Thursday, September 21, 2006

Shanghai MoCA

The Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art is currently running the exhibition, “Entry Gate: Chinese Aesthetics of Heterogeneity”, in which the museum is featuring contemporary artists from all across the country, displaying their works which have taken from traditional Chinese culture, and blended those cultural ideals with the new media available in the twenty-first century to create unique, yet heterogeneous artwork that mixes those two ideals.
In Du Zhenjun’s installation, “Wind”, Du Zhenjun uses a fully interactive media platform in which he invites the museum patron to experience the exhibit. By stepping on the padded floor in front of men reading newspapers, sensors connected with fans at the rear begin to blow, and this movement of air in the real time in transferred to the media installation, where one can visualize the papers in the hands of the business men actually moving. In his piece, Du Zhenjun is looking for a critical view into how one receives information in their daily lives, and the notion that simply reading a newspaper lacks a critical amount of stimulation. For in the presentation, Du Zhenjun offers up men reading newspapers, and invites the viewer to interrupt that process and create more stimuli, as a reflection of absorption of media, and the incessant need for more stimulation. This of course calls to mind the current blitzkrieg of media in Shanghai – televisions broadcasting advertisements that appear on buses and subways, to which the movement of trains produces its own movement of air.
Walking away from Du Zhenjun’s exhibit, one soon comes across Liu Jianhua’s exhibit, “Can You Tell Me”, which asks one-hundred questions about the future of Shanghai as it moves into the global age and reclaims its cosmopolitan identity. As with Zhenjun, Jianhua uses a projector; however, it flashes with questions, translated into a multitude of different languages – English, French, Japanese and Chinese, to name a few. Jianhua asks the viewer to enter into his “sanctum”, a roomed area with metal books mounted on the wall, each asking one of his questions. Like Zhenjun, Jianhua is inviting the viewer to experience his art, which contains multiple elements. The film itself is black and white, and silent, projecting back to the early years of the twentieth-century. It further reinforces this period of cosmopolitan Shanghai with the choice of languages – English, Japanese, and French – all languages spoken by colonial powers that had a foothold in early Shanghai.
Jianhua follows this experience by asking a series of questions regarding the future of Shanghai – some absurdly comical, such as, “Will Shanghai produce the best looking artificial women for Arabs?” Others ask deeper social questions such as, “Will Shanghai become home to the largest slum as a result of income inequality?” and “Will Shanghai become home to the most transsexuals and homosexuals in the world?” All of these questions, whether absurd or calling to mind a serious issue, play part into the cyclical nature of Shanghai – once of the world’s most cosmopolitan city, and quickly moving to reclaim that position.
Rounding out the floor is the exhibit on Zhao Bandi, entitled “Performance Stills”. The exhibit itself contains a fascinating element – the floor is carpeted, while children’s tables and chairs are scattered throughout the room, with crayons and paper to draw, what else, but pandas. The glass encapsulating this exhibit is covered with pictures of Zhao Bandi searching for people who look like pandas, or have put on make-up to look like them. As one looks around the room, all the of the pictures contain people who are enjoying themselves, and Zhao is asking people the very question – where is modernity taking us? As Zhao portrays himself as a unique peaceful image of China’s culture, a panda, one becomes confronted with the complications of our modern day society. As people move faster into a global age, Zhao’s exhibit asks us to take a step back – back from the rapid development of the world and China, and back to our communal childhood – to sit on the children’s furniture, and to use crayons. Zhao’s exhibit asks a modern world to look to the past and really examine its own nature, and to take a step back from the whirlwind of the modern-day experience.
As one approaches the current exhibition at the Shanghai MoCA, it is clearly possible to see modern art forms challenging the present social environment through its own media. In this sense, the artists achieve a sense of “heterogeneity” with a confluence of present media and past cultural experiences.

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