ArtReview Asia Summer 2023

Page 1

Som Supaparinya

The moon, mail art and the stone age

How is the US ‘shaping’ Asian art?

Cory Arcangel, ~3.2022.057~2x1.2~E6 (detail), 2022 Gold anodized aluminium plate (BWB-Bausilber 2 E6). 200 x 120 cm © Cory Arcangel. Photo: Stefan Alternburgher

Cory Arcangel ✎╓✈

Seoul June—August 2023


ArtReview Asia vol 11 no 2 Summer 2023

Out of the fire… As ArtReview Asia watched the eyeball of its barbecuing seabream gently fizzle, pop and disintegrate like a section of film reel melting under the light of a projector, it was struck by the thought that no matter how many cooking gadgets and methods there are, there is nothing quite like roasting something over an open fire. Perhaps it’s the feeling of returning to our ‘natural state’, or perhaps it’s about the feeling of control – a small (albeit misguided) sense of dominion – over a destructive elemental force. Or perhaps ArtReview Asia simply likes the taste and coming away from the pit feeling half-smoked itself. Did you know that fire maintenance is a thing? It’s all about keeping the embers at a constant, hitting the sweet spot in grilling temperature that cooks your food evenly, and can mean the difference between achieving a smoky char and a burned ruin. You’ve got to respect the flame. Of course, you couldn’t tell a caveman that – he was happy to dump his meat on the coals and chew at a leathery piece of whatever. But contemporary humans are more refined now. We’ve been developing technology and culture ever since the groundwork was laid by ol’ Prometheus. But while we might have moved beyond placing a circle of rocks around a fire (renewable energy! Artificial Intelligence! Aviation advancements! To skip a few millennia), the risk of how far we contain new technologies remains the same; at any point, a piece of charcoal can be propelled beyond the confines of a barbecue and set fire to your leg. The moral of that Greek tale (in which Mr P, the thieving scoundrel, gets his comeuppance for committing the inflammatory deed of gifting fire to humans by having his liver eaten from his body by an eagle every day for the rest of his miserable immortal life), though, poses this fundamental question: once humans start to develop various technologies, would these be used to benefit society, or to destroy it? And because humans are fickle beings, the answer, inevitably, is both. Time to turn the fish. ArtReview Asia



Ja p a n’s n ew inte r n at i o n a l a r t f a ir

Art Previewed

Previews by ArtReview Asia 16

Dramatic Entrances by Daniel Elsea 36

Wedding Crashers by Skye Arundhati Thomas 38

The Interview Lee Ufan & Claude Viallat by Mark Rappolt 28

Americanese by Marv Recinto 40

Art Featured

Som Supaparinya by Max Crosbie-Jones 44

Cemile Sahin by Alexander Leissle 50

Horikawa Michio by Tyler Coburn 60

WangShui interview by Emily McDermott 56

page 16 Alex Da Corte, The Open Window (still), 2018, hd digital video, 11 min 16 sec. © Alex Da Corte studio


Art Reviewed

exhibitions & books 68 Shakuntala Kulkarni, by Stephanie Bailey Mithu Sen, by Vyshnavee Wijekumar Shigeo Otake, by Xinjie Wang Karms Thammatat, by Salena Barry Lee Kit, by Christopher Whitfield Rirkrit Tiravanija, by Mark Rappolt Rana Begum, by Yalda Bidshahri Ting-Tong Chang, by Alfonse Chiu I have not loved (enough or worked), by Gok-Lim Finch Ai Weiwei, by Wenny Teo Aki Hassan, by Adeline Chia Bani Abidi, by Mark Rappolt Uncountable Time, by Max Crosbie-Jones Hellish Gags, by Stephanie Bailey Kyotographie 2023, by Ellen Yiwei Wang Jasleen Kaur, by Phoebe Cripps

Absence: On the Culture and Philosophy of the Far East, by Byung-Chul Han, reviewed by Mark Rappolt The Man in the McIntosh Suit, by Rina Ayuyang,reviewed by Yuwen Jiang Yellowface, by Rebecca Kuang, reviewed by Marv Recinto 9 Folk Tales, edited by Rubkwan Thammaboosadee & Palin Ansusinha, reviewed by Max Crosbie-Jones Creators of Modern China: 100 Lives from Empire to Republic 1796–1912, edited by Jessica Harrison-Hall and Julia Lovell, reviewed by Yuwen Jiang Wanwu i, by Zheng Bo, reviewed by Nirmala Devi The Geometries of Afro Asia: Art Beyond Solidarity, by Joan Kee, reviewed Christopher Whitfield The Fugitive of Gezi Park, by Deniz Goran, reviewed by Nirmala Devi from the archives 102

page 70 Shigeo Otake, King of Chalice, 2014, tempera and oil on board 23 × 16 cm. Courtesy the artist and Hive Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing


Kunst im Metaversum

COLLECTIVE Eloïse Bonneviot & Anne de Boer Ian Cheng Simon Denny Lea Ermuth Sarah Friend Dorota Gawęda & Eglé Kulbokaité Holly Herndon & Mat Dryhurst Katharina Haverich Ayoung Kim LaTurbo Avedon Loopntale Jonas Lund Omsk Social Club

HEK (Haus der Elektronischen Künste) Freilager-Platz 9, 4142 Münchenstein/Basel

Vernissage: Juni 2, 19:00

Juni 3 – August 13, 2023 Das HEK wird unterstützt von: Die Ausstellung wird unterstützt von:

AKTUELL: Wir danken unserem neuen Partner USM für ihr grosszügiges Engagement.

‘Camellia Song’

228cm x 159cm, 2023

Seho Park

Work on Paper 1-31 July 2023

SEOULJAVJONS Seouljavjons Artists Residency, Bibong2-23-1f/Gugi149-3-1f Jongro, Seoul

Art Observed

It is really not the moment to go to bed 15

8 Lin Jiahua, Enter into Art History Slideshow Event, 1988 (performance view, Xiamen, 1988). Photo: Wu Yiming. Courtesy the artist


ArtReview Asia

Previewed 1 Tokyo Gendai Pacifico Yokohama 7–9 July

9 Christine Ay Tjoe Ota Fine Arts, Shanghai Through 8 July

2 15 Take Ninagawa, Tokyo Through 22 July

10 Public Private Pond Society, Shanghai Part i Through – 20 July Part ii 29 July – 7 September

3 Alex Da Corte 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa Through 18 September 4 Game Society Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul Through 10 September 5 Hu Wei 6 Chris Zhongtian Yuan Macalline Art Center, Beijing Through 3 September 7 John Akomfrah Lisson Gallery, Beijing Through 14 October 8 Slide / Show: Light Images in Chinese Contemporary Art ucca Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing Through 13 August

11 Lai Chih-Sheng Kiang Malingue (Sik On Street), Hong Kong Through 8 July 12 Leung Chi Wo Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong Through 1 July 13 The Foreigners Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Sri Lanka, Colombo Through 22 October 14 Kaon Na Ta! A Melding of Visual Flavors Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art Through 20 August 15 sam Contemporaries: Residues & Remixes 16 Hito Steyerl Singapore Art Museum at Tanjong Pagar Distripark Through 24 September

Summer 2023

17 See Me, See You: Early Video Installation of Southeast Asia National Gallery Singapore Through 17 September 18 Dorsa Asadi Green Art Gallery, Dubai Through 29 July 19 Marisa Merz and Shilpa Gupta maxxi L’Aquila Through 1 October 20 Shimabuku Museion, Bolzano Through 3 September 21 Hot Cities: Lessons from Arab Architecture Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein Through 5 November 22 Gelare Khoshgozaran Delfina Foundation, London 23 June – 6 August 23 Taravat Talepasand Yerba Buena Cultural Center, San Francisco Through 23 July


Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei, Seoul – the ‘battle’ to be capital of Asia’s art market is hotting up. ‘Seoul – not Hong Kong – is the Newest Art Capital of the World’, The Wall Street Journal howled hysterically last September; ‘Is Singapore the Next Major Global Art Hub?’ wondered Artsy a little more nervously in January; ‘From Singapore to Seoul, Asia’s rising art capitals vie for Hong Kong’s crown’, cnn hollered, egging them on, this past March; ‘Hong Kong is Back’ thundered the South China Morning Post, slamming its no-nonsense fist into the table, at around the same time. Even though ArtReview Asia doesn’t report about art fairs (what’s there to say for an entity with a critical bent? Either work sold or it didn’t), it is totally into the artworld’s version of fake wwe-style wrestling. With Riyadh rumoured to be

prepping itself to dive-bomb the party, Tokyo is the next city to leap into action. Whether it will prove to be a graceful entry or a painful bellyflop is something only time will tell, but ArtReview Asia loves all the hype. Almost 1 as much as it loves Tokyo! Tokyo Gendai, however, actually takes place in Yokohama, a port city just south of the Japanese capital; there, 79 galleries will be loading their works into gashapon capsules and bombarding the rest of Asia. To the death! (nd) It’s appropriate that 15, Take Ninagawa’s 2 celebration of its 15th anniversary, includes a telegram from On Kawara’s celebrated series I Am Still Alive (1968–2000; the example on show here from 1973). It’s a bit depressing given that the work itself suggests that there were people who did not expect Kawara (who sent

the telegrams to friends and acquaintances) to still be around; just as many galleries today don’t expect extended degrees of longevity. But the show is about moving forward too, inaugurating Take Ninagawa’s new space in Higashi-Azabu. Comprising work by represented artists and fellow travellers, the group exhibition includes figures who have entered the annals of art history (Kawara, Charlotte Posenenske and Bas Jan Ader, and, more recently and more alive, Wang Bing, Patty Chang, Shinro Ohtake), as well as those leading new directions in contemporary art (among them Suki Seokyeong Kang, Thea Djordjadze, Danh Võ, Aki Sasamoto and Mika Rottenberg). A true celebration of endurance then. (nd) What happens when you have an appetite for both art history and popular culture?

1 Aida Makoto, Nitroglycerin Stew, 2012, oil on canvas, 194 × 259 cm. Courtesy Mizuma Art Gallery, Tokyo

2 On Kawara, typed telegram dated 1973, from the series I Am Still Alive, 1968–2000. © the artist’s estate. Courtesy Take Ninagawa, Tokyo


ArtReview Asia

4 Harun Farocki, Serious Games I: Watson is Down, 2010, two-channel video projection, colour, sound, 8 min. © Harun Farocki 2010. Courtesy Harun Farocki GbR, Berlin

3 Alex Da Corte, Rubber Pencil Devil (still), 2018, hd digital video, 175 min 52 sec. © Alex Da Corte studio

You churn them together into a fresh hell. 3 Venezuelan-American artist Alex Da Corte’s first exhibition at an art museum in Asia features 11 works that reflect upon our constant inundation and alienation in images and consumer culture. In the video installation roy g biv (2022), a Marcel Duchamp lookalike (dressed as himself, as his female alter ego, Rrose Sélavy, and as Joker from Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film) mimes a story of love and separation that unfolds in a recreation of a gallery at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, inserting canonical artists such as Constantin Brancusi into a chaotic afterlife. In Mouse Museum (Van Gogh Ear) (2022), Da Corte reinterprets Claes Oldenburg’s Mickey Mouse-shaped installation and instead fills the room with props and totems from Da Corte’s previous

videos, blending the image world with its material counterparts. Throughout a display that piles together videos of smiley-face pool balls, a Squidward-looking Statue of Liberty and Eminem puffing from bongs made of shoes and detergent bottles, the exhibition points to a reality where the hell of a winking, memeified art history is constantly renewed. (yj) ArtReview Asia is partial to deluding itself that real life might contain some hidden fantastical element; for some, videogames provide that escape route (though perversely, it can sometimes seem as though real life is made up of the same rules and parameters as a videogame, when one day you find yourself unable to figure out how to get to the next level and instead repeatedly run into the invisible perimeters of a hellscape because there has to be

Summer 2023

4 a way out…), and Game Society taps right into that. The sprawling group exhibition considers how videogame aesthetics and language have impacted life, as well as art and visual culture. You’ll be able to dive into dozens of videogames and artworks that have been influenced by videogames, including nine games produced by Korean developers and a bunch of stuff from the collections of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and Washington, dc’s Smithsonian. These are arranged across three themes: ‘Artgame, Gameart’ (which kind of speaks for itself), ‘World Beyond Worlds’ (artworks that involve world-building and games that invite players to construct their own fantasylands) and ‘Play Together, Stay Together’ (focusing on the social experience of gaming). At Game Society you’ll find classic


5 Chris Zhongtian Yuan, No Door, One Window, Only Light (still), 2023, three-channel hd video, Super 8 film to digital image, sound, colour, 26 min 32 sec. Courtesy the artist and Macalline Art Center, Beijing

7 John Akomfrah, The Airport (still), 2016, three-channel hd colour video installation, 7.1 sound, 53 min. © Smoking Dogs Films. Courtesy Lisson Gallery, Beijing 6 Hu Wei, The Rumbling (still), 2023, three-channel hd video installation, sound, colour, Super 16 film to 2k. Courtesy the artist and Macalline Art Center, Beijing

games like Pac-Man (1980) chomping alongside Cory Arcangel’s /roʊˈdeioʊ/ Let’s Play: hollywood 2021-06-08t22:58:00+2:00 11082 (2021), SimCity 2000 (1993) installing pools next to Lawrence Lek’s Nøtel (Seoul Edition) (2023) and Halo 2600 (2010) firing shots beside Harun Farocki’s Serious Games i–iv (2009–10) (this last, which is indeed more serious, looks at how the us military employs videogame technology to train soldiers for war). Hope they’ve got enough screens. (fc) Chris Zhongtian Yuan trained as an 5 architect in London. No surprise then that their new commission for the Macalline Art Center, a three-channel videowork titled No Door, One Window, Only Light (2023; also the title of the exhibition), takes an architectural approach to considering ideas of home, communities


on urban and social margins, and the relationship between collective and individual histories. These themes are picked up in a survey of Zhongtian Yuan’s earlier videoworks, sculptures, drawings and architectural ‘scores’. Running concurrently is another early-career 6 survey of the work of Hu Wei, also premiering a three-channel film, titled The Rumbling (2023), set in a quarry in Southern China and focusing this time on human interactions with the land – Hu’s work a mirror, of sorts, to the parallel exhibition. (nd) John Akomfrah’s first solo show in China 7 makes a point of presenting an older work that itself reflects on time, the breakdown of societies, migration and a long view of history. The Airport, made in 2016, premiered in Greece and made elliptical reference to the Greek

ArtReview Asia

economic crisis of the time. It follows a mysterious astronaut who wanders the desolate vicinity of an abandoned airport, encountering characters from Greece’s past. Seemingly stuck in time, The Airport’s arrested, fragmented world evokes a sense of crisis about modernity and the promise of progress, and a Western-centric twentieth century fading away. (jjc) If today we are haunted by images and their rgb pixels, during the 1980s images were attached to a more tangible medium – 8 the slide projector. ucca’s Slide / Show: Light Images in Chinese Contemporary Art uncovers this material history by focusing on the reversal-film images that cast a long shadow and shaped practices of seeing, artmaking and education during China’s postreform era.

The three-chapter exhibition lets us look at slide images as a maker of authority – in their mass reproduction of canonical artworks, which in Lin Jiahua’s 1988 performance Enter into Art History Slideshow Event are projected onto his own body; or as a means for social change, as in Zhang Peili’s 30 × 30 (1988), presented through archival materials related to the 1988 Huangshan Conference, which examined how slides could help launch a nongovernmental art scene. During the 1990s, slides enabled an artistic vision that layered images upon overlooked surfaces, as seen in Lin Tianmiao’s Sewing (1997), in which a video of her mother’s working hands is projected on a sewing table, shedding light on invisible, elusive women’s labour. Ultimately Slide / Show asks: how should we see and think through

and eight paintings (the Indonesian artist is the mediums we created and that, for a time, best known as a painter) that pay tribute to the captivated us? (yj) The primary installation work in Christine few drops of water that are required to bring 9 Ay Tjoe’s latest show in Shanghai features a a dehydrated and dormant tardigrade back to moss piglet, or tardigrade. These eight-legged life. The oil painting A Piece of Liquid #02 (2022) microanimals (maximum body length is around looks like a blue-grey-green-brown fungal 1.5mm; Ay Tjoe’s representation, however, is mass exploding and worrying itself onto the giant) look either cute or horrific, depending on canvas. God, as they say, is in the details. (nd) your point of view. What’s without doubt is they Curated by Jareh Das, an independent writer, critic and curator who ‘moves between are here on earth to stay and have been discovered everywhere from mountaintops to the deep 10 West Africa and the uk’, the two-part Public Private features 12 contemporary painters sea, and Antarctica to tropical rainforests. They survive any extreme you could imagine; even whose work focuses on the liminal space exposure to outer space. Ay Tjoe’s version is between public and private; or put more intimately, the inner self and outer projecnamed Personal Denominator (2022) and, thanks to a fitted air-pump, appears to breathe, repretions. The artists on show represent a spread senting for the artist the force of life. The of geographies and approaches, and include Tunji Adeniyi-Jones, Hayley Barker, Dominic sculpture is accompanied by eight drawings

10 GaHee Park, Cat with a View, 2022, oil on canvas, 154 × 203 cm. Photo: Marion Paquette. Courtesy Perrotin, Shanghai

9 Christine Ay Tjoe, A Piece of Liquid #02, 2022, oil on canvas, 180 × 200 cm. © the artist. Courtesy Ota Fine Arts, Shanghai

Summer 2023


Chambers, Hyegyeong Choi, Anthony Cudahy, Ulala Imai, Sarah Lee, Jonny Negron, GaHee Park, Sarah Slappey, Caroline Walker and Michaela Yearwood-Dan. The cumulative result aims at being a microsurvey of contemporary painting today, with a focus on how these artists deconstruct the imagery of the past in order to construct a language for the present. Why? As Yearwood-Dan put it in a recent interview for the Talk Art podcast, the existing artworld, with its received wisdoms and conditioned behaviours, is designed sometimes to make ‘you feel you can’t be authentically yourself within the art you make’. Das puts forward a set of artists who explore just how far that ‘within’ can go. (nd) Taipei-based Lai Chih-Sheng, a former 11 member of the conceptual art group National

other thoughts regarding exhaustion, waste Oxygen, is renowned for his subtle gestures and meaninglessness’, Lai is also presenting and sensitivity to spatial environments – in a new video, Daze (2023), and a series of sitethe past exhibiting his work in abandoned specific installations that further explore the structures on the outskirts of his hometown. Fittingly, then, Kiang Malingue’s second-floor themes of despectacularisation, the impact space is devoted to the ‘display’ of a single of the built environment and our relationship entity: a mosquito. (For those animal-rights to the natural landscape. (nd) activists among you, the gallery is at pains Leung Chi Wo’s latest exhibition closes 12 to point out that it has been ‘appropriately on the 25th anniversary of the handover of conditioning’ the space for its new guest.) Hong Kong from Britain to China. The show The setup stages a confrontation between the itself focuses on 1982, when negotiations for micro (the mosquito) and the mega (human the handover commenced. Like much of his visitors) – there’s a relationship here to Voltaire’s recent work, it is grounded in the colonial 1752 proto sci-fi novella, Micromégas, in which and postcolonial history of the sar, this time an oversize being tours the galaxy – and focusing on a variety of sources describing the repulsion (our fear of being bitten) and attracleadup to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, tion (our curiosity about what’s on show). signed two years later, which set out the terms While the artist states, ‘This idea may generate for the transfer of authority and the future

11 Lai Chih-Sheng, Daze (still), 2023, single-channel video, 7 min 15 sec. Courtesy the artist and Kiang Malingue, Hong Kong

12 Leung Chi Wo, Gather The Tears (detail), 2023, aluminium alloy frames, glass, craft knives, book, music stand, 137 × 62 × 62 cm. Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong


ArtReview Asia

14 Nunelucio Alvarado, Partida, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 91 × 76 cm. Courtesy ilomoca, Iloilo

13 Shyama Golden, Rooms ii, 2018, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy mmca Sri Lanka, Colombo

governance of Hong Kong. Leung, a cofounder of one of Hong Kong’s longest-running independent exhibition spaces, Para Site, and past representative of Hong Kong at the Venice Biennale, works by juxtaposing everyday and official narratives to highlight and explore historical lacunae. Here that includes Margaret Thatcher’s handwritten notes and the first official photograph of the newborn Prince William, archival newspaper clippings and tv news footage, all assembled to suggest alternative readings of the past and different possibilities for the future. (nd) The question of who belongs, and who does not, was one of the underlying issues of the 16-year civil war in Sri Lanka that took at least 100,000 lives and ended in what most people would call a genocide. Which

makes mmca’s current group exhibition, 13 The Foreigners, featuring work by 15 artists (living both at home and abroad) and explor-

ing real and constructed markers of otherness, particularly appropriate. You might have gathered that the ‘foreigners’ of the title is not simply a reference to people arriving from beyond Sri Lanka’s waters; and that the local and diasporic practitioners it embraces – ranging from London-based painter Arjuna Gunarathne to New Zealand-based musician Sumudi Suraweera, via pioneering performance artists such as Colombobased Janani Cooray – span a wide range of media too. (nd) ‘Let’s Eat!’ exclaims the exhibition’s title in Hiligaynon. This largescale group show brings 42 artists from the Western Visayas

Summer 2023

and Metro Manila together to develop the idea of an ‘aesthetic cuisine’. The art included actually has nothing to do with food, but rather the curatorial team – comprising artists Marika Constantino, Rock Drilon and Manuel Ocampo – draws inspiration from the signified potentials of food and shared meals like ‘cultural consumption, community and identity, and originality and invention’. Through the works of artists like Nunelucio Alvarado, Charlie Co, Manny Montelibano, Poklong Anading 14 and Gerardo Tan, Kaon Na Ta! A Melding of Visual Flavors hopes to act as a ‘buffet of visual dialogues in the form of paintings, drawings, sculptures, photography, collage, mixed media works, installations, and videos’. It’s all making ArtReview Asia rather hungry anyway – dig in! (mvr)



For the inaugural edition of sam Contemthe scale of iron extraction the Japanese carried out in British Malaya during the early-toporaries, a new biennial venture staged to give punters a vision of what’s happening in the mid-twentieth century. Other installations include Moses Tan’s a caveat, a score (2023) local art scene, six Singapore-based artists and Priyageetha Dia’s lament h.e.a.t. (2023), consider the impact of the city-state’s past on its present and the ways in which technology as well as new work by Fyerool Darma. Also will change that understanding in the future. on show at sam’s Tanjong Pagar Distripark Naturally all this filters through readings 16 location is Hito Steyerl’s immersive video of the country’s migratory and cultural mix. installation Factory of the Sun (2015, originally Household objects dangle by threads from the produced for that year’s edition of the Venice Biennale), a mix of dance, drone footage, ceiling in a cluster in Yeyoon Avis Ann’s 2023 invented newscasts and images of student A Collisional Accelerator of Everydays (a.c.a.e.); Khairulddin Wahab’s Landscape Palimpsest (2023) uprisings merged into a narrative of factory includes an installation of four paintings that workers dancing to create sunlight. Naturally, inquire into the relationship between the only in Singapore does the installation come Singaporean terrain and colonial violence; and with a downloadable instruction sheet should in South Sea Ore (2023), Anthony Chin creates you feel moved to join the indentured labourers and copy those moves. (mvr) an augmented-reality sequence that illustrates

