Last Sunday, I visited UCCA to peek at their new exhibitions of two contemporary Chinese artists: Xu Zhen and Ji Dachun. Xu Zhen is a conceptual artist who is based in Shanghai. He is famous for his installation and performance pieces that are executed with both criticality and (wicked) humour.
Honestly, I had never seen any exhibition like Xu Zhen's before. Everything was ENORMOUS; He literally built a life-size convenience store/supermarket and a museum inside the Ullens. There were also full, rainbow-coloured Buddha sculpture, several treadmills and many sculptures of African women suspended from the ceiling. According to the UCCA description of the exhibition, "there are over 50 installation pieces, 10 videos, 40 paintings and collage works and several performances in the UCCA's great hall." oh my god. If I were to sum up the whole exhibition using only one word, I think it would be "diverse." or maybe "humorous."
The exhibition was designed so that the viewers must go through the convenience store and the museum first before entering the main hall. What is interesting about the structure of the exhibition is that everything is laid out symmetrically. The Buddha is placed in the center of the entrance, with two identical paintings with what seems like toothpaste covered all over them. Behind the Buddha, there is a convenience store, and then a museum; on the two sides of the museum there are treadmills placed in the same manner, along with 3 or 4 European nude paintings. The symmetrical design of the exhibition makes the whole space unreal and mysterious and makes the viewers feel as if they have just stepped into some kind of a parallel world.
The convenience store looked JUST like the real convenience store around Beijing. The store had real fridges, stalls and even employees hanging out by the cashier. The only thing different though, was that all the goods were empty. first, I thought it was for practical reasons- that the food will rot over the period of 2 or 3 months at UCCA. However, after knowing that the viewers can actually go in to the store and buy empty products at the cashier, I started to realize the artist's intent. Through this installation, the artist wanted to show the materialistic nature of the consumer culture, and how we are willing to spend money on anything- even useless, empty products.
The Physique of Consciousness Museum is a large installation piece by the MadeIn Company. Because UCCA does a great job summing up the piece in just one sentence, I am going to borrow the words from its pamphlet: "The performance, bille as the world's first set of "cultural fitness exercises," appropriates movements from religious rituals, worship ceremonies, and historical traditionals for a series of ten workouts in an indictment of shallow yuppie spiritualism and its reduction of complex histories and cultures to lifestyle fads." I don't think I could've explained the piece better than that.
When the viewer walks into the installation, the first thing they see is the TV playing the workout video featuring the artist himself. It is so humorous because the poor CG effect, the inaccurate translation of Chinese to English, and the calm, slow voice of the narrator reminds the viewers of the sketchy, Chinese exercise videos. The background of clouds and blue sky seems so fake, too, and it makes the instructor almost god-like.
The Physique of Consciousness museum exhibits transparent glass boxes with contents and explanation cards, just like how large national museums exhibits historical artefacts or national treasures. The glass boxes display each exercise shown in the introductory video and visually shows the connections to famous religious rituals from around the world. For example, the instructor says that the pose for bowing down (I think exercise no.4,) is good for calming down and stretching out. The glass box for this pose shows different images of people practicing this exercise, including the images of Muslims bowing down to the Mecca and Asian men bowing down to apologize. The series of workout essentially turns cultural and religious practices into something that is practical and insensitive.
I think there are many interpretations of this installation piece, but I think this piece connects to China's history and how China disregarded almost all of its cultural values during the revolution. (I hope this article does not get censored...) Although China has valuable and beautiful culture right now, it seems like it is used for more practical values to attract tourists or to spark nationalism among the people.
When I first walked into this installation piece, I was entertained by the humour employed. As I walked through the "exhibition," I realised that there is more to this piece than just entertainment and that the artist was able to create a depth in meaning while, at the same time, giving the audience the freedom to interpret.
Because this exhibition was such a large one, I will be dividing the article into several sections; Part 2 is coming soon!