“The Shadow Never Lies” at Minsheng 21st Century Museum – in pictures

In April 2016, Minsheng 21st Century Museum in the Pudong district of Shanghai opened “The Shadow Never Lies”, showcasing the work of 35 international artists.

Continuing until 31 July 2016, the exhibition takes as its starting point the word yingxiang (影像) and aims to demonstrate how artistic, political and cultural concerns can transcend geographical boundaries and media.

"Family Portrait from Hamletmachine", 2016, Yuan Gong and zag group at The Shadow Never Lies. Courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st century Museum.

“Family Portrait from Hamletmachine”, 2016, Yuan Gong and zag group at The Shadow Never Lies. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st century Museum.

Yingxiang in Chinese, in the context of contemporary art, can be understood as ‘lens media’ or art produced by mechanical or computerised means, but in English could be translated as ‘shadow image’. The curators, Jiang Jiehong and Mark Nash, have included in their selection works that literally and metaphorically relate to shadows, traces and the interplay of light and dark. By opening up the definition, they have been able to include painting, performance and installation, alongside animation, film, video and photography.

"Projected Specimin" series 2014 by Han Kyung Woo. Courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st Century Museum.

“Projected Specimen” series 2014 by Han Kyung Woo. Image courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st Century Museum.

35 international artists

The exhibiting artists include:

Architecture and context

The venue for the exhibition, Minsheng 21st Century Museum (M21), is the second museum that the Minsheng Banking Corporation has established in Shanghai, and it occupies the former French Pavillion of the 2010 Shanghai Expo. The architecture of the museum is cunning. Wrapping around a stand-alone central gallery of enormous proportions, a continuous ribbon of galleries with a gentle incline brings viewers up the five floors of the building. For the most part light is controlled, enabling the creation of a sense of, by turns, drama and intimacy, but natural light spills from the top of the building into the last few interconnecting spaces.

Artists and visitors walk around the exhibits at the opening event of The Shadow Never Lies. Courtesy Minsheng 21st Century Museum.

Artists and visitors walk around the exhibits at the opening event of The Shadow Never Lies. Courtesy Minsheng 21st Century Museum.

Talking on the day the show opened, Mark Nash shed light on the resonances specific to the Chinese context, which perhaps the international artists had not previously considered. Speaking about João Maria Gusmão’s use of 16mm film, he pointed out that “this format was the first portable projection technology, it could be taken to parts of China where there were no roads to show films.” Nash went on to describe how, at a certain point, “[The Shadow Never Lies] becomes more metaphorical.”

A good example of this is Isaac Julien’s feature-length narrative film installation Playtime, 2014. Using vivid blocks of colour, it takes a sweeping look across three cities (London, Reykjavik and Dubai) and their relationship to financial capital, telling the stories of the Artist, the Hedge Fund Manager, the Auctioneer, the House Worker, the Art Dealer and the Reporter. The film, which features Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung, speaks to the global economy, and therefore to the roles of ‘art’ and ‘China’ within it.

"Playtime" 2014 (still) by Isaac Julien. Courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st Century Museum.

“Playtime” 2014 (still) by Isaac Julien. Courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st Century Museum.

Beyond the reach

Daniel Boyd (b. 1882), a multimedia artist of Melanesian descent, has produced the installation that dominates the large central gallery. The dots of his four-channel video installation A Darker Shade of Dark #1-4 (2012), refer to the cosmos, to art history, specifically pointillism and primitivism, to sub-atomic particles and to as Ian McClean has described it (PDF download), “what lies beyond the reach of empirical investigation”.

"Vertical on My Own" 2012 by A K Dolvan. Courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st Century Museum.

“Vertical on My Own”, 2011 by A K Dolven. Courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st Century Museum.

A K Dolven’s (b. 1953) work appears at the beginning of the ascending galleries and also at the end. The artist explains that in Norway there are sometimes no shadows at all and it seems that time appears to stand still. In her video Vertical on My Own (2011) an upright figure becomes almost a straight horizontal line in the snow. Dolven’s installation is positioned in a dialogue with Poklong Anading’s (b. 1975) “Anonymity” (2004-2012), a series of light boxes where similarly the figure is present but obscured, this time by a camera flash.

All the world a stage

Performance is a sub-theme that runs through many of the works in the show. On the opening day, Yuan Gong’s (b. 1961) zag group presented ‘Family Portrait’ from Heiner Müller’s Hamletmachine, reprising an earlier performance at Hubei Museum of Art (video). In this work, four figures shudder under a black cloth, they rise and fall sinuously, projecting and singing in Chinese and English. Their monochromatic appearance relates to the exhibition theme, but they extend the meaning of ‘Shadow Image’ to include translations and adaptations (Müller’s post-modern take on Shakespeare has been re-produced and translated widely).

"Family Portrait from Hamletmachine", 2016, Yuan Gong and zag group at The Shadow Never Lies. Courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st century Museum.

“Family Portrait from Hamletmachine”, 2016, Yuan Gong and zag group at The Shadow Never Lies. Courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st century Museum.

"Related: It's all about Ya", 2010 by Wang Gongxin. Courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st Century Museum.

“Related: It’s all about Ya”, 2010 by Wang Gongxin. Courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st Century Museum.

Wang Gongxin’s (b. 1960) multi-screen video work Relating: It’s About Ya (2010) takes as its subject the performance of the everyday. He has choreographed the movement of arms, legs and heads so that they relate to a ticking clock or a car trapped in a second of time, beating with the thump of a contemporary soundtrack. Elsewhere, in Korean artist Han Kyung Woo‘s “Projected specimen” series (2014), sculptures perform the role of hands creating animal shadows on screens, evoking the popular game for children. Of After Mirage (1976/2016) by Joan Jonas (b. 1936), Mark Nash says: “[it is] emblematic of a stage area… or a magical circle for telling stories.”

Unreality

The theme lends itself to an exploration of unreality and virtual reality. The former is probably best exemplified by Jiang Pengyi’s (b. 1977) photographs. In his series of prints “Everything Illuminates” (2012), he bestows everyday items with their own interior glow, whilst Miao Xiaochun (b. 1964) takes viewers down the rabbit hole of virtual reality in both his painting Lovers (2015), and his animation Samsara (2015). His figures recline in an art history inspired vista, but their pixelated avatars problematise the online world: once online, what do we do? Can we find a meaningful way to spend our time?

Miao Xiaochun in The Shadow Never Lies. Courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st Century Museum.

Miao Xiaochun in The Shadow Never Lies. Courtesy the artist and Minsheng 21st Century Museum.

Like a Biennale

Jiang Jiehong revealed to Art Radar that the long list of artists numbered over 60 and the curators cut it down to the 35 featured in the show mere months before opening. Jiang of Birmingham City University, previously curated “Harmonious Society”, the 2014 edition of the Manchester Asia Triennial. Mark Nash of Birkbeck University of London contributed to the curation of Documenta 11 and Venice in 2015. Their combined experiences likely led them to realising a project of this ambition, no doubt also inspired by the proportions of M21’s architecture. Isaac Julien speaking at the opening, probably described the experience of “The Shadow Never Lies” best when he said it was “like a biennale”.

Linda Pittwood

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Related topics: Museum shows, events in Shanghai, thematic exhibitions, new media, artist film

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