Imagine stepping irl into an installation like Joseph Beuys’s 1974 I Like America and America Likes Me, with a coyote stalking you 17 around the gallery. Well, See Me, See You: Early Video Installation of Southeast Asia is much less treacherous and probably more fun, including, as it does, Apinan Poshyananda’s Beuys-teasing How to Explain Art to a Bangkok Cock (1985). For this two-part exhibition (part two launches in October), the museum has commissioned the restaging of several installations of milestone Southeast Asian videoworks, with viewers invited to physically engage with each installation – though you probably shouldn’t try to mount the wooden giraffeassemblage in Jean Marie Syjuco’s See Me, See You (Revenge of the Giraffe) (1986). This fresh take on important works from the 1980s

16 Hito Steyerl, Factory of the Sun, 2015 (installation view). Courtesy Singapore Art Museum

15 Yeyoon Avis Ann, Trees Upside-down, 2023 (installation view, sam Contemporaries: Residues & Remixes at the sam hoarding along Queen Street). Courtesy Singapore Art Museum

17 Apinan Poshyananda, How to Explain Art to a Bangkok Cock, 1985/2019, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photo: Joseph Nair, Memphis West Pictures


ArtReview Asia

reintroduces them to contemporary audiences, presents a series of small, dioramalike ceramics (she once said, ‘I can do little, very little… making their significance palpable while that explore the complex fusion of the narraI cannot escape the reality I see’), but her ‘living sculptures’ – sheets of aluminium twisted exploring the challenge of preserving arttives above, where humans wander through and stapled into tubes that originally filled her works made in increasingly historical audionatural scenes in which one body often melts own home – were intended as total environvisual media. (mvr) into another. (nd) ments to shape behaviour as much as provide Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (1321), Taking its title from an unfinished text twins named Elle and Belle, traditional Iranian by French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, visual stimulus. Meanwhile Gupta’s For, In Your wrestling, the Akkadian Epic of Gilgamesh the curators of visibileinvisible are interested, Tongue, I Cannot Fit (2018), presents the work of they say, in ‘the enigma of “seeing”, which (second millennium bce), revolts against a hundred imprisoned poets, from the seventh patriarchy in favour of the right to own your Western culture prioritizes, and “feeling”, century to the present, their censored composiown body – such a disparate collection of which Eastern culture prioritizes’. Those tions printed on sheets of paper and impaled generalisations are tested through the work source materials could only come together on metal rods and played out of speakers. It’s in an art exhibition. And more particularly in a memorial to those who, through the ages and 19 of two artists, the late Marisa Merz, who was 18 an exhibition made by Iranian artist Dorsa Italian, and Shilpa Gupta, who is Indian and across geographies, the authorities didn’t want almost two generations younger. The former, Asadi. Deploying a structure in three chapters to be seen (or heard). (ob) the sole female artist associated with the that follows Dante’s epic poem, the artist – who ArtReview Asia once spent an enjoyable 20 evening in the company of Shimabuku Arte Povera movement, was interested in works primarily in ceramics and installation, as the Japanese artist introduced a hundred while exploring a range of other media – the everyday materials that surrounded her

20 Shimabuku, Me, We, 2023 (installation view, Museion, Bolzano). Photo: Luca Guadagnini. Courtesy the artist; Zero, Milan; and Air de Paris, Romainville

18 Dorsa Asadi, Claimant or frightened, will burn together baby, 2022, four ceramic pieces, dimensions variable. Photo: Anna Shtraus

19 Marisa Merz, Testa, 1984–95, clay, wax, tin, lead on iron base, dimensions variable. Photo: Vianello e Mangosio. Courtesy Merz Archive, Turin

Summer 2023


21 Models of (from top) Community Center, Jordan, designed by Kikuma Watanabe, and Courtyard Houses, Agadir, Morocco, by Jean-François Zevaco. Photos: Andreas Sütterlin. © Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein; andRashid & Ahmed Bin Shabib

21 Tuwaiq Palace Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Photo: Rashid & Ahmed Bin Shabib

photographs he had taken of cardboard boxes. As each slide appeared he spoke with lyrical enthusiasm about a particular fold or font of the otherwise mundane packaging. This exhibition, encompassing performance, video and sculpture, his largest European retrospective to date, proves that there is more to the practice than whimsical absurdism (though there’s unashamedly a bit of that too), with the artist’s interest in translation, be it linguistic or material, coming to the foreground. The theme is apparent in his 2006 performance-video Asking the Repentistas – Peneira & Sonhador – to remix my octopus works, for example, in which the artist tasked two Brazilian buskers to reinterpret an earlier videowork he had made featuring the artist fishing for octopus in Japan; to the new


to contribute to sustainable built environMe, We (2023, which gives the show its title), ments). The exhibition offers an archive of an architectural installation fusing materials from two very different buildings in the vernacular and modern technologies, spanning Bolzano region, one from the Mauracher farm, 20 Arab metropoles, in the form of models, which dates to the thirteenth century (and installations, texts and colloquia that collecis being renovated), and the 1920s hq of a tively aim at helping us face and adapt to chemical company (being demolished). (ob) a world that is, inevitably, to come. (nd) Things are getting hotter, so we could For almost four years, London’s Delfina all do with learning the lessons of those people Foundation has put its exhibitions on hold who have been living with the heat for a good (though its residencies, public programming and fancy ‘Family Meals’ have continued). 21 while. Hot Cities looks at urban and design solutions to the problem of extreme tempera- 22 Gelare Khoshgozaran’s show marks the exhibition programme’s revival and ture in the Arabic-speaking world, curated by Khoshgozaran’s return to this esteemed art urbanists Ahmed and Rashid bin Shabib, (and culinary) exchange after her spring who picked up a Golden Lion at the last Venice 2021 residency there. To Be the Author of One’s Architecture Biennale for their book Anatomy Own Travels is the artist and filmmaker’s first of Sabkhas (2021; sabkhas are natural salt flats solo exhibition in Europe and premieres that, according to the authors, have the ability

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two films in the uk that address questions of diasporic nonbelonging and itinerance. One is an ode to Lebanese artist Etel Adnan’s migrant relationship to California. The other builds on Khoshgozaran’s 2022 essay, ‘The Too Many and No Homes of Exile’, entwining clips of an ‘exile retreat’ organised by the artist with dreamscapes and reenactments to thread together notions of exile and antifascism. (mvr) 23 Iranian-American artist Taravat Talepasand’s primary focus is on the different ways in which women’s bodies, particularly those belonging to Muslim women, are perceived between the Western world and the Islamic Republic. Her interrogations of the issue of women’s freedoms are practised via a range of mediums including painting, drawing, sculpture and installation, which

variously depict topless women (as in the painting Westoxicated, 2015–18, and the drawing series Blasphemy, 2012–16), cartoon characters (Kill Your Masters, 2021) and text in both English and Farsi (Ethereal Gesture and Fuck this shit, both 2020), all rendered in a hybrid of Persian miniature, pop- and street-art aesthetic. One of her more striking installations clearly riffs off the irreverent aspects of this last: Iran Iran Iran Iran (2017) features an appliqué-adorned denim jacket, hung from a metal peace symbol attached to a noose. The embroidered badges include Love Hearts that read ‘Die’ and ‘Send Nudes’, a peach, a half-peeled banana, a pair of voluptuous butt-cheeks, a speech bubble proclaiming ‘Lit’ and a smoking joint. At Yerba Buena Cultural Center, Talepasand presents a multimedia exhibition that aims to poke

at Iranian and us cultural taboos surrounding sexuality and female autonomy, enacting a ‘reversal of the assumptions associated with Iranian culture’. Accompanying the exhibition is a programme that will ‘highlight the voices, struggles, and personal stories of artists in the Bay Area’ who are currently engaged in the Woman, Life, Freedom movement (which was responsible for the removal of Iran from the un Commission on the Status of Women, the international women’s rights body, following the death of Mahsa Amini, which sparked nationwide protests against brutality inflicted upon women). (fc) Oliver Basciano, J.J. Charlesworth, Fi Churchman, Nirmala Devi, Yuwen Jiang, Mark Rappolt, Marv Recinto

22 Gelare Khoshgozaran, To Be the Author of One’s Own Travels (still), 2023, 16mm film transferred to video

23 Taravat Talepasand, Iran Iran Iran Iran, 2017, mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist

Summer 2023


from left Lee Ufan, photo: Claire Dorn, courtesy StudioLeeUfan; Claude Viallat, photo: P. Schwartz, courtesy Claude Viallat


ArtReview Asia

The Interview by Mark Rappolt

Lee Ufan and Claude Viallat

“We come from completely different cultures and still, in different locations, at the same moment, hit upon a system”

In 1971 Korean artist Lee Ufan and French artist Claude Viallat met for the first time. They were born in the same year, had both recently played pivotal roles in the generation of artistic movements (Mono-ha and Supports/ Surfaces respectively) that would have a major impact on the direction of art in Asia and in Europe. Upon meeting, both were surprised

by the similarities between their respective approaches to artmaking, encompassing a radical rejection of traditional techniques and a new approach to materiality. This month the pair are artistically reunited in an exhibition titled Encounter at Pace Gallery London, curated by Alfred Pacquement. Marking the first time the pair have exhibited together,

Summer 2023

the exhibition offers an opportunity to consider the ways in which artists working in different contexts, societies, political realities and geographies might come up, independently, with parallel approaches to artmaking. ArtReview Asia spoke to the artists, via email, to consider whether or not the nature of the journey changes the destination.


Materiality artreview asia How did you first meet each other? Were the analogies between your two bodies of work evident from the outset? claude viallat The first time I came into contact with Lee Ufan’s work was at the Biennale de Paris. The group Mono-ha [of which Lee was a member] showed at the Parc Floral while, with Daniel Dezeuze and Patrick Saytour [both of whom, alongside Viallat and others, were members of the group Supports/Surfaces], my work was on show at the Musée Galliera. The first works I saw of Mono-ha immediately struck me as very significant. Among others, a repetitive painting on the wall and a glass sheet exploded by a rock placed on it intrigued me, and I was particularly interested by an artwork made from a net. The net was attached onto the walls on all sides, whereas its centre was left slack touching the floor, forming an inverted pyramidal shape. lee ufan It’s important to note that both of our approaches to art are based on external materiality and physical acts. We also have in common the repetition of the same patterns in our paintings to represent infinity. ara What is it that attracts you to each other’s work? lu I always like the feeling of being in a process. cv After we had met several times, being invited to Japan by a gallery, I visited Lee at his

home in Kamakura. This must have been in 1973 or 74. On this occasion Lee showed me several works comprising rocks on steel sheets, together with some paintings bearing very marked, repeated brushstrokes. I noticed a real relationship between the materiality of our works. ara Lee Ufan once said of the relationship between your works: ‘It was undoubtedly the first time in the history of art that, concurrently, in different geographical locations, analogous tendencies were born.’ cv I absolutely agree with Lee’s statement; I also find this situation exceptional. We come from completely different cultures and still, in different locations, at the same moment, hit upon a system, a system that is an agreed, commonplace but very strong system. And each of us uses this system as an element of communication, incorporating all the demands and analytical potential it suggests and can support. And this tendency even goes beyond Supports/Surfaces and Mono-ha. I distinctly recall an anecdote I find interesting in this context, because it illustrates at the same time both Lee’s quote and the novelty of our artistic approach. In 1971 I brought the first ropes with knots to my gallerist Jean Fournier. He was very surprised, as this was very unusual at the time. He emptied the bag onto a stool. He also took a rope and arranged it in a sort of staging on a low table. Leaning back, he visualised the arrangement on the table and the stool with

the ropes, exclaiming, “How beautiful this stool is!” Immediately afterwards he corrected himself: “I have said something I shouldn’t have. I have made a flower bunch out of a rope rather than looking at it for what it is.” Some weeks later, just before leaving on holiday to the seaside resort La Rochelle with my family, I brought works made with nets to Fournier. Walking on the pier in La Rochelle, I chose one of the numerous postcards picturing a fishing net and sent it to Fournier with greetings. The next time I went to the gallery, Jean Fournier’s assistant asked me whether I had seen the latest edition of Artforum they had sent me. To which Fournier answered, “Yes, of course Claude has, he sent the postcard”. I had indeed received the edition of Artforum before my holidays and noticed an article on Robert Rohm, an American painter working with nets. I was very intrigued to see an American artist working with nets at the same time as I was and also at the very moment that I discovered the net at the Mono-ha exhibition. It is also interesting that my postcard, which was sent without any wider intention on my part, became an indication for the gallerist that I had, on the one hand, accepted the fact that I was not the only one working with nets and, on the other, made a point in underlining, by choosing the picture of a fishing net, the fact that the net is a very ancient everyday element. lu For my part, I think that during the late 1960s art moved away from its inner self and

Lee Ufan, Relatum ( formerly Phenomenon and Perception B), 1968/2022, stone and glass; stone, dimensions variable. © the artist / Artists Rights Society (ars), New York. Courtesy Pace Gallery


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Lee Ufan, Correspondence, 1992, oil and natural pigments on canvas, 218 × 291 cm. © the artist / Artists Rights Society (ars), New York. Courtesy Pace Gallery

Summer 2023


embraced the externality of materials and actions, which is a commonality in world history.

Neutrality ara What do you think were those ‘analogous tendencies’ and how, separately, did you arrive at them? lu I would see this trend as the result of the end of the logos-centred era; and the search for new expressions, such as the presence of materials, the neutrality of actions or the repetition and multiplication of the same patterns. cv Coming back to Lee’s and my own expression as part of these tendencies, I see the repetitiveness of Lee’s pictural work and the very strict way in which he plays with the form on the surface of the painting. But the tension he brings to his work through his way of applying colour is not at all similar to mine. I have a very detached, offhand way of painting, whereas I see the preparation, the concentration and the mastery of the relationship between the form and the format in Lee’s work. This seems extremely important to me. For me there is no relationship between form and format; rather, any relationship that happens on the surface is fine for me. Also, my work with the knotted rope and the deconstruction of the painting relies on the knotted rope as the primal element of my confrontation with the fabric. The work with the knotted rope relates to the net, relates to

weaving, to the sailor’s knot. The knot is an ancient and universal element. By enacting a kind of hypertrophy, the knotted thread is the knotted rope with all the symbolism it carries and all the usages it allows for. At the same time there is a very important analogy for me between the mesh of the net, the empty space created by the mesh or a crushed knot, and the form I use in painting. The cutting of the fibres, as well as the knot of the fibre in itself, is a universal system of repetition, and a primal memory. ara Do you think that the different ways of reaching the end result make the end results different, however analogous they might be?

act that cannot be undone, that can only be done once in this specific way, giving this specific result. This strong and material act allows for no reconstitution. It is certainly this elementary force, an elementary force charged with symbolism, that I am interested in. For me, this is essential in Ufan’s work. This and the transcription and the parallelism he creates with the brush soaked in colour and placed in a certain way on a limited surface, at the same time taking into account all the elements of marking by painting. I find this to be very close indeed to my own work.

lu Even with similar ideas, using different materials, methods or attitudes lead to different results. cv A difference between us, as I see it, lies in the symbolism which is apparent in Lee’s work. I can see an intellectual approach in his work and his inner self expressed in his art that strikes me as very important. I, on the other hand, am impulsive in my work and, I would almost say, with me, the impulse is everything. Notwithstanding this marked difference in our approaches, I believe our intentions to be very similar. I think that Lee’s quest integrates all the primal elements, the primal memory, and it is this quest for origins that allows an artist to go as far as possible. And one of the simplest and most symbolic acts is to throw a rock onto a glass sheet and completely shatter it. It is an

Repetition ara Can you explain the role of repetition in each of your practices? lu Repetition is never mechanical. Repetition becomes possible by making it better, newer and endlessly different. That’s why great repetition is always fresh. Likewise, our everyday life is not boring because of the subtle differences. cv Repetition is the most ancient, most banal, most universal, most simple and direct system, even in our everyday gestures. Our whole being is marked by repetition, and for me there exists no system which is more universal and synthetic. What I am also interested in is that repetition, however done, comes out

Lee Ufan, Relatum ( formerly Things and Words), 1969/2022, canvas, dimensions variable (set of three). © the artist / Artists Rights Society (ars), New York. Courtesy Pace Gallery


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Claude Viallat, 1975/016, 1975, acrylic on two canvases stitched together, 280 × 210 cm. Photo: Studio Rémi Villaggi. © the artist. Courtesy Ceysson & Bénétière

Summer 2023


Claude Viallat, 2022/115, 2022, acrylic on fabric, 181 × 130 cm. Photo: Studio Rémi Villaggi. © the artist. Courtesy Ceysson & Bénétière


ArtReview Asia

as it should. This without giving room to taste, fantasy or nicety. It is at the same time mechanical and evident. ara Do you think in some ways that both of your works have been about collapsing the boundaries between ‘the world’ and ‘the world of art’? cv I think it would be pretentious to say so. I am rather in my world of painting than in the world of art. The business side of the world of art for instance is not my concern at all. I work because I want to work and my work is what I am interested in. lu An artwork is something that is done on an extraordinary level, and it checks the ordinary. Sometimes it breaks some boundaries, but rather it makes us see this side and that side.

Absolutes & Ambiguities ara Philosophers such as Byung-Chul Han have suggested that the basis for Western philosophy and the thinking of the East is fundamentally different: an embrace of presence in the West and absence in the East. Is this something with which you both agree? lu The comparison of the East and the West generates many versions. It is also an attitude to see the East and the West in terms of presence and absence. I believe that ontological metaphysics has been replaced by ego-centredness, and relational phenomenology has emerged

as the un-being. In that sense, there are no absolutes but always ambiguity in the East. cv Lee’s culture and his philosophy are certainly very different from mine. Having said that, and without commenting further on your philosophical reference and Lee’s position, I can say for myself that I am transported by the sensuality of things as well as the universal aspect and the expansion, the potential of the work. I deal with these aspects in my own way, relying on my knowledge and my experience. In that way, rather than a symbolic charge, I am looking for the potential, the openings provided by my art and the making of it. My painting is not symbolic. There is also the question of religion. I feel a religious dimension in Lee’s art which is not really the case for mine. Even if it is true that my Protestant origins play a role, it seems to me that it is rather an anarchic side of the Protestant faith which flows into my creative process. One could almost say that I do this in an extravagant way, maybe even in an inconsequential way. Unless this could itself be defined as consequential! ara Both of your bodies of work have been defined, at one time, as a battle against ‘convention’. Is this still the case now, when you have become a part of conventional art history? (Which, in itself, is something beyond your control.) Does that change the way you work in any way?

all work plays with the notion of the conventional in order to become unconventional. My work as an artist consists of pushing the limits of what can be done, each time trying to reinvent or to go beyond our present moment. Of course, this defines my own attitude and I would not want to comment on others. lu An artwork is a living thing, so it is in the process of time. I started as an artist in the late 1960s. It was when an era was collapsing and a new dimension was being explored. So I rebelled against conventional values and started anew. Today, a new era has not yet been established. cv I think I am honest in saying that being recognised as an artist does not count for me. It simply doesn’t touch me. ara Given your long-term friendship, why has it taken so long for you to exhibit together? cv We know each other but each of us lives in his own specific sphere. I, for one, live in Nîmes and only travel if necessary. It was only a year ago, in April 2022, when Lee and I met again at the opening of the Hôtel Vernon [home to a permanent display of Lee’s work] in Arles, that the concept of a common exhibition started to take shape. lu Indeed, friendship and joint exhibitions are not related. We just wanted to do a joint exhibition because we are old.

cv It is clear that the work, once in existence, becomes conventional. Going from there,

Lee Ufan and Claude Viallat: Encounter is on show at Pace Gallery London through 29 July

Claude Viallat, 2022/08018 – Tribute to lee ufan, 2022, wood and pebble assemblage, 35cm (diameter). Photo: Studio Rémi Villaggi. © the artist. Courtesy Ceysson & Bénétière

Summer 2023


A museum is a necessarily public building. A Tate or a Pompidou may have a global profile thanks to what it contains (and its ability to advertise that), but what responsibility does its architecture have to what it does not contain: its immediate locality? One place to start is at the building’s most liminal point: the front door, which needs, for all the reasons you can imagine, to be obvious. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is one of those grand edifices that thinks of itself as an essential part of some grand canon of Western architecture: lots of dormers, columns, stone, and quite a bit of straight pomposity. Galleries, libraries, faculties, parliaments, from Manchester to Memphis to Mumbai, wear these clothes – architectural vestments of a Graeco-Roman variety. A vast staircase lifts you into a Grand Central Station of (mostly old) objets, full of people, airy halls leading off to the ancients, to Abstract Expressionism, to fashion, to shops, to toilets, all from one monumental internal piazza. But don’t let the late-nineteenthcentury Beaux-Arts wrapping fool you; even the technicolour razzmatazz of the Pompidou follows this prescription. It is a rectilinear block with a front door right down its middle that opens out to the centre line of a Parisian square, guiding visitors into a large lobby not dissimilar in formality and spirit to the Met’s. Even museums that inhabit buildings for which they were not purpose-built follow this user-friendly dna. The Museo Reina Sofía is in the refurbished Madrid General Hospital with broadly the same spatial conditions as the Pompidou. The discontents of late-twentieth-century architecture, however, led to some wild deviations in situating the urban museum. Arata Isozaki’s Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, one of those rare la buildings right on the sidewalk, has a sunken entrance hidden from the street as if the street wasn’t even there. Thirty years later, across the street, architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro placed the entrance of The Broad off-kilter on a corner, facing away from its natural cousin, the great Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall beyond. Aptly named, Grand Avenue is that anywherestreet of loud icons not talking to each other. Thirteen miles west is Richard Meier’s Getty Center, so removed from the fabric of urban life that the fact that it might in any way serve it is almost laughable, a white acropolis that requires a car park and a people-mover to get up to. These are standalone objects in a car-dominated city of standalone objects.


Come On In

Every museum needs to know how to make an entrance, says Daniel Elsea

top Undercroft entrance proposal for the National Gallery, London. Courtesy Allies and Morrison above Barbican Centre detail, London. Photo: Karman Wan

ArtReview Asia

Which brings me to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. Selldorf Architects – architects to Hauser & Wirth and David Zwirner – have been employed to refurbish Venturi Scott Brown’s 1991 (now Grade I-listed) Sainsbury Wing as part of the gallery’s bicentennial projects. The National Gallery has been in its Trafalgar Square setting since the 1830s, supplementing William Wilkins’s stone and masonry original through subsequent additions. For much of this history, the gallery maintained a presence alongside the public piazza in front of it, with an entrance along its centreline. It followed the formula. Commissioned as an extension, the Sainsbury Wing was originally a supporting character to the wider whole of a global museum, tucked slightly offside Trafalgar Square. Yet in the time since, the wing has taken on the role of the main entrance. There are millions more visitors now – and long queues of slightly befuddled tourists looking for the front door. It’s not obvious. There is a missed opportunity here for museum to better speak to city. Why not restore the gallery’s principal entrance to the portico on the Wilkins building along the centreline of the great square? It currently presents on Trafalgar Square as a long sort of impenetrable wall, as if it were a background. As a hinge between Trafalgar and Leicester squares, two of London’s most important public spaces, a central entrance could unlock a new route with wider positive benefits to the city. With that nagging preoccupation to expand audience and public engagement, might the architecture of a public gallery first be an exercise in urban design? A museum or public gallery’s architecture should nurture a bond with its city by urbanising its edges in both macro and micro ways, in apparent and visible ways; a type of porosity found in multipurpose arts complexes such as the Southbank and Barbican centres. Seemingly simple things – like a door, or small surgical interventions in the ‘right’ place – can yield significant wide-reaching benefits for agendas both urban and curatorial. Rather than coy glances away, on the one hand, or haughty distance from the hustle of urban life on the other, let there be more front doors, better welcomes, easier ways in, through and via. The first thing the architecture of today’s arts spaces should do is to not be afraid of the obvious. Look out, not in. Daniel Elsea is a partner at architectural and urbanism practice Allies and Morrison, London

JUNE 9 – 11 3 DAYS







Photo: Armin Rasokat. Performance of ‘OUTREMONDE - Dream Hunters’ by artist Théo Mercier at Luma Westbau, Zurich, June 2022. Courtesy of Zurich Art Weekend.

