In the afternoon of February 24, we were pleased to invite Mr. Sun Qidong, curator of Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum, Ms. Alice Chen, artist and founder of Positive Art Research Centre (PARC), Mr. Shi Yong, artist and Artistic Director of ShanghART Gallery, and Mr. Yang Zhenzhong, artist, to have a conversation around Shi’s Inside or Out and Yang’s Light and Easy 2, which are now on view in the opening exhibition “Ensemble Urbain” at APSMUSEUM, and their other works, discussing and exploring the different possibilities of space in the contexts of urbanization, globalization, “planetization” and more.
As the moderator, Sun began with the title “The Invention of Solitude,” pointing out the stereotype associated with the “solitary” characteristic of artists. Quoting the French philosopher Blaise Pascal, “all of man’s misfortune comes from one thing, which is not knowing how to sit quietly in a room,” he unfolded the conversation around the relationships between artists and their spaces. By sharing the works of different periods by these artists, the space of the discussion moved from the daily studios of artists to the city of Shanghai and extended to the globe or even the outer space. Through these spaces, the guest speakers demonstrated multiple possibilities of space: it can be solitary, fertile, magical, ambiguous, explicit, or hidden….These characters all got revealed among the dialogues between human and human, human and space, and art and space. At the end of the forum, Sun pulled the topic back to the word “solitude”. When we are facing contemporary art or metropolises, “solitude” is indeed the reflection of our “outsider” character. Just like how artists perceive and imagine different spaces, this character could help us to achieve a higher degree of creativity, through the processes of observing, falling in, and pulling out.
We have selected some highlighted content from the forum.
Since the 1990s, Shanghai has returned to one of the global metropolises. Based on the typical plot of sci-fi movies, the global metropolises are always extraterrestrial’s first targets of invading Earth. Therefore, our forum begins with this question: extraterrestrials always start with the super cities when they invade Earth, but is it the optimal option?
Brought by the progress of the age, the reformation of cities is not merely a mutation of urban space, but actually a process of implosions and explosions in multiple scales. In other words, this process not only shows a change in city landscapes, but also shows a change in people’s mentality caused by the city’s change.
Coming back to the question of “extraterrestrials attacking metropolises”, the answer is of course negative, because a metropolis is just an appearance. If you comprehend the whole city as an “organism”, you will see the issues of energy, materials, water, wastes, and other infrastructures. Therefore, you will soon find out that you are entering a scale of a field, the world, or even the planet. Since the development of modern cities, urbanization has not only been happening within the spaces of urban clusters. The urban structure caused by urbanization has expanded throughout the whole planet—across lands, seas, or even reaches outer space.
Gravitation - Shanghai Night Sky represents my thoughts about Shanghai’s “magical” appearance. It was until 1991-93 that Shanghai was positioned as China’s window to the world. At that time, we had many slogans in Shanghai, such as “standing in Shanghai, facing the globe, connecting to the world”. The infrastructure development in Shanghai was vigorous, and the whole city became very magical and surreal. At night, I carried a camera when I was driving, randomly taking photos of the tops of buildings illuminated by neon lights. At the time, or even now, the height of architecture is always a physical representation of our desires and fantasies. In this work, I installed 56 lightboxes, and the fluorescent tubes inside made the attached architecture photos even more illusory. I thought we were often captured by the visuals, or those that could only be sensed by our retinas, and we could not avoid them to explore and talk about this world.
When I was creating Inside or Out, I was fascinated by the idea of “flaw”. In our conventional system, flaws are excluded, because they do not align with the ideal of "perfection". If you want to change the existing grammar, you may have to subvert it through "flaws". It is just like how the COVID-19 has disrupted our unavoidable trend of globalization, at least it has been stopped in the physical level. This is similar to inserting a very strange word into a perfect sentence, which changes the meaning and leads to the collapse of the sentence. For me, COVID-19 is indeed a "flaw". Thus, I tried to select specific words, through disassembly and rearrangement, with the concept of "enclosure", to make enclosing font installations. However, Inside or Out represents a new trial that further pushes and develops this concept. I set them in a indefinite condition: they could be open and exptended, and closed at the same time.
I created Light and Easy 2 when I first started my career as an artist in Shanghai. I moved to Shanghai from Hangzhou in 1997, and there was a big difference between the two cities. Life in Hangzhou was slow and casual. When I first arrived in Shanghai, I saw the outside of the 20th floor was all covered in grey, and construction was being done everywhere. Shanghai could make you very excited because it felt like you were in the center of the storm. The surrounding space was constantly changing and being constructed. Therefore, in the work Light and Easy 2, I turned the whole city upside down and played a handheld game. I thought the postcard-like image in the work was very light, because it could be covered and subverted at any time.
The Arrow Factory that displayed the work Fence was located in the Arrow Factory Hutong in Beijing. It was a very small space that only covered an area of about 10 square meters. It used to be an open space, but I built a wall to block the door and left a small window. I put a fence on the window, and a mirror facing the street behind the fence. In fact, it was a type of one-sided mirror used for interrogation—passers-by could see themselves from the street, and people from the inside could see those from the outside. Because it was a fence, people outside seemed to be looking at themselves in a “cage”. However, though people who watched the monitor inside the house could see others in the “fence”, they also felt like they were in the “cage” because they were indoors.
