10 Highlights from the 3rd CAFAM Biennial 2016, Beijing

Art Radar features 10 highlights from the 3rd CAFAM Biennial in Beijing entitled “Negotiating Space: I Never Thought You Were Like That”.

This year’s CAFAM Biennial’s main goal was to leave behind the outdated biennial model and adopt a new, revolutionary one for this experimental exhibition.

The Third CAFAM Biennial “Negotiating Space: I Never Thought You Were Like That”, 2016-2017. Poster. Image courtesy CAFAM.

The Third CAFAM Biennial “Negotiating Space: I Never Thought You Were Like That”, 2016-2017. Poster. Image courtesy CAFAM.

In recent years the traditional biennial model has been under increasing scrutiny worldwide. It has been criticised for its top down approach, its slow response to new art trends and lack of connection to what is happening in the world. China’s Academy of Fine Arts Art Museum (CAFAM) decided to respond and address these issues in its third iteration of the biennial entitled “Negotiating Space: I Never Thought You Were Like That”.

QR Code: CAFAM Biennial 2016 installation view. Sprawling over the entire exhibition space is modular metal scaffolding that holds large QR codes and has tablets attached to it. By scanning the QR code, everyone has access to all submitted works even those that did not make it to the negotiation stage. Some tablets show behind the scenes of the exhibition organisation. Image courtesy CAFAM.

QR Code: CAFAM Biennial 2016 installation view. Sprawling over the entire exhibition space is modular metal scaffolding that holds large QR codes and has tablets attached to it. By scanning the QR code, everyone has access to all submitted works even those that did not make it to the negotiation stage. Some tablets show behind the scenes of the exhibition organisation. Image courtesy CAFAM.

Towards a democratisation of art

One of CAFAM’s goals was to truly function as a university art museum, an “intellectual laboratory” that would experiment with the operation and organisation of this biennial. For example, works were selected using an open call for proposals instead of the usual process of recommendation or nomination. In an open forum consisting of a group of multi-disciplinary “negotiators”, submitted proposals were publicly negotiated and discussed. Some of these works are presented in the exhibition, but all proposals that entered the negotiation phase are presented in the exhibition halls via web pages accessible by QR-code and the catalogue. As the organisers explain, “The negotiation, presentation, and implementation of these proposal texts collectively constitute the method of this biennial.”

Yao Junjie, ‘Please Walk Toward the Shore and Embrace the Fallen Stars of the Night Legends’, 2015-2016, digital micro-printing, acrylic, stone, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

Yao Junjie, ‘Please Walk Toward the Shore and Embrace the Fallen Stars of the Night Legends’, 2015-2016, digital micro-printing, acrylic, stone, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

The focus of this biennial is on greater democratisation of art and making the event more accessible to everyone, not just artists or art experts. This manifested itself in several ways including the choice for the title and subtitle of this iteration of the biennial. The title “Negotiating Space”, not only addresses physical architectural space for the presentation of work but also is concerned with social spaces, psychological spaces, cultural spaces and public spaces. As stated by the organisers,

“Negotiating Space” implies a free and broad vision of these concepts through the innovative presentation of new ideas. Second, negotiation allows for a more democratic process of artwork creation and project implementation.

CAFAM Biennial 2016-2017 installation view. Left to right: Zhang Muchen, ‘The Boat of Sisyphus’ 2016; Wu Mengshi, ‘The Practice of Touch’, 2014-16; Wang Chengpu, ‘√2 of Space’, 2016. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

CAFAM Biennial 2016 installation view. Left to right: Zhang Muchen, ‘The Boat of Sisyphus’ 2016; Wu Mengshi, ‘The Practice of Touch’, 2014-16; Wang Chengpu, ‘√2 of Space’, 2016. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

As to the subtitle, “I Never Thought You Were Like That” was, as the organisers write,

inspired by a popular internet phrase, expressing amazement at surprising and unimaginable ways of doing conventional things. This subtitle provides a colloquial, popular, and web-based explanation of the new exhibition structures and methods […].

Other areas that reflected this atmosphere of greater openness and democratisation were the inclusion of many young artists, as well as young university professors but no senior ones or established artists. The artists’ ages range from the youngest who is 19 to the oldest who is above 50 years old, the average age being between 20 and 30 years old.

Art work shown at Raffles City Shopping Center as part of the CAFAM Biennial 2016. Image courtesy the artist and CAFAM.

