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Shanghai Biennale: The Shanghai “Proregress”

李静茹 Jelly Lee 2019-03-05 12:04

Initiated in 1996, Shanghai Biennale has become one of the most influential biennales in Asia. Shanghai Biennale accumulates the most talented and avant garde curators and artists, providing insights on the interaction between urban culture, contemporary art and the public. Every two years, Shanghai Biennale offers the stage for international art exhibitions and communications. 

After 12 successful editions, Shanghai Biennale has developed into a global art event with international context, providing Chinese artists with new food for thought. “Pro-regress” brings up the idea of the clashes between art and culture, the complexity of modern life, underlying anxiety in the artworks, as well as the conflicts between creativity, aspiration and concepts. Audiences are introduced to attend an in-depth research into the emotional aspect of art. 


The English translation of “Yubu” (proregress), is originated from American poet E. E. Cummings’ portmanteau creation that combines the words “progress” and “regress” in 1931. By this he satirically criticised the didactic enlightening narrative and successfully predicted the conflicts and anxieties caused by transformational conundrums at the beginning of 21st century. 

The curators of 12th Shanghai Biennale are Cuauhtémoc Medina from Mexico, María Belén Sáez de Ibarra from Columbia, Yukie Kamiya from Japan and Wang Weiwei from China. All four curators share an acute insight on how “threshold” vocabulary effectively narrates the relationship between the changing world and artists’ creations. “The exhibits on the 12th Shanghai Biennale gives a fair review of the dedication of artists from all over the world, as they are conducting a critical research into the past and present of knowledge production and cultural identity in a perceptual way,” the curators point out. 

This year’s Biennale features 67 artists and groups from 26 countries, including 20 artists/ groups from China and 31 from Asia. The 12th Shanghai Biennale is by far the largest edition to exhibit works by Latin American artists. Participants and philosophers gather here and conduct conversations on history, ecology, science and technology and cultural memories. At the end of the day, daily life is given the chance to be inspected and researched. 

0+4 Structure 


Chief curator Cuauhtémoc Medina’s artworks are distributed in the “0” Session and dispersed in museum’s first and second floors. Argentine artist Enrique Ježik brought In Hemmed-in Ground, a recycled cardboard installation inspired by Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Spanish artist Fernando Sánchez Castillo’s Swing is an interactive device denoting the anxious minds. French art group Clair Fontaine’s “unbitten” apple hangs above the reception desk on the first floor to mock consumerism and moral conflicts in global capitalism. Spanish artist Cristina Lucas’s Clockwise creates an immersive space with 360 clocks and the rhythmic beatings reveal how industrialism separates time from the nature and reform ourselves. 



In the meantime, four sub-chapters develop along with the “0” structure. The first chapter discusses “Nature and Society” and the second chapter the new forms of “War”, and how artists discover daily life in an “off” mode. In the third chapter curated by Wang Weiwei, Siren Eun Young Jung from South Korea places the traditional portrayal of a Korean woman into Eight Views. Chapter Four concerns “Brutality and Civilisation”, and discusses today’s artists challenging the autonomous cultural and art myths. Chinese artist Yang Fudong extends his art gallery film project in this chapter, by transforming the steps of the gallery into a metaphorical installation. Named as Dawn Breaking, the artwork inspires thoughts on historical progress, social evolution, personal life and the time. 

Corridor, Backstage and City Projects


One highlight of this year’s Biennale is Mexican architect Frida Escobedo’s charge of the whole design and plan of this exhibition. Escobedo adopts the concept of corridor and backstage, endowing artworks with unique spaces for narratives and composing visual connections among the exhibitions on the 1st-3rd floors of Power Station of Art. Audience members are welcome to wander, linger or get lost in their own mind, with various viewing rhythms enabled by different spaces. Meanwhile the City Projects, as an integral functioning component of the biennale event, in which parallel sites have been set up across the city such as pavilion, cinema, laboratory and sound field, as well as dispatching historical investigators and explorers to provide distinctive life perspectives to the public. 


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