By Kaimei Wang
“As evening arrives, all sorts of neighbors whom I might know a bit but never have met so often and who live in the back room over the kitchen or up in the attics all come out. They all have different jobs in the daytime, some work in the bookshop, some are editors, some are skillful printmakers. At this time of the day when they have finished their works and finally return to their compact living in the lane house, they prefer to sit outside the house chatting. Although exhausted from their hard day’s work, they could feel ease here and have the leisure to chat with each other. They chat about everything and anything…”
—— Lu Xun, On life in the lane houses, 1934
Sculpture is a needy lover requiring patience and a demand to be circumambulated. It provides at first, like a fleeting glance from across the room, only a part of itself inviting further investigation; an unpacking; an undressing. The classical definition by the 18th Century scholar Lessing sees sculpture as the art of placing objects in space and while technical innovation over time has diversified sculpture’s means of production, its primal function remains unchanged. Sculpture has a weight that works against gravity and variable dimensionality that differentiates it from painting.
The Chinese title of the current offering at 166 - roughly translated as accomplishing something profound in a confined space - captures the challenges both of sculpture as a practice and curating the ground floor of a Shanghai lane house. Comprised principally of pieces from Andrew and Ling Ling”s collection, the exhibition features works by 13 artists all at varying stages of their careers.
While Shanghai has changed immeasurably since Lu Xun penned the observations above, much of the city retains the character of compact living and multiply layers of mixture of people to which he refers. To reach 166 ArtSpace requires navigation of a variety of lanes and side streets. Past the barber shop where a cut and wash costs 20 Kwai (up 5 Kwai since New Year) the “people inside” sign directs you to a steel frame workshop forced off the curb during the latest Government clean up campaign. A side lane leads to a monastery for Buddhist nuns witness to decades of turmoil but surviving to this day. Onward into the historic playground of the Chinese triads in the 30’s, tea shops, eateries and brothels converted into trendy cafes, design shops and even a tattoo studio give way to a green wall of false grass signaling arrival at the exhibition space. This odd peregrination perhaps serves as an apt metaphor for exhibition of sculptures which as Donal Judd famously observed are no more or less than a means of discovering objects in the world.