Oct 22 2012

Field Trip: Shanghai

by John Jervis

The location for the Ninth Shanghai Biennale is the city’s brand new Power Station of Art, the eye-catching 41,000-square-meter refurbishment of the Nanshi Power Plant. This, it is said, dates back to 1897 “in part,” but looked rather like it had been slapped up specially for the Biennale, curated by Qiu Zhijie, Boris Groys, Tsong-zung Chang and Jens Hoffman.

The theme is “reactivation,” inspired by the surroundings, but eschewing hymns to industrial might and proposing instead that real power, real creativity, comes “from collective consciousness,” from community relations and from diversity–that “‘others’ are a form of mineral resources.” The display panels even proclaim that the best energy comes not from the ground but from “cuddling together for warmth.” All inspirational stuff, if a little reminiscent of 1970s soul, or even Jennifer Rush.

The occasion is a whistle-stop press preview. The catalog, which may have mined these themes around cultural energy in a more through-going manner, was in embarrassingly short supply, but the art is surprisingly engaging—both in the main galleries and in the city pavilions located on the top floor (more were scattered across the city). In all, there is much to enjoy, and a palpable feeling of relief among local commentators at the high quality of both the work and its setting.

The Shanghai Power Station of Art in its restored glory.
The Shanghai Power Station of Art in its restored glory.