Finnbogi Pétursson & Ólafur Elíasson | Wuzhen Festival, China.
Wuzhen Festival, China.
28 March – 26 June 2016.
Many top figures of the art world travelled to Wuzhen, one of China’s historic water villages, straight after Art Basel in Hong Kong, which closed on the weekend. Among those at the launch of the inaugural Art Wuzhen earlier this week were the Swiss collector of contemporary Chinese art, Uli Sigg, and Hou Hanru, the director of Rome’s MaXXi, both of whom are members of the ambitious event’s advisory board, as well as the artists Sui Jianguo, Song Dong, Xu Bing, Ann Hamilton and Roman Signer among others. The inaugural exhibition features an impressive mix of publicly-engaging and conceptually-provocative art, presented with an attention to detail, down to well-written and clearly translated texts, that is unusual in China. Participating artists include Ai Weiwei, Marina Abramovic, Damien Hirst, Maya Lin and Martin Parr, with the Chinese artists predominantly Beijing-based and 1960s born as well as Icelandic artists Finnbogi Pétursson and Ólafur Elíasson.
The 1,300-year-old reconstructed traditional eastern Chinese water town, which is a major tourist destination, is hosting the exhibition of 43 works by 40 of China’s and the world’s most established contemporary artists. Organised by the chief curator Feng Boyi, along with Wang Xiaosong and Liu Gang, the exhibition aims to make top-notch contemporary art more accessible to China’s broad public, not just the more sophisticated residents of its major cities.
“Usually this sort of large-scale, international exhibition happens only in metropolises,” not a county-level village like Wuzhen, says Chen Xianghong, the chairman of the exhibition and chief executive of Cultural Wuzhen, which launched the Wuzhen Theater Festival in 2013. Art Wuzhen’s curators had just one year to assemble works by 20 Chinese artists and 20 international artists and organise them into a coherent exhibition, Utopias:Heterotopias (until 26 June).
The bulk of the exhibition, which includes 13 works created specifically for Wuzhen, is held in the North Silk Factory, a converted 1970s industrial space still retaining many rough edges and ornately retro flooring.
Though Art Wuzhen includes several one-note crowd pleasers, most of the show manages to be critically conceptual yet accessible. Song Dong’s Avenue Square recreates Tian’anmen Square as a frothy, plastic pink paradise wrapped in selfie-friendly mirrors. The revelers within the space are filmed and images are broadcast to an adjacent room. It winks to a nearby trailer for Xu Bing’s film Dragonfly Eye, which the artist is creating using surveillance footage. Taiwanese artist Lai Chih-Sheng’s Scene_WZ drops the ceiling of one room, using light and space to evoke senses of depression and claustrophobia. Icelandic artist Finnbogi Petursson likewise plays with mood through reaction to physical space and cues with Intra-Supra, an installation of sound and light bouncing off a pool of ink mixed with water, a tribute to the canals outside.
Finnbogi Pétursson (b. 1959) studied at the Icelandic College of Art and Crafts and the Jan van Eyck Akademie. His innovative and eccentric oeuvre hinges upon the conceptual treatment and integration of sound, space, and material. Since he began exhibiting in 1980, Finnbogi’s work often uses implements that produce electronic or acoustic sound—loudspeakers, wires, and instruments—to form sculptures themselves. Many of his installations bridge contemporary technology and elemental phenomena; his work also evokes experiences that cannot be attributed to visual or aural perception but rather a combination, or perhaps transcendence, of the senses. Finnbogi represented Iceland at the Venice Biennale in 2001 with his monumental sound installation Diabolus.
Ólafur Elíasson was born in 1967. He grew up in Iceland and Denmark and studied, from 1989 to 1995, at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. In 1995, he moved to Berlin and founded Studio Olafur Eliasson, which today encompasses some ninety craftsmen, specialised technicians, architects, archivists, administrators, programmers, art historians, and cooks. Since the mid-1990s, Eliasson has realised numerous major exhibitions and projects around the world. In 2003, Eliasson represented Denmark at the 50th Venice Biennale, with The blind pavilion, and, later that year, he installed The weather project in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall, London. Take your time: Olafur Eliasson, a survey exhibition organised by SFMOMA in 2007, travelled until 2010 to various venues, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Innen Stadt Aussen (Inner City Out), at Martin-Gropius-Bau in 2010, involved interventions across Berlin as well as in the museum. Similarly, in 2011, Seu corpo da obra (Your body of work) engaged with three institutions around São Paulo – SESC Pompeia, SESC Belenzinho, and Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo – and spread out into the city itself. In 2014, forRiverbed, Eliasson built a landscape within the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark. Also in 2014, Eliasson’s exhibition Contact was the inaugural solo exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris. Verklighetsmaskiner (Reality machines), at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 2015, became the museum’s most visited show by a living artist.