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Shanghai Biennale: Why Not Ask Again?

陈溪 Cecilia Chan 2017-02-27 17:05

Shanghai Biennale kicked off on November 11, 2016, the day when Alibaba set a sales record yet again. Titled “Why Not Ask Again: Arguments, Counter-arguments, and Stories”, the 11th Shanghai Biennale involves the thematic exhibition held in the Power Station of Art with various city projects spread over Shanghai. As a regional art exhibition focused on local culture, the biennale sets a precedent for its cultural openness by inviting Indian Raqs Media Collective as the curator of the exhibition, a first for Shanghai.

“Why Not Ask Again”?

Along with Raqs came a metaphysical question, “What role do ‘questions’ play in the world?”

The group explained that the theme of the biennale is a question about “desire” and “question”. Why not ask again? In other words, why not begin at the beginning, or the end, or the middle of a question, or a desire. This phrase was inspired by the Indian New Cinema movement pioneer Ritwik Ghatak’s film Jukti, Takko aar Gappo (Arguments, Counter-Arguments & Stories) which anchors the curatorial design of the 11th Shanghai Biennale, standing both for the posing of a question as well as for the awakening of a desire. While Raqs put forward the question, many people ask about Rasq, its background and the mysterious name.

In fact, Raqs Media Collective was co-founded in 1992 by three artists, theorists, media, artists Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and Shuddhabrata Sengupta in Delhi, India. Raqs is a word in Persian, Arabic and Urdu and means the state that “whirling dervishes” enter into when they whirl. As a pioneer of Indian multimedia arts. Raqs have left a deep impact on Indian contemporary culture. Combining films, videos, and staged events together, their exhibitions were themed at globalization and urbanization .


Since appointed the curators of the 11th Shanghai Biennale, the three curators have carried out their research work in China and India. In the conception of the Biennale, Raqs let those experienced artists set out mystery and motivation, and put forward "questions", which may be necessary, tricky, or touching.

Actually, the title for this biennale sends out a call, and it asks a question, "Why Not Ask Again". It demands that we ask questions, repeatedly if necessary, but it also implies a simple query - and the query is - what happens when we ask a question, again? What happens when we try asking something differently from the last time, or find a different approach or angle with which to look at a question? In other words, it tells us to look beyond answers. The demand and the query fold into each other, creating a dynamic, fluid shape - architecture of surprises and possibilities where the unpredictable is something to be welcomed, not feared. This biennale will have done its work if it gives rise to a forest of questions in your mind and a storm of desires in your heart.

Ultimately, a biennale is a mark on time. It occupies a space and sparks the imagination of a city for a few months and then fades until the next iteration comes along. Such form is simultaneously finite and infinite. “Shanghai is a vibrant, active, wonderfully alive city, we hope that our biennale, we can give an opportunity to deepen life, vitality - best represented by the Chinese character Xi,” written by curators in the exhibition messages. The biennale aims to inject the city with thoughtfulness, reflection, questioning, and wonder, which can be represented by the Chinese character Wu. Wu, by admitting what one does not know, opens the gates to enlightenment.



Spread across the first three floors of Power Station of Art, the thematic exhibition presents works by 92 artists, including 32 female artists. Led by four artists, a seven-layer Infra-Curatorial Platform is also folded and embedded within the exhibition. Further to the thematic exhibition, two extended projects are “Theory Opera”, which investigates the relations between thoughts and sensation, and “51 Personae”, which explores the city’s texture; the connection between the city and its people.

The theme of this Biennale “Why Not Ask Again” is both an invitation and a challenge, posing questions regardless of whether there is an answer. The Biennale offers the audience encounters, opening up loopholes in our thinking that allow for new thoughts and invigorated perspectives. The “terminals” served as staging posts, launching pads, or connecting hubs, where an artist’s practice is invited to develop a constellation of questions, propositions and narratives through a consolidated, evolving body of work.