Salim Shah, a doctor, the neighbourhood favourite, is the sharp-jawed love-interest in director Nida Manzoor’s Polite Society (2023). He’s what people around him call a ‘catch’. He’s also a mama’s boy. Raheela, the mama in question, strokes his face and whispers in his ear to soothe him at parties when he gets anxious; the two lie in a tangle on the sofa, arms interlocked, while watching tv. There’s no father – maybe he’s dead – and thus the story is ripe with Oedipal markers. Mother and son, codependent, a little sinister, live together in an enormous house, in what looks like the same set as the one in Downton Abbey. Polite Society is set within a London community of British Pakistanis; part thriller, part family drama, and a marriage plot-meetscoming-of-age (a classic combination). The film begins with a glitzy Eid party at the Shah family home. All the eligible girls in the neighbourhood have been invited; everyone’s in their best outfits. Later we find out that hidden devices in the flower arrangements have assessed the girls’ fertility as they walked in. The marriage plot can take on gruesome proportions in South Asian family structures, and while Manzoor begins the story with the stereotypical cues – controlling mothers, arranged marriages, girls-gone-rogue – the film moves quickly past them into its own exegesis and, importantly, humour. The plot is so self-aware that it sometimes even slackens into slapstick parody. While Salim is the love


Love’s Labours

From fly-kicking mothers-in-law to horror-hippodrome weddings, Nida Manzoor’s new film recasts the stereotypical South Asian family unit, writes Skye Arundhati Thomas

Priya Kansara as Ria Khan in Polite Society, 2023, dir Nida Manzoor

ArtReview Asia

interest, the movie’s protagonists are a pair of sisters – Ria and Lena Khan – who are angry and inseparable. They like to pick fights, beat each other up, listen to loud punk music and headbang with their hair untied. The first time we see Salim he is perched on a velvet sofa by a roaring fireplace, surrounded by the ladies at the Eid party, as they fawn over his silly jokes. Hothead wannabe-stuntwoman Ria, the younger sister, looks on with a scowl, ice clinking in her tumbler while Salim hits it off with Lena. Ria isn’t subscribing to the heteronormative fantasy peddled by the older women in the film – the mothers, mostly – not for one minute. For starters, she makes stunttrick videos in her free time, and she needs her sister around to film them. She is religious about her karate classes and bounces around the punching bag in her room for hours, jabbing. In lieu of a diary she writes to Eunice Huthart – Angelina Jolie’s stunt double – sending her special clips of fast-paced ju-jitsu sequences and backflips off the wall. Lena’s just dropped out of art school and Ria wants her to go back; she pulls out her broken, discarded canvases from the trash. “My sister is an artist,” she says over and over again. To her, the pair, artist and fighter, are embarked upon a heavenly mandate, joined in a typical us-against-the-world battle, and men only get in the way of that. Ria comes home one day to find the family in the sitting room, a ring shining on Lena’s finger.

Moments later she is scaling walls to plant dirty evidence in Salim’s bedroom and visiting – in a bushy stick-on handlebar moustache – his gym to hack his laptop in an elaborate interference plan involving her two best friends. Salim picks Lena up in his sports car; Ria fumes at her bedroom window. She is dead set on sabotaging this wedding. Enter Raheela. To her, the incoming wife is a womb, a vessel to carry lineage, and she will obliterate anything that comes in the way of this fantasy of the future. Raheela and Ria are mirror images in their ambition, straddling a generational divide, the first a South Asian woman of the past, Ria new-gen: to her, men are arbitrary and marriage is defunct. As Salim Weds Lena, things come to boil, and the wedding is a horror hippodrome: Ria glowers furiously during her Bollywood dance sequence (the hook of the song directly translating to ‘you have killed me’), gunshots ring in the air, an army of zombielike guests flood the scene and the jewellery and lighting are so garish that each sequence is made immediately shinier, more histrionic. The family unit in Polite Society is not driven by the patricidal impulse of Oedipus, as Salim and Raheela’s relationship might suggest, but rather by a slow unravelling of a very particular alchemy of malignant forces – patriarchal, religious, generational – that come together to produce a terrifying conglomerate of power and control: the South Asian Mother of a Son (let’s call them sams). Raheela is manipulative, calculating and cruel, and should it come to it,

she can leap off the ground in a swift flying kick. “You could never know what I gave up for that boy… what I did to shape and fashion him,” she thunders over Ria. “Behind every great man is a very tired mother, who has sacrificed everything for her beautiful boy.” But the real kick is that her beautiful boy grows more redundant as the

above Nimra Bucha as Raheela and Kansara as Ria in Polite Society

film progresses; the marriage isn’t even really about him. The big twist (spoiler alert) is that the object of Raheela’s desire is the perfect womb in which to incubate her own clone; Salim, it turns out, had a first wife who died in a previous attempt . With this, Manzoor reaches for the jugular: sams will style their sons into their own image, but this renders them so weak and dependent that, in the end, sams are thoroughly disappointed by their creations. All of the men in Manzoor’s film eventually become little more than props. Raheela’s self-replicating obsession is textbook Lacanian: in ‘The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience’ (1949), the French psychoanalyst writes of how the child’s idealised version of itself is in fact an idealised version of its mother; but a mother carries her own injury, a narcissistic injury that is inflicted on her by the child’s entry into the symbolic order. Raheela’s desire is to be restored, to start again, to be perfect, to undo the compromises that her beautiful boy forced upon her. ‘It wouldn’t be worth it if I just went and wrote some honor-killing thing with some bro,’ Manzoor said to The New Yorker, sharply turning away from what is expected of her as a Muslim woman and filmmaker. Polite Society is about the patriarchy, but its lens is specific: it examines, above all, the complicity of women in the ill treatment of other women. ‘Like, who doesn’t want to fight somebody at a Desi wedding?’ Priya Kansara, who plays Ria, says to The Guardian. ‘Haven’t we all wanted to kick an aunty in the face at one point?’

all images Photos: Parisa Taghizadeh. © Focus Features

Skye Arundhati Thomas is a writer based in Goa

top Kansara as Ria and Ritu Arya as Lena Khan in Polite Society

Summer 2023


When director Chase F. Robinson said the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Asian Art in Washington, dc, has played an integral role in “determining the canon” of Asian art, I fought the urge to make a face – surely there are museums in Asia that have greater claim to this credit? When another journalist asked how the museum is addressing gaps in its collection, the head of public programmes, Nicole Dowd, pointed out that while there are few objects from the Philippines, there would be lots of Filipino food during the museum’s Centennial Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Festival in May – outside the museum, on the plaza! Representation indeed. These remarks were part of a press conference that kicked off the festival’s two-week public programme, filled with music, dance, film, food, markets and ‘dialogue’. As I queued for my ube donut on the plaza, the merriment struck me as superficial and hackneyed; a placating gesture by the museum curators who decide who is represented and how. Based on the festivities and on the museum’s displays and curating, it seems the institution has less to do with Asia than with what America thinks Asia is – a one-dimensional region filled with local dance (K-pop, for example) and food (Filipino, clearly). But fret not! Asian-American influencers have been invited to explain what


Who knew that ‘Asian’ art was invented in America, asks Marv Recinto. But then again, so was everything else

Centennial Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Festival celebrations, May 2023, at the National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, dc


ArtReview Asia

it means to be Asian American in a panel called ‘Identity and Culture in the Digital Age’. The museum comprises the distinctly nonAsian-sounding Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. The Freer opened in 1923 (becoming the first art museum on the National Mall) with 9,420 works from America, Asia and the Islamic world bequeathed to the Smithsonian by the industrialist Charles Lang Freer. It was housed in a newly built Renaissancestyle palazzo commissioned by the collector, because he believed Asian art deserved to be housed in the same setting as the Old Masters. In 1982 Arthur Sackler donated around 1,000 Asian art objects to the Smithsonian, along with money to build a facility that would bear his name. The Smithsonian announced in 2019 that the two separate buildings, connected underground and administratively, would be renamed the National Museum of Asian Art (apparently unrelated to the Sackler family lawsuits – Arthur died before Purdue Pharma developed Oxycontin, and the gallery says it has received no money from relatives, but still bad for publicity I guess) to advertise to visitors that they could ‘expect to see Asian art’ within, as deputy director Lori Duggan Gold put it in a press release. While this rebrand may have more appropriately indicated the museum’s focus, the names the galleries continue to carry better

suggest its true Euro-Americentric framework. Freer’s and Sackler’s respective collections are the foundations upon which the museum’s now over 46,000-object holdings have been built. Academic Kin-Yee Ian Shin, writing in a text titled ‘Making “Chinese” Art: Knowledge and Authority in the Transpacific Progressive Era’ (2016), has described Freer’s collection as an example of how late-nineteenth-century Americans – among them archaeologist Langdon Warner and journalist and collector Frederick McCormick – strove to establish America as the authority on Asian art, mostly by acquiring artefacts from China, Korea and Japan. The current Smithsonian exhibition Freer’s Global Network: Artists, Collectors, and Dealers (2022–) seems to have been mounted in response to general criticism of white collecting of global art, and in order to show that Freer was part of a wider system that included Asian dealers like Bunkio Matsuki and Dikran Kelekian. The exhibition, however, fails to acknowledge that American collectors had the money and influence, backed by America’s political power during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, to dictate perceptions of Asian art in the West, based on Euro-Americentric ideals of connoisseurship and categorisation. Freer’s collecting practice was inevitably a projection of ethnocentric bias he called ‘higher ideals’ and ‘pure gaze’; its focus on Asian art spurred on by artist James McNeill Whistler, who was particularly obsessed with Orientalism – as Whistler’s translocated Peacock Room (1876–77) testifies.

James McNeill Whistler, The Peacock Room, 1876–77, relocated from its original setting in London to the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, dc

Summer 2023

Today the museum continues to operate through ideals of ‘universal’ aesthetics – its website classifies objects via categories of colour, theme, material and technique that are easily legible. At times its displays betray Western stereotypes of Asian cultures: take, for example, a case of Mughal blades displayed alongside a wall label titled ‘Arts of Pleasure, Arts of War’ as part of the Body Image: Arts of the Indian Subcontinent exhibition (2017–). The label explains that such daggers may be used ornamentally, but the titular nod to pleasure is in clear keeping with the West’s tendency to sexualise the Orient. The collection’s Southeast Asian holdings, meanwhile, continue to insist upon perpetuating the idea that the region is a homogeneous one, tied together by Hindu and Buddhist religions. Part of the public programme accompanying the Prehistoric Spirals: Earthenware from Thailand exhibition (2021–) included an event titled ‘Meditation and Mindfulness’, in part delivered by assistant curator Emma Natalya Stein, with a meditation led by Indian artist and mindfulness teacher Aparna Sadananda. It feels eerily like a dependence on Asian people’s performative labour to enforce the museum’s antiquated ideology. This instance particularly reinforces the sustained trope that Thailand is a land of ‘mindful meditation’, which partly drives masses of Americans to ‘find themselves’ in Southeast Asia every year. Part of my criticism of the National Museum of Asian Art is tied up in the collection’s inherent preoccupation with the past – most objects on display predate the twentieth century – and subsequent inability to fully engage with the present. But even its expansion into contemporary art and paltry efforts to introduce updated historical understanding – like the mention of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) and Japanese internment camps during the Second World War in Freer’s Global Network – seem futile when the museum appears so insistent upon old ideas. During this critical moment of American cultural history, when identity politics and racial systems of power are being questioned, the National Museum of Asian Art is missing an important opportunity to think critically about itself and the Western-centric understanding of Asia it continues to perpetuate. While Freer thought of Asia in terms of affordable exotic ceramics, the museum today seems to think of Asia in terms of performativity – dance for us, serve us food and be grateful you’ve been included.



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In those rooms as big as dormitories 43


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In Deep Waters Som Supaparinya’s work captures resilience and activism along the Mekong’s changing waterways by Max Crosbie-Jones

‘To live with precarity’, writes anthropologist Anna L. Tsing in The Mushroom at the End of the World (2015), ‘requires more than railing at those who put us here... We might look around to notice this strange new world, and we might stretch our imaginations to grasp its contours.’ Tsing, in her tale of commercial and ecological repair amidst state and capitalist devastation of natural landscapes, helps that process along by describing the hardiness of the wild matsutake mushroom. Northern Thai artist Som Supaparinya, in contrast, has done it by training her filmmaker lens on the hardiness of Thai fisherfolk. In her two-channel video Two Sides of the Moon (2021, part of the last Thailand Biennale), the contours of their strange new world – of precarious livelihoods eked out along a changing waterway – are outlined, in part, by the raw candour of their testimonies. “Before, during the dry season, there was no water but a lot of fish,” an old fisherman grumbles at one point, as his paddling slowly propels his thin wooden boat up Thailand’s Mun River, a tributary of the Mekong. “In the past, the river was full of islands, lots of birds and field mice. There were so many water birds,” he says while reeling in an ornate bamboo fish trap, only for his lament to be cut short. “There are no fish, that’s why the rice bran bait is still there,” he then complains as he holds up the hollow, empty trap for the camera. Such scenes capture, in unembellished monochrome, a pervasive phenomenon across the vast Mekong River basin: the upending of riparian ways of life, the disruption to livelihoods and bodies of situated knowledge arising from the uptake of hydropower. Centred on life downstream at Thailand’s Pak Mun Dam (a controversial ‘barrage dam’ and ‘run-of-the-river’ hydroelectric plant completed in 1994), Two Sides of the Moon ostensibly depicts the adverse environmental impacts of the Mun’s erratic, man-managed rhythms – impacts already observed and documented by river communities, research bodies and embedded ethnographers. In this sense, Supaparinya’s survey isn’t extraordinary. Her interlocutor’s empty nets and grousing about falling yields, for example, anecdotally attest to dramatic fish-stock declines logged by the World Commission on Dams as far back as the early 2000s. Instead, the potency of Two Sides of the Moon – a work that bears many hallmarks of observational documentary and slow cinema –

rests largely upon its placid yet critically engaged powers of visual description: a sensorial approach that renders conscious the Mun’s temporal rhythms and a mosaic of ontological entanglements, as well as its disequilibrium. ‘In the wake of the dams,’ explains Andrew Alan Johnson in his book Mekong Dreaming: Life and Death along a Changing River (2020), ‘the ways in which one dwells with the river fail… And as previously known qualities of the river cease to be, water reemerges as something unreadable, something under the sway of a distant force.’ Supaparinya tracks this stealthy disturbance by studiously capturing the Mun’s surface motions: ripples, eddies and cadences now dissociated, the fisherman explains, from a yearly pulse synchronised to the onset of rainy season. Over the 31-minute duration of Two Sides of the Moon, her flowing and graceful sonic and visual evaluation – a choreographed counterchallenge to extractive hydro-hegemony – builds an impressionistic tableau of a daunting ecology, a riversphere in quiet disarray. Despite all the grit and sweat on display, we can sense the disruptive character is someplace offscreen – and somehow against nature. This oneiric means of approach, attuned to the distant forces wielding unchecked dominion over landscapes, is typical of the Chiang Mai-based artist’s ongoing ‘electricity generation’ series. When Need Moves the Earth (2014) pairs popping electromagnetic static and ambient sounds – birds chirping and water rushing – with three channels of footage drawn from two sites administered by Thailand’s electricity-generating authority. Three cameras alternate between prowling the turbine hall, control room, transformers and precisely regulated waters of Kanchanaburi province’s Srinagarind Dam, and between surveying dirty grunt work and thudding explosions at Lampang province’s Mae Moh lignite coal mine. Linking both these sites of extraction is a high risk of manmade earthquakes. But, again, while clearly rooted in environmental concerns and grievances, the work is descriptive rather than accusatory. A similar ambivalence underpins 10 Places in Tokyo (2016): an immersive ten-channel installation, suffused in red light, centred on footage shot at the top ten electricity-consuming sites in Tokyo – not so much a clarion call for

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a rethink of nuclear power as an equable immersion in the senses, and captivating, however, when on the move, particularly when her camera is drifting or bobbing in riverscapes that feel less like passive conceived amid the fallout of the Fukushima disaster. By drawing our attention to the minutiae and movements of pre- interstices of the energy industry than active arenas, sites of contescarious terrains, both organic and manmade – a ‘hyperaestheticisation’ tation from which we can learn and even take heart. In the last scene of the ethical-political kind espoused by Forensic Architecture’s of Two Sides of the Moon, a fisherman climbs into the rusting jeep he’s Eyal Weizman – these works invite us to think loosely about how, long used to drive to protests against the Pak Mun Dam. The look and by whom, Asia’s power is generated, and to question our own in his eyes suggests the attritional war for sovereignty over the water complicity and agency in regards to flagrant displays of ecocide is set to continue. or anthropocentrism. Resilience amid precarity also permeates the equally languorous Other works – installations of a more fomenting strain – betray A Separation of Sands and Islands (2018), which centres on images of Supaparinya’s dovetailing urge to address the political inertia of the gushing waters, bridges and weirs sourced from various points along Thai nation-state, but do so through the lower, dam-afflicted Mekong. For Supaparinya is most captivating when a similar modality of seeing and hearthis, Supaparinya traced the history of French colonial trade and expaning. Take Roundabout at km 0 (2017), on the move, her camera drifting in a videowork now showing in After sionism in Laos by following the route riverscapes that feel less like passive Hope: Videos of Resistance at the Peabody of the late-nineteenth-century exinterstices than sites of contestation from plorers Louis Delaporte and Francis Essex Museum in Salem, us, for example. Visually it comprises no more Garnier, as recorded in their travewhich we can learn and even take heart than a few blurred frames of daily logue, A Pictorial Journey on the Mekong: life at Bangkok’s Democracy Monument, which marks the starting Cambodia, Laos and Yunnan (1866–68). point of Thailand’s national highway system. But shown alongside Film writer Philippa Lovatt noted both the destruction, and the audio recordings of protests pulled from YouTube, it telegraphs a stark sense of history repeating, in a 2021 interview with Supaparinya: ‘Just message: the country’s ideological troubles radiate out, like sound as in the colonial era, cultures, rituals, and local cosmologies are swept waves or tremors, from here – Thai democracy’s troubled ground-zero. away alongside communities when they become part of the “submerIt is but one of a phalanx of antiauthoritarian gestures that sion zone”.’ Yet we also find succour in the ambient sounds like Supaparinya – whose other social engagements include cofounding traders chatting, and the small yet affirmational displays of human Chiang Mai Art Conversation (a nonprofit organisation promoting agency striking out amid nature’s elemental force. In that interart in the city) and directing Asian Culture Station (a shortlived Chiang view, Supaparinya explains: ‘The idea came from my trip to Chiang Mai venue for regional arts exchanges) – has under her belt, from an Rai (Northern Thailand) to visit sites and meet with activists who installation consisting of framed collages of former Thai prime minis- stopped the Chinese attempt to demolish the rocks and islets on ters and torn photocopies of past constitutions (Novel Without a Name, the river to make way for larger ships to pass through’. Something of that desire to resist remote authority and 2016) to a sound piece that used a computerlay claim to endangered waters is embodied generated composition to reconfigure protest preceding pages Two Sides of the Moon (still), 2021, by these charged vignettes of quotidian life: speeches and poems by political and human synchronised two-channel video a man teetering on rocks amid raging rapids, rights activists into native birdsong (Speeches of above Ten Places in Tokyo, 2016, synchronised the unheard, 2021). Supaparinya is most efficient for example. ten-channel video. Courtesy Gallery Ver, Bangkok


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A Separation of Sand and Islands (stills), 2018, synchronised two-channel video

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Two Sides of the Moon (stills), 2021, synchronised two-channel video


ArtReview Asia

‘What if… precarity is the condition of our time – or, to put it Supaparinya’s observations are bound up not only with transanother way, what if our time is ripe for sensing precarity?’ writes national concerns about hydropolitics and the material decline of Tsing. Across mainland Southeast Asia, legions of artists anxious ecological habitats, but also with Thailand’s ‘geo-body’, as historian about the environmental, socioeconomic, nonhuman and spir- Thongchai Winichakul has described the spatial framework of the itual fate of the Mekong and its tributaries endorse this sugges- mapped and geographic nature of Siamese nationhood and nationtion. Vietnamese artist Thao Nguyen Phan, for example, has mined alism. Water within Thailand, far from merely answering farmer’s the magical yet disrupted relations that humans share with the prayers or washing away bad luck or swirling with animist mytholMekong’s extended spirit world. Recently in Supaparinya’s home- ogies, plays an outsized role in its territorial, political and royal land, Ruangsak Anuwatwimon has combed its banks for dead organ- imaginings. Dams are also crude symbols of the late King Bhumibol isms, and artist-activist ubatsat produced largescale paintings of its Adulyadej’s mythologised interest in water management, as their threatened rockscapes. All these works are broadsides directed at naming after him and other members of his family suggests. forces proving even more overpowering than a gushing torrent that In My Grandpa’s Route…, the Thai geo-body – the water, mounbegins as a trickle high up in the Tibetan Plateau: unchecked state tains, sky, concrete, people – appears to quietly acquiesce with the and corporate power, the neocolonialism of the Greater Mekong imported principles of hydraulic engineering and, by extension, Subregion’s China-led energy policies – the region’s rapacious big the modernising nation-state that imposed them on remote corners fish. Supaparinya’s work flows wide and deep in this regard, too – and of the Kingdom in the late twentieth century. But in Supaparinya’s few reveal the contours of precarity so assiduously or vigorously. Her hands, through her careful suturing of sound and image, her long best works are serene and accretive: images are layered, like so much takes of the water’s unnatural flow and flux, there rises a mounting sand or alluvium, to build a heightened atmosphere more majestic suspicion that the sunlit harmony on show may be all surface. – and disquieting – than the sum of its parts. We sense a deep attach- “If this dam were to break, the water would flow out and we would all die,” says a ferry driver with a chuckle at one point. “Everything ment, a fey understanding. ‘I can see the landscape has changed very quickly since my child- would disappear.” hood until recent times. It’s very quick, which is quite different from Recently, Mekong communities concerned about the threats my grandparents’ and my parents’ time,’ she once said of Lamphun, posed by upstream hydropower, and driven by an animistic worldthe ancient town near Chiang Mai where she grew up. Rooted in this view, have begun asking: can a river have its own legal personhood sense of rapid loss, My Grandpa’s Route Has Been Forever Blocked (2012) and rights? In this uncanny, career-defining work, Supaparinya – an exquisite and emblematic work that sparked her interest in elec- insinuates, through an affective articulation of absence and control, tricity production – is a two-channel installation centred on her retrac- a parallel consideration: that the forests drowned, fish confused and ing of a stretch of the north’s 658km-long Ping River that her grand- communities displaced by the edicts and actions of the Thai nationfather, a former dried-meats trader and hired hand for a timber ship- state may have their own essential, enduring souls too. ara ping company, used to ply. We see what she found in lieu of a clear path: images of dams, weirs, floodgates and riverbanks on the left Som Supaparinya’s work is currently included in 21st Century Thai Contemporary Art, dc Collection, screen; cruise ships and pleasure boats swanning across the vast, mountain-fringed lake Chiang Mai, and in After Hope: Videos My Grandpa’s Route Has Been Forever Blocked (still), 2012, synchronised two-channel video of Resistance, Peabody Essex Museum, formed by the Bhumibol Dam – the country’s highest – on the right. Salem, Massachusetts, until 31 December all images © the artist

