At Shanghai’s Power Station of Art, the impact of an unknown object has created a vast crater in a barren moonscape. Entering through the fuselage of a ditched communist-era fighter jet, visitors take a winding path into the fearsome bowels of a mysterious planet, picking their way through the detritus and echoes of industry, technology, and civilizations. The darkened walkway culminates at the underside of the mysterious embedded object, revealing itself to be a glass cabinet of curiosities, swarming with thousands upon thousands of bees.
Titled The Great Chain of Being—Planet Trilogy (2016), the dramatic installation is one of more than 100 artworks by 92 artists on show at the just-opened 11th Shanghai Biennale. Devised by acclaimed theater director Mou Sen, The Great Chain of Being—Planet Trilogy houses sound, light, and installation works by more than 40 artists, including students at the China Academy of Art. It makes a fittingly collaborative centrepiece for an exhibition hinged on possibilities; causal relationships and reciprocal forces; and alternative avenues to current economic, political, and social relations.
The biennale, “Why Not Ask Again: Arguments, Counter-arguments, and Stories,” is the creation of Delhi-based artist and curatorial group
. Its members, Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and Shuddhabrata Sengupta, were heavily inspired by Liu Cixin’s cult science-fiction trilogy, most commonly referred to by its first title The Three-Body Problem
(2008). Liu’s trilogy draws on the orbital mechanics phenomena of the same name: the difficulty of predicting the gravitational forces created by three masses as opposed to two. It depicts humans’ first contact with extraterrestrials who have moved from the far-away Trisolaran galaxy to Cultural Revolution-era China, and onward to a projected future.