Chaired by Dr Lisa Onaga (United States/Germany), Senior Research Scholar, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and Assistant Professor, School of Humanities, College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, NTU
Sericulture, or silk farming, is integral to both artists Liang Shaoji’s and Vivian Xu’s practices. Liang has been working for 28 years with silkworms as collaborators, using their life cycle as a medium, while Xu is a media artist and researcher whose practice focuses on the exploration and intersection of electronic and bio media. The artists will present their experimentations with silk, while Dr Lisa Onaga shares her research on Imperial Japan’s pursuit of the perfect silkworm cocoon.
Liang Shaoji’s (China) practice intersects science and nature, biology and bio-ecology, weaving and sculpture, and installation and performance. He has been working with silkworms for almost three decades, using the life process of these insects as a medium. Liang graduated from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now renamed China Academy of Fine Arts, Hangzhou) in 1965 and studied at the university’s Varbanov Institute of Tapestry. Now working in Tiantai, Zhejiang Province, his works are filled with a sense of meditation, philosophy, and poetry, while illustrating the inherent beauty of silk. Selected exhibitions include Cloud Above Cloud, Museum of China Academy of Art, Hangzhou (2016); What About the Art?, Contemporary Art from China, Al Riwaq, Doha (2016); Liang Shaoji: Back to Origin, ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai (2014); Art of Change, Hayward Gallery, London (2012); Liang Shaoji, Prince Claus Fund, Amsterdam (2009); among others. He was awarded the Prince Claus Award in 2009 and the Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCAA) in 2002. In September 2018, Liang will have a solo exhibition at M Woods, Beijing.
Vivian Xu’s (China) practice focuses on the exploration and intersection of electronic and bio media. While creating new forms of machine logic, life, and sensory systems, Xu explores the possibilities of designing a series of hybrid bio-machines that are capable of generating self-organised silk structures that combine the silkworms’ natural production process with automated computational systems of production. She is the co-founder of Dogma Labs, a cross-disciplinary laboratory based in Shanghai, dedicated to integrating design, research, education, and production with the areas of computation, biology, and digital fabrication. Xu holds an MFA in Design and Technology from Parsons the New School for Design, New York (2013) and is currently a Global Pre-Doctoral Fellow at New York University Shanghai. Xu has exhibited and lectured at various institutions around the world, including the National Art Museum of China, Beijing; Central Academy of China, Beijing; Chronus Art Center, Shanghai; Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai; Art Laboratory Berlin; SymbioticA, the University of Western Australia; and China Academy of Art, Hangzhou.
Dr Lisa Onaga (United States/Germany) is a historian of science and technology, focusing on questions about the ownership and authorship of knowledge in relation to biological materiality, especially silk. Her monograph Cocoon Cultures: The Entangled History of Silk and Science in Japan (under contract with Duke University Press) examines how the pursuit of the perfect silkworm cocoon provided a practical means for understanding heredity during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Image credit: Vivian Xu, Silkworm Project 2016 – Spinning in 3D, 2016, silkworm spinning in the horizontal spinning machine. Courtesy the artist.