ArtReview Asia Spring 2023

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Michele Chu Explorations of how we deal with loss Does Indonesia’s new capital mean new gains?

Martha Jungwirth, Ohne Titel, aus der Serie «Goya» (detail), 2022. Oil on paper on canvas 255 x 91.5 cm. © Martha Jungwirth / Bildrecht, Wien 2023. Photo: Ulrich Ghezzi

Martha Jungwirth New Works Seoul May—June 2023

ArtReview Asia vol 11 no 1 Spring 2023

Capital idea Ah… ArtReview Asia’s new issue comes to you just at the same time as Art Basel’s Hong Kong art fair resurrects itself with the hope of regaining its former glory. (Yep, despite what ArtReview Asia is about to say, that’s not a coincidence.) And this at a time when all ArtReview Asia’s artworld friends are busy asking it – after the fanfare that accompanied new fairs launched in Seoul and Singapore over the past 12 months – which city will be ‘the art capital of Asia’. Because, obviously, no one wants to travel all over the place in these times of eco-consciousness. We need one destination to rule them all! Although that does sound a little colonialist. And that’s even worse than flying! As far as ArtReview Asia recalls, there were no art capitals during the past three years. (Although, tbh, it’s never believed in any of that stuff in the first place.) At least, not in the sense that those artworld people mean it. During lockdown we had the time to think about the cultural colonialism that the term ‘art capital’ implied, and to reflect on the fact that talking about that was really a disguise for measuring accumulations of actual capital. (And hey – might that also be a definition of art fairs?) As far as ArtReview Asia recalls, for the past three years or so most of us went back to a more local, dispersed kind of art experience. Laced with a heavy dose of screentime. Which hurts your eyes after a while. Which, in the traditional view of things, art isn’t supposed to do. Nevertheless, as a publication of the people (and for the people), ArtReview Asia is prepared to go with the prevailing flow. So here you’ll find a light dusting of articles that look at the question of capital cities and what they might contain. As well as some others about caring, nurturing and those who are trying to crush all that underfoot. ArtReview Asia




Intrusion: Homage to Francis Bacon

Chez Bacon avec la chouette, oil on canvas, 198 x 162.5 cm | 78 x 64 in

16 March — 06 April 2023

The Galleria, Shop G08-09, 9 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong | T + 852 2810 1208 | | New York


Bal Harbour









Hong Kong



Rirkrit Tiravanija The Shop

David Zwirner

March 20–May 6, 2023 5–6/F, H Queen’s 80 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong

Art Previewed

Previews by ArtReview Asia 14

How Hindu Nationalism Has Reshaped Indian Identity by Deepa Bhasthi 30

Notes on Riyadh’s Art Scene by Rahel Aima 32

Giving a Shit by Martin Herbert 29

The Interview Michele Chu by Fi Churchman 36

Art Featured

Kamin Lertchaiprasert by Max Crosbie-Jones 46

The Map Series Artist Project by Eddy Susanto 55

Maya Lin by Andrew Russeth 68

Nusantara, Indonesia’s New Capital by Adeline Chia 62

page 36 Michele Chu, Inti-Gym, 2021, participatory installation (installation view, Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong, 2022). Courtesy the artist


Art Reviewed

exhibitions & books 76 Myth Makers – Spectrosynthesis iii, by Ophelia Lai Romantic Irony, by Andrew Russeth Daniel Boyd, by Tai Mitsuji Poyen Wang, by Kevin Wu Xiyao Wang, by Yuwen Jiang An Ocean in Every Drop, by Yalda Bidshahri Pictures in the Mind, by Adeline Chia Hao Liang, by Fi Churchman Kantara, by Deepa Bhasthi Udomsak Krisanamis, by Max Crosbie-Jones Braving Time, by Tai Mitsuji Dream of the Day, by Lim Sheau Yun Bollywood Superstars, by Mark Rappolt Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, by Ren Scateni ars22, by Nadine Khalil

Southeast Asia: A History in Objects, by Alexandra Green, reviewed by Mark Rappolt Owlish, by Dorothy Tse, reviewed by Elaine Chiew Hospital, by Han Song, reviewed by J.J. Charlesworth How to Stand Up to a Dictator, by Maria Ressa, reviewed by Marv Recinto Hit Parade of Tears, by Izumi Suzuki, reviewed by Marv Recinto The Sthory of Two Wimmin Named Kalyani and Dakshayani, by R. Rajasree, reviewed by Mark Rappolt backpage 106

page 91 The ArtHitects (Gary Carsley and Renjie Teoh), Thine Shrine, Divine, 2023 (installation view, Braving Time: Contemporary Art in Queer Australia, National Art School Galleries, Sydney). Photo: Peter Morgan. Courtesy the artists


Art Previewed

ki keemat 13

8 Torbjørn Rødland, Shell Stack, 2022, c-print on Kodak Endura paper, 76 × 60 cm. © the artist


Previewed 1 Heather B. Swann Station, Sydney 18 March – 22 April 2 Tatsuo Miyajima scai The Bathhouse, Tokyo Through 15 April 3 Thinking about Caring and Motherhood Through Contemporary Art Art Tower Mito (Japan) Through 7 May 4 world classroom: Contemporary Art Through School Subjects Mori Art Museum, Tokyo 19 April – 24 September 5 Mel Bochner National Museum of Art, Osaka Through 21 May 6 Byron Kim Kukje Gallery, Busan 17 March – 23 April

9 14th Gwangju Biennale: soft and weak like water Various venues, Gwangju 7 April – 9 July

18 Shezad Dawood Wiels Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels 18 May – 13 August

10 Shirazeh Houshiary Long Museum (West Bund), Shanghai Through 7 May

19 Tuan Andrew Nguyen Marabouparken Konsthall, Sundbyberg (Stockholm) Through 16 April

11 Pipilotti Rist m+ Facade, Hong Kong 18 March – 17 June

20 Constellations of Multiple Wishes Mosaic Rooms, London Through 4 June

12 signals… Para Site, Hong Kong 18 March – 29 September

21 Ai Weiwei Design Museum, London 7 April – 30 July

13 Wang Tuo Blindspot, Hong Kong 21 March – 6 May

22 Nalini Malani National Gallery, London Through 11 June

14 City as Studio k11 Musea, Hong Kong 20 March – 14 May

23 Haegue Yang Pina Contemporânea, Pinacoteca de São Paulo Through 28 May

7 Donna Huanca Space K, Seoul Through 8 June

15 No more, not yet Nguyen Art Foundation, Ho Chi Minh City Through June

8 Torbjørn Rødland Galerie Eva Presenhuber × Taxa, Seoul 18 March – 28 April

16 Kanishka Raja Experimenter – Colaba, Mumbai Through 13 May

24 Signals: How Video Transformed the World moma, New York Through 8 July 25 Pacita Abad Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 15 April – 3 September

17 Zheng Bo Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai Through 1 December 2024


Human intimacy traces its way across recent of human emotion, and in doing so reveals some- randomness of nature (and with Turkey/Syria on the brain as I write, natural disasters). (nd) thing of the absurd in human encounters. (fc) 1 drawings by Australian artist Heather B. Swann, Everyone knows these days that, thanks who’s known for surreal and whimsical works For Tatsuo Miyajima’s latest Tokyo 2 to covid debts, government budget cuts, neothat also span sculpture, performance and showing the artist has pulled the plug on his installation. In the work that lends its name to liberalism and a generally uncaring world, art signature constellations of leds ticking through this exhibition, You and me, an unmade bed (2022), museums have been forced to become surrogate the numbers one to nine. And replaced them two armless and mostly featureless figures, with numbered acrylic beads, glued into squares 3 social centres. Thinking about Caring and drawn on thin Japanese paper, appear dejected: Motherhood Through Contemporary Art, a group on a grid, selected at random by a computer exhibition at Art Tower Mito, looks at the reasons one in watery turquoise, sitting on an invisible program. The squares left empty are then why, featuring works – by the likes of Ryoko painted in by the artist (in monochrome layers bed, and the other, grey with its head hanging Aoki, Ragnar Kjartansson, the rather excellent of red, blue, yellow, silver and black). The end low. A blue thumbprint dots the space between result, in its connections and disconnections, sculptor and performance artist Kento Nito, and them. The listless encounter is, perhaps, not looks like a kind of map, or statistical survey. pioneering septuagenarians Miyako Ishiuchi and what one might expect from a show about intimacy, but it does reflect the many facets of such Although of what remains unclear. In the artist’s Martha Rosler, to name just a few – that explore the extent to which caregiving is presumed mutable situations: ‘attractions and excitements, logic (which is inspired by Buddhism) the awkward pauses and passionate declarations’. to come under the label of women’s work and numbers are indicative of life and the empty Through her drawings, Swann dives into the the extent to which neoliberalism advocates squares of death, the whole being a kind of lifecycle or means of replicating the apparent human psyche and the messy inner workings for self-care. Words such as ‘welcoming’ and

1 Heather B. Swann, I want you, 2022, ink and oil on paper, 53 × 38 cm. Courtesy the artist and Station, Sydney

2 Tatsuo Miyajima, Numerical Beads Painting – 006 (detail), 2022, acrylic on canvas, numerical beads, pencil, 259 × 259 cm. © the artist. Courtesy scai the Bathhouse, Tokyo


ArtReview Asia

4 Yoneda Tomoko, Tanizaki’s Glasses – Viewing a Letter to Matsuko (from the series Between Visible and Invisible), 1999, gelatin silver print, 120 × 120 cm. Courtesy the artist

5 Mel Bochner, Primer (Four, Four, Four, Four), 1973. © the artist. Courtesy National Museum of Art, Osaka

4 Christian Jankowski, Heavy Weight History, 2013, video, sound, 25 min 46 sec. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London

‘empowerment’ might be flying around like boomerangs, but nevertheless this is a group of artists who can adequately tackle the complexities of one of art’s more pressing issues. (nd) To mark its 20th anniversary, the Mori Art Museum is approaching art through the lens of the classroom. Through the work of 50 artists – including Ai Weiwei, Aoyama Satoru, Shilpa Gupta, Jakarta Wasted Artists, Lee Ufan and 4 Tsai Charwei – world classroom navigates a classic school curriculum. ‘Language and Literature’ features Joseph Kosuth’s conceptual language-plays, while Miyagi Futoshi explores the complexities of identity in language; the largest section, ‘Social Studies’, confronts globalisation and geopolitical (eco-)histories through the works of Yasumasa Morimura, Dinh Q. Lê and Gu Minja; ‘Philosophy’ considers

aesthetic and ontological queries via Tatsuo Miyajima and Lee Ufan; ‘Mathmatics’ looks at the topic’s relationship to art through, for example Aki Sasamoto’s mathematical installations; ‘Science’ explores the natural world through works of Aiko Miyanaga and Peter Fischli & David Weiss, reminding us that artists were ‘some of the first to sound warnings about the climate crisis’; ‘Music’ looks at its role conceptually and socially through the works of Manon de Boer and Aziz Hazara; ‘Phys. Ed.’ largely presents performance art such as that of Klara Lidén or Christian Jankowski; lastly, ‘Transdisciplinary’ acknowledges arts interdisciplinary tendencies. (mvr) Weighing, measuring… they used to call someone who was into that an accountant or a quantity surveyor; since American conceptual

Spring 2023

5 artist Mel Bochner arrived on the scene during the late 1960s (with the Measurement Series, 1968–69, based around a 48-inch sheet of paper), they’ve started calling them artists. Acting on the time-honoured principle that when you buy something you immediately show it off to your friends, the National Museum of Art, Osaka is parading the Bochner (A Theory of Sculpture (Counting) & Primer, 1969–73) it acquired last year. The work itself comprises stones, chalk and a good deal of counting, or perhaps that should be numbering. Or maybe it’s a kind of labelling. In any case the numbers go with the stones, which are arranged according to the numbers. Or perhaps that’s the other way around. Or maybe it’s just a meditation on concepts and presences. And whether or not they mean something. Individually perhaps. Of course,


6 Byron Kim, b.q.o. 27, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 183 × 122 cm. Photo: Chunho An. © the artist. Courtesy Kukje Gallery, Seoul & Busan

8 Torbjørn Rødland, Allegory of Painting no. 1, 2020, c-print on Kodak Endura paper, 76 × 60 cm (framed). Photo: Lance Brewer. © the artist

7 Donna Huanca, bliss pool, 2023 (installation view). Courtesy the artist

it’s easy to get lost in all this. But what’s more guises), as ‘a glitch in the world around’ her from the ongoing Sunday Paintings series (2001–), interesting in this exhibition is that the work audience; what that means, most of the time, each of them featuring a diarylike text describis juxtaposed by examples of what Bochner’s is a multidisciplinary, multimedia immersive ing what had happened to the artist that week. Japanese contemporaries were up to at the time. environment (everything from painting to And, of course, nodding and winking at the Among those contemporaries are Shusaku performance to soundworks to sculpture). amateurism generally associated with the label Arakawa, On Kawara, Jiro Takamatsu, Yoko Ono, Whether this is bliss or something else will ‘Sunday Painter’. For Marine Layer he drops his Takako Saito, and Mieko Shiomi (aka Chieko). be up to you to decide. (nd) viewpoint to hit a different horizon line. (nd) ok, some of them were actually in the us at the For his first solo exhibition in Korea – and ‘For the first four days of the exhibition,’ 7 reads a text about Donna Huanca’s upcoming time, but you get the drift. (nd) a fifth presentation for Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Byron Kim came to attention for Synecdoche this time in a collaboration with Seoul gallery 6 show on Space K’s website, ‘two models with (1991–), an ongoing series of portraits in which full body paint will roam the exhibition space 8 Taxa – Norwegian photographer Torbjørn subjects are represented by a monochrome Rødland presents recent examples of his seduring the performance.’ It’s not clear if that’s painting of their skin colour, generally exhibited ductive, exactingly composed images. Loaded supposed to be a warning or an enticement. in grids of nine or more. At last year’s Aichi with all the style and glamour of the edgiest Indeed, that might depend on the models and the body paint, but Chicago-born Huanca’s work fashion shoot, Rødland’s photographs nevertheTriennale, the New York-based artist showed doesn’t require any tricks to lure you in. She less prey on that glamour’s obsession with the a more maximalist work: 52 smallscale paintdescribes that work, which largely centres sheen of beautiful bodies and beautiful objects, ings of the sky painted on successive Sundays on the human form (in more or less alienated diverting our attraction to a world altogether between February 2020 and February 2021,


ArtReview Asia

9 Edgar Calel, Here are the elves that you left seeded in our hearts (Babe e k´o ri tz´ula xa a tik kan pa qa K´ux), 2023, ink, watercolour and carbon on watercolour paper, 339 × 600 cm. Photo: Joe Clark. Courtesy the artist and Proyectos Ultravioleta, Guatemala City

9 Florian Amoser, Aporetic Spectacle_Courgenay #12, 2017. Courtesy the artist

10 Shirazeh Houshiary, Zygote, 2022, pigment and pencil on black Aquacryl on canvas and aluminium, 190 × 400 × 5 cm. © the artist. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, London

more disturbing. Closeup and intrusive, back, assured, relaxed… it almost makes you around the world (who will present their works, Rødland’s lens fixates on jarring, disconcerting forget all about the water bit. Anyway, the point including over 40 new and commissioned admixtures that provoke feelings of unwanted is that Bruce Lee’s philosophical gem, which is projects, across five locations in Gwangju) into intimacy: a set of false teeth nestle in the spiral often quoted during trying times (say, when an the same teapot. (fc) folds of a cinnamon roll; a man, naked from authoritarian regime is on the make), actually For her first largescale exhibition in China, the waist down, sits astride a pristine and overcomes from Lao Tzu’s book Tao Te Ching, where 10 the Iranian-born British artist Shirazeh Houshiary is pulling together a range of works decorated wedding cake; burning candlewicks he writes: ‘there is nothing softer and weaker that trace her career to date and the range of are spiked into the gloop of egg yolks, nestling than water, and yet there is nothing better for attacking hard and strong things’. And that’s the mediums in which she has practised. While it inside their broken shells. Always on the edge was sculpture that preoccupied her in her earlier of cultural bad-taste, Rødland’s images get to 9 curatorial thinking behind this year’s Gwangju Biennale (titled soft and weak like water), which years (she came to attention in Britain during the heart of photography’s voyeuristic underwants to ‘imagine our shared planet as a site the 1980s alongside the likes of men such as pinnings, located somewhere between pleasure of resistance, coexistence, solidarity and care’ Richard Deacon and Anish Kapoor), the exhibiand disgust. (jjc) – using water as a metaphor to look at how art I’ve never heard anyone talk about a teapot tion focuses on later video installations (such as compellingly as Bruce Lee in a 1971 interview is an ‘undercurrent’ force in our everyday lives as the four-channel animation Breath, 2003/13) with broadcaster Pierre Berton. The way his tone (and also during real-world crises, apparently). and paintings (such as Zygote, 2022, a meditation of voice magnifies the importance of the vessel, Perhaps, though, the real wisdom is in choosing on cosmic growth). Beneath all of these, howhis sharply raised eyebrow, the way he leans a theme that is so fluid you can fit 79 artists from ever, lies a fascination with Sufism (particularly

Spring 2023


the poet Rumi), science and cosmology, and the are supposed to blur the boundary between history of art. A little bit of everything then. (nd) human anatomy, architecture and abstract If you happen to be standing outside the objects. Rist’s commission follows previous Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre showcases by artists including Ellen Pau and Nalini Malani. (fc) one evening after a long day of slogging around ‘Meteorological signals’ (in other words, the art fair, you’ll likely see giant pairs of multiweather signals) sets the somewhat foggy coloured animated hands beckoning, grabbing, reaching for you from the other side of the conditions for Para Site’s three-part group 11 harbour. That’ll be Pipilotti Rist’s commission 12 exhibition signals…, which will involve commisHand Me Your Trust (2023), playing daily from sions of new works and ‘environments’ (which 7 to 9pm across the 65-metre-tall screen installed I take to mean some sort of experiential instalon the front of visual culture museum m+. And lation), set within an ‘experimental display to what does the title refer? The videowork is structure that will change throughout the duration of the exhibition’. Sounds intriguing, a site-specific response to the changing architecif somewhat hazy on the details. What’s slightly ture of Hong Kong, and by extension an homage clearer is the lineup for the first chapter (signals... to the many people who had a… hand… in building the urban landscape. As the limbs make storms and patterns, on through 28 May), which undulating, moulding gestures, the fluid motions will include artists such as Candice Lin, whose

work often incorporates organic materials and engages subjects such as colonisation and the female body; Linda Chiu-han Lai, whose videos interrogate the sociopolitical spaces of Hong Kong’s urban areas; Printhow, a Taiwanese collective that’s recently been working with migrant groups in Hong Kong to make linocut prints that document the makers’ collective efforts; and So Wing Po, whose upbringing in a family of doctors practising traditional Chinese medicine has led her to often incorporate the ingredients as materials in her sculptures and installations. This panoply of perspectives and mediums will be accompanied by the more ephemeral (or, rather, vague) elements of ‘sound, textures, radio, performances, stories, events, lighting, and olfactory interventions’ that are set to unfold in the exhibition space. (fc)

11 Pipilotti Rist, Hand Me Your Trust (still), 2023. Commissioned by m+, Hong Kong, and supported by Art Basel and ubs

12 Printhow, No matter where we are, 2019, linocut relief print, 21 × 21 cm. Courtesy the artist


ArtReview Asia

14 Keith Haring / la ii, Untitled, 1983, spraypaint on wood, 114 × 61 cm. Photo: Adam Reich. © Keith Haring Foundation. Courtesy k11 Kollection

13 Wang Tuo, The Second Interrogation, 2023, three-channel video installation (colour, sound, 4k). Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong

Can you make art from within an authori-

Graffiti and street art are generally associated with transgression and discontent, created by people excluded culturally, economically Interrogation (2023, and sequel to Interrogation, or socially from society’s mainstream. In Hong 2017). The answer is: of course you can. But the Kong, graffiti and street art, and a selection real question is to what degree the contents of of over 100 works by 30 artists that derive from such art is acceptable to a censorious regime. these forms, are popping up in a museum (not The trickier, more slippery answer to that 14 the street), in an exhibition called City As Studio. is explored in The Second Interrogation, which And to coincide with an art fair rather than a follows the tensions in a relationship between riot. While that might tell us something about two friends: an artist and a censor, both with the current state of things in Hong Kong, it also differing and trenchant ideas about the future tells us something about the ‘high’ artworld’s of art in China. The installation surrounding ability continuously to co-opt the forces that the video includes paintings and drawings, seek to bring it low. (Not least because gallery as well as visual research materials that provide art has so completely swallowed street art that points of reference for visitors, as they watch people are ripping out sections of wall decorated the friendship twist and the artist’s and censor’s with works by Banksy so that they can put them positions slowly shift. (fc) in Mayfair art auctions.) Back in Hong Kong,

13 tarian state? That’s the broad premise of Wang Tuo’s three-channel video installation The Second

Spring 2023

New York dealer Jeffrey Deitch is at the helm of a show that traces the genre from its ‘invention’ in New York during the 1970s through to street art’s taking over the entire world. Or something like that. There is the issue of how the kind of ancient graffiti you find scrawled all over the public spaces of Pompeii, the kind of street art that used to happen in caves and the monikers that used to be left in us train carriages during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries fit into all that. Still, we all know that contemporary art can’t be contemporary unless it’s 100 percent new. At one end of the pole here are works by the likes of Fab 5 Freddy, futura and Jean-Michel Basquiat, at the other end kaws and aiko, with Barry McGee and osgemeos sandwiched somewhere in between. That works by most of these are generally more likely to be found


in an auction house than the street is of course to the present, including ongoing ethnographic meditations on two ethnically Vietnamese the other story that’s being told. Although communities around Tonlé Sap lake, Cambodia. presumably this exhibition will pay more ~ Nguyên’s practice often confronts the relationheed to the no-less-interesting narrative of ships between marginal narratives and larger the outsiders storming the artworld’s Bastille sociopolitical systems. In id Card (2014), for of snobbishness. (nd) ~ Friendship, or at the very least networks, can example, Nguyên heat-transfers the images of be a central factor in the canonisation of artistic the id cards of 348 noncitizens onto old clothes movements and even individual artists themto interrogate alienation and state authority. ~ Nguyên’s circle of artists comes into the picture 15 selves. In No more, not yet, however, such relationships aren’t immediately on display. The first in Part 2, at emasi Van Phuc, which focuses part of this two-space show focuses on the work on artworks coming out of Du̇ án Bò Thành ~ of Nguyên Thi̇ Thanh Mai – winner of The (Project Edge of the Citadel), an arts organisation Factory Contemporary Arts Centre’s inaugural in Hue, Vietnam. Here, resonant histories of ‘Artist Excellence Award’; the second presents art- displacement manifest in installation, photo~ works by Nguyên’s ‘friends and colleagues’. Part 1, graphs, video, painting and drawing. (mvr) ~ at the emasi Nam Long, features Nguyên’s The late Kanishka Raja explored the con16 multimedia works and installations from 2014 frontations between tradition and modernity,

and craft and the gaps or slippages that occur when images are translated from one medium to another. The artist worked between New York and his native Kolkata, and his practice saw his painting translated (or reproduced) into woven, embroidered or printed counterparts. Ground Control features his woven paintings, the result of complex interaction between his New York studio and weavers working on double-weft looms in Phulia, West Bengal; an exchange that, along the way, involved printing, scanning and weaving, before the results of all this were stretched, as artworks, in the studio. Fittingly, Raja’s works often fused infrastructural space and urban facades or vistas (more or less redolent of a passing age), with airports being a particular subject of fascination. Alongside, naturally, control and the lack of it. The results, which