The “terminals” are a key feature of the Biennale. It is also our way of recognizing the ability that artists in the contemporary world have to act as shapers of discourse, and as engines and pilots of the imagination. The terminals are sites of arrival and points of departure. They are like sockets to which the design of the biennale connects and draws energy from. The "terminals" can be seen as staging posts where an artist’s practice is invited to develop a constellation of questions, propositions, and narratives through an evolving body of work.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, an artist duo based in Beijing, ask how long can forces stay in balance? With Lee Ming Wei, an artist from Taiwan who balances hospitality with generosity in his work and is currently based between New York and Taipei, he asks - is life a dance between the forces of gathering and vectors of dispersal? Artist Yang Zhenzhong, explore the potency or potential of what gets normally seen (or not heard) as the mute. With Wang Haichuan, an artist based in Beijing and Chongqing, we enter the world of a community that lived and worked in a former manufacturing facility - the Copper Cash Manufactory in Chongqing. He spent a great deal of time living and working with this community, who face eviction, and devised structures of great poignancy with the furniture and life accessories of the members of this community.


Does a change of state lead to the dissolution of identity - are we the same person when our solid concerns melt, flow, and evaporate? This is the question comes from artist Zheng Chongbin.

Also, through Tomas Saraceno, an architect and artist from Buenos Aires, we will be able to listen to the song of spiders. And with Robin Meier, we eavesdrop on fossils; And Georges Adeagbo, an artist-ethnographer-shaman-philosopher from  Benin in West Africa, asks what happens when worlds collide on the street?

Patty Chang, an artist who based in New York, allow us to travel to the edges of deserts and seas. And her question is "can there be fertility in aridity? Can the animal called Homo sapiens find a way between stranded journeys and continuing voyages?"

And with SUPERFLEX, an artists collective best known for their rigorous but speculative and humorous takes on power, we travel the paths of the global economy, unveiling uncanny connections and exchanges between pigs, philosophers, and animal husbandry. How do the food we eat, the animals we rear, the supply chain of energy and consumption and the states that rule us connect? What are the points of stress and strain in this network of energy, power, exchange, and consumption?


51 Person

It explores the intensity of living. In this project, different “personae” invite others to meet them on their chosen ground, to spend duration. Chen Yun, with Dinghaiqiao Mutual Aid Society, coordinates this extensive project.

“51 Personae” is a program of exciting actions that celebrate the city of Shanghai, celebrate life, dreams, friendship, and conversations. It is also a prospective suggestion and imagination in the form of animating urban life with the energy and electricity of polemics, solidarities, and arguments.

Following the thematic exhibition’s continuously questioning nature, “51 Personae” addresses the complexity of encounters between “people” and “places” and explores the possibilities of the public and the individual in the mega-city of Shanghai. Chief Curator, Raqs Media Collective, continue their dialogues on city life and its meanings over the past two decades. Curatorial collegiate Chen Yun and the “51 Personae Group” of the Dinghaiqiao Mutual Aid Society execute the project. The project’s open call on May 1st, 2016, received enthusiastic responses from Shanghai citizens. During the 17-week-long Shanghai Biennale, there will be three protagonists a week sharing their city stories in various forms, including improvisation, dialogues, debates, and cycling in designated locations. They are urban chroniclers, street hawkers, candy enthusiasts, acrobats, and storytellers.

Theory Opera


"We see the question to be an attitude, as a form of life. And it is this that brings us to the last 'form' or 'method' that we propose for the Shanghai Biennale. We are calling this method the ‘Theory Opera'," said Liu Tian, the coordinator of the program. The method foregrounds the question as a lifeform - with the word "Opera" which has an interesting double meaning. The traditional forms of Opera in China are examples of great spectacle and colour. But the word "Opera" at least in its origin, has another meaning - it simply means - work, or to work. "Taking these different senses into consideration, we could say that when theory gets to work, it sings." So the "Theory Opera" is a kind of discursive form that Yao Meng Xi and Liu Tian from the program team are proposing.

Infra-curatorial Projects


Folded within our larger curatorial design are seven "infra-curatorial" layers.

Each "infra curatorial" layer, which distinguishes themselves from others, is an exploration of the role, perspective, and vantage point on curators. Seven infra-curatorial layers gather a constellation of emergent curatorial intelligences from Folded within our larger curatorial design are seven "infra-curatorial" layers. different cities and cultural background.

Upon archives and the stressed image, and how the new generation has to find its own way into thinking through a curatorial question, the infra-curators act as our fellow navigators in the biennale. Their interventions produce a unique set of map-markings that striate the topography of the exhibition.

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