Asia Triennial Manchester 2014

Posted on November 25, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

I visited Manchester once when I was at university when my friends and I drove to the city and spent half a day there. I don't recall much except for traffic jams and gloominess; needless to say, I was not particularly impressed. Yet when I found out about the Asia Triennial Manchester this autumn (27th Sept - 23rd November), I was curious and wanted to visit the city again, properly.

I have never heard of the Asia Triennial before, but I was intrigued by what I saw via the media. However, with work getting busier, I only booked one night there, which I later regretted. With only 36 hours in the city, I decided to plan ahead and so I emailed the event's PR for more information. Catherine was very helpful and emailed me the event brochures and press releases before my trip. Although there are ongoing events and activities (including symposium, film programme and open studios etc) throughout the triennial, most of them had already taken placed as the festival was coming to a close.

One of the main events at the Triennial was "Harmonious Society" exhibition curated by Centre for Contemporary Chinese art. The exhibition re-examined the 'conflicts' and 'harmony' of China and that of Asia and the world. The Chinese title of the exhibition can be translated as: 'Nothing (has happened) under the heavens', which is derived from the current socio-economic vision and political proposition of China's regime since 2005.

The project invited 30 artists from Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong to develop artistic responses that are specially commissioned and site-specific. It took place in six venues across the city centre, though unfortunately one of the main sites, Artwork was closed while I was there.


manchester cathedral Li WeiZheng Guogu

 At the Manchester Cathedral - Top right: Li Wei's "A decorative thing"; Main: Zheng Guogu's "Brain Lines"


I didn't know what to expect before my trip, but I was expecting the weather to be cold, grey and wet. Instead, I left the cold, wet and grey London behind and arrived to find blue sky, sun and warmer weather, whcih took me by surprise and made my trip even more pleasant!

At the historical Manchester Cathedral, Chinese artsist Zheng Guogu's "Brain Lines" consists of 13 freestanding light boxes, representing the 12 Apostles and Jesus. The work explores the fine line between faith and science, visually representing the connections both within the brain and between Jesus and the 12 Apostles.

Another piece of work nearby "A decorative thing" is created by another Chinese artist Li Wei. The mirror sculpture is a response to the Cathedral's Gothic architecture, and its frame is adorned with animals and fantastical hybrid creatures. This provides a literal reflection on humanity, evolution, scientific and religious beliefs.


The John Rylands libraryThe John Rylands libraryJohn Rylands libraryThe John Rylands library Samson YoungJohn Rylands librarySamson YoungZhao YaoThe John Rylands libraryAnnie Lai Kuen Wan Wang YuyangThe John Rylands library The John Rylands library

The John Rylands Library - 2nd row right & 3rd row middle: Samson Young's "Muted Situations"; 3rd row right: Zhao Yao's " Wonderlands"; 5th row left: Annie Lai Kuen Wan's "Lost in Biliterate and trilingual"; 5th row right: Wang Yuyang's "Breathing books"


I have visited many libraries in the world, but I never knew that one of the most spectacular libraries in the world is situated in Manchester! The neo-Gothic Grade I listed John Rylands Library was built as a memorial to her husband by Mrs John Rylands. She commissioned Basil Champneys to design the building, which took 10 years to complete and was opened to the public in 1900. In 2007, a £17 million extension project was completed, offering modern facilities and better accessibility.

Several artists' work could be found in various locations within the library including: Wang Yuyang's "Breathing books", Zhao Yao's " Wonderlands", Annie Lai Kuen Wan's "Lost in Biliterate and trilingual", Samson Young's "Muted Situations" and Jin Feng's "Chinese plates".

In the middle of the spectacular reading room, there was a pile of books on a table, and they turned out to be an installation by Chinese artists Wang Yuyang. I inspected the seemingly ordinary books up-close, and suddenly the books started to move in slow, breathing motion! Elsewhere, there was a display of 18 white ceramic books created by Hong Kong ceramic artist Annie Lai. These white books are moulded from various bilingual dictionaries, and yet they have no text and cannot be opened, thus, transforming the purpose of dictionaries. I was also intrigued by Hong Kong composer and sound artist Samson Young's video installations (the videos are available to watch via his weblink above) of various sonic situations. The work explores sound layer, where foreground sounds are consciously muted or suppressed, and as a result the less-commonly-noticed layers are revealed (this work echoes John Cage's famous piece, 4'33"), challenging the viewers/listeners' expectations and assumptions on images and sounds.


Yang Zhenzhongfootball passion

National Football Museum - Top: Yang Zhengzhong's "Long live the Great Union"


At the National Football Museum, one of the exhibition floor was closed and so I didn't see some of the exhibits except for Chinese artist Yang Zhenzhong's "Long live the Great Union". From the side, the 3-D architectural installation of Tiananmen Square are seen as 9 separate pieces. But from one viewpoint through a hole, the architecture is 'reassembled' in front of the viewer's eyes. A clever and playful installation that coincides with the 'harmonious' theme of the exhibition.