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Weapons of Choice Transforming information into aesthetics, Cemile Sahin challenges state power by Alexander Leissle

It Would Have Taught Me Wisdom (Germany), 2021, uv prints on car wrapping foil mounted on blue acrylic glass, 120 × 80 × 1 cm. Photo: Jörg von Bruchhausen


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Save for a few wisps of cloud, it is a clear day. Viewed from a high vantage Born in Wiesbaden to Kurdish parents who fled the region during point, the sea shimmers and the curls of each wave can be seen in high the late 1980s, Sahin is now based in Berlin. An avid researcher, she definition. Where it meets the coastline, there is lush greenery, a town spends months or even years leafing through books and trawling of uniform white buildings and roads slaloming between them. online archives, YouTube and TikTok, following her curiosity, then A grid of blue lines overlays the image, the squares modulating with finessing her ideas and sources before she’ll even begin to distil these the terrain. This largescale wallpaper work adorns one wall of Rifle into artworks. The finished exhibitions have certain visual hallmarks: in the Closet, Kurdish artist Cemile Sahin’s exhibition at Nassauischer arrangements of found or digitally produced images – often colourful, Kunstverein Wiesbaden. It’s a pretty picture, with a sugary taste for largescale and wrapping around multiple surfaces – combine with colour and lighting. posterlike text, a sense of layering created by installing images in the But the high viewpoint suggests a more complicated relationship middle of galleries, and interrogative videos at the centre of it all. Her between the viewer and the landscape: we look at this 3d digital render works are often arranged so that you see almost everything at once, of the city like a bird of prey, only the gridded blue lines and a digital your central vision flooded, then set to work on each element. Topics reticle of green and red that hones our attention on one particular also recur across exhibitions, as if to reject any idea of completeness building suggests the eyesight of something altogether more mechan- a show might imply. ical. The exhibition booklet informs that this is the Palais de Rumine, For instance: Rifle in the Closet is her third exhibition to feature at the heart of Lausanne. The Swiss city is significant to this show on Lausanne as the epicentre from which contemporary conditions in two fronts: it is part of ‘drone valley’, an industry moniker for the region the Middle East have been dictated. Her installation Drone Valley at between Lausanne and Zürich as the world’s centre of civilian and mili- last year’s Lyon Biennale focused on the wall enforcing the 900km tary drone development, the product of which has been used in wars Turkish–Syrian border (the boundaries of which were marked in the spanning decades across the Middle East; and it is host to the signing of 1923 treaty): blown-up images of the wall sourced from Google Maps the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, in which the uk, France, Italy, Japan and were wrapped around the space and overlaid with block-capital text Turkey carved up the old Ottoman Empire and divided Kurdistan and (‘the future is in the sky / because nations that cannot / its people between multiple countries, causing a chain reaction of on- protect their skies / can never be sure of their future’, going political conflict and displacement of Kurds. The conflicted inter- attributed to modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk), section – between power, technology and the a short dashcam video of a car driving up to Rifle in the Closet, 2023 (installation view, and then crossing the border and an inflatlives they impact – is instructional for the ways Nassauischer Kunstverein Wiesbaden). able sculpture installed in the room that in which Sahin is working today. Photo: Christian Lauer

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mockingly imitated a section of the wall. A later installation, It Would Have Taught Me Wisdom (2021), at Esther Schipper, Berlin, featured five uv portrait prints on glass depicting a digitally reconstructed sculpture of Minerva, the Roman patron goddess of craft and strategic warfare. Each iteration of the Minerva is clad in the military colours of the nations who were at that time undertaking military action in the Middle East. Behind the portraits, a black-and-white wallpaper image of political leaders signing the Treaty of Sèvres (Lausanne’s ‘failed’ 1920 precursor) is overlaid with orange and yellow text: ‘that i did not receive in time / this french minerva / it would have taught me wisdom’, a quote attributed to the Prussian king Wilhelm II. Sahin’s use of text feels constantly attuned to the qualities of poetry: introducing deliberate line breaks to quoted speech or prose in order to draw emphasis to each isolated phrase; and, in this case, employing iambic tetrameter in the first line. (Sahin also happens to be a prizewinning author of two novels in German.) While the linguistic aesthetics of artists like Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer will feel like obvious references for some onlookers, Sahin’s method is finetuned to her focus: she adopts words from literature and historical documentation to highlight an ambivalent poetry within them, the artistic outcome always first in service to the contexts from which it was taken. “Art shouldn’t be so far away from society,” says Sahin, in conversation at her studio in Berlin. “I live in this world too, even if I’m sitting in my studio. I’m not some kind of genius who woke up one day and had some sort of idea. People have different talents and mine is transforming information into an aesthetic.” She is animated about film,

books, nuggets of information. We talk giddily about new discoveries she has recently made while working on her next project, changes to the YouTube algorithm and handwriting styles. She cites Chris Marker as an early influence. The French New Wave director’s essayistic approach to documentary film – and, later, his multimedia installations featuring arrangements of documentary images, video and text installed across wooden frameworks – seem a clear guide to Sahin’s contemporary engagement with such media. Where Marker’s installations were often black-and-white, gritty and melancholic, hers are luridly colourful and vertiginous in scale, and by incorporating ai and videogame technologies have uncanny tendencies. Sahin’s works also invert the monochrome radarlike aesthetic of military drone-camera images to which we may be accustomed – because the reality is in fact far more advanced. “The universities in ‘drone valley’ contribute work for the Swiss army,” says Sahin. “They develop ai simulation training for the army. They’re literally played like a game to practise.” In the video at the centre of Rifle in the Closet (a screen installed 2.75m up the wall), Sahin intercuts clips of this simulation training with drone and GoPro shots of real-world army exercises. The gamelike footage roams alongside virtual soldiers and flies over sunny hills (it could be bucolic Swiss countryside but is also, in this context, reminiscent of Kurdistan’s mountainous regions). These ‘in-game’ scenes are intercut with a digitally rendered woman reading to us passages from German philosopher and playwright Friedrich Schiller’s William Tell (1804; the titular Swiss folk hero associated with marksmanship), a quote from which also adorns the floor

car, road, mountain (still), 2020, digital video, site-specific installation with photographs, advertisement banners and airplane slides, dimensions variable, 12 min 27 sec. © the artist


ArtReview Asia

of the gallery space (translated from German: ‘we trust in the After all, the implicit power of the drone-eye view is alarming, both highest god / and do not fear / the power of men’). The video- in its dizzying scale and as it frequently bears the promise of violence. game aesthetic builds on ideas addressed in the late German artist In Sahin’s use and ventriloquism of its images, she nods to a more Harun Farocki’s Parallel i–iv (2012–14), a series of films that investigate widespread, and therefore disquieting, vision of the drone camera videogames as a new medium for understanding a history of image- than merely its implication of violence. If photography helped accelmaking. Those films posited the self-contained, reality-mimicking erate the era of mass image-making, resulting in a shrinking percepworlds as a new imaginative tool for artists to create immersive envi- tion of the world by making it subject to capture on camera, then it’s ronments and tell new stories. Sahin’s video explores the ways in arguable that drone technology used in remote-controlled warfare which videogame technology might has done something similar: the instead become an imaginative tool technology has expanded the size Sahin’s video explores the ways in for malign powers to inflict future of a given battlefield to a space of which videogame technology might destruction, their slick aesthetics a almost no limitation. The complexities of this extended vantage point mask for the real-world consequences become an imaginative tool for malign of warfare. are alluded to by Teju Cole, who powers to inflict future destruction, In the introductory statement to writes in his essay ‘The Unquiet Sky’ their slick aesthetics a mask for (2015) for The New York Times: ‘What Tomas van Houtryve’s Blue Sky Days was invisible before becomes visible: (2013) – a series of photographs in the real-world consequences of warfare how one part of the landscape relates which the artist’s small drone camera roves high above quotidian American life – he quotes an interview to another, how nature and infrastructure unfold. But with the acquigiven by the grandson of a civilian killed by a us drone strike in sition of this panoptic view comes the loss of much that could be seen Pakistan in 2012: ‘I no longer love blue skies,’ Zubair Rehman said. ‘In at close range. The face of the beloved is but one invisible detail among fact, I now prefer grey skies. The drones do not fly when the skies are many.’ There is an ongoing friction here and in Sahin’s aesthetic form, grey.’ It’s a chilling admission – and one that feels relevant in Sahin’s between a macro and micro view of history and of human life, both own use of drone footage, much of which is decidedly colourful, forever intertwined. sunny and, in isolation, presents idyllic views of their landscapes. So as if to counteract the dehumanising distance and aesthetic of Both van Houtryve and Sahin share a determination to point the drone footage, beloved faces are increasingly present in Sahin’s work. threatening camera back on the nations who usually control them. Four Ballads for my Father – Spring (2023), the first in a forthcoming quartet

car, road, mountain (still), 2020, digital video, site-specific installation with photographs, advertisement banners and airplane slides, dimensions variable, 12 min 27 sec. © the artist

Summer 2023


Rifle in the Closet, 2023 (installation view, Nassauischer Kunstverein Wiesbaden). Photo: Christian Lauer


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of narrative films, tells the story of a Kurdish family split between Paris 30 years later and everything they had in their head – how it was, their and Istanbul: how their life was affected by the Southeastern Anatolia school, their house – was gone, and it became a question of whether Project, a dam construction that ruptured communities in the Kurdish you can ever go back at all.” It’s a concern shared by many writers, regions of Turkey. At one point, in a French documentary that serves often of a similar generation, displaced and living with trauma in as a film-within-the-film, a man recalls his former life in Kurdistan the wake of war – take Tamil author Anuk Arudpragasam, who in his and the circumstances that led him to Paris. “I thought I wanted to be novel A Passage North (2021) describes memory becoming ‘far harder a hero, so that people would later say: he fought for the freedom of his to maintain when all the clues to that memory that an environment people… But the fact is also that I am alone here. I miss Kurdistan. I want contained were systematically removed’. to die in Kurdistan. Not here… To a certain degree I’m still pretending Sahin finds a parallel in other forms of image production: “There’s to be a person I am not.” He speaks to us, almost no Kurdish cinema. For the “You have to build a whole new last century there was just war though, in a voiceover; in the interview in Kurdistan, people didn’t have chair, he sits silent. While we listen to cultural memory and you need to time to make films – they just had his voice, the footage cuts between the start in the past. You cannot build it to survive. So you have to build sitting man and a grainy handheldback entirely, but it’s important a whole new cultural memory camera montage of the Kurdish counand you need to start in the past. tryside. “Feeling a pain is one thing: to do it. It gives people hope” You cannot build it back entirely, you suffer,” he says. “But to describe a but it’s important to do it. It gives people hope – for life, that somepain is another: you suffer and you understand why.” This mode of emotive directing – edited from a collection of thing can be rescued.” With this point, the crux of her work crystalfootage Sahin found in Kurdish television archives and from family lises: a drawing of attention to the operations of both historical and records, layering Spring’s fiction with real-world sources – contrasts contemporary state power; and to remind viewers of who it impacts. with the clinical, mechanical eye of the drone, reinserting human Taking us from sweeping drone-eye views, down to the granular ache experience and presence where such kinds of military technology of loss, Sahin’s critically forensic, visually iridescent – and increaserase it. “Speaking about home is protective, and a really deep, sad ingly heartfelt – works rally in the face of an irretrievable past. ara cause,” says Sahin. “People are forced to leave. Sometimes they cannot take anything. It’s really hard for a lot of people because they clinch Cemile Sahin’s exhibition Rifle in the Closet is on view at Nassauischer Kunstverein Wiesbaden through 23 July onto their memories: for a lot of political refugees, they went back

Four Ballads for my Father – Spring (still), 2022, digital video, 43 min 40 sec. © the artist all images Courtesy the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin, Paris & Seoul

Summer 2023


WangShui Interview by Emily McDermott

From gestural smears to mediated loops, the artist describes learning to love ai 56

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When the Whitney Museum of American Art acquired a painting by WangShui in 2021, the museum uploaded it to their collection website and labelled it as a sculpture. “There are certain things that I’m expected to create,” the artist told me, adding that “the current climate in the artworld prevents people from seeing things as they are”. Indeed, up until 2020, the Californiaborn, New York-based artist’s work took the forms of video and moving-image-based installation and sculpture. But for the last three years they have been developing a unique painting practice, spreading oils as thinly as possible to illuminate abrasions made on aluminium panels, and sometimes collaborating with artificial intelligence to develop the compositions. No matter the medium, though, WangShui roots much of their practice in exploring concepts of perception and (in)visibility: not just how humans see things, but how we understand and interact with different aspects of the world – be they natural or synthetic, physical or immaterial, alive or inanimate – and how, in turn, these aspects interact with or become part of us. WangShui understands such relationships as inherently intertwined and ever-evolving, as expressed in works like Gardens of Perfect Exposure (2018). The live installation consists of detritus (ranging from chrome bath fixtures and laminated hair to glass globs), silkworms, selfie ring-lights and camcorders, which capture the silkworms’ movements and growth; the recording is upscaled and projected in real time onto the walls of the room in which the work is installed. Historical and philosophical references aside, the work is, on an essential level, “about immersing the viewer within a mediated loop of consumption”, the artist says. In WangShui’s paintings, these same concepts are explored, albeit perhaps less obviously at first glance. As part of their first solo museum show, currently on view at Shanghai’s Rockbund Art Museum, eight paintings are installed on the floor of the main gallery, with an additional series depicting abstracted, mythical organisms hung on fabric-covered walls on the upper level. And come September, they will exhibit a new suite of paintings at Haus der Kunst in Munich, alongside a multichannel artificial intelligence simulation. With both shows, however, invisible forces are also at play:

in Shanghai, a custom algorithm measures ultrasonic frequencies in the space and uses the data to generate a new layout for the floor paintings, which are then manually rearranged accordingly every Friday. In Munich, the live evolution of the ai simulation will similarly dictate new configurations for the paintings in the next room. “The movements of the paintings are real-time visualisations of the backend programming,” the artist explains. In this way, the paintings are not fixed objects in space, but data points in a recursive machinelearning loop. When I called WangShui shortly after the opening of the Rockbund exhibition, we decided to focus our conversation on the act of, and their intentions with, painting – a topic that led us

early pandemic, I was staying at a friend’s place in Upstate New York and all of a sudden I was working in one place, so I started testing every single type of paint medium and different surfaces. It was the first time I had the time and space to experiment with painting and find out what made sense to me in terms of the process. Also, when I go see art, I mostly see paintings by dead masters. I have a deep interest in the history of representation. For years, my moving image work has been an attempt to deconstruct the material, optical and psychological dimensions of screens. Painting has, for me, presented a new access point to a more haptic and somatic dimension of the screen I wasn’t fully aware of before. ar How did you land on aluminium as a surface? ws The first thing I liked painting on was vellum, and I liked putting it against windows, because it was backlit like a screen. I then arrived at aluminium when I realised it has a built-in backlight. I was also doing a lot of research about the refractive indexes of different materials and how you can shift them by transforming the materials. Depending on how I scratched the aluminium, I realised I could modulate the refraction of the ‘backlight’ to varying degrees. Then by adding paint to the scratches I realised I could also reveal the latent space of the pigment itself.

from Claude Monet and Francis Bacon to artificial intelligence to their obsession with reality tv. artreview You have a background in video and moving image, so what led you to painting? wangshui I have always wanted to paint, but it was probably galvanised by screen fatigue in the early days of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, I had never had an actual studio; I was always doing residencies. But then, during the above Double Lift (Fig re vii & viii), 2023, oil on aluminium, 152 × 152 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kurimanzutto, Mexico City & New York facing page El Decorum, 2021, oil on aluminium honeycomb panel, 229 × 109 cm. Courtesy the artist

Summer 2023

ar You said even your videowork was inspired by paintings. What painters or paintings do you consider influential to your practice? ws Many have come and gone but my longeststanding influence has been Claude Monet – every time I’m in Paris, I visit his Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie. I really relate to how he spent 30 years studying the reflective surface of the pond and its capacity to collapse so many temporalities. It’s an objective I share with both my paintings and moving-image work. I’m always looking for techniques and materials that can bind and hold the most information all at once; that can create mediated loops that collapse different simultaneous realities and temporalities. Another early inspiration was Francis Bacon. His retrospective at the Centre Pompidou in


2020 changed my life. I’ve always been so inspired by his gestural smears, how he used the materiality of paint to express not only movement but also an expanded temporality. I paint primarily with rags, so I spend a lot of time smearing. So much gets integrated in that process for me. It’s also really relaxing and makes me feel like I’m just polishing someone’s silverware. ar Generally speaking, what interests you about collapsing different temporalities, or as you say, creating mediated loops? ws Coming from a video-art background, the loop was one of the early forms that really fascinated me. I didn’t fully understand why at the time, but as I kept going, the loop kept emerging. It has expressed itself in so many different ways, and now, with the paintings, it’s there again. The loop is at the centre of everything – quantum physics, ai and even trauma. More broadly, I think it’s now related to how I understand being alive – how as people we are just ever-expanding loops of information and experiences.

physical gestural expressions of the algorithms that I embody. ar Have you learned anything about your own painting from ai? ws In a way, ai has taught me how to paint. Traditionally, painting is a mastering of your own style, and the ai had the ability to efficiently perceive what I was doing before I even understood it. For example, my first series of paintings was based off interior sets of The Bachelor. There was one painting that featured cut and butchered birch trees, which were props in the hotel foyer. Somehow, the ai picked up on those trees and ended up propagating this landscape that was not very present in the series.

ar That reminds me of how the algorithm is used in the Rockbund show. It’s an open-ended loop that is updated and morphs the appearance of the show every week.

ws Yes, because I’m interested in thinking about the self as a unique dataset. I like to think about the entanglement that we have with ai, how we’re influenced by ai and how we’ve absorbed algorithms into our physical bodies. The initial source data for the ai paintings were my first five paintings, made without ai. From there it’s become an everexpanding dataset: the more paintings I make, the more I photograph and put back into the dataset. It’s a mirroring process of the ai interpreting my marks and gestures, and then me referencing the ai’s interpretation by creating new paintings based on the images it generates. The paintings are, in a way,


ar Can you tell me about what you’re working on now? ws I’ve been working on a new series about figures and encounters between them. They’re very far from any sort of human figuration, but as I was exploring the ai landscape, I kept coming across these amorphous entities. They are lifeforms that seem to exist between worlds, between species, between scales. The more I began studying and painting them, the more I became interested in what auras, energies or dynamics they could have between each other, and I started staging narratives with these figures in encounters. They’re experiments in trying to understand how different life entities relate to each other. ar This reminds me of a quote from you that’s been used time and time again about your practice being ‘born out of a desire to dematerialise corporeal identity’. As a final question, how do you see and use painting as a way to manifest this desire?

ws Exactly. And this is what led me to ai as well: ai works with datasets that you can constantly update. The program then interpolates the information and expresses where the dataset is at. ar For the paintings that you make based off ai-generated imagery, do you always build your own datasets?

always apparent at first. I’ve come to understand reality tv, for example, as another mediated loop with a pretty controlled dataset. If you watch all 27 seasons of The Bachelor, they are virtually the same but with slight adjustments to the dataset. The adjustments feed on buzzwords and current pop-cultural issues to keep both new and old audiences engaged – the tried-and-true loop of hetero-normative monogamy!

