Despite Our Ruination 尽管我们毁灭

by Jenny Chen / Giulia Colletti / Kate Davis / Thomas Laval / Viola Yip
Despite our Ruination was included in the exhibition It was a dream of a trip which was curated by 21 curators and hosted by Shanghai Curator Lab. We took one month to work together in a tense situation. That was too crazy to be true. Thanks for all friends/cooperators/enemies, I’ve learnt a lot in this long lasting dream/nightmare. 

“A constellation is made up of some stars that are nearer, others further away. It is only from our perspective, that of the here (and now), that they appear to take on a significant configuration.”

Spencer, Lloyd. “On Certain Difficulties with the Translation of ‘On The Concept Of History’”, 2000


In an age of rising accountability over our most intimate gestures, where governance of borders, rights, and minds seems to be the norm, how can we evade regulation and take a journey into the unknown?


Taking cue from Walter Benjamin’s critique, Despite Our Ruination is
an exhibition that emanates from a constellation of objects. Displaying alphanumeric messages, a pager embodies impending automation, as well as the interdependency between humans and technology, which in our informational era is tinged with mysterious impulses. Within the constellation, these impulses are explored through the I Ching, an ancient Chinese divination text, using cleromancy to establish unexplored connections with the universe. Reimagining the rules that govern reality is a task also undertaken by science fiction novelist Octavia Butler, whose seminal book Wild Seed explores power struggles, eugenics, and cyborg identities. The blurred edges of actuality and fiction are at stake even in The Real As Imaginary, a piece by Peter Ablinger consisting of the recitation of a text over white noise that completely envelopes the speech. The white noise is, in fact, a theoretical idealization, assimilated to natural sounds such as the rain in a forest, which nurtures organic and inorganic species. In forests disturbed by humans, the matsutake grows. It is a mushroom utilised by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing as a trope to picture a post-Enlightenment natural world, one that can answer to the promise of cohabitation in a time of unprecedented human destruction. These entities are assimilated into a natureculture vision, aimed at re- establishing a synthesis of nature and culture in a time when the dualism of science and the humanities prevails.


The constellation opens up to a series of artworks that challenge normative structures of thinking while stimulating critical paths. This interpretative exercise draws on artistic practices that deconstruct limitative visions on the environment,
noise, and the future of human and non-human species. The invited artists’ research spans from visual to sound art to suggest further vanishing points that jeopardise Western normative accounts of measurability, language, and rationality. Fostering an object-oriented approach that rejects the privileging of human existence
over the existence of nonhuman 10 identities, Despite Our Ruination is an invitation to explore routes not yet standardised.


Lastly, Despite Our Ruination proposes a Virtual Reality experience of the exhibition. Accessible via an internet link it introduces an extraterrestrial setting for the artworks presented. In this free space, the conventions of the white cube no longer assert a rational framework rooted in the history of exhibitions.


Supposedly technology never dies, it’s just no longer dominant; like the pager. Mostly seen in movies, their obsolescence is assumed. However, pagers are still used in hospitals, as for urgent messages, their simplicity makes them more efficient than the pervasive smartphone. Today, we work alongside ever-evolving and increasingly intelligent machines already capable of independent learning and development. Imagine that we are the pager and these machines the smartphone; what type of future awaits us?

This, of course, is not an accurate comparison. As biological beings we have to adapt to new conditions; otherwise, we die. That being said, some humans and machines already function as cognitive units, as for the past few decades humans have bent the laws of natural selection that previously governed Earth and life. Despite the vast quantities of data being gathered, and the multitude of scientists, technologists and futurologists attempting to answer this question, future forecasts vary greatly and there are no conclusive answers or solutions.


I Ching

I Ching, also known as the Book of Changes, is an ancient Chinese divination text and one of the oldest Chinese classics. Published in the Western Zhou period (late 9th century BCE), I Ching was first mentioned in Europe by Leibniz in 1703. This sparked philosophical questions, such as universality and the nature of communication. The foreword of the English edition of I Ching was written in 1949 by Carl Jung.

