Championing the 'rights of things'

Championing the 'rights of things'
Chinese artist Wu Shanzhuan (left) and collaborator, Inga Svala Thorsdottir, from Iceland, developed their Things Rights, after the Human Rights Charter, even for urinals.

In 1917, a 20th-century artist, Marcel Duchamp, laid a standard urinal flat on its back and called it "Fountain". His provocative move is said to be the invention of conceptual art, and one of its readings was that art was something you p***ed on.

Seventy-seven years later, in 1994, two artists relieved themselves on a replica of Duchamp's Fountain in order to "restore" the urinal to its right function.

From there, Chinese artist Wu Shanzhuan and his collaborator, Inga Svala Thorsdottir from Iceland, developed their signature Things Rights, patterned after the Human Rights Charter, which contains 30 articles about the rights of things.

Wu, 54, is one of the leading figures of the 1980's pre-Tiananmen Square generation of Chinese Conceptualists, and Inga Svala Thorsdottir, 48, started Thor's Daughter Pulverizing Service in 1993, reducing all things back to its powder form.

Since the 1990s, the duo have been known for their intense, research-driven practice, and a peculiar brand of logic and language which challenges the status quo and questions our belief systems.

They've merged their language-based, historically informed practices, and created such works as To Buy is To Create (1992-2005), a lightbox printed with the titular slogan and a bar code, foregrounding the link between art and consumption and the long tradition of artists transforming everyday objects into works of art.

Although Wu was initially reluctant to attend the residency at STPI, he was eventually won over by Thorsdottir's persuasion that they could now investigate a new way and format to present their work. "We had to think of how we could profit from being here... and finally realised that we could explore the layering of our works since the 1990s," explains Wu.

Working like an archaeologist, but in reverse, the artists decided to layer all the different concepts of their body of work in the past 20 years onto prints so they all merged into one. In this exhibition, viewers need to know, like archaeologists, what they are looking for to best appreciate the duo's works.

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