Art Walk – Tourist Trail?

Last weekend, I was invited to the ‘Art on the Bund – Art Tour’…a tour of all the contemporary art spaces around the Bund area of Shanghai. I thought this would be a good opportunity to see spaces that I hadn’t yet been to, and also get a further sense of that area of the city through using my feet. I invited two friends, Effy and Phillip, along for the day, which started at just before 2pm at the ‘Shanghai Gallery of Art’. Effy and I were running a little late that afternoon (ballet class had held me up in the morning)…but we still made it just in time to join the second tour group. As soon as I saw how many people there were, I realised this event had turned into a tourist-like affair…we were now contemporary art tourists and it made a small part of my soul cringe inside. I didn’t like that notion for some reason as I don’t like viewing art and galleries en masse with people I don’t know…it got a little overwhelming at times so Effy, Phillip and I decided to work between the two groups and negotiate the tour ourselves, which actually worked quite well to some degree…we were the renegades that afternoon.

On display at the ‘Shanghai Gallery of Art‘ were three solo exhibitions by Jiang Zhi, Heidi Voet and Gao Weigang. It was an interesting curatorial strategy putting together three solo exhibitions in one space. There was a clear division between artists, which was almost territorial although additional relationships started to exist between the three artists and their works instigating new investigative dialogues – what do they communicate to each other? Mathieu Borysevicz, Director of the ‘Shanghai Gallery of Art’, gave a short introduction to the gallery and the exhibition. I actually met with Mathieu this week to discuss the gallery’s possible involvement with the ‘Guangzhou Triennial 2012′. Wheels in motion…concrete ideas coming together…

I love the works by Zhang Zhi above…a photographic series called ‘Everything is Perfect’ (2007-2011), and they are right?

Next on the tour was ‘Studio Rouge’, for an introduction by the gallery’s Director George Michell, about his small commercial gallery just off the Bund…and then onto the ‘Pearl Lam Galleries’ to see the exhibition ‘Window in the Wall: India and China – Imaginary Conversations’. Now this was a very interesting show that I urge you to see if you are in Shanghai. Curated by Gayatri Sinha and Gao Minglu, it is a group show of photography, video, sculpture and painting from fifteen contemporary Indian and Chinese artists. This exhibition…

‘…proposes a third way of communication where contemporary artistic vision and cultural heritage become the basis of an imaginary dialogue – a “Window in the Wall” – to investigate cultural and philosophical concerns and redefine Asian consciousness in terms of individual and collective identity.’

There were some really strong works within this exhibition including photoscapes and video works by Gigi Scaria (top two images), and digital video works by Sharmila Samant. There is a fantastic website for this exhibition too that can be seen here…

Next on the tour was the ‘Around Space’ gallery. The last time I visited this space they were located in the m50 art district so I was very interested to see what this new space had to offer. I met the Director, Ming Ming and her partner Jeff Zou many times at recent events including at the Paul Gladston Royal Asiatic Society Talk a couple of weeks back, and it was good to talk to them again here. Jeff told me the gallery was to slowly expand over the next year, where they eventually would have the whole 4th floor. This will be amazing for them…I really like the exhibitions they put on here. On display is the exhibition Human/Happiness – photography group show…again worth a look if you are in the area. I particularly liked the portrait series by Lu Chun Sheng where people’s backs were captured whilst walking the streets of London. To me they present a series of psychological and cultural dichotomies, referencing themes of “the unseen” and the unknown.

On the way out from the ‘Around Space’ we came across this stairwell…it’s disrepair and slow destruction had to be captured, alongside its hidden beauty. Phillip got a much better photograph which is shown at the bottom of this post…he is a photographer though…

Onto the ‘Magda Danysz Gallery’, also called the 18 gallery on The Bund, where Julian Schnabel’s Polaroids were on display. I saw this exhibition weeks back so I won’t talk about it much here…instead I’ll link back to my review from in early November, which can be read here.

The ‘Swatch Art Peace Hotel’ was supposedly on the tour but as there were no exhibitions on display they decided to take it off the itinerary. However, Effy decided that we should still go and have a look, so Phillip and I followed her to the space opposite the famous Peace Hotel. It was all roped off so weren’t supposed to go in, but being intrigued we sneaked behind it and up the stairs to have a look at what are simply phenomenal workshops spaces and facilities, innovatively designed, and also their gallery space. They were in the process of installing an exhibition about Omega watches…I have one back at home, passed down to me through my family.

