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Friday, September 22, 2023

Guangzhou Triennial reflects on past to prepare for the future

CultureArtGuangzhou Triennial reflects on past to prepare for the future

The Guangzhou Triennial is an exhibition that showcases China’s contemporary art scene and its evolution over the past decades. Since its opening in January, the event has attracted large crowds of young people to the Guangdong Museum of Art in Guangzhou. Visitors can view 59 works by artists from around the world, including the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Portugal, Japan, and South Korea. The exhibition features large-scale installations, videos, photos, sculptures, paintings, and multimedia works.

The seventh Guangzhou Triennial is titled Symphony of All the Changes and explores the theme of change from various perspectives. It consists of four sections: Bumps on the Edges, In Praise of Slow Art, Touch Screen, and Immanence. The exhibition’s curator, Wang Shaoqiang, who is also the director of the Guangdong Museum of Art, states that change and uncertainty have become a reality for everyone after the unexpected public health crisis of 2020. He explains that the exhibition seeks to explore how art can help people cope with the rapid pace of progress and change.

Wang explains that change is normal, but the speed and strength of change have reached unprecedented levels. The exhibition aims to look back into the past to explore how to deal with such change. Therefore, the Guangzhou triennial puts the city of Guangzhou in the context of China’s opening-up and reform in the past four decades. The southern port city has been at the forefront of embracing the world, and contemporary artists in Guangzhou are very sensitive to new things introduced from the West. Wang notes that compared to their peers in Beijing and Shanghai, they focus more on their daily life and people living around them.

The first section of the exhibition, Bumps on the Edges, showcases works that reflect the pressures and conflicts generated by the rapid development of technology, economy, and society. The second section, In Praise of Slow Art, features works that focus on the concept of slow art and the idea of taking things slowly in a fast-paced world. The third section, Touch Screen, explores how technology and digital media have influenced contemporary art. The final section, Immanence, examines the relationship between human beings and nature and how art can help us understand and appreciate the natural world.

One of the exhibition’s highlights is the work of the Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes. Her installation, titled A secluded and pleasant land, encourages visitors to interact with the artwork and walk around it. The installation is a metal structure with hanging pieces of leather, colored glass, and brass. Visitors can walk through the structure and enjoy the colorful shadows that the hanging pieces create on the ground.

Another work that has received attention is the video installation by the Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. His work, titled Accelerated Buddha, features a series of still images of a Buddha statue that gradually speed up until they become a blur. The video is accompanied by a soundscape that enhances the visual experience and creates a meditative atmosphere.

The Guangzhou Triennial has attracted attention not only for its diverse range of works but also for its attempt to address the challenges and opportunities of the rapidly changing world. The exhibition provides a platform for artists from around the world to share their perspectives on contemporary art and the issues that affect us all. It is a reminder that art can help us cope with change and uncertainty and provide us with new ways of understanding and appreciating the world around us.

Wang’s vivid description captures the essence of local elements, highlighting factories, factory workers, commodities, and local artists. It serves as an iconic representation of China’s history, culture, and daily life.

One of the standout installations in the triennial is Dreamy Lisa Salon, named after the fourth album of the popular folk-rock band, Wutiaoren. It has become a popular spot for young visitors to take photos and share on social media. The band hails from Guangdong province and is known for its casual dress code and lyrics that focus on daily life, which have won them tens of thousands of fans.

The humid air, narrow lanes, small restaurants, and hair salons all serve as inspirations for the band’s songwriting. They work closely with a wide range of visual artists to create music videos, posters, and design works. Their signature logo is a red plastic bag with their name on it, which is a powerful symbol that bridges popular culture and contemporary art. All these elements can be found in their installation, Dreamy Lisa Salon, which draws inspiration from a hair salon that was popular in Guangzhou in the 1990s.

The band’s unique style and approach to music represent a crossover from popular culture to contemporary art, and they are not the only ones. Poet Xi Chuan and film director Jia Zhangke are also included in the contemporary show, as their art forms are seen as a fusion of popular culture and contemporary art.

Wu Hongliang, the curator of the section, Bumps on the Edges, explains that after China’s opening-up and reform in 1978, people’s cultural demands shifted towards pop music, films, poetry, and contemporary art. These art forms are now considered part of Chinese culture and have gained popularity among the younger generation.

Bumps on the Edges, showcases the transformation of China’s culture and art scene over the years. It reflects the country’s transition from a closed society to an open and dynamic one. The factories and factory workers represent the industrialization of China, while the local artists and their collaborations with musicians and filmmakers showcase the merging of traditional and modern art forms.

The popularity of Dreamy Lisa Salon among young visitors speaks to the appeal of contemporary art in China today. The installation’s incorporation of local elements and its link to popular culture make it relatable to a wider audience. The social media frenzy it has sparked also shows how important digital platforms are in spreading awareness about art.

