The following are curatorial texts included with the 8th Shanghai Biennale press packet, written by the Curatorial Team. They are unedited, but blue highlights thoughts that raised my eyebrow and made me think, enjoy! For Chinese language original, click on 中文 to the right.
What Is Rehearsal?
A Curatorial Thinking of the 8th Shanghai Biennale
The last two years have witnessed the latest global crisis. As if on cue, almost concurrently, an unprecedented crisis also befell contemporary art on a global scale. This one is no spiritual crisis experienced by modernists in the depths of their individual creativity, but a malarial torpor endemic to today’s world, or alternatively, a malaise of the system – the fact that the creativity of individual artists fails to match that of the system of artistic production, and by a wide margin. Artists cannot rid themselves of the sinking feeling that they are in the system’s employment, made to order by society at large. Everywhere we look, artists are cosplaying their roles. The 8th Shanghai Biennale raises the following question: What is suppressing and constraining the power of the heart in the economic and political context of contemporary art? Is it because of the ‘invisible hand’ of the art world? Or is it because of ‘trends’ in the international art market? Should we blame all the identikit mega-exhibitions worldwide? Or the omni-present mass culture? Artists are becoming more and more constrained and boring and we are dragged into a ‘post-history’ malaise. So how should we describe this state clearly? How can we get out of the dilemma of creation in the context of an art system constituted by seamless and endless international dialogue, mega exhibitions, art fairs and transnational capital? How do we identify the internal frontiers of the ‘art world’ hijacked by global capitalism while we are ourselves part of it? Is contemporary artistic practice capable of generating a new Produktionsverhältnisse – system of production – beyond the throttles of institutional critique and social participation?
The 8th Shanghai Biennale defines itself as a ‘rehearsal’ and as a reflective space of performance. ‘Rehearsal’ is not only a strategy or a special form of exhibition. It’s traveling art and opening to all the audience. ‘Rehearsal’ focuses on the full process of exhibition and on creativity itself. The exhibition hall is not only the medium for the artworks, but also a changing space that can trigger creativity. As Brecht has noted, “Actors in rehearsal do not wish to ‘realize’ an idea. Their task is to awaken and organize the creativity of the other. Rehearsals are experiments, aiming to explore the many possibilities of here and now. The rehearser’s task is to expose all stereotyped, clichéd and habitual solutions.” The ‘rehearsal’ of the 8th Shanghai Biennale is a self-performative act by the art world, a wake up call to itself and an attempt at self-liberation. Rehearsal is wielded against ‘performance’, ‘production’ and ‘discursive practice’. The responsibility of the curators is to differentiate, organize and then mobilize. Today many exhibitions are restricted in the theatre, but for this biennale, the theatre and rehearsal are not only spaces for exhibition, but methods of creation, exhibition and communication. We hope that the biennale will be able to promote interaction between artists. The elements of venue, narration and social participation have become key concepts in contemporary visual art, so we also hope that we can explore these areas in the mode of ‘rehearsal’.
As the space of communication between art and the public, the exhibition is like an enclave transcending everyday reality. It’s located within the quotidian, yet goes beyond it. Its mode of existence is not unlike that of the theatre. The exhibition is the theatre of contemporary art. The exhibition not only reformulates/represents everyday life, but also provides a vehicle for its own representative polity. It is the autonomous region of art, within which artists are also legislators. This is surely the most precious legacy of modernism. But why do artists still harbor doubts about exhibitions, even while they crave the opportunity to exhibit? Why are we still somewhat perplexed by artists’ reliance on them? For artists, the exhibition is fast becoming the primary venue of creativity, hijacking their work and transforming it into something systematized and automated. In the last decade, even institutional critique has become a standard trope in this industrialized art production. Even more worryingly, the exhibition – once art’s autonomous enclave in the public domain – has turned into a hub for production, exposition and consumption of global capital…
On the other hand, if art is indeed ‘an everyday practice’, then where is the need for the exhibition? Art as a social activity is a nexus that connects and shares inter-subjective encounters. It therefore aims to pit the group against the public, neighborhood against propaganda, and the mutating quotidian against ‘pop culture’ – that nebulous construction tailor-made and co-opted by media and the establishment, consisting of almost pure ideology. So, can the exhibition be considered the battleground for this antagonism? Or on the contrary, is exhibition, as art’s autonomous dominion, merely a theme park of little import trapped in the much larger and more real everyday space of social communication?
