15 Oct 2014 – 18 Oct 2014

Frieze London

Shanzhai Biennial

Frieze London 2014

Installation view: Shanzhai Biennial No. 3: 100 Hamilton Terrace @ Frieze London 2014

Installation view: Shanzhai Biennial No. 3: 100 Hamilton Terrace @ Frieze London 2014

這是何等的世界 / What kind of a world is this?
Titan MaxiCASE, Standard RAL Painted RED (RAL 3024), 2m cable and plug, fluorescent tubes – 5 rows, photo print on paper
168 × 119 × 16.5 cm (66 ⅛" × 46 ⅞" × 6 ½")
Edition of 3 plus III AP

Shanzhai Biennial No. 3: 100 Hamilton Terrace Booth
Mixed media
Dimensions variable

Installation view: Shanzhai Biennial No. 3: 100 Hamilton Terrace @ Frieze London 2014

在惡霸的兇慘下,她被墳怒淹沒 / She stiffens with anger at the sight of the thug’s cruelty.
Titan MaxiCASE, Standard RAL Painted RED (RAL 3024), 2m cable and plug, fluorescent tubes – 5 rows, photo print on paper
168 × 119 × 16.5 cm (66 ⅛" × 46 ⅞" × 6 ½")
Edition of 3 plus III AP

只有撤底的挖解這剝皮的系統,工人階級才得以解放 / Only by thoroughly demolishing the man-eating system can the working people be emancipated
Titan MaxiCASE, Standard RAL Painted RED (RAL 3024), 2m cable and plug, fluorescent tubes – 5 rows, photo print on paper
168 × 119 × 16.5 cm (66 ⅛" × 46 ⅞" × 6 ½")
Edition of 3 plus III AP

Installation view: Shanzhai Biennial No. 3: 100 Hamilton Terrace @ Frieze London 2014

“你這個剝皮的野獸!“ 農民慘叫道 / "You’re a man-eating beast!” the peasant cries out
Titan MaxiCASE, Standard RAL Painted RED (RAL 3024), 2m cable and plug, fluorescent tubes – 5 rows, photo print on paper
119 × 168 × 16.5 cm (46 ⅞" × 66 ⅛" × 6 ½")
Edition of 3 plus III AP

For it’s third Biennial in as many years, SHANZHAI BIENNIAL will attempt to sell a £32,000,000 estate at Frieze Art Fair, London and Project Native Informant London, for which they stand to make a healthy commission.

Entitled SHANZHAI BIENNIAL N°3: 100 HAMILTON TERRACE, the work consists of twin retail installations running concurrently at Frieze and the gallery Project Native Informant. Featuring a high-gloss advertising campaign in stills and video dispersed in a half dozen prominent press outlets but in the end culminating less in these traces than in the potential commercial transaction they seek to perform.

Transforming both their gallery and their prominently placed booth at Frieze  into fully functioning real estate boutiques, SB has partnered with high-end brokerage Aston Chase in the crafting of a advertising strategy which unlocks the potential of Frieze as a lifestyle brand with a rarified demographic penetration uncannily suited to the London property market.

Taking the iconography and phenomenon of Frieze itself as their starting point, SB responds to an environment of intensely subdivided space, in which a labyrinth of booths recreates in miniature a global landscape of private galleries in an almost platonic representation of the dynamics of culture and commerce.

The fair has coincided with an epoch for the popularity and usefulness of contemporary art — which has itself become indispensable  to the industries of property development, place-branding and ‘reurbaniziation’. The magazine from which it sprang also operates as a rentier of cultural space: producing a publication defined as a space for critical discourse; practically supported through the sale of advertisements. Advertisers effectively pay for space for its proximity to critique.

With it’s crypto-corporate identity evoking limited ethical liability SHANZHAI BIENNIAL decants the space afforded critique as a mediator of culture and commerce by directly profiting not only from the sale but also the production of its work.

With 100 HAMILTON TERRACE, SHANZHAI BIENNIAL squarely leaves the round of artists working within the framework of corporate aesthetics and positions itself as a commercial entity exploiting the art world in a mutually beneficial exchange of services. In the end the biggest winner is the public.


