that had the final say (Tung).  Li Xu stated that it was "significant that the biennale even took place"; is that his measure of success?

Hou Hanru
Hou Hanru was dubbed the star curator for the 2000 biennale as a Chinese born curator based in France.  His role was significant in representing the "nomadic spirit of China" (Barret quoting one of the opening biennale statements) as many artist were born in China but chose to be educated abroad.  Hanru's identity ties in many paradoxes on the effects of globalization; Shanghai's (China's) interest in the Western as an ideal due to the restrictions of the local and how that interaction in turn changes the identity of both the global and the local.  As Niru Ratnam discuessed in "State of the Art", "the global aesthetic is a Western construct"; it is not a collective identity but that of the West projected (or readily received) to the "other" - an ideological colonialism through models such as the biennale.

But as Okwui Enwezor explored on topics of postcolonialism, the use of these Western constructed models can also give the constructed "other" a chance to speak in the same language.  He states that "globalization bring to nearness the distance of the objectified other", that through globalization, the distance to the other is shortened, the other now has the power to speak and not be objectified (57). 

On that note, the 2000 Shanghai Biennale was viewed (according to New York and LA Times) to be lacking on international standards but significant to China's first steps onto the global stage despite its political difficulties.  I feel such measure of success can become dangerous in its view point of a superior to that of a hatchling; bias towards the Western standards.

Locally however, many critics "questioned the identity of the [2000] Shanghai Biennale and saw it as a product of Western hegemony" (Wang 214).  They felt that the biennale "failed to realize its promise to create an international biennial of China's own format and to seek a balance between the "international" and the "Chinese" (215).  One critic even likened it to a "market stall in China for Western Hegemonism" (215).  Such different perspective from the global (West) and the local heighten the contradictory nature of the 3rd Shanghai Biennale and its contribution to the on-going global dialogue on globalization.


In direct contrast to the politically polite attitude of the official sector of the 2000 Shanghai Biennale is the unofficial off-site exhibitions.  Due to the graphic nature of some of these exhibitions I will try to keep the images more on the mild side due to my own personal tolerance (feel free to google).

exhibition catalog of an off-site exhibition by Ai Weiwei also translated as "Not Cooperating"

During the years after the Cultural Revolution, artist were allowed to produce their own work without fear of death but censorship is still strongly in place.  In 2000, artist were not allowed to show their work publicly without government approval.  That said, the underground artists (whom also worked throughout the Revolution) developed an international reputation with awards and prestige as they were limited locally; adding an interesting reversal factor to globalization (McDonald).  Therefore when the foreign visitors came to Shanghai for the 2000 Biennale, it was already an established fact on the existence and inclusion of these "off-site" exhibitions as part of the biennale when in fact, they were works that were censored and labeled "anti-government material" (Li Xu -curator- qtd. in McDonald).  These temporary exhibitions includes "Fuck off (Not Cooperating)", "Eating People", "Useful Life", and "Problem of Colourfulness" where variety of nudity, animal remains, human remains, and other aggressive materials or imagery where used with the intention to shock the viewer.
one of a series by Ai Weiwei in-front of Shanghai skyline
The pinnacle point of the 2000 Shanghai Biennale is (in my opinion) the juxtaposition of these purposefully upsetting off-site exhibitions with the hidden intentions of the political politeness of the official sector.  They speak on each other, creating a conversation between the official and the unofficial, on the State suppressed nature of the Shanghai Spirit and of the roaring being it could be.  The raw energy from the off site adds meaning to the undertones of the official venue and the politeness adds an edge to the dangerous explosion the unofficial contains.  

During the process of my research, there were some debate on whether the off-site exhibition was raided by the police or not.  Due to the political nature of China at the time (still is, my family in China does not have access to my work as my website is censored once inside the country without additional malware), such actions probably occurred as each exhibition did not last more than a few days before being deserted  In Tung's article (whom I suspect is asked to do some international political bandaging by the Chinese government), she stated that the police did not raid the off-site exhibitions out of greater openness in mind, tolerance, and therefore turned a blind eye.  But she then ended that statement with a quote from Loren Helbing; "there were a lot of foreigners in Shanghai during the biennale, and officials knew that if they closed the satellite events [off-site exhibitions] the outside world would laugh" (other sources all said the police raided). A beautiful display of wit by Tung through hidden intention in a political minefield.

