Across time, humans’ acquisition of knowledge and the discovery of meaning has frequently meant connecting with higher spirits and sacred values. Prior to global “modernization,” societies often believed in that which sees and knows all—an unknown, omnipotent power—as the foundation of all activity and thought (see the work of Mircea Eliade). This group exhibition presents 19 artists and collectives who carry this sort of quest for understanding into the present day by delving into mythical or sacred realms. Sharing gallery spaces, they nevertheless create multiple cosmologies and spatio-temporalities. By choosing to remain in awe of the unknown, their work reclaims the critical position of intuition, emotion, fantasy, and spirituality in contemporary society and further experiments alternative systems of existence.
This group of young artists represents a generation of creators who know only too well about technology and are curious about the place of spiritual experience in a contemporary world shaped by hyper digital mediation. They reimagine religious myths and folk tales. Some open conversations with spirituality across time and place, employing analogy and fiction. Others look to the human body as a raw material for ritual and magic, testing its endurance and capacity for hardship. They all have faith that multiple cosmologies may exist in the context of the imaginary and the virtual, the macro and the micro, the visible and the invisible. As a whole, “Those who see and know all, are all and can do all.” stitches together artworks, topics, and concepts through two exhibition halls, a layered curatorial approach, and accompanying brochure. It creates entangled spaces for devotion, meditation, and enlightenment.
The exhibition intends to respond to crises of trust or belief in society at large. Today, relationships with fellow humans are founded more and more within social networks, assigned value through a rating system; meanwhile, the “self” is reduced to an aggregation of data that generates suggestions on online shopping platforms, tailored ads, or a single number in a social credit system. In a “post-truth” era, belief seems impossible. Information manipulation has become the most effective way to change minds, and commercial and political powers exploit emotion.
In a society driven by such pragmatism and transformed by cultural homogenization, the work of these artists tends to resist those mainstream views of progress which have repressed spiritual and aesthetic multiplicity. Instead, “Those who see and know all, are all and can do all.” invokes plurality, hybridity, and animism, values which modernization in China has smothered for more than a hundred years.
Historically, the role of the artist has been compared to that of the prophet or shaman, figures who act as mediators between worlds. This exhibition aspires to reexamine the “priestly function of art” to mobilize “structures of beauty and meaning” (see the work of Nika Dubrovsky and David Graeber). It aims to explore new possibilities in the relationships of humans with their surroundings—with nature and with indefinite, unknown universes. Rediscovering sacred and spiritual practices, especially in a world clouded by crises, empowers us to recognize and organize one another beyond identity formations, gesturing towards a future conjured instead via cosmological knowledge and ethical bonds.
Hanlu Zhang is a writer and curator born and living in Shanghai. She received her MA in Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2013. In 2015, she co-curated “Nightmare of Exhibition Part II: the Two-way Theater” at the Power Station of Art, Shanghai after winning “Emerging Curator Program”. She has curated exhibitions at No Longer Empty and 49B Studios in New York, Yang Art Museum and 798 Photo Gallery in Beijing, Para Site Art Space in Hong Kong, among other spaces. She also worked in the curatorial team for Cosmopolis, a biennial platform initiated by Centre Pompidou since 2018. Hanlu received a second prize in “International Award for Art Criticism” in 2014 and her writing can be found on LEAP, ArtReview Asia, Flash Art, and art-agenda. She is editor at ARTFORUM.com.cn. And she is a member of Theater 44.