31 Oct 2015

SBI :: Fake it till you make it

Harry Burke Spike NO. 45 (Autumn 2015)

27 Jul 2015

SBI :: Shanzhai

Shanzhai is neither an Instagram geotag nor a city in China hosting a biennial— despite our multiple efforts to make this the case. As co-president of the Shanzhai Biennial (with Avena Gallagher and Babak Radboy), we have been active since fall 2012; with three installments (SB1 at Beijing Design Week, SB2 at MoMA PS1, and SB3 at Frieze Art Fair) in the course of three years, we are known as the biennial with the fastest turnaround in the whole industry. The original Mandarin phrase shanzhai translates as “fortified mountain refuge,” a place where ancient bandits hid in secrecy to stockpile goods and wealth, illustrating the contemporary mechanisms of a Robin Hood role model for the redistribution of wealth and cultural capital. Originally coined to refer to illegal electronic goods of poor quality from the southern city of Shenzhen, it has quickly and exponentially risen to a cultural genre of appropriation, combination, recreation, and parody applied to modern consumerism: shanzhai garments, goods, magazines, brands, but also pop stars, TV shows, gas stations, and museums.

Constantly reappropriated by recent tropes of late western capitalism (think of Jeremy Scott for Moschino and M.I.A. using Versace bootlegs to produce a capsule collection for Versace), the genre known as shanzhai stands as one of the most emblematic and original forms of creative appropriation in the cultural industries. Through an unfortunate pseudo-intellectual formalism, it is often reduced to the simple notion of counterfeit; in fact it produces the exact opposite. The sole purpose of the counterfeit luxury good is to mimic the original and simulate equivalent social status for its owner, while a shanzhai good is an intellectual construction and assemblage of cultural symbols and icons that encompasses a power of attraction. Some of the most sophisticated manifestations can be read in multiple ways and gather several cultural references into a single entity.

Far from Chinese middle class preoccupations with symbols of luxury and wealth—closer to the grassroots labor crushed by multinationals in a cynically unshackled production economy—a message is sent towards the upper classes: the true arrogant and libertarian display of countercultural production muscle backfiring at shamelessly unethical production models. Or, as my co-president Babak Radboy says: “How to distill the whole world into a pair of sneakers.” M+ curator Aric Chen calls shanzhai the “pop art of China” in that it is a literal translation of China’s understand- ing of the emergence of its own intellectual leadership in the integration and transformation of western sensibilities and twentieth-century capitalism. By reversing the engineering of capitalism for its own benefit, a shadow industry of anonymous and collaborative ghost-design has risen. With international ramifications and systems of distribution in the Middle East and Central America, it is as impossibly unquantifiable as Cosa Nostra itself.

After years of studying the mechanisms of shanzhai through our travels and branding experiments (“a multinational brand posing as an art-project posing as an multinational brand posing as a biennial”), our enterprise is clear: being shanzhai, not acting like it. Each of our projects is carefully planned, financed, advertised, and eventually disclosed to a global audience. The starting point is always an invitation (from a cultural institution or brand) that triggers a mechanism within our working process: local social components become specific sources of inspiration and commentary to unfold through our advertising campaigns and a physical result. For each biennial, we navigate concepts and contexts to refresh the aura of our brand. As Radboy told T, “the advertising campaign has more in common with a military campaign: It is first and foremost concerned with territory and not cash.”

Cyril Duval LEAP No. 33 (27 July 2015)

1 Nov 2014

SBI :: Artforum Critic’s Pick

Perhaps having grown tired of the now well-worn economic arc of the gentrification of neighborhoods, which artists have in turn already gentrified, the collective Shanzhai Biennial—Babak Radboy, Cyril Duval, and Avena Gallagher—has embraced the poorly concealed machinations of urban regeneration by slickly rebranding the process into a prudent and aspirational investment for this exhibition. Their misleading moniker, which signifies neither a real biennial nor a particular place but refers to the Chinese term for knocking off designer goods for the black market, figures the artist as a luxury accessory sold through the art market’s lifestyle brand.

