Exhibition: Aquatopia - CFCCA

Following up on a previous exhibition visit earlier this month at the CFCCA (Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art) in Manchester. Aquatopia approaches current concerns about ecosystems related to the flow and use of water. Various artists from China, Hong Kong and the UK contribute to the multidisciplinary installation that seeks to address climate change, consumption and pollution.

In the front window and gallery is an interactive piece called Horizon by Kingsley Ng. It offers a participatory experience of the collective sharing and distribution of water. Part of the fun is a kinaesthetic task which the exhibition brochure describes as being ‘invited to fill glasses of water and create a level horizon between them’. This search for equilibrium reverberates with my recent water study experiment. Which, full disclosure here, was not conceived with the environment in mind. However the basic elements of water and air are present and encouraged me to think differently about it. It also furthers my question about returning to previous ideas and themes, or to find a new context in a distinctive aesthetic. That is the success of Ng’s installation for me. Art beyond aesthetics is educational. It can both inspire and inform.

This last point is what I have been taking from my shadowgram experiments. This exploration informs my practice generally. The educational element will always be the increased understanding of what photograph to me in essence is, the formulation of a visual image though the interaction of light and shadow.

Ironically the weakest part of the exhibition to me is the photography display. This is not in fault of the artist Chen Qiulin, whose photographs are intriguing. Perhaps I am being more critical as a photographer but it addresses what I have been thinking recently about how a photograph (or few photographs) cannot be definitive covering a large subject. I want to see more photographs here. Addressing the scale of the Three Gorges Dam by ‘exploring the social impact of China’s rapid urbanisation’ is completely unrealistic in five prints. This is something I considered when visiting Anthropocene by Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier which I will also review next.


Another draw for me was Wave by Liu Yujia. The twin screened piece has simultaneous aerial videos depicting the ebb and flow of tides. Aesthetically and technologically I find this interesting in relation to how I approached A2 and for possible considerations in how to present my shadowgram ideas. The fixed composition bridges still and moving image and may be a place to explore further.

The CFCCA is a valuable arts institution to the region, its residency programmes and central location in Manchester place both art and artists into a shared experience of exchange. I do sometimes find exhibitions like this strained in seeking to address broad themes with many loose ideas produced on small budgets. It is impossible to compete with the more comprehensive possibilities of major arts institutions who have the infrastructure to bring together ‘big’ names like Edward Burtynsky and produce large scale works that draw attention (and criticism). However like Ng’s Horizon and Lui Yujia’s Waves, the real benefit of such installations is not to compete with Tate et al, but to interact on a grass roots level with community on cultural and social topics. And so by that measure I regard the overall exhibition very productive and insightful.


CFCCA (no date) Available at: http://cfcca.org.uk/exhibition/aquatopia/ (Accessed on 02.10.18)

Tsionki, M (2018) Aquatopia. Manchester: Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art.