ArtReview Asia Winter 2022

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Zarina Muhammad Solitary confinement Learning from the land

Alice Neel, Man from Fordham, 1965 © The Estate of Alice Neel

Alice Neel

Men from the Sixties

David Zwirner

November 17–December 21, 2022 H Queen’s 5-6/F 80 Queen’s Road Central, Hong Kong




Robert Rauschenberg, Copperhead-Bite VI / ROCI CHILE (detail), 1985. Silkscreen ink, acrylic and tarnish on copper. 245.6 x 123.8 cm. Photo: Ron Amstutz. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation / ARS, New York, 2022.

Robert Rauschenberg Copperheads 1985/1989 Seoul November—December 2022

ArtReview Asia vol 10 no 4 Winter 2022

Toing and Froing Global – local; local – global. ArtReview Asia’s spent the best part of a decade working out how to marry the two. It was thinking of this after Frieze Seoul, where, once it entered the exhibition hall, it could have been anywhere, and it was thinking about this when it went to the Busan Biennale, where it was in a particular place that went everywhere. It’s a delicate balance for a magazine like ArtReview Asia to be loyal to the specific contexts from which art is born while conscious of that fact that it has some sort of ‘job’ to communicate those specifics to readers who might not be fully conversant with them. Of course, for ArtReview Asia that’s not so much part of a problem as it is part of the fun. For a while now ArtReview Asia has been interested in how artworks change through acts of translation, in what’s lost and what’s gained, in how stories adapt, change and morph, sometimes into something else entirely as they travel around the globe. It recognises that you can’t protect any narrative from this process; that you can perhaps insist on some sort of originary story, but that in the end even that can become layered in myth. After all, if there were only one way of seeing things, there wouldn’t be any point in picking up a fresh copy of ArtReview Asia every quarter, because all it could tell you is that everything stays the same. And perhaps preach a little bit about the different flavours of eternal returns. Though it does believe in that too. The same. Sort of. Reading on you’ll find articles about fluid identity, articles about specific identities, articles about being in harmony with nature and the spirits, articles about disharmony, articles about how local and global histories are often intertwined. And, you guessed it, how they are not. ArtReview Asia




the spirit of the corn seeds, 2022


Art Previewed

Previews by ArtReview Asia 16

Film for All by Max Crosbie-Jones 28

Going Home by Taro Nettleton 32

Art Featured

Zarina Muhammad by Adeline Chia 38 Sin Wai Kin by Skye Sherwin 46

Solitary A conversation between Tyler Coburn, Kyungmook Kim, Woochang Lee and Jiwon Yu 52

Jala Wahid by Sarah Jilani 58 Songlines Works by Kaylene Whiskey 64

page 46 Sin Wai Kin, A Dream of Wholeness in Parts (still), 2021, single-channel video, 4k, colour, sound, 23 min 3 sec. Courtesy the artist and Soft Opening, London


Art Reviewed

exhibitions 76

books 98

Samson Young, by Ophelia Lai At Home / On Stage: Asian American Representation in Photography and Film, by Claudia Ross Busan Biennale 2022, by Mark Rappolt Li Hanwei, by Suchao Li Jong Oh, by Nirmala Devi mmca Hyundai Motor Series 2022: Choe U-Ram, by Mark Rappolt Michael Rakowitz, by Yalda Bidshahri Pao Houa Her, by Christina Schmid Wolfgang Laib, by J.J. Charlesworth 17th Istanbul Biennial, by En Liang Khong Wonder Women, by Jonathan Griffin Aichi Triennale 2022, by Mark Rappolt Splendid Isolation, by Pádraic E. Moore

How Not to Exclude Artist Mothers (and other parents), by Hettie Judah, reviewed by Adeline Chia Father May Be an Elephant, and Mother Only a Small Basket, But…, by Gogu Shyamala, reviewed by Mark Rappolt Best of Friends, by Kamila Shamsie, reviewed by Toby Lichtig Our Santiniketan, by Mahasweta Devi, reviewed by Mark Rappolt Out of the Shadows of Angkor: Cambodian Poetry, Prose, and Performance through the Ages, edited by Frank Stewart et al, by Max Crosbie-Jones Yunizar: New Perspectives, reviewed by Elaine Chiew Death by Landscape, by Elvia Wilk, reviewed by Alice Bucknell Amy Sherald: The World We Make, reviewed by Nirmala Devi

from the archives 106

page 80 Chim Pom from Smappa!Group, Build-Burger, 2016, 3 floors, office supplies, air conditioner, furniture, carpet and more. Photo: Kenji Morita. © Chim Pom from Smappa!Group. Courtesy the artists, anomaly and mujin-to Production


Art Previewed

have a choice 15

13 Gauri Gill, Untitled (5), from the series Acts of Appearance, 2015–, archival pigment print, 61 × 41 cm. © the artist


Previewed 1 Alexander McQueen ngv International, Melbourne 11 December – 16 April

5 Threading the Horizon Khoj Studios, New Delhi 5 November – 30 December

2 TextaQueen 4a Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney Through 18 December

6 Roppongi Crossing 2022 Mori Art Museum,Tokyo 1 December – 26 March

3 Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now m+, Hong Kong 12 November – 14 May 4 Kochi-Muziris Biennale Various venues, Fort Kochi 12 December – 4 April

7 Mitsuko Miwa scai The Bathhouse, Tokyo 1 November – 10 December 8 Shinro Ohtake National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo 1 November – 5 February 9 Ryoji Ikeda Taro Nasu, Tokyo Through 12 November

11 Bani Abidi Experimenter – Ballygunge Place, Kolkata November – January 12 Living Pictures: Photography in Southeast Asia National Gallery Singapore 2 December – 26 March 13 Gauri Gill Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt Through 8 January 14 Dayanita Singh Hasselblad Center, Göteborg 15 October – 22 January

10 Yuko Mohri Yutaka Kikutake Gallery, Tokyo 2 November – 3 December


Haute couture and art are usually thought Plato’s Atlantis, the last before the designer took of as distinct – high fashion is supposed to be his own life. To make the point that artistic luxurious but essentially frothy, art is supposed inspiration is to be found everywhere, ngv’s exhibition Mind, Mythos, Muse (produced to be thoughtful and a bit serious, though not as much fun. But then an artist (in the widest in partnership with lacma) presents over a sense of the word) like the late fashion designer hundred of McQueen’s garments and accessories, alongside painting, sculpture, photography 1 Alexander McQueen (1969–2010) comes along and blows those distinctions to pieces. With and decorative arts from across the centuries, McQueen, the catwalk became the platform for to illuminate the vast scope of the designer’s an imagination that sought inspiration from eclectic, anarchic virtuoso talent. (jjc) history – with collections reaching back to the The artist TextaQueen, of Goan heritage, 2 works across various mediums including eighteenth century and the Middle Ages – and swept prophetically into the future, as with painting, printmaking, photography and McQueen’s extraordinary ‘posthuman’ collection performance, but it’s for their vibrant felt-tip

drawings and self-publishing projects that they were awarded the inaugural cap (Copyright Agency Partnerships) commission to further their Bollywouldn’t project, which celebrates the queer South Asian diaspora. That commission culminates in an exhibition at one of the partnering institutions – this year Sydney’s 4a Centre. Bollywouldn’t is based on a series of portraits TextaQueen made during their residency at acme studios in London in 2018–19; at 4a Centre, portraits of queer and trans South Asians are incorporated into the Bollywood film-poster format, challenging the South Asian film industry’s promotion of heteronormativity

1 Lee Alexander McQueen, Alexander McQueen, London, woman’s capelet, pants and shoes, 2003, Deliverance collection, spring/summer 2004. © Alexander McQueen and Museum Associates / Los Angeles County Museum of Art

2 TextaQueen, Kali ka Choti Behen, 2022, india ink marker, watercolour and coloured pencil on cotton paper, 53 × 38 cm. Courtesy the artist


ArtReview Asia

3 Yayoi Kusama, Self-Obliteration, 1966–74, painted mannequins, table, chairs, wigs, handbag, mugs, plates, pitcher, ashtray, plastic plants, plastic flowers and plastic fruit, dimensions variable. © the artist. Courtesy m+, Hong Kong


and gender roles. Alongside these drawings, TextaQueen is collaborating on performances with queer and trans South Asians, who will engage with the drawings and ‘interpret the Bollywood genre in queer and decolonial ways, reclaiming colonial space and asserting identities usually marginalised.’ (fc) ‘I think my time, that is the time remaining before I pass away, won’t be long. Then, what 3 shall I leave to posterity?’ Yayoi Kusama recently asked herself in an interview. For an answer to that question, visit Yayoi Kusama: 1945 to Now, the ninety-three-year-old artist’s most comprehensive retrospective in Asia outside Japan. The m+ show retraces a seven-decade career, from the artist’s political, sexualised happenings in 1960s

Sahil Naik, All is Water and to Water We Must Return, 2022. Courtesy the artist and Kochi Biennale Foundation

New York, to her Infinity Net painting series, cartoonish pumpkin sculptures and the wildly popular Infinity Rooms, which grapple with… well… infinity and human finitude, cosmic energy, solitude and alienation, but also healing and salvation. (A sufferer from mental illness since childhood, the artist has often described the obsessive repetition of the polka-dot motif across her oeuvre as a form of therapy through ‘self-obliteration’). Rarer displays will include some of the artist’s early drawings, made during the Second World War, and sculptures, including a ‘penis armchair’ from 1963: the artist’s attempt to purge her own fear of phalluses via an accumulation of stuffed-fabric penises mushrooming from the seat and

Winter 2022

backrest of a chair. A form of exposure therapy, if you will, for artist and audiences alike. (ld) Titled In Our Veins Flow Ink and Fire, the fifth 4 edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India’s premier contemporary art event, is directed by Singaporean artist Shubigi Rao (the first artist from India’s diaspora to take on the role), fresh from representing the city-state at this year’s Venice Biennale. Her presentation there focused on the loss and preservation of languages, and the dissemination and restriction of knowledge. It took the form of a book, Pulp iii (2022) and an accompanying video. Relatedly, in Kochi the artist promises to ‘envision this biennale as a persistent yet unpredictable murmuration in the face of capriciousness and volatility’,


a commitment, she says, born of her ‘unshakeredemptive and revolutionary power of practice some sort of impact in a broader cultural and beyond the market’. Fire indeed. (nd) able conviction in the power of storytelling as social sphere. And hope, of course, is what On show at Khoj Studios, New Delhi’s so much of today’s art is founded upon. (nd) strategy, of the transgressive potency of ink, and transformative fire of satire and humour’. celebrated nonprofit space (dedicated to found- 6 The triennial survey show Roppongi Crossing Artists with work on show include Amar Kanwar ing local, regional and global solidarities), has been a mainstay of Mori Art Museum’s (cocurator of the current Istanbul Biennale), programme since the museum opened its doors 5 is Threading the Horizon, a group exhibition Thao Nguyen Phan, Melati Suryodarmo, themed around the subject of gender-based vioin 2003, offering a vivid snapshot of recent art in lence, a fact of daily life across the subcontinent Lawrence Lek and Jumana Manna (whose first Japan. Previous editions have responded to both and indeed beyond. Work by 13 artists, collabomajor us museum show is currently on view at global and more local cultural shifts and social rating artist duos and collectives will be on show New York’s moma ps1). And despite the presence developments; the 2015 show paid attention to in an exhibition that both reflects on the realities of many familiar names from the world of art the changing image of the body and gender in a of such violence and seeks to imagine various fairs and art-related commerce, the exhibition networked world, while the 2019 edition focused futures based on a fairer, more equitable way as a whole is designed, in the artistic director’s more loosely on the question of ‘connection’ of living. The hope, of course, is that this has words, to (at least in part) ‘explore the possibly in a world increasingly split between intimacy,

5 Detail of a tapestry stitched by the Saat Saheliyan Collective as part of the project Otherworlds at Kapashera, 2019, by Nitin Bathla and Sumedha Garg

6 Ikeda Hiroshi, Shinsuke Shiiku July 2022, Shibetsu, 2022

6 Ichihara Etsuko + isid / innolab, Namahage in Tokyo, 2017, vr headset, drone, gas mask, electronic parts, plastic model, straw, dimensions variable


ArtReview Asia

isolation and the polarising downsides of social media. It’s no surprise, then, to find the 2022 edition, titled Coming & Going, preoccupied with charting the cultural aftershocks of the covid-19 pandemic: expect a heightened, more documentary attention to the experience of everyday life, so profoundly upset by lockdown; and a fresh attention to the – often sidelined – ethnic and cultural diversity of contemporary Japan outside the metropolitan centre. (jjc) The Nagoya-based sexagenarian painter 7 Mitsuko Miwa knows that paintings are uncertain, deceptive things, especially when they present us with images, and more so when

will be a large hand-drawn house: filling the those images are extracted from photographs. actual ‘house’, so to speak. ‘How could it be Gleaning images from found sources, making possible to vanish something without using paintings in identical pairs, placing apparently related images in disjointed, fragmented anything other than what it is?’ asks the artist relationship or using the motif of a chequerin the press notes. Miwa’s answer is to snap us board to suggest both the two-dimensional out of our complacency regarding where image surface and the pixel building blocks of illusionends and thing begins. (jjc) istic images, Miwa’s three-decade questioning It fits with Shinro Ohtake’s maximalist 8 of how reality and representation relate bring sensibilities that this exhibition would be big her to Full House, a miniretrospective at scai and busy: approximately 500 works divided the Bathhouse. A ‘full house’ not because the into seven themes. While his paint and collage gallery will be full to bursting (though there works (for example, sun-maid, 1979, featuring will be works going back to the early 1990s), the flattened packaging of a box of raisins) but because, with quiet irony, the centrepiece and heavily worked paintings (such as Genoa i,

7 Mitsuko Miwa, Collections, 1990, oil on canvas, 162 × 194 cm. Courtesy scai The Bathhouse, Tokyo

8 Shinro Ohtake, mon cheri: A Self-Portrait as a Scrapped Shed, 2012 (installation view, Documenta 13, Kassel, 2012). Photo: Masahito Yamamoto

Winter 2022


1986, a murky mass of oils, ink, pencil pastel mountain of visual information with which and modelling paste) of the 1970s and 80s we are bombarded daily. (ob) While in Tokyo, you’ll just have time were never minimal, they are positively demure in comparison to the explosive mixed-media 9 to catch data.gram, Ryoji Ikeda’s latest solo experiments the artist went on to produce. exhibition, before popping over to Okayama, Ohtake’s vast library of self-produced books are where he is one of the stars of artistic director the most obvious example of this – scrapbooks Rirkrit Tiravanija’s current edition of the in which pictures of Mao come up against a jolly triennial Okayama Art Summit (on show American Santa Claus, flight labels are stuck through 27 November). The Tokyo exhibition features 13 works ‘in a totally new format’, over pinup portraits of Sylvester Stallone, a season ticket is glued to a chocolate bar wrapper. borrowing motifs from quantum research, These books, as well as Ohtake’s experiments genetics and the universe. Yes, it doesn’t get bigger than that last. Except, perhaps, for the in sculpture, installation and architecture, awardwinning artist and glitch-music pioneer’s are akin to dreams; a way of processing the

data.flux [led version] / data.scan [n°1b-9b] (2022), a largescale outdoor led and sound installation that (almost) matches the size of Okayama’s famous castle itself. Over the past several years, the Japanese artist has produced innovative work that gives animate form to various streams of data – and in so doing materialises many of the invisible forces that govern our daily lives, making his work aesthetically pleasing and slightly disturbing at one and the same time. (nd) Neue Fruchtige Tanzmusik – ‘new fruity dance music’ – is Yuko Mohri’s debut solo show at 10 Roppongi-based Yutaka Kikutake, which focuses on her decomposition series, in which electrodes

9 Ryoji Ikeda, data.flux [led version], 2021, led panels, computer, speakers, 240 × 300 cm. Courtesy the artist and Alternative Kyoto 2021

10 Yuko Mohri, Decomposition, 2021 (installation view, Trust and Confusion, Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong, 2021). Courtesy the artist, Yutaka Kikutake Gallery, Tokyo, Project Fulfill Art Space, Taipei, and Mother’s Tankstation, Dublin & London


ArtReview Asia

11 Bani Abidi, The Reassuring Hand Gestures of Big Men, Small Men, All Men (detail), 2021, suite of 69 inkjet prints on Alu-Dibond, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Experimenter, Kolkata

11 Bani Abidi, Mangoes, 1999, single-channel video, 3 min 24 sec. Courtesy the artist and Experimenter, Kolkata

are inserted into fruit and their gradual process Szymczyk on show for the same period at the of desiccation transformed into sound. Her take smbc East Tower in Marunouchi. It’s up to you on a Western still life, if you like. Although, lest whether or not you’ll make the whole thing a marathon, a sprint or just a regular part of we be too simpleminded about this, the artist your fruity groove. (nd) also takes inspiration from Buddhist paintings The rhetorics and performance of nationalrecording the decomposition of the body. As well ism, patriarchal expressions of power, oppresas American experimental musicians John Cage sion and subjugation, and the importance of and David Tudor. The point though is about the memory in relation to these are some of the connection between decay and renewal. Death themes that traverse Berlin-based Pakistani artist and new life. Or something along those lines. Like Ikeda’s and Ohtake’s, this show is one of 11 Bani Abidi’s work. If that sounds like a lot to digest, it’s offset by Abidi’s humour, subtlety more than 50 included in this year’s Art Week and understated approach to artmaking (‘I’m Tokyo (3–6 November), alongside a selection of single-channel videoworks curated by Adam interested in expressing doubt and insecurity,’

Winter 2022

she recently told an interviewer. ‘I don’t want to appropriate the language of megalomania as a way to exist in this world, as an artist or in the way I live’). For her project The Reassuring Hand Gestures of Big Men, Small Men, All Men (2021), she built an archive of images of male politicians from across the globe, zooming in on their hand gestures. Amid the multitude, patterns emerge – the reprimanding finger, the victory sign, the solemn salute and the benevolent wave – calling our attention to what Abidi calls ‘the body language of politicking’, and how we receive and interpret these codified gestures at the other end. A show at one of Experimenter’s two Kolkata


12 Wawi Navarroza, May in Manila / Hot Summer (After Balthus, Self-Portrait), 2019, archival pigment print on Hahnemühle, cold-mounted on acid-free aluminium, 136 × 102 cm. Courtesy Michelangelo and Lourdes Samson Collection

spaces will be the occasion to (re)discover this work, along with one of the artist’s earliest videoworks Mangoes (1999) – a short and sweet (and funny) rumination on the way the historical tensions between Pakistan and India have seeped into the most banal aspects of life and conversation – and a new video that, we’re told, will explore the mnemonic capacity of sounds, the experience of displacement and the ‘men and women who inhabit Berlin public spaces’. (ld) On show in time to coincide with Singapore Art Week (6–15 January) and the inaugural edition of the island’s newest art fair, Art sg (12–15 January), 12 Living Pictures is a wide-ranging exhibition that promises to explore the history of photography


since its arrival in the region during the ninteenth century. Naturally this begins with the (largely) European colonisers recording and registering the flora, fauna and inhabitants of their newly conquered (or acquired) domains, before the technology passes into the hands of local people, who use it to tell their own stories, or to compli- 13 cate and subvert the narratives of their invaders. Perhaps there will be some surprises along the way, but that’s the traditional way in which these narratives are spun in Southeast Asian institutions. Naturally too the show will examine the use of the medium in recording moments of conflict and harmony across Southeast Asia’s recent history, and its aesthetic ‘elevation’ to an