The installation SHANZHAI BIENNIAL NO. 3: 100 HAMILTON TERRACE, 2014, is the sole work in this show, and features an opulent, red-lacquered and carpeted real- estate office selling a fifty-million-dollar (or thirty-two million-pound) property located at the titular address in London. The absurd price was flaunted at the Frieze Art Fair last month with a similar installation in this gallery’s booth. Both iterations of the work feature a glossy advertising campaign composed of backlit posters and sleek videos. Created in consultation with London brokerage firm Aston Chase, the ads’ imagery mimics tropes of high-end fashion, with groups of models posed around a vast indoor swimming pool at the property or sitting in pairs looking into the distance—evoking a vacant luxury. With this polished campaign—searing in its execution—the collective steps in front of the seemingly inevitable problem of artists’ urban displacement by harnessing their commercial value for their own ends. In drawing a big red circle around the next hot property, this group’s members stand to gain directly from speculative real-estate markets that usually crush artists.

Jennifer Piejko Artforum November 2014

17 Oct 2014

SBI :: Shanzhai Biennial 3: 100 Hamilton Terrace

For this year’s Frieze Art Fair, Shanzhai Biennial collaborates with luxury real estate agents Aston Chase in the attempt to sell the £32 million estate 100 Hamilton Terrace, exploring new territory within corporate marketing and the aesthetics of globalism.

It was at a Thanksgiving dinner in upstate New York in 2011 that the Shanzhai team – consisting of stylist Avena Gallagher, art director Babak Radboy and artist Cyril Duval – met for the first time and conceived the idea for Shanzhai Biennial, a project described in the past as an “art project posing as a multination fashion brand posing as a biennial.” Ideas developed through research-trips to the real Chinatown of Flushing, Queens. “There was something about the objects we saw that was really exciting for us before we even knew what they were” they tell me as I meet them three years and as many biennales later, in an Airbnb apartment in north London, just minutes away from the British epicenter of mass-produced fake luxury goods of Camden Market: “The products we were finding seemed inexplicable — until we first encountered the term ‘shanzhai’. We tacked ‘biennial’ onto it on the bus back from Flushing.”

Shanzhai is the Chinese umbrella-term for the phenomenon of the production of morphed copies and counterfeit goods, distorting and subverting a supposed Western authority of luxury commodities. “The basic idea is that there’s a transparency to the copying, a self-consciousness that it is fake and an intentionality to the mistakes in its design... You are referencing the authority and price-point of the original — but at the same time communicating you have the fake and you know it.” Radboy explains.

While shanzhai as a phenomenon originates in China (meaning “mountain house,” referring to low-quality factories in rural Chinese provinces), it is not a located phenomenon; rather, it is symptomatic of a global exchange system of mass- consumption and intellectual property. “It’s just so triumphant to see all the things we value in the West, everything luxurious, interpreted freely and exuberantly in China,” Avena points out, “and those things seem more valuable to us than say, the actual Nike sneaker.”

Premiering at Beijing design week, and evolving to distribute fashion spreads in major Chinese newspapers, producing a lip-synced Mandarin version of Sinead O’Conner’s ‘Nothing Compares 2 You’ with performer

Wu Ting Ting at Moma PS1, as well as doing artwork for Fatima Al-Qadiri’s album Asiatisch and selling appropriated Chinese garments on DISown, the NYC-based group have taken ‘shanzai-ing’ as a performative act into new territories – stating they added the ‘Biennial’ affix because “it sounds very expensive” and thereby incorporating shanzhai’ed mis-information into their own corporate branding. In fact, the project is about press and brand-building more than anything; constantly in flux and responsive to the current climate and context, unattached to any ‘original,’ just like the shanzhai product itself. “We’re performing brand existence without the practical objects,” they

explain; “the identity of Shanzhai Biennial changes constantly – the original we’re drawing from, I guess, would be the original Chinese Shanzhai, exactly because it has no original. It moves so quickly – it doesn’t try to hold itself to any standards of consistency and coherency – Shanzhai clothing lines literally change their name from one garment to the next in a single collection. They understand these things are just formalities – it’s the same for us.”

