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The Hype of Shanghai Arrives in Chicago

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International video artists interpret Shanghai

bu-huaBy Carrie McGath

The Hyde Park Art Center is host to the video exhibition, “Shanghype!” from September 20 through December 13, 2009 in the second floor Black Box Gallery. Eighteen international artists, all working with the common medium of video and the theme of Shanghai’s ever-changing landscape express the complexity of modern China with the pulsing city of Shanghai as the backdrop.

The exhibit has moments of surrealism with nods to the play-like filmmaking of Peter Greenaway cut with David Lynchian imagery as in Da Shi Dai. In this piece, the viewer is met with a room draped in red curtains, à la “Twin Peaks,” with a curtain draped over a form in the room. Then a man in a white suit enters this scene and reveals the object to be a bike with a horse’s head and a saddle. The rest of film features the man roaming about in urban environs, as well as traditional ones like the bathhouse, ending in the return of the horse-headed bike to the calm of the red folds of the curtains.

Another piece, Temporary Sculpture, shows four or five urban or industrial environments where a red balloon inflates, eventually popping with a sound reminiscent of gunshots. This temporal sculpture works well with the urban, industrial scenes, and the red of the balloon shows an edgy contrast to the gray steeliness around it, expressing also potential harm or disaster in such a landscape.

The use of red in many of these videos brought to mind the tangible presence of communism, also bringing to mind Chen Wenling’s side-splitting and terrifying sculpture in Millennium Park, Valiant Struggle No. 11: Punish the Consumer.

This sculptural expression, as well as the videos in “ShangHype!,” all grapple to express a complexity that threatens to be inexpressible, ever daring us to try to understand that complexity. The eighteen artists in “ShangHype!” met this challenge, even with the hype and judgements of the world on their backs. The complexity is flux, a necessary and unavoidable flux taking place on the glittering stage of Shanghai, a place these videos depict living up to its malleable hype. It is a flux we feel in our own landscapes of overpopulation, loss of green space and a battered economy. This exhibit is strong, intriguing, timely, and is definitely worth the trip to Hyde Park.

“Shanghype!” at Hyde Park Art Center from September 20
through December 13.

Still from Savage Grow, Bua Hua, 2008 (animation video).
Image courtesy of the Hyde Park Art Center

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