After paying only 20 kuai entrance fee, we study the exhibition map. The irritating introduction of the Shanghai Biennale flyer reads like the ruminations of a socially deranged psychopath: What is the relationship between the social and the fictive in the construction and re-construction of society? How has the production of the social changed throughout the 20th century of modernity? Has the production of the social entered a new phase with the massive influx “sociometric” technologies, the extraction of data and digital profiling, and the increasing automatization of social processes in algorithms? And does China’s pre-modern history of social systematization through unparalleled bureaucratic machinery and archiving capabilities echo in the country’s current processes of social fabrication? How can we grasp the simultaneous impact of history and that of technology on subjectification today? And how does the general process of acceleration and diversification of subjectification play out in the case of China and its current era of social reconstruction?
I am compelled to ask myself: what is art all about? Beauty that strings a chord? Craftsmanship that makes us bow in awe? Incomprehensible distortions of reality? Egocentric convulsions of an abhorrent self? As we walk through the first floor of the exhibition, I engage with my brother, who is a hobby art collector and works in a small gallery, in a discussion about the essence of art.
There is aesthetic art and non-aesthetic art. I am not to write about aesthetics here, because the beauty of artwork always lies in the eye of the beholder. But in my opinion, aesthetic art is a piece of work, whether fine art, music, cinema, performing art, literature or architecture, that charmingly touches upon one of our senses or even our soul, e.g. Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss, Pablo Picasso’s Guernica or Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Non-aesthetic art is a piece of work, which touches upon the intellect by being conducive to some form of new perception or awareness, e.g. Stephen Willats’ work I don’t want to be like anyone else.
Artist and curators alike have to ask themselves: will my work be understood by the audience? Artists and curators have an assignment to drag their audience into the art and by doing so, enabling the spectator experience a sensation, a thought, alas, any impact. If the audience does not receive any message, I believe its fair so say that art has failed to deliver and thus is not qualified to be labeled as such.
The relationship between artist and spectator is similar like the one between teacher and student. The artist facilitates an experience and must go half way to pick up the spectator; likewise the spectator has to move out of his comfort zone and go half way to pick up the message from the artist. It might well be that some artists will never meet some spectators and vice versa, like it is with teachers and students. A good teacher must make nevertheless the effort to pick up the pack not only a tiny elite. The same holds true for the artist.
The Shanghai Biennale is scattered with great single works by Stephen Willats or Suzanne Treister, but the conceptualization is poor and lacks a big picture. Its curator Anselm Franke has therefore failed to do his job. Well, that’s at least my humble opinion.