Shanzhai Biennial operates in the glitches and side-streets of globalism, where images of East and West transform constantly through mis/re-appropriation, in the mutations of cultural memory, in the hysteria of the international art event, and in the doldrums of global capitalism. The project embodies the tensions between consumers and producers, art and commerce, popular culture and its critical commentator, which obviously have gained the trio extraordinary popularity in both fashion and art circles, perceived as self-reflective meta-narrative. “Between art and fashion we’re kind of taking advantage of what each one of them doesn’t know about the other one, and then what both of them don’t know about China,” says Radboy, while emphasizing that although SB problematizes institutional critique in its performative gestures, they are in no way critically-distanced cultural commentators, elevated from the criticized phenomenon: “It’s important to communicate that we’re not a brand about Shanzhai – we are actual shanzhai; we’re not commenting on something, we belong to the phenomenon.” He continues: “The project is authentically commercial. We totally implicate ourselves in the real economies we work in. If there is a critique produced it is physically embedded in our products — the same way it is in shanzhai products; the objects contain a critique, but the producers are only interested in profit.” Exploring the dynamics of marketing, SB challenges not only mainstream consumer culture, but the art market and its performed heroism as a cultural sector. Completely immersed in point-of-views without attempting to agree to any of them, SB is political through it’s depoliticization; it’s embodied politics as self-critical consumerism and meta art/fashion-entertainment

Quite naturally, Shanzhai Biennial #3 has led them to the brightly lit vinyl-tents of Frieze London, the annual art fair in Regent’s Park that gathers the many players that constitute the International Art Market. Working with the west-London gallery Project Native Informant, the group have taken the iconography of the international art fair and performed a kind of consultancy job for Frieze the brand, establishing twin retail- installations at the gallery as well as at the very entrance of the fair. Besides functioning as your not-so-ordinary fair boutique (limited edition Frieze tote bags in quilted calfskin with gold chain available at the price of £5,000), SB have teamed up with the high-end real estate agent Aston Chase to sell the £32 million estate 100 Hamilton Terrace. As I ask what led them from logo-mashups and viral image production to entering the British real estate market, Babak answers: “The fair itself

operates exactly like real estate; you’ve taken galleries from all over the world and you’ve shrunk them down into this microcosm; recreating a relationship between culture and private property, over and over again, booth to booth”, “Also, it’s happening in London, which is like the most speculated-upon piece of land in the world,” Cyril adds.

Besides typically neutral (but rather sexy) interior images, the sale is promoted through a photoshoot and video taking a place in the estate; glossy, luxurious and conservative in expression, the images completely different from their previous work. “The images are not ‘cool’,” they explain, “they’re appropriate, and that’s what we’ve been going for the whole time. When the estate agency saw the pictures, they loved them so much, and for us, that was the most rewarding response.”

The photos are referencing a set of 141 Chinese stone sculptures of the Sichuan region entitled The Rent Collection Courtyard; depicting class struggle and the agony of paying rent, it functions as a bitter ironic comment on the very market they seek to engage with. However, when reenacted in a Western fashion context without reference-point, political tension seems to be replaced by an uncanny bourgeois ease; a cynicism as well as a celebration of the universality of fashion poses. Shamelessly colliding culture and commerce, the resulting images fit well with Frieze itself, an art publication-cum-art fair; “Frieze [the magazine] is a space for critique, in which you sell pages for advertising, that is to say that advertising wants to pay to be next to critique. Within the real-estate of the fair they gave us the very first booth by the entrance; we’re like that first page of advertisement in the fashion magazine. We’re the Gucci double-spread when you open Frieze,” Cyril concludes.

Jeppe Ugelvig DISmagazine 17 October 2013

16 Oct 2014

SBI :: shanzhai biennial are the art collective subverting luxury goods and selling a house at frieze

Shanzhai is the Chinese appropriation of Western luxury goods like Apple phones or Vuitton handbags; but Shanzhai Biennial is a collective of three artists, exploring Shanzhai culture through high-gloss surface rich images, that revel in the uncanny.

