Qiu Zhijie: The Conception and Realization of “Art Macao: Macao International Art Biennale 2021”

TEXT:Emily Zhou    DATE: 2021.9.8


“Art Macao: Macao International Art Biennale 2021”

“Advance and retreat of globalization”

Art Macao: Macao International Art Biennale 2021” was inaugurated at the Macao Museum of Art (MAM) on July 15, 2021. With the theme of the “Advance and retreat of globalization”, the Main Exhibition is curated by Qiu Zhijie who serves as the Chief Curator of the Biennale and it is divided into three chapters: “The Dream of Mazu”, “Matteo Ricci’s Labyrinth of Memory” and “Advance and Retreat of Globalization”, providing a space for reflection and discussion on globalization and individuality, life and dreams, being remote and within proximity, security and happiness, among others. 

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 Group Photo of Honored Guests at the Opening Ceremony

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Curator Qiu Zhijie introduced the exhibition.

On the occasion of the opening of “Art Macao: Macao International Art Biennale 2021”, CAFA ART INFO conducted an interview with Professor Qiu Zhijie, Dean of the School of Experimental Art at CAFA. In the interview, Professor Qiu shared his viewpoint regarding the conception and realization of “Art Macao: Macao International Art Biennale 2021” from the topics around the exhibition theme, three chapters of the exhibition, as well as the form and significance of the Biennale.

Interviewee: Qiu Zhijie

Interviewer: CAFA ART INFO

Date: August 8, 2021

CAFA ART INFO: Hello, Professor Qiu, we understand that you serve as the Chief Curator of “Art Macao: Macao International Art Biennale 2021” and explore the proposition of “Advance and retreat of globalization” particularly at this event. With the special historical context of the pandemic in 2020 that has been confronted by the whole world, the term “globalization” seems to be given new meanings though many scholars from various fields have discussed this topic for years. Under the challenges brought up by the pandemic, the common dilemma of people expanded from the issue of public health security to problems of economics, politics and international relationships. In this circumstance, what are your current opinion and attitude towards the proposition of “Advance and retreat of globalization”?

Exhibition View

Qiu Zhijie: In my view, the process of “globalization” started as early as the southern homo sapiens walking out of Africa. “Globalization” is not a recent phenomenon, but a process that accompanies the history of human development. This process is sometimes carried out by means of the force of arms and wars, sometimes by means of commercial trade, and sometimes by means of dissemination of literary and artistic interests. The trade passages in the prehistoric era were often more complicated and longer than we know. In those days, whether it was the Grassland Silk Road or the Maritime Silk Road, the exchange of materials and the turnover of people were quite frequent.

A great acceleration of the process of “globalization” was happened in the Age of Discovery. This process of globalization was in line with the spread of Chinese shipbuilding technology, especially the westward spread of watertight compartments and compass technology. Meanwhile, the development of Arabian navigation technology, and the combined utilization of European sextants and other astronomical observation tools have also promoted the process. The great voyage discovered a new world, and the “Columbian Exchange” brought species and diseases, which made a tremendous acceleration of globalization at this time. 

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The Diagram of the “Columbian Exchange”

Source: https://www.slideshare.net/mpravia/spanish-colonization-65674733

With the application of steam engines and diesel engines on ships, the voyage between countries on all continents in the world has been sharply shortened, bringing another wave of accelerated globalization at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It was at this  time that Chinese politicians undertook the long trip to Europe to bring back new political ideas such as Marxism, while Chinese artists also had the opportunity to study in Europe, which brought a collision between Chinese traditional artistic concepts and European art. It can be said that our political history and art history are themselves the consequences of globalization.

When it comes to the 1950s, another huge boost for the globalization process was driven by the popularity of jet aircraft. Since then, the movement of people between countries became increasingly frequent, and it is at this time that people felt jet lag for the first time. Following this, the development of communication tools such as communication networks constructed by artificial satellites, global live television and the Internet brought a new wave of rapid globalization. This process suddenly accelerated in the 1990s, which is what we call the globalization of the economy and the globalization of culture today.

