Curated by world renowned Klaus Biesenbach and Hans Ulrich Obrist, 15 Rooms is a live-art exhibition at Shanghai’s Long Museum on the West Bund. It features 15 performative works by both International and Chinese artists.

The idea behind the 15 Rooms originated in 2011. Starting at the Manchester International Festival with 11 Rooms, this type of exhibition has been presented annually at different locations. In its 2015 version it takes place in Shanghai, China. The museum hosting the exhibition is Long Museum West Bund which was founded by a couple of Chinese collectors and it prides itself in being the largest private museum in China.

Just like the venue, curators too are exceptional. Hans Ulrich Obrist as one of the most prolific curators in the world currently works at the Serpentine gallery in London. Similarly, Klaus Biesenbach, another celebrity curator, serves as the Director of MoMA PS1 and Chief Curator at Large at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

In one interview Klaus noted that, to an extent, __ Rooms exhibition can be regarded as a cross between theatre and a museum. Later Obrist built off of the idea by emphasizing that performance art, unlike theatre, is more liberal and allows for a personal experience.

The idea behind the __ Rooms exhibition is, not only to gather various pieces of performative art, but also to allow participants – the audience – to engage with space and time in varying surroundings. By entering distinct and contrasting environments in a short time span visitors immerse themselves in each and reflect on intimate experiences creating a unique journey.

The major emphasis is on the senses and the ways our body reacts to them separately. In the words of an art fanatic, Anita Bonomi: “The fact that you leave all of your belongings outside and that you enter the space with no big restrictions means that you are more aware of your body.” Essentially, the interior is designed to enable participants to move around freely. There should be nothing weighing the observer down. The very clean, minimalist look with the walls covered in mirrors only further contributes to the sensation.

Entering each room is overwhelming. It is overwhelming for the mind and body as they constantly need to adjust. At times I felt uncomfortable. It was not always solely due to the type of the performance. Quite often it was because the previous room focused on a sense different from the one I was currently in. Yoko Ono Touch Piece for example completely restricts your sight. Only when you have adapted to the unfamiliarity can you truly enjoy the piece and explore space around you. Similarly, Milk of Pure Love by Double Fly Art Center initially elicits the feeling of aversion due to a distinct stench of sour milk. However, later when you learn more about the environment you become a part of it and that is the beauty of such an exhibition.

At the end of the day, senses are what performance art is all about. It is about introspection and reflection. What 15 Rooms exhibition does differently is unify numerous unique, and quite often contrasting, pieces. It allows the audience to not only customize its own experience within each room, but also the overall one. By entering rooms in different order the viewer can easily change his or her own journey. In such a way everyone receives a distinct sensation and everyone leaves the museum with an individual interpretation of the pieces.

This article was written by Lana Kugli. Send an email to to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Lana Kugli

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