For Jung, I Ching was a way of exploring the unconscious, and an approach to the nonhuman field. As stated in his introduction: “The Chinese mind, seems to be exclusively preoccupied with the chance aspect of events. What we call coincidence seems to be the chief concern of this […] mind, and what we worship as causality passes almost unnoticed”. (1) The I Ching not only offers a path into the unknown but raises a counter perspective to scientific causality by investigating the asynchronicity of real events.

Wild Seed

Octavia E. Butler was an African- American science writer. Her novels and short stories tackle a scope of issues still omnipresent today, such as climate change, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and pharmaceutical developments, as well as sexual identity. Her science-fictional storytelling warns of malignant possibles, and gives voice to destitute living forms, offering a path for an expanded understanding of the world.

Butler’s novel Wild Seed (1980) introduces Doro, a thousand-year-old cyborg living off the bodies of others. A gang from the New World destroy the African village Doro cultivated for centuries, and force him to leave. On his way, he meets a shapeshifting and equally powerful rival; Anyanwu, able to heal with a kiss. Their encounter triggers a century-long conflict jeopardising the essence of humanity.

Aside from her published writing, Butler’s notebooks serve as a space for her innermost thoughts. These pages enliven Butler’s practice and inform
her inspirations and horizons. Partial sketches of a novel, or an expression of a condensed state of mind, mirror the author’s profound wishes for humankind.

The Real as Imaginary

Peter Ablinger’s The Real as Imaginary is a composition for a solo speaker and noise. The performer can have any voice type; however, the text should be translated into a language that the audience can understand. The performance noise track should be generated by the sum of frequencies in the recording of the performer’s recitation of the text. The noise track, then, needs to be further filtered through oscillated frequency bands to create “windows”.

As a result, this noise track is played at a volume that is just loud enough to envelop the performer’s voice; but with the oscillated “windows”, the voice floats between the foreground, background and space in between.

The Real as Imaginary questions whether the “imaginary” and the “real” oppose each other in our perception. Ironically, perceiving reality relies on our imagination, as Ablinger expressed, “I had asked whether it would ever be possible to reach the real, whether it would ever be possible to break through the prison of my imaginations onto the real.” (2)

The monologue allows Ablinger to search for the idea of the “real”, and the relationship between the “real” and the “imaginary”. At the end of the text, he concludes that:

The imaginary as real, and equally the real as imaginary – this would then be, so to say, a formula for the interpenetration of the two, a formula for the living and for the being-here.” (3)



We are stuck with the problem of living despite economic and ecological ruination. Neither tales of progression nor of ruin tell us how to think about

collaborative survival. It is time to pay attention to mushroom picking. Not that this will save us – but it might open our imagination.”(4)

The matsutake is one of the most expensive mushrooms in the world, as it grows in destroyed forests across Asia and North America. Due to its capacity to nurture trees, matsutakes enable forests to flourish in human-damaged places. It
is also an edible delicacy in Japan, where it can fetch astronomical prices. In The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna Tsing offers insights into areas far beyond just mushrooms, using the matsutake to ask a crucial question: how are we going to live in the ruins we have made?

The matsutake becomes a metaphor to narrate a tale of diversity within our daunting landscapes, exploring the unexpected edges of consumerism, and challenging the connections between capitalist destruction and collaborative survival within multispecies landscapes; demonstrating the potential for fungal ecologies to foster a better understanding of cohabitation in a time of significant human destruction.

(1) Wilhelm R. (trad.) and C.G. Jung (Foreword), The I Ching, or, Book of Changes. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 3rd edition, 1967.
(2) html
(3) html
(4) Tsing, A., The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.

环形狩猎 Hunting Cycle







Artists: Chen Leng, Li Hanwei, Lu Pingyuan

Curator: Chen Jiaying

Exhibition period: 2018.10.21-12.31

“Hunting Cycle” presents the works of three young artists: the huge image by Chen Leng stands in the wild as if an evil creature falling from the sky, the fictitious Heavy Weapons Company by Li Hanwei base on the artist’s own cultural memories and the story Lu Pingyuan inspired by the local environment. These different paths interpret the current humanistic contexts and create an outsider circumstance jumping out of the bustle of the city through MadeIn Park’s unique geographical environment.