I feel such incidents bring in the notion of the global stage once again (Hans Belting) and the idea that through globalization, with all the cultural brokering, political manipulation, and identity issues, also forces the nation's government to take account of their actions to a worldwide audience.  (relations to other political boycotting performed by artists during these global exhibitions where the whole world is watching - Sao Paulo)  Perhaps not much is done and political tactics soon sweeps it under the rug but it is acknowledged and known by some, the voices heard.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Evidence through Art

With the political and economic ideologies introduced into the arena, there will be more flexibility to push and pull (collide) the concepts within the 2000 Shanghai Biennale.

But before moving forward by taking steps back, there was a little incident during the writing of the last two post that I felt was important.  Some family friends whom are more advanced in years and whom are recent immigrants from China visited while I was working on the outline.  When they saw (through the pictures) my topic of discourse, they were very uncomfortable until I put the materials away.  But later on I got the chance to casually interview them a little on their experiences and thoughts on immigration in relations to globalization.  I feel it is important to keep in mind the human scale affect when exploring and condensing countries (and the whole world) down to one word terms and ideas.

"Bank of Sand" or "Sand of Bank" by Huang Yongping (probably not the original 2000 work)
For the 2000 Shanghai Biennale, only about 10 works were specifically made for the biennale due to political and economic restraints (Barrett).  The "Bank of Sand" by Huang Yongping is one of them consisting of a giant "sandcastle" of the former British colonial architecture that served as the British Hong Kong Bank, the Shanghai Bank, and later the Communist Municipal People's Government building and free-market Pudong (area within Shanghai) Development Bank (Miller).  The artist would sprinkle water on the work during the opening and the sculpture would gradually dry and crumple to the floor as the biennale progresses.  The work ties in beautifully the language of building from previous posts on the duo Shanghai Art Museum and the temporal nature of currency.  It touches upon the political nature and influences of China, the economic supremacy, and the fleeting nature of it all within a more poetic (and more playful) depiction which is critical in a censored exhibition.

"Traveling 12 Nautical Miles - Float Stone Adrift on The Open Sea" by Zhan Wang
"Traveling 12 Nautical Miles-Float Stone Adrift on The Open Sea" by Zhan Wang can be a good representation of the 2000 Shanghai Biennale theme of cross waters and openness but it can also be read as a cry for political freedom.  The work is presented through photographs, text, and video (also a first in the 3rd Biennale to be exhibited officially as art) on the concept that beyond 12 nautical miles of any national claim is international water; the sculpture is release to roam in that no-man's land (Barret).  If any ships fish it out, there is text in five different languages informing it as artwork and asking to be released back to drift.  

Both examples of art works from the 2000 Shanghai Biennale plays to the theme of "Shanghai Spirit" (in the first as it is an iconic building) and openness to internationalism.  But both has an air of contradicting attitude towards the political politeness and censorship that was evolved in the biennale - though it is done through the poetics and not directly in the viewers face.  These underlining political tight-rope walking by artists speak volumes on the echoing effects of the Cultural Revolution while the inclusion of these works exposes the relaxation of the State's control over cultural production and political voices in its eagerness for international acceptance, for economic stability.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

For Economy

Country wide poverty

In context with the contemporary art in China, one of the biggest effect of the Cultural Revolution was the nation wide economic state.  Growing up, whenever I disliked what was on my plate, I would hear endless stories of the rationing my parents lived with when they where my age.  My grandparents would tell me of the day when the government decided to change the national currency and over night, the money they spend so long to earn is completely worthless.  The Cultural Revolution and the war left majority of China in poverty.

Temporal nature of currency
 In 1978 under Deng Xiaoping, the successor of Mao, the Open-Door policy is introduced with the aim to reform the country's economic system, that was left in shatters, through the acceptance of the globe and the capitalist system (Wang 6).  But throughout the 1980s, the State struggled to raise the economy while maintaining absolute control over the rise of art, cultural, and intellectual appetite resulting in the 1989 Tienanmen Square incident (8). 

1989 Tienanmen Square (with English)
Globalization of ideology plays an interesting role in China.  The Cultural Revolution was first sparked by foreigner's move away from the absolute monarchy (and introduction to Marxism) while the Chinese imperial system was still standing.  The open door policy to the economic model of the West introduced once again the idea of democracy within a near totalitarian (some argue Mao was pretty much an emperor) country. Though I would argue that these influences are that of ideals; the intake of a dream, utopia, of what the system can be and not seeing clearly all the hidden corners.  It bring into question, with the rising frequency of cultural contact within globalization, the fine line between cultural expression and cultural performance that Hans Belting mentions in "Contemporary Art as Global Art".  The difference and similarities between staging the best, the utopian facade, and sincerity of nation.