The final stop was the ‘Rockbund Art Museum’ to see ‘Zhang Huan: Q Confucius’. There had been a lot of talk about this exhibition and it wanted it to live up to the comments I had heard…however, I was a little disappointed. The basic concept of ‘Q Confucius’ originated from a series of questions Zhang Huan considered…

‘…faced with rapid economic and societal changes and energy and climate challenges, how can we achieve sustainable development? What responsibilities come along with China’s rise in international importance? Where is the sense of spiritual belonging for contemporary Chinese?’

The artist explored the inner structure of these questions through large sculptures, ash paintings and installation works tailored for this exhibition, supposedly providing a unique way of observation and thinking in the context of contemporary art. One of the works was an installation of a twelve-metre-high steel cage where inside Confucius reclines on a nine-metre-long metal couch. He stands up and moves from left to right from time to time in an erratic and frantic manner repeating the motion over and over again. This “robot Confucius” is surrounded by a circle of trees where in the trees live nine monkeys…nine live monkeys. They were supposed to move freely in the space for the duration of the show, however they were only allowed to have them for the opening night. They are a metaphor for ‘the primordial stage of human civilization, of blind desire for food, territory, mating and power.’ The installation is to reference the enlightenment and power of civilizations, questioning how we achieve sustainable development in these changeable times and challenges with energy and climate. I did think the video documentation of the monkeys when in the space were a successful reference point against the installation…it certainly dealt with very contemporary issues. I love the space at the ‘Rockbund Art Museum’…below is the view from the cafe balcony. The weather had started to turn that day so it was super chilly up there.

There was one last stop that day not related to the art tour. In the evening, it was the launch of the ‘West Heavens’ new project ‘You Don’t Belong: Pasts and Futures of Indian Cinema & India-China Dialogue on Film and Social Thought’. I’d become quite familiar with the work of ‘West Heavens’ since their involvement in the 8th Shanghai Biennale last year so I was excited to hear about this new project. This event was at Minsheng Art Museum and was the inauguration ceremony of Vivan Sundaram’s experimental film installation ‘Tracking’ followed by a talk by the projects’ curator Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Q&A session on the theme of ‘On Recent Indian Experimental Video Art’ with academic Yao Dajuin who teaches at the China Academy of Art (CAA). I was familiar with the Indian artist Vivan Sundaram and his work from my days of working at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, back in 2008.

The event raised some interesting issues about the containment of excess of the desire for cinema in India, the visual overproduction as part of “narrative excess”, the fascination with the physical and social material of cinema in India, fans social importance, the presence of myth and ritual, how China is not aware of India and there is no sort of established dialogue between the two…it is seen as more of an import…

‘…the cultural barriers that are pre-programmed to be impenetrable not shaped by scientists or economists but shaped by culture…relating to the colonial concept of culture being impenetrable…’

…the need to set up a new paradigm for exchange, the strong interest in traditional culture in Indian cinema whereas in China it is completely separate from say traditional Chinese dance or painting, how cinema occupies a primary role in India not just documenting tradition but occupies the same status as other practices.

‘You Don’t Belong’ has three strands which aim to explore new conventions and techniques in Indian film-making and cinema – 1) experimental films that are innovative expansions of cinema and moving image; 2) testimonies of everyday life, human rights and the domestic home; 3) story-telling/telling stories where there is a new kind of de-centred story-telling providing a centrifugal narrative in an ever-expanding universe. There are some really key works being shown during this project which I hope to see over the next few days. Another “transcultural” project attempting to bridge the gaps and voids in translation, very appropriate to my current PhD studies. I hope to talk to the academic/curator Ashish in the near future about his perspectives on mis-translation and mis-understanding as part of interpretation and thus translation, and the notion of the colonial to post-colonial. Always interesting to get perspectives from the cultures surrounding China as they bear subliminal influence.

Finally, I thought I’d finish on a couple of photographs taken by Phillip during the days events. I don’t have many photographs of myself as I negotiate this city so I appreciated this photograph below…Rachel documenting everything she sees so you guys can see and read all about it.

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