The 2007 Istanbul Biennial with Matthew Schum

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3 Artists: , , and

A strong link between the haudenschild Garage and the 10th Istanbul Biennial are artists that the organization has supported with its collection and the curator has worked with over the years from his native country. Lu Chunsheng, Xu Zhen, and Zhu Jia exemplify artists’ whose projects have in turn defined ’s creative career as a curator. can be credited with exposing many of the most influential Chinese artists in contemporary art today. At the biennial these three artists exhibit works entirely different in form and content. Yet, one could find a curatorial theme uniting them: individuals grappling with modernization.

Zhu Jia approaches modernization from the perspective of interviews from Beijing natives shown on a video monitor in a room plastered with anonymous photos of workers’ faces. In Chrysalis Exuviations — the Heart-burnt Carrot, individual testimonies contrast a random multitude. Inside the cramped quarters of the backroom installation, one senses the toll a bloated society has on people. The artist contemplates the two most basic categories of people that define urbanity: the nameless versus the personal. The artist contrasts these two in this space. Photo versus video portraits create interchanging realities as urban pressures. Zhu Jia’s interviews capture the humbling tact of those who manage to make-do in a constricted environment. While in the sometimes-dreamy faces of the snapshot photos on the wall, one senses the dignity “just getting-by” entails in a fierce place like China’s capital.

Zhu Jia, Chrysalis Exuviations — the Heart-burnt Carrot

Zhu Jia, Chrysalis Exuviations — the Heart-burnt Carrot

By contrast takes a much more lyrical approach to effects of modernization in his work. In The History of Chemistry I & II, movement itself is Chunsheng’s proper medium, picturing a world in constant transformation. Forces that overwhelm human subjects become primary figures in these pulsating videos. Thus, there are no actors, only actions and counteractions as the embodiment of modern humanity. Individuals do not occupy landscapes so much as watch as it move through them. The industrial settings of Lu Chunsheng’s video are identified as the new territories of physical communication. In the artist’s visual poetry, a semaphoric language (such as the use of smoke signals) becomes a means for isolated entities to commune between their lonely trajectories. Rhythm instead of order defines an instantaneous world in which progression has no purpose only an irrepressible velocity.

Lu Chunsheng, The History of Chemistry

Xu Zhen presents one of the most powerful conceptual strategies in the biennial. His work treats the tip of Mount Everest as a readymade, and thus the influence of modern art as a kind of impossible object. The unattainable is captured in a strategic expedition recounted in video with a display of the confiscated mountaintop. The artist not only reaches the world’s highest peak, he captures it like Egyptian booty stole for the British Museum. In a sense, this is what the legacy of Duchamp has become for artists in the East or West. Modern heroic drives, even the most subversively creative, are mitigated by the raison d’être of its history—the necessity of attainment—spiritual and economical. Xu Zhen parodies this anxiety of influence and the machismo that connects the intellectual impulses of pioneering artist with imperial drive of territorial explorers.

In all, these three artists find novel ways to reconsider the influence of modern development. New angles and diverse tactics reconsider the entire history of modernism from outside the confines of Westernism. Clearly in China a notion of progress, creative or otherwise, is being rethought.