Last Friday, Shanghaiist attended a conference which was, for all intents and purposes, about how to push products to the Chinese populace and maximize profits in this gold rush. Weasely marketing types abounded, frantically and forcibly pelleting their business cards upon us whilst spewing their “bottom-line is king” rhetoric. Every other word out of their mouths was either ‘opportunity’, ‘growth’, ‘potential’ or ‘profit’. Scary stuff.
Dizzy with offense (the keynote speech was an hour-long commercial for McDonald’s), we escaped during the lunch hour to stroll around the area (the Bund), and we happened upon a curious little gallery. Gathering places of contemporary artstuff are an admitted weakness for Shanghaiist and, as such, we poked our head in—“just two minutes,” we told ourselves, “and then we really must be getting back”. But then we saw the words “effects of functionality on creativity” and “impact of art and design on contemporary culture” and it was all over. Suffice to say, we were late for the post-lunch speech by another Fortune 500 big wig.
The gallery is Contrasts and the current exhibit, which opened for the Shanghai Biennale, is called “Contrasts and Contradictions: Crossovers // Beyond Art and Design”. Featuring 60 works by artists the world over, it purports to explore the relationship between art and design and challenges the notion that the two are mutually exclusive.
What we found interesting, however, was not the aesthetics versus function dialogue but, rather, the socio-political commentary coursing through the pieces. The imposition of Western ideologies in China, and the hanging-on-by-a-thread endurance of traditional Asian values, were scrutinized in select works. Irony slapped us in the face big time when walked down to the basement level and were greeted with by Zhao Guanghui’s “New Right Movement”. Essentially, the work consists of a weathered map of China, with big, bad, ultra-modern model tanks surrounding it, ready to pounce. It was almost like God’s way of tsk-tsking us for attending the Marketing 101 for Big Business conference, what with its big, bad, ultra-modern Integrated Marketing Communications Plans ready to take over the Middle Kingdom. We hung our head in shame.
Critiques on excessive, hypercharged consumerism also tickled our fancy, and we especially enjoyed “A New Breed” (pictured), an installation by UK-based design duo WOKmedia. It’s a thoughtful, beautiful reflection on notions of sexuality (and of their liberalization) in China.
Although some of the pieces made us cock our head and go “jiggahuh?” there are enough visually exciting and noggin-stimulating pieces to make it worth your while.
Contrasts and Contradictions: Crossovers // Beyond Art and Design at Contrasts Gallery. Extended through December 31, 2006. 181 Jiangxi Zhong Lu. Tel: 6323 1989.