BY Christy Lange in Reviews | 01 JAN 11
Featured in
Issue 136

7th Taipei Biennial

Various Venues

BY Christy Lange in Reviews | 01 JAN 11

Shi Jin-Hua, The proposal of X Trees in Taipei, 2010 Courtesy of the artist.

CHRISTY LANGE      The 7th Taipei Biennial (TB10) opened with both a whimper and a bang: on the opening day a huge crash came from one of many of the works still being installed, followed by an artist loudly cursing the Biennial, just as the curators, Hongjohn Lin and Tirdad Zolghadr, were delivering their informal opening statements. This took place in an amphitheatre dotted with gaudy orange cushions decorated like basketballs, part of Olivia Plender’s Google Office (2010). She had transformed a large ground floor space of the Taipei Fine Art Museum (TFAM) into a fusion of both the London offices of Google and the info centres within museums, complete with a table-tennis table and a translator’s booth disguised as a Tiki hut. It would also host consultations by Chinese healers (Wong Wai-Yin’s Alternative Chinese Medicine for Artists, 2010), salsa dancing lessons given by artist Larry Shao (Salsa Lesson, 2010), and key curatorial texts translated into Mandarin and performed by a local theatre company – and that was just within the first few days. These activities exemplified the kinds of projects brought together by Lin and Zolghadr in an ambitious attempt to see how much the structures of a biennial could be deconstructed while still existing in the framework of something called a biennial.

SIMON REES     Visiting TB10 a month in, during the final weekend of the public programme, offered a view from both inside and outside. Outside, because the talks and performances were no longer mediated in English; inside, because the Biennial organizers made sure to provide me with personal translations, often loaded with value-added asides and comments. (For instance, I learned that 99 percent of the opening fortnight’s events had been conducted in English, annoying many locals.) Eschewing a title and a grandiose theme, the curators also pared back off-site projects, focusing instead on the host institution, perhaps as a riposte to numerous recent contemporary art events that have tried to engage with theories of ‘public space’. However, after the first month, the jury was still out on TB10.

CL     Lin and Zolghadr also took some risks in exposing both the inner workings of the host museum as well as the methods of their own curation. For example, Christian Jankowski’s commissioned project, Director’s Cut (2010), documented an Apprentice-style gameshow to recruit a new director for TFAM, and was exhibited in the long-vacated office of the museum’s former director. In Elevator Pitch (2010), Shahab Fotouhi dared Zolghadr to host a debate about cultural policy on national Taiwanese television. This was later shown as a video-projection but its usefulness as an art work, despite its strategic facility, is doubtful: the communicative imbalance in the second-language conversation is exacerbated by incongruent points of comparison drawn by the Taiwanese correspondents and the worldly curator-critic. Chang Yun-Han’s If You Take it Seriously (2010) comprised an audio-guide that contained explicit critiques of the works in the show. The problem with assembling so many varying forms of institutional critique (or even critiques of institutional critique), in contrast with more conventional works, is that these strategies can undermine the exhibition itself while also beginning to look like an artistic gimmick.

SR     As another part of their vision to break out of the conventional biennial parameters, the curators imagined TB10 as an event that extends over a two-year period in either direction, rather than a single temporary exhibition held every two years. ‘TB08 Revisited’ invited artists who had participated in the previous Biennial to return to make work that reflected, criticized or expanded upon the work they presented two years before. Measuring the effectiveness of their interventions seemed dependent upon having seen the original works – surely proof of TB10’s local bent, though unhelpful to first-time visitors. Having attended the 2008 Biennial, I found the artists’ responses to be for the most part either extensions of the earlier works, or new works with little topical connection to the earlier pieces. I doubt these were the reflexive dalliances hoped for by Lin and Zolghadr. One exception was Superflex: their 2008 Free Beer project was an elegant information suite, and here was updated into a home-brewery installed right inside the museum entrance.

CL     ‘Two More Years’ is meant to extend the biennial forward, with a series of projects that will unfold over the next two years. At the time of the opening, these projects could only be hinted at in the catalogue as a ‘process upheld by an academic framework – currently being finalized’. Such promises created both a sense of anticipation that what one saw on view at TFAM was only a small fraction of what was to come, but also a slight anxiety about how the curators and the institution would have the stamina to see them through.

SR     While I was in Taipei a media storm broke over one of the ongoing research projects by Taiwanese artist Yao Jui-Chang and the artist-group Lost Society Documenta. Mosquito Museum was presented as a book and series of workshops documenting government buildings erected, since the transition to democracy in 1987, solely to fulfill electioneering promises. The estimated value of the hundreds of empty and/or derelict buildings runs into hundreds of millions of dollars. The debates the project prompted about contemporary art and access may well write future discourses related to TB10.

CL     Such a project is exemplary of works which are designed to prod at the comfortable and normalizing functions that biennials often seek to serve – raising the profile of a city, drawing tourists or creating capital – and by which art is asked to bend to the needs of government funding bodies. The curators’ attempt to expand the possibilities of the biennial format even by just a few inches in space (or a few months in time) was admirable, even if at times it didn’t succeed. This temporal dimension brings the biennial ‘home’ by appealing to the local audience to make recurrent visits and to the returning artists to repay their hospitality.

Christy Lange is programme director of Tactical Tech and a contributing editor of frieze. She lives in Berlin, Germany.