Flies & Fields at the Power Station of Art

In The Art of Travel Fall 2017, 9. Art & Place, Shanghai by Irina1 Comment

Upon entering the Power Station of Art, I was greeted by a huge swarm of insects. These insects were large sculptures, hung from museum’s high ceilings. However, upon closer inspection, I realized that they were actually half-human, half-insect. These hybridized creatures were grotesque- they had the torso and legs of a human but the head and wings of a dragonfly it seemed. Honestly, I felt pretty repulsed seeing so many of them just floating there underneath the crowds who gathered for the museum’s free admission day. As my boyfriend and I ascended to the second floor, we realized that the sculptures were part of artist Li Shan’s eponymous exhibition.

The Li Shan exhibition was extensive, comprising a wide of a variety of different mediums. His work is in the realm of BioArt, a genre of art he pioneered that focuses on bio-science and its related issues. One piece was a huge inflatable igloo where viewers could enter to lie down and watch the DNA transcription and translation processes projected on the ceiling. A large portion of the exhibit were his detailed drawings, diagrams, and notes written while he was studying genetics. There were surreal, colorful paintings using both human, animal, and insect motifs to illustrate mutations and equality for all life forms.

The most interesting part of the exhibit was this room of various grasses and wheats grown in sections. Living organisms are not something you would expect to find, and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in such a surreal field. Being in the modern, all-white room with growing plants made me forget for a moment that the building used to be nothing but an industrial power station.

Signs of the building’s history are covered by the immense amount of art it contains, though it can be seen in the vast space and high ceilings. On the upper deck, metal chimneys are left standing to now serve an aesthetic purpose rather than an industrial need. As with other renovated spaces in the city, this one left me mesmerized at the pace of progress and change happening in Shanghai.

The Power Station of Art was Shanghai’s first public modern art museum, representative of the government’s push to place Shanghai at the forefront of culture and commerce. As the city teems with all signs of modernity and technology, it is fitting that Li Shan’s exhibit focuses on the issues related to scientific advancement and biology or human nature. As an artist living and working in Shanghai, Li Shan has firsthand experience of the city’s rapid change and perhaps its effect on humans and organisms.

Even though I was perturbed by Li Shan’s colony of human flies, I am glad I had the opportunity to visit his exhibit and to be in such a magnificent building.


  1. Hey Irina! What a cool exhibition you got to see, I think it’s super unique Li Shan pioneered BioArt. Art that serves as material for activism and education is always really interesting to me. Those human flies are a bit terrifying, but it does raise an interesting concept that I’m glad Shan brings up. I had a teacher once tell me about how we are insignificant, we are specks in a place compared to the earth, galaxy, and universe. I wonder if he aims to bring that thought to light, that we are like flies who swarm to cities.

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