Theme and Concept
8th Yokohama Triennale “Wild Grass: Our Lives”
Wild Grass: Our Lives was conceived at the end of 2021 as an exhibition theme for the 8th Yokohama Triennale. It was a time when the world gradually emerged out of COVID-19 pandemic, restarting and reconnecting. The preparation for the 8th Yokohama Triennale was part of this worldwide recovery, with an aspiration to set new standards, to distinguish itself among the 250 or so biennales and triennales that are held around the world today. This ambitious and courageous initiative exudes the light of hope. This light shoots out of a backdrop of devastation, desperation, and a profound sense of crisis brought about by the pandemic, climate change, the widespread turn towards conservative nationalism and authoritarianism, the Russian war in Ukraine, the rise of conspiracy theories in popular consciousness, and other multitudes of adversities. We were inspired to search for an exhibition theme that speaks of humble humanism, courage, resilience, faith, and solidarity.
This title is taken from the Chinese writer Lu Xuns (1881‒1936) anthology Wild Grass, penned from 1924 to 1926, during a turbulent period in Chinese history. Its 23 essays portrayed the personal and social realities that confronted him. For Lu Xun, the greatest sense of crisis and defeat came from the 1911 Xinhai Revolution. It overthrew the Qing government, which represented the old order. Yet the new order that formed in its place did not bring about fundamental changes to society. He soon embraced the idea of taking despair, instead of hope, as the starting point for his life, work, and thoughts. He fully accepted the fact that there would be no more hope or ambition, only darkness, darkness. At the same time, he devoted himself to finding an outlet in this complete darkness. In 20th century China, Lu Xun was a singularly solitary individual who constantly rebelled against existing situations and simultaneously a thinker who stayed attentive to the movements of the world, contemplating the fate of individuals and humanity within them.
The exhibition theme Wild Grass: Our Lives aspires to Lu Xun’s philosophy of the universe and life. It doesn’t just call to mind the image of a fragile and defenseless existence, inconspicuous and alone, in the wilderness, with nothing to fall back on. It is also a symbol of a life force that’s unregulated, irrepressible, defiant, self-motivated, and prepared to fight alone at all times. Furthermore, there is no ultimate state of existence to arrive at. Every state of being is a mediation and a process in itself, where there is no victory or failure but only a perpetual state of internal movement. Thus, every state of being is potentially a messenger for each other, mediating for each other. These philosophical propositions are not abstract; they exist vividly in the world of experience, and are the experiences themselves. Wild Grass signifies a philosophy of life that elevates their repressible force of individual life to a respectable existence that transcends all systems, rules, regulations, and forms of control and power. It is a model for flexible expression of subjectivity.
The rapid global spread of the novel coronavirus, which began in 2019, has led us to consider the irreconcilable contradictions brought about by globalization. Pandemics have prompted, accelerated, and even triggered new crises to surface, not only in public health, but in other crises as well. In the context of a pandemic, geopolitical, economic, and social challenges intertwined, highlighting the contradiction between old languages and new historical conditions, rooted in the political and social structures and mechanisms of the 20th century. The contemporary world order was formed after the decline of socialist institutions and the end of the Cold War. The most pressing issue facing the various political systems today is the disconnect that exists between them and their social forms. Inequitable distribution systems and oligarchic economic monopolies have led to a constant division and immobilization of social classes and strata, so that individuals can no longer find expression for themselves at the political level. We are stuck in the logic and oppression of the existing society, even though we want to get out of this predicament. These experiences have not only revealed the fragility of mankind, but also the limitations of 20th century political and social institutional design.
The mix of political hegemony, escalating ideological competition, and clashes of civilizations exerts an ongoing corrosive and destructive effect on the well-being of the contemporary world. The space for individual existence has been severely compromised and overwhelmed. The fight for equality and democracy remains relevant and even more urgent today. It is, therefore, a principle of ethics to reaffirm the meaning of the individual in the depth of history, as opposed to the history of the successful and powerful, and in contemporary society. Research around ordinary people and their lives can provide a stable and solid structure in the face of the complexities and challenges of constant change. However, the individual should not be an abstract concept that is inherently exempted from moral responsibility in the face of public events. We propose a modest imaginary where we are all outsiders living in the cracks, often stealthily dismantling the systems that are killing us.
