Site-specific installations by Cao Fei, Aki Sasamoto, and Wong Ping and an outdoor installation by Erwin Wurm in a year-long outdoor exhibition set the stage for an open, fluid, interactive, and thought-provoking space for public art at UCCA Edge.
The new UCCA Edge officially opens to the public in Shanghai on May 22, 2021. Opening concurrently with the inaugural exhibition City on the Edge: Art and Shanghai at the Turn of the Millennium, from May 22, 2021 to May 22, 2022, UCCA Edge presents the year-long outdoor exhibition Urban Theater: A Comedy in Four Acts. The group show transforms the wraparound outdoor terrace of the museum into a thought-provoking space for public art and an open and fluid setting to stimulate new curiosity and interactions with art for the museum's new audience in Shanghai. Urban Theater: A Comedy in Four Acts is curated by UCCA Curator Ara Qiu.
Urban Theater: A Comedy in Four Acts is inspired by the outdoor theater of ancient Greece. The word 'theater' first appeared in the Greek language as 'theatron,' translated to mean 'a place for viewing.' The oldest history of the theater in human civilisation can be traced back to around 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece, where open-air theaters were the center of public life and gatherings. The ancient Greek dramas performed for the public at the theater reflected a range of life in society, the economy, and culture at the time, while functioning to unite its citizens and aiding in the spread of culture. Inspired by the form, practical function, and legacy of the ancient Greek theater, as well as the unique position of Shanghai as a globalised city and metropolitan center, UCCA Edge has commissioned artists Cao Fei (b. 1978, Guangzhou), Aki Sasamoto (b. 1980, Kanagawa, Japan), and Wong Ping (b. 1984, Hong Kong) for site-specific artworks in Urban Theater: A Comedy in Four Acts, based on the architectural attributes of the wraparound outdoor terrace on the fourth floor of the museum. Together, these three site-specific installations and an outdoor installation by Erwin Wurm (b. 1954 Bruck an der Mur, Austria) present four comedic acts to the public in an elevated 'urban theater,' weaved into the urban fabric with the city as its backdrop. The four works in the exhibition owe themselves to the relatable comedy found in the organic connections and emotions of everyday life, at times humorous, spicy, irreverent, or satirical. Breaking outside the walls of the museum and furnishing a fresh, accessible, and distinctive encounter with art in the city, this exhibition is designed to provide the public with new perspectives on contemporary art and to inspire reflections on questions such as the the nature of public art, the relationship between humans and cities, and how public art contributes to the urban spirit.
In response to the secularisation of the megacity, the four artists peel back on the humor and the philosophical lurking in daily life with four comedic acts, ranging from the cheeky to the absurd. Hung low at the street-level entrance of UCCA Edge, the mixed media car installation by Erwin Wurm appears in the shape of an UFO. The artist believes that the automobile is the perfect embodiment of contemporary society, symbolising identity and class, speed and efficiency. Molding an iconic Porsche sports car into a futuristic vehicle in this work, UFO (2006) forms a playful juxtaposition with passing pedestrians and vehicles, as well as a witty metaphor for the landing of UCCA Edge in Shanghai. Following up, on the fourth floor of the museum, Cao Fei combines the view of Shanghai looking out of the east terrace with building upon her 2007 video work The Birth of RMB City in the interactive binocular installation Re-enchantment: The Birth of RMB City (2021). Looking out towards the city through the binoculars set up for the work, the familiar Shanghai skyline becomes replaced by a fantastical urban landscape. The artist's surrealistic approach to depicting the effects of rapid urbanisation, taking forms of play to create utopias that blur between the real and the virtual, betrays the surrealism of the country in the era she lives in.
In Wong Ping's Shifty Eyes Exercise (2021) on the south terrace, the inflatable tubes extending from inside a semi-transparent acrylic structure represent the flickering gaze of urbanites. Whether curious and inquisitive, or adrift and dodgy, the expression in their eyes could be seen externalised in the various states of the inflatable tubes. In the final act, taking cue from sports bars as recreational venues for workers, Aki Sasamoto has constructed Weather Bar (2021) on the west terrace. In between the sports programs playing on the two TV screens at the bar are two video works by the artist featuring herself in a serious but absurd" weather forecast" that reports on internal changes in human feelings and emotional temperature. Atmospheric climate and physiological conditions become intermixed in the layers of ambiguous clues embedded within the installation, confusing the real with the false, the interior with the exterior.
Cities are hallmarks of the material developments in human civilisation and where the flourishing of cultures crystallises. From the city-states of Ancient Greece to the globalised metropolis of Shanghai, along with the rapid developments as a result of urbanisation since the last century, the theater that used to be emblematic of the public and the spectacle has transposed from the open-air city center to within the walls of skyscrapers. Setting the scene for the new explorations of a new major museum in Shanghai, the year-long Urban Theater: A Comedy of Four Acts can be experienced as an experimental ground that animates its surrounding urban space with public art. The exhibition departs from more conventional, one-way exhibition formats and enables open-ended possibilities of encounters with the artworks depending on the viewing time, angle, and perspective of the audience. Situating these works in a shared commons, this exhibition revives the spirit of the ancient Greek theater and encourages open, interactive exploration with its urban surroundings and their inhabitants, allowing for the direct intervention of art into daily life and stimulating new reflections on the relationship between humans and cities, urbanites and their environment, art and life.
Press release courtesy UCCA Edge.