This was really interesting to me because I’ve always been deeply interested in landscape painting but didn’t have my own access point to it. Somehow the ai picked up on this and presented a landscape that I felt so deeply connected to that doesn’t actually exist. It has this otherworldly quality and is, in many ways, a landscape that only exists somewhere between me and the ai. ar You seem so invested in everything from art history to artificial intelligence to reality tv. ws There are common threads throughout a lot of the subjects, even though they aren’t Fig re vi, 2023, oil on aluminium, 152 × 152 cm. Courtesy the artist and High Art, Paris

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ws I remember saying that in grad school and my teachers were like, ‘what are you talking about, you’re crazy’. But it came from my frustration with how inadequate it is to read someone’s body or how they present themselves as a way to understand other dimensions of the being or person. You’ll rarely see human figures in my work, because, to me, they are pretty obsolete forms in terms of their ability to communicate anything interesting. Currently, with the paintings, I’m interested in entities that can be evasive and shift. That, to me, opens another space that activates more productive strategies or techniques of perception. ara Emily McDermott is a writer and editor based in Berlin

poiesis, 2023 (installation view). Photo: Yan Tao. Courtesy Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai

Summer 2023


Horikawa Michio How the terrestrial mail system became a means of exploring rivers, stories and outer space by Tyler Coburn

On 20 July 1969, Horikawa Michio took students from his third-period art class on a walk to the Shinano River, Japan’s longest and widest, where they collected stones from the dry bed. The artist stamped 11 stones, bound them with wire and proceeded to the post office with the intention of mailing them unpackaged. Tags were attached to the wire of each stone, addressed to 11 art critics and artists, including Horikawa himself. With this gesture alone, Horikawa could have secured a place in the annals of mail art, but the timing of this act was what truly distinguished it. While collecting stones with his students, the artist tuned a transistor radio to a live transmission of the Apollo 11 team gathering rocks on the moon. His stamps and tags included the date and time when Neil Armstrong took those fateful steps. The first lunar landing in human history was the start of Horikawa’s unexpected lifework: Mail Art by Sending Stones. The Apollo programme would launch six more missions over the next three years, and on each occasion, Horikawa collected and sent river stones. The artist, in his own words, sought to be ‘in conjunction’ with the programme, using the earthbound materials at his disposal. As art historian Reiko Tomii writes in Mail Art by Sending Stones: A Reader, her 2022 book with Horikawa, this manner of working set him apart from a contemporary like Lee Ufan – who faulted Horikawa for turning stones into conduits of ideas, rather than respecting their ‘stone-ness’ as his own practice endeavoured to do – and closer to the conceptual work of artist Jirō Takamatsu. (The performance Stone and Numeral, 1969, involved Takamatsu numbering a couple of hundred stones in the Tama River.) Indeed, Horikawa’s ‘conceptualist stones’, as Tomii terms them, are inseparable from the events that inspire their distribution. Shortly after sending the first 11 stones, Horikawa published a text titled ‘Thinking on Human Travels to the Moon’ in a student newsletter. ‘I am not interested in rocks on the moon’, he provocatively begins; rather, we should ‘change the foundation of our thinking’, ‘think of a world that envelopes the whole universe’ and ‘think about the physical existence of humankind’. Horikawa cautions against indulging in postplanetary imaginaries, anticipating a critique of technoscience that would become prominent in later decades. For instance, in her 1986 essay ‘The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction’, Ursula


K. Le Guin distinguishes her science-fiction novels from triumphalist accounts of modern technology. Her books are ‘full of space ships that get stuck, missions that fail, and people who don’t understand’; however far her characters venture, they remain stubbornly human. More recently, artist Martine Syms pushed back on Afrofuturist optimism, arguing that the ‘dream of utopia can encourage us to forget that outer space will not save us from injustice’. Her ‘Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto’ (2013) challenges us to imagine that ‘Earth is all we have. What will we do with it?’ Horikawa himself, in an afterword to his book with Tomii, laments that since he began his project space exploration ‘has expanded from peaceful applications to the idea of space forces’ and luxury trips for billionaires. More than ever, he seems to suggest, we should focus on our planet and put ‘progress’ in the service of its betterment. The Sending Stones reader begins with Horikawa’s generous chronicle of his practice from 1964 to the present, which reports when and how he made his work, the artists he was studying, the museums he visited and even some personal troubles. A few weeks before the Apollo 11 moon landing, the artist was hospitalised with a case of urinary calculus – effectively, calcified stones. When I spoke with him about this episode, he remarked that at the time “the news reported that Neil Armstrong was heading to the moon, and one of his missions was to collect rocks”. The timing was painful and priceless: to be stuck in a hospital bed with little else to do but imagine the stones on the moon, the stones of the earth and the stones painfully moving through his body. Horikawa’s chronicle is a testament to the relational quality of mail art. The 13 stones marking the Apollo 13 mission, The Shinano River Plan ( for peace of world) (1970), were sent once a day in consideration of the load on the local postman. Two stones from the first mailing went to artists Takamatsu and Yutaka Matsuzawa, Horikawa’s avowed influences. Rather than reference this debt through the coded protocols of conceptual art, Horikawa formally invited them into the circle of the work. Influence became animated through the distribution of stones. Networks were built. This sense of relationality extends to nature itself. To make The Shinano River Plan: 12 (1969), during the Apollo 12 mission, he split 12 stones into halves, some to be mailed and others returned to the

ArtReview Asia

The Shinano River Plan (Christmas Present), 1969, mail art, documentary photo. Photo: Hanaga Mitsutoshi. Courtesy Misa Shin Gallery, Tokyo

Summer 2023


The Shinano River Plan: 11, 1969, mail art, documentary photo. Photo: Horikawa Michio. Courtesy National Museum of Art, Osaka


The Shinano River Plan ( for peace of world), 1970, mail art, documentary photo. Courtesy Mainichi Newspaper Co Ltd


The Shinano River Plan: 12, 1969, mail art, documentary photo. Courtesy Misa Shin Gallery, Tokyo


ArtReview Asia

riverbed. In seeming contestation of the one-way logic of the ready- to Horikawa’s project, their stones thrown in protest (albeit at the made, his stones both transmogrified and didn’t: where one half of speed of the post). If anyone deserved getting coal in their Christmas the stones grew stamps, tags, data cards, documentation, etc, the stocking, it was Tricky Dick. other ended where they began, in the Shinano River. Seen from this Horikawa paused Mail Art by Sending Stones after the final Apollo perspective, Mail Art by Sending Stones may connect to histories of stone mission in 1972. Four stones were sent in 1985, but the project didn’t appreciation. Writing during the Tang dynasty, musician and poet really resume until Tomii invited him to participate in Century City, Bai Juyi wonders if ‘the Fashioner-of-Things revealed his intention’ a 2001 exhibition at Tate Modern, in London. For this occasion, in the ugly and grotesque rock. ‘Jagged and notched, it really has no Horikawa posted three stones: to Tomii, the museum and himself, talent’, his contemporary, poet Lu Guimeng, observes, ‘[a]nd yet its on 8 December 2000 – the anniversary of the United States declaring appearance is valued by all under heaven’. This object wasn’t turned war on Japan. As with past mailings, the tags of The Shinano River Plan into art by the discerning eye of the scholar; it was recognised as an 2000 (2000) provided some context, one reproducing a 1941 frontpage example of nature’s artistry. And when prevailing opinion changed, of the New York Daily News reading ‘japs bomb hawaii’, and another as during the Cultural Revolution, the poem that had been inscribed tag stating ‘No more hiroshima / anti-War / No more nagasaki’. on a stone’s base was effaced, and it The artist began his project by sending The timing was painful and could be returned to the land in the stones in conjunction with current events; here, the logic of conjunction hopes of passing as a mere stone. priceless: to be stuck in a hospital Japanese suiseki, like Chinese scholar took a different form, rematerialising a bed with little else to do but imagine stones, are often found in rivers and pivotal moment of the past, on the anthe stones on the moon, the stones lakes, sculpted over time by natural niversary of its occurrence, lest it blur actors to resemble landscapes in minor dull in our memory. of the earth and the stones painfully iature. In my research, I’ve found no Horikawa has mailed many stones moving through his body indication that the Shinano River is a over the course of his career, but only popular destination for petrophiliacs; Horikawa may be among the in some cases was he informed of their receipt. A message can’t few to confer value to its riverbed, though his aesthetic criteria are demand or even assume a response. The life his stones will lead, upon somewhat particular. Stones at Tokyo Biennale ’70: (13 – 4) + 9 + 9 + 9, his reaching their senders, is uncertain. And so, any news, even decades 2023 exhibition at Misa Shin Gallery in Tokyo, includes a slideshow late, has the power to continue to animate Mail Art by Sending Stones. of the bare-chested artist weighing stones, seeking one of approx- In the runup to his Misa Shin exhibition, Horikawa found one of the imately 300g – a parameter he set during the Apollo 11 mission. In Apollo 13 stones in a box in his brother’s house. Separately, I contacted one slide from this work, The Shinano River Plan ( for peace of world), The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, discovering the artist flashes a peace sign in apparent solidarity with the anti- that the ‘Christmas gift’, stripped of its tags, was being stored there. Given Nixon’s obsession with recording the goings-on in his office, war movement. One stone Horikawa selected went to Japanese Prime Minister it’s unsurprising that anything related to his life would be kept – even Eisaku Satō. A coal-coloured stone had arrived at the White House a a river stone received in 1969. “It seems”, Horikawa told me, “that my month earlier, on 24 December 1969; both the reader and the exhi- project has a story which lives on after my stones have been sent.” ara bition include a note from the American ambassador in Tokyo thanking the artist, on behalf of President Richard Nixon, for ‘a most Tyler Coburn is an artist, writer and teacher based in New York. Interpretation from Japanese provided by Nobuko Kawata. unusual Christmas gift’. These mailings add a political dimension

The Shinano River Plan 2000, 2000, mail art, documentary photo. Courtesy Misa Shin Gallery, Tokyo

Summer 2023


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Full of furniture of the miserable, retarded twentieth century 67

Shakuntala Kulkarni Quieter Than Silence (Compilation of Short Stories) Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai 9 March – 6 May It’s easy to forget what charcoal marks on paper can do. But you get a reminder when looking at those deployed to build up powerful bodies in Quieter Than Silence (Compilation of Short Stories). According to an exhibition text, Shakuntala Kulkarni rediscovered, among other materials, handmade khadi paper, made from fibered cotton rag, and charcoal pencils in her Mumbai studio while confined at home during the 2020 and 2021 covid-19 lockdowns. She began using them to draw ageing women, tracing the bulging, sagging and sunken contours of bodies transitioning from one life stage to another. The artist was born in 1950, so one can assume that her study was self-reflexive. Take the lines tracking moving limbs on naked bodies in Imbalance (2019–20), a series of waxen drawings on museum acrylic sheets and glass, which reflect her attempts at forming yoga poses that no longer come so easily. But the initial introspection of Kulkarni’s charcoal studies seems to have transmuted into a playful curiosity. She began clothing her figures in garments inspired by the deconstructed, monochromatic designs of Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto, among others, with hairstyles and headdresses calling on a world of references, from Frida Kahlo to the matted hair crowning the head of a woman Kulkarni often saw on the street. Swaha (2020–22) is an index to these influences and interpretations. Twenty blackframed dermatograph pencil and acrylic paint drawings on glass show women standing

in profile, plus another viewed from the back, each wearing a black dress and holding a headdress above her head. What looks like a Duchampian bottle rack is among those crowns. Hanging in a line to form a friezelike procession, Swaha acts as a precursor to Stuck in the shadow (2021). Fourteen drawings on khadi paper, each depicting a clothed figure, are the captivating result of Kulkarni’s lockdown charcoal explorations, when a fixation with a figure skater’s decisive, twisting movements began to imbue to every captured pose. Frozen in a moment of exuberance and tension, the bodies are lined up across three walls, like deities populating ancient metopes. In one a figure performs a standing forward-bend, their head pressed to their knees and arms wrapped tightly around their legs. In another, a figure with a gravity-defying ponytail forms a threepoint-landing stance. Weighty charcoal marks on sinewy paper create volume and, at times, ethereal luminosity. In one drawing a woman in a half split, whose winglike cape rises up behind her, gazes outwards. Her forehead, nose and lower lip pick up the light before clarity recedes to dense shading. Statuesque figures with heavy breasts, swollen abdomens and exaggerated buttocks are among the group gathered here. Wearing black structured garments and Medusa-like headdresses that often cover their eyes, they stand on compact black circles. This tension between containment and action calls back to Kulkarni’s

2012 exhibition Of Bodies, Armour and Cages, also at Chemould Prescott Road. Synthesising references from Gothic punk to Tudor and classical Indian dance costumes, Kulkarni used cane to create sculptural body armours and helmets, which she has worn for various performances, as forms of self-protection and selfisolation. Versions of them are worn by figures falling to the ground in Fallen Warrior (2019–21), a set of small drawings arranged on a long table, expressing what Kulkarni has described as the helplessness and resignation that she felt within and around her amid the pandemic. That sense of helplessness fuses with rage, anguish and sorrow in Lullaby (2019–20), eight compositions of grieving mothers cradling the bodies of their dead children in the style of the Pietà, their black robes framing each limp body. Triggered by news stories of young women being raped and killed in India, Lullaby laments the unspeakable injustices to which Kulkarni’s work has long been attuned. Lying on tables, these protest drawings are watched over by the heavy charcoal forms comprising Stuck in the shadow. Standing like sentries, they invoke the silence of the show’s title while resisting their own designation, and its implication of imprisonment by the darkness that shapes them. Appearing almost three-dimensional, each figure seems ready to emerge from their fibrous foundations, poised to petrify, with the sheer weight of their presence, anyone who means them harm. Stephanie Bailey

Quieter Than Silence (Compilation of Short Stories), 2023 (installation view). Photo: Anil Rane. Courtesy the artist


ArtReview Asia

Stuck in the shadow (detail), 2021, handmade khadi paper and charcoal, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist

Summer 2023


Mithu Sen mothertongue Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne 22 April – 18 June mothertongue is fuelled by anticolonial and anti-institutional rhetoric, challenging the structures that define modern life and the artworld. Housed in multiple gallery spaces, the exhibition encompasses performance, video, sculptures and drawings that encapsulate the past two decades of Mithu Sen’s artistic practice. Frequently using the prefix ‘un’ in her video works, wall inscriptions and ‘legal’ contracts, Sen subverts the languages that define and limit the lives of refugees, migrants and artists – both linguistic (in particular the supremacy of English) and visual (examining the dominance of the Western gaze). At the entry to the exhibition, the artist’s declaration Un-acknowledgement (2023) is projected on the wall, signalling her intention to withdraw from ‘the charades of inclusion and artifices of language’.

As though arranging a mind map, Sen inscribes annotations and tapes lines across the walls between works, stringing together ideas about cultural identity and gender through words and images. Across the dark grey walls of the dimly lit gallery space, videoworks and drawings are interconnected by led light strips. Each of the works explores aspects of communication within personal, artistic, academic and bureaucratic contexts. The eight-channel video Be beyond being (2021), for example, documents Sen ‘Zoom bombing’ into live-streamed lectures at Yale University’s ‘London, Asia, Art, Worlds’ conference, interrupting the discussions like a computer glitch. Other overlapping sounds permeate the space – an evacuation drill, buzzing tattoo gun, a sad trombone sound effect – create an overarching disorienting sense of anarchy. Scattered neon led emojis installed

How to be a suckcessful artist (still), 2019, single-channel video, 1 min 12 sec. Courtesy the artist


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on the wall between the videos – a speech bubble, rose, paper plane and a red hand – symbolise a ‘universal’ visual language used in casual social media communication, marking an unspoken narrative thread that visitors are invited to decipher. Tracing the paths of the led lights, visitors encounter Contracts #2 #3 #6 #8 #11 #17 #21 #24 (2018–23): multiple framed legal agreements replicating the Indian Non-Judicial Stamp Paper format (commonly used for commercial agreements, powers of attorney and property transfers) and which propose a pseudo contract between the artist, the works and the audience. Several single-channel videoworks, like How to be a suckcessful Artist (2019), mockingly reflect on the kinds of performative acts that women of colour need to enact in order to gain exhibition opportunities within museums and galleries.

Ephemeral affair (2006) and For D(e)ad (2023) are black-and-white videos that feature closeup shots of Sen’s face and eye respectively, in which the artist makes facial expressions of human pain: in the former she visibly reacts to a violence enacted out of camera shot, while in the latter tears leak from her open eye, suggesting some internalised emotion. Elsewhere in the exhibition, a sense of violence pervades. In the second white-painted gallery space, single bronze dismembered body parts hang from near-invisible threads along a wall in We unfinish each other (2017), which is presented alongside Unlynching: You never one piece (2017), a cabinet containing collected objects, one for each year since the 1947 Partition of India, during which around one million refugees were killed. A plastic doll’s arm, a glass eye resting in the bowl of a soup spoon, a metal lock, become quietly macabre allusions to the enduring trauma of genocide. In a corner of the room, Unbelongings (2002), a knotted clump of long hair, hangs from the ceiling. While it is just one work in Sen’s series of the same title

that looks at long hair as both a symbol of feminine identity (while attached) and an object of disgust (when no longer attached), here, shown in the same space as the bronze body parts, it behaves as a simultaneous reminder of gendered violence and the anonymity of victims. Acts of translation are explored in an adjoining room accessed through clear pvc strip curtains, where a single screen plays the film I have only one language, it is not mine (2014), in which Sen interacts with a group of orphaned children in Kerala. The footage, altered by high contrast settings to appear as if outlined in red ink, shows the children speaking Malayalam while Sen communicates in a fabricated ‘othertongue’, as well as hand gestures, to examine methods of communication in spaces where there isn’t a shared verbal language. One of the most visually striking works presented here is Unmythu: Unkind(s) Alternatives (2018): a nearly 4m by 12m installation that includes five largescale drawings surrounded by five smaller drawings, all framed in backlit boxes. They depict naked skeletal bodies

alongside religious and political imagery, such as a lotus and refugees on a boat. A mind map of red hashtag words in decal – including ‘#xenophobic’ and ‘#native mutant’ – branch out from the drawings. Shown alongside this installation is a 25-minute video titled Alexa (2018): filmed in front of this work, it presents a performance in which Sen asks Amazon’s Alexa ai technology questions in her ‘othertongue’, as well as pointed queries in English like “Alexa, what is artist?”, “Are you a sexist?” and “Are you a racist?” As Sen’s frustration grows with Alexa’s inability to understand her fabricated dialect, she hastily paces back and forth while pointing at the artwork with a long red stick. Shown side by side, these two works behave as an anchor for the sprawling, wideranging exhibition. Unmythu and Alexa open our eyes to the ways in which Eurocentric language shapes our social, artistic, technological and political environments, revealing the long and complex relationship between vernacular, colonialism and migration. Vyshnavee Wijekumar

mou (Museum of unbelongings), 2023, mixed media installation, dimensions variable. Photo: Andrew Curtis. Courtesy the artist

Summer 2023


Shigeo Otake Fungitopia Hive Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing 4 March – 16 April Wandering through Fungitopia sends a chill down my spine. At first glance, there is nothing particularly freaky or terrifying about Shigeo Otake’s 36 tempera-and-oil paintings filled with kawaii Ghibli-style figures, but a closer look reveals a sinister dreamscape teeming with hybrid monsters and delusional humans. Narratives of death and destruction underpin the cartoonish style and vivid colour palette. Like a Hieronymus Bosch painting, the devil is literally in the details. Otake spent much of his early career studying cordyceps, a parasitic fungus found in shrines near his home in Kobe, Japan. Entranced by the plant’s lethal allure, Otake’s focus turned to the eerie fungal world during the 1970s. In his short story ‘The Birth of Fungal Generation’ (c. 2000), Otake details the ‘history’ behind a practice that is on full display in Fungitopia: in a hypothetical future, the deadly cordyceps has preyed on all organisms and turned them into fungal hybrids. Humanity evolved and adapted through fungi’s parasitic spread, forming

a new species: sentient mushroom-humans who strove for a new organic kingdom. This dystopian prospect is alluded to in Miscalculation by mycologist h.a (1988), one of the largest paintings on display. A teacherlike figure dresses in a pleated skirt, her face concealed by a mask, on top of which perches a bird head with feathers made of mushroom gills. Waving a scalpel, she seems ready to cut a hypha sprouting from a child’s head, which appears to be turning into a mushroom. Surrounding the two figures are a poisoned cat with hypha sprouts, women-faced flowers growing from the mouths of two naked girls drowned in bathtubs, and monstrous coral fungi chewing on little humans. Despite its orderly composition and vibrant colours, the painting is permeated with horrifying processes of fungal integration beyond our control. This allegorical reality points to a perverted prosperity born out of the decomposition of our current world order. Scenes of the nonchalant character’s (and perhaps our own) slow death

and self-alienation unfold in modern institutions such as city halls, museums (Secrets of Natural History Museum, 1987; This Place is Connected to the Sea, 1997) and even a brothel in Japan’s red-light district (Tender Love, 2010). Are these places eliminating agency and perpetuating our Frankenstein’s monster inside? Otake also nods to religious themes in Road to Santiago de Compostela (1996) and Mushroom Nirvana (2019). Is he comparing the contemporary production of knowledge to religious indoctrination? I can’t decide. What makes Otake’s works even more relevant, post-covid? They evoke, once again, our long estrangement from our own organic nature and bio-identity as just an element of the Earth. Evolution, the fight against disease and the fear of oblivion are timeless themes rooted in our subconscious. In the face of humanity’s destined decay, Otake hands us his own cruel optimism: we’ll embrace our survival and intellectual integrity, at the cost of becoming mushrooms. Xinjie Wang

A Miscalculation by mycologist, 1988, tempera and oil on board, 112 × 162 cm. Courtesy the artist and Hive Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing


ArtReview Asia

Karms Thammatat Utopia Now Unit London 12 April – 20 May Everyone and everything is searching, even the flowers. In his solo show, painter Karms Thammatat populates Unit’s shadowy lower space with a host of eerie creatures. Among them, a teenage cyclops, a green dog with metallic spikes for teeth and a vase of flowers with eyes where their pistils should be. Despite their marked differences, most of Thammatat’s characters share a similar trait: distorted, disproportionately large eyes. The green dog’s eyes are so big they sit atop its head; a boy with wings has the whites of his eyes exchanged for a sickly pastel green; and a crouching girl with heart-shaped pupils beams at a translucent flower. Yet there is nothing sweet, childish or goofy in these paintings. The characters’ eyes look as if they have swelled to this size from straining, looking so hard that, inside, they might silently be screaming, ‘Where? Where?! where!’ What they are looking for is hinted at in the show’s title, which hovers between demand, statement and question, but the

conclusion is the same: utopia isn’t here. Thammatat’s characters inhabit scenes that are less paradise than purgatory. The backgrounds are generally bleak and bare – from hazy Renaissance mountainscapes to austere beige interiors. However, there are hints of even worse. In Freedom (Practical) (all works 2023) a boy extends flesh-coloured wings to full span, as if about to take flight, yet the bottom edges of his wings are anchored by six spiked ball weights. He smiles, nonetheless. Other characters, mostly children, share mirthful expressions as they are restrained by shackles, handcuffs or spiked collars. The uneasiness of this juxtaposition is heightened by the Thai artist’s deployment of chiaroscuro, in the style of European Old Masters, while pairing this with cartoon forms that evoke comparisons with artists like Takashi Murakami, who merges anime and nihonga painting in his work. For Thammatat, this tension between high and low forms brings gravity to the bizarre.

In Carpe Diem an adolescent cyclops reclines in an easy chair, cradling a bottle. Thumb on a tv remote, he stares ahead, lips parted, preoccupied with the screen reflected in the mirror of his glossy black eye. His acceptance of what he lives in, and his efforts to distract himself from it, are more palatable than the expressions of strained glee in the other canvases. With time, these saccharine countenances begin to register as ersatz masks. However, unlike Zeng Fanzhi’s blank-faced characters, whose frozen faces protect against external scrutiny to maintain a charade, Thammatat’s masks mark the thin internal barrier between believing in and doubting pretence. Ultimately, his paintings seem to warn that joy is not found in ideals or extremes. At a time when technology and popular-media warp perfection into an attainable mirage, the search for it might transform us into strange chained beasts. Utopia may not be possible, but hopefully in accepting imperfection we might loosen some of the chains. Salena Barry

Carpe Diem, 2023, oil on linen, 108 × 128 × 5 cm. Courtesy the artist and Unit London

Summer 2023


Lee Kit The Last Piece of Cloud tkg+, Taipei 11 February – 22 April Blue skies teeming with clouds are projected onto the subterranean walls; music swells with the brassy optimism of big-band jazz. This is another iteration of Lee Kit’s signature immersive bricolage, a series of subtle paintings on cardboard blending into the cracks between light-and-airy floor-to-ceiling projections. However, in the subtitles that add narrative to many of the sweeping videoworks, a burgeoning frustration asserts itself. ‘How can you forgive yourself so easily?’ wonders the voice in Plant (all works but one 2023). These texts accent otherwise atmospheric vistas with stories that

feel particularly character driven. An alphabetised cast of everymen mingle, muse and judge among themselves – their mundane aspersions colouring the tone of the room, revealing the transformative effect a mood can have on the nature of an object. The projectors in the gallery’s otherwise stark basement are installed across the floor, alone and in cliques. Panes of morning-blue and sunsetred collide with reels of cloud. Visitors creep between beams of light as if minding shoulders at a cocktail party, wary of causing shadowy intrusions. But the presence of the human and

its consequences can’t be avoided: silhouettes of onlookers inevitably make cameos against Lee’s expanses of cloud and examinations of furniture; while coffee-drinking, PowerPoint-prepping characters populate Lee’s texts. In the video Cloud talks (II), a cloud-gazing character named ‘B’ shifts his focus to the bystanders ‘babbling’ nearby. B projects annoyance at what he sees as their loud, boastful arrogance, and describes them as dissolving into ghostliness, like clouds transforming in the breeze. Lee’s vague text leaves it up in the air whether this disgust is political or simply a petty social gripe.

