The Unseen: The Fourth Guangzhou Triennial

Taking part in the Guangzhou Triennial, one of the largest art events in China, the BCU team's curation of the theme 'Unseen' saw art that explored the divide between observation and appreciation, while also taking the exhibition beyond the museum space.

The unseen project large


Ignasi ABALLI, Giovanni ANSELMO, Vladimir ARKHIPOV, Angie ATMADJAJA, Felice BEATO, Thomas BEWICK, John CAGE, Alice CATTANEO, CHEN Chieh-Jen, Ruth CLAXTON, Michael CRAIG-MARTIN, DU Yun and Claire CHASE, Marcel DZAMA, Harold E. EDGERTON, Dan FLAVIN, Ceal FLOYER, Yukio FUJIMOTO, GAO Shiqiang, Franz GERTSCH, Graham GUSSIN, HAM Jin, HAM Kyung-ah, HAN Kyung-woo, HU Yun, HUANG Ran, Sofia HULTEN, Ann Veronica JANSSENS, JIANG Zhi, Tim JOHNSON, KAN Xuan, On KAWARA, LEE Seung-ae, LEUNG Chi Wo, LIU Wei, Vladimir LOGUTOV, LU Yang, LUTZ & GUGGISBERG, Madeln Company, MIAO Xiaochun, Francois MORELLET, Kingsley NG, Timur NOVIKOV, Trevor PAGLEN, Cornelia PARKER, Katie PATERSON, Giuseppe PENONE, Susan PHILIPSZ, Jozef ROBAKOWSKI, Jadwiga SAWICKA, Jonathan SCHIPPER, SHEN Shaomin, SHI Jinsong, Dayanita SINGH, SUI Jianguo, TAN Ping, Tashweesh, Ron TERADA, Amikam TOREN, TU Weizheng, Rikuo UEDA, WANG Yuyang, XIAO Yu, ZHANG Dali and ZHUANG Hui.

Research background

The Guangzhou Triennial is one of the largest art events in China. In 2012, the Fourth Guangzhou Triennial exhibited work by 75 international artists from 24 countries and areas. The exhibition sought to explore fundamental questions such as the nature of art and the role of the museum institution. The triennial was hosted across four sites: the Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou Grandview Mall, Contemporary Art Gallery of GDMoA and the Guangdong Opera House, some of these were conventional art spaces, others not. A breakout event in Birmingham, UK entitled Birmingham Billboards, further extended art into the public realm. The central theme of the Triennial revolved around the ‘unseen’ which implored the audience to think beyond just the visual aspects of artworks, to equally consider deeper meanings further to their immediate aesthetic impact.

Research aims

This exhibition aimed to differentiate between the literal act of visual observation and aesthetic appreciation, the latter implying the exhibition’s theme of the ‘unseen.’ The exhibition advocated that what we as humans think has greater profundity than what we see, a controversial and original approach for an art exhibition. Moreover, the exhibition intended to bring art into the public domain through its multi-site approach, reaching beyond conventional museum spaces.

Research methods

Jiang Jiehong theorized the divide between the invisible/visible, hoping to open up many kinds of discussions about observation, perception, and imagination.  Watkins and Jiang chose a wide range of international artists, many of whom had previously exhibited at Watkins’ Ikon gallery and whose work resonated with the theme of the ‘Unseen’. Several studio visits were conducted.  


The work I’m Lovin’ it by Li Wei contemplates the influence of fast-food culture in China through the re-creating omnipresent ‘M’ sign and dispersing 50 of them throughout a shopping mall to render visible the chain’s overwhelming presence in China.

Jonathan Schipper crashed together two cars in a slow-motion review rendering a horrific, split-second event perceptible to the human eye. 

Ham Kyungah transcribed daily news articles from the Internet and conceals them in the abstract paintings of artists such as Morris Louis, sneakily obscuring the text amidst colourful patterns. The resulting digital print designs are then sent, after some secret negotiations and deals demanding extra commissions, to be embroidered by North Korean workers.

In One Cubic Metre of Absolute Darkness, Sui Jianguo attempted to visualise the sensation of darkness and the void.

Dan Flavin’s work constituted a rectangular arrangement of yellow, red, and blue fluorescent lights conjuring up notions of seriality and repetition.