ArtReview Asia

artform, before tumbling into the present and the use of photographic images as the lingua franca of social media, virtual reality and even the actual world today. Hurrah! (nd) In her now 23-year-strong documentary project Notes from the Desert, New Delhi-based Gauri Gill inverts the cliché that a photograph captures a moment in time. For within these still images – an immense archive, taken among the rural communities in Western Rajasthan and including Jogi nomads, Muslim migrants and Bishnoi peasants – time seems to be shown in motion. Bhalmati walking home from school, a distance of more than six kilometres, Osiyan, shows the girl on a sand track, retreading the footprints

that she made on her way to lessons. New homes 14 For nearly four decades Dayanita Singh has after the flood, Lunkaransar shows a child blurred been bending the rules of how photography can in motion as she playfully jumps from the be presented – and by extension, experienced – by partially reconstructed wall of her house, the blending book publishing, archival practices and circle of death and renewal, like the shifting museum display. You won’t find her photographs of the desert sand, made more explicit in Gill’s (of architecture and interiors, the artist’s childvarious images of birth and last days. This hood, music sessions, portraits of her late close archive, alongside The Americans (2000–07), friend Mona and, of course, archives) printed and a project in which Gill shifted her lens to the mounted on walls in any conventional manner. diasporic Indian community in North America, Instead you’ll find them bound in little books that and Acts of Appearance (2015–), a collaboration fit into the many pockets of a bespoke coat (My Life with members of the Adivasi papier-mâché as a Museum, 2018), or in various series printed on card and housed in a handmade wooden box sculptors of Maharashtra, form the basis of this new survey show, Acts of Resistance and Repair. (ob) with a cutout window so that each image may

be displayed one at a time (when multiple boxes are placed side by side, the combinations are innumerable), or in the form of Singh’s portable ‘museums’ – installations of modular wooden structures that display the photos and which can be altered and reorganised, and therefore everchanging. So it’s no wonder that Singh has won this year’s Hasselblad Award (the first South Asian photographer to do so), part of which means she’ll be presenting an exhibition, Sea of Files, of works spanning her career. (fc) Oliver Basciano, J.J. Charlesworth, Fi Churchman, Louise Darblay, Nirmala Devi

13 Gauri Gill, Indian grocery store in Queens, New York 2004, from the series The Americans, 2000–07, archival pigment print, 69 × 102 cm. © the artist


Winter 2022

Dayanita Singh, File Museum (detail), 2012, photographic installation. © the artist


All national film-archives strike a balance between preservation and distribution, between ‘saving’ films and sharing them. Yet very few, I suspect, possess the zany, something-for-all appeal of the Thai Film Archive, a sprawling and somewhat piecemeal facility sequestered beside a university campus on the nondescript outskirts of Bangkok (about 25km from the city centre). At first glance, the compound it has occupied since 1997 resembles a film-history themepark specialising in ‘edutainment’. Walking from the carpark towards the entrance, visitors pass an antique steam locomotive with a lifesize bronze sculpture of Jean Gabin – star of Jean Renoir’s train-bound drama La Bête Humaine (1938) – manning the controls. It is joined by a replica of Thomas Edison’s 1893 proto-studio, the Black Maria, more statues of early motion-picture icons (Eadweard Muybridge, Charlie Chaplin) and an outdoor set recreating a movie-studio backlot. Inside the ersatz city buildings of the latter, the advent of moving image is explained through reconstructed environments, from New York’s first Kinetoscope parlour to a dainty Parisian cinema. These concessions to less cine-literate audiences join a wealth of displays and exhibitions devoted to Thai film history. Among the earliest structures built on the site is a reconstruction of one of Bangkok’s first film studios,


Film for All

Max Crosbie-Jones plots the twisted history of one of Thailand’s most generous and eclectic institutions

Waxwork figure of film director Rattana Pestonji, at the Thai Film Archive, Salaya. Photo: Max Crosbie-Jones

ArtReview Asia

the long-demolished, pale-yellow Sri Krung. The two-storey museum housed inside needs rejigging, I think. The chronological story told upstairs – which kicks off with shadow puppets, zoetropes and King Rama V (1868–1910) watching a cockfighting short on Edison’s Kinetoscope in Singapore in 1896 – is somewhat obscured by the piles of film paraphernalia that have built up over the years. But there is some wonderful stuff in here. Joining the centrepieces – the bar from delightful black-and-white comedy caper Rong Raem Narok (Country Hotel, 1957) and a waxwork figure of its Thai-Persian director, Rattana Pestonji (the first Thai filmmaker to use 35mm film and gain international plaudits) – are mock animation, costume, poster and subtitle studios, while cabinets groan with awards, scripts, storyboards and props. Back outside, an exhibition in a vintage train-carriage sheds light on that incongruous steam locomotive: Purachatra Jayakara, Prince of Kamphaengphet (1881–1936), who oversaw the expansion of Thailand’s rail network, was an early adopter of film, and the state railway department’s Topical Film Service, founded in 1922, the first producer of documentaries and newsreels. And in the compound’s latest addition – a sleek six-storey cinematheque housing three theatres, a library, a giftshop and exhibition spaces – more recent legacies are explored. The Spaceship of Nabua is a

permanent collection of props from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Primitive (2009), the short film-cum-research project, centred on a small village in the northeast, that spurred Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010). Primitive’s oval bamboo spaceship sits atop an airy auditorium, awaiting liftoff. It is one of many permanent and temporary filmhistory shrines housed in this wood-accented concrete behemoth, which apparently draws spiritual inspiration from Buddhist architecture, namely phutthawat, the temple zone dedicated to public worship. Exploring all this, I am struck by a couple of issues. Firstly, for all the accessibility of its programming, the archive itself has an access issue. Space has come at the price of visibility and footfall. Consequently, the archive’s everexpanding library is – despite efforts at outreach, such as open-air cinema seasons and a mobile cinema truck that tours the country – not as widely appreciated as it could be. This is a shame, especially given that there are civic art-spaces in the capital with barren rosters and space to fill. Also, the archive’s inside story, from its hard-won battle for existence through to its storage and lab facilities, cross-border detective work (the latest find: Dead Man’s Voice, 1954,

an anticommunist Thai film-noir commissioned by the United States Information Service), digital workflows and recently acquired ability to restore films inhouse, isn’t a part of the visitor experience. I think it should be. That said, I would understand if they decided to leave the hardscrabble early years of the archive on the proverbial cutting-room floor, for fear of causing the authorities to lose face… In 1981 a film scholar named Dome Sukvong – now officially retired, although this hirsute seventy-one-year-old is still a hired specialist – discovered a batch of 35mm nitrate negatives in a State Railway of Thailand storeroom. But not until 1984, the year the Swedish Film

from top Reconstruction of Sri Kung film studio facade at Thai Film Archive, Salaya; Dead Man’s Voice (still), 1954, dir Burnett Lamont

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Institute sent him a reel containing King Chulalongkorn’s 1897 visit to Stockholm, did his dream of a state-funded film archive find tentative backing. ‘Uncalled for, unpaid, unofficial and unsubsidized as we are, we are nevertheless making some progress in our work,’ he wrote in the 1984 International Federation of Film Archives Information Bulletin. That progress proved painfully slow, however. For years, the archive operated out of a deserted building that once belonged to the Royal Thai Mint – and scraped by with only a few staff and meagre budget. It was also hobbled by a lack of autonomy: until 2009, when it became a public organisation, its budgets were controlled by the government’s Fine Arts Department. Simply put, years of making nice with officials who didn’t quite grasp or get Sukvong’s vision – a vision always more expansive and less elitist than what initially piqued their shallow interest, namely early films of royal events and the filmmaking legacies of a few foresighted Thai princes – got the archive where it is today. Thankfully, much of the archive’s hard work has been nicely packaged for public consumption. Its page on the Google Arts & Culture platform boasts slick online versions of its offline temporary exhibitions. A recent collaboration with Netflix saw it curate 19 remastered films representative of Thai film-history of the past 50 years, albeit only for viewers in Thailand. And while next to nothing survives of preSecond World War films – ‘1981, when Dome started, was too late for many things’, Thailand Film Archive’s current director, Chalida Uabumrungjit, lamented back in 2015 – the archive’s YouTube page catalogues hundreds of its finds, with more being added by the month.


Together these films form an astonishing cavalcade of Thai life, in all its joyous and messy, and often conflict-riven diversity. Here you won’t find the film-age expansiveness of the bfi Player or the usa’s Library of Congress, but you will find meaty playlists like Gon Phaya Mar (‘Before the Storm Comes’), a 20-strong documentary collection centred on mid-1970s social and political unrest. One click takes you to They Will Never Forget (1977), which explores the protest movements of the period; another click to Hara Factory Workers Struggle (1975), about one of Thailand’s most famous labour disputes. Other playlists showcase key political events, Bangkok life, orientalist travelogues and highlights from Rattana Pestonji’s illustrious back catalogue.

The staggering eclecticism reflects the years of diligent retrieval and repatriation by the archive’s ‘Movie Rescue Unit’, as well as an open-armed acquisitions policy that finds almost nothing being refused, even home movies. “Some archives are more selective because they don’t have the space, or maybe they have independent archives that collect those kinds of things, but we collect anything made by Thais or related to Thailand,” says Uabumrungjit. Not all these curios are fully restored. Some are simply scanned and colourcorrected before uploading, yet most are interesting despite their audiovisual imperfections. Or perhaps because of them? For me, the abrasive quality and middling shape of, say, Saming Baan Rai (1964) – one of many hammy schlockfests that Thai cinema’s ‘golden couple’ Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat helmed during the 1960s – is part of the history lesson and much of the evocative, time-warp charm. After all, scratchy prints and poorly synced, tinny sound were pretty much a given for Thai cinemagoers in the 16mm era, a period during which only a few copies of each film circulated and live sound dubbers,


who were often big stars themselves, voiced the onscreen characters. Despite their cultural and historical importance, such antediluvian genre-movie relics are unlikely to be watched start-to-finish by most – especially foreigners, given the lack of subtitles in most cases. Other films, though, are both appealing and edifying, hold our attention with artistry, drama or humour while reshaping or expanding our understanding of Thai society or mores. The New Adventures of Hanuman (1957), for example, is a fascinating entry point into the output of Payut Ngaokrachang, Thailand’s most famous cartoonist. Early works were pure and innocent – his first animated short centres on a man gaily sniffing flowers – but at the height of the Cold War, he was commissioned to produce anticommunist allegories such as this propulsive tale of monkeys, set to tense orchestration, overcoming fanged giants. And equally engrossing, but clearly aimed at a more niche grown-up audience, is a 12-minute silent slapstick comedy entitled It’s All Because of a Katoey (1954). Shot by amateurs and depicting a transgender woman who dupes a man into marrying her, it is, says the archive, ‘the oldest Thai film with an lgbt character ever discovered’ – and more progressive than much of what passes for Thai entertainment these days. As I said, something for all.

from top Santi-Vina (still), 1954, dir Rattana Pestonji, 35mm feature film thought lost until its 2014 rediscovery; The New Adventures of Hanuman (still), 1957, dir Payut Ngaokrachang all images but one Courtesy Thai Film Archive, Salaya

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Japanese artist Meiro Koizumi’s site-specific sound installation Home (2015–19) was one of 12 artist projects that constitute Don’t Follow the Wind (2015–), an exhibition initiated by artist collective Chim Pom from Smappa!Group and located in the Fukushima exclusion zone surrounding tepco’s compromised Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. That compromise forced the evacuation of over 160,000 residents within a 20km radius of the plant in 2011. The exhibition’s location has meant that works have been on show, but inaccessible to the public, since its opening on 11 March 2015, the anniversary of the Great Tohoku Earthquake. Displaced residents have been given opportunities to make day visits to their homes, and some of them volunteered these visits, as well as their homes and other sites, to the curatorial team and artists, allowing the installation and maintenance of works in the exhibition. Last month, Futaba City, Fukushima (230km away from Tokyo), where Home was originally installed in the badly damaged house of a displaced resident, lifted its evacuation order. Accessible on 16 days between the end of October and early December 2022, the reedit of Home will be the first Don’t Follow the Wind project opened to the public. Consistent with Koizumi’s oeuvre, the work teases and troubles the

Going Home

Finally permitted to enter the Fukushima exclusion zone, Taro Nettleton finds a single work that ruminates on the displacement of thousands of residents and the destruction of their homes

boundaries between private experience and wider social phenomena – in this case, the effects of the ongoing nuclear disaster and resulting displacement on private, domestic life and its exposure to the public as artwork. In Home, two pairs of wireless headphones were placed at the edge of a destroyed living room whose glass sliding doors opened to a yard. Standing in the yard and viewing the living room scattered with debris and the leftovers of a life quickly abandoned in search of safety, the visitor could listen to an audio recording of ‘Mr Y’, who made his home available to Koizumi as a site for this sound installation. Mr Y imagines and acts out a conversation he and his wife might have had over their first dinner after returning to Futaba. His delivery, slow, relaxed and in a Northeastern drawl, is disarming and unaffected. The conversation goes something like this: “I’m home. I’m home. I’m home.” “You’re back. Cold day today. Want me to turn the stove on?” “No, that’s alright. What’s for dinner?” As they talk (or as he imagines they’d talk), he presciently surmises that any return to their home in this town devastated by nuclear disaster will be complex. “We’re finally home and this is our first dinner back. Food sure tastes different in Futaba.” “Honey, what will you do now? Will you stay here forever?” “I don’t know yet. I want to spend more time here though.” “But it’s inconvenient here. I’m going to leave tomorrow.” “Alright. I’ll come with you.”

A site on the walking tour of Meiro Koizumi’s 2022 Home Drama sound installation in Futaba, Fukushima. Photo: Taro Nettleton


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Six years ago, when I first visited the group exhibition Don’t Follow the Wind, I was moved as I listened to this imagined conversation, voyeuristically peering into Mr and Mrs Y’s devastated living room. Mr Y has since demolished his house. The state has subsidised demolitions in an attempt, presumably, to prepare a blank slate for the reopening of the town. Though Koizumi’s site-specific piece is also now gone, the site was opened last month. In response to the opening of the site and the demolition of his work, Koizumi has reimagined the piece as Home Drama (2022). Now, visitors are given a map and a portable audio player with headphones and invited to take a walk starting at the site of Mr Y’s former home, listening to the same conversation, now looped to hypnotic effect, and ending at an elevated area filled with plots of land from which others’ homes have been removed – the partially remaining foundation walls all that’s left of the dwellings.

In this new iteration of Home, Koizumi shifts the work’s original focus on the experience of a single person towards the town’s community. The juxtaposition of Mr Y’s narration and the surrounding site turns our attention to broader social and historical dimensions: on the way, visitors may walk past a graveyard, an overgrown playpark and a radiation screening station. Koizumi, who led our walk, explained that the added ‘Drama’ of the title refers to television dramas. The newly added soundtrack, he said, was a response to the emotional effect he experienced upon seeing the plots of land as the sun set just the day before. He had felt as if he was watching a tv melodrama. Though the instrumentation successfully ramps up emotional effect, the added drama also risks presenting the landscape as picturesque ruin, and ‘life imitates culture industry’ feels somewhat cynical given the circumstances. Back at the site, above Mr Y’s taiko drummaking studio, which stands adjacent to the former site of his home, is the Non-Visitor Center. Since 2015, the Don’t Follow the Wind curatorial collective (Chim Pom from Smappa!Group, Kenji Kubota, Jason Waite, Eva & Franco Mattes) has presented Non-Visitor Centers in over ten nations, including Japan, as a way to convey the existence of this inaccessible exhibition and ongoing nuclear disaster by disseminating information from the exclusion zone to those living outside it. This time, the curatorial collective has worked with scientists to study the changing ecology of the region. In the absence of humans, animals and plants have thrived, and the works in Don’t Follow the Wind, which receive virtually no human visitors, are routinely visited by Japanese green pheasants and monkeys, rabbits and wild boars, who have been captured by unmanned cameras. The video footage, much of it shot at night, combined with testimonies from scientists and displaced local residents, recognises nonhumans as actors in the networks of the exhibition as well as the exclusion zone. One scientist describes the momentary rise of a hybrid wild boar-domestic pig populace after the earthquake and tsunami. A resident explains how hearing the return of frogs’ songs rekindled his hope for the area’s recovery. Tales and images of these nonhuman actors bring an unexpected joy by derailing anthropocentric, humanist thinking, to an otherwise devastatingly complex situation. While the state is eager to demonstrate the region’s recovery, displaced residents, who have had to make a life elsewhere for the last 11 years, still have little to come home to. Well over half a century ago, the American artist Robert Smithson addressed the concepts of ‘site’ and ‘non-site’. His Site / Non-Site

Installation view of Non-Visitor Center, 2022, in Futaba, Fukushima, by the Don’t Follow the Wind curatorial collective. Photo: Taro Nettleton

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sculptures, which contained geological samples taken from ‘sites’, were exhibited in the ‘nonsite’ of the art gallery. The ‘sites’ registered the workings of time, while the ‘non-site’ of the institutional art space remained relatively ahistorical. Though the terms differ, the ‘site’ of the Non-Visitor Center is the exclusion zone. Evidence and information from the site of the exclusion zone is shown in the ‘non-site’ of the Non-Visitor Center. The ‘non-visitor’ is hence a person barred from visiting the site. For the first time, in the current version of the Non-Visitor Center, a former site has been turned into non-site by the state’s lifting of its evacuation order. Both Koizumi’s Home Drama and the latest Non-Visitor Center highlight the shifting, even vivacious, nature of the exclusion zone’s landscape, but I fear the latter emphasises the distinction between site and non-site when the boundaries are less clear. After all, ‘non-visitors’ need only walk a short distance from Mr Y’s studio to reach the barricades that form the borders of the exclusion zone. So far, I was told, only one resident has returned to Futaba. Meanwhile, a shiny new building, rendered in Shigeru Ban-inflected state architectural style, where wood is abundantly employed to connote goodwill, has sprung up in front of the giant, unmanned, desolate single platform train station to house the municipal workers who far outnumber residents during daytime office hours. At the Non-Visitor Center, one displaced resident has relativised the current crisis by invoking historical context: “This area was nearly wiped out during the Tenpo famine of the Edo period. It took 100 to 200 years for the population to recover”, he announces. When the rest of Don’t Follow the Wind will open remains unknowable. The exhibit thus implores us similarly to imagine art and site in challengingly long timeframes, but also provocatively suggests that they may be indifferent to our presence. Taro Nettleton is an art historian based in Tokyo


TextaQueen Bollywouldn’t

22 OCT – 18 DEC 2022 181–187 Hay St, Haymarket Warrane/Sydney NSW 2000 Australia Tue, Wed: 11am–5pm Thu: 11am–8pm Fri–Sun: 11am–5pm W: T: +61 2 9212 0380 IG: @4a_aus

TextaQueen, Daulat Te Sapa Baith Jaanda, 2022, inkjet photographic print. Commissioned by 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Courtesy the artist.