Hunting refers to a state of “catch and hunt”. The hunter can be a consumer, a creator or any character waiting for the prey to appear. In this exhibition, the prey becomes industrial output, traditional culture, imagination, and even artists themselves. The process by which the hunter captures the prey is also controlled by the imaginary “prey”. Such a two-way relationship may stem from the reflexivity of technology/tools. The exhibition will present a complex and rich hunting relationship through images, texts, installations and such a surrounding environment.




徐震®:异形 | XU ZHEN®: ALIEN







“Art is alien.” (XU ZHEN®)

ShanghART Gallery is pleased to present XU ZHEN®’s solo exhibition: “Alien” in May 2018. This exhibition will present the large-scale installations XU ZHEN® made especially for the ShanghART Gallery space, along with his recent paintings and sculptures. This exhibition extends XU ZHEN®’s persistent interest in subjects such as transforming, iterating and evolving the civilisation within the context of post-globalisation. As “Alien” is constructing an impression of the thrilling and the unknown, this exhibition will inspire the viewers’ imagination about future and primitivity.

As the founder of XU ZHEN®, Xu Zhen has made a career in art for twenty years since 1998. Initially expressing the intimacy and emotion of individuals, then shifting to social issues, Xu Zhen is recently focusing on the difference and creativity among human beings. While his artistic strategies have undergone several changes, it is always moving towards the dynamics of culture. XU ZHEN®’s art has reached issues such as how art deals with the passage of time, and how to create new possibilities while discovering new experience. The three main themes in globalisation, “trade and capital”, “conflict and war”, “evolution and variation” are gradually becoming sharp focused in Xu Zhen’s works. Accordingly, the collision among three topics results in the figures of “extreme alienation” and “super variant” in his works. For Xu Zhen, “Alien” is not only a representation of the real world, but also an allegory of the future community.

This exhibition will truly reflect the core of Xu Zhen’s art through exhibiting how he deals with cultural subjects and their contexts, as well as the new associations and plans he came up with under these circumstances. As the most representative art brand of the period, XU ZHEN® is running the one and only MadeIn Company. Established after the economic crisis in 2008, MadeIn Company is representing a kind of possibility by internalising current circumstances into ideas, and speeding up the art making process in the form of a company, in response to the “symptom of globalisaiton”.

The two pieces of sculptures, Alien 1 and Alien 2, can be traced back to the “Eternity” series of 2013, which combines classical figures of Eastern and Western cultures in a conflicting and integrating way. The aesthetic symbols of eternity and spirituality from the East and West has developed through rich metaphors of colonial history, international configurations, and the future of globalisation in the process of collision. Alien 2 in the same vein of Eternity-(Buddha in Nirvana) juxtaposes two sculpture figures: an “hermaphrodite” from Greek mythology and a servant figure from the Han Dynasty. Moreover, Alien 1 is decoding and recombining the cultural elements to its extreme by recolouring those sculptures, thus the ‘aliens’ and the terrifying power therein are released intensely. By these means XU ZHEN® created a spiritually interactive installation, directing the viewers to a sensitive historic moment; the pressure brought on by those ideological symbols will situate the viewers in conditions that force them to make a choice and a statement. The other section of the exhibition includes several paintings used by XU ZHEN® as installing elements. The “Evolution” series which started in 2007 combines the cultural elements from Dunhuang Mogao Cave paintings and African masks. By painting the ancient civilisation and primitivity still remaining in modern society on the canvas at the same time, this series of paintings create the beauty of harmonious blending across time. The “Fortune” series started from the same period of the “Evolution” series; these painting series, which reconstructs the Neolithic ceremonial jades, opens a path for XU ZHEN® towards abstract expressionism.

As “Civilisation Iteration” (solo exhibition in 2017) declares, XU ZHEN® is fulfilling his visions in a progress of repeated feedback. The corporate-typed art production will finally result in a leak in the reality – the unknown condition of getting away from logic and language. The aliens hidden in the exhibition will present infinite possibilities.

问答 | Q&A


  1. 你认为政治正确是一个问题吗?


  1. 此次展览的题目为“异形”的用意何在?因为很自然让人联想到电影《异形》,是否和这部电影有关?若是有,请说说对你而言这部电影有什么特殊的意义与价值?


