Shanghai Talk, Hyper-active Art
Zia Lou | shanghaibiennale, 5 April 2006
“Shanghai is brimming with design of every kind.” Such is the opening salvo of Xiao Xiaolan, assistant curator of the Shanghai Biennale when we sit down to talk. Her overview seems spot on: we seem to be living in an era dominated by design, where even a fruit seller makes a perfect pyramid to pile up his cherries; and in a fast-paced city like Shanghai it's even more conspicuous, with billboards lining the streets and shopping malls showing giant commercials on their outside walls.
This will be the topic of the Shanghai Biennale for 2006 with its theme of Hyper Design. According to Xiao, “We chose this theme because of the specific environment in Shanghai. Hyper Design is about breaking design boundaries and exploring of every design possibility. The industry in Shanghai is blossoming, yet there is a problem in that we have too many copied designs and a lack of local, original talent. In particular, we hope to see design works offer more concern about humanity and culture, and really explore the infinite possibilities.”
Given the comparatively late start for China's art design history, which literally took off in the 80s, Xiao's worries are not groundless. As a country with the biggest population and the biggest manufacturing industry for automobiles, electronic appliances, furniture, fabric, toys and more, it's sad to think that until today, we have failed to make ourselves known for any local design brands: icons of a country the way that so many European and American brands are. Instead, all talk is about the notorious Xiangyang market.
“People here often separate art from design,” says Xiao. “They're considered two very different areas in China. But in many western countries, you can see the merging of the two everywhere. Many artists we've invited this year are not solely engaged in one or the other.”
The Biennale will feature three sub-themes - Design and Imagination, Ordinary Life Practice, Future and History - with 93 artists coming from 23 different countries and regions to explore the complicated, overlapping social liaison and cultural meanings hidden behind the phenomenon of design. The hope is to make audiences ponder the meaning of design in terms of aesthetics, life style and social history in order to broaden a humanistic vision and promote creative culture.
No fake LV bags then?