A 25 metres long, 42 tons heavy Chinese train carriage stops in Arken Museum of Modern Art's
unique exhibition space The Art Axis, ready to take the museum's visitors on a journey unlike any other. A journey into China's past, presence and future. Into deliberations of the good life and the good society. Of the dreams we have today - for ourselves and for the world.
In the 1960s and '70s it ran in northeastern China. Ordinary Chinese people sat on the hard wooden seats and were transported to and from work, on family visits, tours and holidays. Now it stops in ARKEN's Art Axis with the purpose of making Danish museum visitors think about the dreams and values that drive them and the world they live in.
The train carriage is the principal work of the first exhibition in the museum's large-scale UTOPIA project. A project that is to raise the issue of the grand shared notion of the perfect society. Whatever happened to it? Does it still exist today? Have the international financial crisis and the American presidential election made it more topical? And if it does not exist, what has taken its place? Individual dreams of the good life, notions of globalisation, small enclaves of communities?
Opening on 6 February 2009, the UTOPIA exhibition is the first of three exhibitions of contemporary art shown in ARKEN's Art Axis in the period 2009-2011 - one per year. Each exhibition presents a significant, international contemporary artist who explores art's potential with regards to the notions of "the good life." The first artist is the Chinese Qui Anxiong (b. 1972).
Qui Anxiong gave the train carriage an artistic makeover after it had ended its career as a means of public transportation, transforming it into the work Staring into Amnesia (2007). A work of art which invites us on a journey even though the carriage is motionless. A journey into China's past, presence and future. For when the guests come aboard the train and sit down on the hard wooden seats, they journey through China's history. Video clips of documentary and propaganda films from China from 1910 until today pass by the windows as fragments of memories alternating with silhouettes of everyday scenes: a girl waiting by a ventilator, two people playing chess, groups of people in processions, riots, struggles or celebration. What has been is juxtaposed with what is. And with the train as metaphor for movement in time, it raises the question of which destinations await us up ahead. Is the next stop Utopia? What do we hope will come, what do we dream of?
6,000 drawings - one movie - Staring into Amnesia is the chief work of the UTOPIA exhibition. It explores how humankind's endeavours to create the perfect society through political and religious overall solutions, both historically and today, often result in the utopia's antithesis: an oppressed, conflicted dystopia.
Another work in the exhibition is the animated film The New Book of Mountains and Seas (2006). The film consists of 6,000 drawings created by Qiu Anxiong in his small one bedroom apartment in Shanghai. It presents us with a mythologised version of the world today in which modern technology and nature merge: helicopters hover in the air like big birds, and black clad people fly like planes, crashing the Twin Towers in a drawn version of 9/11. In a poetic and dreamlike idiom, sharply contrasting with the depicted reality, the work explores the themes of religious and political conflicts characterising the global reality of our time. UTOPIA is supported by the Nordea Foundation.