MOSIMOSI MOSILuxury Logico's Solar, ManchesterChen Chieh-Jen's "Realm of Reverberations" Chen Chieh-Jen's "Realm of Reverberations"Chen Chieh-Jen's "Realm of Reverberations"

Museum of Science and Industry - 3rd row: Luxury Logico's "Solar, Manchestr"; 4th & 5th row: Chen Chieh-Jen's "Realm of Reverberations"


The Museum of Science and industry is another wonderful discovery during my stay in Manchester. I spent hours here, and I would have stayed longer if it wasn't for the tight schedule! I have always had a strange fascination with old industrial machines, aesthetically and mechanically (perhaps I am geekier than I realised). At the museum, I felt like a kid in a candy store because the museum is full of beautiful machinery! The museum is huge, and it is composed of several buildings including two Grade I listed buildings: the world's first railway station, Manchester Liverpool Road and 1830 warehouse.

One unmissable outdoor installation was "Solar, Manchester" created by Taiwanese artists group, Luxury Logico. Specifically constructed for the exhibition, this installation is composed of over 100 reclaimed street lamps from Greater Manchester and are refitted with LEDs to create an artificial sun. The 'glowing' sun, symbolising hope and optimism about a high-tech and sustainable future, could be seen by passerby from afar after dark.

Elsewhere at the museum, exhibits included: Hong Kong artist Lee Kit's " I don't owe you anything" and four Taiwanese artists: Chang Huei-Ming's "The last rose", Kao Jun-Honn's "Malan girl", Yao Jui-Chung's "Long, Long live" and Chen Chieh-Jen's "Realm of Reverberations"

I was especially touched by international renowned artist Chen Chieh-Jen's subdued "Realm of Reverberations", consisted of four video works of Taiwan's first leprosy hospital, Losheng Sanatorium, established in 1929 during the period of Japanese colonisation. The government's decision to demolish the building and relocate the sanatorium in 1994 for the expansion of the metro system caused outcry and protest amongst the locals because many of the residents had lived there their entire lives. Chen Chieh-Jen's daunting and powerful videos act as photographed cinema, documenting the eradication of memories, history and 'home' (now a ruins) to a vulnerable group of elderly and disabled victims. His works capture the pain and isolation of these victims, and highlight the issues of marginalisation and inequality in our consumer society today.

This exhibition is currently exhibiting in Paris at Galerie Olivier Robert (5 Rue des Haudriettes, 75003 Paris) until 13th December.


CFCCACFCCAPak Sheung ChuenPak Sheung ChuenPak Sheung Chuen Liu Xiaodong

Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art - Top right, 2nd & bottom row left: Pak Sheung Chuen's "Resenting Hong Kong series"; Bottom right: Liu Xiaodong's "In between Israel and Palestine"


It is interesting that the only art organisation in the UK dedicated to contemporary Chinese art is based in Manchester and not London. The Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art has been exploring Chinese contemporary art and visual culture for 28 years through innovative programme of exhibitions, residencies, projects, festivals, symposia and events etc.

At the centre, two Chinese artists responded very differently to the theme. In gallery 1, Chinese artist Liu Xiaodong presented "In Between Israel and Palestine", a collection of realist paintings, accompanied by video diary and journal excerpts from his one month stay in Tel Aviv and the Holy Land. The artist is known for his documentations of social issues in China through his carefully orchestrated compositions in his work. In this case, everyday life in Israel and Palestine is depicted in a diptych format, which acts as a visual conveyance of the divide in the region.

In Gallery 2, Hong Kong conceptual artist Pak Sheung Chuen explores identity and historical significance in "Resenting Hong Kong series: Resenting my own history". This exhibition is particularly timely because of what has been happening with the 'Umbrella revolution' in Hong Kong recently.

In this project, the artist invited Hong Kong people to donate HKD $1 coins with Queen Elizabeth II's profile (still found in circulation sometimes) and to stipulate someone in the U.K. to scrape away this profile on the ground. This action separates Hong Kongers and the British, previously connected by the two sides of the coin, and leaves a mark on the ground in the U.K. Some of the coins are assembled into a mirror, creating a moment of reflection on the past and future. During the exhibition period, visitors were also encouraged to participate in this on-going project.


Kashif Nadim ChaudryKashif Nadim Chaudry

 Kashif Nadim Chaudry's "Swags and Tails"


At the Manchester Craft and Design Centre, Nottingham-based British Muslim artist Kashif Nadim Chaudry is showcasing artwork featuring skulls and stitches at his third solo exhibition, "Swags and Tails" (until 31 January 2015) as part of the festival.

The exhibition explores family traditions, religion, sexuality and politics. Chaudry mixes traditional craft techniques with conceptual, sculptural forms, using unusual and challenging materials. As a gay Muslim, Chaudry is outspoken about his identity and constantly uses his artistic work to push boundaries in relation to his sexuality and religion. Insider the former Victorian fish market, visitors can view Chaudry's haunting, beautiful, and skillful pieces installed in various areas within the venue.

Due to time constraint, I was not able to visit all the venues that took part at the festival, but I was glad to have visited the main venues within the city centre. Now I will have to wait three years for the next festival, but hopefully I will be more prepared and have more time to wander (without rushing) next time!



This post was posted in Exhibitions, Travel, Art, Chinese art, Sound art, contemporary, Britain and was tagged with Chinese art, contemporary art, sound art, Manchester, Art festival