Shen Shaomin: Scary Monsters

ISBN : 978-988-98388-3-4
Publisher : Osage Contemporary Art Space
Date Published : June 2006
Author : Jonathan Thomson
Editor : Shen Shaomin, Agnes Lin
Designer : Ouyang Hui
Curator : –
Artist/s: : Shen Shaomin

This publication was published as the catalogue to the exhibition, Shen Shaomin: Scary Monster held at Osage Contemporary Art Space in Kwun Tong from 09 June to 07 August 2009.

Scary Monsters features extraordinary exhibition of sculpture and photography by Shen Shaomin.  Shen’s work examines our anxieties about the things that drive us and the directions that science and technology may take us.  In his work he imagines a future where human development has been supplanted by abominations and the world has come to be dominated by fantastic creatures. 

Shen adopts the stance of a natural historian investigating the past, but seems just as easily able to excavate the future.  Transhumanism is the international movement that advocates the physical and mental enhancement of human capacity through biotechnology, cybernetics, nanotechnology, and information technologies in order to arrive at a techno-utopian post-human future.  It is a theme which has informed some of the most compelling contemporary fiction but it has also been described in Britain’s House of Lords as the “world’s most dangerous idea”.  Fear of the future, of science gone horribly wrong is nothing new.  Horror science fiction stories, from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the X Men aim to invoke our worst fears.  Fear and danger are almost always compelling and the ways in which they command our attention are linked to our survival as a species.  Opponents of genetic modification and transhumanism believe we have more cause for concern than ever before because now the technology is real.

All of these ideas come together in the work of the artist Shen Shaomin.    He takes the bones of vermin or ordinary farmed animals and bones that he has moulded himself out of bone meal and glue and re-assembles them into configurations that are the stuff of nightmares.  The recent exhibition in Hong Kong of the bones of dinosaurs from our distant past was hugely popular.  Shen’s work shows us the bones of our possible future.  Shen’s creatures may be fictitious but they actively engage the structures of belief on which our global societies are built.  These extraordinary works challenge the received values of established religions, education systems, and the custodians of our cultures.

Shen Shaomin: Project No.1 / Bonsai

ISBN : 978-988-17583-1-6
Publisher : Osage
Date Published : April 2008
Author : Jonathan Thomson, Wu Hung
Editor : Agnes Lin
Designer : Joseph Yiu
Curator : –
Artist/s: : Shen Shaomin

This publication was published as the catalogue to the exhibition, Activated Organism held at Osage Kwun Tong from 15 May – 13 July 2008.

Fundamentalism, whether it is religious, nationalistic or economic, has come to be used to describe an intransigent set of beliefs. Such beliefs are said to be unassailable when they cannot be attacked or questioned or subjected to either express or implied criticism. Three years ago, a global controversy was sparked by the publishing of twelve cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed by a Danish newspaper. Violent protests erupted across the Muslim world. More recently, the internet has been flooded by people expressing their rage against protesters who have hindered the Beijing Olympic torch’s “journey of harmony”.

In the globalised world of the 21st century, capital has become transnational, borders seem more porous and identities more fluid. Yet when it comes to religious convictions or nationalist pride, it still seems to take little to arouse popular sentiment. Shen Shaomin is one of China’s most intellectually rigorous and fearlessly creative contemporary artists. In Unassailable he takes on thousands of years of Chinese culture and some of its most hallowed sites and symbols. Shen’s reworkings of these motifs makes for powerfully compelling work which challenges established mores and political structures. He does this through meticulous investigation into the physical and symbolic structure of things.

In the exhibition, Shen examines the Tiananmen or Gate of Heavenly Peace and the Chinese art of penjing which is now better known as bonsai. Shen unlocks the secrets of Tiananmen by his detailed exploration of the spatial organisation of the structure itself and the ground beneath it. In this way he allows for a different communal experience by the public of a structure that is integral to the psychological makeup of generations of Chinese people.

Bonsai reveals the perversion behind deeply rooted systems of thought formed by tradition and culture that determine the value of things. This value usually resides in the realm of the aesthetic or the moral but in the case of the art of bonsai it overlaps both territories. Shen shows us the torture inflicted on these plants through detailed drawings, sets of instructions and the objects themselves. Shen raises issues of cultural control and distortion, as well as our involvement in allowing the systems that sustain such control to endure.