December 1 – 3, 2022 Photograph taken by Mateo Garcia / Belle & Company

Art Featured

we’re being 37

The Scene of the Unseen Zarina Muhammad’s otherworldly responses to the crises of our time by Adeline Chia


ArtReview Asia

Over the past 150 years or so, St John’s Island, south of Singapore, Second World War; an antique tobacco-cutter alludes to the opium has served as an offshore processing centre for undesirables from the smokers; and a gentorag (a brass bell-rattle used in Indonesian music) mainland. St John’s, or Sakijang Bendera (the Malay name, which has gestures towards a bell tower previously located at a sentry post on multiple origin stories, literally means ‘deer flag’), has functioned the island’s jetty. variously as a quarantine station for victims of cholera and leprosy, Painted cutouts of eight animals – cat, tiger, dog, bird, mouse, a detention centre for political prisoners, an opium-addict rehab deer, crocodile, fish – are stuck on the pillars of the central installation. These creatures correspond to the eight animals arranged facility and a refugee shelter. During the 1970s, however, efforts were made to rehabilitate around the cardinal points of a compass found in old Bugis (one of the the island’s image. The land was developed for recreational use ethnic groups of South Sulawesi) divination diagrams. These magic and featured holiday camps and chalets. Nature lovers now visit to charts, on which days of the year could be plotted, provide advice on witness the vibrant wildlife, which includes coastal forests and coral practical matters; a tiger day is good for marrying or for planting rice, reefs, as well as native birds and marine animals. Today, the island for instance. Besides connecting Zarina’s work to esoteric traditions, is also home to a multilayered installation by Zarina Muhammad these animals invoke a history in which nonhuman archetypes act as that embraces its history and celebrates its past and present inhab- a guide for human action. itants – human and nonhuman, immaterial or material. It’s titled Moving Earth… contains two key corollaries in Zarina’s works. The Moving Earth, Crossing Water, Eating Soil (2022) and is a part of this year’s first is Southeast Asian mythologies and magic; the second an ecofemSingapore Biennale. And that event as a whole – which occurs at inist, Chtulucenic attunement to the entanglements and affinities various venues across the country – lurks somewhere between the we have with the nonhuman. What both strands of thought have human and nonhuman, and is named, as you might a child, island in common is their decentralisation of the human, especially the human as imagined in the Eurocentric, Enlightenment paradigm of or hurricane, Natasha. In St John’s main administrative building, Zarina has set up a the rational, secular and unitary subject. They each propose radically four-pillared structure inspired by saka guru, the central foundation different modes of nonrational knowledge and of coexistence with all that holds up a building or a roof in traditional Javanese architecture. manner of seen and unseen beings. The area below the saka guru is believed to be sacred and usually treated In Zarina’s work, magic, myths and mysticism, far from being backwith certain rituals. Here Zarina has placed a shrinelike arrange- ward superstitions, are put forth as valid ways of navigating a complex ment of mystical paraphernalia and symbolic artefacts, which she and uncertain world. On a practical level, she argues that rituals, charms describes via email as a “a cosmographic map-diorama composed of and spells offer psychological comfort and guidance through difficult various material and visual elements that are connected to histor- times. But her other proposition is metaphysical: that there is a rich ical, mythic, speculative and architectural markers on the island and and hidden world of ghosts, gods and guardians of which the human is the waters/landmarks beyond her shores”. These elements include only a small part. This is where a spiritual disposition becomes a sensory a round mirror, referencing a still-standing issue, of whether one can break out of habitual above and facing page ‘moon gate’, a Chinese-style circular opening modes of perception to tune into the rich multiMoving Earth, Crossing Water, Eating Soil, to gardens, erected by German civilians housed tudes of beings all around us, who are our peers 2022, mixed-media installation, there by the British government during the in constituting knowledge and worlds. Singapore Biennale 2022

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Spanning installation, film, performances and lectures, the and Visualising the Unseen in Singapore: Repositioning and Performing the artist’s work often operates in this ritualistic and polysensorial space. Otherworldly in Southeast Asian Myths and Folklore (2017). Unfolding in Her installations look like shrines or the table of a sorcerer hard at parallel were lecture-performances where her scholarly research was work, filled with sacred offerings and items of religious signifi- re-presented, often with collaborators such as sound artists, dancers cance. The mixed-media Talismans for Peculiar Habitats (2019), created and spoken-word poets who were asked to respond to a theme. during the height of the covid-19 health-crisis, explored final rites Later, as she built up her art practice, she mounted more ambitious and kinship. Placed on a straw mat on the ground were objects with mixed-media installations with complex layerings of indigenous symbolic meaning in Malay-Muslim death rites, such as sandalwood belief systems and esoteric knowledge. Pragmatic Prayers for the Kala powder, turmeric and incense used to cleanse and perfume the dead. at the Threshold (2018) was influenced by the Austronesian cosmology Elsewhere, a video with watery scenes of tides and shorelines evoked of the upper world, the middle world and the lower world, different the shifting boundaries between life and death, with water as a gesta- planes of existence over which specific deities and guardian spirits preside. Jumping off from that tripartite schema, Zarina divided the tive conduit for transformation and rebirth. The ‘activations’ of Zarina’s installations are typically participa- gallery space into three realms – the hills, land and sea – to repretory workshops taking the form of rituals sent Bukit Larangan (today known as Fort In Zarina’s work, magic, myths of thanks and remembrance. For not Terra Canning Hill), Bras Basah, and Kallang Nullius (2018), which was situated in 37 and the coastal areas of Singapore, respecand mysticism, far from being Emerald Hill, an old building allegedly tively. For each zone, she responded to the backward superstitions, are put used as a station for comfort women durhistories of the places by displaying a forth as valid ways of navigating ing the Japanese Occupation in Singapore, series of found objects, sculptures and effiZarina commemorated the folk spirits of gies created in participatory workshops. a complex and uncertain world the past and the ghosts of these women. Reclaiming othered female experiShe invited participants to make mutri, ritual offerings, and to place ences, especially those of wronged, forgotten and nonconforming them under an artwork of coloured string and handmade shrines in women, is a running theme. In the lecture-performance Apotropaic Texts (2019), she rehabilitates the figure of the witch, especially the the garden. For Zarina, the spiritual aspect of her work is not an affectation nenek kebayan, a hunchbacked old woman in Malay lore who has varior “an aesthetic prop”. She tells me, when we speak by telephone, ously been demonised as a nefarious, child-abducting, black-magic “I’ve spent the last 12 years researching these realms [Southeast Asian practitioner or valorised as a benign medicine woman. Also being myths and magic], even before the expressions of my work began to redeemed in this lecture is apotropaic magic in general, or protection be embodied into the category of art.” In the early days, part of her magic that repels evil and harm. She argues that such rituals, remework was inarguably academic in form. For field research, she sat in dies and charms are ways of making people feel safe and help them on exorcism and purification rituals. At conferences, she presented cope with the banal fears of everyday life. ethnographic papers with titles such as Dancing Horses, Possessing Spirits Although currently Zarina seems to occupy a unique magicoand Invisible Histories: Re-Imagining the Borders of Magic and Modernity in religious space in Singaporean contemporary art, it is worth noting Contemporary Southeast Asia (2016) and Magic, Belief, Sacred Geographies that there is a lineage of Malay mysticism in local art-history as

not Terra Nullius, 2018, mixed-media participatory installation-performance, part of Fantastic Beasts and Man-Eating Flowers, 2018, oh! Open House Emerald Hill, Singapore


ArtReview Asia

not Terra Nullius, 2018, mixed-media participatory installation-performance, part of Fantastic Beasts and Man-Eating Flowers, 2018, oh! Open House Emerald Hill, Singapore

Winter 2022



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Winter 2022


above Marilyn Tan and Zarina Muhammad, Apotropaic Texts, 2019, mixed-media sculptural and performative installation, part of n.o.w. 2019, Theatre Works, Singapore preceding pages Closing performance of Zarina Muhammad’s Pragmatic Prayers for the Kala at the Threshold, 2018, in collaboration with Hazwan Norly, Bib Mockram, Tini Aliman and Vicknes Thanasegaran, part of President’s Young Talents 2018, Singapore Art Museum


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practised by artists such as Mohammad Din Mohammad and Salleh Japar during the 1980s and 1990s. A painter and installation artist, Mohammad Din was also a traditional healer and practitioner of silat, a form of Malay martial arts believed to have supernatural powers. He made talismanic paintings and in his later life explored Islamic Sufism through Arabic calligraphy. Salleh, among other things, created paintings and installations using geometric shapes inspired by ancient Malay Muslim iconographies, in response to the loss of traditional culture amidst the rise of the deadening, materialistic values of globalised Singapore. Zarina’s work carries some of Mohammad Din’s religiosity and arcane knowledge, as well as Salleh’s critique of modernity, but she also carves out a unique position through her feminist and environmental priorities. Just as Mohammad Din and Salleh can be read as reasserting traditional, premodern beliefs in the face of a rapidly industrialising and developing society, Zarina’s concerns can be interpreted as responses to the crises of her time: imminent environmental collapse and widespread inequalities wrought by extractive capitalism, settler colonialism, structural racism and a patriarchal society, undergirded by anthropocentric hubris. ‘Pluriversal’ approaches to understanding non-Western epistemologies, ontologies and practices have sprung up to offer new solutions for development and freedom. Part of this polyphony is Zarina’s blend of magico-ecofeminism from Southeast Asia, which remembers and reimagines connections to the land in its manifold dimensions. Zarina’s practice expresses her posthuman interest in the ecological and environmental histories of places that might have been overshadowed or displaced by these regimes of power. Her fieldwork takes the form of long walks through such terrain, while attending to creaturely life and the spiritual and psychic traces of the past. Yet it’s one thing experiencing the otherworldly, but another trying to represent it. Rising to the challenge are Zarina’s films, which combine evocative footage of the natural world with text, displayed as lines of subtitles, that spell out a thesis. Breathing in Unbreathable Circumstances (2022),

which shows the living things in tidal zones and reefs, proposes a lesson of survival we can glean from other species, which has to do with breathing, finding openings and persisting in intractable conditions. In her text, language flits between the incantatory and poetic (‘we are led by gut breathing, breathing with our skin, belly breathing, tongue-out roaring breathing, the book lungs of arachnids, spiracle breathing, tidal breathing, unidirectional breathing, inhalations at high altitudes, the forms, circuits, pathways of airways, lungs as vessels, the breathing that moves and happens within flood pulses, the sound of breath in a time of breathlessness’) and the literal and prescriptive (‘[all spaces] show us how to unsettle colonial logic, release stubborn attachment to singularity and be attentive to dark matter. Portals are only fearsome if you perceive everything that isn’t you as demonic’). In general, her sculptural installations, which physicalise her ideas, are less illustrative and cerebral than her text-heavy films. Unbound by language, they metabolise her theoretical investigations into dynamic forms, which engage with the world in more open-ended, spontaneous and unpredictable ways. Part of the multipart exhibit at St John’s Island, for example, is an installation of eight wooden wind instruments in the garden. Elevated on stilts, these handmade instruments have a propeller outside, which can be turned by the wind. The propellers turn a central axis, which in turn moves a series of wooden mallets that strike bamboo plates, releasing light, fluty tones that resemble the sound of marimbas or Indonesian angklung. On the day of my visit, the air was deathly still, and visitors wound up being the ones playing the instruments. The cascading phrases, randomly intersecting in a sort of unintentional free jazz, flowed out all around the trees and up to the sky, creating a song that was different from the natural surroundings and yet belonged to them somehow. ara Zarina Muhammad’s Moving Earth, Crossing Water, Eating Soil (2022) can be seen on St John’s Island as part of the Singapore Biennale, through 19 March

Zarina Muhammad and Zachary Chan, earth, land, sea and sky as palimpsest (still), 2021, video, colour, sound, 17 min 37 sec all images © and courtesy the artists

Winter 2022


Sin Wai Kin by Skye Sherwin


ArtReview Asia

Dreaming of Me

Winter 2022


Sin Wai Kin first made a name for themselves onstage during the displayed body, which is as still as a poster pinup but for the artist’s early 2010s as Victoria Sin, a drag persona that turned up the dial visible breathing. Sin’s voiceover describes uncanny encounters with on Marilyn Monroe’s Old Hollywood glamour and the impossible a teasing image of a woman who gazes back and looks just like the physical proportions of blowup dolls. There were prosthetic breasts, narrator – or nearly: “It was like looking into a mirror and finding that custom-built corsets and a huge platinum blonde wig that “looks like there was something missing in the reflection”. The speaker’s desire it ate your wig for breakfast”, as the character snipes in Define Gender, to consume the image has both a sexual and cannibalistic dimension, a 2017 film portrait of the artist. The makeup was just as big: Pierrot- and this goes both ways. “I was eaten alive,” they purr. white face, exaggerated black-and-red mouth and fake eyelashes to A sweep of the films and sculptures that make up Sin’s presentasweep the floor with. It was a striking parody of the blonde bomb- tions in two current uk group exhibitions, this year’s Turner Prize shell. As Sin reflects during a visit to their studio, “Within capitalism, and British Art Show 9, make clear that the artist’s vision has expanded extreme representations are always considerably in recent years. The chargoing to be more successful because acters they play include members of “My reality seems like a madeup fantasy they’re unattainable, and more poa boyband who parade their literally for some people. We are living in a world singular qualities in a music-promo larised representations of things like where many different realities coexist” gender become normalised. Drag is a lineup and housewives with killer chopine platform shoes, bare fake purposeful doing of that, which also undoes it.” It’s an argument implicit in the iconic trans performer breasts and Cantonese-opera facepaint. There’s an extraterrestrial and Monroe-obsessive Amanda Lepore’s claim that she has ‘the most newsreader who broadcasts a contradictory report from another expensive body on Earth’. “How Lepore literally blows [gender] up is galaxy and an Asian action hero who struts down a midnight street very attractive to me,” says Sin. “Like, ‘You want me to do this? Here with a white fur draped off the shoulder. Steeped in personal history, Chinese culture and science fiction, their painted faces have moved it is.’” What gave Sin a critical edge in London’s more experimental drag beyond those of the early ‘gender clowns’. Sin’s voiceover – be it nights was that the performer then identified as a ‘femme-presenting velveteen and girlish, or deeper with a synthetic ring – spins dreamcis-girl’, as they once put it, a ‘female’ drag queen. As an outlier in a like scenes and poses probing questions through which binaries are scene dominated by white gay men, their position turned the dial set up and knocked down, be it male/female, fact/fiction or subject/ on what it means to knowingly put on a gender. For Sin, a Canadian object. In their universe, there’s even a dumpling that talks. of Cantonese descent, these initial forays It was in 2020 that Sin’s project underwent preceding pages A Dream of Wholeness in Parts (still), 2021, were born of the need to explore their relasome significant evolutions. Having cut their single-channel video, 4k, colour, sound, 23 min 3 sec. tionship with Western femininity. In the four long hair into boyish curtains and reverted Courtesy the artist and Soft Opening, London from Victoria to Wai Kin (their Chinese name), short films that made up Narrative Reflections on above Narrative Reflections On Looking, Part One / She they created the first fully fledged masculine Looking (2016–17), their graduate presentation Was More Than The Sum Of My Parts (still), 2016, at London’s Royal College of Art, the camera character to take an ongoing place in their work. single-channel video, 4k, colour, sound, 3 min 35 sec. moves up and down Victoria Sin’s adorned and With orange hair and makeup that channels Courtesy the artist and Soft Opening, London


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It’s Always You Cutouts, 2021 (installation view, Blindspot Gallery presentation at Frieze London, 2021), set of 4, uv cured ink on foamex, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, London

Winter 2022


It’s Always You Signed Poster (The Storyteller), 2021 (installation view, Blindspot Gallery presentation at Frieze London, 2021), uv cured ink on matt white back poster paper, acrylic ink, acrylic showcase, 85 × 60 × 4 cm. Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, London


ArtReview Asia

cosmic symbols, including a blue starry sky, white moon and red flames, The Storyteller looks like a being from outer space. (It’s no surprise to hear that speculative-fiction writers Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler have made an impression on the artist.) Inspired by that traditionally male figure of supposed authority, the newsreader, in Today’s Top Stories (2020), the Storyteller’s report is structured around opposing statements concerning certain death and immortality, dreams and waking life, cohesion and separation, as unstable as the blue star imploding in the background. His bulletins include the severing of self and other through language: “in the telling there is a dividing”, he informs us. (A poststructuralist riff on ‘fake news’ perhaps?) The instability is underscored by references to Zhuangzi’s third-century thought experiment, Dream of the Butterfly, in which the Daoist philosopher questions if he is a man dreaming he’s a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he’s a man. “I identified with it in that my reality seems like a madeup fantasy for some people,” says the artist. “We are living in a world where many different realities coexist.” The Storyteller has since appeared in a number of Sin’s films, including her brilliantly creepy take on boybands’ off-the-peg appeal, It’s Always You (2021). Here, the character is ‘the serious one’ in a fourman lineup of reductive types (alongside the childish one, the heartthrob and the pretty boy), as flat as mirrors onto which their fans can direct their own reflection. The artist’s interest in the butterfly dream meanwhile has led to their longest and most ambitious work to date, A Dream of Wholeness in Parts (2021), a 23-minute film shot on location in Taiwan. In it, the narrator’s voice takes on the lulling tones of a sleep meditation, guiding the viewer / listener through seven scenes inspired by the artist’s dreams. There are two recurring characters with traditional roots. The Universe, with blue hair and floral facepaint, draws on the warrior archetype from Cantonese opera, while The Construct corresponds to the female roles known as The Daan. Yet Sin strikes beyond the binaries of gender here, to shake up reality

on a grand scale. The voiceover veers from descriptions of trees, moonlight on skin and food, to nightmarishly being cut in two by elevator doors and, more hopefully, the ruined landscape of one’s forebears that is left behind. The images with which this narration is paired do not necessarily match up. The meaning of a description of oily glistening broth and thin-skinned dumplings turns extra-slippery when set against a shot of a bare-breasted character with long black hair posing on a windy rocky beach strewn with flowers. With psychedelic verve, there are moments when a talking tree-trunk, chess-piece and wonton soup take over speaking the characters’ lines. It’s a ‘carrier bag’ fiction of the kind advocated by Le Guin, its components left to jostle side by side, free from the prescribed journey and conclusions more linear tales might force us to take. Sin’s characters are category-hopping creatures of flux, donned for public appearances onstage or in front of a camera. Yet the artist has also found a way to memorialise the fleeting personas using a material ubiquitous in drag-club dressing rooms: the face wipe. Putting the emphasis on the ‘taking off’ as much as the ‘putting on’ of a persona, these works preserve the madeup faces on tissue, along with the sweat and skin cells mortal bodies shed beneath the paint. The face prints make us think about the ‘self’ underneath the fabrication, yet Sin exposes this perceived division between performer and role as another binary to be dismantled. After it was cut, the artist also turned the long black hair that had signified their ‘authentic identity’ offstage into a wig. It’s worn by The Construct and can be seen irl at the British Art Show. The title says it all: Costume for Dreaming (2021). ara Work by Sin Wai Kin can be seen in the Turner Prize exhibition, Tate Liverpool, through 19 March and as part of British Art Show 9, various venues, Plymouth, through 23 December Skye Sherwin is a writer based in Rochester

the story changes the body changes (repeating) rehearsal, 12 May 2022, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo: Enid Alvarez. © Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

Winter 2022


Solitary A conversation between Tyler Coburn, Kyungmook Kim, Woochang Lee and Jiwon Yu

Kwon Yong-seok was once so overwhelmed by his work as a public prosecutor that he asked to be jailed – temporarily. He reasoned that one week in a cell would have the desired therapeutic benefit. Kwon’s request was denied, but it set an idea in motion. In 2013 he and his wife, the drama therapist Noh Jihyang, opened a wellness centre in South Korea called Happitory (‘Happiness Factory’), which


they designed to resemble a prison. Guests can pay for the experience of getting locked in a cell; being deprived of their books and devices; and gaining a moment to pause, reflect on themselves and perhaps achieve something like enlightenment. When I stayed at Happitory in 2019 I found very few things in my cell: a yoga mat, a tea set, bedding and (to my great surprise) pens and paper. In the years since, I’ve run a covert