Therefore, in my opinion, the underlying logic of globalization is technological progress, and globalization is irresistible in this sense. During the pandemic, many countries took measures to close their borders and restrict exchanges. These circumstances led to the international trading system being under tremendous pressure, while the circuit breaker mechanism of the stock market was repeatedly announced. In a broader sense, in the past few years, the rise of populism, separatist tendency, and identity politics in European and American countries have further aggravated the global turmoil. Among the intellectual circles in Europe and the United States, the pandemic and its control measures have also triggered discussions. Giorgio Agamben, Slavoj Žižek, Noam Chomsky and other scholars joined the relevant conversations. Professor Francis Fukuyama, who declared “the end of history”, is now talking about “national capacity”. Professor Fukuyama still expects that the democratic system will explode the national capacity he hopes for. But he was also worried that the deepening tribalism in the United States gives us no reason to be optimistic. 

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Francis Fukuyama,The End of History and the Last Man,1992At the end of the year 2020 and the beginning of the year 2021, the turmoil in the Gengzi Year has not ended. Following the farce of scrambling for masks between countries in the spring of 2020, at this moment, the new farce regarding scrambling for vaccine and vaccine politicization has been staged. It seems that the whole world is irretrievably falling into tribalism. For a while, globalization, which has been advancing triumphantly, seems to retreat.

However, in my view, globalization was only temporarily paused. It is the origin of all the problems, and it ought to be the solution to all the problems. It is the global movement and exchange of resources and population that has changed the mode and speed of the spread of infectious diseases nowadays, and brought us a situation that is completely different from previous epidemics. But at the same time, only global technical and political collaboration can be the way to curb infectious diseases.  

CAFA ART INFO: The mode of "biennale" itself is inseparable from the concept of "globalization". On the one hand, a biennale needs to rely on the historical and cultural specificity of the city, and on the other hand, it ought to embrace the active artists and artistic creations around the world in an extremely open attitude. For “Art Macao” this time, we understand that Macao is a city born under the wave of globalization. In this case, what are your considerations regarding the selection of artists? How do these artists and their art pieces integrate with the city’s history, culture and public resources?

Qiu Zhijie: Indeed, the biennale itself is a topic closely related to globalization. The first Venice Biennale was held in 1895, almost at the same time as the first Olympic Games. At that time, the concept of “national state” prevailed, which made the Venice Biennale adopt the model of a national pavilion. After the 1990s, the biennale model began to spread all over the world, which itself was the result of economic and cultural globalization. A city that holds a biennale should not only bring global contemporary art into its own vision, but also use the biennale as an important boost to promote urban cultural regeneration.


Review of the History of the Venice Biennale (1893-1945)

Source: https://www.labiennale.org/en/history/beginnings-until-second-world-war


 Installation View of the First Venice Biennale in 1895

Source: https://www.labiennale.org/en/history/beginnings-until-second-world-war

Macao always plays a significant role in the history of globalization, and the city itself is the result of the great voyage—Matteo Ricci came to Macao for transit to the mainland of China, where Mr. Sun Yat-sen first came into contact with Western culture, and he also took the city as a stronghold for revolutionary work. Mr. Zheng Jin, the first President of the National Beijing Art College which was the predecessor of the China Central Academy of Fine Arts, lived in Macao in his later years and died here. In Macao, we can see the amazing mixture of the culture of Guangdong, Southern Fujian, Southern Europe and Southeast Asia. Whether in terms of architecture or food, the city is small but has enough cultural depth. There are delicacies, tourist resources, and its climate and location are good and convenient. In this respect, it is very similar to Venice. Therefore, I think Macao has the innate conditions to hold the first-class biennale in the world.

Hence, on the occasion of taking over as the curator of the “Macao International Art Biennale 2021”, I have realized that my responsibility is to outline a future with global potential for the  Macao International Art Biennale. First of all, I set up a model of a “city pavilion” in this Biennale besides the Main Exhibition. Despite of the many challenges during the pandemic, we still successfully realized the four city pavilions, namely, Linz in Austria, Nanjing, Wuhan and Macao.

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Insects Series, Zhu Yingchun, Chinese art paper, book, acrylic, monotype, multimedia installation, Variable size, 2010-2015

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Homo Insectus, Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau, Multimedia interactive installation, variable size, 2020

Moreover, in terms of selecting artists, we kept a good balance between domestic artists and international artists, and artists from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and other Middle Eastern countries and Southeast Asian countries were specially considered to be inclusive. In addition, artists from Germany and the Netherlands who had the experience of the artist in residence programme in China have also been taken care of. At the same time, in view of the characteristics of Macao, I selected a group of artists with Portuguese backgrounds, especially those related to the Azulejos blue and white tile mural tradition that was once very popular in Portugal. 


