After the Duolun Museum of Modern Art opened its doors in 2002, the neighborhood around it became a designated tourist attraction and a melting pot for a wide range of art institutions. In short time, the geographically peripheral Duolun Road found its place on the Shanghai art map. In the self-imposed captivity of the art world today, the area, where ordinary urban dwellings abut galleries and museums, approaches the oft-sought condition whereby contemporary art and everyday life seem closely linked. Keyword: seem. At this point, this intimacy may only be superficial. As a result of internal turbulence at the Duolun Museum some years back, the neighborhood’s art link has gradually slackened. Once Osage relocates to the more urbane Xingguo Lu in the French Concession later this month, this anomaly of a place will no longer exist. The L-shaped street, renowned for its historical ties to so many “cultural celebrities,” will return to its status of eight years ago as a busy but monotonous residential area sprinkled with a few souvenir shops.
More or less as a farewell to the area, newly installed Osage Shanghai director (and former Shanghai Gallery of Art curator) David H.Y. Chan has put together “Homestay,” the final exhibition at Osage’s current location. In Chan’s words, the exhibition “attempts to map the spatial and psychological experiences from the ever-changing surfaces of a city to the perversity of one’s interior, be it the artist’s relationship to an actual place, a place they live in, a place they travel though, or a place they think of when they are away from home.” Each of the artists he invited has crafted their own response for “Homestay.” Leung Mee-ping reproduced a scale model of the inside of a typical Shanghainese home and used a video projector to display it onto the gallery wall, while Donna Ong piled up a horde of glass containers (bottles, jars, and so on) to resemble a city. Wang Jianwei brought out decade-old documentary footage of the everyday activities of a teahouse in a small Sichuanese village, and Liang Yue, a collection of photographs meant to resemble a personal diary. Yuan Yuan and Chen Yujun exhibited easel paintings, the former’s a meticulous depiction of a brightly colored mosaic bathtub, the latter’s, an equally meticulous and monotonous depiction of mosaic tiles. Cheng Ran, for his installation Midnight Museum, used metal framing to erect a mock mobile home, the shell of which is covered in the bark of a white birch, and the interior, partitioned into separate rooms and full of staircases, flashing disco lights, and smoke machines. Ni Haifeng collected articles of daily use from households on Duolun Road, and assembled them in a room cleared out expressly for his use.
The curator’s intention lies in his hope to reveal the relation between the art space and the everyday reality of the streets outside it, and then to trample on this revelation and engender new possibilities. Regretfully, most attempts contemporary art has made to penetrate the skin of society have been met with the same apathy: “Homestay” still faces the indifference of its neighbors, the local residents who possess not a speck of personal interest in the art or artists. Whereas the afternoon I visited the exhibition I saw few fellow visitors, whole herds of newly wedded couples were having their photos taken outside of Osage (the former residence of renowned political writer Wang Zaoshi). Seeing this, one can’t help but conclude that sociological fieldwork by artists hasn’t gone in-depth enough to afford them a real taste of the outside world’s “flesh and blood,” nor has it indicated just how art can inject its spirit—that is to say, its possibilities—into that blood. Admittedly, this sort of insight can be seen as cliché. In truth, there are many more questions to ask, and issues to be addressed. In contemporary art’s treatment of sociology, the constant overhauls of epistemological systems and the exploration of the possibilities of artistic creation born by these overhauls have started to stagnate. With different works, would the sociological questions posed by the exhibition be at all different? Obviously, in contemporary art, if not in sociological research, posing questions is far from enough, no matter how interesting they may be. Hu Yuanxing