This conference, Overwhelming Imagination: Achieving and Undermining Contradictions, as the title suggests, was designed to push back on traditional notions of art, history, and culture from multiple methodological and geographical perspectives, often revealing antinomies but sometimes unearthing unexpected congruities. In recent years, the organizers of this conference have come to recognize that the act of historical assessment is an ongoing project whose points of interest vary according to the cultural, social, political, and economic position of the assessors. The conference was therefore designed to be seen from two angles: first, from a macrocosmic perspective which provides a general response to the changes inflicted upon our world by the rise of the Anthropocene, global capitalism, and digital technologies; and second, from a microcosmic perspective which offers highly personal and specific responses to these changes, evident in the wide variety of cultural producers invited to present, perform, and brainstorm. Digital technologies have presented us with the tools for entirely new ways of imagining the world as it was, is, and possibilities for how it could be. In this way, boundaries that have been traditionally used in discussions of identity formation, ie. local, regional, national, and international, based as they are on physical location, seem less important. On a daily basis, individuals are increasingly required to maneuver between various “realities,” be they digital, physical, spiritual, or imagined. Under these new circumstances, we argue that art and its research must also be reevaluated.
The conference consisted of four panels that revolved around timely issues that have been occupying the minds of emerging researchers, artists, historians, and creators from all over the world. On the morning of July 4, our discussion focused on the rise and development of digital technologies and the repercussions as well as possibilities this paradigm shift can offer human kind in the face of impending economic and environmental disaster. This panel included presentations by Deniz Balik, Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau, John Hill, and Winnie Soon. In the afternoon of the 4th, our conversation shifted to the global politics of art, with the presenters Lisa Bensel, Elena Korowin, Victoria Lucas, and Borim Song, questioning the continuing viability of our current global biennial system. On the morning of July 5, our panel discussion, which included Zandie Brockett, Shuang Li and Murray Mckenzie, Livia Andrea Piazza, and Deng Hanbin, examined art forms that could be categorized as “social practice,” arguably a globally dominant art approach over the last 10 to 15 years. These panelists unpacked the possibilities that social sensibility, collaboration, and site specificity can offer to contemporary art practice. The final panelists, Katherine Grube, Fabiane Borges, Naomi Vogt and Wang Zhiliang, attempted to offer new methodologies for practicing “art history,” offering multi-disciplinary approaches which questioned the tried and true concepts of teleological development, as well as object-based, media-specific art practice which have dominated the field since its inception. The conference also included two lecture/performances by Anahita Razmi and Kelly Doley, both of whom are deeply invested in topics and areas of research discussed throughout the two-day conference.
One of our main objectives with this first bi-annual conference was to foster a casual and open environment for dialogue among panelists and audience alike. The following catalogue documents panelist papers in addition to a sample of the many stimulating conversations had over these two days in Beijing, as an attempt to re-assess old paradigms, explore new possibilities, and address urgent questions about art, history, and visual culture.
The inaugural Overwhelming Imagination: Achieving and Undermining Contradictions, organized by I: project space and Open Ground blog, in collaboration with Si Shang Art Museum took place July 4-5, 2016 at Beijing’s Si Shang Art Museum.