Critical Point (public photography), Luo Xian, Photography (art giclée), Variable size, 2020


 Cheers, Macao!, Lampo Leong & Chao Yang, Ceramic installation, 300 x 150 cm, 2021

As for the local Macao artists, supported by the Macao Cultural Department, there was a local open call and a special exhibition for them, so they were represented in an individual chapter. However, in my opinion, I prefer to combine local artists with other artists from various countries and include them in the Main Exhibition. I think it would construct a more significant narrative by doing so.

When it comes to domestic artists, I chose them mainly through the correspondence between their works and the exhibition theme. I do not very much care about their reputation and popularity, so you could see many famous artists in the show while many emerging artists were also included. Many of them are my friends and colleagues in CAFA. I think this is a very natural process. A curator should select artists who are familiar with him or her. In this way, his or her personal resources can contribute to the Biennale.

CAFA ART INFO: Can you please interpret your imagination and expectation of this Biennale from the three chapters in the Main Exhibition? What do you want to deliver to the public through the exhibition?

Qiu Zhijie: In the first Chapter “The Dream of Mazu”, I mainly chose a group of artists related to blue and white porcelain, such as Liu Jianhua, Lyu Pinchang, Lei Ziren, Luo Xiaocong, among others. Foreign artists who are doing art practice with porcelain were also on my list. In addition, I selected a group of artists who emphasize the expression of light in landscape paintings, such as Cao Xiaoyang and Shen Qin. 


Tied Body No.15, Lyu Pinchang, Corundum ceramics, 68×43×24cm×2, 2016. Image courtesy of the artist. 

The second chapter “Matteo Ricci’s Labyrinth of Memory” mainly presents the contact, interpretation and communication between Eastern and Western cultures from modern times. Two domestic artists with Fujian cultural backgrounds appeared here. Tang Nannan and his “Archaeological Project of Global Beach Memory (2012—2016)” uses drifting objects on the beach to weave stories. I have shown this work in the China Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale. The other young artist from Fuzhou, Lin Feng, investigated the life and writing of French poet Paul Claudel as a diplomatic envoy in Fuzhou for more than ten years. Australian artist Jeffrey Shaw is a master of interactive art. His presentation of the data visualization of Hakka Kungfu has long been a masterpiece, but when these interactive works encounter the high-speed photography made by German photographer Martin Klimas, they cleverly explain the impression of Kungfu as a Chinese cultural symbol in the hearts of foreigners. There are many such examples.

The third section features “Advance and Retreat of Globalization”. This part discusses the impact of the pandemic on global exchanges today. In this chapter, Ingo Günther’s long-term project “World Processor” presents dozens of landscapes with different perspectives based on the tellurion lightbox created by various digital information. What is corresponding to these landscapes are the alienated figures squatting on the wall painted by the Chinese artist Liu Qinghe. By doing so, I would like to create the image of opposition between connection and distance.

The second group of work in this chapter discusses the catastrophe. For example, the installations and paintings of Thai female artist Pannaphan Yodmanee echoed the theme of shipwrecks and porcelain in “The Dream of Mazu” on the fourth floor, but her creation blends the ruins of the shipwreck with the Buddhist philosophy of “formation”, “existence”, “destruction”, and “emptiness”. While Ukrainian artist Škarnulytė exhibited her video installation "Half-Life Period" (2019), which explored the ecological impact of nuclear facilities around the world.


Aftermath, Pannaphan Yodmanee, Mixed material, Variable size, 2017

Source: https://yavuzgallery.com/artists/pannaphan-yodmanee/

Then I used the other group of work that explored immigration experience and cultural conflicts as a conversion in this chapter. This includes "Mother Tongue" by Zineb Sedira, a Moroccan artist living in France. Saudi artist Ahmed Mater used magnets and magnetic powder to recreate the photography of the Hajj scene in Mecca. In the famous Mexican artist Damian Ortega's "Ivory", an ivory-shaped cloth bag was loaded with salt, suspended in the air and slowly rotating. The salt powder forms two connected circles on the ground, discussing the relationship between navigation, colonial trade, and African development.


Mother Tongue, Zineb Sedira(France), Video, 2003

Then I deliberately selected two groups of oil paintings by artists from the Central Academy of Fine Arts during the pandemic. One group of works is from the master oil painter Liu Xiaodong. During the pandemic, he was trapped in New York for a year and his life circle became smaller. In his paintings, all he had drawn are friends and their life around him—multinational marriages, mixed-race children, and suburban middle-class family gatherings, etc. Some works are even painted directly on the photos. This is a small circle, but the small circle connects to the people of the whole world. 

