Highlights of the 11th Shanghai Biennale that are not to be missed

We’ve been exploring the art scene present in China lately and seem to have stumbled upon the jackpot, when it comes to exhibitions, that is. This is known as the Shanghai Biennale, friends.

What is it, and what makes it so special?

Launched in 1996, the Shanghai Biennale was the very first contemporary art exhibition held in mainland China. Since then it has sky-rocketed in popularity, becoming the nation’s most highly influential, global art event that aims to support academic and creative innovation worldwide through art exchange and presentation.

Shanghai exhibition


Transpiring every two years, it features a gathering of the industry’s most innovative and thought-provoking curators and artists who explore the connection between urban life, contemporary art & the public. Each event revolves around a particular, stimulating theme. Past examples include 2006’s “Hyper Design,” 2010’s “Rehearsal,” and 2014’s “Social Factory.”

Theme of 2017: “Why Not Ask Again: Arguments, Counter-Arguments, and Stories.”

This year, the exhibit’s chief curator Raqs Media Collective presents the possibilities inherent in a dialogue between the people of South and East Asia, a less-explored conversation in comparison to the more conventional one between the Eastern and Western world.

The theme was inspired by the 1974, Indian film by Ritwik Ghatak, Maneuvers, Disputations and Stories. In the story, the protagonist falls in with a group of fugitives, student rebels who proceed to probe into his life through a series of questions, arguments, and counter-arguments. To these, the leading character offers answers in the form of riddles, and deep, difficult counter-questions. The film highlights the value in fables, narratives, and inquiry, showcasing their ability to transform one’s own story.

The name “Why Not Ask Again” comes from a question posed by the curator after exploring this pioneering film. “Why not ask again?” he said, “Why not begin at the beginning, or the end, or the middle of a question, or a desire (because the task of ‘asking’ can stand both for the posing of a question as well as for the awakening of a desire)?”

Contemporary art

The goal is to encourage exhibition-goers and presenting artists to act as the characters in the film do, asking hard questions, and finding a way to be comfortable when there aren’t, in fact, any known answers; it’s a call to embrace, rather than fear, life’s uncertainties.

How it’s all laid out

Below is the format in which the Biennale has been arranged, with all details you need to know about the programs that will be taking place in and outside of the exhibition grounds.

Four terminals

A mainstay of the Biennale, wherein artist’s are invited to develop questions, propositions and narratives. The terminals are a method of recognizing certain creatives, and showcasing their ability to act as conversation-sparkers, and leaders in social movements.

Art installation

Artists to anticipate: Ivana Franke of Croatia, Regina José Galindo of Guatemala, Marjolijn Dijkman of the Netherlands, and Chinese duo MouSen and  MSG.

51 Personae

A project that explores the possibilities of everyday life through a series of three simultaneously-running programs, which feature a unique, local figure each week throughout the seventeen-week duration of the biennale. Individuals that will be highlighted include a high school student who’s witnessed his city’s rise and fall, and a boy who has made it his mission to ride every single bus in Shanghai.

Theory Opera

Coordinated by Liu Tian, this event will explore the sensuality of thoughts through live, discursive philosophical performances that feature the rhythmical cadence of an opera. The program will be conducted not only within the exhibition space but also throughout the city of Shanghai while the Biennale is ongoing.

Complimentary Projects in Shanghai

As usual, the Biennale will be celebrated even outside the exhibition walls. Throughout the city of Shanghai, walks, performances, talks, and special exhibitions will take place. Including the aforementioned Theory Opera, and the event “Metamorphosis of the God of Harvest,” which you’ll find at the Swatch Art Peace Hotel’s art center.

Artists to look out for

There will be ninety-two artists and artists’ groups coming from forty countries all over the globe to present their works. Presented in a myriad of ways as described above, exhibition-goers will have a lot of options. With so much choice can come a feeling of being overwhelmed. But fear not, hit these artists’ most anticipated installations and find solace knowing you’ve seen the best.

  • Moinak Biswas from India
  • Robin Meier from Switzerland
  • Sun Yuan and Peng Yu from China
  • Georges Adéagbo from Benin
  • Lee Mingwei from Taiwan
  • Yang Zhenzhong from China
  • Wang Haichuan from China
  • Patty Chang from the USA
  • Tomás Saraceno from Argentina
  • SUPERFLEX from Denmark
  • Zheng Chongbin from the USA

Plus, if you have time, explore the very meta Infra-Curatorial platform, featuring the independent, sub-exhibitions by seven young curators. They have each delved deeply into the concept of what it means to be a curator, exploring the role and viewpoints of the profession, and the arguments and reflection that stem from such work. The selected young artists include Didem Yazıcı of Turkey, Ivan Isaev of Russia, Liu Tian of China, Mouna Mekounar of France, Sabih Ahmed of India, Srajana Kaikini also of India, and Ugochukwu-Smooth C. Nzewi of Nigeria.

Biennale Shanghai

Interested in attending? Head on over to the exhibition’s concrete, industrial venue, Power Station of Art, China’s first state-run, contemporary art museum, a source in and of itself for creative inspiration.

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Cez Krol

Travel blogger at eTramping
Cez lives in China like a local for the past 4 years. Apart from speaking the language, he loves to discover more about this unique country of extreme contrasts. He shares his China experiences here at Sublime China and on his blog eTramping, so go and check out what's out there for you in China.
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