In the 8th Yokohama Triennale, we wish to revisit a selection of historical moments, events, figures, and trends of thoughts since the beginning of the 20th century. Some examples include the resonance of Japanese and Chinese left wing wood cut movements in the early 1930s, the rise of subjective imaginary in the postwar cultural construction in East Asia, the reflection on modernity after the global radical movements of the late 1960s, and the critical and emancipatory energy of postmodernism in full swing in the 1980s. On this basis, we draw inspiration from the anarchist practices and thoughts that have emerged since the proposal of the end of history, to explore options for possible dialogue between individuals and established rules, and institutions.
In this Triennale, we prioritize the relationship between art and its intellectual underpinnings and champion the engagement of art with reality. We hope to generate a new imaginary of global friendship in the name of art, and call for the promising union of the spirit of individual internationalism and weak signals.
Liu Ding and Carol Ying hua Lu
ArtisticDirectors 8th Yokohama Triennale
Liu Ding is an artist and a curator. Born 1976 in Changzhou City, Jiangsu Province and now based in Beijing. He creates artworks using text, photography, installation, painting, performance and other media based on his research into the interplay between art, culture, and politics in modern and contemporary Chinese history. His recent solo exhibition includes “Reef: A prequel,” Bonnefanten, Maastricht (2015). He’s participated in biennales including Busan Biennale (2018), Yinchuan Biennale (2018), Istanbul Biennial (2015), Asia Pacific Triennial (2015), Prospect 3 New Orleans(2014), Shanghai Biennale (2014), Taipei Biennial (2012), ChinesePavilion, 53rd Venice Biennial (2009), Media City Seoul (2008) and Guangzhou Triennale (2005). He’s participated in major groupshows including “DiscordantHarmony,” Art Sonje Center, Seoul / Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art / Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei (2015-16); “By Artists: From the Home to the Museum, from the Museum to the Home. Homages to theWorks of the Cerruti Collection,” Castello di Rivoli (2019) and “Parapolitics: Cultural Freedom and the Cold War, ”HKWBerlin(2018). In 2015, he joined Tate’s online festival “BMW Performance Room” in London.
Carol Yinghua LU
Carol Yinghua Lu is an art historian and a curator. Born 1977 in Chaozhou City, Guangdong Province and now based in Beijing. She is Director of Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum, where she’s recently curated “WangYoushen: CodesofCulture” (2022). She was Artistic Director and Chief Curator of OCAT, Shenzhen (2012-2015) and Co Artistic Director of Gwangju Biennale (2012). She was a contributing editor for frieze magazine (2008-2018), a recipient of ARIAH East Asia Fellowship(2017) and visiting fellow in Asia-Pacific Fellowship Program at Tate Research Centre(2013). She has acted as a jury member for many art prizes, such as Tokyo Contemporary Art Award(20192022), Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative (2019), Hugo Boss Asia (2019), International Award for Art Criticism(2014), Future Generation Art Prize (2012), and Golden Lion Award at Venice Biennale(2011).
Since the end of 2019, our lives, minds, bodies, and livelihoods have been subject to challenges and tests. Predicaments have become more and more pronounced against the backdrop of the fading epidemic. As creative practitioners, we feel the need to express today’s experience through an artistic approach. We hope to compose a Wild Grass for today in this edition of Yokohama Triennial. To do so, we invite artists, thinkers, scholars, and social activists to join us and participate in the development of the exhibition. When it comes to collaborating with artists, we basically combine our knowledge of Chinese and Japanese art history with our insights into the global contemporary art world. We choose to work with artists who have deep-rooted engagements with their specific local realities and histories, which give dynamism to their art practice. We select existing works by artists and collaborate on new commissions with artists who have the potential to resonate with this topic while having the ability to express their views through their artworks. We hope this exhibition can impersonate the complex reality of the current moment through artistic creations.
The 8th Yokohama Triennial will take place in three exhibition venues, as well as a number of outdoor public spaces. The main exhibition venue is the Yokohama Museum of Art. Here, the exhibition will begin with the first section, “Our Lives, ” which will take the form of an expanded camp site. As a visual prelude to the exhibition, it will present to the viewer various states of exception, which we don’t usually notice all the time, but are deeply embedded in our reality – refuge, exile, wandering, protest, wartime, post-disaster, happy reunion. These are social landscapes that are completely parallel to our life experiences, in which thousands of people are living. Each one of us may be subject to the same conditions at any time. Here, the states of emergency and precarious existences are considered as the everyday norm, as opposed to exceptions. In a way, it is a philosophical hypothesis. Yet in the meantime, we must realize that it is nothing short of our common reality. This section also sets the tone of the entire exhibition, confronting our crisisridden reality while emphasizing the resilience and agency of the individual in the face of despair. It will be a landscape where multiple challenges are intertwined with a disorganized yet irrepressible force of life.
