Future Rhapsody：Zipped and Unzipped
A leader in the exhibition of contemporary Chinese art, Beijing Today Art Museum is holding another spectacular exhibition: “.Zip Future Rhapsody.” Curators employed the literal meaning of .zip (compression and decompression) to sketch an understanding of the future. In their imagination of tomorrow, various art forms represent different dimensional items radiating from the Big Bang. Without time and space limits, the future cannot and should not be defined.
The exhibition includes a variety of media including installations, experimental music, sound and spatial interaction as well as images and light shows. It aims to prod the personal feelings of spectators. In the exhibition hall, the visitors must follow a hidden guide to find all of the exhibits. The works on display are not confined to pieces on a wall and can include the different feelings of various people. For example, in Wu Juehui’s E-Blood Bag, visitors can charge their phones with what looks like a blood transfusion, highlighting modern obsession with electronic devices and the life-and-death importance of a functioning device. In Turkish artist Refik Anadol’s Infinite House, the infinite extension of time and space invites the viewer to ponder the piece’s inherent reality. The main hall offers an immersive experience in which spectators hold a lightning rod of new media art. A new interactive surprise lurks around every corner as the audience is mesmerized by the works on display.
The Future Gallery of Beijing Today Art Museum compresses many powerful works into a single time and place. The immersive perception provided by the collective works seems to takes visitors on a trip through the black hole, guiding them to use every sense and imaginative molecule to form their own understanding of the works.
“The name ‘.zip’ is not as serious as it looks,” remarks curator Wu Juehui. “It was inspired by words I saw in a group chat on WeChat in 2014: ‘The suffix of art in critics’ eyes is .txt; in rich people’s eyes is .jpg, but I think the suffix of art is still .exe.’ I agree a lot with that assessment and still think about it a lot. It reflects some of the problems in today’s art circles. The expansion of the universe is like a continuous decompressing process. New formats emerge and old ones fade. While we are using a format, we are also self-formatting. In a large format system, each person comes with his or her own format. They may be .text, .jpg, .ppt,.exe or just a bug.”
During the exhibition, Gao Peng, director of Today Art Museum, granted an exclusive interview to China Pictorial.
Why did you launch the project of the Future Gallery? What is the Future Gallery on earth? What do you want to convey through the project?
Gao Peng: Since I took office as director of Beijing Today Art Museum in 2013, several questions have been lingering in my mind: What is the future of museum? What will we display tomorrow? What will the relationship between patrons and the museum be like in the future?
Based on these reflections, we launched the “Future Gallery” program. Our Future Gallery is not a physical entity, but an experimental project to predict the landscape for future development from the imagination. It is a museum model for the next few decades based on the imagination of a group of today’s art practitioners. The collaboration of our museum and artists, as well as their interaction with the audience, presents an exhibition featuring an immersive experience, audio and visual feast, artistic cross-media interaction and information processing, virtual and realistic overlap, human-machine interaction and various new media art works. It bravely foresees a flowing and changeable future by the way of art.
It seems that many spectators are more attracted to the fantastic and stunning appearances than the works’ connotation. How do you inspire people to look deeper at these works?
Gao Peng: At any age, the core themes of art never changed too much: love, hatred, life, death, desire and our attitude towards the surrounding environment and social relations. But as times change, the media of artistic expression constantly evolve. When various artistic media are relatively new, spectators will naturally be drawn to form more than core contents.
So it is an important duty for museums to help audience tell what is just a show and what is the expression of artists’ inner feelings. I believe that after seeing many exhibitions, the spectators’ taste gradually improves, thus fostering independent artistic judgment. We prepare a QR code for each work at this exhibition—if they want, spectators can scan the QR code to listen to a demonstration about each work. Many volunteers and staff of the museum are always on hand to explain various components of the works to visitors and help them better understand and respect art.
What is the difference between the Future Gallery project and other new media exhibitions?
Gao Peng: We insist that the Future Gallery is not a multi-media exhibition but an experimental art project about the future, because we don’t want to mislead our audience into thinking it’s just a multi-media show. Our project involved many artists, scientists and engineers working together to complete the works. This exhibition has invited plentiful well-known artists from home and abroad. We hope the heavy-hitting artist roster can make our Future Gallery a new field of art research and inspire the audience to contemplate creativity.
“Creativity” is unknown and “future” is also unknown. If we do not admit these ‘unknowns’, where can creative power come from? Many works in this exhibition are bold and pioneering, even beyond the understanding of art for some. We not only spent a lot of labor and financial resources, but also changed the overall structure of the museum, in order to break traditional ideas about museums. As long as curators and artists have good ideas, our museum will support them unconditionally. We hope that this project can guide the public out of traditionally comfortable aesthetic experience and to face the bold and experimental art of future.
What is the status of Future Gallery in an international context?
Gao Peng: In 2015, we invited Suzanne Anke, former President of the New York School of Visual Arts, to participate in our first Future Gallery program. When she came to support us, she was nearly eighty years old. Why was she so devoted? Because when she saw our program, she was very excited. She said that even in New York, many art museums did not dare to do something like this. Many museums are only willing to show a few artists who are very successful commercially, and these museums stay prudent in their embrace of more creative concepts. Susanne Anke valued the plasticity and creativity of our Future Gallery and did a lot of promotion for us.
We also receive a lot of positive feedback this year. “The future is unknown and never has a clear start,” says Philipp Ziegler, head of the curatorial department of ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe in Germany. “When you take the world stage to speak out your independent opinion about a common confusion, you’re already at the forefront of the times. I feel very honored to take part in this global cutting-edge discussion with other art practitioners of the young generation.”