Chinese curator takes ‘hyper’ approach to Shanghai BiennaleHuang Du is an art critic based in Beijing and the curator of the Shanghai Biennale 2006, which runs from September 6 through November 5. His major curatorial projects include works for the Chinese Pavilion at the Sao Paulo Biennale 2004, the Venice Biennale 2003 and serving as a contributing curator for the Seoul International Media Art Biennale in 2002. Mr. Huang recently held a workshop in Korea on the subject of public art and the upcoming biennale.
IHT-JAI: Could you tell me a little about the conceptual background of “Hyper Design?”
HUANG DU: The Sixth Shanghai Biennale, Hyperdesign, is situated in the cultural context of functioning both as a continuation of the development of the Shanghai Biennale itself and a response to the cultural logic of the international art world. The Third Shanghai Biennale, “Shanghai Spirit: A Special Modernity,” sought, from a position between the global and the local, to explore the modernity of both Shanghai’s urban development and its culture. The Fourth Shanghai Biennale, Urban Creation (2002), took architecture as its starting point, exploring the public forms and social capacities of art. The Fifth Shanghai Biennale, “Techniques of the Visible” (2004), explored the technical register behind the visually perceptible world, seeking to think about the development of technology in a spirit of humanist concern. This time, “Hyperdesign” will take on design as an important element of contemporary visual culture, exploring the complexity and disjuncture of design as an aesthetic formula, a lifestyle, and an exemplar of social history. Its goal will be to stimulate deep thinking about the relationship between methods of production and utopia. These artistic aims not only extend the work of the 2002 “Urban Creation” and 2004 “Techniques of the Visible” Biennales, but move a step further toward expanding and deepening the Biennial’s urban humanist vision, showing once more the cultural flavor of Shanghai as a site of interaction between China and the world.
At the same time, “Hyperdesign” will reflect upon current trends in the international cultural and artistic spheres. Since the 1980s, the concepts of appropriation and transplantation are always connected to the specific, self-referential discourse of art history, and debates over recognition and difference also tend to take a narrow general theory as their prerequisite. Using cross-contextual cultural displacement as a means of reproduction, it takes propagation as construction, and, lacking a real way to resolve the self-referential questions of art history, it can only hint at the end of the linear history prescribed by Judeo-Christian philosophy. Those are the two main reasons for us to take “Hyperdesign” as the Sixth Shanghai Biennale’s thematic direction.
As a curator of an international art event in Asia, do you feel at all pressured to create an exhibition that somehow distinguishes itself from the pre-existing mainstream European venues like the Venice Biennale or Documenta? What distinguishes one from another? Or do you see those distinctions as ineffective?
The obvious distinctions rely on the fact that Shanghai Biennale, as one of the major Asian biennales, represents the unique modernity of China and reflects a cultural situation of China and Asia, especially with its emphasis on the problems we have faced upon development. In fact, compared to Venice Biennale and Documenta, the Shanghai Biennale is very marginal, but our voice is challenging and rebellious. In the situation of globalization our world is in, the Shanghai Biennale has also showed our independent thoughts from an aesthetic angle. The distinction of the Shanghai Biennale is that it is rooted in Asia but has a world vision.
In Korea, the contemporary art scene has little hope for what it sees as an increasingly market-driven system. We see, however, an explosion of Chinese art. I know it’s a broad question, but do you think there is hope for the future of contemporary art?
There are many complicated reasons for the blooming of the Chinese art market. The main reason, I would say, is related to the adjustment of China’s economic structure. In the last one or two years, the economy’s adjustment has caused a shift of investments. The most obvious scenes are the weaknesses that occurred in the stock and real estate investment markets. Investors with hot money on hand found there’s no place to invest and thus they put their money into the art market. And there are other reasons, such as black money, bribery and even international venture capital as well. As for the question of how I see the future of contemporary art, I see it as a discussion which does not necessarily orient in the way we intend it to. I think that the art market has its own rules and of course does not exclude the joining of commercialization and art.
What are your personal expectations for the biennale? What are some of the issues you want to explore or discuss?
I expect a biennale free from the manipulations of existing power modules. From an ideal angle, I hope that the power construction and conversation between biennales can be fair. I especially think there should be opportunities for Asian curators to be involved in the Venice Biennale or Kassel Documenta, and of course Western curators could be involved in Asian or even African Biennales.
Do you think that the Shanghai Biennial made (or will make) a difference in the sense of animating discussions of many issues in contemporary China?
Compared with the Beijing Biennale, the Guangzhou Triennial and the Chengdu Biennale, the Shanghai Biennale is the most open, avant-garde, academic and internationally influential of all in China. The most important two contributions I think the Shanghai Biennale makes are the democratic way of electing the team of curators and the leadership in academic movements in China and Asia.
More biennale curators nowadays seem to feel reluctant to define artists by ethnicity. How do you go about defining “Asian” issues in contemporary art practice? Can you pull out some examples from the past where curators had to struggle whether to include artists outside of the national boundary, for example the Chinese diaspora?
This is a nice issue to bring up. I think the word “Asia” [denotes] in fact an imaginary community. Compared with Europe, the notion of “Asia” is a hard to define and complicated combination of a history formed with multiple languages and geographical boundaries. Comparatively, it is also an area without a primary religious belief and at the same time with complex modernization diversities due to colonialism and problems resulting from the Cold War.
by Park Soo-mee