But by the 2000 when the Shanghai Biennale took place, the State's attitude towards the "social and [the] cultural [has] relax[ed] in eagerness for the rise of economy" (Wang 77).  Under Mao and the sociology of communism, the artist works for the people and collectors were not feasible.  Wang argues that with the rise of the arts comes the rise of the market, the two are tied.  Not only does "politics need the coat of culture to be made accessible and legible to the masses" (159) after the failure of the Cultural Revolution, but it needs culture to create an economic arena for China internationally as well.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Paving the Politics

I feel that before going further into the 2000 Shanghai Biennale in relations to identity, globalism, and the emerging (now booming) economics, there is a need to pave the local political grounds.

Crowd holding the "Red Book"

Speaking on the political nature of China, the infamous Cultural Revolution is the most prominent period in more recent history.  Recorded to have lasted a decade (1966-1967), the trauma of the movement surpasses far beyond and before the 10 years in history.  I remember my mother refused to speak on those times until years after immigration.  

As the name implies, the main point of Cultural Revolution is to reform and control "culture" and majority of the people did believed in the revolution (fervently in the beginning at least, then it was more fear tactics).  My mom told me how she held that red book, was one of the crowd, and cried when Mao died.  I think it was a very confusing time, made clearer only in retrospection to those not of that generation.

Persecution of "other" voices
Details of the Cultural Revolution may be too overwhelming to discuss in this context but the State's practice of eliminating voices, thoughts, and ideas other than their own need to be taken into consideration.  As Meiqin Wang argues, the Cultural Revolution sets up a notable binary between the "official" and "unofficial" that any culture production (the art scene) in contemporary China should be filtered through to understand it in a broader scale in history.  The 2000 Shanghai Biennale is an official art event, the welcoming of the international is an government sanctioned action.  In a country where art had an written ideological guideline where one must operate within (Wang 6), it is important to acknowledge the understanding of the biennale as manifestation of a broader guideline for art through the State's agenda.  (Even so, as L.Wee states, "it is still better to have it than not as it provides [an] opportunity" for the problems to be met and challenged.)

After the failure of the Cultural Revolution, there was a need in China to "culturally legitimize itself" (103).  This is where the global practice of cultural brokering comes in and the artist can serve as an asset to those ideologies.  Wang argues that the booming cultural arena in China is just another form of control; the declaration of openness is just a purposeful counter measure to the persecution of voices during the revolution.  The 2000 Shanghai Biennale can be seen as an experiment of that opening of culture to render the loud voices (when no other voices dare to speak up) of the protestors mute through producing a sea of abundance of voices.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Glancing through Architecture

I remember watching Mission Impossible III (2013) where parts of the movie occurred in what was dubbed "Shanghai".  

Even in my memory of Shanghai in the 2000, more than a decade back, the city looked nothing near the way the movie depicted it.  Such example may be a good sag way into exploring the issues in the complex term of globalism in relations to the Shanghai Biennale.

As stated in the previous post, the 2000 Shanghai Biennale's theme was "Shanghai Spirit".  During those years, Shanghai and China in general, was going through various political, economical, and social changes after the blurry end of the Cultural Revolution.  China wished to "renew [its] national identity through new visions of internationalism" (as Denise Frimer stated but in relations to the origin of Documenta and Germany after War World 2).  And Shanghai being the "most ready to assimilate Western influences" with its openness to trade, rendering it a boom town after the war.  The city was the ideal local for China to dip its toes into the waters of globalization (Barrett).  I think the way Barrett words it in his first person account of the 2000 Shanghai Biennale is perfect in bringing up the paradox of "using the global to explore the local" (Zhang Yan in "Biennials in Asia").  How do one balance the local, portray this "Shanghai Spirit", within the vastness of the whole globe? 

 A good example of the identity crisis within Shanghai would be a study on the architecture of the two versions of Shanghai Museum of Art.  The first two Shanghai Biennale was hosted in the the first building that was originally a horse racing stadium.  The 2000 biennale was hosted in both venues, the latter being a former library.  The juxtaposition of the two styles of architecture and its former functions comments beautifully in the suspension of ideology the biennale resided.  One being the iconic British colonial taste of rococo and decorative (though China has never being officially colonized but had contact with the European culture before the Cultural Revolution) and the later holding a symbolic connection with intellectualism along with utilitarian style. Though the buildings are still given the titles of "museums" with the context that is associated (and with the Chinese characters of mie shu), the language of the space is changed drastically.

On a side note, the current (future) venue for the Shanghai Biennale is a former power plant with a prominent appendix reaching skywards. 

Mumbai's Contemporary Art