“About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place”
-W. H. Auden

After British poet W. H. Auden visited the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels in 1938, he incorporated his feelings on seeing the work of sixteenth-century Dutch master Pieter Bruegel the Elder into his very visual poem “Musée des Beaux Arts.” Here, suffering, tragedy, and life are presented in interlocking scenes, and gloom and desolation are revealed amidst the calm.

In 2020, we have been confronted with the most difficult pandemic in one hundred years, and sudden public crises and social upheavals have blanketed the globe. All of the known coordinates for the individual and the collective, life and nature, the present and eternity have led to a crossroads. Yan Shijie, curator of this exhibition, noted, “2020 has already become a ‘boundary stele’ for us, and tangible and intangible words have become frozen in eternal collective memories.” Through the unique ideas and actions of fifteen artists, “2020+ attempts to open a multi-dimensional space for understanding.

Earth perspectives, 2020, a work that Olafur Eliasson created for the Serpentine Galleries’ Back to Earth project, will be presented in the online portion of Red Brick Art Museum’s “2020+” exhibition. The artist selected nine places on earth for their natural or human significance and created maps from these nine perspectives. This work shows that maps, space, and the Earth itself are constructed, and we all have the power to explore and interpret the Earth from new perspectives, whether individually or collectively.

The exhibition’s offline portion begins with Rachel Rose’s film A Minute Ago. The film starts with a hailstorm pelting down unexpectedly on a quiet beach in Siberia. People, half naked, run for cover under towels and parasols. The next scene is an interview of famed architect Philip Johnson, then in his nineties. The interview was shot in the Glass House that he designed in a forest in 1949. The Glass House has become a monument to an unavoidable and disastrous future. The film is a complex fabricated world in the midst of upheaval and on the verge of collapse, which allows us to explore the complex relationships between internal and external, life and death.

Tao Hui’s Hello, Finale! is a series of nine videos arranged in an orderly array within the exhibition space, which emphasize the intertextual and parallel relationships between the content of the work. The protagonists in frame have incomplete and one-sided conversations on the telephone; shot in Kyoto, the stories narrated in Japanese are adapted from Chinese news and the artist’ s personal experiences. These clips, with their sense of distance and yet familiarity, all echo the sense of finitude, which forms their main theme.

Hong Hao’s Reborn – Receipt takes a large number of receipts, forms, contracts, etc. related to our real life and turns them over, using the blank side as the medium of the work for rubbing of the text on the other side. In presenting two sides to daily objects, he attempts to give these objects, which can no longer be used for their original function, a new life.

For I Will Die, Yang Zhenzhong filmed nearly one thousand people from different age groups, classes, and races across a dozen countries. They face the camera and say, in a dozen languages, the words: “I will die.” Full of lightness, humor, and contradictions, this work engages with a topic that makes people feel uneasy and solemn. Chen Zhen created Crystal Landscape of Inner Body using the insights from facing death, placing twelve fragile crystal organs, including the heart, liver, and lungs, on a transparent bed to inspire introspection and sudden awareness.

Huang Yong Ping’s Péril de mouton draws on a fantastical animal from The Classic of the Mountains and Seas, which had the head of an ox, the ears of a pig, four horns on its head, and a body covered in cowhides. The creature surveys a “flock” of 150 sheepskins. When viewers walk among them, they are consumed by the flock, building a strange food chain between humans, oxen, and sheep. The myth moves in cycles; humans are its source, as well as its consequence. Chen Shaoxiong’s Collective Memory series redefines public art institutions that are considered to have elitist origins as scenic sites and landmark buildings with a broader collective memory. The series was an art experiment guided by Chen and shaped by public participation. The fingerprints of community residents, embodiments of collective memory, were transformed into varying sizes of pixels in a digital image, reflecting recollections of collective living spaces.

In The Proliferation of Thread Winding, Lin Tianmiao employs 15-centimenter-long industrial needles used to sew sacks. On one hand, a single needle by itself is as sharp as a knife and can hurt our body, but a huge number of them put together visually seems like a soft bed of fur, completely losing their original functions and power. On the other hand, a ball of cotton threads by itself is perceived as harmless since it is soft and cuddly, but when they come together in huge numbers, they become so much more invasive and aggressive. The intervention of the video clip is an instinctive choice. The repetitive hand winding action of thread balls seems testing the patience of audiences while giving the work a sense of life.

Wang Gongxin’s Dialogue presents a rectangular platform filled with ink over which two lightbulbs are alternately raised and lowered. In the calm rising and falling of the bulbs and the fluid flow of the light, viewers seem to hear themselves breathing, and this seemingly stable place becomes less stable. The taut sense of boundaries and the slow ripples in the surface of the liquid become an emotional and visual dissolution and dialogue.

Liang Shaoji’s A Move in Silence reshapes the circle and opens a dimensionless realm. A deconstructed clock without hands is scattered on the ground, and the suspended, wrapped stone pendulum indicates the existence and advent of another world.

In Anri Sala’s If and Only If, a garden snail slowly crawls from one end of a viola bow to the other, disturbing the subtle balance of the musician’s performance. Because of its slow pace, the snail becomes the protagonist of that performance. Igor Stravinsky’s “Elegy for Solo Viola” is subverted in the tactile interaction between the musician and the garden snail, and the performance seems to take twice as long as it would ordinarily, extending the elegy into a painful and disorderly journey.

Anne Rochat embarked upon a multi-country walking project called Hic & Nunc. In this performance (filmed in real time during 24 hours on the night of the full moon), she traverses the 120-kilometer Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia. The walking and the environment merge into one, and we feel so small amidst the vastness, which imbues her walking with significance beyond imagination.

Song Dong created the participatory installation Boundary Stele, in which he invites viewers to write in water on the stele. The rapidly-disappearing words reflect the interconnectedness of memory and forgetting, the present and the eternal. In Yin Xiuzhen’s Walking / Thinking, she gives pairs of shoes she has collected long fabric “legs,” which she then assembles into a sort of forest. Viewers can walk among the legs, gaining in understanding as they go, and entering an undercurrent of the collective unconscious.

Academic Consultant

Wang Hui, the founding Director of the Tsinghua Institute for Advanced Study in Humanities and Social Sciences (TIAS). He teaches at Tsinghua University as Distinguished Professor of Literature and History. As one of the esteemed scholars in fields of intellectual history, social theory and modern literature. Wang Hui’s work has attempted to chart the intellectual and political conditions of contemporary China and has remained committed to the project of deep engagement with both the history and the consequences of Chinese modernity.

Wang Hui graduated with a PhD degree in Chinese literature from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 1988. In 1996-2007, he served as the chief editor of Dushu Magazine, the most influential intellectual journal in China. Since the early 1990s, he has been invited to many universities around the world as visiting professor or research fellow, including Harvard, Columbia, NYU, Stanford, Tokyo University, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, and Bologna University. He has published extensively on Chinese intellectual history, literature, and engaged in debates on historical and contemporary issues. His books have been translated into English, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, German, Slovenian, Portuguese, etc. The English language translations include China’s Twentieth Century (2015), China From Empire to Nation-State (2014), The Politics of Imagining Asia (2010), The End of Revolution (2009) and China’s New Order (2003). His four-volumes work The Rise of Modern Chinese Thought in Chinese (2004) is regarded as one of the most important contributions to modern Chinese scholarship over the past two decades. Wang Hui is the recipient of numerous awards such as “2013 Luca Pacioli Prize” which he shared with Jürgen Habermas in Italy and “Anneliese Maier Research Award” (2018) in Germany.

About the Curator

Yan Shijie is the founder, director and curator of the Red Brick Art Museum. Always adhering to the value of ‘academic-oriented,’ he is a pioneer in proposing and implementing the concept of ‘ecological museum experience’ in China. In 2016, he curated the exhibition ‘Identification Zone: Chinese and Danish Furniture Design’ which was the first design-centered dialogue between Chinese classical furniture and Danish furniture masterpieces. In the largest Sino-German cultural exchange project in 2018, ‘Deutschland 8-Deutsche Kunst in China’, Yan Shijie as the deputy general curator together with the general curator Fan Di’an and Walter Smerling curated ‘Prologue-German Informel Art’. In 2018, he curated ‘The unspeakable openness of things’-the largest solo exhibition of Olafur Eliasson in China to date. In 2019 he curated the Sarah Lucas’ largest eponymous solo exhibition in Asia, ‘Sarah Lucas’. Other well-received exhibitions curated by Yan Shijie include ‘Izumi Kato’ (2018), ‘Andreas Mühe: Photography’ (2018), ‘Andres Serrano: An American Perspective’ (2017) and ‘Wen Pulin Archive of Chinese Avant-Garde Art of the 80s and 90s’ (2016). The aforementioned exhibitions have constructed deep and multi-dimensional explorations and reflections on contemporary art from various perspectives

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Academic Consultant: Wang Hui

Curator: Yan Shijie

Artists: Chen Shaoxiong, Chen Zhen, Olafur Eliasson, Hong Hao, Huang Yong Ping, Liang Shaoji, Lin Tianmiao, Anne Rochat, Rachel Rose, Anri Sala, Song Dong, Tao Hui,
Wang Gongxin, Yang Zhenzhong, Yin Xiuzhen

Organised by: Red Brick Art Museum

Exclusive Strategic Cooperation: Tencent Art

Sponsor: Samsung Monitor

Opening: July 31, 2020 (By Invitation Only)

Dates: August 1, 2020–February 28, 2021