Venue: MoCA Shanghai
Exhibition Period: September 9th to November 9th of 2008
Curators: Victoria Lu, Pan Qing, and Liu Chunfeng
MoCA In-house Curator: Diana Freundl
From Entry Gate to Butterfly Dream
When Envisage was first imagined and set in motion, Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art had just embarked on its own journey. Two years later, arriving at the second Envisage exhibition, we find ourselves in a continuous process of dreams confronting reality. Because there is an increasing interest in Chinese Contemporary art from the international community, during the Shanghai Biennale the entire Shanghai art community produces their grandest and most magnificent exhibitions. The second Shanghai MoCA Envisage invites Victoria Lu, Pan Qing, Liu Chunfeng, and in-house curator Diana Freundl to come together and curate MoCA’s large-scale Biennale exhibition. Our theme for this year’s exhibition will be “Butterfly Dream” and will show from September 9th to November 9th of 2008.
Why Butterfly Dream: Ancient China and Modern China
Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.
莊周夢蝶 Zhuang Zhou Meng Die
(Ch.2, tr. Burton Watson 1968:49)
Zhaungzi’s butterfly dream comes from The Transformation of Things, a story from the Warring States period that raised many philosophical and epistemological debates. What are dreams? How do we differentiate them from real life? As normal people understand, dreams are illusory and hallucinatory, while the world in which we wake up is reality. As this story illustrates, however, Zhuangzi thinks differently. In Meng Die, he brings forth the essence of the theory of The Transformation of Things. Zhuangzi finds the awakened state and dreams to be just a phenomenon. Zhuangzi is not only Zhuangzi, a butterfly is not only a butterfly. These two phenomena are not the same, yet they are not mutually exclusive either.
Zhuangzi’s dream sets the stage for the theme of MoCA’s second Envisage. A philosophical conundrum, the works invited for this exhibition more or less reflect the implications of this tale—reality versus dream—as well as the complex relationship between old China and new China. Chinese aesthetics have certainly evolved greatly over time, yet certain qualities and characteristics remain. To the modern eye, many of these classical and traditional attributes that are infused into Chinese art, design and other aspects of life, are not immediately recognizable. But through the interpretations of almost 80 different participating artists in Butterfly Dream, we are able to experience art as a microcosm of actual life. The flourishing characteristics of things and people around us are demonstrated and expressed in different ways. The long and entangled ancestral relationship between new China and old China is what this biannual MoCA Envisage hopes to explore.
As complex as Zhuangzi’s story, China’s identity is not easy to isolate—it is neither a singular or a stagnant entity. It is multilayered with Western and Eastern perceptions as well as past and present differences; it is an intricate composition of a long history. Certain imagery has helped connect people’s past and current perceptions of China and its rich culture. From the ancient tradition of ink brush scroll paintings to the iconic images of the Great Wall and the Forbidden City, this exhibition’s modern quest is for a fusing point between the past and present, a link that connects certain aspects of physical and conceptual Chinese aesthetics, while generating interesting formats and points of discussion.
The seamlessness between Zhuangzi’s dream and waking is paralleled with the seamlessness of new and old China. China, which is currently hosting the Olympics, is exposed to the world’s media. Like suddenly waking from a dream, China’s entrance onto the scene was overnight. It has opened many questions of what the new china is and how to classify it. Has china really transformed into something new or it simply a renaissance of an already established culture? Contemporary Art in China is at the forefront of confronting and approaching this complex question. There are artists who continually confront and explore these complex problem; they employ traditional techniques combined with modern approaches, and are important figures in the hybridization of China’s old and new image. There are some young artists who directly use traditional elements in their work, editing and collaging them to express virtuality and reality, tradition and modernity, yet they avoid confronting these opposing forces that were so intensely discussed in last century.
Through the continual exploration of China’s history and past identities, Shanghai MoCA’s Envisage seeks to see how this reflects in the creative domain of modern China and to use this as an entry point to understand the current situation of contemporary Chinese art as well as to boldly plan future developments.