At the opening of the 12th Shanghai Biennale, chief curator Cuauhtémoc Medina described its title, “Proregress,” as a “word like a lost tool in a drawer.” He seized upon the term, taken from an E.E. Cummings poem published in 1931, as a way of framing the current global moment: when gains in economic openness, human rights, and environmental protections have begun to backslide, moonwalking towards disaster. (Another dance move—禹步, or yubu, the basic step of Daoist ritual in ancient China—gives the biennial its Chinese name.)
, with whom Medina has worked extensively in the past, describes the same phenomenon in his own terms. One of the key works at the biennial is his video Rehearsal I
(1999–2004), in which a plucky Volkswagen Beetle tries again and again to summit a steep hill, each time losing oomph as it nears the top, rolling back down to where it began. Born in Belgium in 1959, Alÿs has long lived and worked in Mexico City, where Medina also works as the chief curator of the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo. The biennial’s exhibition design is by another Mexican, architect
, and a large portion of the participating artists—plus one of the three co-curators, Colombian María Belén Sáez de Ibarra—are from Latin America.