As a comparison, the other group of work is created by Gao Hong from the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Through painting, he recorded the major events that occurred in the year 2020, such as the circuit breaker in the stock market, protests, elections, online classes, street stalls, live broadcasts, explosions, etc. Gao Hong's paintings are typical "outside art". His lines and colors are not restricted by routines, but present the interest and charm of Orozco in the Mexican mural movement or the American painter Ben Shane. What I want to do is to use these two sets of oil paintings to discuss the relationship between painting and the world. We use paintings to record events in life and the world. We also use paintings to overcome external and internal crises. As long as the world affects our hearts, we can respond with paintings. Whether it is Liu Xiaodong's skillful technique or Gao Hong's simplicity of oil painting, it can be seen that it is sincerity that supports art.


A Circuit Breaker in Stock Market, Gao Hong, 120×90cm, oil on canvas, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.


Protest, Gao Hong, 140×100cm, oil on canvas, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.


Nucleic Acid Test, Gao Hong, 120×100cm, oil on canvas, 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.


Ma Yue’s Home, Liu Xiaodong, Oil on canvas, 150 x 140 cm, 2019

Courtesy of the artist and Massimo De Carlo


 Noon at Ma Yue’s, Liu Xiaodong, Acrylic on photographic print, 31 x 41 cm, 2019

Courtesy of the artist and Massimo De Carlo

Towards the end of the exhibition, I placed the animated work “Kids” by Swiss artist Michael Frei. For me, this work could be regarded as the punchline of the exhibition. It is simple and fun on the surface, but it is actually cruel and full of tragedy. This work discusses the contradictory relationship between the individual and the masses. The collective unconscious is blind, sensitive, and fragile. Its interactive form is realized with a batch of tablets, and under the playful appearance, it induces a certain cruel sadistic pleasure. The first time I saw this work was in Linz in 2019, but it magically predicted the global human condition from 2020. I think good art really shows some kind of predictive power.

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Source: https://www.cartoonbrew.com/installations/michael-freis-kids-is-a-short-film-game-and-installation-rolled-into-one-175104.html

At the end of the exhibition, we can see digital artist Marc Lee’s interactive map featuring emotions expressed on social media by people in different cities around the world during the pandemic, which unravels the answer to the riddle of the whole exhibition. Then at the exit of the exhibition hall, we once again encountered the work of "Botany" by the Portuguese artist Vasco Araújo, discussing the relationship between the exchange of species, the migration of plants and the history of colonization brought about by the "Columbian Exchange". It echoed the topic of the great negotiations and porcelain raised at the beginning of the entire exhibition.


Botany #7, Vasco Araújo(Portugal), Wood table, 15 digital photographs; wood and metal frames, 100 × 100 ×120 cm, 2012 - 2014

Generally speaking, it is quite obvious to see the intention of the exhibition. I want to use these works to show the effort of artists from all over the world to build communication channels during quarantine. The basis of globalization is technology, and of course it is also the result of people’s efforts to overcome various tribalism and cultural prejudices, and to communicate and enter a dialogue. In the Preface of the exhibition, I quoted President Xi’s speech “Let the Torch of Multilateralism Illuminate the Way Forward for Mankind” at the Davos Forum. The idea I want to convey is that after the pandemic, the world will definitely restart. In the world after the restart, what we need to discuss is “art in the era of global governance”. Although such "global governance" efforts have been made, it seems that they have failed so far.

As the first Macao Biennale, it undoubtedly assumes the mission of building a basic pattern for the future Macao Biennale. Usually, the first time of every biennale is to sort out the history of the city itself. That’s why in the Macao International Art Biennale 2021, we started from the history of Macao while reflecting the challenges brought up by globalization in this era at the same time.

It is a pity that due to the pandemic, many amazing works cannot be realized this time. However, even so, the Macao International Art Biennale 2021 has received great acclaim after its launch, and I was invited by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Macao to be the curator of the next Macao International Art Biennale.

I am personally fascinated with Macao as it is similar to my hometown Xiamen to a great extent. Although this city is small, it is a city of great tension. I believe that the next Macao International Art Biennale would be made more exquisite if the pandemic can be terminated at that time.

Interviewed and translated by CAFA ART INFO

Image courtesy of the organizer.