Your subscription is confirmed, 2023, digital video, spotlight, foamboard and wall structure, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist


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Seeing our own looming outlines among the projected images invites viewers to project as well. Becoming entangled in Lee’s lingering studies of a simple chair or a ball of fluff, which subtly shapeshift on the walls, we notice the way the intimate proximity of our gaze seems to sculpt the reality of an object. Our impressions gather and solidify in the proffered objects and images, and in the gaps between them, like dust in the cracks between couch cushions. Similar to B’s chorus of ghosts, Lee’s approach to imagemaking highlights how these objects are always altered in the process of being perceived. This attention to accumulation is emphasised by the material elements of Lee’s arrangements. In Every face of you, transparent tape laminates the wall behind footage of a chair. As the light of the projector aggregates in the

folds and wrinkles of the carefully applied plastic, it becomes a near-solid, an almost sculptural texture over the surface of the image; a transformation illustrative of the parallel way that a mood, too, may become a material within Lee’s spaces. Accumulation is also at work in Lee’s four small paintings, scattered on the walls between his projections. Roughly folded pieces of cardboard are washed with white housepaint and imprinted with images that feel as familiar as newspaper clippings. Blame others. (2022) depicts a woman undergoing a gua sha treatment, appearing as if torn straight from the classifieds, and fixed in the corner of Lee’s noticeboard-style composition. The paintings accrue a sense of heft – like a stack of letters holding court on a kitchen table – building up the lived-in lustre of domestic things.

Of all the images gathered throughout The Last Piece of Cloud, it is the titular cumulonimbus mass that looms largest. As Lee’s projectors dapple the walls with the fluffy plumes and turrets of ever-shifting clouds, for his characters the lesson becomes clear. According to the exhibition text, one character considers the rest: ‘All three of them look at the cloud not far in the sky, thinking actually of each other’. Clouds lapse in and out of meaningful configurations, becoming a ship, a creature, a familiar face as we require it of them. Lee’s work takes these transformations at face value. They are a reminder that the objects and people we gather around us are also sculpted by our looking, their forms contoured by the everyday politics – or perhaps just stubborn annoyances – that lurk within our gaze. Christopher Whitfield

Cloud talks (ii), 2023, digital videos, two projections, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist

Summer 2023


Rirkrit Tiravanija Haus der Kunst, Munich 5–29 May At the ostensible heart of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s exhibition is a transparent stage set for the Bayerischer Staatsoper’s production of Toshio Hosokawa’s one-act opera Hanjo (2004), adapted from Yukio Mishima’s 1955 ‘modern’ Noh play of the same title. Thanks to its transparency combined with stage lighting, the stage recasts the entire opera as a shadow theatre on the back wall of the space. During the day, when it’s not hosting opera, the stage set – which fuses Noh traditions (in the form of a ghostly white bonsai tree) and the demands of an opera set (the stage is on wheels in the centre of the room) – hosts one-on-one tea ceremonies created and performed by Japanese artist Mai Ueda (as part of Tiravanija’s exhibition, but also her own thing). A set, a platform and a sculpture. This, but also that. Actors and audiences swapping places. Like much of the exhibition, it’s there but not there. There’s a sense in which the exhibition has no real ‘heart’, but that instead its component parts have been atomised and dispersed (or ‘decentralised’, as the institution puts it) throughout the Haus der Kunst. Part of the exhibition unfolds in time as well as space: a selection of seven films, made between 1995 and 2017, screen in succession throughout day in a room on the Haus’s first floor. The setup is simple: screen, casual seating (beanbags and a few chairs). In keeping with what’s going on downstairs with the opera set, many of the works in this celluloid retrospective are also collaborative productions (with artists with whom Tiravanija is readily associated,

such as Philippe Parreno, Liam Gillick, Carsten Höller, Douglas Gordon and Pierre Huyghe). Among the films is Skip The Bruising Of The Eskimos To The Exquisite Words vs If I Give You A Penny Will You Give Me A Pair Of Scissors (2017), the artist’s shot-for-shot remake of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), which was largely set in a Munich bar. Tiravanija’s version was filmed on a set created in his thengallery, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, in New York. Adding another loop to this eternal return is the fact that a version of the bar from Tiravanija’s remake (which also features cameos by fellow artists such as Karl Holmqvist) is installed in a ground-floor room leading out to the Haus’s restaurant and terrace, complete with the barkeeper, actor Florian Tröbinger – who also plays that role in Tiravanija’s film – offering visitors free Cokes or beers. This, in turn, echoes the constant role reversals between actor and viewer that occurs on the stage set (if you participate in the tea ceremony and see the opera). Which gives the exhibition as a whole the feeling that it operates like a screen that’s being constantly raised and lowered, flickering between scenes of artifice and reality. Propped on the bar is a tv set also showing Tiravanija’s film. The bar area is housed in the middle of what might as well be a sports hall: the room is littered with Tiravanija’s table-tennis tables – untitled 2013 (morgen ist die frage) (Tomorrow Is the Question) – their tops stencilled with the German words of the title. The work itself riffs off a 1970 participatory work by the Slovak

artist Július Koller, J.K. Ping-Pong Club. Here, visitor-participants creating a ‘ping’-‘pong’ soundtrack that bleeds and echoes through the nearby spaces of the Haus itself. Off to the side is a small room in which you can screen-print a selection of Tiravanija’s slogans on T-shirts to take away. These, such as ‘the motion less star and the moving star will meet’, are borrowed from the (English) libretto to Hanjo. During the opera, the slogans are also displayed on screens by the side of the set, while some are spelled out on banners between the columns of the Haus’s exterior that articulate the opera’s central dilemma: ‘My body is filled with waiting’ and ‘I wait for nothing’. Above the Haus’s entrance is a video, untitled 2011 (pay attention), that animates, sometimes word by word, further slogans (in multiple languages) relating to the balance between freedom and repression on which society is built: in Spanish, ‘Uno no puede simular la libertad’ (You can’t simulate freedom). Hanjo itself documents the ambiguous relationship between two women, one an artist, the other a former geisha who makes daily trips to the local train station to greet a male lover who has promised to return for her, but doesn’t arrive. Through the course of the opera, the dramatic climax of which treats the lover’s actual return, we get to examine the ways in which the women deal with real and imagined worlds, insanity and reason, control and a total lack of it, and a life given structure in the form of endless repetition. Much like the exhibition itself. Mark Rappolt

Untitled, 2013 (morgen ist die frage), n.d., ping pong table u.f.o.-Naut jk (Július Koller). Courtesy Galerie Martin Janda, Vienna


ArtReview Asia

Hanjo, 2023, performance view. Photo: Judith Buss

Summer 2023


Rana Begum Dappled Light Concrete, Dubai 26 February – 4 April The four soaring doors that make up the translucent facade of Concrete stand wide open, throwing bright daylight into the cavernous exhibition space in which Rana Begum’s polychromatic abstract wall-works, a video and sculptures of varying scales are installed. On the whole, the exhibition presents Begum’s progressive exploration into materials, shapes and colours: visitors are shown how the artist’s practice departs from hard-edged and ordered geometric forms in works from 2016, and moves towards softer and more airy abstract works made recently. These latter are best demonstrated by woven sheets of metal manipulated into seemingly weightless installations that allow light to stream through. Here, Begum’s works are influenced by the surrounding environment, as subtle interactions between colour and the changing qualities of natural light create optical shifts, lending the static pieces an illusion of movement. Many of the works, whether pinned to walls or suspended from the ceiling, invite visitors to get close to and move around or through them to see the transformations.

No. 1228 Mesh (2023) is a largescale installation that draws you into the space. Vivid, multicoloured crumpled balls of layered fine-steel mesh appear to float underneath a skylight, like trapped clouds. Each crumpled ball contains another, differently coloured ball. As the daylight streams through the nested semi-opaque scrunched metal, some colours emerge while others evaporate from sight: as one moves around the installation, for example, the charcoal-coloured outer mesh of one ball appears to dissolve like a puff of smoke as the pastel green of the crumpled mesh it contains shines out. The exhibition – filled with bright neon hues, the moving bodies of visitors and the downpour of sunshine – breaks for a moment of calm and stillness in a dark room at the back of the gallery. A screen spanning one wall shows No. 1080 Forest (2021), a 38-minute timelapse capturing the movements of sunlight filtering across foliage and gravestones. As the sun’s rays pass from foreground to background, the tree branches in the centre of the frame appear to breathe, exposing the passing of time captured in the sped-up video. No. 1080 Forest presents

the ephemerality of time and light in a seminatural environment, and, shown alongside the steel mesh installations in which Begum attempts to capture those intangible elements, a tension emerges between ideas of the organic and the manmade. Dappled Light spreads outdoors, where No. 1235 Mesh (2023) stands on a patch of grass beside Concrete. The hollow sculpture is made of square pink-, navy- and red-mesh panels, connected by zip ties, that expand and stack in a random pattern; the effect is a buildinglike structure. A small gap in the arrangement allows you to step inside. The work, which visitors are permitted to touch, encourages further interaction from curious onlookers; children play inside and around the structure and birds are able to alight on the panels. Throughout the exhibition, visitors eagerly posed for photos in front of, underneath or in between the works. But while the aesthetics and scale of the works make for an easy, enjoyable and durational engagement for a wide range of audiences, one is left contemplating the irony that this exhibition might just be more spectacle than substance. Yalda Bidshahri

No. 1128 Mesh, 2023, mixed media, dimensions variable. Photo: Ismail Noor / Seeing Things. Courtesy Alserkal Avenue, Dubai


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Ting-Tong Chang bodo Taipei Fine Arts Museum 11 March – 4 June A choose-your-own-adventure game with a macabre twist, Ting-Tong Chang’s immersive installation presents viewers with a journey to be undertaken by a nameless young man about to start his military service on a remote island. Travelling under a series of spotlights, audience members are guided by a narrator who introduces the island and its many strange happenings. On the first night of conscription, the protagonist dreams of being fellated by the eponymous bodo, a dead conscript’s spirit, and viewers are asked either to acknowledge this ghost or ignore it – thus beginning a branching story that could end in any number of ways: from dying a lonely death in a sea cave to being a queer fugitive on the island with a fellow conscript. The most ambitious work yet in Chang’s oeuvre, which blends site-specific installations with interactive technologies to create theatrical experiences, bodo (2023) expands the artist’s satirical explorations of contemporary Taiwanese sociopolitics into more violent and disturbing extremes. Investigating the political aetiology of violence in post-martial law era Taiwan, bodo’s stories include graphic descriptions of hazing

rituals and erotic fantasies conjured by young men in captivity. The story’s premise is loosely inspired by the work’s namesake – a hallucinatory 1993 film about Taiwanese militarism by independent-film pioneer Huang Ming-Chuan – and Chang’s own memories of conscription. (‘Bodo’, which means ‘treasure island’ in the widely spoken Taiwanese Minnan dialect, is a common moniker for Taiwan.) Narrated in a detached voiceover, the dark contents of bodo tap into the subterranean impulses – masculinity, sexuality, domination – that underlie the island’s mandatory military service policy, which is itself commonly framed as a comingof-age ritual that turns boys into real men. bodo suggests that this ritual is problematic and traumatic, and yet honest to the nature of these volatile young men’s desires within a military culture that amplifies their amorphous, inarticulable frustrations with a society that appears to have left them behind. The Chinese Nationalist government, which retreated to Taiwan after the Chinese Communist Party took over the mainland, introduced compulsory military service in 1949, for the most part to deter invasion from the People’s

Republic of China – a looming expectation of violence that haunts Taiwan to this day. bodo presents the ways in which this perpetually postponed conflict and consequent sense of precarity can give rise to a particularly toxic brand of masculinity that normalises savagery against the weak as a coping mechanism for living with the threat of crushing, humiliating military defeat. In this hypermacho world of promised but not immediately actualised subjugation, power is the only thing that matters. Littering the exhibition space are clifflike set pieces that evoke the craggy inhospitality of the volcanic isle where the story takes place. Coarse and jagged, these surfaces bring to mind both the barren geopolitical landscape contemporary Taiwan navigates in its struggle for self-determination and the fracturing effects of martial rule, with its arid, durable sterility that grates and erodes all efforts to surmount it. The set design is also bleakly appropriate for a work whose finales all lead to the same closing passage, which suggests that the world might be a place where ‘violence is for violence’s sake’. Alfonse Chiu

bodo, 2023 (installation view). Courtesy Taipei Fine Arts Museum

Summer 2023


I have not loved (enough or worked) Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth 18 November – 23 April This is an exhibition of work by eight Asian artists who explore love and loss – from romantic relationships to meditations on the ephemerality of life – in a bittersweet way. The exhibition title is a modified line from Canadian poet Lisa Robertson’s ‘Face/’ (2010); the line that follows it – ‘What I want to do here is infiltrate sincerity’ – suggests that rather than wishing to have loved or worked more, Robertson instead places desire and labour into a field of poetic play, and in so doing both highlights and bridges the tension that exists between these generally opposed modes of existence. Which is a path this show also follows.

Tao Hui’s video installation Hello, Finale! (2017) is set up as a grid of nine screens arranged in rows of three; in front of each screen is the kind of armchair you’d find in an office lobby. You sit down, put on headphones and watch various characters talking on the phone to an unseen listener. Each screen offers a different narrative focused on issues of loss and desire. In one, a woman kneels on the floor grieving for something or someone; in another, a child is walking home after having been bullied at school. The actors speak Japanese, and the experience as a whole is like channel-surfing through the climactic scenes of a series of

Lin Zhipeng (aka No. 223), Grand Amour, Meimei’s Flying, 2018, photograph. Courtesy the artist


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teledramas. The real twist in the tale is that, in fact, these seemingly fictional scenes are based on aspects of the artist’s life in China and the country’s news reports. Lieko Shiga’s series of monochromatic photographs Blind Date (2009), which pictures couples riding, sometimes recklessly, on motorbikes in Bangkok, suggests the contradictory states of speed and stillness. The drivers look away from the camera, while the passengers (often women) look towards the viewer with inscrutable expressions. With their bodies pressed tightly against the driver, the passengers appear simultaneously tender and trusting;

yet their piercing gazes directed at the camera convey a tension between the bike riders and the photographer (and by extension, the viewer). Meanwhile, Pixy Liao’s photo series Experimental Relationship (2007–) shows a different kind of pairing, one that revels in playful and humorous acts of submission and domination. Liao makes portraits with her younger boyfriend wherein they both perform as subjects; though she is often pictured holding a remote shutter release. Her partner, sometimes naked, is draped around her or displayed next to her as if a decorative object – subverting traditionally gendered roles. Finally, Lin Zhipeng (aka No. 233 – a reference to the officer number assigned to the hopelessly romantic policeman in Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, 1994) captures the lifestyle of Chinese youth during the 1990s and their sense of sexual freedom. In Tail (2020) a cat’s tail emerges from

between someone’s naked thighs. In Mushroom (2020), dirt and mushrooms are piled on top of a nude person’s chest. These images show youthful rebellion, intimacy and sexuality at play. Besides love, the exhibition also takes on the bigger questions of life and death, and what makes a meaningful existence. Hai-Hsin Huang’s painting The Future is Hot #6 (2021) reflects on how we are living in an era of epic environmental denial. His painting shows two people lounging, with a fluffy dog, by a hotel pool while a mountainous forest burns behind them. Rinko Kawauchi’s Cui Cui (2005), which features photographs that depict her family’s everyday life over 13 years, is more panoramic, covering the broader sweep of the cycles of birth and death, and moments of transcendental beauty: a baby held in loving arms; prayer

offerings; a grandfather in hospital; strawberries in a bowl with ice. The powerful images take a leaf from the title, Cui Cui, an onomatopoeic Japanese phrase referring to the sound of sparrows, irreducible to language, yet nonetheless part of the ineffable fabric of life. Daisuke Kosugi’s 49-minute video A False Weight (2019) presents the framework of the body as a failing structure: it follows Tadashi, a retired architect and bodybuilder adapting to a chronic illness that causes muscle degeneration. It is based on the experiences of Kosugi’s own father, Masanori Kosugi, and his determination to perform basic tasks – getting out of a chair, having a meal. As we watch Tadashi we watch labour inscribed as a fundamental part of existence; how the body becomes a fragile tool but the ways in which the spirit can overcome that too. Gok-Lim Finch

Hai-Hsin Huang, The Future is Hot #6, 2021, oil on canvas, 53 × 46 cm. Courtesy the artist

Summer 2023


Ai Weiwei Making Sense Design Museum, London 7 April – 30 July This is Ai Weiwei’s first major solo exhibition in the uk since his 2014 retrospective at the Royal Academy, which opened when Ai’s passport was still being held by Chinese authorities following his arrest and detention. While many of Ai’s previous exhibitions have been overtly political both in terms of their content and context, the Design Museum seems to offer a more neutral ground upon which the artist has felt able to return to the formal and material building-blocks of his practice, exploring the affordances between authenticity and appropriation, form and function, making and meaning. The exhibition takes place in a single room – the expansive space of the main exhibition hall – which is divided into five discrete ‘fields’ of accumulated objects, ranging from

thousands of arrowheads and tools apparently dating from the Stone Age, neatly displayed like artefacts unearthed from an archaeological site; to a garish explosion of plastic Lego bricks, donated by members of the public after the transnational corporation stated that it was against company policy to supply their product for political works. The other fields are populated with a curious assortment of weaponry, castoffs and fragments: some 200,000 ceramic cannonballs crafted during the Song dynasty (960–1279 ce); a concatenation of bonelike teapot spouts also fabricated during the Song period, severed and discarded due to minute imperfections in the manufacturing process; and a jagged sea of blue-andwhite porcelain shards from one of Ai’s artworks, destroyed when his studio in Beijing

Untitled (lego Incident), n.d., installation, dimensions variable. © and courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio


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was razed by Chinese authorities in 2018 without warning. These objects prompt us to reflect on ambivalent patterns of creative expression and suppression, standardisation and variation, and the dignity of labour and its exploitation. As the art historian Lothar Ledderose has argued in his book Ten Thousand Things: Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art (2000), some of the most remarkable examples of Chinese art, architecture and design over the course of millennia were made possible by the early development of modular systems: the mass fabrication of standardised units that could be reassembled into myriad configurations of form and function, producing objects in large quantities and of great variety. The most famous example of this is the Terracotta

Army of the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259–210 bce) consisting of several thousand lifesize sculptures assembled from a fixed repertoire of cast body-parts and individually finished by hand. It’s testament to the wonders of China’s technological advancement, artistry and innovation, but also a rigid, underlying infrastructure of political and social organisation, and control by design. The surrounding wall space has been thoughtfully utilised to provide further context in this regard, displaying examples from a range of photographic series (some of them never exhibited before) that centre on the remarkable urban transformations in Ai’s native city, Beijing, to which the artist has not been able to return following his political troubles. Beijing Photographs (1993–2003) takes us back to the period when Ai made his famous triptych Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn (1995; in which the artist appears to drop the antique vessel, which smashes on the floor), documenting the artist and his brother’s numerous visits

to flea markets filled with antiquities, some real, some fake, from which many of the objects on display were acquired. Provisional Landscapes (2002–08) features rubble-strewn voids in the urban fabric: all that remains of the traditional dwellings and silenced communities swept away by the tide of China’s rapid modernisation and development. National Stadium (2005–07) chronicles the construction of the symbol par excellence of China’s growing presence on the world stage in preparation for the watershed 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, which Ai designed in collaboration with Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. Captured in various stages of completion, the stadium appears like a ruin in reverse, dramatising the fate of so many of these aspirational monuments of state power and spectacular infrastructure over the course of human history. Elsewhere we find other remains and part-objects – sometimes cast in different materials – that range from ordinary household items to the steel rebar

and children’s backpacks that Ai salvaged from schools that collapsed in the wake of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake; a natural disaster that formed the basis of Ai’s citizen investigations into government officials who had siphoned money from building materials, resulting in the senseless death of thousands of people. Amidst the multitude of things on display, another portrait of Ai emerges – that of the artist as collector, bricoleur or, perhaps more intriguingly, hoarder. Nothing is discarded, and every object no matter how small and fragmentary has the potential to be repurposed, reframed and recombined into a new artistic assemblage. In this, Making Sense is an exhibition that prompts us to think about the ways in which art might intervene in and reconfigure what Jacques Rancière called the ‘distribution of the sensible’ – the laws, systems and structures of power in a given community that determine who has the right to be seen and be heard, to do and make. Wenny Teo

Marble Takeout Box, 2015, marble, 19 × 14 × 7 cm. © and courtesy Ai Weiwei Studio

Summer 2023


Aki Hassan Entangled Attachments Yeo Workshop, Singapore 13 May – 18 June Singaporean artist Aki Hassan has always been interested in the idea of interdependence, how things rely on one another and nothing quite stands alone. That is why their sculptures are typically arrangements of thin metal pipes, balanced against a wall or another pipe, and whose lines flow through and around each other. Their first solo exhibition, Entangled Attachments, which features paintings and sculptures, builds on the idea of mutual reliance. The show proposes that the skilful arrangement of objects and the balancing of forces can result in beautiful new extensions and solidarities. The sculptures here are minimal and airy assemblages of thin steel pipes coated white or brown, bent into graceful and relaxed shapes. One slouches against a wall (Tired Posture, all works 2023). Another consists of two bowlike structures interlocked (Don’t Fall). The simplest and the longest one creeps, like a young shoot of a plant, up a wall (Dyke). The various ways objects relate to one another – leaning against, propping up, intertwining – are celebrated. Here, softness is not weakness; in fact, Aki suggests that the opportunistic use of support structures allows

for movement and growth. Yet these alliances are fluid and provisional, never set in stone. One careless bump can send them all tumbling down. Aki, who identifies as trans, touches on trans embodiment lightly in their works. Among the abstract shapes and lines are references to the human body. For example, the pipe that extends upwards from below the painting Note for my kin suggests an erect penis. In the paintings, figuration becomes more explicit. The paintings are muted, earth-toned affairs, made up of sepia-coloured washes of pigment layered onto wooden boards. There are often gridlike compositions on them, a reference to the comics that are also part of Aki’s practice, but the squares are never perfectly aligned. Scratched out of these washes of colour are thin outlines of organic forms suggestive of fingers, breasts, buttocks, penises and bellies. These works feel carefully constructed but a little wan and hesitant, lightly figurative in a sfw way; they lack the spaciousness and presence of the sculptural works. Nonetheless, Aki represents the arrival of an important new voice in the queer art scene

in Singapore. Their voice is distinct from, say, the coded camp of Khairuddin Rahim’s colourful installations that highlight the experiences of communities including drag queens and gay cruisers, as well as the highly personal and confessional performances and paintings of trans artist Marla Bendini. It is a voice that prizes subtlety, nuance and privacy – which also has some continuities with early female contemporary artists such as Kim Lim and Eng Tow, whose nature-inspired abstract work stressed weightlessness, fluidity and flow. Except that for Aki, the nonconforming body remains a persistent, grounding presence behind their elegant abstractions, and their visual style further advocates for the importance of mutual dependency and support – which makes the work relevant beyond the queer community to challenge dominant modes of thinking around the importance of self-reliance and self-help. It stresses a different sort of empowerment that says: you don’t have to do it alone – lean on others and connect in unexpected ways. Beautiful things may result. Adeline Chia

Note for my kin (detail), 2023, powder-coated bent mild steel and pigment on stainless steel, 160 × 60 × 33 cm. Photo: Marvin Tang. Courtesy Yeo Workshop, Singapore


