From Jan 16th to Feb 28th, 2016, OCAT Shenzhen will present the group exhibition Adrift in OCAT Hall B. Turning its gaze upon the Pearl River Delta region and taking the sociological issue of “population mobility” as its foundation, this exhibition observes and reflects on the phenomenon of “migration” through the contexts of the works on display, and the dialogues that occur between them. Most of the participating artists are from Guangdong province, and take their personal experiences or research as the starting point for their creations, contemplating the issue of “migration” with poetic sensitivity, intellectual critique, or nomadic openness.
The exhibition title, Adrift, is taken from Taiwanese writer Wang Hui-ling’s eponymous novel, whose non-linear narrative weaves Eileen Chang’s itinerant life experiences and artistic creations closely together. Several periods of migration in Eileen Chang’s life endowed her with the perspective of a foreigner, through which she observed, recalled, and eventually wrote on the elusiveness of an age of turbulence. The same case holds for this exhibition’s artists, whose most personal, poignant, insightful and provocative creations often grew out of a fragile and restless context. Adrift takes inspiration from the symbiotic relationship between an artist’s creation and his or her travels through a foreign land: What leads us to choose to head towards a foreign place? Is it really a choice, and do these transplants really have total agency? Is it a mere illusion that “homeland” and “foreign land” stand as polarized, both semantically and emotionally? Meanwhile, the romantic feelings embedded in the notion of “drifting” and the reality of it are also interwoven in the exhibition’s emotional layers.
The decision to set off on a “voyage” often stems from a thirst for adventure. Notice, at the exhibition’s entrance, the bodily conversation between two actors playing respectively “the river and “the pond” (The River and the Pond, Cheng Ran): the pond, calmly contemplative, is weak in its quiescence; the river, dynamic and inflamed, ends up beyond exhaustion. Drawn from a classic fable, this work has long been engraved in those drowsy bedtime moments of our childhood, ready for each audience member to cast him- or herself into its metaphors, and find their own place in it. In Music Box, Trevor Young, who moved to Hong Kong from Dongguan in his childhood, recounts the anxiety and unrest of migration through sound and immersive space—his installation of stacked fish tanks is a reproduction of an intimate space he once built for himself: the sound of running water from the fish tanks he placed in his childhood bedroom would overwhelm the anxiety of being the newly migrated. Album, a work by another Hong Kong-based artist, Lau Wai, piercingly exposes aspects of the collective memory within a family album. While expressively projecting a general picture of the age, the ever-changing traces of space and time in the details of the works subtly illustrate the migrational experiences throughout the lives of several generations.
Home to a large and floating migrant population, Shenzhen, as the place of this exhibition, provides an extensive and profound context for the issues to be discussed, such as labor and migration. In his performance/video work, Retreated to the Windows of the World, artist Li Liao, a Wuhan native who now lives in Shenzhen, walks in reverse in a fast-moving, commercial city. The artist turns his back on this 90s theme park, a symbol of Chinese people’s desire to travel abroad, only to look at it through the front camera of his cellphone. Estonian artist Karel Koplimets’s Case No 11. TALINSINKI demonstrates the exchange of “commodities” and the floating back and forth of people on a giant ferry transporting between Tallinn and Helsinki—this work depicts the continual movement between the two ports of such travelers, while the criss-crossing of overloaded carts and exhausted figures evokes a sense of déjà vu for anyone who has visited any of the ports between Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Zheng Bo’s interactive sound installation, Sing for Her, invites the audience to join the lower classes in Hong Kong in singing their native folk songs. The voices of Filipino domestic servants, Indonesian workers, and mainland immigrants, all singing together, bridge the distance between their homeland and this foreign place, becoming at the same time a means for the audience to enter the life trajectories of the singers.
The last chapter of Homer’s epic, “The Odyssey,” tells of the homecoming of the war hero Odysseus, after spending ten years lost at sea due to having angered Poseidon—interestingly, in its contemporary expression, anchored within a consumerist society, “Odyssey” has been simplified, becoming synonymous with the idea of a “grand journey” or a “romantic adventure,” just like the exuberantly romantic dialogue in The River and the Pond. That the significance of “returning home” is largely erased by the emphasis on “grand journey” perhaps results from the absence of any reason to stay anywhere in our present, where labor, consumer goods, spare parts and accessories, information, and knowledge are in a state of unceasing flow——in the context of neoliberalism,“drifting” is at once the process and the destination. The subject of examination and discussion in Adrift is precisely individuals and communities in this condition: diasporic wanderers who shuttle back and forth on the Baltic sea; new communities migrating from the mainland to Hong Kong; and the crowds that drift about in the urbanized area of Shenzhen. Just like the “foreign land” that bears the weight of romantic fantasies and thrills of adventure, the “home” to which the hope of a “stable life” is entrusted is often also an oceanic phantom which, like a spectre, floats in the bubbles in fish tanks and rests in the yellowed corners of family albums. As a fictitious dichotomy, “foreign land” and “home” constantly beckon voyagers on the ocean to undertake an eternal back-and-forth. To be aware of the universality of this frail living condition does not meanadapting to a vagrant life “at sea”; rather, it urges us to identify and challenge this socio-economicpolitical undercurrent, and its over-simplified dichotomy.
Adrift is a collaborative project by young curator Chen Li, Qu Chang, and Zeng Wenqi.