  1. 上一个个展是2017年在巴黎贝浩登的“文明迭代”,请问这两个展览之间是否有前后关系?Your last exhibition is the “Civilization Iteration” at Perrotin Paris in 2017. Is there any connection between the two exhibitions?

肯定有关系,总的来说都是徐震®关于全球化下对文明改造、变异和进化相关的主题。Yes, of course. Generally, both of them are Xu Zhen®’s themes about transforming, iterating and evolving the civilisation within the context of globalisation.

  1. 这一次的作品都是最新创作,是否可以解释一下这些新作触及的时代语境?可以分别介绍一下吗?或者重点介绍一下与展览同名的两件作品:《异形1》和《异形2》。




  1. 你的作品几乎很少指涉过十分明确的现实对象,但这次一反常态的将一整个空间置换为具体的场景,这个素材对你而言有什么特殊性?是因为现实事件触发了你对这个对象的兴趣?



  1. “权力”,是我们日常生活中经常遇到的一个概念,我们对它既有所忌惮又渴望垂涎。你怎么理解权力?”Authority” is a common concept in our daily life. We have both fear and desire for it. How do you think of the “authority”?

权力是生态。哪里有权力哪里就有斗争,哪里有斗争哪里就产生可能性。Authority is ecology. Where there is the power there is the struggle. Where there is the struggle there is the possibility.

  1. 此展览中的“进化”系列结合了非洲面具与敦煌壁画的元素,你将此定位为“绘画装置”,可以解释一下这一界定吗?绘画史上通常将这种对非洲文化的援引指向“原始主义”,而迈克尔·莱杰在对纽约画派的诠释中,曾指出“原始主义”也是一种意识形态,人们对于“原始社会”的理解受到殖民主义、国家主义、帝国主义、种族主义和“第三世界”等现代社会机制的影响,你认同这样的说法吗?这种流动的“原始性”是否同样在你的作品中起作用?



  1. “运气(绿环)”呈现出你久未涉足的抽象画面,但来源却是华人再熟悉不过的日常物件“玉环”,在这里抽象与具象的转换关系是你想表达的吗?玉环的符号性和与之附带的意识形态在作品中是如何被再译与重构的?


  1. 你的关注点从艺术&商业—后波普—后全球化—文明进程,再到这次的“异形”,你觉得你的创作线索在逐渐触及一个什么样的问题,这些创作方向的转变是怎样一步步带你进入这个问题的?Your focus is from Art & Commerce to post Pop, to post globalisation, to civilization, and then to “Alien”. What kind of questions do you think your creative clues are referring to, how do these changes in direction of creation take you into it step by step?

从早期的反映现实到近期的创造现实,很明显我们的创作不断在表达一个理念,即“可能性”。在不同时代、困境和问题下的可能性。艺术充满未知。From initially we reflect the reality, to recently we create the reality, obviously, we are constantly expressing one idea – the possibility when facing different era, dilemma and problems. Art is full of the unknown.

  1. 你的作品创作一直在深入和推进,但与此同时徐震品牌和没顶公司的运作也一直并行不悖,在你看来,他们之间有互相关系和影响吗?


  1. 同那些关注点较为前后一致的艺术家相比,你的关切似乎一直在加速更新,这样的状态是这个时代和文化环境导致的吗?Comparing to those artists who keep focusing on the similar subjects, your concerns seem to update acceleratedly. Does time and the cultural environment lead to your current situation?

我们应该是这个时代最具代表性的艺术现象之一。公司化运营,想法丰富、高产、高效、形式多元、跨界创作等等这些都在我们这里得到了充分的体现。我认为当代艺术需要不断进化出新的方式方法来应对多元、复杂和无法定义的现实。今天精英主义和政治正确越来越盛行且越来越容易被利用,当代艺术会不断有新的任务和激情的。We should be one of the most representational art phenomenons in this era: corporate operation, rich thoughts, high output and efficiency, multiple forms, crossover creation etc.; these are all included in what we do. In my opinion, contemporary art should keep working out the new ways to deal with the diverse, complex and indefinable reality. Today the elitism and political correctness is prevailing and much easier to be made use of, so contemporary art would have more missions and passion.

  1. 你认为当下这个世界正在发生什么?你怎么理解这样的动向?What do you think is happening in this world? How do you think of this trend?