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Bani Abidi The Song John Hansard Gallery, Southampton 11 February – 6 May Bani Abidi’s newly commissioned film The Song (2022) is a little over 22 minutes long and comprises two main actors: a grey-bearded elderly man and his sparsely furnished apartment. He arrives on the scene with a suitcase and little else. We see him sitting on the toilet seat trying to sing a song in gravel-voiced Arabic; it sounds as if the first words are an address to his habibi (darling). But he has no one to talk to, and throughout the course of the film we are left with a sense that he has been abandoned, like an alien shuffling around a strange but familiar new planet. He has brought with him a small stack of books in Arabic, and later brings out a pink plastic mosque-shaped novelty alarm clock, so we can presume he is from the Middle East. From the architecture of his dwelling space, we can also presume that he has arrived in a European city. (The wall-text tells us it’s Berlin, but this is not a work that relies on that kind of reading; for those curious to fill in these gaps, a booklet accompanying the show contains a short fiction speculating on the main protagonist’s circumstances, written by PakistaniBritish author Kamila Shamsie.) As the film’s protagonist moves from the kitchen to the

bathroom, to a spartan living room outfitted with only a carpet, armchair, side table and lamp, we are left with the impression of an empty world, with the minimal requirements for life. But there is sound. He investigates the ways in which he can modify the whistle on his kettle by manipulating the lid as it boils. He ‘plays’ a plastic bag first with an electric milk-frother, then another, later, with an electric fan. He makes a makeshift rattle out of cookie-cutters and a loop of wire. Gradually his orchestra expands to include rolls of electrical tape, ducting, electric toothbrushes, wooden batons, cooking pots, plastic bottles and cardboard tubes (some of them used to create a curious listening device attached to his ears). By the end of the film he has combined these things in various ways to create a series of kinetic constructions – devised by London-based artist Rie Nakajima, operating like a scene from Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s The Way Things Go (1987) with an underlying William Heath Robinson vibe – that fill the place with motion and a ticking, whirring, clacking atmosphere. The film is complemented by the only other work in the exhibition, the installation Memorial to Lost Words (2016), which comprises 24 translations of letters written by a few of the one

million Indian soldiers who served in the British Indian Army during the First World War, arranged in a glass-topped table. Some mourn the dead and wounded, and worry about what effect this will have on India (the population will be three quarters women and one quarter men), others warn siblings not to follow them to Europe, or request food from home. Most, however, complain about the cold weather and poor conditions. There are echoes here of the themes of loss, memory and displacement that the central character of The Song seemingly overcomes through his ingenuity and adaptability; though how it went, in the end, for these soldiers is an open question. The key component of Memorial to Lost Words, however, is not the voice of the men, but of the women they left behind in India, which – in the form of folksongs (“Don’t go, don’t go my friend” goes one) and other songs based on selected content from the letters – plays over headphones as you read the typewritten texts. Together the works present a poetic and at times haunting depiction of the invisible effects of conflict and displacement, past and present, and the ways all the senses might be deployed in order that these effects be acknowledged and perhaps overcome. Mark Rappolt

The Song, 2023 (installation view). Photo: Reece Straw. Courtesy the artist

Summer 2023


Uncountable Time Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok 11 March– 30 June ‘How do you illustrate something invisible?’ the British documentary-maker Adam Curtis once wondered in an interview, reflecting on the difficulties of making tangible intangible phenomena that are at once everywhere and nowhere, such as global warming or financial markets. Of late, Bangkok’s Jim Thompson Art Center – the programming of which has, since 2003, complemented the Jim Thompson House, the tourist attraction and former home of the eponymous American spy turned missing silk baron – has been obliquely answering that question. Shortly after the Center’s move to a hulking new concrete hq in 2021, its director declared that ‘all exhibitions going

forward will have a connection to the man, the era that he lived in, or to the house’. Thus far, its ongoing Future Project series has fulfilled that remit not by staging surveys of local crafts or textiles, but by treating the Cold War – a period contemporaneous with Jim Thompson’s life, disappearance and posthumous celebrity – as a hyperobject of sorts: an event so vast it is beyond our comprehension, yet qualitatively accessible through art. Comprising three works by four Thai talents, Uncountable Time is a compact group show less concerned with depicting the Cold War as a definite period than revealing its lingering aftermath or hangover within

Thailand, its temporal echoes, psychological legacies and somatic byproducts. The net result is a local history lesson of an elliptical, crepuscular and mildly revisionist sort – something for which its curator, artist Arin Rungjang, is himself rightly acclaimed. Standing out against shadowy walls, Nontawat Numbenchapol and Kridpuj Dhansandors’s three-channel video A chip off the old block (2023) is the most straightforward offering: three relatives of three different activists take turns talking about how their loved ones were politicised and subsequently persecuted (and, in the case of two of them, possibly disposed of) by the Thai state using

Nontawat Numbenchapol and Kridpuj Dhansandors, A chip off the old block, 2023, synced three-channel video, b/w, sound, 140 min. Director of Photography: Ittipun Pomkaew. Courtesy the artists


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a well-thumbed autocratic playbook. Their talking-head accounts are stark – and starker still for the harsh white background and lack of context provided. An old woman speaking is the mother of an amateur actor forced to flee the country after performing in The Wolf Bride (a one-off student play judged to have broken the country’s lèse-majesté law), for example. But while I was able to infer who’s who, those unfamiliar with Thai politics only have their tense mannerisms and the slow reveal to go on. Here, for all the forensic detail of the two-plus hours of looped testimony, communicating each family’s truth appears less important than evoking how painful cycles of far-left radicalisation and far-right intimidation – which commenced with the Thai communist insurgency of the 1960s – continue. If this video feels at several removes from the raw emotions in play, Viriya Chotpanyavisut’s

dreamy image series Another Depth (2021) counterbalances. Elsewhere these ghostly, incidental closeups of natural phenomena – a pool’s surface gently shimmering, tree branches glowering – would likely trigger entirely different responses, but here they feel like litmus tests of angsty internal states. Their pallid, acidic tone suggests that the Cold War, in the Thai context, is not a monolith over yonder or in the rearview, but a lived and living event: it shapes and distorts perceptions; it bleaches idle moments; it is still felt and acted. The most successful work grounds such resonances in a specific place, namely a mountainous swathe of Thailand’s rural road network. In to and fro (2023), Rungruang Sittirerk offers a 22-minute roadtrip centred on the recollections of his uncle, a fruit-seller who regularly travels on the far north’s

Chotana Road towards Bangkok. En route there are moments of personal yearning: the episodic voiceover draws upon Sittirerk’s own sad tale of rural-to-urban migration, and a recurring motif – a man scribbling on a blank map in various locales – suggests he wishes to find a home that no longer exists. But with sections on late-twentieth-century capital inflows and infrastructure, including how Chotana Road was built during the 1950s, it is also an ambivalent excavation of ideological landscape. In northern Thailand, the Cold War era brought superhighways and supply chains, abundance and affluence, just as it blew up mountains and pulled loved ones apart. And still today it skulks above forests, blows through warehouses and orchards, winds circuitously into the future, resembling a residue or sediment layered across the land. Max Crosbie-Jones

Rungruang Sittirerk, to and fro, 2023, single-channel video installation, colour, sound, 22 min, sculptures and painting, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist

Summer 2023


Hellish Gags Square Street Gallery, Hong Kong 27 April – 3 June The phrase ‘hellish gags’ emerged from the digital Sinosphere to describe what the Western world knows as dank memes: image-text compositions that enact shorthand commentaries ranging from morally ambiguous political critique to outright racist and ableist discrimination. Rather than being about hellish gags themselves, however, this group exhibition seems to be a presentation of art by the gagged – the subjects who normally endure the brunt of the dark, politically incorrect humour associated with the term lending this exhibition its title. With that in mind, Hellish Gags seems to turn the dank meme’s association with forms of toxic nationalism and patriarchal entitlement around, as a tool to engage with nonconformist artistic positions. Take Jason Pulgarin’s The artist opening up (2022), a brightly coloured, caricaturelike self-portrait that mimics the aesthetics of Windows’s Paint tool (here using flashe vinyl paint on canvas). The top of Pulgarin’s head, plus his hands and a single Timberland-booted foot, are the only parts of him visible from behind the painting he’s holding, which itself depicts the artist’s torso as an anatomy model, through which a long sword pushes down from his mouth, as if his torso were a kebab. The painting is part of a series in which Pulgarin shields his painted face with different objects: in one example not shown here, Pa’Lante (2022), with a book titled latinxart. With that in mind, Pulgarin’s skewered flesh could well be critiquing the often reductive, identitybased consumption to which artists like him, an American of Puerto Rican and Colombian descent, are routinely expected to submit in the context of the commercial artworld. Nearby,

Elliott Jamal Robbins’s hand-drawn animation The John Wayne Code (2023) resists another form of systemic identitarianism, here embodied by the figure of John Wayne, mid-twentieth-century Hollywood’s paradigmatic cowboy and an icon of the American rightwing. Named after a book compiling quotes by and images of Wayne that celebrates his conservatism, Robbins vandalises the turning pages of that book in the video. Expressive black-and-white-paint interventions include rendering suited white men naked and introducing a naked Black man who strangles director John Ford with his penis. Pulgarin’s and Robbins’s works are shown in a curtained-off space alongside four graphiteand-colour-pencil drawings on paper from circa 1990 by the Japanese artist Namio Harukawa. Evincing a smooth, leaden style recalling the work of Tom of Finland, each picture shows a modern, curvaceous woman – think chrome Venus of Willendorf crossed with Bettie Page and Tura Satana – being rimmed by a scrawny man, as she either sits on his face or lies on a bed. In each setting the man is bound, either with a red leash or by chains and rope, as with two scenes showing a woman sitting in a bar and a café respectively, on each occasion smiling, with a drink in hand. The extreme reversal of patriarchal power dynamics expressed by these femdom fantasies, in fact the creation of a male fetish artist, are contextualised by the artist’s pseudonym. Namio is an anagram of Naomi, the title character of Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s novel about a Japanese man’s attempt at grooming a Eurasian waitress, which results in his complete submission to her; while Harukawa refers to actress Masumi Harukawa, who portrayed a violated woman fighting the patriarchy

Xiaoshi Qin, Piano (still), 2011, video, 1 min 36 sec. Courtesy the artist and Square Street Gallery, Hong Kong


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in Shōhei Imamura’s 1964 movie Intentions of Murder. Protest and subversion as visual allegory feed this exhibition’s exploration of the hellish gag as a compositional strategy, in which visual storytelling straddles plausible deniability, innuendo and legibility. That multilayered functionality, in which a meme operates as both reflection and smokescreen, is made literal by Clara Wong’s Flash On (2021). The acrylic painting of an orange figure with 19 fingers (and one thumb), each touching a corresponding eye on its face, is installed behind a half-swungopen window covered in one-way-mirror film that both conceals and reflects the painted figure. Nearby, Wong’s Thyme Canvas Cake (Whole) (2023) enacts another overlap in the form of a cake made from canvas covered in white acrylic icing. The idea of the hellish gag as a visual metaphor feeds into Xiaoshi Qin’s Piano (2011), a short video of a hand placing various objects, from an orange to a bottle of Downy fabric softener, on a piano’s keyboard. While the exhibition text considers Piano in the context of labour, the image of a hand directing an assembly could equally apply to other forms of top-down organisation in Hong Kong and elsewhere, from the institutional to the political. That ability to reflect and refract a point is what makes a hellish gag both facile and effective, which is something this show embraces. It’s all a bit of fun until it isn’t, as demonstrated by the recent backlash across Chinese social media against artist Yue Minjun’s iconic – and indeed memetic – cynical realist laughing figures. To stay within the bounds of the former is often a matter of survival. Stephanie Bailey

Jason Pulgarin, The artist opening up, 2022, flashe on canvas, 120 × 90 cm. Courtesy the artist and Square Street Gallery, Hong Kong

Summer 2023


Kyotographie 2023 Borders Various venues, Kyoto 15 April – 14 May How does an art festival negotiate between internationalism and cultural specificity? The 11th edition of the international photography festival Kyotographie offers a plausible answer to this question via 15 exhibitions around the theme of Border, sprawled across the city. Among these, it is the solo shows that most effectively address the theme: Joana Choumali’s Kyoto– Abidjan (2023) presents a cross-cultural intervention of stitched-together photos of market stall owners in Kyoto and Abidjan (in photos printed side by side, two fishmongers, for example, are connected by a series of red threads); César Dezfuli’s Passengers (2016–) consists of portraits of West African refugees; and Dennis Morris’s

Colored Black series, a playful installation depicting East London’s British-Caribbean community from the 1960s and 70s; all of which concern issues of global migration. Overall, the festival presents an example of how glocalisation, or what sociologist Victor Roudometof calls ‘the refraction of globalisation through the local’, can be realised through photographic projects exploring themes such as fashion, youth culture, health and wellbeing. Artist Yuriko Takagi’s exhibition Parallel World is installed in the Ninomaru Palace inside the seventeenth-century Nijō Castle. Clothing, serving as a border between our bodies and their environment, is explored in two series

that probe the boundaries between traditional clothing and contemporary fashion. In Threads of Beauty (1998–), Takagi embarks on a journey across Asia, Africa and South America to document traditional dress worn in everyday life. The resulting portraits, printed on large translucent screens suspended from the ceiling, endow the subjects, whose ethnicity and location remain unspecified, with a sense of monumentality. The other part of the exhibition highlights Takagi’s ongoing collaborations with fashion designers such as Issey Miyake and John Galliano, featuring portraits of models adorned in couture, displayed flat on waisthigh podiums. Despite their disparate contexts,

Joana Choumali, Kyoto–Abidjan, 2023 (installation view, Demachi Masugata Shopping Arcade, Kyoto). Photo: Kenryou Gu. Courtesy Kyotographie 2023, Kyoto


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both projects maintain a meticulous attention to the form, texture and movement of the garments, whether a Dior model in a studio or a motorcycle-riding man on an Indian street. In an example of the festival’s interactions with the local community, Spanish photographer Coco Capitán presents her series Ookini, photographs of Kyoto youth made during a twomonth residency in the city. Portraying students, maikos (apprentice geishas), future kama masters and other teenagers living in Kyoto, the series is Capitán’s attempt to understand the delicate balance between adolescent life and tradition in a city in which the latter holds profound cultural significance. Capitán employs minimal staging to photograph the young people in their daily outfits and school uniforms, always positing the subject in the middle of the frame from the same frontal vantage point. The exhibition in Kōmyō-in Temple commences with

a room featuring portraits of young Zen monks seated and engaged in chanting. The photographs lie flat on wooden boxes placed on the tatami floor, set against the temple’s Japanese rock garden, lush with green moss. All of these monks are captured in uniform compositions with the subject at the centre. This systematic approach, a sharp and dispassionate style echoed in other works from this series, is reminiscent of photographer August Sander’s taxonomy of the early-twentieth-century German populace, creating a developing typology of Kyoto’s young generation. Installed in Hachiku-an, a machiya townhouse built by Muromachi’s richest merchant, Risuke Inoue IV, in 1926, photojournalist Kazuhiko Matsumura’s exhibition Heartstrings recounts the stories of individuals with dementia and its impact on their families. Matsumura strives to recreate various symptoms of the

disorder, such as the loss of sense of time and place, by theatrically displaying photographs of blurred family portraits and half-faded newspapers on a dining table. The exhibition title, taken from an interviewee’s comment that ‘he felt as though the strings between their hearts had been severed’ when his wife no longer recognised him, materialises as a single thread of string stretching from the venue entrance, weaving through every room and entwining with the objects on display until it reaches a framed photograph in the last room. While the curatorial theme of Borders seems to be interpreted in the broadest sense, loosely connecting the diverse issues explored in the exhibitions, it evokes Kyotographie’s capacity to foster a dynamic dialogue between people and place. At its core lies a sense of multiple communities that might coexist, for a moment, without borders. Ellen Yiwei Wang

Coco Capitán, Ookini, n.d. (installation view, Komyo-in Zen Temple, Kyoto). Photo: Kenryou Gu. Courtesy Kyotographie 2023, Kyoto

Summer 2023


Jasleen Kaur Alter Altar Tramway, Glasgow 31 March – 8 October Sound is mechanised as a sculptural chorus in Jasleen Kaur’s latest exhibition. A car plays intermittent snippets of songs, with an effect that’s much like the stereo of a passing vehicle, windows down on a hot summer’s day. Indian worship bells tinkle in sequences. A harmonium exhales a minor chord, rhythmically scoring the show. And adding consonance and dissonance to these soundtracks is Kaur’s own disembodied voice, chanting and singing in layered concert to fill the vast space. She addresses us directly, instructing visitors as to what image to hold in their minds: “You might visualise the vibrations of the chorus you carry”; “Imagine the expansive space, smell, sounds,

chorus, the bodies besides yours. Now imagine the inside of your body, the structure, the foundations, the bones, the sinew, the flesh. What is holding you together.” What holds this show together is a sense of the community as polyvocal. Kaur’s sculpture, photography, sound and writing are threaded throughout with the sense of a lineage – of families and peoples, tied together across continents. She selects everyday objects and materials as cultural witnesses to interwoven communities in Britain, and specifically to Glasgow’s Pollokshields, near Tramway, where she grew up. Some, like old family photographs, have been encased, immovable, in resin tinted the

colour of Irn-Bru. The faces other than the artist’s have been obscured by rotis, homemade by Kaur’s mother, torn-up and now also trapped inside their orange casings. The car – a red Ford Escort – is a replica of a kind of family status symbol, in Kaur’s words a ‘representation of my dad’s migrant desires’. Pimped up with the guttural bass of a subwoofer installed by her brother, and noted in the accompanying text as one of the few places that the family would listen to music together, the car and its genre-straddling tracklist – Bob Marley, N-Trance, Punjabi mc-remixed folksongs, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – attest to a tender tension between generations, a symbol of literal and figurative mobility.

Alter Altar, 2023 (installation view). Courtesy the artist and Tramway, Glasgow


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Other objects, like the four-metre crocheted lace that covers the car, offer material evidence of colonialism: crochet is said to have been brought to India by Scottish missionaries in the early twentieth century. The harmonium, also introduced by Western traders and missionaries in the nineteenth century as a portable alternative to the church organ, has largely replaced traditional string instruments in Sikh devotional singing, and marks a division within SikhMuslim music – previously linked – since Partition. Kaur’s harmonium, placed next to a photograph of a mosque-rebuilding ceremony in Punjab, haunts the gallery with a sighing undertone that invites visitors to consider what is lost and what is added in the passing-down of not only objects, but also tradition. Perspex panels suspended parallel to the ceiling act as a sky within the exhibition, and as a shelf atop which a set of objects have been

scattered like detritus to be viewed, slightly refracted and out of focus, from a long Axminster carpet below. A custom tracksuit with the words ‘can’t do it’, bottles of ‘blessed’ Irn-Bru, Trebor soft mints, lottery tickets, a set of acrylic nails bursting out of a plastic bag, a floral tribute to ‘Vera’, all mingle in communion. Kaur’s title for this work, Begampur (2023), refers to the fifteenth-century Indian poet Ravidas’s vision of a stateless, classless, casteless society. In Begumpura, nobody is taxed, and nobody owns wealth. Ravidas – revered in Sikh scripture, and a Hindu in his lifetime, when non-Muslims were taxed under the Sultanate – dreamed of liberation from striated feudalism. A football scarf spells out ‘looooonging’, a word sung in the sound piece in this strung-out way over and over by Kaur, encircling the space like a lyric chasing its own tail. Amid the disparate ideologies present in her assembled troupe

of accessories laid flat and lifeless, she seems to long for a gathering of real bodies. Yet, despite the occasional cacophony, the overall volume is more often muted or disrupted: bells mark time and fleeting scrambles of song periodically erupt from the car. These moments feel flat and solemn, as though the spaces of silence are mourning. But what are we grieving? A blown-up photograph of the failed immigration raid in Pollokshields in 2021, when hundreds of residents surrounded a Home Office van to prevent two Sikh men being detained during Eid, seems to offer an answer. Community solidarity between real bodies, a listening-to of voices’ shared histories and a nostalgic riposte to the cultural amnesia brought with Partition and migration that seeks to divide and alienate. Kaur provides space to dwell, to gather and to work towards Begumpura. Phoebe Cripps

Alter Altar, 2023 (installation view). Courtesy the artist and Tramway, Glasgow

Summer 2023


Books Absence: On the Culture and Philosophy of the Far East by Byung-Chul Han, translated by Daniel Steuer Polity, £12.99 (softcover) The author of The Burnout Society (2015) and Shanzai: Deconstruction in Chinese (2017) starts his latest English-language text, originally published in German in 2007 and now appearing in a translated edition, with the proposition that Western and Eastern thinking is fundamentally opposed. The former is based on a metaphysics of presence; the latter is founded in a metaphysics of absence. It’s a question of desire versus indifference; dwelling rather than, following Daoist thought, wandering; full stops as opposed to an endless series of commas or ands. And both, in turn, define how we respectively think about the self and its relation to the world. In a change from the ‘haikuesque’ style for which the South Korean-born German writer is known, Absence isn’t so much a process of machine-gunning pithy aphorisms secure in the knowledge that eventually they will destroy their target. Rather, it is something of an explanation of why he writes in this manner (‘absencing spreads across Dasein [existence or, after Martin Heidegger, ‘being’], something dream-like and hovering, because it makes it impossible to give an unambiguous, final, that is substantial, contour to things,’ he writes at one point, as if to explain both his use of

ambiguous short statements and the European influence on this thinking), and a defence of his own status as a philosopher operating between two traditions (because ‘absence’, as is defined positively here, would involve not choosing to be part of one or other of them). Though that’s not to say that the aphorisms don’t punctuate this text, because to assert the differences between those traditions requires an explanation or the creation of that difference, machine-gunning references to a range of philosophers. And so we whizz through the thoughts and practices of G.W.F. Hegel, Heidegger, Plato, Heinrich von Kleist, Immanuel Kant, Confucius, Matsuo Basho, Zhuangzi, Laozi, Yoshida Kenkō, Jun’ichiroTanizaki and Tao Yuanming, among others. Comparing the architecture of cathedrals (Han is Catholic) and Buddhist temples, he then moves this analysis to culture. Rice-paper screens are ‘in-different’, creating an empty white space; stained glass windows give light meaning and therefore substance. Zen Buddhist ink paintings exist to draw out the white of the paper; the opposite of the chiaroscuro that illuminates human features in Caravaggio’s oil paintings, or Vermeer’s use of light to highlight objects. He goes on similarly to tackle urbanism,

greetings, worldviews and language. It’s not long before he’s implicating rice too (colourless, flavourless and therefore, by refusing to insist on its presence, the perfect complement to any other flavour) into his project. Which chimes with his suggestion, at the beginning of the text, that absence is conducive to friendliness, while presence (and the self-centring that comes with it) creates foreignness and is therefore more conducive to alienation. To accept absencing as a positive force, however, is not without problems – particularly in the sphere of politics. In an entertaining chapter, he describes how absencing, which involves a lack of doing or acting (here he evokes a story about Tao, a Six Dynasties-period poet, playing a stringless zither), necessitates an appreciation of foolishness in leaders and a lack of resistance when things go wrong. Many of his arguments may be rooted in tradition, but Han is ultimately targeting a present governed by identity politics, and by national, social and political divisions, where a degree of ‘foolishness’ might indeed be a balm. The title of his book may suggest he’s providing a handbook for the thinking of the Far East; in reality it’s a tool for reengaging with the world wherever you are. Mark Rappolt

The Man in the McIntosh Suit by Rina Ayuyang Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 (softcover) Filipino-American Rina Ayuyang’s noir-styled graphic novel opens at a boarding house in Depression-era Watsonville, California. That’s where our protagonist, Bobot, lives. Bobot has come to the United States from the Philippines, but, despite holding a law degree, can only find work as a strawberry picker. Upon learning that his estranged wife might be in San Francisco, he sets out in search of her. We venture with him into the city’s Manilatown, where he mistakes a club entertainer, La Estrella, for his wife. A shortlived romance ensues, until Bobot discovers that La Estrella is in fact the wife of a fellow farmworker, Angel, who, along with La Estrella’s female lover Dulce, has set Bobot


up for a mission to rescue La Estrella from the local Filipino gang. Bobot’s detective odyssey unfolds in an atmosphere that reflects on a poignant chapter in America’s immigration history. As one of the few Asian groups still allowed entry to the us following passage of the highly restrictive Immigration Act of 1924, Filipinos arrived on the West Coast in large numbers and occupied labour positions previously held by Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indian workers; these underpaid, strikebreaking sakadas would dominate the Golden State’s agricultural labour market for the next two decades.

