Within days of the opening of ‘The Unseen’, the Fourth Guangzhou Triennial in Guangzhou, China, it was time for the opening of ‘Reactivation’, the 9th Shanghai Biennale, at the brand new Power Station of Art and at its offsite peripheral venues across the city of Shanghai. I somehow jumped in a little on this project, very last-minute lending a hand to largely copy-edit the huge exhibition catalogue often way into the night and early hours. I love and feed off this kind of frenzied time when things have tight deadlines…there’s a certain type of creative energy that drives everyone through it, that and adrenalin of course. Nothing quite like it.
This Biennale gained a lot of mixed press attention prior to and during the opening as it was such a large-scale project which included the opening of the brand new Power Station of Art. Would it open on time? What did the spaces look like? How did artists find the curatorial process? How would the city receive the Biennale? What would the Power Station of Art do for Shanghai and China? And of course, what most people wanted to know…how do I get a VIP ticket to the opening? (I won’t even go into this mis-communicated dilemma that so many people experienced, somewhat ludicrous and petty!) Literally a day or so before the opening, courtesy of a good friend and colleague who was project manager for the whole Biennale, I got a preview of what was to come. It was phenomenal…overwhelming to see and to experience it all, and to see what took place and got finished in the short time frame up until the opening. It is amazing what manpower can achieve when pushed to the limit…specifically under Shanghai, well China, pressure. It was also great to get to know artists and curators from many of projects, including the Sydney, Pittsburg, Brooklyn, Palermo, Mumbai, Istanbul, Barcelona and Amsterdam pavilions…here’s to KTV memories! New friends and colleagues made who I look forward to talking and collaborating with in the future.
Thanks must go to the curatorial and project team for making this a truly one-off experience that can never be repeated (largely as the Power Station of Art will never have to be rebuilt and designed again!)…thank you for making it an unconventional, experimental, boundary-pushing show that has you questioning artistic and curatorial infrastructures in both Chinese and International contexts…that has you excited to discover, find and hunt for the art within the different urban interior and exterior landscapes in the city of Shanghai, within the multi-faceted layers of architecture that you are faced with in the City Pavilions on Nanjing Lu which add contextual dialogues to the site-specific works on display. The disjointed and unfinished nature to the spaces fuel the nature of the works…drive them forward into the limelight, increasing your focus on what they have to offer, their details, their roots, their concept…they have you constantly battling with pre-existing, uniform ideals of gallery and exhibition space…and have you thinking about the development of the “art museum” in China, how spaces function, their design, how you negotiate this space and ultimately, their place and sustainability in global terms…also against other grand scale art museums.
It is not often that artists from all over the globe get to work on site on an international Biennale of this kind, to witness the launch of a new art museum and ultimately go through this fundamentally changing time for contemporary art in Shanghai. The next Shanghai Biennale will certainly not be up against the same challenges of 2012, and will negotiate different issues and parameters no doubt apt to the global concerns and contexts of that time. For ‘Reactivation’, it definitely reflected China’s curiosity and obsession with wanting to make statements, to have the biggest and the best (although questionable) in terms of anything, in this case an art museum…it reflected (again) China’s distorted engagements with architectural design….also reflecting China’s conflicted engagement with its physical past and present, not knowing whether to retain heritage or to embrace the future. In my view, these many questions and dialogues have defined the Biennale by “reactivating” our senses from the preconceived ideas of how an art exhibition and festival should and does function…this is what art should do right?