The Royal Asiatic Society building in Shanghai was built in the 1930s to serve as the headquarters of the organisation’s North China branch (NCBRAS). In its day one of the most important cultural organisations of the British expatriate community in Shanghai, the NCBRAS was responsible for supporting wide-ranging social and natural history scholarship and research in China. Opened officially in 1933, their Shanghai Museum, as it was then known, was one of the first to open to the public in China. After 1949, the museum ceased operations and its collections of historical artefacts, art and Chinese and Western books and other documents were parcelled out to form the basis of the collections of the Shanghai Museum of Natural History, Shanghai Museum and Shanghai Library. The old RAS building underwent a full renovation in 2010 and was formally re-named as the Rockbund Art Museum, re-opening to the public as a museum of contemporary art.
In this exhibition, Rockbund Art Museum has invited the participation of artists who regularly make use of materials such as natural history specimens, replica historical artefacts and traditional utensils to create contemporary works. It is hoped the works by these artists will offer a visual re-presentation of ‘natural works of art’, reconstructing the historical narrative mode of the Shanghai Museum period – when legitimacy was given to the force of the museum’s historical narrative by its ownership of precious items. This exhibition will also envision exploration of values and knowledge transmitted by museums under different political regimes; to expose the ideology behind the narration of museums; emerging institutions of collection and exhibition apply new ways through the passage of time, the concept of museum has thus been extended and expanded. The new role and social responsibility of the re-conceived museum evolves from the co-operation and confrontation between contemporary art and the museum as institution.
Museum is a time machine, and those who enter becometime travelers. Museum displaysdead objectes as whose favorite, say the life of the objectends by displayed in the cabinetof amuseum. Neither once-living creature nor utensils would be live any longer, or be functional. Museums are regarded as sacred institutions creating and spreading knowledge. Does this then create the possibility that an internal deconstruction of this power, and a dismantling and rebuilding of techniques, methods, structures, accounts, truths and data can influence the way museums fashion the modern body and spirit? In the exhibition Time Traveller, we seem to have travelled back to a natural history museum of the 1930s, full of animal corpses, ancient artefacts, the maps of great navigators and the relics of lost civilisations. The imagined geographies and histories of contemporary artists help us reconstruct our cultural identities and modes of existence.