But the exhibition is not solely intended for communication between disparate subjects. It is not just a space for networking, release or realization. It is primarily a creative space. The paradox of the exhibition lies in the impossible mission of presenting that which cannot be represented. In every era there is always that which defies representation. This is not to say that which resists representation is already in existence and cannot be represented due to restrictions imposed by human beings. In reality, these things did not exist prior to the act of ‘representation’. They are generated in that act. The ‘representation’ that reveals what was previously invisible is not an act of resistance, but rather one of active construction. Exhibitions are not all about the releasing of works of art, but rather the creation of a scenario. It is exactly here that the exhibition becomes simultaneously theatre and ‘anti-theatre’ . After Brecht and Artaud, the theatre as a stage for representation has all but collapsed. The theatre has broken with its own tradition of autonomy. ‘Drama’ and ‘venue’, the two elements which make up the Chinese word for theatre, have been separated and then reunited.
The rupture between ‘drama’ and ‘scene’ is where ‘rehearsal’ can be a venue for self-purging and redemption. ‘Rehearsals’ are not formal performances. They are not repeatable and forgettable experiments; rehearsals can turn any social space into a theatre and vice versa. During rehearsals, the theatre is no longer the designated stage for the performance of seeing and being seen, or a representational space that excludes reality. It is rather a space subjected to constant self-appreciation, interruption and deconstruction. Rehearsing finds itself in the no man’s land between the onstage and offstage, and hence falls into the limbo between theatre and everyday life.
In Bergman’s film Efter Repetitionen (After the Rehearsal), everything that matters happens outside the theatre. Theatre rehearsals and real life, which by definition cannot be rehearsed (What are they? Politics, history and…life) are intertwined. At the end of 8½, Fellini places all actors and roles onto the stage for a carnival. They are both the roles and the actors’ own selves (Isn’t an actor a kind of role in some way?) This is a ‘rehearsal’, a drill, an ‘intermediate state of expression’; more convincing and relaxed than acting, since pauses and fresh starts are always available options.
So, is it possible to rehearse an exhibition? Does the artist have to rehearse as the actor does, for the purpose of exhibited creation? Is the opening moment of an exhibition the consummation of artistic production? Or are exhibitions rehearsals? Can they be otherwise?
All exhibitions aspire towards an announcement, a last show, a perfect theatre. In fact, they are but rehearsals. Because upon entering the theatre, all members of the audience wear the ‘mask’ of spectator (in theatres in ancient Greece, personality was but a mask of difference). Popular theatre experience has coaxed builders, teachers, business people and students, members of the multitude of infinite difference, into playing the part of ‘the audience’. At the time of rehearsal, the theatre is an open space, since the audience has yet to descend, and everybody present is participating in the rehearsal. Precisely because we are merely the cast of ‘art, the epic drama’, artistic judgments are for us also historical judgments. There is no finishing line to history; therefore the history of art still hangs in balance.
Exhibitions are rehearsals. Compared to theatre performances, ‘the rehearsal studio’ of the exhibition seems more grounded in real life. However, it is not exactly so, since the everyday has already turned into a theatre. Only in rehearsal can we extricate ourselves from the theatre of everyday life, virtually a dictatorship over the individual, and then enter into the moment of liberation in the politics of real life.