Felix Petty: What was your first exposure to Shanzhai culture? Did Shanzhai Biennial come directly from that?
Shanzhai Biennial: Yes actually, we lived in Chinatown in Manhattan at the same time and actually connected over our love for the products we would find there, delving deeper and deeper into the markets. All of us make 'things' in one way or another and these things were completely fascinating to us, it was impossible to reverse-engineer an iPhone shaped men's cologne in the Chanel font spelling the word "HAPPLE" and covered in Angry Birds! The answer of course was Shanzhai.

How did you end up doing the first SB event in Beijing?
Everything we have done seems to take place in reverse order. We received the invitation before we had produced any work, produced our fashion campaign before we produced any clothes.

How do you approach interviews, when everything else you do is really about branding?
When we began we really tried to control the message but soon realised telling the truth had the same effect.


How did the project for Frieze come about? Are you applying Shanzhai culture to Frieze and subverting it in the way you would any other luxury brand?
We were always interested in art-event totes; it's the cheapest bag you own but actually makes the most complex statement about your economic status, taste and propensity for travel. We combined this with another phenomenon of Shanzhai branding we like to call 'brand arbitrage' — when the Shanzhai version of something is able to take advantage of a brand in ways that the brand itself can not imagine... such as the massive popularity of Apple Computer branded clothing in China. Frieze has a really massive cachet that it can't, in good taste, address. This is true of all luxury brands, they all create desire in excess to their ability to fulfil it, and this is where Shanzhai steps in.

Can you tell us about just what you have planned for Frieze yet?

We were given a booth right at the entrance, the first thing you see at the fair. We are taking this valuable cultural real estate and using it to sell actual real estate; marketing a £32,000,000 estate in Saint John's Wood, London. Around the property we've created a fashion advertorial, abstract architectural photography and a slick and eerie video. We've done this in conjunction with the luxury estate brokerage Aston Chase and are making a healthy commission on sales.

How do you approach each project?

We operate first and foremost as a brand. When you receive an invitation from an institution you are given a kind of carte blanche which can actually be quite stifling and put you in danger of accidentally producing art! For our booth at Frieze we have really just produced advertising, what is art or what is immaterial about it is really the potential sale and our commission: transforming a commercial transaction into the medium for a work of art... 


How do you see your relationship to pop art then, and the post-modernist obsession with image and consumer culture?

To be honest we're not interested in consumer culture but in the total control of the environment by the market. I think we are probably responding to the same types of changes in the environment that inspired pop at a different moment in history.

So how interested are you in fashion? Your images, though often hyperreal, sit within the form of fashion editorial.

We are all very interested in fashion from different angles, but not necessarily from within its own vocabulary. Fashion like the Shanzhai project is on a kind of border between culture and commerce always playing one against the other. Beyond fashion though the core of our project is about commercial image making to which we have a relationship that goes far beyond parody. We really try to insist that our work is commercial abstraction not corporate aesthetics.

One other overlap could be the surface and superficiality, in that fashion is about appearance in the same way SB is about giving the impression of depth from the superficiality of brand names or shop fronts.

Why should we accept that art is so much deeper than advertising? For us the surfaces and dynamics of advertising are incredibly complex. Advertising has this unique power in relation to the audience that art categorically lacks... In advertising you are obsessed with your audience, but the secret power of advertising is that your audience is not an external thing to the ad. There's almost a blind spot in cognition wherein the viewer misidentifies themselves as an audience that you have in effect designed.

What do you see as the intended effect of SB? Consumerist critique? Cultural enquiry? Subversion of iconography?

We are trying to sell a house!

Felix Petty I-D 16 October 2014

15 Oct 2014

SBI :: Shanzhai Biennial Discuss Turning This Year’s Frieze London Art Fair Into a Lifestyle Brand

At the entrance of this year's Frieze London, visitors will notice a booth that appears earlier than most booths do (and if anything, are usually the expensive property of big- name galleries like Gagosian or David Zwirner). With a bright red carpet that pops in the even brighter lights above, Shanzhai Biennial—the art trio whose name already includes the term for Chinese knock-offs and imitation culture ("shanzhai") and implies an examination of commercial art systems (notably, biennials, which they have now done three of)—has executed their Frieze Live commission. They are selling a a £32,000,000 house for Shanzhai Biennial No. 3: Hamilton Terrace, in addition to quilted calfskin, Frieze-branded bags for £5,000.