15 No more, not yet, 2023 (installation view). Courtesy Nguyen Art Foundation, Ho Chi Minh City

16 Kanishka Raja, Control 11, no date, handwoven double-weft cotton thread, 119 × 231 cm. Courtesy The Estate of Kanishka Raja, Juli Raja & Experimenter, Kolkata & Mumbai


ArtReview Asia

often show the influence of Pop art, describe been an important source of fodder for animals, a limbo-world that is both somewhere livestock and humans alike. As part of the Jameel Arts Centre’s Garden Commission, Zheng and nowhere. A perfect document of our engineered a performance involving two dancers globalised age. (nd) It’s hard to think of an artist who loves plants paying homage to the tree’s ‘tenacity and strength’, a performance that lives on as a film 17 the way Hong Kong-based Zheng Bo loves plants – indeed, his video Le Sacre du printemps installation staged in a landscape of indigenous (Tandvärkstallen), 2022, included in last year’s desert plants. (nd) Venice Biennale, features performers expressing 18 London-based multimedia artist Shezad their love for plants through sex – nor is it easy Dawood, many of whose works explore the to come up with someone who has spent more slippages and losses of translation, has for some time building bridges between the human and time been exploring the social and political implications of musical events. His mixed-reality nonhuman worlds. During research trips to Concert from Bangladesh (2021) looked at the the uae in 2022, he came across the Samur (also legacy of Ravi Shankar and George Harrison’s known as the umbrella thorn), a small tree with 1971 charity concert in the aftermath of the a flat top that is found throughout the Gulf and Bangladesh Liberation War. At Wiels it’s the turn Middle East, the deserts of India and Pakistan, of the music and writings of American jazz and most parts of Africa. The plant has long

musician Yusef Lateef (the exhibition title comes from one of Lateef’s sci-fi novellas), who was born William Emanuel Huddleston, converted to Islam in 1950, by the 1980s had started to refuse to perform in places in which alcohol was served and by the time of his death, in 2013, was widely celebrated as one of the pioneers of ‘world music’ via his mastery of musical instruments from both the East and the West. Working with some of Lateef’s former collaborators, Dawood frames his new work as an ‘emerging score’ born of his research into the musician’s life and work (expressed in the form of textile works), this research turned into ‘digital seedbanks’ that morph into digital plantforms, eventually ending up as a multichannel av work. The whole thing, then, promises to be as complex as any jazz pattern. (nd)


18 Shezad Dawood, The Wind Howls, 2023, acrylic on vintage textile hanging, 210 × 138 cm. Courtesy the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai

17 Zheng Bo, Artist’s Garden: Samur, 2023 (installation view). Photo: Daniella Baptista. Courtesy Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai

Spring 2023


16 Kanishka Raja

20 Basim Magdy, Love Poem for City Dreamers, 2023 (installation view, Mile End, London). Photo: Andy Stagg

19 Tuan Andrew Nguyen, The Unburied Sounds of a Troubled Horizon, 2022 (installation view). Photo: Jean Baptiste Béranger. Courtesy the artist and Marabouparken Konsthall, Sundbyberg


Tuan Andrew Nguyen is a filmmaker who and kurs’s (artistic duo Miloš Miletic and across Vietnam, some of it (in the video) turned specialises in weaving personal stories (pitched Mirjana Radovanović) series of banners, into sculptures, some of it sold as scrap. As the drawings and zines based on nam proceedings. somewhere between history and mythology) into exhibition title implies, collectively the films Meanwhile, Alia Farid’s kilim Mezquitas de grand narratives in order to deploy memory as look to the past, present and future of Southeast a weapon of resistance (to dominant narratives) Puerto Rico (Hatillo) (2014), which traces Arab Asia, sometimes at one and the same time. (nd) The 1955 Bandung Conference marked and possibility. This exhibition features three of and South Asian migrations to Latin America a significant decolonial moment for freshly his moving-image works – The Unburied Sounds of and the Caribbean, will be displayed alongside a collection of works from The Non-Aligned a Troubled Horizon (2022), The Boat People (2020) and independent Afro-Asian nations as they sought Art Collection Laboratory. The exhibition’s to establish objectives such as economic and The Island (2017) – as well as some sculptures assocurator, Bojana Piškur, asserts that Constellations ciated with them. All three of the videoworks 20 cultural cooperation. Constellations of Multiple of Multiple Wishes refuses to be part of a nostalgia touch on geographies (Malaysia, the Philippines, Wishes emerges from the spirit of this forum for the past, acting rather under the notion Vietnam itself) connected to the Vietnam War (and the Non-Aligned Movement, nam, that (born in Ho Chi Minh City, Nguyen fled the of ‘potential history’. (mvr) derived from it) in an effort to map connected Touted as Ai Weiwei’s first exhibition focuscountry with his family in 1979, four years 21 histories through multimedia artworks and after its conclusion, ending up in the American archival material. Among the exhibition’s newly ing on design Making Sense features a number of commissioned works are Larry Achiampong’s Midwest, before returning to his homeland as an works that address the artist’s interdisciplinary art activism, including Han Dynasty Urn with A Letter (Side B) (2023), which trails the lives adult); the most recent features a story set amid Coca-Cola Logo (2014) and Coloured House (2013). of two brothers between Ghana and Britain, the litter of military ordinance still scattered


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Notably, however, the exhibition also features Who better than one of the most influential if you want to talk about the voices of the dead. Into this Malani has inserted pictures of five ‘major’ site-specific works that are either Indian artists (and a pioneer of video art in that marginalised communities, in order to allow brand new or have never before been exhibited country) to decolonise your museum for you? the gallery to speak to audiences it doesn’t norin the United Kingdom. Weiwei has been 22 That artist, Nalini Malani (the focus of whose mally address and give space to voices it doesn’t collecting many of these objects since the 1990s work in recent years has been the legacies of normally hear. Most likely no one will do this as part of his focus on craftsmanship. Still Life colonialism and the suffering of women), is the (1993–2000) lays flat 1,600 tools that date to more eloquently than Malani, but that doesn’t National Gallery’s first ‘contemporary fellow’. the Stone Age; Left Right Studio Material (2018) change the fact that such processes should have What does that mean other than the fact that she is alive and working with a memorial to is the remains of Weiwei’s Beijing studio, been engaged with a long time ago. (nd) demolished in 2018; Spouts (2015) are hundreds the dead? Well, in practical terms it means the When Haegue Yang comes to São Paulo, 23 the South Korean artist has promised to give her of thousands of teapot spouts dating back to artist has created 25 new animations that will be projected, largescale, in a nine-channel pattern the Song dynasty (960–1279 ce); Untitled sculptures a uniquely Brazilian bent. For her first (Porcelain Balls) (2022) includes about a hundred onto the gallery walls. The videos overlap, major show in South America (she showed in the thousand cannonballs made during the same constantly recombining, and focus on details and Bienal de São Paulo in 2006), Yang returns to her historical period; and Untitled (Lego Incident) readings of paintings from the National Gallery’s use of Venetian blinds as a material. In previous installations, such as Sol LeWitt Upside Down (2014) comprises Legos donated to the artist by own collection as well as a selection from the – Structure with Three Towers, Expanded 23 Times, Split the public after the company stopped selling Holburne Museum in Bath. Or Caravaggio, in Three (2015), she paid tribute to and played with product to him. (mvr) Bronzino, Jan van der Venne and Johann Zoffany

22 Nalini Malani, My Reality is Different, 2022, video projection. Photo: Luke Walker. © the artist

23 Haegue Yang, Stacked Corners – Ventilating Orange and Blue Square, 2022, mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist

21 Ai Weiwei, Untitled (Porcelain Balls), 2022. © and courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio

Spring 2023


the legacy of minimalism; in this new work, How Video Transformed the World is 100 percent titled Stacked Corners (2022), she turns her attencorrect! Obviously the whole point of a group tion to the Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles’s exhibition is to prove a thesis, so moma’s curators historic Espaços Virtuais: Cantos (Virtual Spaces: have enlisted the works of Amar Kanwar, Nam Corners), freestanding architectural mimicry June Paik, Ming Wong, Dara Birnbaum and of the corners of a domestic room, works that Martine Syms among others to prove it for them. share Yang’s conceptualism and uncanny The exhibition comprises over 70 works spansensibility. Meireles is not the only Brazilian ning 60 years in total and aims to place artistic icon to find themselves the subject of homage: experimentation as a galvanising force in the Yang inaugurates Pina Contemporânea, a new evolution of video and moving image as we know building for Pinacoteca de São Paulo, with a it today. And both the positive and negative uses mosaic made of images of the eyes, ears and to which the media has been purposed. (nd) hands of national luminaries including Tomie 25 Pacita Abad is increasingly being recognised Ohtake, Mira Schendel, Lygia Clark, Lina Bo as among the trailblazers of diasporic Philippine Bardi, Oscar Niemeyer and Caetano Veloso. (ob) artists in the late twentieth century. Abad is often Hi there – it was hard to carve some time out thought of as Philippine-American (having lived from my daily TikTokery to write this, but hey – in the us on and off between 1970 and 1994, and 24 my TikTokery is proof that the thesis of Signals: whose husband was American, making her a us

citizen), but her residencies in numerous countries (such as Bangladesh, Kenya and Dominican Republic) and nonstop travel for her husband’s economic work made her particularly empathetic to the cultural and political effects of globalisation on society. Her practice became an amalgamation of the diverse cultures she worked and found herself in by introducing local art techniques such as Indonesian batik or Korean ink brush painting. This first-ever retrospective, then, brings together the breadth of Abad’s work, from her traditional paintings to her trapunto paintings of quilted stuffed canvases. Through these works, Abad articulated her own ‘special obligation to remind society of its social responsibility’. (mvr) Oliver Basciano, J.J. Charlesworth, Fi Churchman, Nirmala Devi, Marv Recinto

24 Amar Kanwar, The Torn First Pages (still from The Face), 2004–08, 19-channel standard-definition video (black-and-white and colour, sound and silent; varying durations), 19 sheets of paper, three metal frames, books, magazines and artist books, dimensions variable. Collection Museum of Modern Art, New York. © the artist

25 Pacita Abad, l.a. Liberty, 1992, acrylic, cotton yarn, plastic buttons, mirrors, gold thread, painted cloth on stitched and padded canvas, 239 × 147 cm. Courtesy the Pacita Abad Art Estate


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When I moved to Germany a decade ago, I was immediately advised to purchase a dachshund. The reason being that it’s standard behaviour here to rub dachshund poo in the face of someone who’s slighted you – and, indeed, walking around Berlin, you see it happening almost daily. The British press, however, appear unfamiliar with this quaint national custom, hence all the recent column inches over Hanover State Opera’s ballet director Marco Goecke delivering a wiener-shit facial to critic Wiebke Hüster after she’d called a production of his ‘boring’ and ‘disjointed’. This smear for a smear, or classically literalist German demonstration of ‘giving a shit’, led to Goecke’s suspension and a police investigation. British commissioning editors, unable to contact Gustav the Dachshund for his thoughts, spun out the story by recounting earlier revenge tactics by affronted artistes (novelist Jeanette Winterson doorstepping some critics, or actor/dramaturge Steven Berkoff threatening to murder others). But with the exception of The Guardian’s Adrian Searle, who recounted receiving a ‘turd in a jiffy bag’ and some menacing phone calls, tales of revenge tactics for bad exhibition reviews came there none. This, of course, isn’t entirely surprising, and a few rationales suggest themselves as to why. First, when negative art reviews are written, people in the artworld don’t tend to get upset. I can recall, distantly, the late and short-fused London gallerist Leslie Waddington phoning Time Out’s arts desk to specifically request my head on a plate after I panned a show of his, and there was that time I suggested in Artforum that Susan Hiller maybe wasn’t godlike or even particularly original, so her courtiers swept in to clog up the magazine’s letters page for a month or two. Paul McCarthy was apparently depressed for a fortnight after I extended the thought ‘used to be good, isn’t any more’ over a thousand words, but he didn’t mail me any ketchup-covered beard clippings. In a few cases where I’ve given artists sweepingly unenthusiastic reviews, they’ve offered to buy me lunch and try to talk me round. One or two have passively-aggressively sent me art. The first reason for the general indifference to negative art reviews, when they happen – and the infrequency of art critics ‘getting dachshunded’ – is that art criticism is notoriously unread, even when it’s not unreadable. The authority that art critics used to have in determining what’s good and bad has long been

Giving a Shit

With the lack of upset over negative reviews – and the corresponding infrequency of art critics ‘getting dachshunded’ – Martin Herbert wonders if the artworld is becoming too nice a place

Piero Manzoni, Merda d’artista, 1961, tin can, printed paper, excrement. Photo: Jens Cederskjold. Creative Commons

Spring 2023

ceded to the market and, a bit, to curators. Similarly, a lot of art reviews come out after the show has closed, so they’re not going to affect footfall, and one suspects that for many galleries the general, noncollecting public is largely an inconvenience. A high-profile slamming of a restaurant, by contrast, can decisively affect trade; a bad theatre review can diminish ticket sales. By the time a persnickety exhibition review comes out, the work is probably sold and the gallery’s next show up. Secondly, even if we consider the impact that a bad review could conceivably have on an artist’s reputation, biting critique itself is rather less common than it used to be, with the critical act increasingly replaced by ‘advocacy’, ie the idea that your critique subsists in writing positive coverage while theoretically giving the withering silent treatment to every artist you’re not presently praising. There’s also the critical act as a model of reception, of thinking-through, which feels somewhat more valuable, but that approach similarly tends not to ruffle feathers. Hence, circularly, in this low-stakes environment, the widespread disinterest in art criticism. (Galleries are still keen on having their shows reviewed – those press trips and dinners aren’t for nothing – but it sometimes feels like it’s only to placate the artist, the critic a proxy for someone who has, at least, looked at the show.) And thirdly, when people do get irritated by unloving coverage, they just gripe about it to their friends because there aren’t many forums to sound off and be undignified in. All of which is a pity, this quiescent mutual disengagement, because we could have a really diverting art discourse going if we all agreed to be more intemperate, even if performatively. It merely requires consensual discontent, a circle of narkiness played out in public. Critics talking hyperbolic smack about boring artists, of which there are plenty; artists flying off the handle in response (drunk tweeting mandatory); hot-tempered gallerists losing their shit, someone always filming. A chain of Cedar Taverns distributed across art hubs, and everyone in a state of continuous beefing. There’s precious little frisson in the mainstream of contemporary art as it is – let’s at least make the milieu an entertaining sideshow. People just need to be a bit more irritable. Delete that meditation app. Drink far too much coffee and/or whatever hooch makes you mouthy. Compile a running list of feasible enemies. But maybe stop short of buying a dachshund.


‘How many things do we talk about?’ wonders the awardwinning writer Devanura Mahadeva in his latest book, rss: The Long and the Short of It (2022), an analysis of the true nature and objectives of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (rss), the ultranationalist, volunteer-led organisation from which India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (bjp) derives its political ideology. It is a useful question; the descent into violence, hate crime and religious intolerance in the nine years since Narendra Modi became prime minister has been so horrific that trying to prioritise what to talk about regarding India’s current sociopolitical scene is an unpleasant exercise in cleaving out all but the worst cases. Mahadeva’s pamphlet-length book, written originally in Kannada – he is among the most influential writers in the language, which is spoken largely in Karnataka – and translated into English by S.R. Ramakrishna, approaches the topic head-on, redeploying the rss’s own foundational texts in order to suggest that the organisation’s brand of ultranationalism is, in reality, anti-national and against India’s constitution. In parallel, the recent bbc2 documentary series India: The Modi Question (2023) focuses, though not always very thoroughly, on some of the most controversial and disturbing of the government’s actions over the last decade and before it came to national power. While its two episodes tackle a vast number of topics, from pogroms and riots in Gujarat and Delhi to controversial citizenship bills and lynch mobs, the series remains cautious, trying too hard at times to include both sides of the story, but doing justice to neither.


Let It Be Known

Deepa Bhasthi examines two recent cultural productions that raise alarm bells about the reshaping of India today

Narendra Modi, then chief minister of Gujarat, at a bjp campaign rally in Mumbai during the 2009 general elections. Photo: Al Jazeera. Creative Commons

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Both the documentary and the book offer an entry point to understanding just how India has begun to redefine itself. In the former, the viewer is taken through ghastly videos of state murders and senseless mob violence, the police watch from a distance and do nothing to stop the violence, and the term ‘banana republic’ comes frequently to mind. It starts with the Godhra riots in Gujarat in 2002, a result of the burning of a train compartment with dozens of Hindu pilgrims inside, which led to the murder of hundreds if not thousands of Muslims in retaliation, reviving the allegation that the violence was engineered with the knowledge of Modi, then Gujarat’s chief minister (the Supreme Court exonerated Modi in 2022). The series claims that the British government has evidence from its own independent investigation that orders to ‘let it happen’ came from the top. It was this part that the Indian government has most objected to, banning all screenings, using intimidation and violence, and when it failed to keep the video files off the internet, raiding the bbc’s India offices in New Delhi and Mumbai on arbitrary grounds, a commonly used pressure tactic to discourage dissent. The narrative of Hindu victimhood that solidified after the Gujarat riots helped Modi win the next elections, propelling him onto the national stage. He would continue using this myth of Hindus being in danger; from this first electioneering experiment in his home state, the politics of hate, buffered by vague ideas of fighting corruption and ‘good days’ to come, soon spread to the rest of the country. The

documentary notes that Modi has never spoken up against hate crimes against Muslims and other minorities. While the documentary is replete with deeply disturbing visuals, it is perhaps Mahadeva’s booklet that is the more frightening of the two; for in it, in characteristically minimal prose, he elucidates how the Modi government’s warpath to erase pluralism and tolerance in India can be traced back to rss’s founding principles, inspired heavily by fascism in Hitler’s and Mussolini’s Europe. The rss – Modi and several members of his cabinet have been longtime members – was founded in 1925, and relies almost entirely on the four varnas, India’s infamous caste system, to define its vision for a Hindu state. According to the organisation, and Mahadeva quotes its early leaders K.B. Hedgewar, M.S. Golwalkar and V.D. Savarkar here, Hindus are ‘living’ gods; the Manusmriti (a text written in Sanskrit by Manu – current theories suggest it dates from somewhere between the second century bce and the third century ce – that codifies Hindu customs and practice) should replace the constitution; race purity is an ideal to be achieved; and Sanskrit must be the lingua franca, with Hindi to be used ‘on the score of convenience’ until that is fully achieved. The rss’s ideology is vehemently against the federal nature of India, calling instead for ‘one country, one state, one legislature, one executive, one flag, one leader’, an idea that no longer seems too farfetched when one examines the bjp’s more recent policy decisions. The Long and the Short of It distils a big chunk of India’s economic, social, cultural and political problems into a calmly narrated tale of the country, helpfully including folklore to drive home Mahadeva’s call to action. The effect is as mesmerising as it is humorous. Likening the rss to an evil magician, a master of disguise, an expert in hypnotism, whose life breath is hidden in a parrot that lives in a faraway cave, he says that the party’s power lies mainly in its faith in the caste system. Which is why, he explains, it will do everything possible to maintain the status quo in Indian society, divided and cut up in a thousand ways according to caste, sect and religion.

rss members march in Bhopal, October 2016. Photo: Suyash Dwivedi. Creative Commons

Spring 2023

Along the way, he stops to comment on the spread of fake news, calling it ‘weed-like lies’ and noting that ‘fanaticism anywhere devours humanism’. He calls Modi an utsava murti, ‘a replica of the temple deity [that is] taken out [of the temple] during a procession’, whose only qualifications are the ability to put on a good show, to assist in emotional manipulation and to be able to create a scene to divert people’s attention from a bigger problem. Mahadeva also warns that the puppet show is designed by the deity inside the temple, not the one on the road, and the privileges of the utsava murti can be snatched away the moment the former decides it no longer has any use for the show idol. He thus suggests that real power in India is not with Modi or Amit Shah, his next-in-command, who are replaceable, but with the rss, in its headquarters at Nagpur. Another folktale: Mahadeva reminds us of the story of the evil Koogu Maari, where if one answers when she calls out one’s name, one vomits blood and dies a painful death. Safety rests in staying silent and writing ‘Naale Baa’ (come tomorrow) on the house door; so long as tomorrow never arrives, she is kept at bay. Urging his readers to exercise caution, Mahadeva writes that in the first instance they should ignore the calls of the Koogu Maaris of the rss to join them in their ‘war of hate’. ‘The wisdom born from the experience of the countryside – that “divisiveness is the devil, oneness is god” – must become our wisdom too,’ he writes. By the end of both the book and the bbc documentary, it is hard to hold on to a hope for immediate change; not when one is living through a progressively worsening economy, one of the highest rates of inflation and unemployment in postindependence India and the increasing commonplace of hate crimes. The writer Arundhati Roy, in episode two of the series, says, “Why do I speak to you on this film? Only so that there’s a record somewhere that all of us didn’t agree with this. But it is not a call for help, because no help will come.” In borrowing her words, I find my reason for daring to write this column as well. Deepa Bhasthi is a writer based in Kodagu


