ICA Exhibit Time Travels Through Science and Art

ICA Exhibit
Jun 25 2024

A new exhibit exploring the relationship between art and science has arrived at New York University Shanghai’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)

ICA Exhibit

From left: Curator Iris Long, scientist Bai Shunong, artist Zhang Wenxin, artist Guo Cheng speak on a panel during the launch of the Larva of Time exhibit on June 21. 

The Larva of Time is the brainchild of Shanghai-based artist Guo Cheng and Hangzhou-based artist Zhang Wenxin, alongside scientists Bai Shunong and Zhang Wei. The four collaborated over the course of two years to produce the exhibition, which features eleven works, including sculptures, installations, images, films, and soundscapes. The exhibition is part of the “Creative Futures” initiative at the Berggruen Research Center at Peking University

The exhibition brings artists into the laboratory, allowing them to inquire deeply about scientific research through their creative process. During the two-year collaboration, artists consulted with scientists about the specifics of their biological experiments, diving deeper into the inner workings behind the mechanisms of the natural world.

ICA Exhibit
Installation View: Zhang Wenxin, Seeds of the Winged Immortals, 2024. Mixed media installation (3D prints, motors, mechanical parts). ICA at NYU Shanghai. 21 June–24 August 2024. 

Independent curator and Berggruen Fellow Iris Long said that she welcomes visitors to really give themselves time to explore the exhibition. “[I hope they can] feel as though they are embarking on a journey with us, navigating between the actual footage from the field research in Tibet and the highly speculative stories told by some of the artworks,” she said.

The artists said the experience of creating these works allowed them to explore new topics, collaborations, and methods of creation. 

Artist Guo Cheng, whose work explores Earth’s nonlinear history and alternative futures said he’s especially excited about this exhibit because of its novelty.

ICA Exhibit
Installation View: Zhang Wenxin, Embryonic River, 2024. Mixed media installation (ophiolite suite, 3D prints, CRT monitor). ICA at NYU Shanghai. 21 June–24 August 2024. 

One of his favorite aspects of the exhibit is the journey from the first floor of the exhibition to the lower level. Visitors walking down the staircase will experience a change in the environment as the stairwell shifts from bright to dark, and then lights up again, illuminated by the artwork. 

“This transition from light to dark and back to light also metaphorically suggests a shift in the viewer's perspective,” Guo said.

“In terms of the works themselves, both of us artists are presenting entirely new pieces,” he said. “In my own work, I have also experimented with materials and techniques that I have never used before.”

“For me, I'm very interested in all the mysteries that lie in evolution and biodiversity. To resonate with them, I have to imagine time in different ways,” said artist Zhang Wenxin, whose work explores how we interact with non-human beings in a non-binary way. “In general, I hope the audience can fall in love with insects and the chaos of nature more than before.”

ICA Exhibit
Installation View: Guo Cheng, Niche Squatter No. 1, 2024. Mixed media installation (gear stick, aluminum, LCD screen). ICA at NYU Shanghai. 21 June–24 August 2024. 

Outside of the visually compelling pieces of art, Zhang said her favorite aspect of the exhibition was the opportunities for collaboration. 

“For example, Guo Cheng and I collaborated with the scientists for research. In my artwork ‘Trembling Chamber,’ I collaborated with musician Zhao Jiajing. We have also collaborated with all these insects,” she said. “And these nonhuman beings have inspired me the most.”

ICA Exhibit
Detail View: Zhang Wenxin, Trembling Chamber, 2024. Mixed media installation (UV prints on clear film, sound installation, brightness enhancement film). ICA at NYU Shanghai. 21 June–24 August 2024.

The exhibition not only allowed for creating new connections but also the rekindling of deeper ones, Zhang said. It was only through her work on the exhibition with plant physiologist Bai Shunong, that she discovered that Bai had worked in her hometown and had known her mother for more than 30 years. 

The artists said the connections and collaborations built through this exhibition could lead the artists to future work. “This collaboration, including the scientific expedition to Medog, has given me a lot of inspiration and ideas,” artist Guo Cheng said. “Although I don't have a clear picture yet, I think I will continue to explore and create along this thematic thread.”

ICA Exhibit
Installation View: Guo Cheng, Niche Squatter No. 2, 2024. Mixed media installation (wind turbine blades, cables, LCD screen). ICA at NYU Shanghai. 21 June–24 August 2024. 

The exhibit The Larva of Time will be on exhibit at the ICA until August 24 from 11:00 to 18:00 Tuesday through Saturday. The ICA is closed on Sundays and Mondays. A series of lectures, talks, and workshops discussing metamorphosis, and the role of insects, will follow throughout the summer. You can visit the exhibition’s website for event details.