Living in the city, we are disciplined people that cannot change the set rules. Artists can put themselves into a completely unruly way of thinking that seems to come from another time and space. Looking at the city from such a perspective, I think it is a kind of solitude and an angle.
“Project Terrace” is an art project happening on the balcony of the Residence of the French Consul- General in Shanghai. As a contemporary art alternative space, the transformed balcony has different extents of ambiguity and fertility. For instance, this space is not only a private residence, but also a special place associated with publicity due to its official identity. Furthermore, it is indeed not a regular art space, but art has actually developed here. It is situated within the fence of the official residence, but it is still partially visible beyond it. As project conductor, I hope it could become the gene bank and stimulative source of artists’ inspirations. The duration of “Project Terrace” is about two years, and it will introduce 10 programs in total, please stay tuned for future programs.
Shi’s work in “Project Terrace”, Caution! Your Intervention will make an impact on it, as it will also make an impact on you, is an interactive installation associated with the concept of “balance”. When the artist was creating this work, he took the balcony as a space related to political-geographical symbols.
The inspiration for the work came from the imbalance caused by a small steel ball that slipped under a big plate. The steel ball was like a “flaw” that broke down the balance that we were used to.
The artist thought that the special balcony was very suitable for realizing the work. Because the balcony is situated at the intersection of four spaces representing different nations (the balcony belongs to the French Consulate General; across the street on the left side is the Consulate General of USA; across the street on the right side is the Consulate General of Iran; the streets belongs to China)，the complexity of these boundaries and the differences and sensitivity of the different standpoints are self-evident. Therefore, it is accurate and necessary to install such an imbalance-generative and balance-seeking work in this special environment! Through this installation, the particularity and sensitivity of multiple boundaries become activated and highlighted.
SUN Qidong is a curator, art critic and writer.
He has been curator in charge of the curatorial department at the Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum since 2014. Shanghai Minsheng Art Museum is considered one of the most leading public contemporary art museums opened in 2008 in China, supported by China Minsheng Bank, the first private bank in China to sponsor contemporary art. He has long been committed to work and studies between curatorial practice and theoretical research, in which he explores the relationship between aesthetics, politics and economy. Over the past 5 years, Sun has organized group exhibitions including Continuous Terminus (2018), Do you wanna play with me (2015), and Non Figurative (2015). Non Figurative incorporated interactive and immersive works by artists such as Xu Zhen, Yang Zhenzhong, Zhang Enli, Zheng Guogu; he has curated important retrospectives and solo exhibitions by Yang Zhenzhong, Tatsuo Miyajima, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, Shi Yong, Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg. He has also written numerous articles for the catalogues of artists Shi Yong, Zhang Ding, Tatsuo Miyajima and Adrian Villar Rojas, Yang Zhenzhong etc.
Alice Chen, artist.
Founded “Positive Art Research Centre” in 2018, which aims to to research, practice, and promote art that brings positive force to human beings and society.
In 2020, she created “Project Terrace @ 1431 Huaihai Middle Road.” As the host of the project, Alice Chen invites Shanghai-based artists to 1431 Huaihai Middle Road to create site-specific works that interact with the terrace, and allow them to practice, research, and exchange ideas based on the concept of “Positive Art.” Until now, the project has been held for four terms: Term I “Zhang Ding: No Echo”; Term II “Yu Ji:「Stones in her Pocket」 | am「······」”; Term III “Shi Yong: Caution! Your Intervention will make an impact on it, as it will also make an impact on you”, and special performance “Liu Yanan: UN-balance”, Term IV “Yin Yi: Music on the Terrace”. Term V is pleased to invite artist Yang Zhenzhong; please stay tuned for more information.
Shi Yong (born 1963) is a representative figure of contemporary Chinese artists who first started working with installation and video media. Since 1993, his works have been widely exhibited both in China and abroad. His earliest artistic practices focused on revealing the subtlety of our reality and the inherent tension of the "system". Since the end of 1990s, Shi began focusing on the idea of Shanghai’s transformations under the Chinese economic reform, which contributed to a discussion of globalization and consumerism. Since 2006, with the work "Sorry, There will be no Documenta in 2007", he turned his attention to the art world itself, pondering how to provide a more rational perspective through his creative works. Shi Yong’s 2015 solo exhibition "Let All Potential Be Internally Resolved Using Beautiful Form" continues his artistic practice, disclosing his intention to expand the reflection and practice of “control” under the seemingly “abstract” future.
Yang Zhenzhong was born in 1968 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, and is currently based in Shanghai. As a practicing artist, Yang works primarily in the field of conceptual art with media that span from video, photography and installation to painting and sculpture. For decades, he is an active member of the international contemporary art scene and has showcased twice in the Venice Biennale (2003 and 2007). As a curator, he has collaborated with artists in Shanghai since the late 1990s and planned and initiated exhibitions including “Art For Sale”, “Dial 62761232: Express Art Exhibition” “Hipic”, and dozens of other important contemporary art shows and projects. Yang’s creations have always been centring on the issue of life and death and highlighting the multitude of contradictions and disorders in the society with a cynical attitude on one hand. On the other hand, he translates and recycles the people, objects and landscapes in everyday urban life and political space.