6 artists to know at the Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale 2014

Art Radar profiles 6 artists who stretch the concept of sculpture beyond material objects.

The 8th edition of the Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale runs at the OCT Contemporary Art Terminal in Nanshan until 31 August 2014. Art Radar investigates its curatorial concept of ‘social sculpture’ and profiles 6 exhibiting artists from Asia.

Li Ming, 'Nothing Happened Today 1-4' (still), 2012, four-channel video. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Li Ming, ‘Nothing Happened Today 1-4′ (still), 2012, four-channel video. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

The 8th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale is curated by Marko Daniel, Convenor of Public Programmes at London’s Tate Modern. Entitled “We Have Never Participated”, the Biennale explores ideas of participation, relationality, collaboration and public engagement.

Social sculpture

In the 1960s, Joseph Beuys’ notion of social sculpture expanded the concept of sculpture beyond material objects into social relations. The practice of ‘participatory art’ engages the audience in the creative process, making viewer interaction a vital component of the artwork and emphasising situations and encounters over material form. Such ideas see art as intrinsically bound to everyday life as well as social, economic and political processes.

Innovative and revolutionary at the time, participatory art has since become mainstream. The idea of ‘post-participation’ draws attention to the need for a re-examination of the ideological values of participation. The biennale’s title “We Have Never Participated” is a riff on Bruno Latour’s seminal book We Have Never Been Modern (1991), and the exhibition seeks to interrogate the romantic and seemingly innocent notions of collaboration and democracy in art and social movements.

Art Radar profiles six artists from Asia who are participating in the Shenzhen Sculpture Biennial 2014.

Chen Shaoxiong, 'Ink Media' (stills), 2011-2013. Ink drawings, HD video, 3'56''. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Chen Shaoxiong, ‘Ink Media’ (stills), 2011-2013, ink drawings, HD video, 3min:56sec. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Chen Shaoxiong

Having grown up in China, Chen Shaoxiong (b. 1962, Guangdong, China) is no stranger to propaganda and censorship. As an artist, he is concerned with the paradox that even the most objective photographer cannot record events without in some way altering them. In Ink Media (2011-2013), Chen brings a new meaning to ‘editing’: he reproduced hundreds of internet photographs of street protests, mass demonstrations and global social movements in the form of ink paintings, which were then re-photographed and spliced together in the form of an animated film.

The resulting work is a shrewd study of the social dynamics of crowd behaviour, the politics of participation and the impact of mass media imagery on collective memory and public opinion. As the exhibition’s catalogue (PDF download) states:

Complemented by a powerful soundtrack, the piece can be viewed as a rousing tribute to the power of social media and online activism, or conversely, as a cautionary statement on the mass media’s spectacularisation of collective forms of resistance.

Meiro Koizumi, 'Theatre Dreams of a Beautiful Afternoon' (stills), 2010-2011, two-channel HD video, 10'30". Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Meiro Koizumi, ‘Theatre Dreams of a Beautiful Afternoon’ (stills), 2010-2011, two-channel HD video, 10min:30sec. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Meiro Koizumi

Japanese artist Meiro Koizumi (b. 1976, Gunma, Japan) works with choreographed emotional manipulations that reveal behavioural patterns and the politics of power dynamics and inter-relationships. In the case of Theatre Dreams of a Beautiful Afternoon (2010-2011), filmed in the Tokyo metro system, Koizumi’s study becomes one of non-participation.

The film begins with an interior view of a metro carriage hurtling through the city. A commuter who has fallen asleep begins to talk to himself, asking questions that gradually become louder and more existential. Eventually, he succeeds in shattering the silence of his fellow commuters and the neutral space of the carriage. Koizumi described the process of filming as follows:

When he was just sobbing, people didn’t respond to him at all. They are so used to ignoring such behaviour. So I asked him to perform again and again. Every time, I asked him to cry louder and louder. At the eighth take, when I asked him to just scream at [the] top of his voice, we finally managed to shatter people’s masks.

