Jennifer Wen Ma, Hanging Garden in Ink (detail), 2012, 1,500 living plants, Chinese ink, 65' 6" x 26' x 10'.


IN A YEAR OF major political transition across the whole of Asia, contemporary art programming was defined by a trend toward metanarrative. In Taiwan, the 2012 edition of the Taipei Biennial was an intellectually exuberant affair that confronted modernity as a global syndrome while also considering Taiwan’s specific position within it. Curated by Anselm Franke and themed “Modern Monsters / Death and Life of Fiction,” the biennial gave voice to narratives marginalized against the juggernaut of a rising mainland China. Kao Chung-Li’s The Way Station Trilogy, 1987–2012, is a video biography of the artist’s ninety-three-year-old father that explores the intersections between his life and the broader currents of Chinese history, made physically manifest in a bullet acquired during a decisive battle during the Chinese Civil War that is still lodged in his skull.

On the mainland, programming at major institutions attempted not only to show the “right” kind of artists, but also to assert primacy over their narratives. Two of the most prominent examples were the Minsheng Museum’s Geng Jianyi retrospective, “Wu Zhi,” and Ullens Center for Contemporary Art’s Gu Dexin retrospective, “The Important Thing Is Not the Meat.” Both of these shows dealt with deserving and iconic artists, although the exhibitions were not without their ellipses. My favorite retrospective, “MÍme Lit, RÍves Differents” (Same Bed, Different Dreams), was at the Faurschou Foundation, where a collection of Chen Zhen’s most well-known works were on display––a poignant tribute to an artist whose concern with interiority and mortality mediated frictions in the changing world order.

Lastly, Jennifer Wen Ma’s Hanging Garden in Ink, 2012, also at UCCA covered a hanging installation of foliage in black ink. During the time of the installation, green buds grew out from beneath the denseness and obscurity of the black ink, showcasing entropy and life reasserting themselves within the white cube.

Angie Baecker is editor of artforum.com.cn and a graduate student in modern Chinese literature at Tsinghua University.