The Shanghai Biennale

Last Saturday morning we hopped on a fast train and went to Shanghai to see the Shanghai Biennale of contemporary art. The Biennale is celebrated every 2 years (hello, Captain Obvious!) in the Power Station of Art, a museum in Shanghai that has this extremely cool name because the building used to be a power station before becoming a museum. You can read more about the history of the building here.

When I lived in Shanghai in 2010 my apartment was right beside Xizang Nan Lu subway stop, which is also the closest stop to the Power Station of Art, so I took this chance to revisit my old neighbourhood. The internet cafe I had to go to when my previous laptop melted is still there, but other shops and restaurants have changed. That’s something normal in China. Things change all the time!

The entrance to the Shanghai Biennale is only 20 RMB and you can expect to be entertained for at least 3 hours as there are many exhibits. The biggest one this year was a huge platform (I don’t really know how to call it) you could walk on. The upper part looked like the surface of the moon, then the path winded down to the interior of the platform where there were several rooms with different colors and atmospheres. It was quite cool.

The Moon.

The surface of the exhibit.

One of the rooms inside had many strange things.

One of the rooms inside had many strange things.

I don’t know anything about contemporary art, but I like seeing it because I think it’s fun and often thought-provoking. In one of the museum halls there was a bunch of people sitting on chairs and rehearsing what seemed to be a soap opera or movie; every person had its role written on the back of the chair and they were reading from a script. There was no explanation or warning of any kind, but I guess it was a performance and they were not really rehearsing for a movie in the middle of the museum. What was the meaning of the performance? Absolutely no idea!

One of my favourite exhibits in the Biennale was a partial reconstruction of a hut with objects used in agricultural villages. It looked to be from the south of China. There were also several screens showing videos and in one of them an old man was telling some tale or superstition from his village: his village soil contains a lot of yin (or was it yang?) and people buried there come back to life but cannot get out of their graves so they yell their relatives’ names; if you hear your own name you will die. Some of the living dead manage to get out and then they live in the forest; as they don’t wear clothes their skin grows red hairs. It was a fascinating story and the old man narrated it very well!

A performance in which a man makes figures with grains using a broom with very slow and taichi-like movements.

A performance in which a man made figures with grains using a broom with very slow and taichi-like movements.

I normally don’t watch videos in exhibitions because I often find them boring, but in this Biennale I watched several. There was another one in which a woman was narrating how she and her cameraman were filming these people dancing for some documentary or something, then the cameraman started saying the dancing people were awkward and ugly. All this told by the woman in a very plain voice while in the video you could see the couples dancing.

There was another video in which factory workers were going about their daily tasks in slow motion wearing white masks, each of them resembling their own face. Why are white masks so scary? They truly are nightmare material.

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One of the coolest things about the Power Station of Art is the open terrace on the 5th floor. It is next to the Huangpu River and you can see Pudong on the other side. But on Saturday there was quite a lot of pollution so the view was not clear.

The fantastic terrace.

The fantastic terrace. There is a nice café behind those windows.

Other works I enjoyed:

A wall covered with different collages. Many of them were very funny.

A wall covered with different collages. Many of them were very funny.

Carpets. I want them all! One of them was a (fake) panda bear skin.

Carpets. I want them all! One of them was a (fake) panda bear skin (which I found on Taobao!).

 

Do you like contemporary art? If you want to check the Shanghai Biennale hurry up! It’s on only until March 12.

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