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Behind the looking glass

By Zhang Kun (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-22 09:49
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 Behind the looking glass
Artist Qiu Zhijie adds a final touch to one of his draft drawings for the Shanghai Biennial, which opens on Oct 23. Gao Erqiang / China Daily

Life is one never-ending rehearsal at this year's Shanghai Biennial, which puts the creative process under the microscope, Zhang Kun reports.

A colorful carousel in front of the Shanghai Art Museum trumpets the opening on Oct 23 of the eighth Shanghai Biennale, which will explore the mechanics of contemporary art under the theme of "Rehearsal".

The weeklong event ranks as the largest biennial celebration of contemporary art in Shanghai, and has already been successfully staged seven times over the last 16 years.

This year, the curators want to draw art lovers' attention away from the paintings, installations and video productions and toward the working processes of their creators.

As such, they will present a series of draft drawings for installation art by Qiu Zhijie, a stage set designed by Zhang Huan, and the studio of photography artist Maelonne filled with props that he spent the last 10 years assembling.

Verdensteatret, an art group from Norway, will perform a complicated hybrid piece combining installation and performance art with a live concert.

The project, entitled And All the Question Marks Started to Sing, uses mechanical structures such as disassembled video cameras, loud speakers and wheels taken from bicycles, and scatters them over a large room on the second floor. Performers will appear to produce unsettling musical arrangements by turning the wheels, while various cameras project shadows on the walls nearby.

More than 10 members of the group have been working on the audio and visual presentation for a year, tweaking different parts and getting the computer engineering in, or out, of synch, as the case may be.

"Their whole creative process is a never-ending rehearsal," said Gao Shiming, one of the three curators for the biennial.

Last year, director Zhang Huan, one of the first Chinese artists to achieve international recognition for his poignant performances, directed Handel's opera Semele for a Belgian opera. He used several 450-year-old Chinese house pillars to form the main stage for this ancient Greek tragedy, in which Jupiter's lover Semele is killed by a jealous Juno.

Zhang has re-built the pillars and stage structure in the exhibition hall. Within this framework, he presents household furniture that he purchased from a rural family in Zhejiang province. He chose this household in the interest of spiritual or psychological verisimilitude, as their home was the scene of a violent murder, therefore bringing its contents slightly closer to the Greek tragedy.

"Audiences have experienced all sorts of visual excitement at the Expo, and they will expect to see something different at the biennial. We can't just bombard them with visual stimuli now and expect them to be impressed. They've already seen it all," said Xu Jiang, president of the China Academy of Fine Arts.

"We will give them something deeper, something more academic and thought-provoking."

Behind the looking glass

(China Daily 10/22/2010)

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