During the Taiping Era, Emperor Taizong of Song issued an imperial decree for scholars to compile books on art and literature, philosophy and the Confucian classics in a work entitled Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era. Meanwhile, historical anecdotes, biographies, supernatural tales and fiction were appended in an entirely separate work known as Tales from the Taiping Era. Since many scholars felt that the latter work held little practical value for future readers, Tales from the Taiping Era was tucked away and remained relatively unknown.

Tales from the Taiping Era was initially comprised of fictional accounts recorded from the Six Dynasties Period to the Early Song. This “strange classification”, to borrow the words of Qian Zhongshu, assembled bizarre tales from history, geography, literary sketches and Buddhist and Taoist classics. Collected Works was supplanted by the term Imperial Readings because in these writings, readers actually see the vicissitudes and revolutions of historical dynasties and take them as an informative guide to future developments. Although Tales from the Taiping Era shares the same name as Taiping, the work is actually comprised of “unofficial” knowledge on the vagaries of several historical dynasties.

In emphasizing “narration” as curatorial method, the exhibition attempts to reignite the ancient narrative potential of art. Once again artists are called to play the role of observers, fortune−tellers and narrators; drawing on “unofficial knowledge” from past ages, and using “omens” to map out a social imagination and point to sensational foresights; conjoining “implications” to the present situation that lead to events and actions; and finally reclaiming gothic visions from the “history of alterity” to refract any opposition to potential reality.

To that end, we’ve invited ten artists to participate in this exhibition, including Huang Yongping, Wu Shanzhuan and Inga Svala Thórsdóttir, Yung Ho Chang, Wang Jianwei, Chen Chieh-jen, Qiu Zhijie, Yang Fudong, Pak Sheung Chuen, Feng Bingyi, and Guo Xi. Meanwhile, we have also invited Jia Qin, Odd Bird and Zhu Fa, along with other Chinese writers. Through writing residency project, they make enquiries into the current implications of Tales from the Taiping Era, thus exploring the potential narrative power within the museum itself. In A User’s Guide to Art Museum, they apply fictions to open up concealed (yin) spaces within the museum's architecture, forming a dual reality of implicitly and explicitly with the Guide Book − so that what you see is not what you get. Instead, the reified works within the space are ceaselessly drawn into an invisible stream of people, objects and events. Through their writing, the viewing relationship so prevalent in museum spaces will be torn to shreds and embedded with one footnote after another.

exhibition view

Red Brick Art Museum