Title / Tracing the Mushroom at the End of the World
Curator / Chelsea Qianxi LIU
Artists / GUO Cheng, LIU Yue, MAO Chenyu, Timur SI-QIN, Alice WANG
Duration / 2019.03.16 – 05.19
Venue / Taikang Space | Red No.1-B2, Caochangdi, Cuigezhuang, Chaoyang District, Beijing, CHINA

As if blind men groping around an elephant, we are trapped in the conundrum of time, whose solution lies secretly within. To trace back is also to expect. A time of tracing runs towards history. A time of expectation points towards the future. We engage in archaeological acts, excavate and then exhibit in museums for coming generations to see. In Borges’ garden of forking paths where infinite possibilities sprawl, those eventually converged become this unique moment – the here and now – for us to experience.

“All history is contemporary history.” Slash-and-burn, steam engines, chips, nuclear explosions; contemporaneity doesn’t belong to any particular era. Every single of them contains the meaning of human existence, accompanying us as we enter into the “Anthropocene.”

In narratives surrounding the Anthropocene, geological transformation is no longer a natural process of evolution but one that human has deeply participated in, infiltrated and affected. Geology is no longer some distant memory sealed up in museums but a part of the contemporary human society today, interdetermined with our present reality. Crises brought upon by technology, corroded environments, constant explosions of wars, turmoil that we confront at this moment are impacting geology at full speed. Geological time becomes the present.

Narratives related to the Anthropocene opened up the boundary between nature and human civilization. Discussions about ourselves have begun taking account of nature, which is then absorbed into our culture. This overlaps with philosophy of nature and cosmology in many Eastern, Maya, and Amerindian civilization. And this is when reality becomes intriguing: as those wheels marked by human traces roll forward in time, we encounter that was once familiar but now much estranged ancient civilizations and join our paths. Will the attempt to grasp nonlinear time, to comprehend pluralistic cosmology, to understand nature, to pursue spirituality and to care for the non-human prise a new exit out of the contemporary conundrum?

Exhibition “Tracing the Mushroom at the End of the World” is set in this context. The title refers to anthropologist Anna Tsing’s work Mushroom at the End of the World. She examines the vital possibilities of how matsutake, an ancient species growing up in menacing old-growth forests, relates to the Anthropocene. Yet at the same time, mushroom has been a narrative symbol that one could hardly bypass in primeval religion, witchcraft, or Taoist legends. The exhibition aims to connect what contemporaneity reveals about this Anthropocene to the philosophical and spiritual implications of non-western civilizations. Through matsutake, the now and then connects.

Matsutake can’t survive in artificial conditions yet easily adapts to human-disturbed landscapes. It was the first organism that grew after the nuclear explosion in Hiroshima. It is the expert of parasitism and skilled at exchanging resources with other species, cooperating to coexist, mediating for survival. It is exactly this delicacy on many people’s dining tables that inspires us; as our civilization becomes an unrepeatable experiment and the rustic past ordained irretrievable, we may still find a turning point of coexistence on this devastated ruin and respond to that future of the Anthropocene.

In the end, we become mushroom foragers in old-growth forests, navigating our way across thorny undergrowth, over cracked land and through entangled dying vines. A path slowly forms in chaos and turmoil. As we look onto the horizon, a swell of purple luminescence lights up – we see an endless stretch of landscape breeding fluorescent plants…

Featured Artwork

Mao Chenyu, Song Dynasty No.1—Rock, Helan Mountains, Mixed media installation, 30x25x15cm, 2018, Courtesy of artist and Taikang Space.

About Taikang Space

Taikang Space is a non-profit art institution devoted to the collection, exhibition, research, and promotion of Chinese contemporary art. It was founded by Taikang Life Insurance Co., Ltd. in 2003, and has received long-term support from the company. In 2009, Taikang Space relocated from the 798 Art District to Caochangdi, an art village in northeastern Beijing, where it remains today.

Over the fifteen years of operation, Taking Space has gradually developed its academic concept: under the rubric of “retrospection and encouragement”, it aims to investigate historical material about art from a contemporary perspective, while maintaining a simultaneous concern with nuanced art practices that point towards the future. As a platform for knowledge production and sharing, Taikang Space also presents its artistic evaluations to the public to make a consistent and significant contribution to the on-going development of the arts ecosystem and the expanding global impact of Chinese contemporary art.

About Artist

Mao Chenyu was born in 1976 in Hunan. Having studied Inorganic Nonmetallic Materials at School of Materials Science and Engineering, Tongji University during 1996-2000, he currently lives and works in Shanghai. His solo exhibition includes: Litchi Girl (A+ Contemporary, Shanghai, 2018), Paddy Film in Beijing (The Room Art Project, Beijing, 2016). His selected group exhibitions include:TRACING THE MUSHROOM AT THE END OF THE WORLD (Taikang Space, Beijing, 2019), The 4th Shenzhen Independent Animation Biennale (OCT-LOFT, Shenzhen, 2018), The Exhibition of Annual of Contemporary Art of China 2017 (Beijing Minsheng Art Museum, Beijing, 2018), Second Yinchuan Biennale-Starting from the Desert Ecologies on the Edge (MOCA Yinchuan, Yinchuan, 2018), Frames of Image (Shenzhen University Art Museum, Shenzhen, 2017), Re/sentiment (A+ Contemporary, Shanghai, 2016), Why Not Ask Again? (Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 2016), Pulse Reaction II: Discussions on Reality and Realism (Times Art Museum, Guangzhou, 2016), Public Spirits (Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw, 2016), Time Test: International Video Art Research Exhibition (The Art Museum of China Central Academy of Fine, Beijing, 2016), PSA Emerging Curators Program: the Bilateral Theatre (Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 2015), Prototypes, Duplicates and Cast-offsAssembly Line Project (V Art Centre, Shanghai, 2015), Between Knowing and Unknowing: Research in-and-through Art (Times Art Museum, Guangzhou, 2015). Participated film festival includes: Taiwan International Documentary Festival (Taipei, 2014). His curatorial projects include: The Grammar of Building – Grain God Narrative , (Shenzhen University Art Museum, Shenzhen, 2017) ,Grain God Narrative (Power Station of Art, Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Shanghai, 2016), Nuo Opera: Space-sweeping (Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 2016). His work won the New Asian Currents Special Award of the 11th Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival in 2009 and was granted the Jury Award of Yunnan Multiculture Visual Festival in 2010.