Art work shown at Raffles City Shopping Center as part of the CAFAM Biennial 2016. Image courtesy the artist and CAFAM.

Greater accessibility and democratisation was also achieved by works not only shown in CAFAM but being taken out to the wider community such as the Wangjing Hospital, 798 Art District, Huajiadi Experimental Primary School and Raffles City Shopping Center. The organisers explain:

The development of post-modern art has further narrowed the distance between […] art and life, social space, sometimes with both being completely integrated into one, the development of art is no longer confined to the usual space of an art museum, so public squares, shopping malls can also become the site of art.

The graduate and postgraduate students of CAFA conducted thorough academic research into the genealogy of negotiation, democracy and liberation. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

The graduate and postgraduate students of CAFA conducted thorough academic research into the genealogy of negotiation, democracy and liberation. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

Theoretical Grounding for a Biennial

As a university show, the Biennial’s new direction is based on current academic research and thinking. For example, the organisers support their argument for a more inclusive and interactive biennial by using the writings of one of the world’s influential philosophers, as they share:

In Jürgen Habermas’ theories of communication, interaction between a number of parties increases the understanding of a thing and coordinates action to arrive at a common understanding. In this process, individuals have the chance to improve themselves. Bringing “negotiating space” into the exhibition model implies the dissolution of monolithic curatorial power and a break from its control. The proposal’s creators and negotiators will explore how visual presentation can produce a relationship with the space or break through spatial limitations, thereby sparking a discussion about the democratization of curatorship, the democratization of art, and the democratization of culture.

From the many submissions and works on display that span photography, sound, painting, installation, video, sculpture and performance art Art Radar highlights 10 outstanding works .

Wu Mengshi, ‘The Practice of Touch’, 2014-16, motor, metal, resin, carpet, wood, 1000 x 1000 x 360 cm. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

Wu Mengshi, ‘The Practice of Touch’, 2014-16, motor, metal, resin, carpet, wood, 1000 x 1000 x 360 cm. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

1.Wu Mengshi — The Practice of Touch (2014-16)

Thirty-year-old Wu Mengshi believes that art can create a space for the viewer to alleviate mental anguish momentarily, even if it cannot root out the problem. In a statement for Art Radar, the artist expresses her hope that her work is an intersection between emotion and the theories proposed by psychology, religion, sociology and biology – a space in which mental anguish can be solved. The Practice of Touch aims to create a space in which body and mind can achieve calm. The audience is asked to sit in close proximity of a large vibrating thorny creature and scan one of the QR-codes that are placed in front of them. Once scanned visitors are presented with information about common psychological states such as depression.

Reflections of Young Li’s Dreams, ‘I Dreamed of Voting at a Small Art Museum’, 2016, acrylic on canvas, wood, metal, sticky paper that has not dried, mud, 347 x 302 x 429 cm. Image Nooshfar Afnan.

Reflections of Young Li’s Dreams, ‘I Dreamed of Voting at a Small Art Museum’, 2016, acrylic on canvas, wood, metal, sticky paper that has not dried, mud, 347 x 302 x 429 cm. Image Nooshfar Afnan.

2. Reflections of Young Li’s Dreams — I Dreamed of Voting at a Small Art Museum (2016)

In I Dreamed of Voting at a Small Art Museum the artist who goes by Reflections of Young Li’s Dreams engages the audience and asks them to vote for one of the many images that they see on the wall that they would like to see realised, by attaching a sticker next to it. Hence the audience negotiates with the artist but in a very democratic fashion. Once voting is over, the artist will transform the image with the largest number of votes into a three-dimensional piece on-site.

Lin Yan, ‘Empty Curve (Beijing)’ 2016, rice paper ink, 50 x 1720 cm. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

Lin Yan, ‘Empty Curve (Beijing)’ 2016, rice paper ink, 50 x 1720 cm. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

3. Lin Yan — Empty Curve (Beijing) (2016)

Lin Yan in her work Empty Curve (Beijing) has cut a groove into the gallery wall and inserted into it pieces of rice paper that gradually increase in volume as well as a thin light cable. The organisers state about the work:

Viewing this long scar is like seeing the space and time of a long painted scroll; there is both stillness and movement. In this way, the wall and the paper make the transition from vehicle to medium.

Zhang Yanzi, ‘Breathable’, 2016, gauze, ink, cinnabar, 6 x 1000 x 120. Image courtesy the artist and CAFAM.

Zhang Yanzi, ‘Breathable’, 2016, gauze, ink, cinnabar, 6 x 1000 x 120. Image courtesy the artist and CAFAM.

