As opposed to the majority of the NYU students who visited Beijing the past weekend, I decided to visit Nanjing, the old capital city of China. Arriving to the city and you can immediately sense a difference in the air from Shanghai. Nanjing is also a smoggy city, like all big cities in China, but there's a serenity in this city that is lacking in Beijing and Shanghai. On the train I had a conversation with an enthusiastic and knowledgeable Nanjing-ren, who rentlessly explained to me which sights to visit and its history. The same happened again in the cab, with the cab driver enthusiastically suggesting places for me to visit. Nanjing-ren take pride in their city, but in a very subtle way compared to Shanghainese or Beijing-ren. The pace of the city is a lot more relaxed, it is less crowded and the people are polite. It reminds me of a mixture of Taipei and Shanghai. As I begin to visit more and more cities in China, I start realizing the stark differences between the manners and attitudes of people in each city. Nanjing had a calmer element to it and I was curious to see how the Nanjing Triennale will be.
The Triennale is held in the Nanjing Museum; the combination is interesting, a traditional-Chinese historical museum hosting a contemporary art exhibition. The theme of the Triennale is Reflective Asia, and visitors are welcomed at the entrance with a huge saw sawing another saw (try saying that 10 times). Upon entering the exhibition, I see a very familiar face: Chen Wenling's pig-man.
The overall environment of the exhibition was critical, bleak and a tad depressing. There is a sense of frustration in the artworks, artists reflecting on the dramatic changes occuring in Asia due to industrialization and western influences. All the artists are exploring their environment, criticizing it and contemplating the identity of the modern-day Asian. The artists were from all over Asia but their artworks showed very little cultural elements or prototypical Asian-icons. Reflective Asia showed visitors that modern day Asia has lost much of its cultural heritage and Asian identities are now deeply tied to the race for economic success. What intrigues me is that although the artists are criticizing Asia's economic progress and globalization, it is inevitably this economic development that inspires the artists. It almost seems like a mean joke, you hate it but you need it.