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Asia Triennial Manchester: Harmonious Society

This exhibition was centred around the concept of harmony, specifically in response to the notion of Chinese Harmony as promoted by the Chinese govenrment in 2005. In this exhibition, harmony is represented in five unique pieces, each connoting diffeeing representations of harmony as well as the subtle balance required to maintain it.

Manchester Triennale - large

Researchers 

Prof. Jiang Jiehong

Associate Curators
  • Ying Tan
  • Ying Kwok
  • Lindsay Taylor
  • Yu-ling Chou
Artists
CHANG Huei-Ming, CHEN Chieh-Jen, CHEN Wenbo, CHENG Ching-Yuan, HE An, JIN Feng, Kan Xuan, KAO Jun-Honn, LEE Kit, LEUNG Chi Wo, Li Wei, LIU Jianhua, LiU Xiaodong, Luxury Logico, Pak Sheung-Chuen, TOF Group, Annie WAN Lai-Kuen, WANG Sishun, WANG Yin, Wang Yuyang, XU Qu, YAN Bing, YANG Zhenzhong, Yao Jui-Chung, Samson YOUNG, YUAN Gong, Zhang Peili, ZHAO Yao, ZHENG Guogu, ZHOU Xiaohu and ZHUANG Hui.

Research background

This project developed artistic and curatorial practice beyond conventional art museum and gallery spaces. The exhibitions were presented in a number of working venues, including a library, football museum, cathedral and outdoor space, such as the world’s oldest inter-city railway station (Manchester Liverpool Road), with their existing historical, cultural and religious connotations. Their inclusion questions and re-defines the ‘display of art’, and interrogates the distance between art and life.  Harmonious Society presented ambitious works by 36 artists from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan at six venues across the city of Manchester as the dominant part of the ATM14. It is, still, the largest Chinese contemporary art exhibition to date in Britain. More importantly, the majority of the work was newly commissioned, in a range of forms including painting, sculpture, installation, photography, video, animation, sound and performance. This exhibition attracted £150,000 from Tang Contemporary Art (Beijing), £80,000 from Taiwan Ministry of Culture, £31,000 from Hong Kong Arts Development, £40,000 from T Museum (Hangzhou), £18,000 from Bois-Li Gallery (Beijing), for commissioning new work and the catalogue design and production in addition to the core funding of £30,000 available from CFCCA (Manchester).

 Research aims

The aim of this exhibition was to explore China’s socio-economic vision of a ‘Harmonious Society’, first proposed by the Chinese government in 2005, via artistic responses. The idea changes China’s focus from economic growth to overall societal balance and this concept of ‘harmony’ was coined as an attempt to resolve or dilute the problem of social inequality and injustice. Responding to the overarching theme of the ATM 2014, Conflict and Compassion, China seemingly presents ‘no conflict’ but rather, almost poetically, a Harmonious Society. This curatorial project invites leading artists from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, to develop new work critically in response to this era of unprecedented social, ideological and cultural transformations in ‘harmony’, through their individual memories, personal reflections and imaginations.

Research methods

The curatorial research of this project was rigorously developed through a number of artist studio visits, interviews and discussions. Over half the works were site-specific commissions. In addition, there were 6 workshops were led by Lead Curator respectively at important venues internationally, including CFCCA (Manchester), Kings College London (London), Ullens Centre of Contemporary Art (Beijing), Rockbund Art Museum (Shanghai), Taipei Contemporary Art Centre (Taipei) and Asia Art Archive (Hong Kong), inviting artists and curators to share, discuss and debate. An exhibition conference: The Harmonious Society (September) hosted at University of Salford, as well as a further ATM14 Symposium (November) at Imperial War Museum (Manchester) were convened as an evaluative platform to review the project with artists, curators and scholars, and for the development of the catalogue publication and a book chapter contribution.

Outcomes

As the largest Chinese contemporary art exhibition to date in the UK, Harmonious Society brought to the audience not only the latest development of contemporary art from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but also the understandings of recent socio-political changes in China in a global context.

In particular, the work Nothing Happened Under Heaven by Wang Sishun comprised a giant metal cylinder tilted at a highly precarious angle, inferring how the slightest imbalance can disrupt social harmony.

Samson Young’s Muted Situations explored the paradox of sound in a library context – whilst noise is suppressed it is never completely silent, in a sort of abnormal harmony.

Yuan Gong staged a performance entitled Turbulence whereby harmonious movements gradually transformed into aggression.

Zheng Guogu depicted spiritual harmony at Manchester Cathedral through a light box installation called Brain Waves whereby all the twelve disciplines are connected with Jesus via neurological consciousness.

In Chinese Plates, Jin Feng transposes China’s constitution on human rights into wooden blocks harking back to traditional forms of the stamp or seal. The texts are carved in reverse making them very difficult to read and interpret.