Thursday, September 14, 2006

Trip to the Biennial

The theme of this year’s biennial in Shanghai is “Hyper Design”. In this respect, the biennial attempts to explore the nature of design as a core element of creative culture, and what this means for modern day China. This year’s biennial is being hosted not only at the Shanghai Art Museum, as well as other venues. However, there is plenty to be seen at the Shanghai Art Museum alone.
Particularly of interest is the focus of contemporary issues blending in with traditional Chinese themes, both by international artists given space in the biennial and Chinese natives focusing on factors morphing in their own society.
Wang Qian gives a unique view into Chinese life with his works, “Mask” and “Divorced Family”. In Mask, Qian operates a sliding face of a woman over two different masked men – one happy, the other discontented. An interesting premise, the woman operates as the face of modern China displayed upon the rest of the world – cheery and vibrant of the recent economic success. But this woman “masks” the two behind her – discontent and exuberant. In the exuberant mask, one sees the successful Chinese who have prospered. But the discontented mask allows us access into the psyche of the forgotten Chinese who have not benefited from the new prosperous economy.
Qian’s other work, “Divorced Family” operates as a faceless child who slides across the faces of two parents – at neither time does one have full access to all three portraits. This presents us with a striking new entry into Chinese society – that of the divorced family, and its ramifications on the new young generation in China. Both parents are allowed to retain facial features, while they become stripped from the child lost in the mire of conflict. This painting also usurps the Chinese tradition of male on the left and woman on the right, placing into being the superiority of men. Instead, this painting places the woman on the left, and the man on the right, perhaps an indication of the reemergence of femininity in modern day China. Lastly, this painting reinforces the idea of its modernity – with only one child present, one father, and one mother, it reflects the Chinese family as a result of the one-child policy.

Another Chinese artist on display here is Wang Yin, to who almost an entire wall is dedicated on the second floor. Yin is given space for his series of thirty-six portraits, which are hand painted in black and white. These portraits are an eclectic mix of old and young; however, they focus on mostly Caucasians faces, with Asian faces interspersed. In addition, most seem to appear with a look of Americana, derived from the 1950s America. In the space of the biennial then, these pictures seem to represent the new Chinese’s Dream – that of the American Dream, as the inclusion of Asian faces is seemingly representative of Asian Americans achieving such a goal.
Yin’s other art on display include, “Studio”, “Worktable”, and “Home”, which are again in black and white, however they focus entirely on inert objects. This series is painted in a similar fashion to Yin’s portrait works, with a blurred appearance on the first glance, then a seeming clarity that is drawn out on further notice. These works, along with Yin’s other works use form and content to say something about modern Chinese society.

The Biennial also includes in its roster models and sculptures, and Yang Xu’s “Reconstruction and Improvement of Urban Village on the Periphery”, presents us with a model of a village, done in clear material, with lamps overhead. Noticeable are the lamps, done in a traditional Chinese style, overlaying a village that has houses built in the modern style. Also of interest in Xu’s display are the houses themselves, as not only are they constructed in a modern fashion, but also the use of Xu’s material is that of clear plastic, itself a representation of modernity. Here Xu gives us a glance into the transformation occurring outside of the city limits, the extent of which China appears to be modernizing everything.
In visiting the biennial, one is also confronted with many Western painters, and of particular interest are the works of Julian Opie, in the series, “This is Shinoza”. In this series, a woman in a bikini is posing around a pole, obviously giving off sexual energy. The interest here is the inclusion in the biennial – these works offer us a testament to the change going on in China, even those changes that are seemingly occurring in the behind the scenes, sexual arena. Like Wang Yin’s work, Mr. Opie is expanding on the notion of the reviving power of femininity in modern day China, through his use of scantily clad women. Mr. Opie also dares to include an electronic outline of nude woman, which is actively moving and posing, and her actions present a very vibrant, unashamed, empowered femininity.

This year’s biennial in Shanghai is quite accurately titled “Hyper Design”. For in all of these works, the artists are conveying the cultural changes occurring in China through both the content of the pictures, as well as the media used to present them. Therefore, when visiting the biennial, it is imperative to not look simply at the image being present, but to also make a connection with the design. By doing this, one can peer into the deeper psyche of the rapid, “hyper,” changes occurring through this “Hyper Design”.

No comments: