C2 (North Area, Shenzhen OCT-LOFT, Nanshan District), Dec 2, 2016–Mar 2, 2017
The Third Independent Animation Biennale opened on December 12, 2016 at C2 in Shenzhen’s OCT-LOFT. Compared with the scale of a typical biennale, this independent animation biennale comes across as a little small. In order to make the exhibition look the part, the curator has delineated six areas—for showing art, for lectures, for community activities, and so on—in an attempt to show diversity and distinguish this exhibition from the workings of a regular group exhibition. But over an exhibition period spanning several months, only the “Spatial Animation” component of the biennale, showing in C2, is open to the viewing public of the surrounding neighborhood. “Special screenings” and “Animations and Concerts” take place a ten-minute car ride away from OCT station at Artron Art Center; a “recommended screening” providing a platform for “post-90’s” artists will be shown only at the closing of the exhibition on March 2, 2017 (hastily arriving, hastily departing). As for the “GIF Online Project”, audience members must log onto the internet themselves to view it (the experience is not ideal, as the page loads too slowly). All of this leads to ready disappointment; after viewing the twelve works in C2, one feels there is something lacking, searching in vain for some sign in a corner that would read “more this way.”
The theme of the exhibition is “Time Based / Non-places”. “Time Based” comes from an expression used by many Western art museums today to describe video, film, slides, sound, and other contemporary works of art possessing a “time-based” dimension. This feature manifests itself across the variety of works exhibited. Meanwhile, “non-places” is a term coming from French sociologist Marc Augé, referring to temporary anthropological spaces—such as highways, hotels, airports, and supermarkets. It is used here, it seems, to point out the temporary nature of the exhibition space. It would appear that any medium of art could be included under such a theme, and that any kind of impermanent exhibition space could be the venue. This makes the experience of attending Shenzhen’s Third Independent Animation Biennale just like attending any large scale new-media art exhibition. What’s more, the information covered by the English title, “Time based / Non-places” is not held up in the title in Chinese. The Chinese title’s brevity seems to act as sheer barometer for the erudition of its reader.
Fortunately, the design of the exhibition is less unwelcoming. Green plastic grass covers the front wall outside C2, serving as the backdrop to a large open space. The climate in Shenzhen at this time of year is pleasant; the site will become a place for tourists to rest and take photos. This layout lends itself to a greater level of intimacy between the artwork and the community. The circular wall panel gives those who have not yet entered the exhibition a peek inside, and gives visitors going in a different way of viewing the outside world. On getting inside, audience members will notice that there are no wall partitions between the works, allowing one to walk freely among them. But the inter-mixing of sound affects this experience significantly. The exhibition layout boasts of one other highlight: the names of the works are projected onto the ground, so that viewers can clearly read the information on each work in the dark space.
The piece that most interests me is Liu Yi’s “A Crow Has Been Calling for a Whole Day”. Here, Liu Yi does not use flat white curtains or walls to project his images. Instead he uses bedsheets held up by two bamboo poles stuck into concrete and iron drums. This is, to an extent, a homage to life in India, the place from which the work draws its inspiration following a trip there by the artist. Liu Yi puts these curtains in a “Z” shape, billowing in the wind produced by a fan. In the film, real images are interspersed with hand-drawn 2D animations, sometimes bringing us into a dream, sometimes back into reality. The floating bedsheets seem to embody the physical dynamics of the train in the film, and the images painted on the sheets could be echoes of the film’s scenes as a counterpoint to them, or otherwise. Liu Yi’s work is, in this way, a multi-layered experience. Another pleasant surprise is Shao Zhifei and Sarah Kenderdine’s “Pure Land AR”. The artists have reproduced murals from Dunhuang’s Mogao Cave number 220 (part of a network in Gansu Province) in an on-site warehouse and constructed an immersive viewing experience via iPad: the viewer moves it up and down, and the image changes correspondingly, presenting a view from the given angle. The space of the warehouse versus that of the cave, the space of reality versus that of virtual fiction: all is cleverly linked. Placing oneself here is a bit like traveling through time and space. In addition, when the viewer brings the iPad nearer to the mural, some of the instruments portrayed will appear vividly in paint and ring out with sweet music. The artists have planted little “Easter eggs” like this throughout the work, increasing viewers’ participation.
On the night of the opening, the parking lot behind the gallery served as an open-air cinema, playing a projection of Qiu Anxiong’s new work “New Book of Mountains and Seas: Part 3″—a continuation of his past investigations into the relationship between industrialized society and the natural environment. Shown alongside Qiu’s work are five animated shorts selected by the Fantoche animation festival in Switzerland. Neighborhood residents also gathered after dinner to watch. The responses of the audience, especially the children, were telling. “New Book of Mountains and Seas”—labelled as a piece of contemporary art—is impenetrable, while the simple animated shorts—seen by contemporary artists as outside their circle—in fact drew peals of laughter from the audience and proved the most resonant.
Animation, as an art form between painting and film, has developed to a point where it is no longer limited to hand-painted two-dimensional work. Its manifestations are diverse: from the currently popular 3D animation to a combination of virtual reality and reality itself. From its inaugural exhibition to now, its third, this exhibition has gradually lost most of its relationship to the original thematic medium of animation, and only really retains“images” as a category. Most apparently, the “painterliness” of the animations becomes dispensable, as with the work “Pulp Landscape III” by Hu Weiyi, whose animated images are just mechanical reproductions with no skill in the way of modeling. Beyond this, the work presents real images and aims its lens at the objective world as opposed to a space fixed by the artist. As a result, the boundaries between animation, video, and film have become blurred. Or, as with Aaajiao’s “Double”—an installation comprised of plastic film and LED lights—if the projection of light onto film is indeed considered a presentation of image, then calling this an image installation seems more appropriate than calling it an animation.
Overall, the Chinese artists participating in the Third Shenzhen Independent Animation Biennale are familiar faces, and the exhibition tends to remain within the scope of contemporary art, rather than that of animation specifically. Here, “independent” might as well mean “cutting edge,” “avant-garde,” or “unofficial” as pertains to contemporary artistic practice (the curator’s selection is mostly based on his background in new media art research). The Third Shenzhen Independent Animation Biennale therefore seems most concentrated on presenting contemporary artists’ explorations into and innovations around so-called animation as part of their wider work.