Review: “Utopia Nowhere” at Art+Shanghai

From: Randian

Translated by: Daniel Ho

“Utopia Nowhere,” group exhibition with Luca Forcucci, Emma Fordham, Francesca Galeazzi, Maya Kramer, Li Wenfeng, Tony Ng, Shi Zhiying, Tamen, Mora Wang, and Zhang Lehua.

Art+Shanghai (22 Fumin road, House #2, near Yan’an Road, Shanghai). September 16 to November 20, 2011. Opening: Friday, September 16.

The notion of “utopia” once again drifts into the realm of art in Art+Shanghai’s latest exhibition, where twelve artists from China and abroad have realized their own explorations of the notion of “progress” by ruminating on change and history. Such ruminations can be divided, like Caesar’s Gaul, in three: reflections on the development of Chinese society and environment, a rethinking of Chinese culture and tradition, and ruminations on “the contemporary.”

On the first floor, Francesca Galleazzi planned some amazing feats with her work “Seal the Windows Before the Rain.” The conceptual piece looked at the hypothetical situation of what might happen if the land which houses the gallery was requisitioned by the government (there has been a rumor about this floating around for a while). Galleazzi puts forth several proposals for how the gallery could maximize its benefits . . . i.e. moving in a number of people to up the headcount of the “home,” adding on extra floors, holding out till the last minute and ignoring the government-placed banners that say “Leave first and get more money.” Galleazzi then outlines a number of renovation plans, one for a tiered urban farm, another for a bleak tenement, and yet another for a Jinmao Tower-like building where the residents are trapped behind the glass like insects within a jar. All these are, of course, inspired by the astonishing and tragic examples of pre-demolishment construction from around China. By throwing in such curveballs into the discourse of frenetic urbanization, the work provokes much reflection on sustainability in the environment and in architecture.

Upstairs, the three rooms present different scenes. Li Wenfeng isolates historical scenes, legendary tales, animal postures and modern sensibility as “props” which he lays out on the canvas, much like a stage set. Architectural symbols from classical Chinese culture — gardens and pavilions — are thus brought into modern display with resolute, non-cathartic restraint. Wang Chuan’s photographic series “Refocus: Dragon” also shows similar symbolic sublimation.

In another room, we see Shi Zhiying’s watercolor works, copies of book covers from Husheng Huaji (Life-Preserving Illustrations) by Feng Zikai, a famed illustrator who first rose to prominence in the 1920s. Feng’s pieces have this crystalline Zen-like guile which was lost in subsequent reprints. On the opposite wall hang landscapes marked by a sense of restraint and classicism, in which two figures co-exist rather unexpectedly. The distinct spirit of harmony and juxtaposition in these images by the artist duo, Tamen, somehow reminds one of the British pair Gilbert & George.

In the third room, we see Zhang Lehua’s new series of poster-style drawings, which can best be described as “the comic strip meets the public announcement poster.” He offers oblique parodies of contemporary life through the travails of faceless characters — no brow is better than low brow — and seems to suggest a particular stance towards the chaotic jumble of reality: better to watch and make fun of the world behind these happy faces, since any attitude and position we take can easily become traps.

There is also the sound artist Luca Forcucci, who will be playing the five records he produced here during his four-month residency. In a live performance held in pitch-black darkness, Forcucci tears up the Shanghai summer into shreds of noise, creating a possibility of narrative logic while at the same time inviting the audience to appreciate the standalone beauty of the music itself. The records, made of a special material, are limited to 40 replays, each of which will sound different. Not only does this work raise questions about the ephemerality of time, but it also invites reflection on existence and disappearance within the context of the exhibition—thus a precious chance to cherish the here and now.

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