Recent years have seen a flurry of development working to launch the Saudi capital within the regional and perhaps even international art scenes. It shows no signs of abating; if anything, things seem to be speeding up. Thus far, much of the governmental thrust has focused on the historical suburb of Diriyah, recently anointed as one of the oil-diversification-blueprint Vision 2030’s ‘gigaprojects’. It is home to the requisite m50- or Gillman Barracks-style converted-warehouse creative district of jax that hosted the inaugural Diriyah Biennale in 2021, as well as a number of artist studios and residencies. Outposts of Jeddawi galleries Athr and Hafez, and the Saudi Arabian Museum of Contemporary Art are soon to follow. Opening nearby is Diriyah Art Futures, an educational and museums cluster dedicated to digital art, with an emphasis on ai and machine learning, and most promisingly a new media-research centre. In downtown Riyadh, meanwhile, will be the Jack Persekian-directed Black Gold Museum dedicated to the resource that’s still keeping all these wheels spinning, and the mammoth Royal Arts Complex, which will


An ‘earnest buddy comedy’ of an institution is a welcome addition to Riyadh’s burgeoning art scene, writes Rahel Aima

Fenaa Alawwal cultural centre, Riyadh


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include five museums, a theatre, an outdoor amphitheatre and several cinema halls and art academies. And to the east, the abandoned Irqah Hospital, which once treated Gulf War combatants and is widely believed to be haunted, hosted a graffiti festival last autumn en route to being remediated as a cultural centre. The long-delayed Riyadh Metro should finally open this year, making navigating the sprawling, traffic-choked capital a bit easier, accompanied by an ambitious public-transit art programme from Riyadh Art. The Misk Art Institute ticks on quietly, albeit with asymmetric, varying quality; an upcoming show organised by Hawai’i Triennale cocurator Wassan Al-Khudairi looks especially promising. It’s a churn of furious infrastructure building, in short, dampened only by what feels like a pervasive belief that government can replace market. The commercial scene remains anaemic – this is a time in which it’s much more profitable for galleries to bid for government projects than focus on selling art – and artists struggle to build and maintain sustainable practices without sales. With the

together the natural features found on Saudi banknotes with Basmah Felemban’s installation of resin fish, and a flickering projection that weaves a fishy tale from a nearby wadi with her own family’s migration history. The small exhibition space is joined by a coffeeshop, and art and design library, and soon a restaurant. Fenaa Alawwal, it seems, is very excited about being the rather dusty term ‘third space’. Outside, a sculpture garden mostly featuring new commissions includes a welded Slenderman-like figure by Saddek Wasil, an Ugo Rondinone Magic Mountains (2016–) and what can only be described as a satisfyingly corporatised office block lobbyturned-palm tree, with stainless steel fronds atop a limestone column, from Nagi Farid. It’s a nice place, pleasing primarily in what feels like a total lack of ambition – and I mean this in the best way possible. It’s an earnestly bumbling buddy comedy to the blockbuster projects happening elsewhere in Riyadh, and seems to augur a quieter, more thoughtful maturation of the scene. Rahel Aima is a writer and editor based in Dubai

rumoured dissolution of Jeddah’s independently funded arts organisation sac (formerly the Saudi Art Council, responsible for the major annual exhibition 21,39 Jeddah Arts), the status of what was functionally the Kingdom’s only art fair, Shara, is especially up in the air. There are only so many times, after all, that you can receive a grant, an award, a biennial commission; and what then? How, as an artist, are you to live? On a recent visit I was heartened to register the emergence of a number of new, less bombastic projects. Chief among these is Fenaa Alawwal, a cultural centre launched by the Ministry of Culture in December. The circular building, in the posh Diplomatic Quarter, used to house Saudi Arabia’s first commercial bank, which once held the country’s gold reserves. As such its first basement exhibition, Memory Deposit (which ran through to 28 February), curated by Tala Al Ghamdi, takes currency as its focus. It’s surprisingly good given what sounds likely to be a rather unfocused programme; highlights include Alia Ahmad’s sprawling imagined landscape that sutures

Nagi Farid, The Palm and The Sun, 2022 (installation view, Fenaa Alawwal, Riyadh) Saddek Wasil, Just Brick, 2022 (installation view, Fenaa Alawwal, Riyadh) all images Courtesy Saudi Ministry of Culture, Riyadh

Spring 2023


Bangkok Art Biennale Foundation presents a short film on a Spiritual Journey in Venice and Bangkok

Pichet Klunchun

Written and Directed by Apinan Poshyananda

Marina Abramović

Conceived by the late Okwui Enwezor and curated by Hoor Al Qasimi, Director of Sharjah Art Foundation, Sharjah Biennial 15 (SB15), titled Thinking Historically in the Present, builds on Enwezor’s proposal to critically centre the past within the contemporary moment while reflecting on the Biennial’s cultural and artistic legacies over its 30-year history. SB15 includes more than 300 artworks by 159 artists and collectives installed in 5 towns and cities across the emirate.

Basel Abbas and Ruanne Abou-Rahme, Maitha Abdalla, Fathi Afifi, Hoda Afshar, John Akomfrah, Moza Almatrooshi, Marwah AlMugait, Hangama Amiri, Brook Andrew, Malala Andrialavidrazana, Rushdi Anwar, Kader Attia, Au Sow Yee, Dana Awartani, Omar Badsha, Natalie Ball, Sammy Baloji, Mirna Bamieh, Pablo Bartholomew and Richard Bartholomew, Shiraz Bayjoo, Bahar Behbahani, Asma Belhamar, Rebecca Belmore, Black Grace, Diedrick Brackens, Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons, Cao Fei, Carolina Caycedo, Ali Cherri, Wook-kyung Choi, Maya Cozier, Iftikhar Dadi and Elizabeth Dadi, Solmaz Daryani, Annalee Davis with Yoeri Guépin, Destiny Deacon, Manthia Diawara, Imane Djamil, Anju Dodiya, Kimathi Donkor, Heri Dono, Rehab Eldalil, Ali Eyal,

Marianne Fahmy, Brenda Fajardo, Raheleh Filsoofi, Nina Fischer and Maroan el Sani, Coco Fusco, Flavia Gandolfo, Theaster Gates, Malek Gnaoui and Ala Eddine Slim, Gabriela Golder, Gabrielle Goliath, Yulia Grigoryants, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Hassan Hajjaj, David Hammons, Archana Hande, Fathi Hassan, Mona Hatoum, Rachid Hedli and Compagnie Niya, Lubaina Himid, Laura Huertas Millán, Saodat Ismailova, Isaac Julien, Saddam Jumaily, patricia kaersenhout, Robyn Kahukuiwa, Reena Saini Kallat, Hanni Kamaly, Amar Kanwar, Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer with Oba, Bouchra Khalili, Naiza Khan, Tania El Khoury, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Ayoung Kim, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Hiroji Kubota, Remi Kuforiji, Lee Kai

Chung, Faustin Linyekula, The Living and the Dead Ensemble, Ibrahim Mahama, Nabil El Makhloufi, Jawad Al Malhi, Waheeda Malullah, Maharani Mancanagara, mandla, Lavanya Mani, Kerry James Marshall, Queenie McKenzie, Steve McQueen, Marisol Mendez, Almagul Menlibayeva, Helina Metaferia, Kimowan Metchewais, Meleanna Meyer, Joiri Minaya, Tahila Mintz, Roméo Mivekannin, Tracey Moffat, Aline Motta, Wangechi Mutu, Eubena Nampitjin, Dala Nasser, New Red Order, Pipo Nguyen-Duy, Mame-Diarra Niang, Shelley Niro, Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Elia Nurvista, Kambui Olujimi, Zohra Opoku, Selma Ouissi and Sofiane Ouissi, Erkan Özgen, Pak Khawateen Painting Club, Pushpakanthan Pakkiyarajah, Hyesoo Park, Philippe Parreno, Ángela Ponce, Prajakta Potnis,

Anita Pouchard Serra, Jasbir Puar and Dima Srouji, Monira Al Qadiri, Farah Al Qasimi, Nusra Latif Qureshi, Michael Rakowitz, Umar Rashid, Wendy Red Star, Veronica Ryan, Doris Salcedo, Abdulrahim Salem, Sangeeta Sandrasegar, Varunika Saraf, Khadija Saye, Berni Searle, Mithu Sen, Nelly Sethna, Aziza Shadenova, Smita Sharma, Nilima Sheikh, Yinka Shonibare, Felix Shumba, Semsar Siahaan, Mary Sibande, Kahurangiariki Smith, Mounira Al Solh, Inuuteq Storch, Vivan Sundaram, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum, Obaid Suroor, Hank Willis Thomas, Akeim Toussaint Buck, Hajra Waheed, Barbara Walker, Wang Jianwei, Nari Ward, Carrie Mae Weems, Nil Yalter

Sharjah City, Hamriyah, Al Dhaid, Khorfakkan, Kalba Free Admission

Photo: Arman Dzidzovic. Courtesy the artist


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The Interview by Fi Churchman

Michele Chu

“I feel like in Hong Kong there’s an undercurrent of loss. There’s really no instruction manual or anything on how to process these types of emotions”

Michele Chu facilitates moments of human connection. Since 2016 she has, via various informal street interventions and public experiments, tried to find ways of creating intimacy between strangers: “poking at different boundaries”, as she calls it. These interventions are often playful: she has set up booths in public spaces and invited strangers to sit and make friends with her; held a bunch of mistletoe over strangers’ heads; started conversations using cue cards with diners through restaurant windows. More recently – since the covid-19 pandemic – she has also conducted workshops in Hong Kong, during which the general public have been invited to explore grief. In 2021 Chu presented her first largescale installation, Inti-Gym (short for ‘intimacy gymnasium’) at Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts in Hong Kong:

two strangers could walk from either end, into a tunnel constructed from sheets of semitransparent netting stretched over metal frames and divided in two at the middle. Once seated at the dividing fabric wall, the strangers would find written prompts to get a conversation going; they might choose to reach out to each other by pushing their hands against the wall, and they might choose to reveal their eyes to one another through a cutout flap. Or they might choose not to do either of those things. Chu is a designer by training, having earned a postgraduate degree in Global Innovation Design (which involves research into design solutions for social change, jointly awarded by London’s Royal College of Art and Imperial College). “I never anticipated becoming an artist,” she admits over a video call. “But in 2019 there

Spring 2023

was a lot going on in my family life, and then covid-19 reached Hong Kong. I think intuitively I was very driven to use my hands to process emotions in some way, and so that’s how I started making artworks.” For her debut solo exhibition, titled You, Trickling, on view through May at Hong Kong’s phd Group gallery, Chu has created an immersive space that reflects on a personal loss that has not happened as yet, but will do so soon, and the associated feelings of anticipatory grief and emotional fragmentation that come with that. In it, the visitor is invited to move through a series of rituals before entering further into the exhibition space, where various objects made from fragments of glass, metal, family photographs and the artist’s own hair and fingernails are on display.


Intimate Distance artreview asia Your work is quite personal and, to some degree, experimental. Did you find it hard to explain to your family or friends what you were trying to do with your performances and experiments? michele chu In the very beginning, yes, because it was also me confessing, ‘Oh, this is my fear of intimacy’. I feel very naked and vulnerable saying that in front of people, but owning up to that is also part of managing it. ara Have you figured out why you were – or are – afraid of intimacy? mc It’s a fear of being hurt or rejected. [laughs] I think everyone goes through that. My walls got higher and higher. It got harder to trust people and to let people in – to the point that I realised it and then needed to try to change that. I think once you open up, it’s much easier for the other person to open up as well. ara I see this playing out in works like Inti-Gym. Is that what you intended? mc Mostly I’m interested in how to make people feel safe, whether it’s through curating a space or creating a situation in which people can feel like they can be more present and also be vulnerable with another stranger. ara Does that sense of safety come from those thin barriers and boundaries in your installations and

street experiments? I’m also thinking of your 2017 street experiment where you stopped in front of a restaurant window and held up question cards up to a person sitting inside. What results is this interaction through a glass pane. And it eventually leads you to enter the restaurant and share a glass of wine with the diner. mc Usually we have very specific distances according to the type of relationship we have with another person, whether it’s public distance or intimate distance. I think having a physical barrier helps people feel safe because they can decide to opt in, or out of the interaction. In the case of Inti-Gym, you can’t pick up on participants’ expressions or any other physical cues that we normally pick up on in daily conversation. That, in a way, makes us more open. The fabric barrier is a kind of literal safety net. ara When did you start on the work you’ll be showing in Hong Kong? mc The proposal for You, Trickling took a few iterations, and then I started fabricating works during recent months. It has changed a lot throughout this whole process. In the very beginning, I was inspired by the concept of the onsen and how these bathing spaces could be an emotional sanctuary. I was very interested in the cathartic effect it had on people, as well as the multisensory aspect of it. Then that changed a bit, mostly because of my mum, who was given a terminal diagnosis.

Her body can’t take any treatments of chemotherapy or radiotherapy anymore, and she’s in a lot of pain. She recently applied for a process of euthanasia. The exhibition will still be a very experiential, multisensory journey for visitors, but it’s definitely taken on more of the themes of anticipatory grief, the passing of time and the body.

Titling Grief ara It’s a lot to process. Are you finding a way to do that? mc I think that the processing of all those emotions is incorporated into my works: everything is still very fragmented metaphorically, but also literally. For one of the pieces, I’m making these glass chains (made from window glass); then I shatter them with a hammer and solder them into little pendants. Then I place emulsion lifts of photos I’ve taken of my family and myself on pieces of glass. In other pieces, I’ve used parts of me: my hair, fingernails, menstrual blood, even cigarette butts. Those things are cast in resin and linked as a chain. ara Did it feel different making this series – as opposed to conducting those other experiments – because you had to be alone with yourself? mc Yes. Even coming up with titles for this exhibition was very difficult. Processing with

From The space in between, a series of street interventions conducted by Michele Chu in Hong Kong as part of The Listening Biennial, 2021. Photo: Arman Dzidzovic. Courtesy the artist


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my hands feels more natural and more automatic to me. But coming up with the titles, with words, and trying to label them? When I was writing that out, I started to spiral because I was basically trying to label my emotions. ara That’s the interesting thing about the relationship between visual art, language and grief. It’s said quite often – and it’s true – that grief can’t really be assigned a written language: sure, you could technically write the words, but at the same time the words can’t be enough. Or, I guess, shouldn’t be enough. How do you encapsulate all of that in a title, or in a series of titles? mc I did some automatic writing and streamof-consciousness writing. I used my Notes app a lot! Basically, whenever I thought of something even if it was in the middle of my sleep or just when I was commuting somewhere, or just during any in-between times, I would jot it down. It was probably way more than a thousand words, but I just kept writing. Willem and Ysabelle [Willem Molesworth and Ysabelle Cheung, the founders of phd Group] knew that I was having trouble choosing, so Ysabelle proposed that we try this exercise where we physically cut up the words I wrote and then try to rearrange them based on, for example, a category for the body, a category for words relating to water and then a category with all the ‘you’s’ in it. It was a process of playing with the words physically, which really helped. That’s how the exhibition got its title, You, Trickling.

ara I guess doing that exercise helps to distance yourself from the work. As if extracting the words from your writing also behaves as a kind of safety net. The title is in the present tense, which seems to reflect this liminal passage of time that you and your mum are experiencing.

A lot of people came up to me after the workshop to say there’s nothing else like this in Hong Kong and that they really needed this. There’s really no instruction manual or anything on how to process these types of emotions.

mc Yes. It’s like this in-between stage where I can still call her up and talk to her, while also knowing that she will pass away soon.

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ara Do you find that it’s affected the way that you make art or the way that you approach intimacy now? mc In terms of grief or anticipatory grief, I think once I open up about it, it also gives space – for example – for you and I to connect as well. Also, it makes me think of how we might care for each other on a communal level, which is also in a sense what I’m trying to do with this exhibition. In December 2021 I hosted a workshop, ‘How to Build a Multisensory Grieving Ritual’, with dancer Sudhee Liao. We explored the idea of how we might care for each other on a collective level during the process of grieving. Participants were teamed up with other strangers to design their own grieving ritual using design-thinking frameworks and rapid prototyping; we also provided props and storyboarding techniques. At the end of the workshop, participants would perform their own grieving ritual followed by a discussion around their thoughts and feelings. I think that was helpful because I feel like in Hong Kong there’s an undercurrent of loss.

ara Hong Kong is a very ritual-based society, not just around festivals, but around everyday superstitions and significant life events as well. Did you find, in making this new body of work, your own kind of ritual? mc Yes. I think it’s my ritual but also designed for others to experience as well. For example, when people enter the exhibition space through a curtain, there’s a fog shower between two doors that serves as a kind of ‘mood palatecleanser’ – a sort of in-between state, from the outside world to the space inside the gallery. I’ve also installed heat lamps so the temperature of the space changes, and there’s a sound installation that incorporates a ritual where visitors burn incense and walk around in a circular, meditative journey before viewing other glass or metal works. I feel like having these ‘nudges’ will allow visitors to ease into that calm state of mind to view my works. ara There’s the idea of boundaries here, too. You’ve made something that’s very personal and private to you, and you’re putting it out to the public. You’ve set up

Inti-Gym, 2021 (installation view at emo gym, Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong, 2022). Photo: Kwan Sheung Chi. Courtesy the artist and phd Group, Hong Kong

Spring 2023


these physical thresholds for visitors to encounter but there’s also the threshold between the visitor and yourself. mc I think having the exhibition at phd gallery really suits it, because entry is by appointment only, and so it’s a much more intimate setting. I’ve also sectioned off the gallery space with thin curtains to create these pockets of space through which you can meander. It’s like playing with private and public spaces, kind of like the changing rooms at an onsen. ara How about the presence of water in this exhibition – it has a cleansing aspect of course, but it’s also often used as a metaphor, right? mc People often talk about grief in terms of water: ‘it comes in waves’, or it’s ‘bottled up’. For me, right now, it’s like an unpredictable tap that will suddenly pour. I read this Reddit thread on grief. People say that when it comes in waves, at the beginning it sometimes comes in 100 feet tall, but then, later on, the time between each wave is further apart and the height of the wave might also decrease. But you can never know for sure how high it is or what the interval between each wave will be. Sometimes you’re clutching onto a log or something, to hold onto a specific memory. ara Do you find that water relates to the state of anticipatory grief, too?

mc There’s a work in the exhibition called Seeping, and it’s a water installation. Water is a very charged medium. Basically, the visitor lies down on a massage bed, around which water buckets are arranged. Water drips into different buckets, but the visitor doesn’t know when the water is going to drip, or how slow or how fast the water is dripping. That work pertains to the uncertainty of grief, but also seeping emotions. ara Does your mum know much about the exhibition? mc She knows that my exhibition is about her, but she doesn’t specifically know what I’m making yet. We’ve had conversations as well, while I was making a glasswork with hair, where she related to it in terms of her experience with cancer and the loss of hair. ara That must be difficult. mc I recently read this piece of writing by Elena Barnabé called Grandma, how to deal with pain?, which I now keep on my phone. It’s about dealing with pain using our hands. ‘Our hands are the antennae of our soul. When you move them by weaving, cooking, painting, playing, or sinking them into the ground, they send signals of care to the deepest part of you and your soul calms down… Everything that is made by hand is said to be made with the heart… the hands and the heart are connected’. I really resonated with that piece.

ara Again, it’s that thing of translating love into action. A bit like how Chinese parents will give you a plate of cut fruits, and that’s like a sign of affection or an apology. mc Yes. Related to the repetitive action involved in cutting a piece of fruit, I’m using the technique of metal repoussé in one work: I’m repetitively hammering out a low relief form, tracing the pattern of my mum’s blisters and rashes that came out when she was doing chemotherapy. In a way, it’s quite intimate, like when you’re using your finger to trace a pattern on someone’s skin or something. ara That act of hand-recording these marks is quite different to documenting them through, say, photography or video. You mentioned, quoting Barnabé, that the hands and the heart are connected; it’s almost as if in recreating these marks on your mum’s body, you’re finding a way for your own body to process grief as well. mc Right, yes, that’s a good way to put it. I’m forging a memory onto the material. And also forging that memory into myself, through that action of hammering. ara Do you remember the last piece of fruit your mum cut for you? mc Peaches. In July. Last year.