4. Zhang Yanzi — Breathable (2016)

In line with its location at the Beijing Wangjing Hospital’s busy registration hall, Zhang Yanzi has been exploring topics related to art and the body. She proposes that medicine is for healing the body and art for healing the mind. Her exhibited work Breathable uses gauze like a traditional scroll to paint a long landscape in ink and cinnabar. This kind of landscape painting was often associated with leaving mental anguish behind and here the artist draws a connection with the gauze that helps with alleviating physical pain. However, once the gauze is rolled back up, it looks like as if splattered by blood, reminding the viewer of pain and suffering.

Mo Xiliang ‘Negotiation Not Permitted’, (2016), video installation, painting on canvas, writing on paper, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

Mo Xiliang ‘Negotiation Not Permitted’, (2016), video installation, painting on canvas, writing on paper, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

5. Mo Xiliang — Negiotiation Not Permitted (2016)

Mo Xiliang tries to right a wrong with his work Negotiation Not Permitted. When he exhibited an earlier series in a museum entitled “I’m Watching TV, But It Might Be Broken” some pieces were, for unknown reasons, partially removed. By displaying documentary materials of the show, including photos of the missing images and empty frames that would normally hold those pieces, he tries to “negotiate” this wrongdoing – an opportunity he did not have at the time.

Li Qiang, ‘The Edge of the Image’, 2016, paper, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

Li Qiang, ‘The Edge of the Image’, 2016, paper, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

6. Li Qiang — The Edge of the Image (2016)

In response to the constant information overload that we face and as a way to reverse this bombardment, Li Qiang created The Edge of the Image. The artist tries to subvert this onslaught through the act of reducing and tearing away from books and magazines, leaving the discarded pieces piled on the ground. From the intersection of the edges of different pages, simple words and images appear. In the wall text the artist states:

If the internet is a kind of violence in modern civilization, tearing up books is my form of violence against the violence of information.

Wang Chengpu, ‘√2 of Space’, 2016, industrial rebar, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

Wang Chengpu, ‘√2 of Space’, 2016, industrial rebar, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

7. Wang Chengpu — √2 of Space (2016)

Wang Chengpu, a graduate of CAFA, uses mathematics to create “constantly changing and improving three-dimensional space” in his sculptural work entitled √2 of Space made out of industrial rebar.

Wang Enlai, ‘Model Room: Bathroom’, 2016, mixed media, 280 x 280 x 260 cm. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

Wang Enlai, ‘Model Room: Bathroom’, 2016, mixed media, 280 x 280 x 260 cm. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

8.Wang Enlai — Model Room: Bathroom (2016)

Wang Enlai’s Model Room: Bathroom creates an “ideal” room made completely out of IKEA products, but the objects are used in unconventional ways. For example, a toilet bowl becomes a fish tank and a variety of plastic containers, stools and ladders transform into a water fountain. Part of the goal of the organisers was that artists would negotiate for the space of their work. Wang tried to negotiate with IKEA to have this work displayed at one of their stores in Beijing but failed to convince them.

Image of video of Yi Yuxiao, ‘Sisyphus’ Ball’, 2016, PVC, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

Image of video of Yi Yuxiao, ‘Sisyphus’ Ball’, 2016, PVC, dimensions variable. Image courtesy Nooshfar Afnan.

9. Yi Yuxiao — Sisyphus’ Ball (2016)

Placed in one of the ramps of the art museum is Yi Yuxiao’s Sisyphus’s Ball where the audience can decide to push this obstacle in the shape of a large boulder up the sloping ramp to get to the next section of the Biennial or to take a detour instead, thereby negotiating space around them and around the artwork itself.

Wan Yi ‘Between’, 2016, cloth, cotton, wind machine, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and CAFAM.

Wan Yi ‘Between’, 2016, cloth, cotton, wind machine, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist and CAFAM.

10. Wan Yi — Between (2016)

Another work that asks the audience to negotiate space is Wan Yi’s Between, which is attached to the two sides of a doorway. The fuzzy cotton material expands and deflates repeatedly, forcing the audience to negotiate and time their exit and entrance. “They enter and exit, as if they were spit out after a brief birthing process,” the wall text reads, going on to state that this work “stimulates the state of life, the act of breathing, and the movement of organs”.

Nooshfar Afnan

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Related Topics: Chinese artists, emerging artists, installation, biennials, democratisation of art, events in Beijing

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