一切走向不确定性,什么似乎都可以被改变,世界在走向一个新的面貌。我们当然是要尽力去加速这种现状。Everything is moving towards uncertainty. It seems like everything can be changed, then the world is becoming a brand new one. Certainly what we should do is to accelerate that.












展览“Play”将不仅呈现三位艺术家不同的游戏机制,也暗示了一种后真相时代,个体面对景观与真实性不断流变的时代所作出的应对与创造。展览空间成为了艺术家实施戏法的场所,诚如伽达默尔(Hans-Georg Gadamer)所言:游戏,即是艺术作品本身的存在方式。而在这个展览中,游戏的概念不仅渗透在艺术家的创作形式之中,也将深入观者观看作品的氛围与过程中。

exhibition view 2

Man plays only, where he in the full meaning of the word is man,

and he is only there fully man, where he plays.

——Friedrich Schiller

MadeIn Gallery is pleased to present “Play” an exhibition showcasing new paintings and sculptures by Lu Pingyuan, Shang Liang and Zhao Yao. In this exhibition, three artists’ works commonly share a spirit of lightness and playfulness, bringing aesthetics, concepts and art into the field of game. As a method for the observation of art, game arises in the gallery space.

Game in Lu’s series of works “Look! I’m Picasso!” takes the form of Russian nesting doll: a story – Mr. Potato Head – visuals from Pixar Animation Studios – Picasso – Cubism – Children’s coloring books, or the other way round. Each layer of symbols reveals unique characteristics on the presentation of the work. In Zhao’s paintings game appears as an attempt to vacuum the meaning. The artist selects puzzles from mind games and presents them through a time-consuming process, just as he lifted a 10,000 square meter installation to a snowy summit of an altitude of 5000 meters and placed it in the sun. All the performance rules and artwork meaning are formulated and adjusted by the artist. Zhao’s trick is a game that repeatedly permutes truth and falsehood (or the presence and absence of meaning). At last, Shang’s game consists of developing as a creation subject her imagination on supernatural force. Muscular bodies, references to Ernest Hemingway, and sculptures with strength characteristics all constitute her empathy towards the object of the game, process of which reflects the artist’s self.

“Play” not only shows these three artists’ different game methods, it also suggests a post-truth era, in which individuals face the constant adaptation and creation of a time where landscape and authenticity ever-change. The exhibition space becomes the venue where artists perform their tricks, as Hans-Georg Gadamer put it: game is “the mode of being of the work of art”. In this exhibition, the notion of game intervenes into the artist’s creative form and further the process and context in which viewers observe the works.










在这个展览中,边界成为恰到好处的隐喻,一种曾经被信奉的界定,转变为临时性的对象,被艺术家作为发话的工具与参照物。在杨君与徐震®的作品中,画布与大理石的功能性转化,使熟悉的材料被反常的调用,这是艺术家对媒材边界的重估;朱昱的绘画始于具象,却在最终的画面中使轮廓涣散边界消失;艾略特•多德借用消费文化的广告美学,在虚拟与真实的隐喻之间穿梭,对固化的社会意识提出质疑 。在两位80年代艺术家的创作中,边界意识隐匿在更为敏感纤细的内部:张联的绘画显示出一种在不同时空中游走的状态,看起来失衡的画面来自对界域划分的不信任;而郑源对两起新闻事件的记录,则探讨了现实与再现的模糊界线以及从中作祟的媒介话语建构。




成长的烦恼 HOME ALONe







文明迭代 | Civilization Iteration



今年的卡塞尔文献展策展人之一 Monika Szewczyk 曾这样写到:





此种精神力量不仅来自被引用的文明象征物自身,更来自于全球化互联网所带来的文化剧变。我们对于希腊雕塑的认知,总停留在灰白石膏表面,却忘记它们原先是富有颜色的神像浮雕。 文明遗物的真实面貌被悬置在每位远道而来、在博物馆探索古代文明的观光客心里。人们甚至寄希望于网络,通过搜索引擎以想象文化发源地的图景。语境的缺失横亘在希腊神像原先的彩色表面和白色石膏之间,更横亘在雅典卫城与电子屏幕上的雕像照之间。正是因为我们对于这样的文化现实过于习以为常,才使得看似分庭对抗的“永生”与“进化”系列显得异常和谐和瑰丽。



Iteration refers to the way of achieving a desired result through repeated feedback. The exhibited series shows how an artist, amidst increasing globalization and networking of art, can approach the future of art with his own formula.

