8th Yokohama Triennale
Wild Grass: Our Lives
15 March – 9 June 2024
Wild Grass: Our Lives was conceived at the end of 2021 as an exhibition theme for the 8th Yokohama Triennale. It was a time when the world gradually emerged out of COVID-19 pandemic, restarting and reconnecting. The preparation for the 8th Yokohama Triennale was part of this worldwide recovery, with an aspiration to set new standards, to distinguish itself among the 250 or so biennales and triennales that are held around the world today. This ambitious and courageous initiative exudes the light of hope. This light shoots out of a backdrop of devastation, desperation, and a profound sense of crisis brought about by the pandemic, climate change, the widespread turn towards conservative nationalism and authoritarianism, the Russian war in Ukraine, the rise of conspiracy theories in popular consciousness, and other multitudes of adversities. We were inspired to search for an exhibition theme that speaks of humble humanism, courage, resilience, faith, and solidarity.
This title is taken from the Chinese writer Lu Xun’s (1881–1936) anthology Wild Grass, penned from 1924 to 1926, during a turbulent period in Chinese history. Its 23 essays portrayed the personal and social realities that confronted him. For Lu Xun, the greatest sense of crisis and defeat came from the 1911 Xinhai Revolution. It overthrew the Qing government, which represented the old order. Yet the new order that formed in its place did not bring about fundamental changes to society. He soon embraced the idea of taking despair, instead of hope, as the starting point for his life, work, and thoughts. He fully accepted the fact that there would be no more hope or ambition, only darkness, darkness. At the same time, he devoted himself to finding an outlet in this complete darkness. In 20th-century China, Lu Xun was a singularly solitary individual who constantly rebelled against existing situations and simultaneously a thinker who stayed attentive to the movements of the world, contemplating the fate of individuals and humanity within them.
The exhibition theme Wild Grass: Our Lives aspires to Lu Xun’s philosophy of the universe and life. It doesn’t just call to mind the image of a fragile and defenseless existence, inconspicuous and alone, in the wilderness, with nothing to fall back on. It is also a symbol of a life force that’s unregulated, irrepressible, defiant, self-motivated, and prepared to fight alone at all times. Furthermore, there is no ultimate state of existence to arrive at. Every state of being is a mediation and a process in itself, where there is no victory or failure but only a perpetual state of internal movement. Thus, every state of being is potentially a messenger for each other, mediating for each other. These philosophical propositions are not abstract; they exist vividly in the world of experience, and are the experiences themselves. Wild Grass signifies a philosophy of life that elevates the irrepressible force of individual life to a respectable existence that transcends all systems, rules, regulations, and forms of control and power. It is a model for flexible expression of subjectivity.
The rapid global spread of COVID-19 that began in 2019 has led us to reflect on the irreconcilable contradictions of the globalization process. This pandemic is not a single public health emergency. It exposes, triggers or accelerates other existing problems and provokes new ones. Geopolitical, economic and social dysfunctions are intertwined in the pandemic. These interlocking debacles highlight the contradictions between old languages and new historical conditions, rooted in the political and social constructs and inventions of the 20th century. The contemporary world order came into being after the decline of socialist institutions and the end of the Cold War. One of the real crises facing different political systems today is the disconnection between the basic form of each political system and the form of society. Due to the constant division and solidification of social classes brought about by unfair distribution systems and the economic monopoly of oligarchies, individual lives cannot find their corresponding expressions at the political level. We long to escape our current predicament but have found ourselves trapped by the logic and structural suppression of our current social organizations. This experience has revealed not only the fragility of human existence but also exposes the limitations of the 20th-century design of political and social institutions.
The mix of political hegemony, escalating ideological competition, and clashes of civilizations exerts an ongoing corrosive and destructive effect on the well-being of the contemporary world. The space for individual existence has been severely compromised and overwhelmed. The fight for equality and democracy remains relevant and even more urgent today. It is, therefore, a principle of ethics to reaffirm the meaning of the individual in the depth of history, as opposed to the history of the successful and powerful, and in contemporary society. Research around ordinary people and their lives can provide a stable and solid structure in the face of the complexities and challenges of constant change. However, the “individual” should not be an abstract concept that is inherently exempted from moral responsibility in the face of public events. We propose a modest imaginary where we are all outsiders living in the cracks, often stealthily dismantling the systems that are killing us.
In the 8th Yokohama Triennale, we wish to revisit a selection of historical moments, events, figures, and trends of thoughts since the beginning of the 20th century. Some examples include the resonance of Japanese and Chinese left-wing woodcut movements in the early 1930s, the rise of subjective imaginary in the postwar cultural construction in East Asia, the reflection on modernity after the global radical movements of the late 1960s, and the critical and emancipatory energy of postmodernism in full swing in the 1980s. On this basis, we draw inspiration from the anarchist practices and thoughts that have emerged since the proposal of the end of history, to explore options for possible dialogue between individuals and established rules, and institutions. In this Triennale, we prioritize the relationship between art and its intellectual underpinnings and champion the engagement of art with reality. We hope to generate a new imaginary of global friendship in the name of art, and call for the promising union of the spirit of individual internationalism and weak signals.
LIU Ding and Carol Yinghua LU
8th Yokohama Triennale