Wang’s description of the section, Bumps on the Edges, captures the essence of China’s cultural and artistic evolution. The inclusion of artists from different backgrounds and their collaboration with musicians and filmmakers reflects the country’s openness to diversity and new ideas. Dreamy Lisa Salon, the star work of the triennial, exemplifies the appeal of contemporary art to a younger audience and showcases the merging of traditional and modern art forms.

The triennial contemporary art exhibition held in Guangzhou has attracted numerous young visitors who come to see the works of established artists from various fields. From poet Xi Chuan, to film director Jia Zhangke and folk band Wutiaoren, these artists’ works help to “close the distance between art and daily life,” according to Wang, the director.

Despite not being traditionally regarded as contemporary artists, their works are regarded as artistic and diverse by Wang. They also help attract younger people to the exhibition, leading to long lines of visitors on weekends. Many visitors say they saw photos of these celebrities’ works on social media platforms and decided to visit the museum.

One such visitor is 21-year-old factory worker Zhang Kaixing, who made his first visit to an art museum after seeing a photo of Wutiaoren’s Dreamy Lisa Salon. Zhang, who queued for about 20 minutes to enter the museum with his friends, said that contemporary art offered him an interesting experience that he never knew before.

Apart from celebrity works, Zhang is also intrigued by artists who incorporate local elements into their art pieces. For instance, Cao Fei’s video Cosplayers shows a group of young people dressed up as anime or game characters, roaming around Guangzhou streets, chasing or even fighting with each other. Xu Bing’s The Seven-Character Poetry Collection of Small Enterprises collects tens of thousands of clothing brand labels produced in Guangzhou and uses a computer program to create a seven-character poem.

The exhibition also features established director Jia Zhangke’s video Platform, which tells of the dramatic changes and reforms that happened between 1979 and 1989, and poet Xi Chuan’s poem Sense of Reality or excerpts from his recently released work Take This. All their art forms are seen as a crossover from popular culture to contemporary art.

Wang, the exhibition’s director, explains that the exhibition aims to “close the distance between art and daily life.” He believes that art is diverse and can be accessible to everyone, not just traditional art enthusiasts. This approach has led to a surge in young visitors, mostly in their early 20s, visiting the museum to take photos of the art and share them on social media.

The exhibition also highlights local culture and the influence of Guangzhou’s status as a port city with numerous factories producing daily goods sold worldwide. This has led to artists’ reflection of the local culture, as seen in their incorporation of local elements in their works.

Overall, the triennial contemporary art exhibition in Guangzhou offers a unique experience for both traditional art enthusiasts and those new to contemporary art. By featuring works from established artists from various fields, the exhibition helps to “close the distance between art and daily life” and provides an opportunity for visitors to appreciate the diversity and accessibility of contemporary art.

The Guangzhou Triennial, established in 2002, is one of the earliest of its kind in China. With more than 20 years of history, the triennial has cultivated an audience that appreciates contemporary art. Since 2008, the triennial has organized activities to educate the public on how to enjoy and understand a contemporary show. Despite the locals’ high acceptance of new things and ideas, the continuous public education on contemporary art has contributed significantly to the popularity of the triennial, according to Wang, the director.

In addition to exploring local culture, the triennial also discusses and reflects issues facing the whole world. In the section called “In Praise of Slow Art,” curated by Philip Dodd from Britain, artists use traditional materials such as textiles, ceramics, and paper to focus on the power of human bodies and the art of handicrafts, a type of “slow art” that contrasts with the fast pace of times empowered by high technology.

The section “Touch Screen” explores people’s relationship with the real world when digital technologies blur the boundary between virtual and real. According to Wang, the previous triennial three years ago focused on the future by highlighting science and technology. This year, they’re looking back at the past, examining all the changes that have occurred both in and outside of China.

Looking back allows them to find answers from history and be better prepared for the future when the whole world is under a context of great changes, Wang explains. The triennial not only provides a platform for artists to showcase their work but also encourages dialogue on social and cultural issues through art.

By featuring works by artists who combine local elements into their pieces, the triennial promotes a better understanding of Guangzhou’s unique culture, such as the city’s port and the many factories producing goods sold worldwide. The triennial also features artworks by celebrities who aren’t typically regarded as contemporary artists, but whose works nonetheless represent art in a diversified sense that can be close to everyone.

This approach helps attract young people to the museum, leading to long lines on weekends. Many visitors say they saw photos of the works by these celebrities on online social platforms and decided to visit the museum.

Through this approach, the triennial has become a vibrant platform for both established and emerging artists, as well as a bridge that connects the public with contemporary art. With the continuous effort to educate the public on contemporary art, the triennial plays an important role in shaping the cultural landscape of Guangzhou and beyond.

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