Li Ming, 'Nothing Happened Today 1-4' (installation view), 2012, four-channel video. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Li Ming, ‘Nothing Happened Today 1-4′ (installation view), 2012, four-channel video. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Li Ming

Artist and curator Li Ming (b. 1986, Hunan, China) produces experimental works that straddle the boundary between performance and video. Nothing Happened Today 1-4 (2012) is a series of four video works that exposes the paradoxical status of the ‘non-event’.

In the videos, the artist takes to the streets on a van and skirts the shoreline of a lake in a small motorboat. In both, he shouts the phrase ‘今天无事发生’ (‘nothing happened today’) through a megaphone to baffled pedestrians. In one video, the artist literally takes the work to new heights by printing the statement on a small electric dirigible that floated in China’s sky.

Ahmet Öğüt, 'The Silent University', 2012, resource room, documentation, performance. Image courtesy Ahmet Öğüt and OCAT.

Ahmet Öğüt, ‘The Silent University’, 2012, resource room, documentation, performance. Image courtesy the artist and OCAT.

Ahmet Öğüt 

Ahmet Öğüt (b. 1981, Diyarbakir, Turkey) is a conceptual artist working in Amsterdam and Istanbul. He has gained international acclaim for an extensive body of work that makes subtle references to complex social issues.

In 2012, Öğüt initiated a project called The Silent University, a knowledge exchange platform by and for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. The platform is led by a group of lecturers, consultants and research fellows who are unable to use their skills or professional training in their own countries due to a variety of legal impediments. Originally presented in the form of an academic programme, here the project is presented through an installation of its research room.

Yao Jui-Chung & Lost Society Document, 'Mirage: Disused Public Property in Taiwan' (installation view), 2010-ongoing, photographs, installation, video. Image courtesy the artists and OCAT.

Yao Jui-Chung & Lost Society Document, ‘Mirage: Disused Public Property in Taiwan’ (installation view), 2010-ongoing, photographs, installation, video. Image courtesy the artists and OCAT.

Yao Jui-Chung 

Taiwanese artist Yao Jui-Chung (b. 1969, Taipei) was teaching at the Taipei National University of the Arts and the National Taiwan Normal University when he initiated Mirage: Disused Public Property in Taiwan (2010-ongoing). Together with more than fifty students at the two universities, Yao conducted a Taiwan-wide survey of ‘mosquito halls’, a name given to empty buildings and abandoned public construction projects inhabited only by insects.

The project started out as an assignment for a semester, but quickly developed into an ongoing, large-scale artwork investigating government corruption and negligence. Over 300 cases of mosquito halls have been documented in black and white photos and written reportage to date, and three volumes of Mirage – Disused Public Property have been compiled and published as evidence of misguided government policy. As the exhibition’s catalogue states:

The significance and value of this ‘participation’ lie in the fact that it is both a collective action by Yao Jui-Chung and his students, and in that it used artistic methods to hold up a social issue to scrutiny and raise public awareness of this issue.

Cao Fei, 'Haze and Fog', 2013. Still from the film courtesy the artist and Vitamin Creative Space.

Cao Fei, ‘Haze and Fog’, 2013, still from the film. Image courtesy the artist and Vitamin Creative Space.

Cao Fei 

Cao Fei (b. 1978, Guangzhou) is well known for her multimedia installations and videos that mix social commentary, popular aesthetics, references to Surrealism and documentary conventions.

Haze and Fog (2013) is a dystopian zombie movie set in an anonymous modern mega-city. Under the haze of polluted skies, the paths of bored residents and workers barely intersect despite their mutual social dependency. In what she calls these ‘magical metropolises’, contemporary human existence takes on a surreal atmosphere that is tedious, absurd and as bleak as it is luxurious. She said in an interview:

My film examines people up-close, slowly and in detail, zooming into the international, modern cells of people who moved from traditional housing areas, and new immigrants […] who have left tradition behind and entered into this new fog of neutral modernity in their housing cells […] this group of people also created a support structure, such as cleaners, babysitters and security staff who service these cells. Altogether these societal roles shape a special circle of society that I am focusing on.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: Chinese artists, Japanese artists, Taiwanese artists, Turkish artists, sculpture, video art, art and the community, biennales, profiles, events in Guangzhou, lists

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