Visions of the world unite
The Fondation Cartier is exhibiting works from its collection for the first time in China, at Shanghai’s Power Station of Art, in a stimulating, cross-disciplinary dialogue between artists.
As you approach Shanghai on the freeway, a remarkable chimney suddenly catches your eye. It soars high into the sky, marked by a long vertical line. This red stripe changes with the temperature—like a thermometer measuring the vibrations of a city that is embracing the new century with gusto. You have reached the Power Station of Art (PSA), opened on October 1, 2012 in the former Nanshi electric power plant and covering 40,000 m2 (including 12,000 m2 of exhibition space). The Fondation Cartier Pour l’Art Contemporain is displaying its collection for the first time in China here, but what might appear to be just a sample (100) of the 1,500 works by artists of 50 different nationalities acquired by the Fondation actually has a much bigger scope.
The objective of the exhibition is to create a cultural shock and foster a spirit of humanism. For this invigorating event could easily have been a snobbish showcase for a few major figures, with displays of work by Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama or Raymond Depardon; films by David Lynch and Takeshi Kitano, together with a few other prestigious names, such as Jean Nouvel, Christian Boltanski, Gao Shan, Hu Liu and Li Yongbin. In the end, the exhibition’s true significance and impact lie in its “biodiversity.” The installation of soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause reminds us that the song of the world is shrinking (that of birds, the hum of insects) and that its spectrum is becoming increasingly narrow. Farther on, in a dark room, architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro roll the planet Earth like a magnificent, monstrous marble. In the background, while Earth spins with a rumble, cities twinkle as they swell, forests crackle as they shrink, dialects murmur as they disappear.
When you come out, it’s almost a relief to be able to rest your eye on the curve of Cai Guo-Qiang’s fresco and on Sarah Sze’s sculpture. Or listen to Paul Virilio in a magnificent three-minute video (which you can watch online) discussing nomadism, travel and migration. We see him reflecting on the earth as he walks. What he means is that it’s time to live. Time to look. And also to listen to Hervé Chandès, general director of the foundation, making his way through the turmoil, always giving meaning to this institution that was created 34 years ago. It galvanizes and brings into contact artists, physicists, astrophysicists and mathematicians. Art is not simply an exercise in walking about, chin on hand; it’s about architects converging, a meeting of wacky minds come to sample the vitality of this port city and immerse themselves in Shanghai’s permeability. One of the rooms features a large, dark panel by Hu Liu. It teaches us not only about patience (it took a year’s work) and arithmetics (the artist used up over 4,000 wooden pencils), but also reveals a mental landscape, the nuances of the inks and the subtlety of the color black. In fact, we must look at these feverish visions and follow the hesitant words of this motley crew of madly inspired participants, obsessed by the ideas and perspectives. It hardly comes as a surprise to see moored not far away, by the banks of the Huangpu River, the research vessel Tara. It, too, is helping to break down barriers, testing the ice (by allowing itself to become icebound at the North Pole), learning from marine species: they are 85 percent cooperative. Tara teaches us that the more we work together and the more we combine disciplines, the more valuable our knowledge. It is a knowledge that illuminates, but also darkens in the face of this fragile planet. It makes us better. It gives us courage.