Detail of an as-yet-untitled work in You, Trickling, 2023. Photo: Rave Wong. Courtesy the artist and phd Group, Hong Kong


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You, Trickling is open by appointment at phd Group (via website), Hong Kong, 20 March – 13 May

Detail of an as-yet-untitled work in You, Trickling, 2023. Photo: Rave Wong. Courtesy the artist and phd Group, Hong Kong

Spring 2023


Image details from left to right, top row: F1961.14, F1986.7, F1930.45, F1907.537, F1947.15a–b, F1909.143; second row: S1987.976.4 © Ay-Ō, F1930.26a–b, F1894.16, F1967.5a–b, F1906.73; third row: F1986.22a–b, F1909.71, S1987.976.18 © Ay-Ō; fourth row: F1939.42, F1909.487 and F1909.514, F1992.12, F1904.61, S2018.1.75

Centennial Festival may 1–14 #TheNext100

Bank of America is the Presenting Sponsor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art’s Centennial.

signals … 瞬息 瞬息 ⋯⋯ signals signals … storms & patterns 瞬息 ⋯⋯ 風中序 18 March–28 May 2023, opening 17 March 2023 signals … folds & splits 瞬息 ⋯⋯ 展與接 3 June–30 July 2023, opening 2 June 2023 signals … here & there 瞬息 ⋯⋯ 彼/此 5 August–29 September 2023, opening 4 August 2023 Group exhibition curated by Billy Tang & Celia Ho 策展人:曾明俊、何思穎

(Above) Lai Chiu-han Linda, still from 10957 Moons & 30 Elliptical Years (2022). Video Essay. Courtesy of the artist. Para Site 22/F, Wing Wah Industrial Bldg., 677 King’s Road, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong 香港鰂魚涌英皇道677 號榮華工業大廈22樓 Facebook/Instagram: WeChat: parasitehongkong

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Kamin Lertchaiprasert The road to a ‘spiritual aesthetics’ by Max Crosbie-Jones

Spring 2023


above Mind to mind – Nenge takes flowers, Miesho smiles, 2010 (from the series Before Birth – After Death, 2008–11), acrylic on canvas, 220 × 140 cm. Courtesy Numthong Gallery, Bangkok preceding pages Kamin Lertchaiprasert’s open-air studio on the outskirts of Chiang Mai


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Writing in 1997, Uthit Atimana, then director of Chiang Mai juncture, she asks: “At present, if you’re depressed, who is the one you University Art Museum, had this to say about Kamin Lertchaiprasert need?” His poised response betrays the calming benefits of an introafter the latter had returned home following studies at the Art spective practice that has long sought to blur the line between mediStudents League of New York during the early 1990s: ‘It seemed that tation and markmaking: “Emptiness. Sitting here now. Being in the Kamin had thrown away the kind of art that conveyed the energy of present moment.” emotions, and he started to emphasise conceptual-based art works, Internationally Lertchaiprasert has long been associated with inspired by his readings and his rationality. In this kind of art, the fellow artist Rirkrit Tiravanija and the pair’s The Land Foundation: concept comes before the emotions. [But] Kamin still held on to his a communally run art-farm project in rural Chiang Mai that, after they cofounded it during the late 1990s, quickly became known as an everlasting characteristic, namely “directness”.’ It’s a narrative that is still writ large at the Chiang Mai-based artist’s exciting theatre of what curator Nicolas Bourriaud had then recently own rustic gallery – the public-facing ‘office’ of what Lertchaiprasert christened ‘relational aesthetics’. But this designation is, while not calls his ‘31st Century Museum of Contemporary Spirit’. Lining totally spurious, something of a misnomer. For years, The Land’s the raw concrete walls of this high-ceilinged exhibition space is a structures have been crumbling due to a lack of investment and series of monochrome, mixed-media self-portraits created between care (each artist-funded structure is that artist’s responsibility), and 1983 and 1986, before New York, while he studied printmaking at while Lertchaiprasert and Tiravanija remain close – they are neighthe Thai capital’s foremost art school, bours, in fact – the former is now merely an adviser to their once shared project. Silpakorn University: it’s art that conveys Philosophically, he stresses, The Land the energy of emotions. In simple pen remains compatible with his outlook drawings rendered in wild, violent lines – “It’s a spirit house. It does nothing on damaged canvases, for example, his but it does everything,” he says when brooding expression – directed out towards the viewer – is pitched somewhere I ask what function it now serves – but these days his process-led art owes more between self-loathing and cry for help. to the ascetic quests and private rites The artist, in this postadolescent phase, of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism than it appears to be wallowing in a world does the flawed nonownership princiof hurt. Or as the greying fifty-nineyear-old Lertchaiprasert now clarifies: ples of a heavily fictionalised utopia. “I blamed myself for my mother’s sudden Rightfully, he is better known for gamely death in 1983.” embarking on ritualistic art exercises of a drawn-out, disciplined and monoAlso unmistakeable during a visit to his 31st Century Museum is a sense maniacal nature. Centred on the discovery of what came later: an artist who, after of his internal nature or widely applireading books such as The Tao of Physics cable philosophical truths, these ruminative yet action-oriented quests com(Fritjof Capra’s 1975 exploration of menced with installation projects such parallels between modern physics and as Problem-Wisdom (1993–95), which comEastern mysticism) while studying and prises 366 papier-mâché figurines and working in New York, developed an objects, each representing both a sociintense interest in Buddhism. And who, upon moving back to Thailand in 1993, etal problem and a spiritually informed solution. To bring a state of balance – concocted a forthright practice that duly expanded upon that intense interest – between good and bad, right and wrong – and remains in motion today. Thirty years on, his earnestly conceived into being, Lertchaiprasert inscribed idiomatic phrases inspired by conceptual art projects still effusively crosspollinate strains of potted Buddhist and Taoist thought onto birds, frogs and noses, among Buddhist thought with inspirations drawn from across time and countless other whimsical hand-sized sculptures made from pulped space (quantum mechanics, environmentalism, Asian arts and crafts, Thai newspapers. chance encounters among them). The frequency and intensity of such projects has barely let up A collaborative videowork in dialogue with Lertchaiprasert’s since. Between 2008 and 2011, for example, he set aside time each day early self-portraits signposts this approach. In Humanimal (2023), to make an a4-sized mixed-media collage out of old receipts, letters, a 40-minute therapy session shot at the museum, Thai performance tickets and flyers. The project, titled Before Birth – After Death, culmiartist and trained psychotherapist Dujdao Vadhanapakorn attempts, nated in a wall of 715 collages, each one bearing the contours of a skull through the fielding of various question-and-answer exercises from as well as baroque, snaking Thai handwriting relaying aphoristic behind the camera, to peel away the layers of Lertchaiprasert’s psyche. observations gleaned from meditation. In the years since then he has To show just how far he has come, personally and artistically. handmade 365 raku tea bowls (Nothing Special, 2014–15), produced a “What incident in your teenage years do suite of calligraphic, expressionist paintings (Drawing Series – Symbolic of Emptiness, you think about a lot?” she says at one point. A work from the series Teaching Without Words, 2015–18) and painted 90 portraits of inspira“I didn’t understand love. I was selfish,” 2010–14, ceramic (raku), 26 × 32 × 37 cm. tional people (scientist David Bohm, Hindu he replies without flinching. At another Courtesy Numthong Gallery, Bangkok

Spring 2023


mystic Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, kind-hearted mechanics, etc), each paints the setting sun, racing against time to render the distant hills with a related anecdote scrawled on the canvas’s verso (Pure Perception, as swirling brushstrokes and impasto blobs. Finally, he completes 2021–22). the work by scrawling a haiku-esque poem in Thai on the reverse. Indeed Lertchaiprasert goes on to explain that the old self-portraits The latest reads: ‘Man-made is not fog / Sun sets before time / The and new videoworks currently on show are in fact components of golden cloud drifts’. He plans to do this for five years. Or until he his latest elongated quest. Launched last August, this durational feels disinclined to paint any longer. “Sometimes you learn someendeavour is set to unfold at his ‘office’, through rotating exhibitions thing and then you know you cannot keep going. But for now, I don’t know, so I continue,” he says. of around three to four months each, over a five-year period. In one sense, this Self-Enquiry Project, as he calls it, is an attempt As self-indulgent as all this may sound to some, Lertchaiprasert to reconcile his younger selves with his current self: to see what the insists that the Self-Enquiry Project is an undertaking of societal, as former can teach the latter, and how well as personal, consequence: the Philosophically, he stresses, crucial step on his search for a “spirthe latter can rethink the former. Plans are fluid but each chapter will, with the itual aesthetics”, an aesthetics beyond The Land remains compatible with self-centric notions of the physical or help of collaborators from different his outlook – “It’s a spirit house. mental that, he claims, “goes back to backgrounds, revisit artworks from It does nothing but it does everything,” the inner mind of each person… back across his career. Next up, for example, to the nature of mind”. This search, is Aesthetics of Awkwardness, an exhihe says when I ask what function he adds, will culminate with both an bition showcasing works from 1991: it now serves exhibition of the completed landbrash, text-based canvases that poked fun at the clannishness and conservativism of Thailand’s national scape paintings and a book: an atlas of sorts mapping out his lifelong exhibition system and, in so doing, rattled many an ajahn (professor). discoveries concerning society, nature and the contemporary spirit. In another sense, Self-Enquiry Project is just the latest iteraHearing him lay out the teleological components and goals of this tion of his longstanding attempt to dissolve his spiritual prac- late-career gauntlet – as he does willingly for many visitors – is enough tice into his artistic practice. To try and achieve this, he recently to leave you with an unshakeable sense of that everlasting characpivoted to a medium he has never tried before: landscape painting. teristic: directness. This trait, I believe, is both a bane and a boon. Twice a week, typically at dusk on Tuesday and Friday, he takes the Directness has, as Atimana Uthit also wrote back in 1997, sometimes 15-minute drive to his thatched open-air studio on the outskirts of made Lertchaiprasert appear ‘sarcastic and jeering’ or ‘dictatorial in Chiang Mai. After settling down in this raised wooden hut, he then discussions’. His directness also leads his broad-brush philosophising

Problem-Wisdom, 1993–95 (installation view, Problem-Wisdom: Thai Art in the 1990s, 2017, Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane). © the artist


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Banana leaf, 1992, crayon rubbing on saa paper with photograph in shaped frame. Collection Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane. © the artist

Spring 2023


The Chiang Mai Breathe Council (chut), 2019, acrylic on canvas, 195 × 150 cm. © the artist. Courtesy atta Gallery, Bangkok


ArtReview Asia

to occupy a more central role in his practice than it arguably should. In interviews and wall texts, he often comes across as more proselytiser or mystic than artist, verbose and unduly theoretical. But directness also endows him with the capacity to field existential questions using a striking economy of means: humble materials, diverse but intersecting philosophical strands, a laissez-faire attitude to time. And Lertchaiprasert’s directness sustains a rare sociability – an unbroken feedback loop of sincere, pure expression and sincere, pure communication with himself and anyone who’ll listen. “The first wisdom I’m seeking is for myself. But when I feel I understand somehow, I want to recheck myself and share my knowledge,” he tells me. “That is my vision for my whole practice.” After taking in the current exhibition, many visitors join him upstairs in a tea zone modelled on the wabi-cha principles of Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyū (1522–91), then scribble messages in a dramatically spotlit guestbook. ‘I hope you will find what you are looking for on this wonderful and in a sense desperate journey,’ reads one heartfelt remark. Writing in the catalogue for Pure Perception (a series that was exhibited across three Bangkok spaces, including atta Gallery and Numthong Art Space, in 2022), Zara Stanhope posits that Lertchaiprasert’s art ‘holds a vision of goodness for a society at an interregnum’. This vision is, admittedly, easy to mock. Given all the planetary crises we face and the lack of clarity about the future, what good is a platform that, as he puts it, “offers people a mirror to see themselves”? Are Kintsugi bowls that serve as a metaphor for human faults and frailty, paintings of daily life and gnomic titbits gleaned from the scriptures of long dead priests, enough to see us right?

His retort to such criticisms could, if he was inclined to retort, be Art for Air. In Chiang Mai, the city he moved from Bangkok to in 1996, there is no greater emergency than the air pollution, caused by crop burning and other factors, that blights the north between January and April (if not longer) each year. In early 2021, Lertchaiprasert responded by rallying his artist friends, hosting an auction to raise money, then pouring the proceeds into a citywide exhibition, staged across galleries and public spaces, to raise awareness. Today, Art for Air continues, despite funds almost running dry. At the Bangkok Art Biennale 2022, a display of works from the 2021 edition was joined by an educational videowork, directed and scripted by Lertchaiprasert. In it, an avatar of an elderly Greta Thunberg tells a precocious baby elephant that humanity’s “meta-awareness” and “inherent compassion” could, if properly channelled, further the clean air movement (Bangkok is floating, no garbage, 2022). In a sense, this Buddhism-inflected environmental activism seems far removed from his enlightenment seeking: the former aims to alter destiny; the latter promotes dispassionate acceptance of it. Yet Lertchaiprasert insists there is no paradox. “Life is transformation, but it doesn’t mean you have to die now,” he says matter-of-factly. ara Self-Enquiry Project’s second exhibition, We are everything, everything is us (energy, matter, meaning), is on view through 31 March at the office of the 31st Century Museum of Contemporary Spirit, 100/6 Moo 10 Soi Wat Umong, Chiang Mai Art for Air 2 runs through October at art venues across Chiang Mai and Bangkok,

A painting from the ongoing Self-Enquiry Project, 2022–, a planned five-year body of work to be shown at the artist’s 31st Century Museum of Contemporary Spirit gallery in Chiang Mai. © the artist

Spring 2023


March 23 - 25, 2023

Eddie Susanto In a new series of works, the Indonesian artist demonstrates that the map is not the territory text by ArtReview Asia

(now Jakarta) recorded in 1619, Kuala Lumpur Born in Jakarta, Eddy Susanto currently lives following pages Batavia 1619, Babad Tanah Jawi after Jan Saenredam; in 1850 and Singapore in 1819 – whose growth and works in Yogyakarta. Having studied and Singapore 1819, Pararaton after Jan de Visscher; worked in graphic design he expanded his pracand development were impacted or engineered Kuala Lumpur 1850, Pararaton after Scott. tice to produce larger-scale artworks in 2007 (or by colonialism. Not least in the name changes All works 2022, acrylic and imposed on the cities by colonial occupiers, drawing pen on canvas, 50 × 250 cm. as he puts it, he moved from the world of books Courtesy ArtSociates, Bandung to the world of art). Focusing on the intersecwhich reinforce the well-known fact that, in the tion between local histories and global narralong run, many of these metropolises that seem tives, his layered artworks explore the ways in which history and designed to last forever are, in fact, transient structures. Palimpsests culture combine to create identity. In the past his works – which span too. Alongside text from the Javanese histories, the works also incorpainting, sculpture, installation and printmaking – have combined porate adaptations of mannerist fantasies composed (between biblical narratives with episodes of Javanese mythology from the the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries) by Jan Saenredam, Jan de Babad Tanah Jawi (‘History of Java’), the art of Albrecht Dürer, the Visscher and John Scott, which, as much as they revolve around measpoetry of Dante, the signs and symbols of capitalism and colonialism, urements of land, inescapably gives these pen-on-canvas works, with multiple languages and systems of belief. And hence, throughout, acrylic embellishments, the feel of printed Western money. his works are deeply rooted in processes of research and translation. Not least between words and images. The next iteration of Eddy Susanto’s map series will be presented by ArtSociates at Art Taipei in October. That series will include The works that follow (all 2022) combine aspects of the Babad maps of Beijing, Taipei and Hong Kong, with some images related Tanah Jawi and the Pararaton (a Javanese history that translates as to Japan and America the ‘Book of Kings’) with maps of Southeast Asian cities – Batavia

Spring 2023








New Tricks for Old Problems Jakarta is sinking. As Indonesia begins a process of relocating its capital city to East Borneo, and to a newer, greener architecture – albeit accompanied by the forced displacement of thousands of indigenous peoples – can this really represent a fresh start for the nation? by Adeline Chia

The camera soars above a city filled with forests, skywalks, biodomes at breakneck speed. But the question of who, precisely, is footing the and waterways. A city of the future. People are gathering within hand- bill for all this remains a concern. some, tree-lined plazas and cycling along sun-dappled bike lanes. On A little under one-fifth of initial outlay will be provided by the the roads are self-driving electric cars; in the sky, birds and helicopters Indonesian state; the rest needs to come from state-owned businesses labelled ‘Drone Taxi’. High up on a hill, fluttering against the blue and both local and international investors – which in itself will not be sky, is the red-and-white flag of Indonesia. Welcome to Nusantara, the easy given that this is a high-risk project that might not necessarily be nation’s new capital. continued by the next administration, given that Jokowi’s term ends It is situated in the rainforests of East Kalimantan in Borneo – or at in 2024 (and that a survey of Jakarta residents taken at the time of the least it will be according to the slick, computer-generated visualisation architectural competition suggested that 95.7 percent of the populaof it that is available on YouTube. The video was produced by Urban+, tion were against the move). an Indonesian architecture and design firm that won a government Nevertheless, the current government is pushing towards its stated deadlines. Perhaps because practical concerns have been competition, organised in 2019, to masterplan the new city. Videos aside, there is something a little ironic about ‘Nusantara’, eclipsed by the symbolic significance of the Nusantara project. In his an old Javanese word (meaning ‘archipelago’ but associated with state-of-the-nation address in 2019, Jokowi said, ‘The [new] capital the territory conquered by a fourteenth-century Javanese military is not only a symbol of our nation’s identity, but also represents our general), being deployed to sell the dream of a new Indonesia. With nation’s development’. Indeed, Nusantara communicates Jokowi’s its abundant nature, net-zero emissions target and green space less new narrative of economic progress, which is moving away from a than ten minutes away from everyone in the city, it is the antithesis of Jakarta- and Java-centric model of development to what he calls an the city it is designed to replace: the congested, polluted and – most Indonesia-centric one, with more equitable distribution of power and importantly of all – sinking city of Jakarta, which has been the nation’s resources across the archipelago. capital since independence in 1945. The relocation is to be completed Java-centrism is a problem for Southeast Asia’s most populous in five phases, finishing by 2045; with phase one – a 6,000ha zone nation, which comprises more than 17,000 islands and over 1,300 offiknown as the Government Central Area (comprising government cially recognised ethnic groups. Java, which is the island on which offices, schools and hospitals) – scheduled to be completed by February Jakarta lies, occupies only seven percent of the republic’s land area 2024. The plan, according to President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo, is that but is home to approximately half of Indonesia’s population (making the official celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day, on 17 August, Java the most populated island in the world) and contributes up to 60 will be held at his new palace. percent of gdp. In comparison: Kalimantan contributes less than ten Projected to cost us$34 billion and with its ambitious construc- percent of the nation’s gdp and is home to less than seven percent of tion schedule, the scale of this historic undertaking is staggering. the population. Nusantara will cover a total area of 2,560 km2 (about three-and-half In the Geopolitics of Spectacle (2018), urban geographer Natalie times the size of Singapore), for which gargantuan plots of land need Koch argues that spectacular developments in capital cities rely on to be cleared and an estimated 20,000 indigenous people moved out. ‘the metaphor of synecdoche’, a figurative device in which the part In the first phase of development, from 2024 to 2029, it is estimated stands in for the whole. They are, she states, a kind of ‘political techthat 100,000 state employees will relocate to East Kalimantan; the nology’. Koch was focusing the discussion on the city of Astana, which target population for 2045 is 1.7 to 1.9 million was designated as Kazakhstan’s capital during facing page Renderings of Nusantara. residents. To accommodate them, basic infrathe late 1990s after the country broke off from Courtesy Ministry of Public Works and Housing, the Soviet Union and President Nursultan structure (housing and roads) needs to be built Indonesia, and urban+, Jakarta


ArtReview Asia

Spring 2023


Map of Dutch colonial settlement Batavia, on the site of modern-day Jakarta, engraved by Frederick De Wit in 1704. Wikimedia Commons (cc0 1.0)


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Nazarbayev claimed in 2010 that ‘the modern Astana is Kazakhstan in Washington Monument at the intersection. However, Nusantara’s miniature’, a post-Soviet capitalist wonder with a futuristic skyline. axis is informed by a pre-Islamic Javanese cosmology. The city’s It’s easy to see how her argument can be extended to Nusantara. vertical axis faces higher ground, as a mountain represents Heaven Except in this case, Nusantara does not express the flourishing capi- and ancestors. Then the city’s horizontal axis flows down towards talism that was demanded under Nazarbayev’s regime; rather it offers Balikpapan Bay, with the sea representing the rest of the world. a ‘respectable’ eco-modernisation through which neoliberal agendas Despite its utopian aspirations, critics question whether Nusantara truly embodies a real structural rehaul of national idencan be legitimised or greenwashed. Nusantara is designed to be a show city and flagbearer for tity, as well as true economic transformation towards a more equiIndonesia’s political aspirations. By its 100th year of independence, table society. First, the name Nusantara is itself problematically Java2045, the republic aspires to reach the status of a ‘developed country’ centric. A name drawn from other Indonesian cultures, say, ones and the fifth largest economy in the world with a gdp of us$7.3 tril- indigenous to Kalimantan, would have made a stronger statement lion and per capita income reaching us$25,000. As the only Southeast about celebrating diversity. Asian country in the g20, a bloc composed of the world’s largest Second, one can argue that the move to Nusantara might be economies, Indonesia announced it is driven less by public interest than by an targeting to reach net-zero emissions by There is something a little ironic old-school elitist confluence of money and 2060. Smart, sustainable, with clean air about ‘Nusantara’, an old Javanese political influence. Civil society organisaand open roads, Nusantara performs the tions have pointed out various oligarchic word, being deployed to sell republic’s legitimacy – even leadership – financial interests involved in the choice of Nusantara’s location. Several national in a developed, high-income and climatethe dream of a new Indonesia and local politicians and their families own conscious international community. How Nusantara does it is partly by rafting an image that inter- concessions for forestry, mining and oil palm plantations in the area twines national identity with the environment. Sibarani Sofian, and potentially stand to benefit from state compensation. director of Urban+ and Nusantara’s urban planner, came up with the Finally, despite their idealistic projections, without radical tagline nagara rimba nusa – Bahasa Indonesian for ‘city forest islands’ – reforms across the board, existing political-economic structures a spatial conception that expands from small to big, proceeding from will continue to infiltrate these new urban experiments and the administrative capital (nagara) to the Borneo jungle (rimba) and undermine their ambitions. It is too early to say if Nusantara finally to the archipelago identity of the entire republic (nusa), to fuse will succeed or fail, but tellingly, the Indonesian government has repeatedly cited Brasilia as its model. In 1960 Brazil moved the ideas of nature and culture. Meanwhile, Nusantara’s blueprint also projects a geopolitical its capital from crowded, coastal Rio de Janeiro to a scratch-built imaginary that marries ‘indigeneity’ with the international stand- centre in the country’s hinterlands. The new city parallels Nusantara ards of a modern city. Sofian tells ArtReview Asia that the city plan in that it was meant to relieve a clogged capital and boost the economy follows the typical right-angled axes of major Western cities, like in the countryside. Brasilia also represented the programme of the Voie Triomphale in Paris, which runs through the Tuileries Garden aggressive self-modernisation under President Juscelino Kubitschek and Champs-Elysées, and Washington, dc’s arrangement with the de Oliveira, who famously campaigned under the slogan ‘Fifty

Aerial view of Jakarta during January 2002 flooding. Photo: Dadang Tri. © Reuters / Alamy Stock Photo