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writing residency out of the centre, inviting nine people to produce new texts during 24-hour periods of ‘solitary confinement’ – using the materials on hand. The result is the publication Solitary (2022). What follows is a conversation with three contributors to the book: artist Kyungmook Kim; scholar Woochang Lee; and Jiwon Yu, a curator, writer, translator and interpreter. Tyler Coburn

tyler coburn Kyungmook, you’re unique among the contributors for having served time in actual prison, as a conscientious objector to military service. Fifteen months of your sentence were spent in solitary confinement. What was it like to revisit this chapter of your life through Happitory’s simulation? kyungmook kim Happitory’s founders did as much as possible to make the experiences similar. Upon arrival I changed into a uniform and received a nametag with my room number, much like the one I received as an inmate. The cells are about the same size. And in both places, there are fixed times for going to bed and waking up. A day in Happitory, like in prison, starts with music playing through a speaker in the room: the soundtrack to My Neighbour Totoro at Happitory; the propaganda music of the Ministry of Justice in prison, which declares that “the more I follow the law, the better I feel”. It’s a small difference, but an important one. The biggest difference overall is the purpose of each space. In prison, a solitary cell is a specific architecture designed with the intent to punish. The ways you behave in your cell are monitored – for instance, you’re punished if you lie down before bedtime, stand without reason or sit on a towel. Happitory, by contrast, is a space of self-reflection and rest. There’s no obligation or repression at play.

tc In addition to monitoring, the absence of social contact has a punitive function. While I was editing our book, I visited the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Built in 1829 and closed in 1970, it was the very first prison to introduce solitary confinement – a place where inmates, confined to chapellike cells, would come to feel penitence. The guards even wore socks over their shoes to help maintain the monastic atmosphere! Of course, the debilitating effects of solitary confinement were barely considered at the time. When we met in 2019, you were beginning to make artwork about your 15 months in solitary – specifically, a vr piece called 5.25m2 [2022].

nothing beyond my cell walls. The space within the cell was the only safe space for me. In Chicago I found that I was treating an unfamiliar space in the very same manner as prison. I tried to build a safe space, and in the process I isolated myself. I came to realise that I was still affected by the memories and sensations of my solitary cell. I needed to stop avoiding them. 5.25m2 refers to the average size of a solitary cell in a Korean correctional facility. I made a vr version of this cell, inhabited by a virtual inmate who repeats the same actions that I once did in solitary: circling like an animal, writing letters to friends, meditating and reading.

kk I didn’t plan to make any artworks related to that experience after my release. In fact, for the next year and a half I tried to forget about it. I even wanted to leave Korea for a while to gain some distance from it, so I went to graduate school in the United States. When I was in my solitary cell I could see the guards outside my room pointing out when I didn’t follow the rules. I was stressed by these constraints. As a way of coping with the situation, I trained myself to believe that there was

tc You’ve rendered this inmate as a 3d point cloud that periodically appears and disappears in a truly apparitional way. I watched documentation of a young woman experiencing the work and noticed that she’d sometimes copy the gestures of this figure, learning the dimensions of the cell through the constrained choreographies it allows. In your text for the book, you describe how these actions helped you ‘endure that period in sound mind – without going crazy’. This resonates with Woochang’s contribution to the book, which considers some philosophical and historical dimensions of selfdiscipline and self-management.

above Kyungmook Kim, 5.25m2 (still), 2022, vr (6DoF) and Unity (exe). Courtesy the artist facing page Exterior view of Happitory wellness centre, Hongcheon, Korea. Courtesy Happitory

Winter 2022

woochang lee As you both observed, a solitary cell at Happitory is designed to help


guests positively practise activities like reflection and meditation. Guests participate in an orientation before they enter their cells: how to sit properly, how to breathe properly, how to bow properly. Notebooks are distributed, asking them to examine what’s most important in their lives. From a philosophical perspective, these protocols recall Michel Foucault’s ‘technologies of the self’: the various devices we use to review, manage and (re)fashion ourselves. For instance, how to balance our diet, how many hours of exercise are suitable for our bodies, how many hours of sleep should we get, what types of people are good to be friends with. Classical Western philosophy may be the first attempt to systematically classify technologies of the self, an endeavour that continues with the Christian tradition, mystical practices of meditation – and more recently in self-help publications and fitness trends. Within certain religious and mystical traditions, the intent is to approach and encounter something transcendental. Happitory’s training leads a person to focus solely on their happiness. tc ‘Ruling yourself is your happiness’, as you write in your essay. Self-management becomes an end in itself. What role does solitude play in the ‘technologies of the self ’ you’ve been discussing?

wl The Stoics gave solitude a high status in philosophical life: by separating from the affairs of the mundane world, a philosopher could thoughtfully and critically examine their life. In effect, solitude was essential to self-management. A somewhat different strain of solitude runs through Romanticism, where the loneliness of the self – and its encounters with natural or unfamiliar worlds – give rise, if not to transcendence, then to poetic inspiration.

“I wouldn’t go to Happitory purely for my benefit. I needed your invitation in order to give myself ‘permission’ temporarily to disappear” tc I can guess how we might get from the Romantics and their pathetic fallacies to the self-centred solitude of Happitory. I’m also thinking about the pens and paper in its cells. Seemingly in the service of diaristic reflection, they also figure into the history of writing in prison: from Oscar Wilde to Antonio Gramsci to Kim Dae-Jung. In many cases, writing materials weren’t readily available. I think of Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’, written in 1963 on scraps of newspaper, paper towel and napkin that were smuggled out by his lawyer and speechwriter – and the memoir Behrouz Boochani typed as a series

Kyungmook Kim, 5.25m2, 2022 (still), vr (6DoF) and Unity (exe). Courtesy the artist


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of WhatsApp messages to his translator during an extended detention on Manus Island [No Friend But the Mountains, 2018]. wl In Korea the best-known prison writing comes from persecuted democratic activists; Shin Young-bok’s Reflections from Prison [1988] in particular is still widely read. Imprisoned in his twenties as a university lecturer, Shin wrote that, over his 20-year sentence, he transformed into a ‘populist intellectual’. Within the ethical or quasi-religious framework of Korean populism, people on the lowest rung of society embody genuine wisdom and virtue; Shin thus came to see his fellow inmates as subjects possessing capacities vital for the nation’s liberation. Reflections from Prison repeatedly mentions what Shin learned from the inmates right next to him – how vain and lacking was the knowledge imparted by the upper-class world of college. A long period in prison was a revelation for this intellectual. tc We’ve been focusing on the carceral thematics of solitude, and it’s worth remembering that Happitory is a wellness centre. The experience it offers also shares something with temple stays and silent-meditation retreats, where one submits to certain constraints in pursuit of enlightenment, personal growth, catharsis – whatever they happen to call it. Jiwon, you describe this experience as ‘the luxury of disappearing altogether’.

Interior view of Happitory. Courtesy Happitory

Winter 2022


Pages from Tyler Coburn (ed), Solitary, 2022. Photo: Tyler Coburn. Courtesy Tyler Coburn, Sternberg Press, London, and Art Sonje Center, Seoul


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jiwon yu Working as a freelancer, I’m expected to be available. It’s like a compulsion: I have to present myself always as having free time; I can never deny a proposal. I wouldn’t go to a place like Happitory purely for my own benefit. I needed your invitation and commission in order to give myself ‘permission’ temporarily to disappear. During my stay, I thought about my upbringing. As is common in Korea, I attended a lot of mandatory camps and retreats. I’ve always had a love–hate relationship with them. School camps aim to produce compliant students. Religious camps try to bring you towards the faith. In most cases you’re cut off from your individual self for the purpose of some collective endeavour, which is why I used to reject them. At the same time I have an impulse to cave in, almost a masochistic wish to surrender myself. The alpha-girl discourse, which was prevalent in my youth, claimed that I had to become a successful, independent woman who achieved everything all by herself. My life as a freelancer is basically the fulfilment of this demand, though whenever I get exhausted by the task of managing myself I think back to those camps and retreats. tc Since 2016 you’ve been part of an art writing collective called Yellow Pen Club while also building a career as a critic. It seems you’ve found a way to bridge the collective and individual narratives of your youth.

jy I didn’t realise it at the start, but ypc is rather peculiar. We aren’t just copy-editing and commenting on completed writing; we participate throughout the entire process, from choosing what to write about to when and how to finish a text. The way we engage in one another’s texts also applies to how we run ypc space, a gallery and programme space we opened earlier this year. tc Even before opening ypc space, the collective held workshops and programmes for the general public. As you wrote on sema Coral, the Seoul Museum of Art’s site, earlier this year, the workshops train participants to meticulously describe artwork, establish multiple physical viewpoints and also capture its environment. The goal is to produce art writing that’s ‘faithful to the senses’. And the means of achieving it is through ‘mutual editing’. jy These methods are also important to my own writing process, but they’re not the only components. A certain shape of window on my computer monitor, the environment and ambience, the publications around me – as I mention in my essay, ‘writing is a collective dance of all these things’. Lacking them at Happitory, I felt that some part of my consciousness was absent, and it was difficult to write. I spent most of those 24 hours asleep in the cell. The notes I did make were a fragmentary mix of Korean and English. I doubted that they could become a text.

I was struck by how many private thoughts arose during that solitary period. Most of them I couldn’t write down. But some of them do appear in strikethrough, with the intention of showing my editing process. tc When designer Luke Gould and I were assembling the book, we decided to include scans of some original writing done by contributors at Happitory. What’s shown are ideas being worked out, sometimes in both English and Korean – often with strikethroughs and supplements. The strikethroughs in your text build important links to this section of the publication. I think of Solitary as an experiment in site-specific writing that works within the constraints of Happitory, accepts the pen and paper it provides, and generates something more than the expected self-reflection. I was curious how you each would respond to the phenomenological qualities of this place, where prison is a simulation and also a metaphor – as the founders explain – for the personal and societal strictures that limit the self. Jiwon, what you just said makes me wonder whether or not writing is always site-specific. One need not steal away to a solitary cell to appreciate the atmospheric dimensions of putting word to page. ara Tyler Coburn is an artist and writer based in New York Solitary (2022) is published by Sternberg Press, London, and Art Sonje Center, Seoul. This conversation was adapted from a panel held at Art Sonje Center on 20 August

Documentation of a workshop held at ypc space, Seoul, in April. Photo: Haemin Ryu. Courtesy ypc space

Winter 2022


Jala Wahid by Sarah Jilani


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Exposing imperialism’s coverups

Winter 2022


An eternal flame burns in a field near the city of Kirkuk, an area audiences to the ancient city of Heskîf (in Turkish: Hasankeyf), now disputed by Federal Iraq and the Kurdistan Region. Known as Baba fully submerged by the Tigris river – an outcome of Turkey’s extenGurgur, or the ‘Fiery Father’, in Kurdish, the field yielded its black sive dam and irrigation projects. Elsewhere, as in the videowork Fiery gold to the Anglo-Persian Oil Company at 3am on 15 October 1927, Father (2019), Wahid overlays images of oil and flames with verses when its drilling unleashed a 42m fountain of oil into the air. Bringing of her poetry, gesturing both to the symbolic importance of fire for this historic moment to life acoustically in Jala Wahid’s new exhibi- Newroz (the Kurdish New Year), and to the most coveted resource in tion Conflagration, at the Baltic in Gateshead, is a series of spoken and Kurdish lands. Time and again, her pieces bring natural elements sung exchanges. “I do not care under what system we keep it, whether – earth, flora, sky, sun, water – to the fore, reminding Wahid’s audiit is by perpetual lease or whatever it may be, but I am quite clear that ence that “the repercussions outlive all of us” when it comes to oil. The world’s militaries do not have to declare their environmental it is all-important for us that this oil should be available,” proclaims Wahid’s disembodied voice, quoting a self-assured letter written by impact to the un (when the us negotiated this exemption in 1997, a British colonial officer of the time. “Mercurial land / Trembling John Kerry hailed the achievement as “a terrific job”). Yet research beyond reach / Doesn’t care what you mean / When you use words like shows that military pollution and its consequence, conflict pollution, sovereignty,” answers another voice in an elongated, funereal melody: is a more substantial climate menace than the emissions of entire it seems, almost, like the Fiery Father’s chastisement of the British. countries in the Global South. Kirkuk’s oilfields have been a frequent A collaboration between British-Kurdish artist Wahid, singer/ target of militant attacks, with the latest in April 2021 attributed to composer Amal Saeed Kurda and sound isis. A second work in the Baltic show, producer Owen Pratt, this multilayered Sick Pink Sun (2022), speaks directly to these catastrophes. Wahid memorialsoundscape, Naphtha Maqam (2022), is a ises a haunting image from the afterhaunting work that weaves together math of one such attack – in which the history of European and American the resulting toxic cloud (visible from oil imperialism in the Middle East, the destructive effects of extractive pracspace) renders the sun a dull crimson – tices on the natural world and Kurdish with an uncanny, rust-pink spotlight. The third work, Baba Gurgur (2022), myth to create an affectively charged is an approximately two-metre-high series of maqams, or melodies. The sculpture of the Salvia spinosa flower, ‘naphtha’ of its title can mean any of painted in deep purples, greens and various volatile, highly flammable coppers that give it an oil-slick iridesliquid hydrocarbon mixtures, but is cence. Through these, Wahid says that the name the oil tapped at Kirkuk was she is “trying to suggest an altered given in British colonial records. The landscape, but also thinking cosmiofficialese of Wahid’s voiceover, which underscores the arrogant ignorance cally about what all this means. The of an imperialism that thinks it can pervasive consequences of these events master nature without consequences, need to be discussed both through the elemental and affective, and through clashes pointedly with the poetic lyrics that she has written for Kurda’s expresthe politics.” sive voice. Wahid attends to these politics through a sustained, critical engageWahid tells me that Naphtha Maqam ment with the past in her practice: began with a question that looks at “I see history as a way of understandthe world from an entirely different perspective and invites us to stretch beyond the limits of our human- ing the now,” she says, “but also the future, which becomes a way of centric imagination: “What might sound sound like if you were the oil thinking about identity and politics in a fictive realm”. Especially below the ground?” In a singing answer to Wahid’s recitations of colo- valuable is how the artist’s visual and sonic reinterpretation of events nial correspondence, Kurda ventriloquises two natural phenomena – found in history books and archival material dethrones the written the oil itself, and the Salvia spinosa, one of the few flowers that grow on word. In doing so, she draws our attention to how those same events shale rocks between oil wells in Kirkuk. The soundscape is, as Wahid may have been experienced by the human and nonhuman beings that puts it, “an opera” through which the artist says she seeks to draw did not make the colonial record, but lived with the consequences. As attention to “the political, social and elemental implications of oil in at home poring through archives as she is working with paint, sound, a future we don’t yet know”. While oil is presented here as a sentient light and performance, Wahid based her previous show Aftermath being, liquid states run throughout Wahid’s sculpture, video, sound at Niru Ratnam earlier this year on her findings from the Kurdish Cultural Centre and the National Archives in and text creations as a slippery metaphor, at once political, geological and spatiotemporal. Rock preceding pages Fiery Father (still), 2019, video, 7 min. London. Those works included sculptures of Courtesy the artist and Sophie Tappeiner, Vienna otherworldly female figures like Inflammatory, Fortress (2020), for example, is an installation above Rock Fortress (detail), 2020, mixed-media Revolutionary Fever (2021), which draws on Kurdish that combines wall-mounted sculptures of iconinstallation, dimensions variable. women’s protest paraphernalia preserved at ographic lions with song (another collaboration Courtesy the artist, Contemporary Art Space, the Cultural Centre, and text-based works like with Pratt) and light, and transports Wahid’s Batumi, and E. A. Shared Space, Tbilisi


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Doesn’t Feel Like Conquering, Feels Like Reunion, 2021, resin, fibreglass, 90 × 54 × 6 cm. Courtesy the artist and Sophie Tappeiner, Vienna

Winter 2022


Jala Wahid, 2021 (installation view, Sophie Tappeiner presentation at Frieze London, 2021).Photo: Tim Bowditch. Courtesy the artist and Sophie Tappeiner, Vienna


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The Profitless Gift (2021), where Wahid recontextualises the British life, political sovereignty and diasporic experiences are certainly all political narrative around the Middle East during the 1920s as it exists important to Wahid, but not just for their usefulness in examining in the National Archives. Comprising memos, telegrams and letters what may constitute Kurdish identity today. Rather, the artist brings exchanged between British government officials, oil engineers and the viewer back to the material reality that informs, among other diplomats about Kurdish, American, French and Ottoman actors in things, the making and unmaking of cultural identity; there are the then-British colony (or ‘mandate’) of Iraq, The Profitless Gift maps lands in which people are rooted, and the struggle over ownership of precious materials in these lands too the covert political manoeuvres that eventually secured nearly half of Iraq’s oil Her art’s focus on the intersections often determines which people will, or reserves for Britain under the 1928 Red Line will not be, positioned as citizen, refugee of the elemental and geopolitical Agreement. But it also shows how archives or collateral damage. makes difficult the all-too-easy construct myths about those deemed ‘other’; In the case of the Kurds, oil remains in the letters, the British scoff at the ‘comic “a futile symbol of nationalism”, laments refuge that critics can sometimes opera’ of Kurds participating in an electoral take in using ‘identity’ as a catchall Wahid: equal parts a promise of liberaprocess. Colonial power can have a ‘casual, tion, wrapped up in the long-awaited term whenever they discuss the Kurdish dream of political and economintimate’ kind of violence, Wahid reflects, in ic autonomy, and a vulnerability that that it can “utter something about an entire output of a non-Western artist others have exploited for a century. To people and it becomes fact, echoing in its effects through time”. Describing the self-image of the colonial settler attempt to make sense of it, Wahid considers not only the resource in Wretched of the Earth (1961), Frantz Fanon once recounted perfectly theft committed by Western states, “but also the oppressions of the the epistemic violence that Wahid points to here: ‘He [the settler] is the occupying powers in the region [Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran], and intraabsolute beginning: “This land was created by us”; he is the unceasing Kurdish issues”. And so while petrocolonialism is one material facet to cause: “If we leave, all is lost”’; ‘All the while the native, bent double, Kurdish identity, Wahid’s work speaks to how the imbalance of indusmore dead than alive, exists interminably in an unchanging dream.’ trial power and wealth it has generated has shaped all of our lives – Given not only the formative presence of the British Empire in even when located far from geographies of extraction. Whether we are the Middle East but also the migration of persecuted Kurds to the more its beneficiary or its victim depends on where we find ourselves uk during the 1980s and 90s (among them Wahid’s parents), when – economically, racially – on the map of climate imperialism. For Wahid asserts that “British history is my history”, the statement the artist, “it’s not even knowing what is buried, not knowing what is loaded. “Kurdish issues are spoken about within the geopolit- I don’t know” – or the “terrific job”, in Kerry’s words, of imperialism’s ical boundaries of the lands they are in – but I’m wary of that,” she coverup – that continues to drive her creative excavations. ara says. “When you localise issues, it makes it easier for people not to feel implicated by them.” Her art’s focus on the intersections of the Conflagration is on view at Baltic, Gateshead, through 30 April elemental and geopolitical makes difficult the all-too-easy refuge that critics can sometimes take in using ‘identity’ as a catchall term whenSarah Jilani is a researcher in postcolonial film and literatures ever they discuss the output of a non-Western artist. Kurdish cultural at the University of Cambridge

The Profitless Gift, 2021 (installation view, Testament, Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, London). Photo: Rob Harris. Courtesy Goldsmiths cca, London

