Poster of Social Factory – 10th Shanghai Biennale

In 2014, for the second time, China’s foremost state-run institution of contemporary art – Power Station of Art – hosts the Shanghai Biennale, in its converted power plant space.

Entitled “Social Factory”, the 10th Biennale asks what characterizes the production of the social, and how “social facts”are constituted. A recurring point of reference is the year 1978, acknowledged as a turning point in the recent history of modernity. 1978 was also the year in which Deng Xiaoping, who was to become China’s Paramount Leader until his death in 1997, initiated his landmark socio-economic Reform and Opening, re-invoking Mao Zedong’s 1938 exhortation to “seek truth from facts”–a practice that sought to separate accounts of objective reality from subjective imagination. “Social Factory” contrasts this principle with the call to use fiction as a means of social reform, made by earlier seminal Chinese modernizers, like the scholar and journalist Liang Qichao, and China’s seminal social critic and writer Lu Xun, who wrote The Story of Ah Q, Diary of a Madman, etc.

In this vein, the Biennale explores an interlocking set of questions: What is the relationship between the social and the fictive in the construction and re-construction of society? How has the production of the social changed throughout 20th century modernity? Has the production of the social entered a new phase with the massive influx of “sociometric”technologies, the extraction of data and digital profiling, and the increasing automatization of social processes in algorithms? And does China’s pre-modern history of social systematization through an unparalleled bureaucratic machinery and archiving capabilities echo in the country’s current processes of social fabrication? How can we grasp the simultaneous impact of history and that of technology on subjectification today? And how does the general process of acceleration and diversification of subjectification play out in the case of China and its current era of social reconstruction?

The “social” is produced by developing the human capacity to relate, through care, affection, and education. The process encompasses the creation of symbols, abstract images and conceptual generalizations, which goes hand in hand with the formation of institutions and material culture. It also includes the constitution of a particular economy of signs, their “animated”and ambiguous relations to functions, meanings, and things. Due to this complex genealogy, “social facts”can never be entirely known; they remain partially implicit, situated between the actual and the potential.

In modernity, this ambiguity of the social, and the possibility to plan and engineer society that hinges on it, has been a matter of ongoing contestation. Bureaucratic procedures, surveys, statistics, and concepts of identity, have variously sought to reduce the complexity of the “socialhieroglyph”(James C. Scott), in order to separate the meaningful from the meaningless, or legible “signals”from “noise.”Drawing on both contemporary and historical works, as well as music and cinema, the 10th Shanghai Biennale presents art works that call such separation, and its historical productivity, into question.

The 10th Shanghai Biennale: Social Factory is curated by Anselm Franke, together with Freya Chou, CosminCostinas, Hila Peleg (curator of the film program), Liu Xiao and Zhu Ye (curator of the satellite venues). Music program: Nicholas Bussmann.

About the exhibition

Duration: Nov 23, 2014 – Mar 31, 2015

Opening: Nov 22, 2014, Saturday

Venue: Power Station of Art

Curators: Chou Freya, Cosmin Costinas, Anselm Franke, Liu Xiao, Hila Peleg, Zhu Ye

Artists: Peter Ablinger, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Carlos Amorales, Edgar Arceneaux, Art & Language, Adam Avikainen, Ashish Avikunthak, Martin Beck, Neil Beloufa, Kp Brehmer, Nicholas Bussmann, CAMP, Chen Chieh-Jen, Chen Yingru, Musquiqui Chihying, Gendun Chopel, Tyler Coburn, Joseph Cornell, Peter Dobai, Domanović Aleksandra, Harun Farocki, Peter Friedl, Gao Shiqiang, Tibor Hajas, He Xiangyu, Ho Tzu Nyen, Hou Chun-Ming, Hu Liu, Huang Wenhai, Mingchuan Huang, Huang Ran, Ken Jacobs, Ji Yunfei, Shambhavi Kaul, Jutta Koether, Lai Firenze, Louise Lawler, Li Xiaofei, Li Xiuqin, Armin Linke, Liu Aizhen, Liu Ding, Liu Chuang, Sharon Lockhart, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, Oliver Chanarin & Adam Broomberg, Pak Sheung Chuen, Chang Saetang, Sakai Ko and Hamaguichi Ryusuke, Song Ta, Wang Ziyue, Wong Ming, Xu Tan, Yan Jun, Yeung Trevor, Yu Cheng-Ta, Zhao Liang, Zhao Yannian, Zhi Ying, Zhou Tao

Organizer: Power Station of Art

Courtesy of the artists and the Power Station of Art, for further information please visit

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