Spring 2023


Years in Five’ back in 1955, promising 50 years of growth in a tenth of that time. Yet Brasilia presents a cautionary tale about cities purpose-built to showcase an ideological narrative. When it was first unveiled, the city was hailed as a modernist dream of rational design, as well as a socialist utopia with equal opportunities for all in public housing. But the city’s design – even though it was considered bold and visionary at the time – quickly became outdated and sterile. For one, it was planned around a car-based society (futuristic at that time) and buildings were spaced far apart. This made the city inhospitable to walking and created dead open spaces. This is in stark contrast to the conventional wisdom of contemporary urban morphology, which leans towards people-centred, mixed-use developments with compact city centres. More damningly, Brasilia could not fulfil its progressive ideals of universal accessibility, being eventually plagued by the same national problem of social inequality. After public housing got privatised, poorer residents got priced out of central areas, resulting in the growth of satellite towns populated by those who work for the capital’s wealthy civil servants. Regarding purpose-built green cities, the prevalent consensus in urban geography is bleak. Geographers have expressed pessimism about green-city experiments and argue that these projects thinly disguise state or market rationale, and that they fail to address the climate emergency or subvert the rule of neoliberalism and globalisation. For example, Nusantara’s green credentials do not hold much water, given the displaced indigenous populations and potential impact on the Borneo rainforest, which is home to critically endangered species like the orangutan and a globally important carbon sink. Ecologists argue that even if Nusantara is planned along sound principles, the spillover effects outside of its boundaries will be severe. For example, the construction of roads connecting Nusantara to other parts of Borneo can damage fragile ecosystems in previously inaccessible parts of the island. And despite being intricately engineered to the world’s most stringent environmental standards, many eco-cities

are also underperforming. Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city in China and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi (‘the world’s first zero-carbon city’) are green ghost towns. Given the failure rate, pessimism in these new cities is well-justified, but the question remains as to whether or not this episteme is politically disabling or empowering. Perhaps the most optimistic thing to do is to focus on local conditions instead of applying grand theories, and to actively search out potential strategies and propositions Nusantara can offer to global sustainability. It could be that Nusantara might in time embody change and, despite its issues, end up providing an inspiring alternative vision of an ecological future from the Global South: a low-carbon, nature-infused pedestrian city with skywalks, parks, cycling paths and a metro system, coexisting within a biodiverse rainforest. It could be that this new Asian city becomes a key site of knowledge production that generates new solutions and visions for a postcarbon city of the future. Nusantara’s architect Sofian certainly believes in the city’s potential – if enough people move there. All that sustainability will be a moot point if the streets and buildings remain empty. To encourage migration, he says there should be catalyst projects like investing in the tourism sector and starting an educational institute. “It’s a chicken-andegg problem,” he says over the phone. “You need people to be there for businesses to move in. But people won’t move into a place with no businesses. So it’s important to create a critical mass of population. But as with all new capital cities, in the first few years it will be mostly empty.” From his perspective, building a new town from a blank slate is about being free from the crumbling infrastructure of previous administrations and its attendant social problems like inequality and poverty. While there are benefits to a city that has grown organically, there are certain urban features that are better planned from the start, such as the collective infrastructure of roads, waterways and the electric grid, as most of a city’s ecological footprint comes from these places. “Planning from scratch allows us to do the most ideal things possible,” he explains, “on paper.” ara

Aerial-view rendering of Nusantara. Courtesy Ministry of Public Works and Housing, Indonesia, and urban+, Jakarta


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Dutch railway map of pre-Independence Indonesia, c.1920. Public domain

Spring 2023


Maya Lin

by Andrew Russeth

The American sees her work as founded on a mix of art, architecture and the creation of memorials, all of which she uses to honour the past and reshape the future


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Could it happen today, in the political climate of 2023 America? As She faced racist attacks at the time, and had to defend her plan before the famous story goes, in 1981, a twenty-one-year-old undergraduate Congress, but public discourse in the us has curdled a great deal since submits a highly unconventional proposal for a Vietnam Veterans then. It is easy to picture Fox News host Tucker Carlson oozing condeMemorial in Washington, dc, and in a blind competition against scension and indignation, and Republican officeholders rushing to more than 1,400 other entries, she wins. Maya Lin, the daughter of line up behind him. Chinese immigrants, faces fervent opposition to her spare design – In the intervening 40 years, Lin has of course kept working. Now sixty-three and based in New two long walls gliding into the Classic Lin pieces evince a quiet reverence land, bearing the names of the York, she has carved out for herself American dead – but in 1982 it is something of a sui generis posifor the natural world. They tend to be tion in the us cultural landscape installed on the National Mall, restrained and rooted in a functional logic, by moving between different but and it makes her a star. while exuding a beauty tinged by melancholy related roles, uniting different The Vietnam Veterans Memodisciplines. She sees her work “as rial has become one of the great sacred spaces in the United States. Walking down its path, people a tripod”, she said during a talk in February at Hongik University grow quiet. They use crayons and pencils to rub names onto paper. in Seoul, the three legs being art, architecture and memorials (or They leave flowers and other items. They linger. It is not universally “memory works”, as she has also termed them). adored, but it is beloved. When the American Institute of Architects What holds those legs together? Classic Lin pieces evince a quiet published a survey of ‘America’s Favorite Architecture’ in 2007, it came reverence for the natural world and an awareness of deep history. in at number ten. It was the only entry in the top ten to have been built They tend to be restrained – her art often involves only a single matein the past half-century, and even more importantly, it was the only rial – and rooted in a functional logic, while exuding a beauty that selection that could be classified as an example is tinged by melancholy. of minimalism, and an unusual strain of miniIn a solo exhibition at Pace gallery in the facing page Silver Upper White River (detail), South Korean capital that ran into March, Lin malism at that. This is an unspectacular monu2014, recycled silver, 333 × 610 × 1 cm (installation view, Crystal Bridges Museum ment – beneath the ground but exposed to presented a few works that map rivers, a recurof American Art, Bentonville, ar). light, mournful but not sepulchral. It invites ring practice for her. Thousands of tiny steel Photo: Dero Sanford collective grieving. pins dotted a roughly 3-by-2m expanse of wall, above Maya Lin with the final design for the If the process were to be repeated now, it is meticulously charting Korea’s Imjin and Han Vietnam Veterans Memorial, presented in rivers and their many tributaries (Pin Gang – hard to be confident that Lin would be able to Washington, dc, in May 1981, in the company Imjin and Han, 2022). It suggested a closeup see her commission through to construction. of memorial fund and project directors

Spring 2023


of veins and capillaries, a frozen burst of lightning or even a faraway sociopolitical ones. Her Above and Below (2007), an undulating, skeletal galaxy. On another wall, thin branches of recycled silver showed the web of epoxy-coated aluminium, is a three-dimensional map of the flow of the Tigris and Euphrates, a similar spread of craggy lines river system that sprawls beneath Indiana. (It hangs above a covered terrace at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which makes encounters (Silver Tigris & Euphrates Watershed, 2022). Those waterways cross fraught political boundaries, which are with it all the more unreal: who knew that was buried below?) Her absent in Lin’s works, and they have developed on a timescale beyond Civil Rights Memorial (1989) at the Southern Poverty Law Center in human memory. In her borderless models, Lin nudges viewers to step Montgomery, Alabama, is a stone table that bears water (via a barely back and marvel at natural systems that operate across hundreds and perceptible fountain) and text with a compact history of the movehundreds of miles. There is a utopic tone to this exercise – the all- ment. The Women’s Table (1993) at Yale University is another large flat stone and fountain, incised with seeing cartographer’s belief that She wants history to be remembered with spiralling numbers that count vast expanses can be mapped, the women enrolled at the New and thus grasped in some way dignity and she will insert her work into the Haven, Connecticut, school over – but a certain fragility or even world only to the degree that it will have some its history. It begins with a long ephemerality defines much of her art. Pull those pins, and the string of zeroes. kind of concrete benefit – practical or poetic map disappears. In recent years, Lin has been Death haunted Lin’s Ghost Forest installation in Manhattan’s developing what she terms her ‘fifth and last memorial’, a multifacMadison Square Park in 2021. It involved installing 49 Atlantic white eted project that addresses the ongoing rapid loss of biodiversity, cedar trees that had been killed by climate change-induced saltwater titled What Is Missing? (2009–ongoing). At its core is a website that inundation (in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey) upright in the green maps the ecological history of the planet – discussing the living things space. This ecological cemetery stood for six months, slowly wasting and ecosystems that once thrived (cod as big as an adult human, just away as the season changed. It was not exactly a subtle endeavour, a century ago!) and what has been done to restore the environment. It but it was certainly less heavyhanded than Olafur Eliasson’s Ice Watch also allows anyone to submit a memory about the environment. One (2014) project, which carted massive hunks of glacial ice into public anonymous contributor fondly recalls childhood visits to a Florida beach during the early 2000s, only to return spaces and let them melt. Storm King Wavefield, 2009, earthwork, recently and find ‘trash and debris that was Ghost Forest continues Lin’s enduring 125 × 150 × 5 m. Photo: Jerry Thompson. littered along the sand, and floating in the interest in making visible things that are kept Courtesy Storm King Art Center, out of sight, whether by geological forces or water. It really broke my heart.’ New Windsor, ny


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Nature Knows No Boundaries, 2023 (installation view, Pace Gallery, Seoul) Courtesy Pace Gallery, Seoul

Spring 2023


Ghost Forest, 2021, 49 Atlantic white cedars, dimensions variable (installation view, Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York). Photo: James Ewart


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As with so much of Lin’s work, her digital platform attempts to designer’s idea of art. But much of her other work exudes an enlivrecord and preserve the past with the ultimate aim of fomenting ening restraint, a rare concision that is born of careful research and action, or at least a change in mindset. “How can we protect something a desire to make no unnecessary gestures. It is conservative, but only if we don’t even know it’s missing?” as she put it in her Hongik talk. of a very specific sense. That sensibility – attuned to the environment, eager to learn from Lin, I think, can be connected to what the American political scienthe past – can be seen guiding Lin’s 2021 redesign of the library at tist Robert J. Lacey has termed ‘pragmatic conservatism’, which he Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, with its emphasis on associates with mainstream liberalism (and the Democratic party) in removing elements of previous renovations. Two cumbersome wings the us – a Burkean-derived worldview that finds value in tradition were replaced with smaller light-filled ones, with the intention of but that embraces incremental reform, led by elites. President Barack allowing its Frederick Law Olmsted-designed campus to breathe once Obama, who awarded Lin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016, more. Capacious windows were installed to facilitate birdwatching, could be seen as an exemplar of that position. She wants Olmsted’s and cramped spaces created by those prior construction jobs were design to thrive, she wants history to be remembered with dignity opened up. Razor-focused on making an energy-efficient design, she and she will insert her work into the world only to the degree that picked materials long utilised for Smith buildings, like local stone, it will have some kind of concrete benefit, whether practical or poetic. glass and timber. So much of what gets built in the public sphere in the us now Lin’s very way of working could be seen as embodying a distant is awful and overblown: Michael Arad’s portentous 9/11 Memorial era, before the rise of starchitects and supersized firms with offices at Ground Zero, Friedrich St. Florian’s imperialistic World War ii around the world. She takes only one architectural project at a time, Memorial in Washington, or Vessel, Thomas Heatherwick’s baleful and her entire studio team never exceeds five people. (Architect hypercapitalist fantasia (and, sadly, suicide device) at Hudson Yards William Bialosky collaborates with her on her building projects.) in New York. Lin embodies a very different position. The subtlety When tapped for a job, she will design “everything, including the that is the hallmark of her projects suggests, to me, a deep trust in an informed public. Her creations encourage moral and ethical doorknobs”, Lin said in her lecture. A case against Lin’s approach to art and architecture could be that thinking, but they do not hector, and they call no one to arms. Here it is too literal, illustrating important issues or concepts rather than are some rivers, they say, and here are some names, and here are some responding to them. Her land works have things that have taken place. How should we Neilson Library, 2021, Smith College, certainly felt one-note to me. Earth sculpted act now? What are we going to do next? ara Northampton, ma, designed by to resemble wave patterns or sinuous lines can Maya Lin Studio with William Bialosky. seem impressive but a little dull, a technical Andrew Russeth is a writer based in Seoul Photo: Nic Lehoux Architectural Photography

Spring 2023


Image: CCG Library of Asia Art Archive, 2022. Photo: Moving Image Studio.

EXPANDING SPACE, GROWING CONNECTIONS Asia Art Archive has opened its expanded library as a gathering space for knowledge-sharing and artistic production. Join us for a new series of talks and exhibitions highlighting AAA’s ongoing research initiative on art collectives and independent art spaces. The renovation is made possible by lead library sponsor Chinachem Group, and supported by members of AAA’s Board, Collectors Circle, and AAA Contemporaries, as well as individual, corporate, and foundation supporters.

Asia Art Archive 11/F Hollywood Centre 233 Hollywood Road Sheung Wan, Hong Kong T. +852 2844 1112 E.

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Art Reviewed

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Myth Makers – Spectrosynthesis iii Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong 24 December – 10 April Myth is inherently mutable and elusive, subject to the whims and embellishments of narrators through the ages. It is when myth meets power that it takes on the guise of some foundational truth about what we are, why we’re here and how our lives should be organised. Myth Makers – the third exhibition in the Sunpride Foundation’s lgbtq-focused Spectrosynthesis series – considers how more than 60 artists from Asia and its diasporas reclaim the fluid potentials of mythology to destabilise hegemonic frameworks. In the first section, ‘Queer Mythologies’, Xiyadie’s intricate paper-cuts revitalise a traditional Chinese craft to illustrate semilegendary accounts of same-sex affairs. The artist’s astute

eye for composition is evident in Split Peach (2022), which depicts Duke Ling of Wei and his courtier Mizi Xia. The mirrored lovers are framed by a profusion of pink blossoms and fruit on one side, palace architecture on the other, pitting natural temptations against state power (the duke eventually turned against his favourite). Nearby, Andrew Thomas Huang’s film Kiss of the Rabbit God (2019) follows the erotic awakening of a Chinese-American restaurant worker after the patron deity of gay love stops by for wonton and a backroom tryst. In the heat and chaos of the Lucky Dragon Restaurant is a captive longing, not only for sex and self-acceptance but for the succour of the old gods amid the lonely toil of

immigrant life. By expanding on queer lore from ancient contexts that predate the ascendancy of heteronormative values and systems, Xiyadie and Huang situate their art within a rich lineage while alluding to broader negotiations of hierarchy. Another productive dialogue emerges between Siren Eun Young Jung’s and Ellen Pau’s videos on queer performativity. Jung’s researchbased Deferral Theatre (2018) investigates the legacy of yeoseong gukgeuk, an all-women form of musical theatre invented by marginalised entertainers in postwar Korea. Pau takes a less didactic approach in Song of the Goddess (1992), which beautifully interweaves scenes of women

Myth Makers – Spectrosynthesis iii, 2022 (installation view, Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong). Photo: South Ho


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bathing together with performance footage of Cantonese opera stars Yam Kim-fai and Pak Suet-sin (the pair often played romantic roles that required Yam to don masculine drag). Both videos address how the stage has enabled expressions of gender nonconformity and queer intimacy within otherwise conservative, heteropatriarchal contexts. Numerous works explore self-fashioning as a form of empowerment, including Fan Chon Hoo’s display of glamorous studio portraits documenting the changing appearance of Ava Leong, a Malaysian trans woman, from the 1950s to 60s. By contrast, in the section ‘Body Politics’, Tseng Kwong Chi’s irreverent blackand-white selfies in a thrifted Mao suit amplify his otherness as a gay Chinese-American man posing in front of San Francisco, Paris and New York landmarks. Taken during the late 70s and 80s, these images still feel delightfully

subversive, both in Tseng’s mockery of whiteWestern racial stereotypes and in his appropriation of a costume associated with China’s communist strongmen. In an exhibition that fixates on representations of queer bodies – clothed, naked, abused, aroused – works that engage with concealment and absence stand out. Jiaming Liao’s Do You Know Where the Birds Are (2022) consists of dreamy C-prints of Kowloon Park, a known cruising spot in Hong Kong. Devoid of people, Liao’s photographs instead highlight the texture of the surroundings, like the opalescent ripples on a dark pond. An image of a bright passageway filled with iridescent bubbles conjures the ephemeral promise of furtive sexual release. In the final section, ‘Queer Futurities’, Bruno Zhu’s Constança, Esperança and Graça (2019) reduces the titular women to a clinical tabletop-display of

swaddled soap bars, beauty tools, kitchen utensils and sharp implements, obliquely problematising gendered imperatives of purity, beauty and care. Despite some notable inclusions, the exhibition never fully evokes the fugitivity of mythmaking. Instead, predictable iconographies and design flourishes contribute to a dated and stereotypical aesthetic: repeated nods to queer idols Judy Garland and Leslie Cheung defer to cliché, while the holographic rainbow curtains on the first floor do little beyond crowding the artworks. The show’s maximalism reflects an admirable curatorial intent to draw upon diverse queer imaginaries, yet what prevails is an overstating of familiar tropes through a repetitive and occasionally jumbled collection. Myth Makers has a compelling conceit, but bloated storytelling weakens its conviction. Ophelia Lai

Bruno Zhu, Constança, Esperança and Graça (detail), 2019. Photo: South Ho

Spring 2023


Romantic Irony Arario Gallery, Seoul 1 February – 18 March Given the number of deep-pocketed foreign dealers who have been setting up outposts in Seoul, it’s been a pleasure to see local firms increase their own footprints lately. After being out of action for a year, Arario has unveiled a gallery with – count them! – seven floors, including its basement. Renovated in highindustrial chic by Jo Nagasaka (Schemata Architects, Tokyo), it stands next to the delightfully odd Arario Museum (an idiosyncratic collection of Korean contemporary artists, ybas, Jörg Immendorff, Cindy Sherman and more). First up in the new space is a group show with five Korean artists on the gallery roster – all men, all but one born during the 1970s.

Each gets a floor of his own, so it feels like visiting five separate, modestly sized solo affairs. That said, there’s a single theme and title for the proceedings: Romantic Irony, as conceived by the German philosopher Friedrich von Schlegel (1772–1829), a press release informs. An Oxford Companion to the Romantic Age (1999) advises that the phrase connoted, for him, ‘an attitude of detached scepticism adopted by the highest “modern” or post-classical art toward its own activity and/or material’. This could apply to a sizeable percentage of today’s art, but no matter: it was a useful frame for the proceedings. The chief romantic ironist? That would have to be Gwon Osang, who has layered photos atop

Noh Sangho, The Great Chapbook 4 Holy, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 117 × 91 cm. © the artist and Arario Gallery, Seoul


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curving, abstracted human forms that recall those of Henry Moore. In his previous ‘photographic sculptures’, Gwon has tended to use correctly proportioned bodies and applied images so as to craft realistic (and uncanny) three-dimensional portraits. These latest examples, however, bear fractured collages across their surfaces; they are garish and even grotesque. The head of one reclining figure has been built from snapshots of two different models, and multiple small legs adorn her amorphous lower half. Imagine a primitive computer trying and failing to stitch together a body with too few images, and you have a sense of the look.

Noh Sangho is also concerned with breakdowns in the legibility and veracity of images. His paintings brew together photos and graphics he generates with ai. Sesame Street’s Elmo holds the form of a crucifix (a meme) before a church window in one airbrushed work; a grinning skeleton sits astride two overlapping horses (an ai glitch) in another. (Both are titled The Great Chapbook 4 – Holy, all works 2023.) As many artists mine disparate sources to make compositions that have an exotic veneer but are ultimately quite tame, Noh deserves credit for making paintings that are genuinely tasteless – as awful as the digital wastelands inspiring them. The excellent Lee Dongwook’s romantic irony takes the form of shocking self-abasement. He goes through hell in his art. Using pink, fleshy Sculpey clay, he fashions himself as a tiny, usually nude figure undergoing abject trials.

In Crane his naked body supports long beams festooned with heads on their ends: a one-man construction site. In Cliff his head rests atop a miniature pagoda. There is an unfinished appearance to many of these sculptures (exposed supports, scrappy bits of clay) that makes their harrowing circumstances all the more darkly comic. A macabre, barely-there humour also lingers in the greyscale paintings of Ahn Jisan, which are rough and patchy, seemingly uncertain whether they want to hold together as discrete artworks or evanesce. (Think Anselm Kiefer lite.) A shadowy figure holds scissors in one hand and a rabbit’s ears in the other in the most memorable piece here. In another, a yellow-haired man grips the back of a water deer (humping it?) as it flies through the snow. These are fine paintings, but it would be nice to see Ahn be even less polite, surfacing the sinister energies that his art seems to harbour.