Winter 2022


Songlines: Kaylene Whiskey by Fi Churchman

following pages Once there were seven sisters who descended But the giddy comics of Whiskey’s paintings Wonder Woman flying over Country, 2020, from the sky. Upon landing on Earth, the also present a barbed commentary on the coloacrylic on found print, 22 × 22 cm; sisters – known by various names, and called nisation and subsequent mining of Indigenous Dolly Parton and Tina Turner, 2019, the Kungkarangkalpa by the Pitjantjatjara and land, and the ramifications of the market for acrylic on linen, 91 × 122 cm; Tea with Dolly, 2021, acrylic on linen, 122 × 152 cm; Yankunytjatjara people of the Central Australian precious stones. Coober Party (2019), an acrylic Coober Party, 2019, acrylic on linen, 91 × 122 cm; desert – were pursued by a group of lascivious painting on linen, shows Wonder Woman, Seven Sisters Song, 2021, water-based enamel men. The sisters chased them away using sticks. on sa Tourist Attraction road sign, 120 × 180 × 3 cm Whoopi Goldberg (as Sister Mary Clarence) But one man, called Wati Nyiru, remained comand Tina Turner surrounded by plants, butterall images Photos: Luis Power.Courtesy the artist flies and clouds against a pale blue backdrop; mitted to stealing a woman from the group, to and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney but Tina holds a bejewelled mortar pick, and have as his wife. Wati Nyiru followed them across the land, spying, sneaking, setting traps and launching attacks. from her mouth blooms a speech bubble that reads, ‘I’m Tina Turner The eldest sister, however, guided her siblings in thwarting each of the noodleing for opals and gold’ (nodding to Coober Pedy’s reputation lecher’s attempts. Eventually, having had enough of this nonsense, the as Australia’s opal capital, and the practice of fossicking around mines Kungkarangkalpa devised a plan of escape, returning to the safety of for scraps of precious materials), while a drifting thought bubble pictures a black chest containing a gold cross and an angry little the sky and taking refuge as a cluster of stars. That songline is one of many Aboriginal creation stories that skull. (References to Christianity and its role in colonising Australia, track their way across Australia’s landscape and, taken as a whole, and later in creating the Stolen Generation of children of Aboriginal map Tjukurpa – the creation period that forms the foundation of the descent, are not lost.) Indigenous Australian worldview; some songlines describe the creaElsewhere in Coober Party, a house spews out grey smoke, indition of geographical formations, flora and fauna local to the song’s cating the increase in pollution levels caused by industrial mining, area, as well as sacred sites, ceremonies and codes of living that are while a mala (rufous hare wallaby) looks on; as ancestral beings the particular to a specific Aboriginal group, while others, like the story Mala are important to the An-angu people, providing guidance on of the seven sisters, span larger expanses of terrain and are shared by how to steward the land and nurture relationships between humans, multiple Aboriginal peoples. other animals and plants. At the edge of the painting, a bottle of CocaYankunytjatjara artist Kaylene Whiskey adopts female pop- Cola tips its contents into pots of flowering plants. The fizzy drink culture figures as her sisters in Seven Sisters Song (2021), depicting makes a frequent appearance in Whiskey’s works, including in a series the likes of Tina Turner, Cher, Wonder Woman and Cat Woman in of three animations made in 2019 for Artspace’s online programme brightly coloured enamel painted over a brown South Australia 52 Actions: “Come, come to drink Coca-Cola!” croons Whiskey as figures tourist attraction road sign for Iwantja Arts (an Indigenous-owned art and motifs from her paintings spin about on screen. centre, of which Whiskey is a member, in Indulkana, located in the These themes are extended in her most recent videowork, Ngura An-angu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara – apy – Lands). Surrounding Pukulpa–Happy Place (2022). The artist’s signature blend of the tradithe cavorting women are various creatures, fruits, hearts, as well as tional and the pop-cultural are again fused as she and a group of a jug of Sprite, a tv and a Christmas tree. Whiskey’s paintings are a seven female friends drive around (and sometimes fly around) riotous affair, bringing together in exuberant celebration contem- partying in the desert and celebrating the joy of life, all the while porary female icons (one of the characters painted in Seven Sisters Song exploring the complexity of contemporary identity. “My name is brandishes a flag that reads ‘Kungka Kun-pu’, or ‘Strong Women’, Kaylene Imantura Whiskey,” the artist chants, before transforming a theme that courses through her work) and the ancestral stories of the into the kind of glamorous global superstars and superheroes her artist’s An-angu culture. paintings describe.


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Samson Young Music for selective hearing, or assisted living Kiang Malingue, Hong Kong 24 September – 5 November Complementing the bright yellow floor of the gallery’s industrial Hong Kong space are three boxy structures painted in primary colours. Titled Columns of air (2022), the hollow objects conceal electric fans that are given away by their quiet, constant whirr. These are Hong Kong artist Samson Young’s take on the white-noise machine, which was invented in 1962 by American industrialist James K. Buckwalter. According to the original patent, the device induces sleep by achieving ‘acoustical privacy’, producing ‘restful’ sounds while excluding ‘disturbing ambient noises’. For Young, such sound-conditioning technologies reflect an ideological belief in the goodness

of a regimented life, in which one’s environment, time and basic functions are optimised. But what are the limits of this control? Who do we trust to define them? And what exactly makes a noise ‘disturbing’? These questions animate the artist’s fascinating, incisive exhibition. The show’s centrepiece, Often easy, sometimes impossible (2021–22), gives visitors an earful of sounds believed (erroneously) by eighteenthcentury European physicians to trigger a nervous disposition. Emanating from a recording booth in the middle of the gallery, Young’s score for viola, triangle and synthesised glass harmonica is hauntingly spare, pierced by

Music for selective hearing, or assisted living, 2022 (installation view). Courtesy the artist and Kiang Malingue, Hong Kong


ArtReview Asia

occasional whistling or the deliberate scratch of performer William Lane’s bow. Projected onto the booth is footage of Lane recording behind a fogged-up window, cocooned in glass and condensation. Nearby, a larger projection on a diaphanous fabric screen displays a closeup of the musician’s hand fingering through the composition on Young’s wrist, with superimposed wisps of smoke, forest imagery and soothing colour filters in sunset reds. Behind the fabric is an old piano, from which an electronic bow emits a high-pitched tone that mimics tinnitus in visitors who stand close enough. With its layers of audiovisual occlusion and amalgam of pleasing and

irritating stimuli, the work heightens unresolved tensions between illness and cure, between intimacy and isolation. On a ledge adjacent to the recording booth is the wryly titled Too-cruel-for-live-performance music: 80000-word-long white noise, in 16 chapters of 5000 words each (2022), a hand-bound book with a scan of the artist’s brain on the cover. Young’s psychiatrist had ordered the mri to eliminate a physiological cause for what the artist describes as ‘a sudden onset of suboptimal mood’. The book’s pages are filled with lines like ‘qqloilsiowigh hhholloiszow’ – a machinelearning model’s phonetic transcription of white noise. This simple sensory shift turns a source of calm into confounding gibberish. Young’s playful paradoxes consistently interrogate how systems and modes of (supposedly benevolent) control can be fallible, absurd and arbitrary. The messengers (2022)

subverts not medical but legal authority by way of re-spelled legal texts that, when read aloud, make the speaker sound drunk. Fragments of these texts and phoneticised birdcalls appear on tiny screens that act as the ‘eyes’ of avian sculptures inspired by mythical beings, including the falcon-headed Egyptian deity, Horus, and the winged tengu of Japanese folklore. Also onscreen are algorithmically rendered circular animations that recall sonar scans, inflecting the work with the threat of weaponised surveillance. Young’s creatures are unreliable messengers, harbouring scrambled missives and dubious motives. At every turn, Young muddles authority with an unnerving, even chaotic, ambiguity. This is taken furthest in Unclear terms of engagement (a line, a gesture, an alphabet or number) (2021–22), a series of pastel, pencil and colour pencil drawings featuring elements of

graphical music scores that are so abstract as to contain almost no discernible musical information. In one work, yellow-outlined rectangles intermingle with orange rhizomic forms. In another, white bars of negative space glare against a light green background. These drawings are a continuation of Young’s interest in conveying his personal experiences of music through a pictorial language that is evocative rather than prescriptive, a fuzzy line of communication between himself and the viewer. Music for selective hearing, or assisted living has the characteristic sprawl of arcane facts and clever reimaginings that one has come to expect from Young’s practice, but it is more intimate and poignant in its excavation of personal anxieties within a wider discourse on authority, constraint and the generative potential of indeterminacy. Ophelia Lai

Unclear terms of engagement (a line, a gesture, an alphabet or number) No. 9, 2021–22, soft pastel, pencil and colour pencil on paper, 100 × 72 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kiang Malingue, Hong Kong

Winter 2022


At Home / On Stage: Asian American Representation in Photography and Film Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Palo Alto 31 August – 15 January In a small second-floor gallery at Cantor Arts Center, At Home / On Stage charts a rich legacy of Asian diasporic communities and their visual representations. One of three inaugural exhibitions from Stanford’s Asian American Art Initiative, it examines public and private spaces in Asian American life through archival photographs and artistic works, chronicling the intrinsic role of media technology in the formation of Asian American identity, beginning with the first major wave of immigration during the 1800s. From early cartes-de-visite to multichannel video installation, At Home / On Stage presents an incisive rendering of Asian America through the lens of media history.

The stereotyping and marginalisation of Asian Americans undergirds the exhibition’s contemporary selections. Stephanie Syjuco’s standout Afterimages (Interference of Vision) (2021) is an intentionally crumpled archival photograph of three Filipino Igorot dancers. The original image, used to promote the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair, advertised a Filipino ‘human zoo’. The pictured figures are folded on each other and obscured from view, an act that simultaneously calls attention to the violence of the initial display while foreclosing contemporary access to the dancers’ faces and bodies. In Miljohn Ruperto’s Appearance of Isabel Rosario Cooper (2006–10), the artist collages clips from

Gloria Wong, Ngan, 2020, archival pigment print. Courtesy the artist


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films that featured the eponymous midcentury Filipino American actress, blurring out any other figures in the frames. Cooper’s ‘appearances’ are brief – she twirls in a dance hall, recites a line to a scene partner. Both Syjuco and Ruperto emphasise the marginalisation of their Asian-American forebears, offering ways to negotiate this history without recreating its harm. The documentary photography by Asian Americans casts a light on diasporic community, homing in on twentieth-century negotiations of the medium. In one astonishing print produced by 1920s San Francisco-based May’s Photo Studio, a composite portrait includes

family members located in both China and America, collaged together in a single scene. One man, clothed in a black blazer and tie, sits next to a young boy who wears a Chinese tangzhuang, or Tang suit. Michael Jang’s 1970s series The Jangs explores the cultural milieu of Chinese-American life via images of the artist’s family: Study Hall (1973) shows a group of children browsing a range of popular print media, from Archie comics to mad magazine. Here, American cultural products obscure – both literally and figuratively – the individual faces of Jang’s family members. In these photographs, immigrant communities develop singular relationships to mass media, forming an artistic space that encapsulates the Asian American household. An equal investment in fatigue and death matches the occasionally lighthearted tone of the exhibition’s domestic portraiture. Patty

Chang’s Que Sera Sera/Invocations (2013–14), a two-channel video installation, shows the artist holding her baby while singing to her father in hospice care. Another screen reveals an iPad, which Chang’s mother scrolls through while reading a series of unusual prayers: “invocation of vocal cord paralysis” follows an “invocation of artificial respiration”. Opposite Chang’s film, Reagan Louie’s photographs are especially resonant: in Cousin, Wing Wor, China (1983), a vivid colour print depicts a man lying on a couch. The accompanying photograph, Jiao, Shenzen, China (1980), presents the artist’s best friend, Jiao, in a similar pose, on a bed with his eyes closed. Chang and Louie’s works capture moments of exhaustion that converse with the exhibition’s focus on violence and displacement. This penetrating look at media and identity investigates the ramifications of oppression in

the Asian American community, a heritage embedded in the museum itself. Indeed, there is an elephant in the room – or just off the lobby, where two permanent exhibitions laud Leland Stanford Sr’s family history. Stanford, the university and museum’s founder, oversaw the construction of the American transcontinental railroad, a project that depended on the underpaid labour of roughly 15,000 Chinese Americans, an estimated 1,200 of whom died due to hazardous working conditions. In an age of institutional apologia, At Home/On Stage feels both refreshing, in its particular focus on artwork by Asian Americans, and circumspect, unable to acknowledge Stanford’s exploitative practices. As I left the museum, I thought of one of Chang’s incantations, an “invocation of bureaucratic waste”. The artists included here challenge Stanford’s legacy, even if the institution does not. Claudia Ross

Michael Jang, Monroe and Cynthia Watching tv, 1973, gelatin silver print on fibre-based paper. Courtesy the artist

Winter 2022


Busan Biennale We, On the Rising Wave Various venues, Busan 3 September – 6 November The 2022 Busan Biennale opened on the same day as the inaugural Frieze Seoul, and the experience of the two couldn’t have been more different. In the coastal city there’s no breezing through with a glass of champagne in one hand and an art adviser in the other; this is an exhibition that demands you pay attention. Spread across four venues (the Museum of Contemporary Art Busan, Pier 1 of Busan Port, an abandoned factory on Yeongdo and a house in the area of Choryang), the exhibition, headed by artistic director Haeju Kim (formerly deputy director at the Art Sonje Center in Seoul), features 64 artists and collectives from around the world. And while the works on show have been selected to match four subthemes – migration, labour and women, technological transformation and the urban ecosystems – they are not

displayed according to those didactic thematics. As a viewer you’re left to determine your own overarching narratives. That’s not to say that there aren’t any major standout works. Netherlands-based Pakistani artist Hira Nabi’s 30-minute video All That Perishes at the Edge of Land (2019) records the thoughts of migratory workers from all around Pakistan who make their way to Gadani (45km north of Karachi and the third largest shipbreaking site in the world), in order to find work deconstructing the rusting carcasses of container ships. Installed at a seemingly abandoned warehouse-type structure on Pier 1, the film stages a conversation between the workers and a condemned ship; and slowly, as they discuss their troubles, hopes and dreams, the two become one. While the ship, given a voice, describes its sometime ambitions

of global travel, the workers are as stuck amidst a process of slow violence that mimics that of the beached vessels they are demolishing. One worker reflects on the fact that even if they wanted to leave they could not, because of the extent to which they are crushed by poverty. “The deprivation of workers’ rights should end, whether he be Hindu, Sikh, Christian or Muslim, or whoever,” says another, as the camera pans over a partially demolished ship, the waves lap against the shore and men with arc-welders get busy finishing the job. Back at the museum, the work finds an immediate echo in fellow Pakistani artist Adeela Suleman, who chronicles a cyclical history of gory violence (colonial, religious and other) in Pakistan using a traditional miniature painting style rendered on found colonial crockery. It leaves you wondering

Hira Nabi, All That Perishes at the Edge of Land (still), 2019, single-channel video, colour, sound, 30 min 33 sec. Courtesy the artist


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if the violence is as quotidian as the vessels for eating. The themes of violence and isolation find a further, dislocated echo in a suite of paintings by Busan-based Oh U-Am. Orphaned during the Korean War, the artist came to the city after 25 years in a monastery. The works, executed from the 1990s onwards in a flat, naive style that suggests a form of emotional honesty, depict his memories from the war years of muddy, mournful, isolated figures and broken train carriages, alongside colourful cityscapes of Busan today, including views looking back at the city from the sea, as you might do from Pier 1, and of subway carriages full of people whose attention is focused on their mobile phones – as isolated in the crowd as their ancestors might have been while fleeing conflict. Related to Oh’s series is the shrinelike installation and video by Sara Sejin Chang (Sara van der Heide), Four Months, Four Million Light Years (2020, previously shown at that year’s edition of the Berlin Biennale), a kind of history and exorcism of the process of transnational adoption (and the relationship

within that between Korea and the Netherlands) that flourished in the aftermath of the Korean War. Importantly, the artist implicates an art-historical print, Een Schaman ofte DuyvelPriester (Shaman or Devil’s Priest from the Tungus, 1692), by Nicolaes Witsen at the heart of the narrative, as the first Western depiction of a shaman. The work is a reminder of the role of art in crafting images that shape history – in this case notions of primitivism and backwardness, and justifications for more radical forms of colonisation – but also promoting the idea that art can reshape those images too. A notion, one is left to assume, that is also one of the foundations of this biennial. Such reshaping is certainly present in the work of Taipei-based Malaysian Aw Sow Yee, whose video installation The Extreme Journey of Perwira and the Calm Sea: In 3 Acts (2019–22) focuses on the historical figure of Tani Yutaka, a Japanese Muslim who moved from Japan to Malaya and became known as the ‘Tiger of Malaya’, a figure much romanticised as a Robin Hood-like outlaw (robbing the rich and feeding

the poor) who operated as a Japanese agent and saboteur against the British during the 1940s and inspired movies and television series (as the Tiger of Malaya), eventually becoming a character in the popular video game Animal Crossing. Two floors up in the museum, the effects of Japanese colonialism on Korea are explored in Yusuke Kamata’s installation Japanese Houses, Stone Garden of Imperialism (2022), while at Yeongdo, Japanese collective Chim Pom from Smappa!Group explore a different take on the relationship through their homebrewed combined recipe of Korean makgeolli and Japanese doburoku styles of alcoholic drink. As you wander through the rest of the show, more subtle connections emerge around repeated motifs of islands, deer, tigers and the shifting identities and perspectives associated with them. Indeed, the great strength of this well-curated and polyvalent exhibition is that while it clearly takes Busan and the forces that shape it as a framework, it contains waves that radiate to many shores, everywhere. Mark Rappolt

Adeela Suleman, Lynch Mob, 2019–20, found vintage ceramic plate, handpainted with enamel paint and lacquered, 28 × 36 cm. Courtesy the artist

Winter 2022


Li Hanwei New Painting MadeIn Gallery, Shanghai 5 September – 23 October New Communication Chi k11 art museum, Shanghai 4 September – 3 October What is the ‘new’?, I couldn’t help but wonder, after seeing both of Li Hanwei’s solo exhibitions in Shanghai. As the shared word in their titles suggests, the artist is attempting to claim a discourse about novelty and reinvention in art – an audacious move, considering that most people today would argue that we’ve been liberated from the necessity of progress and from the dichotomy of old and new. Ex nihilo nihil fit, after all. But that’s a discourse that has either passed this artist by, or that he has chosen to ignore. New Painting comprises a series of paintings – Exercise (2022) – that set themselves against ‘painting’ in any traditional sense of the word. Rather, five largescale abstract painted images, each with a mobile phone mounted at its middle, are displayed on the gallery walls. On the phones an animated gif plays out digital imagery, each of which shows a detailed, dynamic 3d-view of the printout sitting behind the respective phone. At some point a physical brush was involved; what it created was photographed and then modelled and twisted through various software that randomly stretched, compressed and twisted the images. But the ‘paintings’ are simply the files on the phones. That’s ‘new painting’. If New Painting can be seen to reframe painting somewhere between the actual and

the virtual, between emotion and engineering, then Li’s New Communication is more like a full immersion within experiences of the virtual. Its messiness and chaos evoke a sense of vertigo, echoing the experience of the overwhelming flood of information we encounter nowadays. It all started, however, with an ergonomic chair. When surfing on Taobao (one of China’s largest online shopping platforms) in search of such an item, Li instead discovered eyecatching advertisements and dazzling additional information on chairs. As well as a whole bunch of other algorithm-recommended items. The installation Back to Back (2022), at the gallery’s entrance, constitutes a giant foam mannequin bust lying on the ground with four ergonomic chairs alongside it, set against a backdrop filled with advertising slogans. Standing in front of it, a metal frame depicts an enlarged diagrammatic outline of an illustration of the chairs. Four other installations are similarly conceived, with all the materials ordered from Taobao, encompassing objects – an office desk, fitness equipment and an electric massager – recommended to him by the platform algorithm. In the case of some of the objects, the artist first rendered them in the same software he used to create his

paintings, then asked Taobao merchants to manufacture the new items, such as remaking a vacuum cleaner in fibreglass. With vibrant colours, and dramatic shapes, the crowded swamp of the installations in New Communication offers an experience of the uncanny, locating strangeness in the everyday. Very much embedded in the contemporary context of consumerism and platform capitalism, the works uncover and amplify the effects of Big Data, casting these straightforwardly into a physical space. Although varying in form, both exhibitions illustrate a consistent response to the age of technology and the way it infiltrates our daily lives. Do they present something obviously ‘new’? Given that they follow the operations of ordinary, everyday digital productions, you’d have to answer ‘no’. But then again, as Søren Kierkegaard once argued, the ‘new’ is a manifestation of a difference that we are unable to recognise because it appears common – like the incarnation of Jesus Christ as an ordinary middle-aged man. Look at it this way: in the way these exhibitions ask us to recognise where we sit within today’s data-driven society, and the sense of unsettled estrangement and alienation that we have already accepted, the answer might well be ‘yes’. Suchao Li

