OCAT Shanghai is proud to present Investigate It the first exhibition of the year, on March 12th. Curated by Shanghai-based architect and scholar Feng Lu, it marks the first architecture exhibition held at OCAT Shanghai in a year, and — unprecedentedly — the very first exhibition oriented with an exclusive focus on contemporary architectural theory and design in China.
In July 2015, architects Lu Andong, Feng Lu, and Dou Pingping convened Gewu, a workshop on design and research, in the old city of Nanjing, using the Hualugang district as a site to conduct field research on architectural theory and design. Their workshop was set in a unique location—near wasteland, walls that date back to the Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty gardens, tombs, temples, modern factories, civil war defensive emplacements, schools, and residential compounds—whose condition vacillates between distinguished and obscure in urban history. Within this space of extreme geographical and social complexity, the architects and scholars who participated in the workshop have further extended their areas of inquiry, and—through revelatory or self-reflexive forms of expression and projection—have together established an understanding of the site, or a direct construction of its physical attributes.
Through various forms of expression, including architectural models, installations, videos, images, and text, this exhibition carries on a dialogue between the “things” and spaces introduced in the workshop, but taking a more refined and mature approach. The participating architects, artists, and scholars, namely Ding Yao, Dou Pingping, Feng Jiang, Feng Lu, Guo Yi Min, Li Xing Gang, Lu An Dong, Tang Keyang, Zhang Bin, Zhang Li, and Zhou Ling, represent their respective fields of history, theory, practice, and criticism, whose thinking goes beyond their particular ways of working. Born between 1968 and 1978, this group of exhibitors is perfect to represent China’s new generation of architects with the depth and breadth of their theoretical inquiry and the force and potential of their practice.
Special thanks to SONY China, for their generous sponsorship and support in providing all necessary video equipment. The advanced laser projection technology provided by SONY imbues the exhibition with richer forms of expressions and lends more striking visual appeal to it.
Investigate things (Gewu) for the sake of acquiring knowledge (Zhizhi). This proverb is derived from an aphorism in the Western Han Dynasty's The Book of Rites—The Great Learning, which translates as: “The acquisition of knowledge lies in the practice of investigation, and it is only after investigation that we come to clarity and knowledge.” Two subsequent interpretations of gewu, proposed respectively by Zhu Xi and Wang Yangming, essentially represent two distinct attitudes toward the world. Zhu Xi advocated exhaustive inquiries into the underlying principles of things to obtain extensive knowledge, so that we can reason prudently and thereby comprehend the highest truths about man and the world. In contrast, Wang contended that reason originates from the the inner self, and our first task must therefore be self-examination, for inner clarity guarantees the unity of knowledge and action. While Zhu rested his hope on the mastery of existing orders in the outside world, Wang laid emphasis on an epistemological sensibility that rises out of the individual. These two distinct trends of philosophical speculation constituted the two poles of Neo-Confucianism.
Gewu was a workshop that explored the interplay of theory and design in architecture held in Nanjing in July, 2015. Theory and design are two fundamental domains in architecture where its knowledge is constituted; mutually inseparable from their origin, they together outlined a field that gave rise to the intellectual edifice of architecture. However, in contemporary architectural circles, the formalized status of architectural studies as an institutional discipline, together with intervention from pragmatic and utilitarian directives, have incited the estrangement of these twins and raised doubts about their correlation. The situation is all the more intricate in China’s architectural circle. Here, architectural scholarship in its modern sense has developed as a unique system through the mutation of foreign intellectual fruits that took root and propagated domestically, and theory has always held a awkward and difficult position within the system. While urban environments are undergoing a sea change and architectural practices are drastically reshaping China’s daily reality, individual attempts at restructuring and examining architecture’s knowledge-system have also surfaced. The Gewu workshop asked architectural theorists and architects for a joint exploration of theory and design against the backdrop of tangible urban sites, and by bringing diverse individual thoughts together, it hopes to restore architectural studies and its repertoire of knowledge.
The exhibition Investigate It presents an overview of the results of Gewu’s undertaking. Its eleven exhibitors are also founders of and participants in the workshop. While the works on display took shape during the workshop in Nanjing, they have also benefited from the further enhancement of each exhibitor’s consequent research. If the audience investigates the works in a spirit of gewu, they will discern varying degrees of the skewing and vacillations that occurred between the external world and each practitioner’s individual perception. Arguably, this is the true nature of architecture: it is not to be confined to mere representations of the external environment or that which projects one’s inner self; rather, it is a way for an individual to reconcile with the world.