In this chapter, at the heart of the Grand Gallery, we will install a reading table and present a “Directory of Life.” It is a selection of essays by artists, thinkers, and social activists who have been reflecting on our time, history, and life in their own specific situations since 2000. Their writings outline the political, intellectual, and cultural energies that lurk in everyday life. These practices and ideas allow us to imagine a utopia in our own historical situation. They call on us to discover and create from the smallest details of our own lives the relationships and non-relationships, the possibilities and impossibilities of communication that can change the whole situation. We hope that these texts will plant the seeds of action and hope in the hearts of every audience.
Having opened with Our Lives, giving a picture of our real states of living, Wild Grass moves on to My Liberation and All the Rivers, two chapters, which look at subjective agencies, attempts, imaginaries and actions to create horizons of possibilities for individuals within confining systems. Three remaining chapters, Streams and Rocks, Dialogue with the Mirror, and Fires in the Woods align with these promising horizons by highlighting symbolic power of youth, awakened self and cracks in flows of life. Symbol of Angst echoes Our Lives through a profound critique of modernity. Throughout the exhibition, we keep pointing out the correlation between art and the reality and the importance of ongoing and critical engagements with life and the society for artistic practitioners. In a way, this is a critical response to the fact that the capitalization of art and the logic of art industry have overtaken the art world everywhere, which seriously jeopardize the intellectual capacity and critical agency of art.
To conclude, we imagine the making of the entire Triennale as composing a symphony from several aspects. On the one hand, we revisit several instances of individuals exploring possible ways of spiritual and cognitive self-constructions during the modern history in East Asia. As such, we hope to ignite people’s desires and efforts to discover and recognize their own agency in our contemporary lives. On the other hand, we promote a sense of urgency in encountering our times and reconstructing the relevance of the individual in driving changes in this world. We do so by presenting works involving engagements from personal perspectives of the present with today’s cultural and political landscapes. At the same time, we will portray some of the theoretical references and practical approaches of activist movements in East Asia since 2000, which have helped alleviate the plight of the subjects under the statute of modernity. We lay out these aspects as ways of selfemancipations while facing up to the status quo of the individual who is constantly being regulated, weakened, and inhibited in the contemporary order of life. We hope to inspire people to actively discover ways of living beyond what is prescribed to us by the current system, to think and explore worlds outside of existing boundaries, limits and orders of things
In the exhibition, we will present both historical case studies and contemporary practices. Through them, we hope to think with our audience about how to activate the agency and power of the individual in our current lives, to form international friendships on a personal level that transcend ideological boundaries and national borders, to form a world centered on living people. The stress on individual agency is not about denying the relevance of collectivity, but about a kind of multitude consisting of active individual subjects coming together.
- Directory of Life
Fellow thinkers and sources (published year in the original language)
Karatani Kōjin, Principles of the New Associationist Movement (NAM), 2001 (2000）
Wang Hui, “Let Us Ask Again: Equality Of What?,” 2016 (2011)
David Graeber, “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: A Work Rant, ” 2013
Judith Butler, Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly, 2015
Björk & Timothy Morton, “Björk’s Letters with Timothy Morton, ” 2015
Matsumoto Hajime, Manual for a Worldwide Manuke Revolt, 2021 (2016)
Mckenzie Wark, Capital Is Dead: Is This Something Worse?, 2019
Saito Kohei, Slow Down: How Degrowth Communism Can Save the Earth, 2024 (2020)
Anonymous, the Tangpingist Manifesto, 2022 (2022)
Ingo Niermann & Erik Niedling, the Walder Diet, 2024
All the Rivers
Streams and Rocks
Dialogue with the Mirror
Fires in the Woods
Symbol of Depression
- Thinking Partners
Egami Kenichiro, Assistant Professor, Tokyo University of the Arts
Hagiwara Hiroko, Emeritus Professor of Osaka Prefecture University
Machimura Haruka, Curator, Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts
Wang Qin, Associate Professor, College of Arts and Sciences, The University of Tokyo
Yamamoto Hiroki, Lecturer at Kanazawa College of Art
Alphabetical order by Last name.
- Architect Team
nmstudio architects + HIGURE17-15cas
- Visual Identity
REFLECTA, Inc. (OKAZAKI Mariko, TAOKA Misako, TANAKA WETLI Minami, SHAO Qi)