Exercise-010, 2022, computer engineering file, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and MadeIn Gallery, Shanghai


ArtReview Asia

New Communication, 2022 (installation view). Courtesy the artist and Chi k11 art museum, Shanghai

Winter 2022


Jong Oh First Echo One and J. Gallery, Seoul 29 August – 30 September At first glance there is not a lot going on in Jong Oh’s debut exhibition with One and J. Other, that is, than the architecture and whitewashed walls of the white-cube-ish gallery space. Then you notice a tall wooden right angle extending from the floor, its arm balanced on a blue marble on the stairs leading up to the first floor. It’s additionally held in place by a wire-thin metal rod stretching up to the wall in parallel to the stairs, at which point a pencil line drawn on the wall descends back down towards the floor. It’s titled Line Sculpture #22 (all works 2022) and you’re not entirely sure if it’s a statement about some form of equilibrium or force dynamics, a subtle adjustment to the architecture of the space or the choreography for some kind

of ballet. Is the building structurally unsound? Was the staircase about to collapse? Is someone mapping out future improvements to the space, or is it the residue of some ritual that happened before you walked in? In a way it’s all, and none, of those things. Enhancing the liminal feel is the fact that Jong Oh works somewhere between drawing and sculpture. Indeed, you could describe Line Sculpture #23 by its shapes: as a line (a wooden rod) stretching out from the wall, attached to which is a semicircle (which looks like it’s made from metal wire), dangling from the tip of which is another line, held in tension by a metal weight. You might also describe it in terms of engineering alone. Works like Line Sculpture #24,

wooden frames describing two planes set at right angles, with two string diagonals stretched between them (as if to give you an idea of where a third plane might sit), equally invite you to construct a space, as if they were some form of architectural plan. And for all the certainty that the artist conveys about the simple forms that he is constructing, a sense of uncertainty hovers over the visitor. Not least because you’re looking out for the telltale presence of blue marbles, stretched string or fishing wire, or dangling weights to let you know where a sculpture might be before you run into it. For all these existential trip hazards, there’s something wonderfully uncanny at work here. Mark Rappolt

Line Sculpture #22, 2022, wood, marble, metal rod, pencil line, 163 × 52 × 46 cm. Photo Euirock Lee. Courtesy One and J. Gallery, Seoul


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mmca Hyundai Motor Series 2022 Choe U-Ram mmca Seoul 9 September – 26 February At the centre of Choe U-Ram’s iteration of the mmca’s annual Hyundai-sponsored contemporary art showcase is an elaborately constructed maritime fable, built around an undulating (literally), metal-ribbed rowboat. At first sight, the jointed mechanism that makes up Little Ark’s (2022) centrepiece looks more like a robot insect, perhaps a mechanised centipede, lying legs raised upwards on its back. As its ribs begin to move, its legs become apparent as carboardedged oars, and the nautical theme becomes clear. This is reinforced by a set of surrounding props: Anchor (2022), a used-looking metal anchor mounted on one wall, Two Captains (2022) (blank, pointing human figures made out of recycled cardboard boxes) sitting one to the front and one to the rear of the Lighthouse, which is itself placed in the centre of the ark, and Angel (2022), a goldleafed sculpture-cum-masthead

of the heavenly creature, dangling drowsily from ceiling wires and looking more like Icarus than Gabriel. A video of open doorways and a Kusama-like mirrored sculpture synthesising infinite space sit at either end of the whole thing, suggesting some sort of endless voyage. Cumulatively, it leaves you wondering if the work contains some message about escape, a biblical lecture, a hint at a Waterworld (1995)style environmental catastrophe to come or a retro throwback to the mecha-creatures of 1980s Japanese animé Zoids. The wall text that opens the show promises ‘a performance that reconstructs the reality we are in now’. And if you’re beginning to think, on the basis of this, that reality is confusing, then Choe’s Little Ark might well be an accurate reflection of that. Choe’s work in general operates at some strange intersection of the natural, the manmade

and the animate. Some of his signature kinetic sculptures, alongside related drawings, paintings and lightworks, make up the rest of this expansive exhibition. One (2020) and Red (2021) are giant black and red motorised chrysanthemums, their petals made of Tyvek (a material used in much of the ppe that was ubiquitous during the heyday of the pandemic), opening and closing to articulate the cycles of life. These are matched, at the end of the show, by urc-1 (2014) and urc-2 (2016), two human-sized balls made up of used and repurposed Hyundai automobile head- and breaklights respectively, which together continue the theme of recycling (while nodding to the exhibition sponsors). They’re functional, even beyond their original intended use. And yet, despite this ongoing sense of extension, while this exhibition definitely moves you’re never quite sure if it’s going anywhere. Mark Rappolt

mmca Hyundai Motor Series 2022, Choe U-Ram (installation view). Courtesy mmca Seoul

Winter 2022


Michael Rakowitz The invisible enemy should not exist (Northwest Palace of Kalhu, Room S, Western Entrance) Green Art Gallery, Dubai 19 September – 23 November On entering this exhibition, I’m immediately drawn to a series of colourful panels depicting familiar winged figures: logos and words in English and Arabic are revealed in the layered spirals of their beards, the feathers of their wings, their horned helmets and decorated wrists, the tasselled garments that wrap and drape around their bodies, and their skin. They say things like ‘halal chicken flavored bouillon’, ‘Medjool dates’ and ‘eastern sweets’. These paper-collage reliefs are Rakowitz’s latest reconstructions of the sculptural originals that adorned the walls of the ancient Assyrian Northwest Palace of Kalhu (Nimrud) near present-day Mosul, Iraq. Institutions in Europe and the us have excavated such creations at the palace since the mid-1800s (with artefacts kept at institutions including the British Museum, London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Any panels that remained after this looting were destroyed by isis in 2015. Drawing from databases of reference images, Rakowitz rebuilds the reliefs using polychromatic papier-mâché made of West Asian foodpackaging and Arabic-English newspapers (including for the first time fragments from old issues of Nineveh, 1977–, a quarterly publication in Modern Assyrian and English donated to Rakowitz’s studio by the Assyrian Foundation of America). Having been exhibited in cities across the United States (the Iraqi-American artist lives in Chicago), such materials provide moments of Arab cultural visibility beyond oil and war. Rakowitz began the ongoing project The invisible enemy should not exist in 2007, in an effort to ‘reappear’ threatened, destroyed and missing artefacts and architecture of Assyrian cultural heritage. The title is a translation

of ‘Aj ibur shapu’, the name of the processional way that ran through Nebuchadnezzar’s Ishtar Gate in Babylon, and invites us to consider who the invisible enemy really is; in the context of Rakowitz’s work, one can infer that this points to those who perpetrated the looting and erasure of Assyrian cultural artefacts. In 2018 Rakowitz embarked on recreating each room of the Northwest Palace of Kalhu, which, for one-and-a-half centuries of the Assyrian empire’s 300-year-history served as its administrative centre and King Ashurnasirpal II’s principal residence. On show here is a section of ‘Room S’, and what would have been a reception hall. Glancing down, my eyes are caught by museum labels accompanied by quotes, both in English and Arabic, stuck to the floor. For example, the label for a section of wall, ‘S-13’, provides a description (‘panel with right half of tree’), a location, the years it was excavated and acquired, and a quote by someone only identified as ‘Amar’ that reads, ‘We feel sad as a lot of people in the villages worked at Nimrud. People would come from all over Iraq to visit this palace and now it’s gone.’ There are more labels spread out across the gallery floor. They require you to reorient mentally inside the gallery’s space, imagining walls and the spaces between them as you follow the labels in sequence. An integral part of the installation, the labels indicate the empty spaces left by extant panels held in private collections or Western institutions. Combined with Rakowitz’s own remodelling of panels that remained in the palace until their destruction in 2015, the installation transports visitors to the site just before it was destroyed by isis. Much of Rakowitz’s practice is concerned with themes of knowledge, belonging, removal

facing page, top The invisible enemy should not exist (Northwest Palace of Kalhu, Room S, Panel S-20) (detail), 2022, Arabic newspapers, food packaging, cardboard relief sculptures on wood panel, 225 × 203 × 10 cm. Courtesy Green Art Gallery, Dubai


and loss in relation to Iraq. Hanging across one of the walls of the exhibition is Charita Baghdad (2020). The largescale sheet of archival paper features a series of digital prints of the pages of a 1936 Passover Haggadah belonging to the Baghdadi Jewish community. Stains on the browned pages of the book become parts of sketches that flow over the pages’ borders, depicting maps of Palestine and Iraq, and alongside them graphite illustrations of votive sculptures from Tell Asmar (a collection of c. 2900–2550 bce figures uncovered in 1933) and of the artist’s grandfather, as well as arrows that point to pencilled notations: ‘The word “Allah” in Arabic-in-Hebrew letters’ and ‘So, why is Arabic written in Hebrew letters for the Iraqi Jewish community?’. Such close page-by-page analysis of this Hebrew prayerbook brings into question the contested identity of the Arab Jew. Rakowitz provides significant and critical examinations of pressing issues of erasure, identity and restitution that are tied regionally and internationally. Here, in a gallery in the Middle East, about 1,400km from Baghdad, these works are weighted by a sense of loss. But they also offer a valuable opportunity for people who have stakes in these materials and histories to connect more closely with what they were stripped of, and offer a more tender encounter with stolen and displaced artefacts than one might experience within the context of the Western museums in which much of Assyrian culture is held. The invisible enemy… isn’t about a full return of those lost objects, but about the metaphors and materials that constitute the work. They offer something beyond nostalgia, as close and sensitive a revival of ancient Iraqi history and culture as we might have left. Yalda Bidshahri

facing page, bottom The invisible enemy should not exist (Northwest Palace of Kalhu, Room S, Panel S-d-2) (detail), 2022, Arabic newspapers, food packaging, cardboard relief sculptures on wood panel, 225 × 164 × 10 cm. Courtesy Green Art Gallery, Dubai

ArtReview Asia

Winter 2022


Pao Houa Her Paj qaum ntuj / Flowers of the Sky Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 28 July – 22 January Pao Houa Her’s photographic practice has long engaged with Hmong communities, family stories and significant moments of encounter and exchange between Hmong who continue to live in Southeast Asia and the Hmong diaspora in the United States. For the work in her most recent solo exhibition, she travelled to the volcanic highlands surrounding Mount Shasta in Northern California, where Hmong farmers put traditional high-altitude growing practices, honed in the mountains of Southeast Asia, to use. A black-and-white floor-to-ceiling portrait of the dormant volcano sets the stage for the show: the snow-capped peak looms large behind an array of freestanding cutout photographs of red opium poppies that rise from the floor. Once a cash crop for Laotian Hmong farmers, the poppies, however, are not the eponymous flowers of the sky. The epithet instead refers to cannabis, legally cultivated in California since 2016,

and the resulting ‘green rush’ that brought Hmong Americans to Shasta. The quasi-theatrical opening gives way to two series of restrained black-and-white photography. Referencing satellite surveillance imagery, Her shows an incomplete grid of 16 square aerial views of the area: juniper-dotted desertscapes alternate with small cultivated plots of cannabis. The gaps in the grid evoke what cannot be seen from afar: the texture of sand, the sagebrush thickets, the small signs of human habitation in this inhospitable place. In untitled, Mt. Shasta series (2021–22), the land comes closer. On largescale lightboxes, gnarly trees twist across arid soil. Blackened from wildfires, limbs tangle with derelict fencing or snag empty plastic bags. Irrigation hoses drape across branches or wind through sand and snow. Evidence of human-made structures is subtle but nonetheless undercuts any trace of romanticism.

untitled, Mt. Shasta series, 2021–22. Courtesy the artist and Bockley Gallery, Minneapolis


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A two-channel video installation titled Kuv nco koj, rov qab los (I miss you, come back) (2022) shapes the exhibition’s mood: two vocalists, one filmed in northern Minnesota, the other in Laos, perform Hmong song poetry. A wall didactic explains the genre, its form, history and content. On one screen, a woman sings of her longing to return to a distant tropical home; on the other, a man who left California for Laos expresses his desire for a second chance in the United States. Though no subtitles are provided, their plaintive voices and sombre miens convey the melancholy of exile that does not end with return. Her’s work eschews nostalgia but probes the space between distance and the desire to belong, perhaps exacerbated by the intimate ties between Hmong people and the land. Pensive, the exhibition conjures a visual poetics of loss and longing that is punctuated by a practical resilience that manifests in Her’s images. Christina Schmid

Wolfgang Laib City of Silence Thaddaeus Ropac, London 8 September – 3 October Made from beeswax – glistening ochre yellow and milk-coffee brown and filling the gallery with its mellow, vaguely bitter aroma – the City of Silence (2020) is a loose gathering of softly cartoonish gabled houses, tall thin towers and stepped triangular forms, somewhere between pyramids and ziggurats. Primal archetypes of human architecture, perhaps also devotional, Wolfgang Laib’s settlement appears uninhabited. Rectangular windows and doors open onto dark interiors. And yet, as the other forms shaped in profile of a human head and shoulders suggest, these structures might be dwellings of a more spiritual kind, attentive and meditative at once. Laib’s long attachment to non-Western spiritual traditions, his fascination with ancient architectural form and his use of organic substances connoting plenty and fecundity

(pollen, rice, wax, milk) make for work that hovers between a sense of the archaic and of what is historically enduring. It’s not much enamoured of modernity, but it retains a commitment to tropes of civilised human being – building, raising, cultivating, travelling. Along Thaddaeus Ropac’s long marble hall, on dark wood shelves, a line of shining boats rest on mounds of rice, the boats cut and folded from thin bright brass sheet (Untitled, 2011–12). Laib’s forms are crafted distillations of human mythos, tensed between nature, spirituality and the secular space of contemporary art. But while the making of these objects from natural stuff can sometimes seem arbitrary and performative – why make the buildings specifically from beeswax, other than because this is one of Laib’s ‘signature’ materials? –

that ambiguity doesn’t extend to the many works on paper shown together in an upstairs gallery. Pencil and oil pastel trace and fill out zigguratlike towers, in sunny yellows, vivid reds and ghostly whites, a recurring motif among other hieroglyphlike graphic forms – triangles, archways (or perhaps headstones) and a device that suggest a flaming bowl – mapped in grids and more complex patterns. Photographs of tombs in Turkey and shrines in India, hung alongside, insist on the drawings’ roots in Laib’s New Age globetrotting. But the drawings themselves, in their abstracting, platonic simplicity and their absorbing patterning and symmetry, remind us of the connection between thinking, imagining and making that comprises the enduring ideal of human society in its world. J.J. Charlesworth

City of Silence, 2022 (installation view). Photo: Eva Herzog. © the artist. Courtesy Thaddaeus Ropac, London

Winter 2022


17th Istanbul Biennial Various venues, Istanbul 17 September – 20 November One evening in September, in the amphitheatre of the Santralistanbul arts complex, I watched a performance by Bread and Puppet Theater. The venerable American troupe stages dramas that invoke mythical, messianic visions (its performances over the past six decades have doubled up, variously, as demonstrations against the Vietnam War and the avarice of Wall Street). Here, it consisted of enormous papier-mâché serpents, flag-toting stilt-walkers and chanted nursery rhymes – a near-constant cacophony (by turns engrossing and boring) that was only stilled by the arrival of the evening call to prayer wafting over rooftops. Later in the week, I observed (with a strange feeling of detachment) the Indonesian artist Arahmaiani conduct a crude flag-waving ritual; each banner marked with a Turkish word, for ‘rebellion’, or for ‘love’. Looking back on this year’s Istanbul Biennial, and its enthusiastic homespun parades, ritual and ceremony, I wondered: what good, in the end, is such pageantry? The biennial’s untitled 17th edition ostensibly seeks to articulate a turn to long-term thinking and a concern for local communities. ‘Rather than a great tree, laden with sweet, ripe fruit, this biennial seeks to learn from the birds’ flight, from the once teeming seas, from the

earth’s slow chemistry of renewal and nourishment,’ Ute Meta Bauer, Amar Kanwar and David Teh write in their melodious curatorial statement. ‘Let this biennial be compost. It may begin before it is to begin and continue well after it is over.’ Fittingly for an exhibition that held its opening reception in a medicinal garden, fragrant with kaffir lime and Chinese ginger – and in which the artist Laura Anderson Barbata had hung a set of crimson hammocks made by Yucatán weavers – this motif of rich fertiliser is an invitation to mount artworks that, in parts, gestured towards a set of folkish politics. These took the form of micro-utopias – spaces that not only promise to be bastions against all that is bad in the world, but stage rehearsals for a better world to come. For instance, the printing of a special newspaper titled Dumpling Post; at its launch event, guests gorged on delicious lamb-filled manti. The conception of the publication (filled with articles that unravel the connections between food and politics) dates back to 2019, when Istanbul’s Hrant Dink Foundation – the civil-society organisation founded in memory of the murdered journalist – was banned from holding a conference on political history. In response, the foundation’s staff insisted on their right to

Cooking Sections, Wallowland, 2022 (installation view, Büyükdere35, 17th Istanbul Biennial). Photo: David Levene


