Art in the
Anthropo( s )cene
The ninth Taipei biennial 2014
Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei
13.09.14 – 04.01.15
Translated by: Richard Dobson
The ninth Taipei Biennial was entitled ‘The Great Acceleration’, referring to the way that humanity is on the path towards great technological acceleration. However, it has not altogether kept pace, resulting in major contradictions and gaps between the outside world and the inner self. The opening of the exhibition ‘Les Magiciens de la Terre’ on May 18, 1989, symbolised the emerging globalisation of the art world and the arrival of non-Western artists in the ‘grand narratives’ ( grands récits ) of art history; ‘The Great Acceleration’ represents a different era: plants and animals have also entered the narrative. Making something, an object, is part of being human ( a subject ). And although the term to describe humanity’s effect on the planet ( the Anthropocene ) takes anthropo- as a prefix, by entering the human world we become detached from the anthropocentric. The curator Nicolas Bourriaud cites Quentin Meillassoux’s espousal of speculative realism, which treats humans and objects as equal. But in an interview Bourriaud appeared to refute his own views by saying that ‘art is an activity that belongs to the realm of human relationships.’ 1 Art will never be divorced from the human realm. The author uses the title ‘Anthropo( s )cene’, replacing the geological term that serves as a suffix to describe the human world, ‘-cene’, to explore how we think about art amid the world’s great acceleration. ‘The Great Acceleration’ can be viewed as a continuation of the turn towards relational aesthetics, which extended from being concerned with interpersonal relationships in the 1990s to refer to relationships between people and non-people in the early 21st century. Bourriaud based the structure of his curatorial discourse on an obscure theory, but the 2014 Taipei Biennial could be considered to be easily accessible to the average person who doesn’t necessarily understand art and cultural theory. This biennial offers a painstaking analysis of theories that are difficult to understand: but one could equally view it with completely ‘innocent’ eyes.
Upon first entering the main hall of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, one is welcomed by a work by the OPAVIVARÁ! art collective, Formosa Decelerator. In April and May 2014 the collective carried out fieldwork as part of the process of making this work, visiting Taipei’s Pingling Tea Museum in addition to their own study of the I Ching; these contributed to the creation of the work, which combines themes of Brazilian shamanism and Chinese tea culture. On an octagonal-shaped table are laid sixteen different kinds of herbs, surrounded on the outside by sixteen hammocks, all supported by a giant wooden frame. This allows the audience to interact with the work by themselves, reflecting the unique worldview represented in the I Ching, Yin / Yang and the Five Elements of ancient Chinese beliefs. The reference incorporates the five basic elements in the evolution of Yin and Yang: water, fire, metal, wood and earth. The human body can be in harmony, if the elements within achieve a kind of balance. The sixteen herbs hint at colonial history, which came in the wake of the spice trade, and there are many facets of this work that would reward further research. In the Age of Discovery, Europeans started travelling to the Americas and the East Indies to expand their power. In the 17th century, Taiwan was colonised by the Dutch and the Spanish; Brazil began to be colonised by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and both entered an era of colonial history. This historical development was prompted by the desire for spices, and the consequent exploration of East Asia for these indirectly brought about major geographical discoveries and instigated a struggle for maritime control. This piece thus focused on spices to effectively reference this period of history in Brazil and Taiwan, both previously colonised regions. 2
At the entrance to the stairs on the third floor, Roberto Cabot’s endless networks reference the ever-expanding world of the Internet, spreading out into space. Although the painting is flat, the multiple points of perspective create infinity. This implies a smooth space into which anybody could recklessly slide. In Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus the living space of nomads is viewed as a smooth space, while a sedentary society is subject to governance and strict surveillance, and is a striated space. Cabot’s painting allows people to enjoy a tour of the smooth space free of any restrictions of time and space, shuttling back and forth inside any dimension. Slide further sheds light on the development of the Internet, making it unnecessary for us to store our memories in a striated space and instead store them in nomadic ‘cloud computing’.
Luo Jr-Shin created Terrarium for the Taipei Biennial, utilising different types of spheres: basketballs, moss balls and coconut shells. A nest is made with coconut shells, and in order to maintain the realism of the shells Luo Jr-Shin used marble to replace the coconut’s white flesh. A pineapple was made from ‘lucky bamboo’ and driftwood. Terrarium livened up the entire museum and Luo’s work was fortuitously positioned in a space that jutted out from the building, leading one to make a connection between the metabolism of the architecture and the organic circulation of the interior’s small cells. HisTerrarium, in addition to echoing the body of the museum building, can also carry out its own photosynthesis.
Anicka Yi’s Le Pain Symbiotique explores the vulnerability and volatility of materials. Dough spreads across the floor and a number of podiums, slowly drying out, breaking up and peeling off. This work exposes the particular characteristics of materials, and how they will ultimately decompose. Inside the small transparent ecosystem of the tent, the dough may slowly start to grow mould. This has always been Yi’s creative approach – to place her work in unstable environments: whether this is to support the entire structure of the inflatable tent or inside a soap sculpture, they are all very fragile. Projections of materials onto the surface of the sculpture drift about and are also short-lived, making one think about how the natural world, so ravaged by the Anthropocene, still reluctantly maintains a balance with humanity. Although inside the huge cell bodies / ecosystem of Le Pain Symbiotique all the elements are undergoing change, they peacefully maintain a dynamic equilibrium amongst themselves, achieving homeostasis. 3
Artists blur the lines between man-made materials and natural substances: ‘the artificial becomes natural; the natural becomes artificialised’. This leads one to ponder whether art works, as a product of human beings, can escape consumerism’s overriding exchange value and exist independently amidst human activity. Or will it, too, fail to escape its fate? Can art exist independently outside the realm of humans? Regardless of whether it exists in the Anthropocene or anthropo( s )cene, the human race should use artistic creation and artistic production to renew our concern about the earth and nature. Looking back, since the Industrial Revolution humans have sought to maximise their own interests, and in doing so have constantly lost themselves, lost their souls, lost the ability to harmoniously coexist with nature.
1. The internal conditions of an organism or an ecological system rely on the overall coordination and connections between the organs in order to maintain a relatively constant state, preserving its characteristic dynamic equilibrium. Therefore the body does not get sick.In other words, it’s a similar logic to comparing the body’s internal equilibrium to the ecological balance.
2. For reference: LEAP
3. Holland colonized Brazil, 1624 – 1654 and also Taiwan, 1624 – 1662. Portugal colonized Brazil between 1500 – 1822 but never colonized Taiwan, it did maintain trade ties with the island and named it ‘Beautiful Island’ or Formosa.
艺术家们模糊了人造物与自然物的界限‘，人造后自然化，天然后人造化’，让人思考身为人类产物的艺术品是否可以跳脱消费主义至上的交换价值，独立存在于人类的活动中，还是亦难逃命运？而艺术是否可独立在人类的场景之外存在？不论是在Anthropocene还是在Anthropo( s )cene中，人类应该借由艺术创作与艺术生产来重新关怀我们的地球与自然。审视自工业革命以来，人类为了制造最大利益，而不断地失去自己、失去灵魂、失去和自然和谐共处的本事。