Exhibitions are rehearsals. Theatrical performances do not guarantee liberation. For performance pronounces the end of acting, which then becomes an incident quickly absorbed by real life. In the theatre, the audience merely enters from one play into another, from one dream into the next. We have not escaped from the ineptitude of ‘a part in the play’, as we remain subject to a collective dreamland, passive in our tailor-made otherness. Only in rehearsal does the audience actually get to participate as subjects. But this runs counter to the so-called social engagement and public participation, the latter often suggestive of artistic intervention and participation in society at large, as if the artists were not there in the first place. Even when the artist enters the theatre of everyday life, they are still ‘sovereign’, looking down on ‘the public’ or on society; whereas ‘rehearsals’ invite the public into the studio to participate in artistic production, just as, actors and lighting technicians, teachers and students, politicians and engineers all climb onstage during the rehearsals. In a ‘participatory’ context, the ‘public’ and ‘society’ are singular, undifferentiated, whilst in rehearsing studios, all participants retain their individuality, laden with infinite difference, as part of an undefined ‘multitude’.
Exhibitions are rehearsals. ‘Rehearsing’ is liberating, since everything is undecided. In the framework of the 8th Shanghai Biennale, curating is not about reaching conclusions, or investigating or representing, but about organizing rehearsals. As long as a rehearsal is going on, the theatre of exhibition will remain open to the future. Today, the productivity of the art system far outstrips individual creativity. As a result the artists cannot rid themselves of the nagging feeling that they are on the payroll of the art system and ‘made to order’ by society. Everywhere we look, artists are cosplaying their roles. ‘Rehearsing’ requires artists to strip off their costumes and walk out of the institutionalized theatre of art production, to sever their ties with the theatre of everyday life, to become the ‘undefined’, to return to our rehearsing studio and plunge into spontaneous, unfettered rehearsal.
For the 8th Shanghai Biennale, ‘rehearsal’ is not a metaphor for a form of exhibition, but a way of thinking and operating strategy. What the Biennale aims to achieve is to invite a wide range of participants – artists, curators, critics, collectors, museum directors, and members of the audience – a to rehearse in the Biennale, a fertile theatre to reflect on the relations between art experimentation and the art system, between individual creativity and the public domain.
The Biennale will invite curatorial institutions such as Performa and the Long March Project to be partners, to promote institutional innovation. An ‘Acting Committee’ will be formed at the executive level to assist the curators in their academic research and the organization of events. This team will include academics, artists and curators to assist with the rehearsals.
How to be ‘Rehearsal’?
In 1924, Tret’iakov, a futurist writer in the former Soviet Union, wrote a revolutionary poem Roar China!;
In 1926, the play Roar China! was performed by left-wing activists in Moscow;
On October 27th, 1930, the avant-garde play Roar China! premiered in Martin Beck Theatre, New York;
In 1934, a series of illustrations of the play, also named Roar China!, were drawn by Liuxian, a member of the Unnamed Association;
In 1935, a black-and-white woodcut print Roar China! was created by Li Hua, a Chinese artist;
In 1937, International Brigades volunteer Langston Hughes published the anti-fascist song Roar, China! in “Volunteer for Liberty”.
This story spanned various locations, Shanghai, the Soviet Union, New York and Spain, through the 1920s and 1930s. It was a real-life ‘rehearsal’ from art and political history. It offers us a way to reconsider the complex relationship between the avant-garde and revolution, revolution and internationalism, internationalism and nation state, state and politics, politics and art, art and avant-garde/revolution. 80 years on, the 8th Shanghai Biennale, another international ‘rehearsal’, involve a number of different locations as a tribute to those golden years.
The ‘rehearsal’ of the 8th Shanghai Biennale will start in June 2010, and will include four acts.