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open dialogue; they went shopping for flour, butter and rolling pins, scoured the area for specialist chefs and held a ‘Dumpling Festival’ instead. Elsewhere in the city, the artist duo Cooking Sections have opened a traditional milk-pudding shop, selling exquisitely rich custards – purportedly to draw attention to the unlucky water buffalo whose wetlands on the outskirts of Istanbul are shrinking ever further in the face of the encroaching capital. (I am probably far from the first to observe that the biennial’s main sponsor, Turkey’s biggest industrial conglomerate, has played its own part in Istanbul’s rampant processes of urbanisation and gentrification.) The city, this exhibition appears to say, has its own secret stories to tell. Installed within the sixteenth-century Çinili Hamam is Taloi Havini’s installation Answer to the Call (2021), which brings the sound of sonar mapping with sacral flutes and chanting into a call-andresponse score. And yet it’s the architecture of the Ottoman bathhouse, transformed into a chamber filled with chiming tones and crashing ambience, that plays the starring role. Similarly, the artist Tarek Atoui uses the cavernous resonances of another historical bathhouse, the Küçük Mustafa Paşa Hamamı, to create a soundscape

that draws our attention to the creation and processing of sound itself. In Whispering Playground (2022) he runs workshops instructing children in the haptic, sensual qualities of noise and music by playing them field recordings of Istanbul’s busy shipyards, and then filtering the sounds – via underwater microphones – through pails and basins filled with water. Striking a more disturbing note, beneath Gezi Park lies a disused metro tunnel more than 250 metres long: here, Carlos Casas has installed his bone-shattering work Cyclope (2022), which manipulates elongated, mysterious noises (his many undisclosed sources include experiments derived from sound torture), into a vast, upsetting experience. Gentler is Elif Öner and Evrim Kavcar’s Dictionary of Sensitive Sounds (2022), an installation at the Performistanbul space, which draws a map of the ‘in-between sounds’ of daily life. These sounds-as-memory-capsules include a clutch of pebbles and coloured glass accompanied by the scrawled note: ‘the sound of swallowing after you’ve been dehydrated for a long time’. In many cases, however, the spaces housing the works continue to be so intriguing that the art inside them is fated to become undone. It isn’t long, at the Pera – host to an installation by the artists Irwan Ahmett and Tita Salina, studded with samples of dry lava, which appears to offer a sociopolitical history of volcanic eruptions in Java; Lida Abdul’s video In Transit (2008), in which Afghan children stuff an abandoned military plane with cotton and pretend to fly it like a kite;

and a droning performance by Sriwhana Spong in which dancers ring a collection of bronze orbs like bells – before I’m wandering downstairs to inspect the museum’s magnificent collection of Ottoman coffee cups. At Barın Han, the former atelier of one of Istanbul’s famed calligraphers, Nakamura Yuta’s study of the utopian roots of modernist architecture in Turkey – presented as a detective’s evidence board – is compelling enough. But after viewing the lacklustre archival displays that comprise the rest of the artworks on show, I spend the remaining time admiring said calligrapher’s impressive bookbinding paraphernalia. Meanwhile curator Marco Scotini’s Disobedience Archive (2005–), a touring video library that documents our age of explosive protest movements, is completely overshadowed by its haunting setting: an abandoned highschool whose classrooms have remained untouched for the past two decades. The high-minded mood continues at the Müze Gazhane, a former gasworks-turnedmuseum, where I watched interprt’s Mining the Abyss (2022), an investigation into the destruction of marine biodiversity by deep-sea mining. I lingered around Orkan Telhan’s The Museum of Digestion (2022), a kind of deconstructed garden comprising mint, cow dung and ants, accompanied by a book for which human researchers were ‘interviewed’ by the cow dung. (And I got to watch the unedifying spectacle of an art critic from Vienna – who evidently had not got the

memo that this exhibition was supposed to be about patience and mutual vulnerability – bully a baffled exhibition guide over why he had not read said book.) What is all this for? Presumably, a straightforward test of the biennial’s critical framework of ‘composting’ – and all its claims to latitudinal thinking and deep engagement – will be the long-term legacy of its dabbling in exchange and dialogue: what all the music classes, puppet workshops and indie newspapers might mature and grow into over the coming years. Still, I must admit – and especially after looking at yet another solemn little artwork, this time about Eastern Anatolian cheesemaking traditions and good village governance – that all the earnestness was making me feel totally miserable. I don’t, actually, need artists to tell me that a better world is possible. I longed for some whiff of uncertainty, some acknowledgement that the world can be as strange as it can be good and bad. Sometimes, though, art has a way of coming through for you. Taking a turn in some ancient hammam one afternoon, I came across the most striking image of the show, an unframed photograph from Lieko Shiga’s series Human Spring (2019). Two men, heads bowed, sit submerged in an overflowing bath covered in lotus fronds, while gloomy, dappled light filters through the window. It’s a very weird, spooky moment. And it says something about this exhibition that it was the only picture that my mind’s eye wanted to keep turning to days later. En Liang Khong

Lieko Shiga, Human Spring, 2019 (installation view, Küçük Mustafa Paşa Hamamı, 17th Istanbul Biennial). Photo: Sahir Uğur Eren

Winter 2022


Wonder Women Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles 3 September – 22 October I’ll admit to some scepticism as I walked through the doors of Jeffrey Deitch gallery. Wonder Women is the latest in a series of scenespanning surveys, in this case focusing on Asian-diasporic, nonmale artists, mostly living in North America. Asia is a pretty big and disparate place, and its diaspora just as widely spread. This exhibition, 40 artists-strong, is big, but it is not that big. I had underestimated Deitch and Kathy Huang, the exhibition’s curator and a director at the gallery. A version of this show originated earlier this year in New York, but here it is expanded by ten new names (including one artist of Pacific Islander descent) and mostly

new work. Despite being appropriately broad in approach, there are sufficient fibres – thematic, stylistic, conceptual, tonal – weaving themselves between the works on view to make the whole endeavour seem meaningful and productive. The press release notes that a number of the included artists know each other; even without this information, the exhibition feels like a conversation not primarily about diasporic life, still less about Asian-ness, but about the possibilities within contemporary painting. One of the main precepts is so ubiquitous right now that it is almost unremarkable: the exhibition comprises, with scant exceptions,

Dominique Fung, Sea Women, 2022, oil on linen, 305 × 137 cm. Courtesy the artist and Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles


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figurative painting. An outlier is a blood-red plinth in the middle of one gallery, supporting four apparently abstract lumps of stone by Catalina Ouyang. My stomach lurched when reading the checklist: each of Terrarium i-iv (2017) is detailed as ‘imagined lotus foot of the artist’s great-grandmother’. Looking again, I could see the carved outline of toenails. Not painting then, but painfully figurative. By contrast, most of the work in Wonder Women is urgently present-tense, even if it registers echoes of tradition. While nothing is explicitly titled as a self-portrait, I’ll bet that many if not most of these artists used themselves as models. Men feature hardly anywhere;

a tone of introspection suffuses the exhibition. (Its title, we are informed, is not a superhero reference but a nod to San Francisco-born Genny Lim’s poem ‘Wonder Woman’ (1981), in which she ponders the lives of diverse women around the world: ‘I look at them and wonder if / They are a part of me’.) In Sasha Gordon’s stunning Mood Ring (2022), opalescent traces electrify a contemplative monochromatic female face. Jiab Prachakul’s Purpose (2022) is almost certainly a self-portrait, with the sitter’s bookshelf mirrored, inverted, behind her. A half-human, half-animal figure confronts a woman dressed in sweats in Shyama Golden’s The Passage (2022), one of a number of paintings that hints at the experience of a divided self. Another heady psychodrama in that vein, Four Sisters (2022) by Amanda Ba, is redolent of a Chinese-inflected Otto Dix.

A modest subsection of paintings samples traditional forms or techniques – from HyeGyeong Choi’s buttery tableau of women bathing in a stream, to Sahana Ramakrishnan’s sumptuous The End of Night (2022), in which a tiger tears at a man’s throat while lovers (and bears) frolic in the ornate clouds above. In such instances, there is almost always an attempt to hybridise obviously Asian references with contemporary Western motifs and concerns. One of the several very young artists in the show is Zoé Blue M., whose mangastyled ping-pong player (Spot Marked, Light Feet, 2022) also pays tribute to 1980s’ Pattern and Decoration painting. Despite the scope and scale of Wonder Women, and the repetition of figure painting after figure painting, things never get boring. Particularly thrilling is an adumbral, twopanelled oil painting by Dominique Fung,

Sea Women (2022), in which a spearfisherwoman is seen half above and half below the waterline. Another standout is Anna Park’s charcoalon-paper After You (2022), inspired, apparently, by the overturning earlier this year of Roe v. Wade. Grotesque male faces crowd round the supine form of a woman, their hands reaching up to grasp her. As with many of the finest works in this exhibition, Fung and Park’s pictures are more formally inventive than thematically radical. Neither artist tries to illustrate the specific complexities of diasporic experience, but rather they draw on aspects of their multivalent, intersectional realities to reenergise a genre that, a decade ago, no one was betting on. For anyone exhausted by the current proliferation of mediocre figure painting, Wonder Women is a tonic. Jonathan Griffin

Anna Park, After You, 2022, charcoal on paper on panel, two panels, 208 × 152 cm (each). Courtesy the artist and Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles

Winter 2022


Aichi Triennale 2022 Still Alive Various venues, Aichi Prefecture 30 July – 10 October The words in the title of this year’s Aichi Triennale – ‘Still Alive’ – come from the output of a dead man. And the irony – conscious or unconscious – rings through the exhibition as a whole. But we’ll come to that later. More specifically, the words are borrowed from On Kawara (who died in 2014), and the series of telegrams (eventually numbering almost 900) containing the declaration ‘I Am Still Alive’ that the Aichi-born artist initiated in 1969. They form the initial display of the triennale’s main exhibition at the Aichi Arts Center in the prefecture’s capital, Nagoya City, where a selection of the telegrams, individually mounted and framed, are displayed in spotlit, glass-topped cabinets. Like precious relics. It’s at once meaningful and monotonous; an archive; the trace of a life (and, like much of the artist’s output, a meditation on time); and a display of both presence and absence (Kawara himself, who eschewed public appearances and began the I Am Still Alive series with telegrams sent as a contribution to a Paris exhibition reassuring the curator that he was still alive and did not intend to commit suicide). Collectively they form something of a map (the outlines of which are given by the various formats offered

by the places from which they were sent) and a chant. While the first chimes with Marcel Broodthaers’s Carte d’une utopie politique avec petits tableaux 1 ou 0 (1973 – a political world map with the word ‘world’ crossed out and replaced by ‘utopia’) that forms a type of foreword to Kawara’s work, the second echoes though the remainder of the Arts Center display. Through Korean-American Byron Kim’s diaristic Sunday Paintings (2001–), capturing clouds in the sky on Sundays (those here executed during 2020–21 – the covid era), each containing a brief handwritten summary of his thoughts and feelings on the day: commentary about the weather, the wellbeing of friends and family, the spread of the virus. And through Fukushima-based Wago Ryoichi’s Pebbles of Poetry (2011–22), a series of poems – in the form of epistemic and existentialist musings posted on Twitter – begun in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, extended during the covid-19 emergency and internationalised earlier this year in collaboration with Kharkiv-based artist Olia Fedorova. And through Roman Ondak’s sliced tree trunk, Event Horizon (2016): 100 pieces of wood stamped with the years between 1917 and 2016

On Kawara, Telegram to Sol LeWitt, February 5, 1970, from the series I Am Still Alive, 1970–2000. © One Million Years Foundation


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(corresponding to the rings in the trunk) and a historical event from that year. And, more obviously and subversively, in Zimbabwean painter Misheck Masamvu’s Still Still (2012–22), a video about (and the sliced-off side of) a white Volkswagen Kombi bus with slogans such as ‘Still hiding’, ‘Still held in prison’, ‘Still in a hole’ and ‘Still waiting’ stencilled onto its surface. To which, in the context of the exhibition as a whole at this point, you might be tempted to add ‘still stuck in a rut’. Although others would say this is a ‘tightly curated’ show. With that in mind, the words ‘Still Alive’ might also be read as an acknowledgement of the triennale’s endurance following the scandals surrounding censorship (of a sculpture display that referenced the plight of ‘comfort women’ – women from occupied countries forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during the Second World War). And yet, overall, despite both that and the centrality of a dead man, this is not an exhibition about ghosts or the exorcism of them. Though perhaps it should be. Of course, as you will have gathered by now, the phrase ‘Still Alive’ is also a reference to the pandemic era in which this exhibition was

conceived and executed by artistic director Mami Kataoka (also director of the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo) and a curatorium of nine advisers, spanning Rhana Devenport (director of the Art Gallery of South Australia) through to Victoria Noorthoorn (director of the Museo de Arte Moderno de Buenos Aires), who suggested artists to fit the theme, given that travelling to see them was not an option. Under the still-being-alive rubric, the exhibition, which features work by 82 artists and 11 performance groups as well as an extensive education programme, also explores issues relating to health, racism, indigeneity, artificial intelligence, migration, gender and ecology. But perhaps this form of control, in which the exhibition twists around to gnaw on its tail, also introduces questions about what museums are, or are for (Katoaka is also the current director of the museum association cimam). Not least because the remainder of the Triennale takes place in a series of offsite presentations spread across sites in the wider prefecture, namely Ichinomiya (one of Japan’s ‘textile capitals’), Tokoname (known for its pottery) and Arimatsu (situated along a historically preserved road in Nagoya’s suburbs). Places where people still live, and go about their daily lives. After you’ve seen Theaster Gates’s contribution, The Listening House, a reactivated and redesigned residence at Tokoname (where the

Chicago-based artist studied ceramics during a residency in 1999 and has periodically returned ever since), which has been transformed into a studio, workshop and club-type social space (complete with turntables and a collection of Black soul and jazz records), you get the feeling that ‘alive’ means something different outside the museum. The records were bought from a now-dead friend: the ceramicist Marva Jolly. The work celebrates the conversations and social relations between artists, rather than merely their formal relationships, and consequently is a space in which the visitor is welcomed as more than just a viewer. Similarly, Anne Imhof’s Jester (2022) a two-(jumbo-)screen videowork documenting a performance (a drummer and dancers) that took place during her solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo last year, is screened in an ice rink (without the ice) in Ichinomiya. The sound is loud (so loud, apparently, that the neighbours complained after the first day) and echoes round the rink; the dancers move together and apart, seemingly at once spontaneously and rehearsed. It’s a raw, at times animal form of conversation. Something that doesn’t quite fit with the refined and genteel space of the museum galleries, and something, in the context of your imaginary of what’s normally going on at a public ice rink (some pirouetting, some circling), makes you think about your relationship to the artworks

on show (in the museum you witness and applaud the pirouetting and perform the circling). Similarly effective are videoworks dealing with migration by Tuan Andrew Nguyen (particularly The Specter of Ancestors Becoming, 2019, which deals with issues of identity in the entanglement of Vietnam, France and Senegal and is shown in a shipping agency in Tokoname) and Ngura Pukulpa–Happy Place (2022; a videowork shown in a former nursing school in Ichinomaya) by Kaylene Whiskey, in which the Australian Aboriginal Yankunytjatjara artist fuses Aboriginal and aspects from globalised Western culture in a desert party that both celebrates and defies aspects of the Aboriginal (and indeed, more generally, indigenous) as we imagine it to be (while also highlighting the absence of any reference in the exhibition to the plight of the Ainu people in Japan). In short it’s the messy bits of the triennale that work best. Nowhere more so than in Hattori Bunsho and Ishikawa Ryuichi’s The Journey with a Gun, and No Money (2021) – an account of a two-month trip to the south of Japan with the items listed in the title. In a former pipe factory in Tokoname it’s presented as an installation of their survival equipment, the skins of deer that they hunted for food, recordings of the sounds of the journey, photographs and texts and a modestly priced booklet. The living and the dead working together. And, like Kawara used to do, it performs what it says on the label. Mark Rappolt

Hattori Bunsho+ Ishikawa Ryuichi, The Journey With a Gun, and No Money, 2022 (installation view, Aichi Triennale 2022). Photo: ToLoLo studio. © Aichi Triennale Organizing Committee

Winter 2022


Splendid Isolation smak, Ghent 14 May – 18 September In 1972 curator Harald Szeemann presented the then little-known art brut of Swiss artist Adolf Wölfli alongside works by world-renowned artists in Documenta 5, and Roger Cardinal published his groundbreaking book Outsider Art, drawing attention to a constellation of visionaries and self-taught makers. In the half-century since, formerly arbitrary definitions of what constitutes contemporary art’s inside and out have grown more porous, and this exhibition at smak is the latest contribution to that process. Prompted by the enforced confinements of recent years, it’s a wide-ranging reflection on isolation and its psychological and cultural repercussions. Only a handful of the 22 artists here could be considered ‘outsiders’ in the original sense of the word: indeed, this show includes established artworld names such as Louise Bourgeois, Derek Jarman and Nalini Malani alongside lesser-known and local figures. But what unifies this heterogeneous group is that they have all been sequestered from society in some way, whether through metaphorical ‘outsiderness’ or literal isolation. Their circumstances and fortunes, though, vary dramatically. Some withdrew voluntarily in pursuit of an ascetic existence, such as Guernsey-born Benedictine monk and concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houédard, represented here via several collages and ‘typescripts’. Others, such as the sculptor Judith Scott, who was born deaf and with Down Syndrome, were marginalised as the result of a disability. And in several instances works were made in response to places of captivity, as exemplified by the wistful

paintings of the reclusive David Byrd, who worked as an attendant in a psychiatric ward. Elsewhere, the extent to which punishment and imprisonment shape our society is indirectly highlighted by works depicting the dehumanising reality of being locked up or living under martial law. In 2017 Kurdish artist Zehra Doğan was jailed for almost three years, having been charged with ‘terrorist propaganda’ after she shared images, on social media, of her painting portraying the devastation wreaked by the Turkish military on a mainly Kurdish village in southeastern Turkey. The series of drawings on display here capture the brutality of prison life and possess the quality of a graphic novel, with narratives presented in sequential frames. There is an element of reportage to Doğan’s work, but this is ultimately a form of storytelling that uses animal imagery and symbolism, and to further accentuate the full extent of injustices she and others have been subjected to. A storytelling impulse also governs the work of Shuvinai Ashoona, an Inuit who spent much of her early life in remote outposts of Canada’s Northwest Territories. Ashoona’s drawings offer insights into her everyday life, but also feature visionary details that evoke nature myths. In Composition, Woman Battling Walrus, Elephant, Octopus and Bird Creature (2019) a woman is pictured from behind wrestling a chimerical hybrid of the named animals. Ashoona’s impressions represent both her individual experiences and, on a more universal level, also revivify voices and

David Byrd, Patient Pondering, 1995, oil on canvas, 61 × 79 cm. Courtesy smak, Ghent


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worldviews previously marginalised by the long-term cultural homogeneity imposed by settler colonialism. In bringing together such a diverse assembly of artists, Splendid Isolation reveals commonalities and shared tendencies, rather than fetishising or reinforcing otherness. It’s evident that all the works here were made out of necessity: art created as a means of sublimating or communicating. The majority of these works, most of which are wall-based, possess a handwrought quality produced via manual processes such as stitching and drawing, which lends a distinctly intimate and human character. Additionally, while many of the inclusions show a propensity for figuration and narrative content, some of the most intriguing pieces employ abstract vocabularies or self-devised systems of notation. Belgian artist Danny Bergeman’s idiosyncratic drawings – consisting of grids of geometric forms, seemingly intended to demarcate time’s passage or to record observations, and hung in a monumental installation – were produced daily over a seven-year (2011–18) period at De Zandberg, a welfare organisation established for artists with disabilities. The potency of Bergeman’s work stems partially from its formulation and execution according to criteria we are not party to; nor need we be to glean something valuable from it. Like many of the creations here that emerged from margins and solitude, Bergeman’s work possesses an intensity and unselfconsciousness that, even in art’s now-expanded purview, are all too rare. Pádraic E. Moore

Nalini Malani, Exile – Dreams – Longing: My Reality is Different, 2020–21, drawings on paper, 31 × 23 cm. Courtesy the artist and Burger Collection, Hong Kong

Winter 2022


Books How Not to Exclude Artist Mothers (and other parents) by Hettie Judah Lund Humphries, £19.99 (hardcover) Events that start at 6pm; no parental leave or benefits; near-obligatory travel to biennales, fairs and forums; foreign residencies that require months of commitment… One could say that the artworld is structurally inhospitable to parenthood – or as Hettie Judah argues, particularly hostile to mothers. How Not to Exclude Artist Mothers (and other parents) is a reckoning with the problematic artworld conventions that exclude mothers and caregivers. These could be due to simple thoughtlessness to unquestioned legacy practices. ‘The timing of the private view to clash with the “witching hours” of childcare is of course coincidental’, she writes, ‘a hangover from the era in which gentleman collectors popped into the gallery for culture and a glass of wine… nevertheless it broadcasts a set of preconceptions about who is important in this world.’ Preconceptions that are basically misogynistic; so while Judah says the book applies to all parents, her focus on mothers acknowledges the gender gap in domestic burdens and the systematic prejudice against female artists, especially those who had taken time off to care for their children. Judah’s target audience is the institutions and structures that influence art careers.