The best display? That belongs to Kim Inbai, who in an extra-tall space presents four beguiling sculptures. Slices of oddly shaped plywood (a modified outline of the nearby city of Paju) are stacked from floor to the 5.5m ceiling, a map surreally morphed into architecture. Blackboard and Chalk hangs on a wall, its board made of white chalk, its chalk stick painted with blackboard paint. In Metamorphosis two large propellers (one smooth, one craggy) are threaded onto a standing pole – spare parts for some unknown machine. In Hangul, one bears the cryptic words of the resurrected Jesus: ‘Don’t touch me’. This art is about looking and living with doubt – a defining experience of our times – as faith and scepticism duel. Nothing that Kim makes is quite what it first purports to be. As his art reveals itself, it seems to be teaching you, playfully, how to see. Andrew Russeth

Kim Inbae, Metamorphosis, 2023, resin, fibreglass, pla filament, aluminium, stainless steel, 148 × 165 × 258 cm. © the artist and Arario Gallery, Seoul

Spring 2023


Daniel Boyd Treasure Island Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 4 June – 29 January The first painting inside Daniel Boyd’s Treasure Island asks for the viewer’s time. While the rest of Boyd’s exhibition attests to his capacity for swift impact, Untitled (wwdtcg) (2020) is comparatively slower and more soft-spoken. Composed of a series of black and white dots, the diminutive painting presents an ambiguous geometrical form that resists the impatient or passing glance. Which is exactly the point. The sets of evenly distributed white ovals in Untitled (wwdtcg) reveal a series of lines that, upon closer inspection, simulate the edges of a three-dimensional cube on the flat canvas. For those willing to look even closer, this geometry references Swiss crystallographer Louis Albert Necker’s 1832 optical illusion,

the Necker cube. Necker’s original two-dimensional drawing was famous for resolving into a three-dimensional cube, whose orientation was unfixed, facing either right or left, depending on a viewer’s perception. Critically, a viewer can switch the cube between these opposite positions by choosing to see it one way or the other. Necker used the illusion to suggest the elasticity of human perception and our capacity to shift our most fundamental understanding of reality. While operating in a different historical and cultural space (Boyd is a Kudjala, Ghungalu, Wangerriburra, Wakka Wakka, Gubbi Gubbi, Kuku Yalanji, Yuggera and Bundjalung man with ni-Vanuatu heritage), Untitled (wwdtcg) does something similar. Appearing at once as

a fixed geometry and changing shape in his painting, the partially revealed cube augurs how the exhibition draws upon familiar, seemingly fixed cultural icons to ask for a similar inversion to occur. A critical recasting of history is taken up in Boyd’s early painting Captain No Beard (2005), in which he borrows directly from the past, turning it upon itself. At first, Captain No Beard seems to slide towards the familiar territory of the commemorative portrait, offering a close approximation of John Webber’s 1782 painting of Captain James Cook. But Boyd refashions Cook from a historical pioneer into a colonial pirate, through the addition of an eyepatch and a parrot. These are simple, comical interventions;

We Call Them Pirates Out Here, 2006, oil on canvas, 226 × 276 × 4 cm. Collection Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney. Photo: Jeni Carter / agnsw. © the artist


ArtReview Asia

yet each gesture is underwritten by a stinging indictment of colonial violence, and the realities of dispossession. There is something particularly compelling about the use of visual fiction as a way to cut through to historical truth. Boyd’s We Call Them Pirates Out Here (2006) extends this logic into history painting, re-presenting Cook’s landing in Kamay/Botany Bay in 1770 as a moment of invasion rather than an act of heroic nation-building. Alongside the exhibition’s invocation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous nineteenth-century novel Treasure Island (1882), Boyd’s paintings forcefully expose the fantasies and fictions that marble Australia’s cultural mythology. Yet Boyd’s most interesting intervention occurs when his painted figures begin to disappear. His work Untitled (kgar) (2017) relies on the same appropriative logic as Captain No Beard, taking a c. 1762 portrait of King George III by Allan Ramsay as its inflection point. Rather than

diminish the king through the addition of critical iconography, Boyd brings the figure’s very existence into question. Here, George III appears as an abstracted ghost, who only remains visible through a visual matrix of dots. Step closer to the image and the king dissipates into abstraction, move back and he becomes a hazy spectre; semi-erased, and wholly contingent. It’s a striking image, which negotiates the politics of storytelling with the deftest of treatments. The difficulty for so much current art history comes from the struggle to reckon with the violence of the past without centring the very actors who perpetrated such violence. Boyd offers up a response in the form of a visual paradox that acknowledges and occludes the colonial personage within the space of a single gesture. Boyd refers to the dots he uses to both describe and withhold information as ‘lenses’. The lenses politicise the very act of seeing,

suggesting how presence is negotiated both optically and culturally. Untitled (hndfwmiafn) (2017) pulls into focus Australia’s propagation of plantations and use of slavery in the nineteenth century, depicting a group of men surrounded by sugarcane crops. As his cyphered titles suggest, there are always choices undergirding the stories that we tell and those that we omit. But Boyd’s lenses extend beyond his canvas. Throughout the museum, he has affixed black vinyl riddled with holes to the windows, creating hundreds of tiny apertures for light to pass through. To walk through the exhibition is therefore to become aware of the contingency of light and the unseen darkness of the interstice. Boyd’s singular brilliance lies in his ability to conscript the viewer into the construction of meaning. Here, our own gaze suggests the fight for visibility, and rehearses the very conditions of our untold histories. Tai Mitsuji

Untitled (kgar), 2017, oil and archival glue on linen, 245 × 153 cm. Photo: Jessica Maurer. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

Spring 2023


Poyen Wang Endearing Insanity Essex Flowers, New York 7 January – 5 February I visit Essex Flowers on a particularly gusty Sunday afternoon, the kind that makes the gallery’s quiet noticeable as the door shuts behind me. Yet the space isn’t entirely silent – low murmurs beckon me to come in further. The installation inside is minimal: at the far end of the gallery, a videowork – the source of the murmurs – loops on a vintage tv that plays from atop a tall pedestal; a few socially distanced prints depicting a computer-animated boyish figure occupy the walls either side. Despite the unassuming appearance of Poyen Wang’s exhibition, it has a gravitational pull. Images of the same boyish figure flash across the monitor, who contorts and crams themself into the various niches of a raintinted studio apartment: into a refrigerator, oven, sink or cabinet. As I come face-to-face with the pliable hide-and-seeker, the character’s ‘confessions’ finally become audible: “I hold grudges… I’m shy… I have endearing insanity…”

The eponymous 2022 work seduces and repulses in equal measure. The comforting thought of waiting out the rain with this companion soon gives way to doubt as unmistakable horror tropes begin to play out: flickering red lights, sounds of shattering glasses, a closeup shot of the character caressing a kitchen knife. Their monologue bubbles with lust (“seeking / more / meat / love”) and hints of narcissism (“I think I am cute”) as they teleport across the apartment, their bruised and bloodied body magnifying or shrinking with each shot. While Wang’s previous works often deal with nostalgia and the passage of time, Endearing Insanity inhabits a temporality that’s stranded on “just another rainy Sunday afternoon”, apt for “wasting time”, as its protagonist admits. The unbearable boredom of a protracted present compels one to encounter and confront oneself. Through his shapeshifting surrogate, Wang

Oven, 2022, archival inkjet print mounted on sintra with maple frame, 38 × 30 cm. Courtesy the artist


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heightens the mundane melodrama of watching one’s own ego balloon and deflate, as if from a third-person perspective. One may associate such temporality and introspection with the covid-19 pandemic, which for two years suspended the future in uncertainty and left us, mostly, to deal with ourselves. (It also speaks to the condition of late-stage capitalism that places the responsibility of securing a future squarely on the individual person – further atomising contemporary societies.) But the work hints at a possible remedy: embracing ‘alone time’ as an opportunity to acknowledge our base desires and other monstrous and unwieldy parts of ourselves. Endearing Insanity’s emotional content – even its abjection – is entirely relatable: the longing and loathing, desiring and cringing, and the sudden self-awareness of caught being sentimental on a Sunday afternoon. Kevin Wu

Xiyao Wang A Carnival in the Forest Massimo De Carlo, London 9 February – 11 March In his 1961 essay ‘Eye and Mind’, French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty observes how our vision is always intertwined with our bodily movements. Navigating and seeing space in corporeal form, we feel our immersion as a part of the world rather than as someone peeking through a static window. Chineseborn, Berlin-based Xiyao Wang’s latest works depict colours and abstracted forms similarly, reminding us that both seeing and painting are embodied activities. Wang’s canvases are often composed of lightly tinted backgrounds, layered with vigorous, calligraphic brushwork that bespeaks her interests in dance and the martial arts. As the paint remains mostly undiluted, drips are kept to a minimum, and the resulting linear strokes directly remind us of her physical presence and

contact with the canvases. The light that cannot be caught no.2 (2022) is, at 2.5 by 4.5m, the centrepiece of the exhibition. Colourful brushstrokes plummeting down from the top of the canvas appear to indicate the choreography of the artist’s own body (as much as any attempt to capture light), while agitated clusters suggest both her assiduous labour and a sense of repeated action and reaction. Ultimately it recalls Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic motion studies of the nineteenth century along with a Futurisminspired penchant for speed, yet unlike those predecessors, the moving body Wang captures is formless, dispersed and ultimately absent as an image. In fact, Wang’s compositions, though frequently compared by her galleries both to Abstract Expressionism and to Cy Twombly

and his impetuous crayon lines, hover between abstraction and representation. Nested in a web of nostalgic poetics (as seen from the poem ‘Elegy for the Summer’, written by the artist and accompanying her exhibition text), both the paintings and the exhibition evoke narration and remembrance. Swirling wispy lines recall falling feathers, diagonal movements suggest a levitating breeze and Wang’s brushwork reminds the viewer of ideals of Chinese ink painting, in which brushstrokes epitomise the artist’s embodiment of the world’s rhythms. In a way, this is brilliantly done as she summons different sentimental realms. Yet burdened with a desire for both imagery and an emotional essence, the gestural works at times risk calligraphic mannerism, as if a master martial artist has yet to relish the sweetness of an exhale. Yuwen Jiang

The light that cannot be caught no. 2, 2022, acrylic, oil stick on canvas, 250 × 450 cm. Courtesy the artist and Massimo De Carlo, London

Spring 2023


An Ocean in Every Drop Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai 22 September – 2 April At the entrance of An Ocean in Every Drop, visitors are reminded of the fundamental role water has played in shaping worldviews. Displayed under glass is Kitāb Al-Masālik wa AlMamālik (Illustrated Description of the World), a book made in 1331 ce, in Iran, that documents the voyages of the tenth-century geographer al-Istakhri who travelled widely throughout then-Muslim territories. The book lies open to show a rendering of Bahr al-Rum (The Roman Sea), drawn in the medieval Islamic mapping tradition in which water is given prominence as the substance that holds together the world, representing not just a conduit for movement but also the connector of the earthly to the celestial. So begins this group exhibition that reflects on the universal ancient and contemporary belief that water makes and sustains life on earth. Spread across multiple gallery rooms is an expansive body of works, from largescale installations and audiovisual works to manuscripts and works on paper that explore our social and cultural relationship to water across history and geographies. Munem Wasif reflects on the perpetual flow of forced human migration in the Bay of Bengal in his work Dark Waters (2019). Hung on a blue wall are black-and-white photographs in which lines between sea and sky dissolve in the darkness. Alongside them are framed texts printed on white paper, including one that reads ‘Puke, piss and the sea become one’.

Adding narrative to the simple images, the words draw from eyewitness testimonies to illuminate the violence endured by the Rohingya people in Myanmar, whose only chance of survival is to seek safety in Bangladesh by crossing the dangerous nighttime waters. The work echoes the harrowing experience shared by countless people searching for refuge across waters worldwide. The sound of dripping and pouring liquid follows you through the show. Its source stands over six metres high and takes up an entire gallery on its own. Titled after the Spanish word for rain, Daniel Otero Torres’s mixed-media installation Lluvia (2020) stops you in your tracks. Buckets and barrels of different sizes installed on wood and aluminium structures create a four-tiered, pump-operated fountain that rises from a pool. Lluvia celebrates the resourcefulness of community-driven infrastructure and brings into view the harsh reality of the water crisis (lack of access to fresh, clean sources) for indigenous communities around the world. Some of the containers in the installation bear the logos of bottled water companies, recalling the way that water has come to be a resource to be managed, dispensed and commodified as part of economies that allow for systemic imbalances. Additionally, this is the only room in the show where the window has not been frosted. The view outside looks over the swimming pool of a luxury hotel on the other side of the creek waterfront.

Sohrab Hura, The Coast, 2020, video installation. Photo: Daniella Bapista. Courtesy Art Jameel, Dubai


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The seashore is a site for spiritual transformation in perhaps the most moving work of the exhibition – Sohrab Hura’s The Coast (2020), which is being shown in its own dark room. Set to an entrancing soundtrack, the work captures devotees in a coastal village in South India during religious nighttime festivities. The video starts with a red, storm-filled sky. Shots of funfairs and fire rituals are intercut with people plunging into turbulent waves. They struggle against water that weighs their garments down, then eventually defy the sea’s persistent force, seeming to achieve a spiritual renewal at the end of the process. Alongside this, the musical score begins with anxiety-inducing throbs, then pauses to let the sound of waves be heard, like a cleansing, and ends on an uplifting note. Becoming absorbed in the heightened emotional states of fear, surrender and joy that evolve through the crashing waves, viewers too emerge transformed. As far back as the tenth century and into the present day, the stories we have told, the rituals we have maintained and the knowledge we have accumulated have only reinforced the fact of our watery world. Immersing ourselves in the cultural and social implications that the works in the exhibition explore asserts that we exist as part of a complex hydro-collective: our own flesh challenges individualism, along with animals, plants, oceans, clouds and the other numerous bodies of water we are continuously in the process of ‘becoming’. Yalda Bidshahri

Daniel Otero Torres, Lluvia, 2020, mixed media, 435 × 610 × 700 cm. Photo: Daniella Bapista. Courtesy Art Jameel, Dubai

Spring 2023


Pictures in the Mind Peace Centre, Singapore 4–20 January In a city of identikit shopping centres, the Peace Centre mall, in the prime civic district in Singapore, is a charming dinosaur. Over the past 50 years it has housed an eclectic mix of tenants, from a bowling alley to seedy karaoke bars and printing shops. Sadly, the building has been sold and will soon be demolished to make way for more lucrative commercial developments. Over its last days (all tenants are to vacate by August), seven artists have come together to create an exhibition that is a modest but poignant celebration of what the mall represents: a pocket of untidiness and authenticity in a highly planned and controlled urban landscape. Spread across different shop units, the exhibition comprises a mix of new commissions and older works. Among the older works are those by Song-Ming Ang, exhibited at Renner Piano Co, an old musical instrument store. Ang’s two-channel video Backwards Bach (2013) shows the artist playing the Prelude in C Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier (1722) forward and then backward on a harpsichord, creating new symmetries; while Recorder Sculptures (2019)

features deconstructed recorders with their separated joints stacked onto one another to generate tense balancing acts or slumped around each other to evoke lazy repose. A sense of playful subversion of musical tradition and pedagogy is underlined when placed in a shop where generations of music students have gone to buy pianos and scores for formal lessons. Meanwhile, many of the new works engage directly with the shop units and celebrate the stories and personalities of their owners. Daniela Monasterios Tan’s video installation The Salesgirl Who Became Boss (2023) is installed in Emms Boutique, a local fashion retailer operating since the 1970s. Tan models various dresses while striking poses inspired by the boutique’s own vintage ads (a woman answering a phone or holding a file), creating a montage of independent working women and their creative self-fashioning over the years, as well as harking back to a fashion scene less homogenised by globalisation. Working against any easy nostalgia is the photographic series Through their Eyes [Peace

Centre] (2023) by Lim Zeharn and Lim Zeherng, centring on the people pictured in the many posters and advertisements placed throughout the mall. The project comprises two walls of tiled images. The first wall features cropped photos of the advertising models – for example, a man in an academic gown and square hat; a woman holding up a fanned-out stack of dollar bills. On another wall, we are shown the world through the ‘gaze’ of these characters – the artists had placed a camera at the vantage points of each of these models and snapped their corresponding perspectives. Capturing the mall’s interiors at odd angles (either too high or too low or facing weird nooks), these images render the surroundings strange and unknown, as if we are seeing the building through the eyes of an alien or ghost. From such a defamiliarised perspective, the busy comings and goings of people and the makings and remakings of buildings all seem to be part of a process of impersonal, endless change; in some sense, we are all in the Peace Centre, living on borrowed time. Adeline Chia

Lim Zeharn and Lim Zeherng, Through their eyes (Peace Centre) (detail), 2023, two-part photographic series. Courtesy the artists


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Hao Liang The Sad Zither Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, London 9 February – 18 March Creatures skitter and drift across a series of 14 variously sized wall-hung silk paintings titled after Tang dynasty poet Li Shangyin’s lament ‘The Sad Zither’. (Li’s poetry is known for its use of imagery and symbolism to describe the elusive qualities of human emotions.) But you might not notice them immediately, hidden as they are within the murky, brackish colours that flood Hao Liang’s seemingly serene land- and waterscapes. It would be easy to say that Hao is following in the centuries-old Chinese tradition of shan shui painting (literally, depictions of mountains and water); and in those terms, the work is not exactly groundbreaking. However, Hao adds a curious and unsettling quality to what is traditionally a reflective and precise artform with works that also operate via degrees of obscuration, rather than a search for Daoist simplicity. A delicate blue octopus floats mysteriously in the muddy blue waters of Poetics of Li Shangyin iii (2021); in Divine Comedy ii (2022) a tiny devil standing on a tree branch reaches out with raised arms while a snake rises from the ground to watch a lone passerby make his way through gloomy woods; in Under a Tree in Britain (2022) a flock of birds, the intricacy of their rendering only noticeable on close inspection (a fine showcasing of the detailed brushstrokes required of the gongbi style), flit past a seated meditating figure and in the direction of a waving human-monkey hybrid.

Literary references to other stories – by Dante and Jorge Luis Borges, among others (and helpfully expanded upon by the gallery handout, which simply provides various passages and verses that inspired Hao) – crop up in those latter titles, adding yet more potential layers of interpretation to the paintings; Li’s ‘The Sad Zither’, however, is quite enough dotconnecting to be getting on with. An English translation of the Li’s poem is provided on the gallery’s paper handout. But translations can be tricky: no two are the same, specific word choices are subject to the translator’s interpretation and in the case of Li’s poem, references to classical Chinese stories are left out in favour of allowing a more straightforward understanding of the verses. For example, two translations of the same line might read: ‘With sunburned mirth let blue jade vaporize!’ (the translation used by the gallery); and ‘From sunburned jade in blue fields let smoke rise’ (from Xu Yuanchong’s 2009 translation). To some readers, the latter translation might better reflect Hao’s overall palette; to others, ‘sunburned mirth’ might offer a subtler emotion-led interpretation, and an invitation to look for this among the generally morose and sullen faces of Hao’s painted figures. Other moments of obscurity occur in paintings like All Things and Floating Grass

(both 2022), which appear to be abstract, but whose titles invite a figurative reading: the drifting, swirling patterns of All Things might refer to something as vast as a landscape, or to something as minute as bacterial growth seen through a microscope. Floating Grass affords a little more in the Rorschachian game of spotting familiar shapes: the eye of a fish here, some pondweed there. But it’s in eeriness that Liang’s paintings achieve a sense of delight. Gatha by Ikkyū (2022) depicts three tiny figures making their way along the edge of a river that runs through a forest. The scene almost looks idyllic – and yet something is off: a close look reveals that one of the figures, with a not-quite-human face, also happens to have the hoofed leg of an equid. Next along the wall, a ghastly dull-green face suddenly looms through foliage in Spring and Emaciated Horse (2022): eyes half-closed with the hint of a gurning grin about his mouth, the stoned peeper (who is, as far as what’s visible, a human rather than a horse), so jarring in mood and tone, pays no attention to the viewer – merely stares off into the distance, sporting a skeletal torso, while we are left to contemplate his many minute and disgustingly visceral red pimples. Amid the waiting and wandering figures that populate The Sad Zither, this painting offers a moment of unexpected sunburned mirth. Fi Churchman

Gatha by Ikkyū, 2022, ink and colour on silk, 149 × 237 cm. Photo: Cuming Associates Ltd. © the artist

Spring 2023


Rishab Shetty Kantara: A Legend Feature film on general release At the end of last year, Kantara: A Legend (2022), directed by Rishab Shetty, became a hit across India. And indeed, the Kannada-language film is (somewhat) entertaining, in the manner of commercial-type cinema that expects a generous suspension of belief, but it is also largely mediocre. The storyline follows the classic goodversus-evil narrative, which culminates, of course – and this is such a cliché that I’m not going to issue a spoiler alert – in the vanquishing of evil and a happily-ever-after ending. Normally, such a movie would have likely had a decent theatre run before ending up on an on-demand streaming platform. But thanks to the way it was co-opted by all sections of the political system, as a weapon in India’s ongoing cultural war, Kantara became one of the highest grossing Kannada films of all time. Kannada mainstream cinema, whose heyday ran from the late 1960s up to the early 1990s, sprung hits now and then, but apart from Prashanth Neel’s K.G.F. action film series (2018–22) it has rarely caught attention outside of state borders. When Kantara became a pan-Indian film (a catchall phrase for when a film is dubbed and released in several other of the subcontinent’s languages), its success

was curious and unformulaic, like a viral post that sometimes disrupts social-media algorithms. To think of Kantara though is to really think through the question of how to read a film, while also recognising that popular culture is rarely simple entertainment, but has always wielded far-reaching influence over how a country comes to see itself. Bhutaradhane, literally a performative appeasement of guardian spirits indigenous to Tulunadu in coastal Karnataka (though also found, in a modified form, in the neighbouring state of Kerala), serves as the movie’s central plot device. On the one hand this works as a highly simplistic documentation of the ritual practice; on the other, and for the political right, it works as a means for today’s brand of political Hinduism to further co-opt what was a totemic, subversive folk culture into the larger Brahminical fold. Under the current government’s Hindutva agenda, anything that is not overtly an Islamic, Christian or other religious practice is increasingly being shoved under the larger Hinduism umbrella, eroding the culture of most indigenous peoples who traditionally don’t identify as Hindu. For the left, Kantara was problematic for precisely both of these reasons.

In the film a community of tribals, understood as untouchable and of lower caste, live by a forest. Their landlord – whose royal ancestor gave the tribals the right to the forest in exchange for protection from their deity Panjurli, a daiva that manifests as a wild boar – appears benevolent, a father figure almost. Secretly, though, he plots to get all that highvalue land back. Alongside this is a strict forest officer who wants to legislate to protect the forest’s natural resources. And at the centre is Shetty himself (who is also the film’s writer), playing the character Shiva, who stands up against both the new law meant to protect the forest and keep out people, and the landlord. Running through the fight, between indigenous peoples and government, and the oppressed caste and the privileged caste, is a leitmotif of the ritualistic folk-theatre of Bhutaradhane. However faulty it may be in the film, there has not previously been such an extensive representation of this worship in commercial cinema, which is one reason why, for an audience habituated to films set in either urban centres or in generic villages in Karnataka, this one comes as a novelty. Exotic, even.