Act I. Ho Chi Minh Trail
In cooperation with the Long March Project, the Ho Chi Minh Trail project will be run in Beijing from June to September, 2010. Its theme is ‘from creation to rehearsal’. The Long March Project is one of the most influential curatorial projects in China promoting the development of Chinese contemporary art and discourse. The ongoing Ho Chi Minh Trail project is a part the Long March Project, and Act I of the ‘rehearsal’ will make a case study of the Ho Chi Minh Trail to verify the idea of ‘cultural creation’, and to explore the significance of the paradigm shift from ‘creation’ to ‘rehearsal’. This rehearsal will be an opportunity to exchange artworks and ideas in China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The rehearsal will also be a chance to discuss the role of art and ideas in redefining the nexus of ‘self-history-society’. Ho Chi Minh Trail involves research (2008-2009), an educational forum (July 2009), field trips (June to July 2010), ‘rehearsal’ (September to November 2010), ‘theatre’ (October 2010 to February 2011) and ‘database’. The ‘rehearsal’ and ‘theatre’ components will be a part of the 8th Shanghai Biennale.
Act II. A Guiding Light
In cooperation with PERFORMA, Shanghai Biennale will perform Act II in New York in the middle of November 2010. PERFORMA is committed to studying the role that ‘venue’ and performance art played in the art history in the 20th century and its future in the 21st century. It creates social critique with its performances, and has built itself into one of the most exciting events in the global biennale community. In its New York part, the artists Liam Gillick and Anton Vidokle will invite a group of artists, critics, and curators to consider and discuss proposals for the Shanghai Biennale. We hope that participants can be released from their original roles by this group ‘rehearsal’, which focusing on the complex relationship between works and reality, theatre and rehearsal, society and art world. It aims to cover the issues of performance as art and ‘public participation’ in contemporary art, in the context of ‘Utopia’ and left wing artistic trends after the emergence of modernism. There will be discussions on the troubles and deadlocks artists encounter while creating art. A Guiding Light takes its title from the longest running television soap opera, which was canceled last year after running on radio and then television for 72 years. This reference proposes a provocative parallel between soap operas and art practice. A Guiding Light frustrates the traditional concept of rehearsal. Its goal is not the perfection of a repertoire, but a heightened state of potentiality. Rehashing the impetus of the work becomes the work itself, deferring a sense of completion, thus fulfilling Shanghai Biennale’s proposal for the creation of a reflective space of performance.
Act III. Rehearsal in Shanghai Art Museum
From October 23, 2010, to February 2011 the theme exhibition Rehearsal be presented in the Shanghai Art Museum. Focusing on the narrative capacity and site-specificity of contemporary art, the exhibition will conjure an inter-media theatre, reflecting on time, virtuality and experience. Performance and intensive interaction among media and formats run in parallel, activating multiple images of time and to spatialising the time experience of the audience. The audience may walk from scene to scene, following an integral narrative context constituted of work from different artists. These ‘biennale scenes’, engaging in memory, manoeuvre and construction, present an emotional field with a quirky twist. In this sense, the ‘rehearsal’ of the 8th Shanghai Biennale could be transcendental adventures along the wandering roads between the performance and its stage.
Act IV Theory and Practice of Socialist Self-Management: Yugoslav Case
In cooperation with the radical curatorial group WHW, Shanghai Biennale will perform Act IV between Shanghai and Europe. WHW will provide a ‘script’ that Gernot Faber will give a form. This ‘script’ will be in the form of a reading list that carries meaning for both WHW and Gernot Faber, involving overcoming the obstacles of translation, mutual prejudice, gaps in knowledge and the relationship between politics and art. Questions will be raised and discussed (Why self-management? What does art have to do with agitation? What are limits of the artist-curator relationship? How do collectives negotiate? What is ‘presented’ and what is hidden? Who is agitation for? Is the ‘audience’ necessary?) In the European rehearsal, the first part of the Act will be a seminar, held on December 3rd and 4th. The seminar will be realized as a collaboration with the Viennese collective Tranzit, and WHW and Tranzit’s long-term collaborative project ‘Sweet Sixties’. The title of the seminar is ‘Sweet Sixties: Movements and Spaces’. One module will discuss self-management in Yugoslavia, its ideas, context, structures, failures and heritage, as a kind of geo-political and political background to the 1960s. The seminar will move to the space of culture, one module focusing on art from the 60s (using ideas like the New Tendencies movement and events like a Music Biennial or Genre Film Festival). In this module, the focus will be on the idea of self-organization and the collaborations and tensions between cultural systems and cultural production. The last module will research physical space, going more in the direction of urbanism and architecture.
