Art

Special Special Wants You to Touch the Art and for It to Touch You Right Back

Artist Cai Guo-Qiang’s daughter, Wen-You Cai’s participatory curatorial project, lands its first museum appearance.

Kat Herriman

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Wen-You Cai. Photography by Midge Wattles.

If Wen-You Cai’s nomadic curatorial project, Special Special, had a mood board to describe its unique strain of gallery-meets-museum shop-meets-arcade, one might imagine images of Dover Street Market pasted alongside images of Carol Goodden, Tina Girouard and Gordon Matta-Clark serving lunch out of their 1970s living installation-cum- restaurant, FOOD. “The references for Special Special are just as much about daily life as they are about contemporary art,” Cai explains. She is currently in Shanghai where Special Special has inaugurated a new dedicated pop-up space at the Museum of Art Pudong with “Cyber Garden,” an exhibition that takes the form of a fantastical internet café with custom games and shoppable offerings. It is somewhere between a futuristic interactive movie theater and Eckhaus Latta’s 2018 fashion boutique-show at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

On through October 31, “Cyber Garden” represents several milestones for Cai and Special Special. It is the first time that they’ve had a physical presence in Shanghai and that they’ve been invited to do something inside an art institution. The latter is an especially important coup for the artist whose community-centric concept purposefully pushes back upon the homogeneous evolution of the museum shop with its own enigmatic collision of the deeply cosmopolitan and the delightfully provincial. ‘I think when you are someone like me working within an institution, it’s easy to feel imposter syndrome,” Cai says. “But one of the main inspirations for Special Special has always been the museum stores that I grew up around. They’ve changed a lot since then. Before the internet, there would be unique pieces made by designers and makers local to that area. And now I find that a lot of museums now carry the same thing. With Special Special I’m always trying to bring back that feeling of discovery and geography.”

Installation view of Cyber Garden, a Special Special pop-up at Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai,
China. Image courtesy of Special Special.

Projects on view like artist Sebastian Masuda’s Sense Share Bear, an interactive virtual reality piece in which goggles-donning visitors are invited to splatter colors all over a giant bear sculpture, embody this international to local lens that Special Special is hellbent on perfecting. In future iterations, the hope is that the same DIY virtual statue will be accessible to paint from multiple points of entry, allowing for an individual in Shanghai to play alongside someone in Berlin or São Paulo. Parallel play at its finest.

Cai tells me it is these simple necessities for social connectivity that scaffold Special Special’s heart. “I’ve always felt like I was a fairly lonely person, and so Special Special has become the space where I’ve been able to gather a community,” Cai says. “In this community, I’m always surprised by the ideas that come about or the people that gather a result of a spar. And I think that in any kind of context, if there’s an openness to it, that can happen. That’s what really drives what I’m doing. I’m trying to create the space where the dialogue can happen, or where combination of two people’s minds together create something greater than one person in solitude.”

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Installation view of Cyber Garden, a Special Special pop-up at Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai, China. Image courtesy of Special Special.
Installation view of Cyber Garden, a Special Special pop-up at Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai, China. Image courtesy of Special Special.
Installation view of Cyber Garden, a Special Special pop-up at Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai, China. Image courtesy of Special Special.
Installation view of Cyber Garden, a Special Special pop-up at Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai, China. Image courtesy of Special Special.
Installation view of Cyber Garden, a Special Special pop-up at Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai, China. Image courtesy of Special Special.
Installation view of Cyber Garden, a Special Special pop-up at Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai, China. Image courtesy of Special Special.
Installation view of Cyber Garden, a Special Special pop-up at Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai, China. Image courtesy of Special Special.
Installation view of Cyber Garden, a Special Special pop-up at Museum of Art Pudong, Shanghai, China. Image courtesy of Special Special.