As early as 2001, Xu participated in the 49th Venice Biennale, then the youngest Chinese artist to exhibit works at this international art event. Having made a name at 20 as an artist, he has since created a large number of works based on his own consciousness. The passage from one century to the next brought with it not only socio-economic but also cultural changes, the latter deeply influencing Xu as an artist. The great divide of his career came in 2009 when he established the art creation enterprise MadeIn Company in Shanghai. Since then his works have been produced in a corporate fashion and his “artist” identity has been plunged into the center of controversy. Meanwhile, Xu’s creative focus has begun to shift to the relationship between art and business.

Monika Szewczyk, a curator of this year’s Kassel Documenta, once said,

“To be sure, Xu Zhen is not the first artist to transform himself into a company, and countless others incorporate more quietly to maximize their income and maneuverability. But MadeIn may be special in at least one respect: The company’s production could be understood increasingly to contemplate the notion of heaven –not offering up a clear picture the way religious authorities might, yet keeping this abstraction in focus as a question.”

The title of the Under Heaven series echoes heaven as a metaphor. The paintings appeared in the 2014 Armory Show in New York to serve the commercial campaign for the fair itself. Layers and layers of oil paint form an ornate “landscape”, and with the skillful depiction and figuration of a cream piping bag (not a paint brush!), they make up an enticing visual banquet.

The series manages to transcend the opposition between art and business, which exemplifies Xu’s creative strategy: rather than addressing the big spectacle issue head on, one might as well turn it into a positive account by creating a new approach of one’s own. This way of thinking explains why Xu is so fluent in using visual symbols from popular culture. In the Metal Language series, phrases from political cartoons are presented in an intensive manner on a mirror- finished metal surface. The graffiti-like composition seemingly agrees with the radical stance of the political language but is in fact betrayed by the extravagance of the metallic gloss. This inner contradiction throws the works (and even their producer) into a suspended state of meaningfulness.

Because of their metallic and creamy landscapes, Xu’s works have been classified as pop art, even though the label apparently can apply only to some of his works. In terms of creative logic and cultural appropriation, Xu has no doubt gone beyond pop art. For instance, his series Eternity and Evolution all reference a far more expansive, long lasting civilized world than the consumer society. Ancient art pieces, Dunhuang frescoes from the Silk Road’s heyday, representative modernist sculptures of the West…when we see these cultural symbols repeatedly change shape or re-combined in new ways, we cannot help but feel an implosion of meaning set off by the accumulated spiritual force of culture.

This force comes not only from the cultural symbols being used; it is in a way more the cultural changes induced by the globalizing Internet. In a modern context, we tend to identify Greek sculptures solely by their greyish white plaster, forgetting that they were originally divine statues with colors. The truth behind cultural relics is ever elusive to the museum visitor. People even turn to the Net, using search engines to make up their own pictures of the origins of civilization. Between the colorful Greek statues and the modern white plaster versions, and the Acropolis in Athens and sculpture photos on electronic screens, is the loss of a common context.

And it is because we are so accustomed to this cultural reality that the two contrasting series Eternity and Evolution appear all the more harmonious and splendid to us.

From the “individual artist period” when he concerned himself with the consciousness of identity, to “Xu Zhen brand”, Xu has moved on to repeatedly examine the current culture. The transition is nothing less than a reflection of the tremendous changes in human history over the past decades. Admittedly, the extension of consciousness unleashed by the Internet has eliminated temporal and spatial disparity. Yet, in the process, cultural learning in the traditional sense has been destroyed by information overload, giving way to recurrent cultural stagnation and dysfunctional standards. The information highway makes one feel unreal, so much so that the boundaries between meaning, values and reality gradually blur. Living in this “post-truth” age, one begins to see why Xu should uphold “iteration” as an effective way of responding to a postmodern society.

For in the course of time, after endless destruction and reconstruction, the boundless reformulations are sure to open up a new paradigm for civilization in the present.