The second part, the exhibition of Act IV, will open in mid January, and will last for a month and a half. It will be collaboration with Gernot Faber, who will produce another version of the work exhibited at the Shanghai Biennale.
Act V. West Heavens: India-China Summit on Social Thought
Act V runs from late October 2010 to January 2011 in Shanghai. This summit starts the opening of the Shanghai Biennale, and involving seven lecture-forums. Seven internationally-renowned Indian scholars have been invited to Shanghai, one every two weeks, to give an original lecture and engage in a dialogue with Chinese scholars. Act V also includes the publication of a series of books entitled Readers in Indian Contemporary Social Thinking (550,000 words, 8 volumes, bilingual in Chinese and English). This Act is presented as a part of the West Heavens project, started by the Institute of Visual Culture (China Academy of Art) to, promote cultural exchanges within Asia, present the latest ideas, re-evaluate the international academic scene and encourage new thinking in China. The participants are: Homi K. Bhabha, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Partha Chatterjee, Ashis Nandy, Prasenjit Duara, Tejaswini Niranjana, Geeta Kapur, Sarat Maharaj, Chen Kuan-hsing, Wang Hui, Zhao Tingyang，Wang Xiaoming, Chen Yizhong，Lu Xinghua，He Zhaotian, Chen Si, Chen Chieh-jen, Raqs Media Collective, etc.
Interlude. The Past Decade of Chinese Live Art
In 2010, Chinese live art will celebrate its 10th anniversary. From experimental theatre to media performance, from ‘post-sensitivity’ to ‘joint scene’, the inter-medium explorations of Chinese contemporary art have produced their own unique form. Now it is time for us to inquire into the consequences of these explorations over the past decade: What has the specific practice of live art in the Chinese contemporary art scene created? Is it a kind of spectacularized exhibition culture? How can we revise defined relationship between the contemporary art scene and real life? How can we define the Chinese mode of live art? Have we reached a point of historical retrospection, celebrating the past decade, or are we rather at an intermission? When the actors come offstage, waiting for the signal for the next act to begin, at that exact moment, they are located in a limbo between reality and stage, life and theatre.
As the Interlude program of the Biennale, we’ll invite the active practitioners in Chinese live art to transform the documentary exhibition The Past Decade of Chinese Live Art into a site of performativity in open dialogue with history. What is the VENUE? What is the PERFORMANCE? What is the THEATRE? What is the AUDIENCE? What is SOCIAL PARTICIPATION? What is HISTORY? What is MEMORY? What is REHEARSAL?
Though the five Acts, we will bring together around 80 thinkers, artists and curators in an attempt to bring about a convergence of discourse and visual production. For the 8th Shanghai Biennale, ‘rehearsal’ is not a metaphor for a form of exhibition, but a way of thinking and operating strategy. What the Biennale aims to achieve is to invite a wide range of participants – artists, curators, critics, collectors, museum directors, and members of the audience – a to rehearse in the Biennale, a fertile theatre to reflect on the relations between art experimentation and the art system, between individual creativity and the public domain.
The biennale defines itself as a ‘rehearsal’, as a reflective space of performance. The ‘rehearsal’ of the 8th Shanghai Biennale is a self-performative act by the art world, a wake up call to itself and an attempt at self-liberation. Rehearsal is wielded against ‘performance’, ‘production’ and ‘discursive practice’. The responsibility of the curators is to differentiate, organize and then mobilize. For the 8th Shanghai Biennale, what matters is not the exhibition itself, but what it has brought to us in the past year of preparation. What the rehearsal shows is the dialogues, arguments, thoughts and practices of artists, curators, and thinkers in 2010.
jeez, cannot understand a word … when artist meets art-mindist communication will be close to zero