Thursday, September 21, 2006

Envisage

Envisage: foresee something; to contemplate a future possibility (Encarta Online Dictionary). Envisage is quite an appropriate title for the current exhibition at the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art. The 2006 MoCA Envisage: “Entry Gate: Chinese Aesthetics of Heterogeneity” is described by curator Victoria Lu as, “a ‘research exhibition’ focusing on the new direction of contemporary Chinese art and its changing voice…a hybrid of East and West, ancient and modern[i]. Like the Shanghai Museum of Art’s Biennale exhibit, HyperDesign, the MoCA exhibit also displays works of art that blend together traditional and contemporary to create a vision of what China is today, and what it can be in the future.
The panda has arguably become one of the most recognizable national symbols of China. I noticed that many artists included representations of the panda in various pieces. For example, Zhang QiKai’s oil painting entitled, “Dream of Traveling Around the World,” depicts a giant panda in the foreground of the painting, and in the background the sky and clouds, and an Air China plane flying through the air. In this painting, I believe the panda represents the people of China, and the sky and clouds represents their hopes and dreams. The plane symbolizes modernity and is representative of China’s desire to spread its influence globally, not only in an economic sense, but a cultural sense. China is undergoing enormous economic change; however, it has yet to establish itself as a center for culture and the arts. Here, the artists represent China’s desire to move away from traditional and proceed into the future.
Zhan Wang’s installation, “Artificial Rock 4” is a stainless steel sculpture of a rock found in Chinese gardens. Traditionally, rocks such as these were highly valued for their strange shapes and age and put in gardens on display. Here the artist appears to be recreating a rock from a traditional Chinese garden, but with a modern twist. Constructed of stainless steel, the rock shines and shimmers in the sunlight of the exhibit, exuding and a sense of modernity. Wang is clearly referencing the integration of old and new when he recreated this ordinary classical object and redefined it in modern terms.
Another artist featuring pandas is Zhao Bandi’s Panda Performance. This installation consists of photos of all kinds of people holding pandas, dressed as pandas, wearing panda paraphernalia, and even with their faces painted like pandas. Bandi uses pandas because he believes that pandas represent China. The artists work is described as, “humorously subversive and self-promoting, critical and seductive…Addressing the idea of media and mass reproduction, Zhao Bandi suggests that the boundary between image and reality has broken down. He emphasizes the images’ potential for transformation, but also the power of the manipulating gesture: It takes so little to change the value and significance of an image.”
[ii] In other projects by Bandi, he uses his stuffed animal panda bear as a humorous satire on contemporary issues affecting society such as SARS, terrorism, etc.
As China emerges as an economic and cultural world power, it must find ways to integrate its own traditions and culture with the Western ideals flowing in. The MoCA’s exhibit embodies China’s battle to maintain tradition while at the same time modernizing its infrastructure and even its culture.


[i] SH. Shanghai, China. No. 89, 9. 9/8/06.

[ii] ShanghART. Zhou Bandi. Shanghai, China. 19, Sep. 2006.

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