Shanzhai Biennial has decided to use their prime real estate at the fair to sell actual real estate in the heart of London, a city whose expensive housing market is continually discussed in relation to social inequality and urban sprawl. In twin retail installations at the booth and gallery Project Native Informant, Shanzhai Biennial have also taken the brand of Frieze a step further, commenting on the canvas bag typically given out at art fairs for free. In an interview with Art in America, they said, "If someone has a bunch of bags, [the art fair bag] is the worst bag that they have. But there's no bag that says more about their habits of consumption or the level of sophistication of their consumption—also their travel, and how often they're able to take a couple of weeks off. "

In the same interview, they add, "It's clear that Frieze is a luxury brand with incredible cachet." Knowing that, they took their own brand, and that of Frieze, into other brilliant, important conversations. Read our interview with them below, and if you're in London, visit the fair and their booth today through Sunday, October 18 from 12 p.m. - 7 p.m.

What do you hope to communicate in "brand building" for Frieze, both about Frieze and the system of art fairs as a whole?
Shanzhai Biennial is really a brand, in fact probably more really a brand than "real" brands. It's a pure brand unencumbered by products—which are always really a drag on the aura of images of products—slowing down their circulation. Think for example of how many millions of people love and desire Louis Vuitton without ever owning a piece of it. At the end of the day, we produce only this kind of desire without having produced a single object for sale to date.

Why do you think you were approached by Frieze to complete your third Shanzhai Biennial as part of the new "Frieze Live" series?
We think it means our advertising is working? The first target of our campaigns is really the art world and press themselves. We basically say outright in all of our communications that we are not at all artists, and our work is completely self-serving, which has had the curious effect of making it impossible to believe.

What can people purchase from your booth at the entrance of Frieze?

We are using the cultural real-estate afforded us by Frieze to sell actual real estate in our booth. Our entire project is geared around promoting a 32 million pound estate: Hamilton Terrace (St John's Wood, London, NW8), for which we will of course be taking a healthy commission.

How do you think the art landscape, particularly performance art, has changed in recent years?
We can’t really speak to performance art in particular, but art in general has become more and more useful. For example, it’s indispensable to schemes of real estate development and "re-urbanization."

Contemporary art is popular and profitable. You see younger artists not only presenting themselves as corporations or trend forecasting agencies, but in fact being corporations and trend forecasters. It’s a transition from the coy idea of contradiction embodied by someone like Andy Warhol to a more pure and 1-dimensional hypocrisy.

But we don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s a complete social trend on all levels. Half the shows on television now don’t have a single redeemable character, and people love it.

How do you think collectors and the art market have shifted in order to buy or engage with performance art?
It’s very much like the change you see with social media—and involves the same challenge in monetizing peoples' attention. An artist may have a hundred thousand "likes," but when you do not produce objects, you present an initial problem for the market.

I think performance art is very much like advertising, which is why although SHANZHAI acts exactly like a brand, it is understood as a performance. An advertising campaign is like a military campaign; it is much more about taking territory than making money. It burns money to take territory. At the end, this territory, of course, is more valuable and scarce than money no matter it’s value on the market at any given time. Which is why at 32 million pounds, Hamilton Terrace is still an absolute steal, especially as it is soon to be inscribed in the history of art and culture through our performance at Frieze.

What's on the horizon for Shanzhai Biennial, given that you've already done three biennials in three years?
Well, addressing the previous question, we are in the process of developing a SHANZHAI BIENNIAL IPO to launch in the next two years, which we think is a rational approach to selling the kind of value we have been developing so rapidly over the past three years. After all, we’ve had three biennials in only three years—which is twice as many as any other biennial on earth.

Cedar Pasori Complex 15 October 2014