Bhutaradhane ritual folk-theatre, performed in 2016 in Nakre Village, Karkala, Karnataka. Photo: Sharath Hegde. Courtesy the author


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With a liberal use of all that is typical of coastal Karnataka, from the Kambala buffalo races, to the food, to the choicest curse words, to sights and sounds of a Bhuta Kola (an event organised to invoke the spirits), and the distinct literary form of Kannada that is spoken along the coast, all of which were objects of ridicule and caricature in earlier films set in this locale, Kantara deserves credit for creating space for an impressionistic hyperlocal representation of the region. Unlike cinema in Tamil and Malayalam, where films are consciously set in different regions of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, respectively, and the versions of Tamil and Malayalam employed in the films reflect that particular area, Kannada cinema has mostly spoken from and in the language of Mysuru, Karnataka’s former capital (now Bengaluru) and its surrounds, juxtaposing other forms of Kannada for comic relief. The film’s biggest usp, the elements of Bhutaradhane, however, requires a sterner dissection. The Bhutaradhane culture includes hundreds of deities, some of animal origin, like Panjurli in Kantara, some of human origin and others who were heroes who met with untimely and unnatural deaths (according to research by scholars like Amruta Someshwar, Vivek Rai and K Chinnappa Gowda, these unnatural deaths were usually a result of caste violence and social inequalities) and were then reimagined as a deity. For the ceremony, men from oppressed

classes don costumes and, following a series of rituals, are visited in their bodies by the spirit invoked. The spirit then proceeds to answer the community’s questions, in return for appeasement in the form of food, drink, the building of a shrine, etc. While the entirety of this cultural practice has too many social nuances to fit the scope of this column, what is important here is that Shetty chose in this film, however loosely, to associate Panjurli with one of the ten avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu, most effectively in the use of the song Varaha Roopam, which features towards the climax of the film. And that is as much a political move as it is a representation of how the practice has modified and adjusted to remain relevant. Bhutaradhane has, over the years, learned to adapt to newer religious tastes, getting caught up in the assimilation into the larger Hinduism fold by choosing to refrain from use of alcohol and meat (formerly quite commonplace in such rituals), the incorporation of Brahmin gods and goddesses in the rituals and so on, thus showcasing an ability, willingly or given no choice, to keep up with whatever will help it remain popular. What was once a system of worship where gods spoke directly to humans is today being subsumed by a politically favoured system where gods speaks to humans via an upper caste middleman. The Sanskritisation of this worship theatre, when set in the folk ambience that Kantara creates, effectively blocks and

denies a wider audience from accessing the complexities of a centuries-old oral culture. Does the film, in its packaging of the tradition, represent ground realities? Perhaps to an extent. Should it have designed it more cautiously? Yes. Many have dismissed Kantara as a cinematic experience that should not be read so deeply. But what makes some of us wary when we see a film like Kantara is an awareness that visual messaging works to strengthen existing tropes. Shiva, the hypermacho protagonist, stands for the new branding of Hindutva, as protector of god and nation. When the coda of the film reverts to themes of tradition, roots and ancient times, when Shetty as Shiva becomes a spirit to vanquish the scheming landlord (a cinematic license: note that spirits are not invoked to exact personal revenge), the not-so-subtle messaging is that all answers lie in the traditions of the land, not in modern ideas like the law. It seeks to reeducate a people that when it really matters, it is god, acting via a human, who can protect communities and bring peace. The rich landlord in the film might have been killed, but the triumph of the oppressed is restricted to a cinematic experience. In real life, the latter are told, they best hedge their bets with the cult personality of the godlike. And that, given where India is right now, is both a reflection of the times and particularly dangerous messaging. Deepa Bhasthi

Bhutaradhane ritual performance, 2016, Karnataka. Photo: Sharath Hegde. Courtesy the author

Spring 2023


Udomsak Krisanamis Modern Man (It Wasn’t Me) Gallery ver, Bangkok 21 January – 19 March Evoking night skies, firing pistons, flyposted alleys and much more besides, Udomsak Krisanamis’s effervescent mixed-media collages are all about suggestion rather than solidity. But that hasn’t stopped admirers trying to square the Thai artist’s simple yet expressive modular language of found materials and blacked-out words or numerals with his taciturn character. The apocryphal tale is that his habit of leaving only the empty spaces in ‘O’, ‘0’, ‘8’ and ‘9’ visible – a process resulting in densely reticulated fields and grids – began while he struggled to learn English in New York, and that he still does it due to his introversion. None of this biographical baggage is openly contested here (the exhibition text is an excerpt from a monologue by the late American comedian George Carlin), but who needs words when you have Black Sabbath T-shirts, a Tupac poster and two hairy Neanderthal sculptures crawling across the floor? Through a storage unit-like

hodgepodge of Krisanamis’s recent work and favourite things (gifts, collectibles, finds), Modern Man (It Wasn’t Me) decentres his mythologised interiority by placing his exteriority – his low, down-to-the-ground view of the world – everywhere. Some of these juxtapositions of object and collage spur connections: between the serpentine car-racing track and slaloming bands of colour, between salvaged fishnets and the wiry chaos of found tennis strings mounted behind acrylic sheets, etc. In so doing, they suggest that a pareidolic knack for finding patterns, as well as materials, in empirical randomness – the exposed metal frame of a spring mattress, say – informs Krisanamis’s abstractions more than any internal tussle with assimilation, learning or shyness. His work may also be a kind of algorithmic translation of sports and music. A painting of Fidel Castro on the putting green with Che Guevara, among other golf-themed paintings,

Modern Man (It Wasn’t Me), 2023 (installation view, Gallery ver, Bangkok). Courtesy the artist


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muddies the use of negative space: could the ‘O’ shape occurring ad infinitum be no more than an insignia inspired by Krisanamis’s favourite pastime – zeroing in on perfect holes? Meanwhile, in yet another attempt to bring us down to the level of his lived life, he offers up interactive pursuits: visitors can strum an electric guitar, bang a drumkit or play ping pong. This contravention of the passive gallery experience feels less like institutional critique than an insouciant admission that Krisanamis considers his magpie process profoundly ordinary – and doesn’t give a fig if he’s found out. Like my playing Boys Don’t Cry badly (no one heard, thankfully), his art – as astonishing as it often is to look at – begins with little more than a rudimentary level of commitment, awareness and muscle memory (those hollow circles, ovals and grids don’t repeat themselves), he suggests. And unlike elitist sports such as, well, golf, anyone can have a go. Max Crosbie-Jones

Braving Time: Contemporary Art in Queer Australia National Art School Galleries, Sydney 3 February – 18 March The entrance to the National Art School Galleries is almost unrecognisable. What previously appeared as an empty white threshold – an invisible space of permanent transition that one passes through without pause – now presents itself in a very different guise, as a marble shrine. Thine Shrine, Divine (2023) is an installation by The ArtHitects (Gary Carsley and Renjie Teoh) that seeks to memorialise the ‘ancestors’ and ‘non-biological genealogies’ of the lgbtqia+ community. An animated classical bust on a nearby screen incants a spread of names – “Alan Turing”, “Mrs Dalloway”, “Claude Cahun”, “RuPaul Charles” – building a queer pantheon with each new utterance. Of course, there has been no major architectural remodelling here: the installation is actually constructed out of sheets of paper, which only create a flat shallow illusion of the classical facade. Yet despite its kitsch material skin, the intervention that lies beneath this playful surface is driven by the most serious sense of historical consequence. The choice to begin Braving Time: Contemporary Art in Queer Australia with this

shrine is progressively justified by the eclectic spread of subsequent artworks. Both the show and the shrine have a catholic, rather than Catholic, doctrine. Tracking the movements of an ever-evolving community, the exhibition is underwritten by a concern with history and the process of history-making. With a breadth that stretches from the present-day back to the 1960s, the exhibition refutes even the slightest murmurs of a singular or essentialised queer experience, through the inherent diversity of artworks that are responding to notably distinct historical circumstances. From Vivienne Binns’s pioneering feminist works, to William Yang’s intimate documentation of his friend and ex-lover Allan’s battle with hiv/aids, to Tony Albert’s confrontation with colonial legacies, through the repurposing of vintage objects that contain stereotypes of First Nations Australians. Yet the most compelling work in the exhibition is Ali Tahayori’s There is no Queer in Iran (2022), which stages the fight for queer identity and recognition. Composed of tiny hand-cut mirrors, which fragment the viewer’s reflection

into a barely legible kaleidoscopic array, the work’s very material form forces one to reckon with the idea of presence. While the mirror is one of the most tired signifiers of identity used in art, Tahayori reworks it into something that hums with complexity and nuance. Mobilising the traditional Iranian craft of Āina-Kāri (mirrorworking), Tahayori’s work produces a mazelike geometry. Its shape is not, however, idle but filled with meaning. It is, in fact, a mixture of Kufic and Farsi calligraphy that reproduces an excerpt from Wikipedia, which explains that some believe that there is no Farsi equivalent for the word ‘queer’. Here, we find echoes of the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s famous 2007 statement: ‘In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country’. Tahayori’s work harbours charged politics within its intentionally illegible form, which does not automatically unfold itself to the viewer. It brilliantly leaves us in a state of both visual and cognitive fragmentation – sensing the presence of meaning and reaching for it, while in the same gesture being denied it. Tai Mitsuji

Ali Tahayori, There is no queer in Iran, 2022, hand-cut mirrors and plaster on timber. Courtesy the artist

Spring 2023


Bollywood Superstars: A Short Story of Indian Cinema Louvre Abu Dhabi 25 January – 4 June On the drive to the Louvre Abu Dhabi you pass a giant electronic billboard by the side of the highway. On it, Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan is advertising a competition at the nearby LuLu Hypermarket, sponsored by Kalyan Jewellers. ‘Win 3 kg Gold – 60 winners.’ He’s grinning, pointing the index finger of his right hand at the gold bar he holds in his left. We don’t need to be told who he is; everyone knows. The octogenarian has acted in more than 200 films (which led the French director François Truffaut to describe him as a ‘oneman film industry’), been the subject of more than seven biographies, won a seat in India’s parliament (during the mid 1980s) with the highest majority ever recorded, while his fellow Indian star Rajinikanth built his career on

reprising Bachchan’s roles in Tamil remakes of the latter’s movies. Bollywood Superstars is a compact show, coorganised with Paris’s Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, to where it travels this autumn, that aims to tell the story of the origins and advent of Indian cinema (the first movingimage presentation in India took place in 1896, the exhibition’s opening text informs us, barely a year after the first Lumière Brothers screenings in Paris) through to the massive global industry it has become today. As you may have gathered from that, though the exhibition title refers to the most celebrated hub of Indian film production, the show itself incorporates work in India’s many languages and other cinematic hubs. Its beginnings, however, are

occupied by various forms of religious art: from nineteenth-century Hindu temple lamps to twentieth-century painted storytellershrines (the doors fold out to reveal an illustrated narrative) and fabrics depicting scenes from the Hindu epic the Ramayana. There are nineteenth-century paintings of deities such as Krishna and Shiva dancing with cowherders and courtesans, bronze Natarajas (an avatar of Shiva – also the lord of actors – performing the cosmic dance) and twentieth-century photographs of classical Indian dancers and painted shadow puppets. An index, as the wall texts put it, of precinematic methods of storytelling, and the narratives that Indian cinema turned to as protests against British colonial rule gathered pace. But also an account

Ravana, the Demon King of the Ramayana, Chhau dance mask from Purulia, West Bengal, c.1990, painted and varnished papier-mâché (installation view, Bollywood Superstars, Louvre Abu Dhabi, 2023). Collection Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, Paris. Photo: Ismail Noor / Seeing Things. © Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi


ArtReview Asia

of the gestures and poses and storylines that defined early Indian cinema. Although a cynic might say that from a contemporary perspective it’s a story of now-less-popular culture (historical artefacts of the past – some of the less-relevant items from the Louvre Abu Dhabi and other collections include Mughal armour, decorated daggers, vessels, architectural panels and boxes) made popular by an alliance with popular culture (cinema) of today. But for better or worse, it gives the show a vaguely anthropological twist, with sections on Mughal and Rajput culture thrown into the mix. There are also some curiosities (a working, decorated bioscope, a greenscreen movie set that allows you to see yourself in a Bollywood-style production) and anomalies (a woman’s dress from Pakistan – Partition being one the subjects that the show bypasses). It’s at this stage that we begin to dive into Indian cinema proper, with a minidisplay (of photographs and videos) on the work of

India’s best-known auteur, Satyajit Ray, and the ‘Golden Age of Hindi Cinema’, featuring posters of nationalist classics such as Mother India (1957). Before we come full circle and reach the show’s climax – the emergence of the new gods, the Bollywood superstars: Bachchan, Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, etc. Many of them represented by oversize illuminated cutouts and an equally oversize recent-Bollywood-cinema highlight reel. Tucked away, on a smaller-scale screen, is Rinku Kalsy’s For the Love of a Man (2015), a documentary about four of Rajinikanth’s most extreme fans, one of whom (a former gangster) led the destruction of a cinema that refused to replay a song from a Rajinikanth movie, and another who flew from Tamil Nadu to Singapore to be near the object of his devotion during the latter’s hospitalisation. Along the way there’s a 12-day fan-organised birthday celebration and multiple professions from his avid followers that they would do

anything for him (although it generally seems like they already have). And the more sinister fact that Rajinikanth, like other stars, has also leveraged his fanbase in the cause of local politics. Perhaps this, then, is the truest account of what Bollywood stardom really means. The catalogue to Bollywood Superstars (which is in many ways a richer account of Indian movie-history than the show itself) compares Bachchan to a jeune premier and an ‘angry young man’, an act of translation that’s reflected in the fact that the exhibition itself (curated by Quai Branly’s head of Asian Collections, Julien Rousseau, and anthropologist Hélène Kessous) is captioned in English, French and Arabic; and not Hindi or any of the other languages of the films themselves. All of which gives the show a certain distanced, colonial vibe rather than announcing it as something aimed at Bollywood consumers (of which there are many in the Gulf region, as Bachchan’s advert attests) themselves. Mark Rappolt

Bollywood Superstars, 2023 (installation view, Louvre Abu Dhabi). Photo: Ismail Noor / Seeing Things. © Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi

Spring 2023


Dream of the Day Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur 29 November – 14 May A dark-skinned man stands shirtless, smiling against a breaking dawn. He is pictured from the chest up; his facial features are round, and his eyes sincere, a stark contrast to the thin paint rendering the mountains in the background. To the left of the composition, a thorn fence is cut open. A labourer freed, the man looks us in the eye, hopeful for a new day. Al Manrique’s painterly vision of socialist-realist emancipation (Salubong Sa Bagong Umaga, or Welcoming a New Dawn, 1983) is contrasted with mmmmmmm… Manifesto (1965) by David Medalla. If Manrique charges dreams with a call to political action, Medalla’s textual manifesto captures the whimsy, affectation and expansiveness of such a project: ‘I dream of the day when, from the capitals of the world… I shall release missile-sculptures… on their way from our galaxy to the Spiral Nebula… Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm.’ These two works open Dream of the Day (taking its title from Medalla’s manifesto), curated by Patrick Flores. The exhibition centres, according to the exhibition text, ‘dreams, monsters, myths, hybrids, omens, spirits, and fantasies’ against the dual spectres of ‘colonialism and global mediatization’. Buoyant with possibility, it charts exciting trajectories for both art history and practice unencumbered by compensatory histories, a call to chart new conceptual ground without

feeling the need to pedantically account for or replace colonialism and globalisation. Dream of the Day features 39 artists from the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar and Malaysia, as well as artists located outside geopolitical Southeast Asia, from Sri Lanka and Egypt. While the exhibition includes artworks from across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the works are mostly categorised not by time, but by attitude. After Medalla and Manrique’s initial challenge, the remaining eight sections of the exhibition are in part historical, in that they provide a clear narrative across a period, and the rest contemporary, in that they each capture a mood, a sprawling, postmodern condition of contingency, speculation and phantasmagoria. The art-historical sections are particularly strong, providing a nonlinear regional narrative for Surrealism. ‘Struggle of the Subject’ explores repressed subjectivities à la Freud, such as Van Leo’s haunting black-and-white self-portraits: in one, he wears a suit in front of a mirror, pointing a gun at both himself and the viewer. ‘Around Surrealism, Beyond Reality’ foregrounds fever dreams, rendering the ordinary unfamiliar: Ivan Sagita’s painting The Essence of Cow in the Macro and the Microcosmosis (1989) depicts the folds of skin on a cow as curtainlike portals in which feature smaller versions of these animals.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Worldly Desires (still), 2005, single-channel video, 42 min 32 sec. Courtesy the artist


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The rest of the exhibition presents a portfolio of imaginative trajectories. The strongest works each conjure specific visions for dreaming, from Club Ate’s dazzling queer retelling of Filipino mythology, to Veejay Villafranca’s 2011 photographic series of a psychic surgeon in Baguio City who operates with the dual faith of humoral theory and Catholicism. Nurrachmat Widyasena’s speculative work on Indonesia’s space agency imagines possible spacesuits and fictional emblems, and places a 3.5-metre tall propaganda poster atop a pile of rubble. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Worldly Desires (2005), a meandering film-within-a-film, is interspersed with scenes of a bubblegum-pop girl group dancing in formation on a film set in a forest: “Does happiness still exist? Will I be as lucky as my mother is?” pleads the song they dance to, Nadia’s 2001 Will I Be Lucky? In the vast assemblage of this exhibition, though, certain works fall short. Kelvin Atmadibrata’s Self-Portrait (with acorns) (2012) – a series where the naked artist wears a string of acorns on his genitals and photographs both penis and acorn mid-thrust – has none of the artist’s signature queer camp and, occupying an entire room, felt like mere uncritical penile masculinity. These minor discordances do not detract from the project of the exhibition: it is daring, barely held at the seams, offering us no less than visions of how we might transform reality. Lim Sheau Yun

Van Leo, self-portrait, photographed in Cairo in 1942, gelatin silver developing-out paper print, 40 × 30 cm. Van Leo Collection. Courtesy the Arab Image Foundation, Beirut

Spring 2023


Pierre Földes Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman Animated feature film on general release When asked in an interview with online trademagazine Cineuropa, during his new film’s festival run, how he had envisioned adapting a selection of Haruki Murakami’s short stories into an animated feature film, director Pierre Földes offered a breezy answer. The HungarianBritish composer, painter and filmmaker explained that, after contacting Murakami to gauge the author’s interest in the project, he had received a generous greenlight: he could choose whichever of Murakami’s short stories he wanted. Eventually, Földes settled on an amalgamation of six that had left the strongest impression on him – ‘Super-Frog Saves Tokyo’ (2002), ‘Birthday Girl’ (2002), ‘Dabchick’ (1981), ‘The Wind-up Bird and Tuesday’s Women’ (1986), ‘U.F.O. in Kushiro’ (2001) and ‘Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman’ (2006). That last

would give Földes’s film, his feature-length debut, its title. Instead of adapting the stories formulaically, Földes has opted for a more playful approach. Set in the aftermath of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, the film interweaves the stories of three ordinary people: Komura, an apathetic bank employee; his wife, Kyoko, who’s glued to the earthquake news unfurling on tv for days on end; and Katagiri, a diligent and unassuming accountant at the Shinjuku branch of the Tokyo Security Trust Bank. Whereas Katagiri’s storyline is as self-contained in the film as it is in Murakami’s ‘Super-Frog Saves Tokyo’, Komura and Kyoko’s stories synthesise a wealth of characters who populate different narratives in the original stories.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (still), 2022


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Komura, in particular, epitomises Murakami’s typical first-person narrator: a cisgender heterosexual male character who often conveys the image of a man swayed by both the mundane and absurd happenstances of life, to which he reacts with placid resignation. Murakami’s female characters, on the contrary, have been recently put under the scrutiny of a feminist lens by Japanese writer Mieko Kawakami. During a series of interviews that Murakami gave to Kawakami in 2017 – an excerpt of which was published on Literary Hub in 2020 – Kawakami addresses the arguably limited role women play in Murakami’s books, where they mostly act as ‘gateways, or opportunities for transformation’ for their male counterparts, which leads to them being ‘forced into an overly sexual role, simply because they’re

women’. In the original stories, female characters are sparse and on the margins. Even when they occupy a greater portion of the story, as in ‘Birthday Girl’, they’re limited to third-person narration, eschewing deeper characterisation and introspection. But Földes’s Kyoko is more solidly fleshed out; agency and a sense of purpose, often attributed to men alone in Murakami’s work, are bestowed on her too. Although allotted less screentime than Komura and Katagiri, Kyoko’s character is nevertheless magnetic, and her actions trigger her husband’s quest for self-discovery when she leaves him; ‘living with you is like living with a chunk of air’, she writes in her goodbye note. In Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, Komura’s trajectory is deeply enmeshed in the woman’s absence, and his story is left hanging. The characteristic tension in Murakami’s fiction, between the real and the imaginary – between phenomenological and metaphysical events – lends itself to being vividly captured

in animation. In Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, transitions between waking and illusory states are evanescent and envelop the film in gossamer, inviting the viewer to delicately untangle its mystery. Art director Julien De Man (who led on background art for Sylvain Chomet’s The Illusionist, 2010, and Michaël Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle, 2016) crafts bucolic landscapes and evocative interior settings where a muted colour palette is occasionally illuminated by a lambent light. Against such backgrounds, Földes’s characters are rendered by an experimental animation technique that relies on live-action filming with real actors, providing rather expressive reference points for the animators. While the actors’ heads are swapped for 3d models of their respective characters’ faces, their outline is traced over and their facial expressions, movements and emotions are recreated. Black and white outlines help position people and objects alike in the space; in particular,

a white outline confers a ghostlike aura on objects and characters the viewer is invited to focus less on. Line-drawing animation is especially effective in the film’s most apparent oneiric sequences, conveying a sense of surreal displacement. “What you see with your eyes is not necessarily real,” whispers Frog to Katagiri mere moments before liquifying into a putrescent puddle in the second half of the film. Together, they have fought against and defeated the gigantic, subterraneous Worm, which threatened to destroy Tokyo by causing an earthquake, thus saving the city from devastation. For Katagiri, Frog represents the recognition, friendship and affection he has long sought within his social and professional circles – imaginary or not, Frog saves not only Tokyo but Katagiri too. By exploring the interstices between reality and illusion, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman embraces and thrives in liminality. Ren Scateni

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman (still), 2022

Spring 2023


ars22 Kiasma, Helsinki 8 April – 16 October The Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, part of the Finnish National Gallery, has a Documenta-inspired contemporary art survey that has been running since 1961. ars22, the tenth edition, is themed Living Encounters, and posits an overarching postpandemic vision of social fragmentation. It showcases 55 artists and artist groups, with 15 new commissions, and for the first time includes historical work from previous editions. (The last two editions have focused on Africa, 2011, and the digital turn, 2017.) Several of these older works bear contemporary relevance in relation to ecological disaster or health crises. Kimmo Kaivanto’s seemingly idyllic painting of waterlilies, When the Sea Dies ii (1973), became a unescopostcard symbol of eutrophication, and Lewis Baltz’s Docile Bodies (1994) are lifesize images of hospitalised bodies in France at a time in which aids was raging. But rather than highlighting a kind of social anomie, the thread that comes through is a strong sense

of rupture with nonhuman worlds. In Annika Eriksson’s video I am the dog that was always here (2013), originally commissioned for the 13th Istanbul Biennial, a neighbourhood in the Turkish city that was razed to the ground is overrun by abandoned dogs who, via a voiceover narrator, speak in poetic aphorisms. Anni Puolakka’s video installation Oestrus (2020) tells an unsettling narrative of a woman’s unrequited love for horses next to sculptures of clothed centaurs with manelike hair. Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s video installation My Ailing Beliefs Can Cure Your Wretched Desires (2017) is a disturbing tale of endangered animals told from the perspective of an extinct Javan rhino and a turtle as they debate overthrowing humans. Other parts of the exhibition gesture towards the complications of cultural otherness, including Farah Al Qasimi’s wallpaper collage that juxtaposes images of women performing the uae’s national hair-flipping dance with images of lurid lights on display in Dubai’s Dragon-Mart (self-touted as the ‘largest