Featured Artists

SUSI: key to Chinese art today

Book 1 : Future and Fantasy
ISBN : 988-99399-1-6/978-988- 99399-1-5
Publisher : Osage Art Foundation
Date Published : 2006
Author : Gu Zhenqing
Editor : Agnes Lin
Designer : Carrie Chi, Diane Wu, Ouyang Hui
Curator : Gu Zhenqing
Artist/s: : Shen Shaomin, Sun Yuan, Peng Yu, Miao Xiaochun, Sui Jianguo, Yin Zhaoyang
Jiang Zhi, Li Dafang, Jin Jiangbo, Chen Wenbo

Book 2 : Exploration and Discovery
ISBN : 988-99399-0-8/978-988- 99399-0-8
Publisher : Osage Art Foundation
Date Published : 2006
Author : Jonathan Thomson
Editor : Agnes Lin
Designer : Carrie Chi, Diane Wu, Ouyang Hui
Curator : Wan Jiyuan
Artist/s: : Jin Shangyi, Wang Tieniu, Cao Jigang, Chao Ge, Tan Difu, Gao Quan, Wan Jiyuan,
Shi Shaochen, Sun Weimin, Sun Fengda, Wu Jun, Wang Yidong, He Yi, Ma Xiaoteng
Hu Jiancheng, Wang Shaolun, Sun Xiangyang, He Duoling, Wang Yuqi, Zhang Li,
Li Xinping, Chan Sicpo, Jin Yangping, Tong Yanrunan, He Wei, Wang Xin, Cui Kaixi
Zhang Zuying, Gao Yingjin

Book 3: A Brush with China
ISBN : 988-99399-2-4/978-988- 99399-2-2
Publisher : Osage Art Foundation
Date Published : 2006
Author : Gu Hong
Editor : Agnes Lin
Designer : Carrie Chi, Diane Wu, Ouyang Hui
Curator : Gu Hong
Artist/s: : Shao Huaze, Gu Hong, Wang Shenglie, Guo Yizong, Wang Yujue, Zhang Daoxing
Zhang Guige, Feng Jinsong, Du Ziling, Li Yansheng, Ye Shangqing, Wang Dachuan,
Wang Bomin, Zhou Cangmi, Bao Chenchu, Wang Dongling, Li Yi, Liu Jiang,
Wu Shanming, Song Zhongyuan, Wang Qingming, Wu Sheng, Xu Jiachang,
Du Manhua, Huang Lingling

This publication was published as the catalogue to the exhibition, SUSI: Key to Chinese Art Today.An Exhibition of Chinese Contemporary Art held at three art institutions in Manila, Philippines from 20 September to 31 October 2006.

Exploration and Discovery : National Museum of the Philippines
A Brush with China : Yuchengco Museum Manila
Future and Fantasy: Metropolitan Museum of Manila

SUSI is the Tagalog word for Key. The art exhibited in Manila presented a broad and deep cross-section of Chinese art that sought to open up Chinese art for Filipino audiences. The exhibitions catered for all tastes. “A Brush with China” at the Yuchengco Museum was an exhibition of traditional Chinese painting that sought to show why Chinese painting is among the most precious of all Chinese cultural treasures. It is a unique record of the progress of Chinese history and depicts the origin of Chinese characters. “Exploration and Discovery” at the National Museum of the Philippines was an exhibition of modern Chinese oil painting that examined the persistence of realism as the most dominant style in modern Chinese painting and the ways in which realism has been modified or recycled into more contemporary forms. “Future and Fantasy” at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila showcased the work of some of China’s most acclaimed contemporary artists. The artists in this exhibition employed a range of unconventional media in a series of images and installations to voice their view of tomorrow. The simultaneous presentation of all three of these exhibitions and the presence in Manila of twenty-two of the Chinese artists gave rise to many opportunities for personal interaction between the artists and their peers and members of the public in the Philippines. For many people a highlight was seeing 70 year old Philippine National Artist for Visual Arts Abdul Mari Imao as happy as a schoolboy wading through the foam blocks of Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s A Fierce Dragon

Can Cross the River at the Metropolitan Museum while being urged on by the artists. For others, it was talking face to face, one on one with Miao Xiaochun and Sui Jianguo about their motivations and the meanings in their works. For one group of delighted school children it was the opportunity to bombard Tong Yanrunan with questions about his blurry faces exhibited en-masse at the National Museum of the Philippines. Art is a tremendously effective medium for intercultural exchanges that promote and enhance people to people understanding. And it is never a one way street. The Chinese artists who were in Manila for the opening of their exhibitions also learnt a lot about Filipino art. A group of them visited Philippine National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva at his workshop in Tierra Verde, Quezon City to see his “Swinging House”. Others visited the Ayala Museum and GSIS and a number of private collections and were tremendously impressed by the immense passion Filipinos have for their art. The famous aphorism by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” translates as Life is Short but Art Endures.

It was perhaps with this in mind that Wan Jiyuan and a group of other artists set out to record their impressions of Manila and the surrounding countryside. The work that they made is much more than a memento of their visit. It is a distillation of their experience coloured in no small part by the personal interactions that the artists had with their Filipino peers and the passion they saw in their art. Wan’s paintings are “an effervescence of colour, a phantasmagoria of effects, a bacchanal of lines, a fury of brushstrokes, an explosion of light, of audacities of composition, of unprecedented dissonances and insolent harmonies.” Wan’s works will remain in the Philippines as a token of all of the artists’ conversations and contacts, of experiences shared and friendships forged. They are an enduring record of how doors to understanding can be opened, if only we are given the right key.