A cry for survival: the 13th Shanghai Biennale of contemporary art invites us to think about the interconnections between beings and the essential elements in a world in crisis
Pía Dalesson

“The flow and flush of waters sustain our own bodies, but also connect them to other bodies, to other worlds beyond our human selves.”

With this phrase by Astrida Neimanis, chief curator Andrés Jaque began the pre-inauguration of the 13th Shanghai Biennial “Bodies of Water” which officially opened on Saturday, April 17, 2021, at the PSA (Power Station of Art) and other places of the city.

© Feliciano Centurión. Courtesy Shangai Biennale

The Biennial has been developing for nine months as a project in crescendo and the grand opening corresponds to the 3rd and last phase.

Accompanied by a curatorial team  Marina Otero, Lucia Pietroiusti, You Mi, and Filipa Ramos, the main exhibition has 64 participating artists (50% of which are women) presenting 76 works, including 33 new commissions.

Shanghai is surrounded by water, and this fundamental element is the kick to question the production and existence of humanity, which, although it has a growing ecological conscience, needs concrete practices of change. Decolonization, which involves a return to the ancestral and a new look at man’s relationship with nature and with other beings, is another of the key points in the selection of works. The body constitutes an emblem from which to feel and rethink: virtuality, the machine-human dichotomy, connections, and communities.

Despite taking place almost entirely in virtuality, this highly important biennial is a way to collectively reflect on current issues, in a poetic way, through the artists’ works.

A desperate cry towards the revaluation of memory, of the ancestral knowledge of different cultures, American, Asian, where the feminine takes relevance as well as the human and bodily network necessary to create community ties.

© Itziar Okariz, Ocean Breath, 2020, performance at the 13th Shanghai Biennale’s PHASE 01: A WET-RUN REHEARSAL, Power Station of Art, Shanghai. Photo by Jiang Wenyi

The incorporation of several pieces of video art, installations that integrate music specially made for the biennial such as  Pan Daijin‘s “Done Duet” that presented a live performance, specially designed for the structure of Silos that integrate various levels of the building, and the great installation of the Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña, seek to generate impact despite the distance.

This huge red-hot installation by Vicuña entitled “Menstrual Quipu”, plays on the theme “Bodies of water” with feminine elements. With red strings of unspun wool hanging from the ceiling, the piece reflects the complexities of women’s bodies.

© Performance by Pan Daijing at the opening exhibition. Courtesy Shangai Biennale and PSA Station
© Performance by Pan Daijing at the opening exhibition. Courtesy Shangai Biennale and PSA Station
© Cecilia Vicuña, Quipu Menstrual, at the opening exhibition. Courtesy Shangai Biennale and PSA Station

Cecilia is one of the four Latin American artists who perform alongside: Alberto Baraya, Ana Mendieta, and Feliciano Centurión.

An archive of 2000 photographs as part of his Herbarium work by Colombian artist Alberto Baraya (born 1968 in Bogotá, Colombia, based in Bogotá, Colombia), challenges the work of the 18th-century European botanist who came to the New World to “discover “and categorize its natural resources. The photos in the In Situ Archive are classified in to different categories and orders that speak of the uses we make of artificial plants in everyday life.

The curator Andrés Jaque was very enthusiastic about having the silhouettes of the artist of Cuban origin Ana Mendieta (Havana 1948- NY 1985). The main themes of his work are exile, displacement, and the return to the landscape, which he expressed with a rich cross-cultural approach in which Afro-Cuban, indigenous Caribbean, and Catholic traditions found the language and interests of conceptual art, performance and experimental cinema.

© Video Performance Ana Mendieta (1974). Museo Reina Sofía.

The Biennale will run until July 25, 2021. It can be followed through the PSA IG @powerstationofart #ShanghaiBiennale #BodiesOfWater and on the official website here.

Power Station of Art on the bank of Huangpu River ©PSA
Portrait of Andres Jaque, courtesy of the curator, photo by Miguel de Guzman. Courtesy Shangai Biennale
Alberto Baraya, First Holy Communion Lilium, 2015, fake plastic flower (made in China) mounted on cardboard, photograph and drawing, framed on wood, 85 × 116 × 7 cm. Courtesy of the artist
© Zadie Xa and Benito Mayor Vallejo, Digital sketch for “Soothsayer,” 2021. Courtesy of the artist
© Diakron and Emil Rønn Andersen, Scries, 2021, installation view at the 13th Shanghai Biennale Bodies of Water, Shanghai, 2021. Courtesy Power Station of Art
© Tabita Rézaire. Courtesy Power Station of Art and Shangai Biennale
© Zadie Xa & Benito Mayor Vallejo. Courtesy Power Station of Art and Shangai Biennale
”Devenir Toro”, the photographic exhibition by Andrés Calamaro at the Azur Gallery in Madrid.