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Racial exclusion laces the novel, revealing the bleak realities of the Filipino immigration experience. We witness repeated encounters with xenophobia: a waiter shoos Bobot and La Estrella away, shouting, ‘We don’t want your trouble here!’; a hotel where they wish to spend the night displays a notice reading ‘Positively No Filipinos’; and a race battle occurs outside a dance club frequented by Angel – a reference to the 1930 Watsonville riots, during which hundreds of white men gathered outside a Filipino nightclub and threatened to burn the place down. Even as Bobot dons a neat McIntosh suit and walks around like a savvy cosmopolitan, a sense of alienation haunts his quest for love and belonging. Yuwen Jiang

Summer 2023


Yellowface by Rebecca Kuang Harper Collins, £16.99 (hardcover) Moments into Rebecca Kuang’s satirical psychological thriller, Juniper ‘June’ Hayward describes watching her ultrachic, supersuccessful author friend Athena Ling En Liu choke to death on a pandan pancake. June is racked with guilt over not knowing the Heimlich manoeuvre better, but the regret doesn’t last long: as Athena’s lifeless body lies in the kitchen, June shoves her friend’s raw manuscript (a story about Chinese labourers during the First World War) into her purse. A mediocre author herself, June begins work on Athena’s text, improving – read, whitewashing – it to eventually publish The Last Front. Her publisher and pr team rebrand her from boring white June Hayward into Juniper Song, knowing that Song ‘might be mistaken for a Chinese name’ (it’s her middle name, ok?). She takes author photos that make her look ‘racially ambiguous’ and cultivates a Twitter persona who retweets ‘hot takes about bubble tea, bts, and some martial arts drama called The Untamed’. As sales of The Last Front soar and the book reaches the New York Times’s bestseller list, June thinks to herself, ‘I’ve fucking made it. I’m living Athena’s life… I have everything I ever wanted.’ She’s invited to speak on panels, teach workshops and even mentor aspiring authors in programmes catering to Asian Americans. But to no one’s surprise except

her own, her audiences hate her. According to June’s very unreliable narrative, they are the villains of the piece (undermining her success by calling her out on her whiteness and cultural appropriation); when her Asian mentee asks, ‘Are you white?’, June internally whines, ‘What is she insinuating? That I can’t be a good mentor to her unless I’m Asian?’ Well, the book makes clear that navigating publishing as a bipoc is a specific experience to which June, despite her ‘yellowfacing’, can’t speak. Her ivory tower starts to crumble when an anonymous account, @AthenaLiusGhost, tweets, ‘Juniper Song, aka June Hayward, did not write The Last Front. I did’, and the reader observes – with perverse glee – her spiral into unhinged delirium. Yellowface cleverly captures the frustrations that many bipoc have when white people occupy and appropriate nonwhite spaces for personal advantage. June’s first book, about two sisters ‘having the worst summer of their lives’, was lacklustre, but a story about Chinese labourers? ‘Diversity is what’s selling right now,’ June exclaims. Yellowface illustrates the potential for marginalised histories to be exploited, either by narrator or editorially, in their repackaging for a distinctly white audience; for example, Athena’s manuscript includes a moment inspired by historical events when Chinese labourers take their own lives following mistreatment by the British,

but June and her editor cut it on the basis that it ‘feels like tragedy porn’. Once the editorial process is over, June reflects that Athena’s text has been transformed into something ‘better, more accessible… The original draft made you feel dumb, alienated at times, and frustrated with the self-righteousness of it all.’ June’s irritations are those of some white people who, so used to their centrality, complain: what about me?! As an Asian reader, I delighted in the recognisable absurdity of June’s attempts to navigate and narrate cultures to which she has no ties. I laughed aloud with each new outrageous ‘observation’: ‘It’s true what they say – Asian women don’t age’, says June upon meeting Athena’s mother; ‘I wonder briefly if these accents are put on to convey authenticity to white customers’, June comments after staking out a Chinatown restaurant for ideas; or even, ‘Apparently it’s not appropriate to call stories about Chinese people “romantic,” “exotic,” or “fascinating”’, is her incredulous response to criticism levelled at The Last Front. Yellowface brilliantly and savagely forces the reader to confront the ludicrous though familiar exploitation of diversity and identity politics within creative industries. I found myself nodding along to an anonymous critic within the book who tweets, ‘Will white people ever stop whiting?’ Marv Recinto

9 Folk Tales edited by Rubkwan Thammaboosadee & Palin Ansusinha Metabolic Modules, B| 690 (softcover) A piece of string and an overarching mission rooted in Thailand’s vernacular storytelling traditions tie this eminently giftable boxset of nine reworked children’s folktales together. For the project’s coeditors, the age-old norms and hoary values percolating in many Thai stories are troubling, to say the least. Folkloric warnings directed at infants – ‘Don’t cry, or the gecko will eat your liver’ – may seem innocuous enough, but older children are spoon-fed cautionary fables that teach them ‘to stay within a moral framework ruled by social inequality’, they write, and propagate ‘toxic ideas of love and charity, loyalty engendered by fear, friendship that thrives on benefits, and desires that are constrained to gratify the individual’.


Financed by the Prince Claus Fund, an ngo supporting critical thinkers in territories where cultural freedoms are threatened, 9 Folk Tales is pitched as a small step towards scholastic reform and societal redress: told in English and Thai and metabolised through concepts such as ‘Emotions & Memory’ and ‘Voice & Noise’, each story is meant to spur readers along towards ‘our desired futures’. A few contributions by the 12 enlisted Thai storytellers and illustrators are foreign classics that now resonate locally – in ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, our caped protagonist meets a big softy of a wolf, then totters home through the woods feeling chastened by her community’s casual mistrust of outsiders – but most are tales that dismantle, or subvert, the perceived moral disguises of Thai tales.

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Choose-your-own-adventure game ‘The Fisherfolk’s Journey’ and the anthropomorphic social realism of ‘Buffaloes Dream of Being Human’ both unambiguously align the project with the hardships of those at society’s margins. Others leave more to the young imagination. Inspired by the Thai saying ‘Don’t respond to a ghost’s call’, ‘A Ghost Story’ is a wistful, inspiring page-turner: fireflylike forms swarm and flicker excitably, then disappear in a desolate, inky explosion. Flecked with coils of prose that speak of wholesale disenfranchisement, the story offers readers a cosmic evocation of a popular uprising and its sudden and violent eclipse – although perhaps not the soothing sort of ‘lights out’ parents have in mind when reaching for a children’s book. Max Crosbie-Jones

Creators of Modern China: 100 Lives from Empire to Republic 1796–1912 Edited by Jessica Harrison-Hall and Julia Lovell Thames & Hudson, £35 (hardcover) ‘History is made, and made memorable, by individuals’, claims Jessica Harrison-Hall in the introduction to this 367-page tome. If we can hardly disagree with one aspect of the sentence – that history is always subjectively written – the suggestion that individuals (as opposed to networks or societies) are what history is about sounds like a more simplistic and romantic proposition. Nevertheless, this book gathers the biographies of a hundred ‘creators’ – among them courtiers, religious and military figures, artists, writers, businesspeople, states- and craftspeople – to ‘characterize and humanize a century of Chinese experience that for decades was dismissed… as an epoch of stagnation, decline and failure’ – in other words to find something extraordinary amid what’s often considered the waning mediocrity of the late-Qing empire. Released alongside the British Museum’s signature series of publications (and exhibitions) that define nations via the objects they produced, this collective portrait carries the implicit suggestion that objects somehow fail to give the full picture. This book coincides with the museum’s current exhibition China’s Hidden Century, which celebrates the creativity that emerged from the late-Qing, and has made a considerable effort to mine the curious lives of creative cosmopolitans who lived outside the common narratives of dynastic failure and nationalist triumph: from

female pirate Shi Yang, whose over-300-ship fleet ruled the South China Sea, won battles against the Qing navy and kidnapped British sailors; to Yusuf ma Dexin, a Muslim pilgrim who travelled extensively to Damascus, Jerusalem and Cairo, where he attended the Al-Azhar University; to the dandy imperial ambassador Chen Jitong, who roamed the streets of Paris like a flaneur. These inclusions form the more reflective aspect of the project, which takes the imagination of China proper beyond its eastern heartland to its frontiers and overseas diasporas. The rest of the book, though, is less exciting. This encyclopaedic text portrays not so much legends of individual creativity, but the contours of their collective fate. Imperial exams, official careers, social networks and choices made during the Taiping Revolution (1850–64), an anti-Qing rebellion that swept the vast southeastern landscape, shaped the trajectories of most of the people featured here, giving an impression of Qing’s historical conditions and bureaucratic structure. The anti-Manchu Taiping Revolution, in particular, had profound impacts on each individual, fragmenting their social networks and expected career paths. In the artistic realm, some, such as painter Tang Yifen, had to give up their careers and join the Qing military (eventually dying by suicide to demonstrate his loyalty to the court); others such as Ren Bonian and Wu Youru fled to Shanghai because of its

political remove from the Jiangnan region and relative safety once it had been conceded as a British and, later, international settlement. With these individuals it’s hard to ignore the parallels and repetitions in their life stories. If they are creators of modern China, they are just as much the product of the social change and colonial encounters that created them. But the problems here remain a matter of the book’s larger conceptual framework. Its focus on extraordinary individuals means that it never probes the everyday reality of China’s common people, nor does it account for the vast, anonymous labour of porcelain makers, or the creators of export prints and photographs, farmers or railway builders. Which, in turn, leads to the conclusion that such people were not the ‘creators’ of modern China. But what is this modern China anyway? When and where was China made modern, if modernity itself is not a fiction? Did China become modern because of European contact, emerging national consciousness or the development of various technologies and capitalist industries? The product of numerous contributors, looking at their subjects through a variety of lenses – postcolonial critique, retrospective celebrations of globalisation or at times a straightforward teleological progression – this book offers only conflicting accounts of ‘modern China’, which in turn becomes an increasingly confounding idea. Yuwen Jiang

Wanwu i by Zheng Bo Walther und Franz König, €38 (softcover)

The opening pages of this handsome publication – it’s supremely tactile, printed on heavily textured paper stock, with pages that need to be cut open so that they might be viewed – are decorated with photographs of naked young men, their faces grimacing in moments of ecstasy as they thrust, writhe and grasp at the forest ferns and other plants in which they are immersed. Hong Kong-based artist Zheng Bo likes to ‘collaborate’ with plants. When we get to the prologue, written by Stephanie Rosenthal, we are told that this is part of ‘honouring the interconnectedness of life’. (The book is published ‘in relation’ to Zheng’s 2021 exhibition Wanwu Council, at the Gropius Bau, Berlin, of which Rosenthal was then director.) We also learn that wanwu means ‘10,000 things’, ‘myriad happenings’ or ‘more

than human’, and that Zheng aims for a world in which all things are wanwu. What follows is a series of conversations with scientists (Matthias Rillig), garden historians (Phillip E. Bloom), artists (Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stevens) and writers (T.J. Demos, Ye Ying), interspersed with images of Zheng’s drawings and other artworks, that, collectively, get at how the wanwu stuff is happening already (in the natural world, where plants form communities, communicate with each other and exist in symbiotic relationships) and how it might evolve (if we’re prepared to rethink our relation to and understanding of the world). At the extreme, Zheng is pushing the idea of plants having politics; the more scientific of his interlocutors don’t go quite that far. Along the way, Zheng recalls how his work gravitated

Summer 2023

from social practice with humans to a social practice with plants in 2013 when he encountered a colony of weeds, in what was then the industrial area being developed into West Bund in Shanghai. He admired their beauty, vitality and persistence. Now, making art is ‘a way to spend time with plants’. The men spending time with plants on those opening pages are from the ongoing film Pteridophilia (2016–), a form of ecoporn that the artist has been filming in Taiwan. Zheng’s daily drawings of plants on Lantau Island are a kind of Buddhist path to enlightenment and a means of practising what his exhibitions preach. Which seems really to be what Zheng is after: less preaching, more practising. We’re living in an age of environmental catastrophe after all. Nirmala Devi



ArtReview Asia

The Geometries of Afro Asia: Art Beyond Solidarity by Joan Kee University of California Press, $85 (hardcover) When discussing Black and Asian relations, many still look to the 1955 Bandung Conference and the legacy of the Cold War-era Non-Aligned Movement that offered up the term ‘Afro-Asia’. However, in a contemporary media landscape eager to push reductive reports of Black-on-Asian violence in the us, and the sanctimonious handwringing of old European imperial powers regarding Chinese neocolonialism in Africa, the terms of Afro-Asian engagement are long overdue an update. American art-historian Joan Kee’s new book is a reformulation in which ‘Afro’ and ‘Asia’ are loosed to orbit and collide with one another in new ways, presenting nuanced and timely approaches to exchange. Kee explores various ‘Afro Asian’ entanglements through a series of chapter-length case studies, which range from the aftermath of mid-twentieth-century wars to contemporary geopolitics. Kee proposes geometry as a tool to visualise bonds between ‘Afro Asian’ people and artists. Her framing is more than the simple arithmetic commonly used to tally the worth of their lives and work – the addition of artwork to a Eurocentric canon, the multiplication of voices that supposedly equals consensus, or even division along rigidly identitarian lines. Mathematical concepts such as transversality, adjacency and angles of incidence are deployed, casting Black and Asian cultural figures and their communities as tangents that reinforce each other’s trajectories, cross paths and veer towards each other. Her writing unearths and

unpacks artworks, practices and relationships, from Joo Myung Duck’s photographs of interracial Koreans to Faith Ringgold’s use of the Buddhist thangka in her work, that typify her reframing of artistic engagement between Black and Asian members of the global majority. Throughout the book, Kee focuses equally on practices of artmaking and relationshipbuilding in the us, Asia and Africa. Her chapter chronicling the multidecade friendship of Los Angeles-based artists Melvin Edwards and Ron Miyashiro is a highlight, whose sculptures – though aesthetically distinct – endorse each other’s critiques of issues such as gentrification and social turmoil in their shared local community. For Kee, the alliances in her examples are stronger than the often-talked-about relation of ‘influence’, a bond that doesn’t necessitate reciprocity, or even a human connection. Rather, Kee reveals how parallels rooted in shared spaces and experiences allow these artists’ works to corroborate each other’s internal worlds. In a work with clear political implications, Kee is adamant that progress lies in something beyond solidarity. While she doesn’t criticise those exploring models of coming together, she infers that as we gather around in acts of solidarity, we root ourselves too firmly in rigid ideological categories and identities. Her critique departs from Mao-era depictions of Third World unity and the brown nations of the world standing shoulder to shoulder, but feels equally applicable to the lukewarm social media politics

of today. Kee’s ‘Afro Asia’ pushes against restrictive representations that limit expression and stifle a global majority ‘whose actualization is constantly ongoing’. Instead, she suggests sovereignty, or embracing a work of art on its own terms – ‘to consider the work as a realm governed by its own negotiations with other entities including individuals, groups, works, and ideas’. Rather than rise to solidarity’s demand that we present a unified front – for whom? – Kee’s sovereignty locates our chance to grow alongside one another in the nuances of the artworks like those she brings together. However, foregrounding the perspective of artworks often presents an incomplete picture. Kee’s optimistic readings frequently sidestep a thorough reckoning with lived experiences of ‘Afro Asian’ interaction. Her varied roster of references elides discussion of Black artists working consistently in Asia, and Kee firmly puts a pin in testimonies of tensions encountered during attempts at crossing these boundaries. She touches briefly on John Emmanuel Hevi’s inflammatory midcentury critique of his studies in Maoist China; meanwhile Howardena Pindell’s reflections on the ‘debilitating struggle’ she felt as a Black woman in Japan comprise little more than a cursory introduction. The oversight raises questions about the limits of Kee’s hopeful gloss in a contemporary landscape of exchange. Despite such concerns, Kee’s rich interpretive geometry is a fractal that arcs towards the future. Christopher Whitfield

The Fugitive of Gezi Park by Deniz Goran Ortac Press, £11.99 (softcover)

Deniz Goran is the pseudonym of Selin Tamtekin, a Turkish-British novelist and art writer. This, her second novel (the first was 2007’s The Turkish Diplomat’s Daughter), focuses on two tales of alienation and the moment they become intertwined. One concerns a young gallery assistant who has fled Istanbul, running from an upcoming trial and a past life that culminated in her being arrested and abused; the other concerns an art dealer who is so intoxicated by the excessive lifestyle of an artmarket ‘player’ that he’s become addicted to abusing himself and has lost track of the world around him. The traumatised pair cross paths at an art fair; sex follows. But while the novel is set in the context of the

international artworld, it isn’t about that world; here it’s merely a cypher for wealth, privilege and a disassociation from reality, populated by ‘socialites dressed in skimpy, weird designer outfits’, dealers ‘looking out for their next prey’, tedious academic art teachers and plenty of alcoholics. Which, by and large, is a pretty good description of how the artworld (or at least the bit of it that deals with the accumulation of money) operates. Similarly, while it’s about the Gezi Park protests – to which the arrest is connected – in Istanbul (the book is published to coincide with their tenth anniversary), it doesn’t offer any sustained account or examination of them. The result of all this is mixed. At times,

Summer 2023

The Fugitive of Gezi Park lacks any kind of subtlety: ‘I considered the subtle tension in the air at the start of the Fair, as vip collectors competed with each other, discretely negotiating with dealers in a multitude of languages over ludicrously priced artworks, while across the world queues of people were desperately waiting to be led through the barren Turkish–Syrian border’. At other times it’s a sensitive account of how our lives are shaped, on both individual and societal levels, by accident as much as willpower, and by how we deal with the consequent moments of trauma: fight, flight or, most often, neither. At those points, the book is an intriguing exploration of the fugitive condition. Nirmala Devi


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Summer 2023


from the archives Summer Show Oblivion Artist and writer Eddie Wolfram does the rounds of the London gallery latesummer shows to find the next ‘in thing’, in 1966 – and finds delusion and inertia. Sound familiar? Everybody is at it, using pvc and bright acrylic colours; there seems to be no real counter-movement yet to dissipate the endless quantity of undulating ‘wrapper’ art that bulges out of the doors of the London galleries. Mid and late summer, the silly season, when most dealers mount accrocharge shows, is always a good time to take stock and to perhaps see a hint of what might be the new, in thing in the near future. This September, the situation is much as it was last year, more and more sculptors manipulating the ease invested in the new materials and more and more painters not terribly sure of what their role and activity is about or for. The general mood betrays an element of delusion; or at best, that fine art is simply a sort of fun activity on par with pop music and Carnaby Street clobber. The alarming effects of admass, mass-communication system and pop paraphernalia demolish the criteria of values and function that have always applied to art, yet the vast majority of young art protagonists manage to avoid the issue. The Indica Gallery, the newest and therefore probably the most optimistic gallery in London, is at the moment mounting a series of three group exhibitions under the common title of ‘London Indications’. Each exhibition comprises of a selection of works submitted by previously untried artists; I was only able to view ‘stage two’ of this presentation, and with the best will in the world I found it a depressing experience. I saw nothing clearly thought out enough, or well enough made, to persuade me that it contained any significance. The only indication was one of a susceptibility to aesthetic inertia. Aesthetic inertia is a phrase that might also be applied to the work of Gillian Ayres, whose work can be seen at the

Kasmin Gallery, but this is an inertia of a different order. Ayres is not innocent or green; she is an experienced painter with a considerable reputation, and these new works submit that she is not totally sure of her direction. Gone is the rich, extravagant chromatic counterpoint of the previous years where all was staked on the impact of direct sensation. Instead, these new canvases are worked in close muted harmony. The intentions seem to me to be honourable if somewhat contrived. Ayres obviously does not consider painting to be simply a fun activity, and I am sure that in the near future she will evolve a series of marks that do not only impress, but that can also enlighten. Judging by Jim Dine’s latest extravaganzes on view at the Robert Fraser Gallery, he does think that art is a fun activity. Not only fun, but licentious fun. The show consists of a series of works in collage, pencil and water colour with possible phallic connotations, a series of collages made with Eduardo Poalozzi and a series of ‘photo enlargements’ selected from Michael Cooper’s stills. These latter extractions don’t add up to my idea of fun, or sensible aesthetic preoccupation; whereas the collaboration with Poalozzi seemed to do both. Dine is still well able to connive at exasperating the spectator and outraging any plastic dogma that is in danger of becoming cant. This ability secures for him a valid place amongst the really pertinent aestheticmongers. Dine’s work not only possesses a perverse vitality, but also questions the constitution of visual language. In doing so, he demonstrates his concern for its fruitful dispensation. At the other pole of the formal scales, with the same integrity of concern, are Garth Evans at the Rowan Gallery and Waldemar D’Orey at the Axiom. Garth Evans extends the range of his plastic eloquence further into the third dimension, and shows freestanding sculpture, and colour once again has reappeared to play an important part in the total effect. The development of his language has always been steady and assured, never impulsive; but always logical. On the evidence of these pieces, his diligence and concrete resolution seem to pay out the highest dividend. The tightly composed stricture of the all-white reliefs has given way to a new lyricism. He has discarded architectonic calvanism for the sensuality of the curve, clothed in the resilient and reflective light of delicate pastel colour. These works may really be described as beautiful, yet they totally avoid rash sentiment. D’Orey’s juxtaposed luminous-painted steel constructions are even less compromising than Evans’s earlier reliefs. He too, denies himself the luxury of petty indulgence with astute selfawareness. These sculptures are quite literally just oblongs of painted steel arranged in certain structural orders. They are made in such a way that they may be re-arranged within the context of their own members, or inverted should it be desired. To make sculpture possessing such versatility and invoking such observer-participation implies more than a predilection for amusement therapy, it implies a concern for communication. This text is an edited extract from ‘Communication: That’s the Name of the Game’, originally published 17 September 1966, The Arts Review, Vol xviii No 18


Galleries 193 Gallery | Air de Paris | Almine Rech | Babs | Bastian | Bienvenu Steinberg & J | Christine König | Cortesi | Esther Schipper | Eva Meyer | Franco Noero | Hauser & Wirth | HdM | Hoffmann Maler Wallenberg | Laurent Godin | LGDR | Lito Editions | Magnin-A | Marlborough | Mennour | Nathalie Obadia | Opera | Perrotin | Pietro Spartà | Poggiali | Retelet | Richard Saltoun | Robilant+Voena | Sébastien Bertrand | Van de Weghe | Vedovi | Ward Moretti | White Cube | Wizard | Xippas

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