Mervi Kytösalmi-Buhl, Plaster (still), 1978, video, 12 min 45 sec. Courtesy the artist and Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki


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Chinese retail trading market’ outside mainland China). Slavs and Tatars present PrayWay (2012), a Persian carpet for people to rest on with a view of Helsinki’s Mannerheim statue, commemorating a Finnish Civil War general, through the window. Placed next to the collective’s open-mouth diagram detailing where Arabic, Cyrillic and Hebrew phonemes are articulated (Mother Tongues and Father Throats, 2012), it seems to index divergences and convergences in oral and material cultures. Sol Calero’s El Autobús (2019) – an ornate bus representing everyday public transport in Latin America, on which is cheerfully painted ‘viajes paraíso’ (paradise travel) – exaggerates cultural clichés. Inside, tv screens show lush landscape vistas from Latin America and play a voiceover simulating a tourguide of fictional sites. Telling of haunted lakes, watermelons growing in the desert and a necropolis of unearthed bones, this magical-realist narrative is couched within ‘facts’ about indigenous architecture, liberation movements, telenovelas and conspiracy

theories – humorous in a heavy-handed way. Another site-specific commission, International Rock Art Red, drawn from felt blankets (2022), by D Harding, a descendant of Bidjara, Ghungalu and Garingbal First Peoples of Australia, was a gesture towards Aboriginal land art in natural ochre and the transportation of pigments. But on Kiasma’s white modernist walls, it feels less than successful. The global gaze of ars22 also touches on issues of womanhood, with works such as Wild Song (2021–22), Iraqi traditional handstitched textiles of nude, pregnant and beheaded female figures by Helsinki-based Iraqi artist Kholod Hawash. In contrast, Laure Prouvost’s From the Depth of Our Heart To the Depth of The See (2022) is a red-tinged heated room screening caregiving mothers who murmur a popular children’s song in the sauna, referencing the place where Finnish women would historically give birth. Luscious closeups of underwater scenes, sweat and flesh enfolded by tentacular sea creatures intimate a more fluid eroticism. Frida Orupabo’s digital cutouts of archival photos lends the exhibition a poignant gaze on women of colour and untold histories, as does Grada Kilomba’s theatrical video Illusions Vol. iii, Antigone (2019), enacting a feminist

version of the Greek tragedy with dance, performed to African song by composer Neo Muyanga. The script tells a postcolonial story of how even gender-based narratives can usurp Black visibility and the rights to historical memory. ars, which initially emerged from a fear of cultural insularity due to the Cold War, is now shifting attention to its own history – hence the inclusion here of a 1968 Francis Bacon painting that was shown as part of ars69, and a 1972 Alex Katz painting from ars74. Some of the strongest works enact that attempt of creating a cultural history, such as the ongoing Girjegumpi / Sámi Architectural Library by Joar Nango, a living, movable archive of architectural research and nomadism in Sámi culture, and Joel Slotte’s photorealist paintings of disaffected youth, paganism and hallucinogenic plants in Finland. There are also three outstanding 1978 performance videos by pioneering Finnish artist Mervi KytösalmiBuhl, who studied under Nam June Paik. In Pflaster/Haut, she layers her face with bandages, and then tears them off. Her videos are contextualised alongside other durational performance works of historical significance, such as Marina Abramović and Ulay’s Nightsea

Crossing (1981–87), their six-year endurance experiments of silence, stillness and fasting (one of which was performed in ars83) and Howardena Pindell’s first videowork, Free, White and 21 (1980), detailing her everyday stories of racism. Given the theme of the exhibition, perhaps it is no surprise that the performative works stand out, with 14 live performances from the likes of rising performance-art star Alexandra Pirici and culminating with the 2019 Golden Lion-winning Sun & Sea perfor˙ mance by composer Lina Lapelyte, librettist ˙ ˙ ˙ Vaiva Grainyte and director Rugile Barzdžiukaite. But the greatest performance of them all is the absence of an artwork by Russian artist Evgeny Antufiev, who instead printed the message ‘No War’ on the wall, expressing the hope that a different work could be installed when the war against Ukraine ended. Today’s living encounters, ars suggests, are both kaleidoscopic and provocatively elusive. Nadine Khalil Kiasma has since become embroiled in a controversy over the institution’s funding’s links to the arms trade and connections to the repression of Palestine

Evgeny Antufiev’s ‘No War’ message on the facade of Kiasma, Helsinki, 2022. Photo: Petri Virtanen. Courtesy Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki

Spring 2023


Books Southeast Asia: A History in Objects by Alexandra Green Thames & Hudson / British Museum, £32 (hardcover) On the face of it, you might think, as this reviewer did when it thumped through the ArtReview letterbox, that this book is just another in a series (previous volumes cover India and the Islamic World) that seeks to perpetuate an anthropocentric view of the world (via a focus on the products – and hence productivity – of humankind) and simultaneously boost the somewhat flagging cause of the ‘universal’ museum. The idea that museums – and 300-page books produced by them – can collapse time and space to bring everywhere and everywhen together in a manner that supports the fundamentals of globalism while masking the colonialism, looting and economic and sociopolitical inequalities that, in reality, sustain it. It’s much to her credit, then, that for the most part Alexandra Green, the British Museum’s Southeast Asia curator, does not do this. Of course, almost all of the objects – which range from a cave painting to motorbikes and televisions – come from the British Museum collection (the cave painting did not). And many of them list donors (the likes of H. Ridley, Adelaide Lister and A.W. Franks) that make you wonder as to the exact circumstances of their provenance. After all, many of the items on show here arrived in Britain at around the same time

(the second part of the nineteenth century) as naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace was busily blasting orangutans out of Borneo’s jungle canopy – and making locals climb up to fetch their shattered corpses – to fill the display cabinets of other British museums. But many of these issues are highlighted in the author’s breathless stampede through 6,000 years of Southeast Asian history. First up, Green introduces the idea that, because of its diversity of language, cultures and religions, because of the mix of mainland and island communities, ‘Southeast Asia’ might not be such a useful cultural grouping as it is a geographical one. Second, if Europeans are introduced as traders and art collectors in the early parts of her accounts, they are certainly colonialists and extractivists by the end (and occasionally idiots too, as was the case with Charles Hose, a Cambridge dropout who occupied administrative positions under the White Rajahs of Sarawak, and whose large collection of ethnographic souvenirs from that place was acquired by the British Museum in the early twentieth century, and who tried to wean the indigenous peoples of that part of Borneo off headhunting by organising rowing competitions). Third, she concedes that there is

a ‘difficulty in using objects to tell full histories’ of the region as a result of a tropical climate that renders many such objects ephemeral. Finally, at a time when historians such as Sunil Amrith are reimagining South and Southeast histories as being shaped by the forces of nature (more particularly water in his case) rather than culture and politics alone, Green takes time out (in the form of a thirteenth-century ritual water vessel – ‘exact ritual purpose unknown’ – from Java) to acknowledge that too. What Green manages to do as a result is capture something of the diverse and complex group of histories and cultures that have formed what we call Southeast Asia today – from the influence of trade routes that spanned Persia to China in the first century bce, to waves of religious influence encompassing Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. And of course the ability of the peoples in the region to accommodate and assimilate all of this – via multiple forms of storytelling, ranging from carving and weaving to architecture and performance art – into a series of unique and fascinatingly diverse cultural forms. If ever you need a quick guide to Southeast Asia’s history, this is it. Mark Rappolt

Owlish by Dorothy Tse, translated by Natascha Bruce Fitzcarraldo Editions, £13.99 (softcover) Dorothy Tse’s Nevers, the setting for Owlish, is a fictional Hong Kong, thinly disguised and thus delightfully familiar in terms of its history and topography. Encroaching surveillance from the neighbouring country of Ksana (a stand-in for China) and brainwashing educational policies are sketched in as backdrop. However, the citizens of Nevers remain oblivious and mute, stultified by ‘arrogance, luxury and indolence’, even as student protest movements are on the rise. Middle-aged Q is a married professor at the university. Originally from Ksana, he has been denied tenure these many years and sees himself as a ‘hack teacher in a debased,


cultureless little city’. Sickened by the brewing political situation, and politically impotent, he embarks on a love affair with a lifesize ballerina doll. Of confusing provenance, this doll, named Aliss, comes alive like Galatea. Q’s forgotten friend Owlish (Q’s alter ego and a marker for liminality) arranges a love nest in an abandoned church for the couple, where they can meet away from prying eyes. Q’s wife, Maria, has a categorical mindset and leads a well-ordered life; when she finds out about his affair, so do the authorities. Ultimately, Tse questions whether the mind’s mechanism, mapping out desire

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as a form of escapism, can deliver salvation, or in fact makes one complicit in being surveilled. Tse’s vision of Hong Kong as a place in which fungus grows between the toes, and a love affair between doll and man is enacted on a bed positioned beneath the crucified Jesus, is rendered striking, dreamlike and surreal through Natascha Bruce’s elegant, nuanced translation. The titling of the chapters, from ‘0’ to ‘32’, then ending on ‘-1’, conjures a mental elevator ride (a metaphor for Hong Kong’s vertical cityscape), but this is no fairytale. This is Hong Kong’s psyche, exposed. Elaine Chiew

Spring 2023


Hospital by Han Song, translated by Michael Berry Amazon Crossing, £8.99 / £28.99 (softcover / hardcover) Chinese science-fiction author Han Song’s English-language debut, Hospital, is too easy to misplace as merely ‘dystopian sci-fi’. Yang Wei is a minor government employee on a business trip to ‘C City’, engaged to write a song in celebration of the city’s Corporation B. He drinks a bottle of hotel mineral water, is gripped by stomach pains, passes out for three days and on regaining consciousness is hustled off to the city’s main hospital. In this gargantuan building, the readers becomes witness to Yang’s bizarre induction into a nightmarish world of hightech medical science, abject squalor and the humiliating deference of patients towards the priestlike doctors, who never seem to do anything but order more tests and prescribe more treatment. It begins to dawn on Yang that he will never leave the hospital. Song’s terse and often frantic narrative style has little time for character or realism, since Hospital is really a delirious, layered allegory in three parts: at first it’s as a satire on contemporary China and its striving towards a future of social harmony and benign governance; it then turns into a broader reflection on the purpose of modern society and human identity in an age in which science and technology appear to be driving society into a posthuman future; and in its ‘postscript’ it explodes into a hallucinating disquisition on the imperfect, tragic nature of the universe and its final fate. To call it weird

doesn’t do justice to Song’s unbridled and often manic pileup of ideas, polemical dialogues and deranged visual grotesquery; visiting the hospital’s gardens with his rebellious companion Bai Dai, they spy what looks ‘like a massive green waterfall rushing down the side of the building’. Asked what it is, Bai Dai answers ‘Phlegm… It’s all the phlegm the patients have coughed up.’ The hospital is really a ‘nation’; every part of society is being retrofitted into being a clinic setting; Song’s deft slipping from realism to surrealism to allegory allows Hospital to reflect on the experience of a technocratic society without ever really mentioning China, even as it wags its finger at ‘the West’ and the influence of Western medicine. ‘The Age of Medicine’ and the doctor-patient relationship, repeatedly celebrated by Yang’s medical overseers, can easily be read as the relationship between citizen and state. ‘Treatment’, one nurse tells him, ‘primarily comes down to a matter of faith. Do you have faith in the hospital? Do you have faith in your doctor?’ But Song’s dystopianism isn’t only locally political; medicine is both metaphor for capitalism and technocratic society and an aspect of a political outlook that sees people more like ‘patients’ than as free citizens; units to manage, to be administered. Song’s pessimism frames the sprawling middle section, in which Yang is shown how the hospital is really bent on

abolishing genetic life (it has already abolished the family unit), in order to produce bodies that will no longer become ill. Yang’s conversations with Bai Dai become soapboxes for a pop-culture fusion of accelerationism and conspiracy theory, a politics extreme in its fatalism; it’s not humans who act to reshape society, but society (science, capitalism) that’s busy reshaping humans. Futility regarding human purpose underscores Hospital, toying as it does with Buddhist notions of transcendence: the book’s final reverie, as Yang attempts his break for freedom, regards how the universe may have invented civilisations in order to produce agents that might ‘cure’ it of its founding illness. But political fatalism dolled up as cosmos-level resignation is an apologia for the status quo, one Song shares with his sci-fi contemporary Cixin Liu, in his Three-Body Problem books (2008–10). Almost a century ago, the German novelist Thomas Mann wrote The Magic Mountain (1927), another strange story of a man who can never leave his hospital – an allegory of the self-delusion of European culture before the First World War. Song’s diagnosis is altogether darker and more grotesque in its indifference; as translator Michael Berry points out, Yang Wei’s name is, in Chinese, a homophone for ‘impotence’, a powerlessness that Song’s lurid vision seems to revel in, and from which Yang never escapes. J.J. Charlesworth

Hit Parade of Tears by Izumi Suzuki, translated by Sam Bett, David Boyd, Helen O’Horan and Daniel Joseph Verso, £11.99 (softcover) ‘How about going to Earth?’ Jebba, one of the characters in the short story ‘I’ll Never Forget’ asks his companion Mari. ‘Why would you suggest that?’ she replies. In this newly translated collection of 11 posthumously published tales, Izumi Suzuki, who is now being recognised as a pioneer of both sci-fi and transgressive literature in Japan, seems to constantly challenge received wisdom. Why, indeed, should we submit to reality on Earth when Suzuki’s dissident and anarchist science-fiction proposes alternatives full of rebellion, whether in outer space or through time. Suzuki came of age amid Japan’s counterculture movements of the 1960s and 70s. She clarifies her opinions of the era in the titular story, ‘Hit Parade of Tears’, writing that a new independent political state that the story’s male


character is seeking to establish would ‘encapsulate’ the realities of the Japan she was living in: ‘it would be violent and reckless and cruel’. While this is the only story collected here that directly articulates Suzuki’s distrust of the ruling authorities at the time of its writing, it’s telling that her antagonist would perpetuate within his ideal state the very one Suzuki defies. In many of these stories, Suzuki expresses a yearning for something else – whether an alternative self, or world. In ‘Memory of Water’ the nameless narrator goes through life in a dejected daze but one day wakes up as ‘AlterShe’, an alter ego who ‘felt sorry’ for her other self, ‘fucking loved life’ and sometimes piloted their shared existence. However, when the other self regains consciousness and unknowingly

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destroys Alter-She’s relationship with a man, Alter-She permanently leaves. Left with this emptiness, the original-she thinks to herself that ‘Such was her punishment for hating the world. The world rejected her and wouldn’t love her and she hated it back.’ Alter-She, however, has fled to a different, endless universe: ‘A pure world with neither sorrow nor sin’, where she has the sense that the man she lost is returning to her. Indeed, the idea of an alternate, yet unobtainable utopia looms over the entire collection. Through stories of murderous aliens, rock-and-roll has-beens and failed witches, Suzuki knows very well that life on Earth sucks, but that doesn’t stop her from constantly imagining and reimagining radical alterities. Marv Recinto

How to Stand Up to a Dictator: The Fight for Our Future by Maria Ressa Penguin Random House, £20 (hardcover)

I’ve admired Maria Ressa for a long time, reading the online news source Rappler (which she cofounded) since its 2012 launch. Ressa’s co-win of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, with Dmitry Muratov, felt like a shared triumph for members of the Filipino press who struggle against censorship. Her latest book is then one part victory lap and one part rallying cry to ‘hold the line’ – a slogan that, for Ressa, means maintaining integrity against tyranny. The author divides her memoir into three parts: the first predictably recounts her adolescence in the Philippines and United States, then her initial career in journalism; the second narrates Rappler’s genesis and social media; the third traces Ressa and Rappler’s recent resistance against the Philippine Government’s hostility, as well as interrogating the negative impact of Facebook (now Meta)’s decision to

privilege commercial growth or, more appropriately, world domination, over regulating disinformation (when Ressa told Mark Zuckerberg in 2017 that 97 percent of Filipinos are on Facebook, he asked, ‘Wait Maria, where are the other three percent?’). While the personal touches – such as her relationship with childhood friend Twink Macaraig – are earnest, Ressa’s humanity isn’t really at stake. What is, however, are attitudes pertaining to social media and tyrannical regimes, making Ressa’s frank criticisms and account of Rappler’s counteractive initiatives against Meta and the Philippine government important. In chapter six she claims that social media (Facebook in particular) fuelled ‘the rise of digital authoritarians, the death of facts, and the insidious mass manipulation we live with today’. Rappler developed its Sharktank

database to combat Meta’s apathy and political lies, capturing and mapping billions of posts, comments, groups and users on Facebook in an ‘information ecosystem’ to ‘identify posts that are meant to mislead’. When Ressa was arrested in 2019 on cyber-libel charges, for example, the Sharktank captured how reactions to that event were split. The book pales with its corny preachings about morality. It finds its true mark, however, with Ressa’s precise journalistic facticity and the outlining of efforts to preserve the field’s integrity, such as when, in 2017, Rappler and other outlets established #FactCheckph, a multilayer check system that also works with lawyers to maintain accountability. It is these examples, more than any cliché about ‘believing in the good’, that offer meaningful guidance about how to stand up to a dictator. Marv Recinto

The Sthory of Two Wimmin Named Kalyani and Dakshayani by R. Rajasree, translated by Devika J Penguin India, Rs599 (softcover) ‘Getting a life is like pulling a python out of its lair. If you do pull it out, it’s going to lie right there, straightening its body, coiling, curling, scaring you and everybody else. There’s no guarantee that it will go back into its hole.’ On the face of it, this awardwinning novel, originally written in the author’s native Malayalam, is the story of two childhood friends – Kalyani and Dakshayani – from northern Malabar and their attempts to ‘get a life’ in a world that is arranged so as to deny them one. In a large part because of their sex. ‘What nayitive plaice does ye womun haave?’ they ask, as they grow up to find themselves stuck in a limboland between their family homes and their husbands’ places. Oh yes – you’ll notice from that quotation (if you hadn’t already noticed from the spelling of the book’s title) that there is a little more going on here than just the fight against the patriarchy. Devika J’s translation also attempts to retain some of the spoken regional dialects (a northern and a southern version) that form part of the original Malayalam text. A ‘challenge to the dominant standard language that erases the words and worlds of the local spoken tongue’, as she puts it in her introduction. Both in Malayalam literature and its translation into standardised English.

It’s double death, if you like. These issues of power and politics are echoed in the form of the novel itself, which is narrated by a third party in standard English, while Kalyani, Dakshayani and the secondary characters associated with them speak in their dialect voices; with the narrator constantly worrying about her ability to be faithful to her sources – insisting it’s their story not hers. The effect is stunningly immersive (you know you’re not in your home territory). Through the book we follow Kalyani and Dakshayani from the moment they stomp out of school, aged seven, following a male teacher’s attempt to grope Dakshayani’s thigh. ‘Rot in ’ell yuh sonofabitch,’ she yells at him. From the moment they jump the school wall they’re immersed in a world that’s gendered from the off – boys come out of the womb quickly because of their impatience; girls are born slowly because of their compassion for their mothers’ suffering. It’s a world in which men possess both women’s bodies and finances, in which a wife can be married to, and shared by two brothers. It’s a world governed by religion, superstition, local folklore, wandering ghosts and demons, talking, philosophising cows (the pair have more conversations with their cattle than their

Spring 2023

husbands), tribal magic, the inescapable oppression of the caste system and a confused, everchanging local politics. And, of course, regional prejudice. At one wedding the northern guests complain about the bride’s wedding necklace: ‘our thaali isn’ notlike thi’’, not ‘the classic leaf-shaped thaali but more like the southie Christian chettammaar-style, the really small one’. A diminutive local Chettiar (trader or moneylender) is said to derive his power from turning his entire body into a human dildo to pleasure his voluptuous wife (he gets captured by a jealous local sorcerer and his spirit helpers and is stripped of that power during her menstrual cycle); many of the rest of the book’s male characters are, for one reason or another, impotent. ‘You humans – how frail are the explanations and reasons you create for relationships,’ proclaims a local cow. Through the length of this extraordinary novel, which is set in an unspecified time, but perhaps, given the political references, after 1950 and largely during the 1960s/70s, it’s Kalyani and Dakshayani’s relationship and mutual bravery that sustains them both. ‘Though it looks so swollen and fancy, this world of ours is actually made up of just a few things,’ the narrator says. Mark Rappolt


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Words on the spine and on pages 13, 45 and 75 were spoken as dialogue in the film Om Shanti Om (2007), dir Farah Khan

Spring 2023


Art school… what’s it for? ArtReview Asia

What did you get out of art school? Elizabeth Price

A pop band; auto-didactic tendencies; solitary and intense working habits, some good friends, a willingness to embarrass myself; a more sardonic sense of humour Vuk Ćuk

The sense that everything regarding my career as an artist is dependent on myself completely Bruno Baptistelli

The opportunity to meet people from different places with different thoughts. Also, I started to be much more aware about different aspects of the constitution of space Ruth Proctor

A mess to untangle Renzo Martens

As long as art school is teaching a rarefied few to produce gestures, while cushioning them against the functions of these gestures in relation to global formations of capital, it will train influencers within a diminishing field of influence Ai Weiwei

Art school is like a flea market or garage sale. There is nothing new ArtReview Asia

What would be a feature of your ideal art school? Peng Zuqiang

A structure and pedagogy that facilitates a noncompetitive working and learning environment. Less judging and more thinking together. To put it in other words, did European art schools make you a bad person? Alicia Frankovich

I long for an art school where spatiality is not privileged over temporality Pio Abad

Tutors with permanent contracts and no whitesplaining crits. Oh, and tutorials on how to do your taxes Marianna Simnett

A trampoline Koushna Navabi

It’s not a sprint, it’s a lifetime marathon. Believe in failure, go through your practice without fear Djordje Ozbolt


Free bar! And lots of visiting artists! The more the better

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