Andrés Jaque reveals theme, team for the 2020 Shanghai Biennale

A Fluid Opening

Andrés Jaque reveals theme, team for the 2020 Shanghai Biennale

A concept image of the theme Bodies of Water (Paula Vilaplana de Miguel)

Although biennales and design festivals are being delayed left and right due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the 13th Shanghai Biennale is still moving ahead in 2020. However, this year the event will unfold in three distinct phases from November 10, 2020, through June 27, 2021.

The theme of the 2020 Shanghai Biennale, as chief curator Andrés Jaque of OFFPOLINN revealed today, will be Bodies of Water; not only in reference to the Huangpu and the Yangtze Rivers that connect the city to the East China Sea, but also the fluidity of human collectiveness and social empowerment movements.

“From the depth and tempo of a breath to the evolution of an ecosystem,” wrote Jaque in the announcement, “the Biennale will reflect on how collectivities are made tangible and bodied in wet-togetherness, exploring diverting forms of aqueousness. Beyond the confines of flesh and land, the curatorial proposal considers how discharging, breathing, transfusing, flushing, and decomposing are ways in which bodies exist together.”

Aerial view of a coal power plant in shanghai
Power Station of Art opened in October, 2012, along the Huangpu River as the first state-run contemporary art museum in mainland China. (Courtesy Power Station of Art)

Instead of hosting art and design as independent objects, true to the fluid theme, this year’s biennale will interrogate art’s connections to technology, spirituality, technology, and science. Ultimately the festival will examine the role that its host structure—the Power Station of Art (PSA), a former coal power plant—had in accelerating industrialization in the area.

The biennale’s three phases will roll out in such a way as to minimize in-person crowds until April of 2021.

Phase 1, A WET-RUN REHEARSAL, will run from November 10 to 14, 2020. For the biennale’s opening, contributors will gather and present their work in PSA’s Grand Hall, online, and at art spaces along the nearby Yangtze River.

Phase 2, AN ECOSYSTEM OF ALLIANCES, will run from November 15, 2020 through April 9, 2021. In this phase, an outpost at PSA will be established to display “infrastructures where online/offline social and communal life are taking place. These include streaming TV channels, social media, university programs, and serial interventions on urban dynamics.”

Phase 3, AN EXHIBITION, from April 10 to June 27, 2021, will kick off the festival proper. In the final segment, the festival will leave the PSA and expand to Shanghai proper as well as along the Huangpu River, becoming a biennale more in line with its Venice or Chicago counterparts.

Power Station of Art, the festival’s organizer, also released the full curatorial team list. Below is the international additions who will help guide the biennale:

  • Marina Otero Verzier, a Rotterdam-based architect and head of the Social Design Master at Design Academy Eindhoven come September 2020
  • Lucia Pietroiusti, curator of General Ecology at the Serpentine Galleries
  • YOU Mi, a researcher and curator at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne, whose work deals with both the ancient past and speculative futures

Finally, Filipa Ramos, a London-based curator, writer, and researcher has been named the biennale’s head of research and publications.