Accordingly, the book’s chapters are titled ‘The Studio’, ‘Residencies’, ‘The Commercial Gallery’ and so on, delving into exclusionary practices in each area, then providing remedial suggestions: residencies split into multiple periods. Biennales with crèches. More daytime events. Inspiringly, the book also presents case studies of alternative working models, including studios and residencies that allow artist mothers to work alongside their children, like Mother House Studios in South London; Pilar Corrias, a gallery 65 percent of whose artists are female; and various artist parent networks around the world. Why should we include mothers and other parents? Judah makes the pro-diversity case that inclusion lets the artworld draw from a richer well of ideas and insights. This might convince public institutions, given their mandate of free access and creating public value, but could be a harder sell for profit-driven galleries. Judah seems to acknowledge this commercial reality. When dispensing advice to women reentering the artworld after some years away, she admits she has ‘no good answer’ for success. ‘The best I can offer is a vague set of suggestions: work from a studio complex rather than from home so that you have other artists around you;

form a mutually supportive group that promotes one another’s work; collaborate; organise shows; apply for residencies; network like a fury.’ These tips are mostly predicated on a capitalist, goal-driven professionalism. They are also more applicable to a Westernised artworld, which has infrastructure like studio complexes and residencies that enable and legitimise artistic practice but are not considered necessities everywhere. For me, there is something about the messy realities of being a mother and artist that might be inimical to any central career planning. And what might be most supportive to women during this time is not only being given more opportunities to succeed, but being seen, understood and given time. But perhaps that’s the subject of another book. Judah’s focus is on changing the current practices of arts infrastructure, so that family commitments are seen as an integral part of creative life. Achieving parent-friendliness is a challenge in all sectors, but it is heightened in the freelance and youth-worshipping artworld where parenting can be seen as some deeply uncool, unspoken secret. This book breaks the silence. Adeline Chia

Father May Be An Elephant, and Mother Only a Small Basket, But… by Gogu Shyamala, various translators Tilted Axis, £9.99 (softcover) This is a collection of short stories, written with the mix of innocence and experience that characterise the best fairytales, about daily village life as experienced from a Dalit – the ‘untouchable’ caste in India’s notorious class system – perspective. The final tale included here, ‘A Beauteous Light’, takes untouchability, literally, as its central theme. It focuses on the dilemmas that result from a Dalit girl touching a Brahmin (the highest caste) boy, rendering him impure, in order to save his life. Without spoiling too much, it’s fair to say that by the end of the tale, to the Brahmin’s family he might as well have died, and the Dalit community then have to take responsibility for his life. Overall, the


stories here span from the ridiculous to the horrific. In another episode, a father secretly sends his daughter to a convent school in order that she not be ‘married to the village’ (and used as the sexual property of its high-status men). The price for his going against the ‘natural’ order of things is a life-threatening beating and exile. While the plight of Adivasi and Dalit peoples has become something of a staple of translated literature from the Indian subcontinent (the work of Mahasweta Devi being a prominent example), Shyamala – who, unlike Devi, is a Dalit herself – is among the more insightful commentators when it comes to the way in which this (often technically illegal) injustice

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and oppression gets normalised, by upper and lower castes alike. ‘We should protect our interests at any cost,’ declares a Brahmin to his castemates on the subject of Dalits getting uppity in one story. ‘The only difficulty is that we cannot do agricultural work… If we kill them [the Dalits], who will do the agricultural work?’ But it’s ironic that, in many of Shymala’s tales, Dalit characters, thinking around their own oppression, exhibit an opposing idea of the responsibility to care from their Brahmin masters: ‘Does a tree throw away a person who has taken shelter in its shade?’ they ask. There is a certain amount of literary Romanticism in that. Nirmala Devi

Winter 2022


Best of Friends by Kamila Shamsie Bloomsbury Circus, £16.99 (hardcover) Kamila Shamsie’s eighth novel is a tale of contrasts: England and Pakistan; public and private; personal and political; ideology and opportunism; rich and… well, not quite so rich. The best of friends of the title are Maryam and Zahra, fourteen-year-old girls who attend a posh school in Karachi. It is 1988. Maryam is the pampered scion of a leather-goods dynasty, run by her hard-nosed grandfather; he intends to bypass his feckless, dilettante son and hand the company reins to Maryam when she comes of age. This expectation informs her attitude to everything. Zahra’s home life is less opulent but nonetheless comfortable. Her father, a sports journalist, fronts a new – and wildly popular – cricket show on tv. Zahra is head-girl material and dreams of an Oxbridge scholarship. Headstrong Maryam flirts with a slick older boy, Hammad; Zahra is demure, but enjoys being looked at. The rarefied Karachi these girls inhabit is also a place of oppositions. There’s talk of Jackie Collins, Bruce Springsteen and boys fit for snogging, but also military dictatorship, banned poetry and judicial flogging. Both families are broadly secular; there are opportunities for women. But authoritarianism presses in. Zahra’s father receives a visit from General Zia’s goons; he is asked to say something obliging on his show about the Pakistani leader. Maryam’s

grandfather has other matters on his mind: he has ‘little time for democracy, which brought too many variables into play’. The novel’s opening sections are wonderfully realised. Shamsie captures the fizz and fissure of teenage friendship, the rivalry and trust, the secrets shared and hidden. The Karachi glimpsed from car windows is thrilling and dangerous, and, when Zia is assassinated and the liberal Benazir Bhutto becomes prime minister, Pakistan seems to be at a crossroads. This crux is mirrored by a defining episode in the girls’ lives: after leaving a party, they get into a scrape when they go off with Hammad and another man. Zahra manages to emerge with her reputation untarnished; Maryam finds herself in disgrace. In the novel’s second half, Zahra and Maryam are now in their mid-forties and living in London. It is 2019 and the traits and themes laid out so carefully by Shamsie have hardened into something more programmatic. Zahra, a lawyer by training, is the head of a civil liberties organisation. Maryam is a venture capitalist, whose portfolio includes a sinister ‘photo-andvideo-sharing app’ that boasts state-of-the-art facial-recognition software: the stuff of civilliberties nightmares. But Zahra and Maryam remain close. ‘You can’t let politics get in the way of friendship’, another character proddingly reminds us.

To spice up this opposition is the friends’ approach to private life. Zahra is divorced and single; she has sex with awful men. Maryam, by contrast, enjoys a perfect domestic setup with her wife, Layla – a sculptor – and their delightfully (and not always credibly) mature ten-year-old daughter. While we can well imagine Zahra and Maryam turning out this way, Shamsie seems intent on highlighting her schema at every turn, then plonking it back in the context of Karachi 1988. Accordingly, the characters have a maddening habit of reflecting on past events as if they happened 30 pages, rather than 30 years, ago. This intensifies when the past comes back to haunt them, following the return of Hammad. With character relegated to theme, sympathy falls away, and by the end Shamsie appears to have developed a distaste for both of her protagonists. Yet Best of Friends is not quite a satire or morality tale. Shamsie’s observations about social media are clever and incisive, as are those about Pakistani and English social mores. There are some excellent vignettes, including the spectre of a Boris Johnson-like prime minister cutting a grubby deal with Maryam. What it all amounts to is rather more disappointing. But this novel of contrasting fortunes remains worth reading for its first half alone. Toby Lichtig

Our Santiniketan by Mahasweta Devi, translated by Radha Chakravarty Seagull Books, us$10.99 (hardcover) Written in 2000, shortly before the author’s 75th birthday, this book is an account of Mahasweta’s childhood experiences at the celebrated Visva-Bharati school, founded by Rabindranath Tagore in Santiniketan. Her studies took place between 1936 and 1938, under the supervision of India’s most celebrated poet-playwrightcomposer-philosopher-environmentalist, and the book is a record of a magical, Hogwarts-type experience, with the fantastical factor upped by Mahasweta’s uncertainty over facts and truths as a result of her advanced age. ‘Am I recounting all the details accurately? Who knows?’ she asks. In a sense though these are her truths. Even if she constantly doubts them. And the suggestion throughout is that any history will be constructed in this manner – not exactly


subjective in the strictest sense, but a product of both the mental and physical circumstances in which a narrator finds themselves at the moment of writing. A friend made her do it, the author points out, before lamenting, ‘Alas, the occasion for writing this book has come at a juncture when, what with my advanced age and frustrating challenges of my activism [championing the causes of India’s women and marginalised peoples], I don’t get time to write’. This is shortly before conceding that even in the twilight of her life (she died aged ninety in 2016) she writes an awful lot, but not what she would call ‘literature’. Although others would. If this book is in part a meditation on the process of ageing, it is also an explanation of the idyllic experiences and philosophy on which

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Tagore’s education system was based. Classes were intense but mainly outdoors. Animals listened in. Students were required to learn the names and the uses of the plants that surrounded them. Class and background counted for nothing. Work was not graded (as far as Mahasweta remembers). Physical education was part of the core curriculum, as were music, and theatre. All this, Mahasweta asserts between lyrics from schooltime songs remembered correctly or incorrectly, prepared her to embark on the literary and activist career that made her famous. The overall impression, however, remains one part fact and one part fairytale. You had to have been there (as the author continuously and mischievously hints) to know which is which. Mark Rappolt

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Out of the Shadows of Angkor: Cambodian Poetry, Prose, and Performance through the Ages Edited by Frank Stewart et al University of Hawai‘i Press, us$25 (softcover) At a certain point during the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal reign, survivors corralled at a refugee camp on the Thai–Cambodian border realised that the children at the orphanage there needed more than just shelter and food. Not long after the appeal to help lift their mood went out, anyone at Khao-I-Dang ‘holding centre’ with a modicum of skill in the arts, music, dance or poetry began stepping forward. ‘What little knowledge people had protected and hidden by necessity to stay alive under Khmer Rouge rule, they now offered up,’ recalls CambodianAmerican novelist Vaddey Ratner in Out of the Shadows of Angkor’s foreword. ‘Some fashioned musical instruments from bamboo and coconut shells and nylon cord. Others pooled together to recollect fragments of song. Watching the buzz of activity around me, I realised it wasn’t just the children who were hungry.’ No less a team effort or testament to the unyielding human spirit, this English anthology of Cambodian poetry, prose and performance through the ages also aims to sate the hungry – namely the thousands of survivors, both at home and in the diaspora, who have long been denied the spiritual nourishment of arts so centrally and viscerally connected to their identity. Texts included in this volume range from thirteenth-century Sanskrit poems to excerpted prison memoirs, retellings of sacred

dance dramas and Sinn Sisamouth’s soulful song lyrics, as well as wistful accounts of personal literary journeys. These blend evocations of cultural yearnings and ‘intergenerational hauntings’ with speculations about how this ambitious collection – a followup to In the Shadow of Angkor (2004), an anthology of contemporary writing from Cambodia – might spur reconnections and new journeys. For example, in an essay on Cambodian-American writers, the Bronx-based poet, writer and musician Sokunthary Svay urges educators to consider a comparative literature that parses these texts alongside Southeast Asian or African literature or the diasporic works of other immigrant groups. She also suggests that, wherever possible, these works be ‘read aloud in a variety of venues, the songs be sung, and the plays staged’. Such reasonable hopes on the part of the readership (English-language readers at large stand to benefit from this drive to make Cambodian literature more accessible) beg a practical question: do the translated verses and lyrics sing? The answer is no, not like mellifluous, metred Khmer does. One of several translators, Trent Walker, asks: ‘How can we hope to capture in English the beauty generated through subtle arrangements of Khmer sounds and musical tones?’ Only one work, a Buddhist poem from the eighteenth

or nineteenth century, ‘This Life is Short’, aims for rhythmic and syllabic fidelity – a risky mode of translation that only partially pays off, as any assonance or alliteration is lost (‘This life is short: you are born / with bodily form that can’t last. / You’ll never be free or get past / the shadow cast by distress.’). The transmission and reception of Cambodian texts, Walker adds, have also long been shaped by their physical form, be it the manuscripts of early Middle Khmer literature, or the novellas hand-copied on notebook paper and rented out during the 1980s. Distanced from the musicality and materiality of written Khmer, the reader receives only dulled echoes of what Ratner calls ‘the pralung (spirit, soul, or lifeforce) that animates and sustains us’. More than just a glorified reading list that throws together ancient and modern legacies with the spikier output of emerging writers and spoken-word poets, this well-produced tome illuminates friendships and collaborations – between authors and translators, chapei dang veng (long-necked lute) masters and rappers, journalists and booksellers – rooted in a love of Cambodian arts. These fresh engagements with a cultural timeline that spans empires and golden ages, as well as unspeakable horrors, bode well for the future of a scene – and people – still processing the multigenerational legacies of trauma. Max Crosbie-Jones

Yunizar: New Perspectives Gajah Gallery, sg$200 (hardcover) This catalogue is an extensive analysis of the Indonesian artist Yunizar’s playful, nonconformist 25-year oeuvre. Featuring an interview with Yunizar and essays by Aminudin T.H. Siregar, T.K. Sabapathy and Ahmad Mashadi, it also contains over 100 images of his paintings and sculptures. Siregar’s intimate dive into Yunizar’s background, education and early influences illuminates the artist’s practice and preoccupations, particularly his rejection of the kind of sociopolitical art that dominated the postSuharto reform era, which led to his paintings being criticised as ‘anti-meaning’ or art for art’s sake. The manifesto-less collective Kelompok Seni Rupa Jendela (‘Jendela’), of which Yunizar is cofounder and member,


is a pivotal influence on his work; Siregar likens Jendela to a ‘jazz group’ jamming. Sabapathy’s focus on Yunizar’s arresting bronze sculptures offers a further line of inquiry. Though Yunizar’s sculptural foray is formally credited to the Yogya Art Lab, founded by himself and Gajah Gallery, in fact it was presaged by his participation in a large exhibition in 2011, which catapulted him into the company of reputable Indonesian artists working in threedimensions. The crossover between his paintings and sculptures is fascinating, and in his Garuda works (2014–16) the kinship emerges as subconscious commentary on the relationship between object and symbol, despite his disavowal of connotations to the Indonesian national emblem of the Garuda Pancasila.

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Siregar’s essay casts light on ‘purity of feeling’ as the impetus driving Yunizar’s paintings, while the inclusion of Mashadi’s previously published text adds less insight. Mashadi’s conclusion that Yunizar and Jendela’s oeuvres remain open to interpretative contextualisation reads as noncommittal, raising again the charge that the ‘crude’ or childlike nature of Yunizar’s paintings is self-indulgent. Also touched on, but deserving of more investigation, is the Minang artistic tradition of scribbles and words, and Yunizar’s works that continuously plumb this influence from, as Siregar describes, a ‘mental state of the alienated’. As much as this publication elevates the importance of Yunizar’s oeuvre, it also suggests exciting possibilities of further study. Elaine Chiew

Death by Landscape by Elvia Wilk Soft Skull Press, us$16.95 (softcover) Elvia Wilk’s new essay collection is a series of reflections on the meaning of ecological storytelling in an age of mass extinction – by way of medieval mysticism, solarpunk, vegetal sentience and the limits of language, the pleasures of (self-)annihilation and possible futures for this shared compost heap we call Earth. Expanding across three porous sections – ‘Plants’, ‘Planets’ and ‘Bleed’ – these essays draw the molecular and cosmic into focus as they stitch together an unruly batch of subjects. In a nimble first text that’s indicative of the kaleidoscopic inversions to come, Wilk makes a case for the transformative capacities of storytelling. It references a story – one of Margaret Atwood’s weirdest, and the titular inspiration for this collection – about a girl who dissolves into a landscape, but continues to speak from it. Unearthing other literary examples of becomingplant, Wilk outlines an ‘ecosystems fiction’ wherein the human body and the ecosystem meld, blurring binaries of known-unknown, inside-outside and person-planet. Other essays from the first section of the book make it the strongest. In ‘This Compost’, Wilk speculates on a world where contamination, copenetration and compost seed new forms of interspecies life. ‘The Plants Are Watching’ opens with cia-conducted plant telepathy research and unfurls into a dizzying web of plant–human

communication that ranges from Victorian-era colonists’ phobias of nature taking its revenge, to a vegetal consciousness hypothesised by artificial intelligence. At the root of these findings is Wilk’s critique of the anthropocentric assumption that plants communicate in a language system like ours – or that they’d even want to talk to us anyway. In part two Wilk toggles to a macro lens. ‘Future Looks’ examines the politics and aesthetics of solar technologies, from the internet-born ‘solarpunk’ movement to the colonial-era invention of the greenhouse. Here, Wilk asks who green technology serves, and what kind of worlds speculative design and fiction are capable of building without being co-opted. She argues for a kind of ‘dislocation, rather than utopianism’ – where both the technologies we invent and the stories we tell refuse a top-down solutionism and instead nurture new forms of collaborative survival. ‘Bleed’, the book’s final section, is named after the roleplaying phenomenon where boundaries between player and character dissolve. In ‘Ask Before You Bite’, Wilk attends a vampire larp in Berlin and gets slapped in the face by another character. The slap triggers a realisation that ‘roleplay can be a testing ground for new forms of intimacy outside of prescribed social rules’; it can reshape social life long after the game is over.

Many of Wilk’s fixations – from medieval mysticism to nonhuman communication systems and body-led trauma therapy – focus on experiences and relationships that occur beyond language. My favourite essays in the collection – ‘The Word Made Fresh’ and ‘Extinction Burst’ – integrate ecosystems fiction with reflections on illness, spirituality, alien intelligence and love. In the latter, Wilk dives into her own immunological condition, which causes inexplicable episodes of ‘crossing over’, or unpredictably passing out. She returns with a reparative reading of this phenomenon, which eschews the cool finitude of a medical diagnosis in favour of ‘seeking unexpected possibilities rather than preventing them’; an opening up to the unknowable, where ‘illness can be a methodology for making sense of the world’ – not through language, but with feeling. You could also read these essays through a different, though no less entangled, categorical trio: bodies, language and stories. Bodies leak, language surrenders to the ineffable; stories are both the technology that ties these things together and the compost for sowing new worlds when things fall apart. Death by Landscape is less a book than a portal into seeing our weird future in a more open-ended way. Whether you come back is up to you. Alice Bucknell

Amy Sherald: The World We Make by Jenni Sorkin, Kevin Quashie & Ta-Nehisi Coates Hauser & Wirth Publishers, us$55 (hardcover) Opening up this monograph (billed as the first ‘widely available’ book on the American painter), art historian Jenni Sorkin declares that Amy Sherald is widely known for ‘frank, front-facing portraits of black people, subjects who have long been overlooked in both the history of art and American civic life’. She then rattles off some standard catalogue fodder, linking Sherald to an art-historical narrative that features painter Romaine Brooks, photographer Ansel Adams (from whom, collectively, Sorkin suggests Sherald draws inspiration for her signature use of greyscale when representing Black skin) and painter Laura Wheeler Waring (who used street casting). In an interview at the end of the book, Ta-Nehisi Coates will

state to Sherald that ‘I’ve heard you refer to the influence of photography from the nineteenth century. Until I read that, it hadn’t even occurred to me how classic your work really is.’ The idea, for Sorkin, is presumably to correct that perception. And in so doing, to build up a connection to approved arthistorical greatness. The price of which is the implication that what Sherald does is nothing new. So Sorkin has to pivot at times to suggest that Sherald is also doing the reverse: challenging tradition. The Bathers (2015), for example is ‘a direct affront to the long tradition of French modernist painters such as Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, and Henri Matisse admiring – but also leering at – women’.

Winter 2022

Next up is academic Kevin Quashie (‘I quote his work often’, Sherald says later, crediting him as the inspiration for her greyscale skintones), who describes, in terms at once more personal and more abstract, the operations of desire, ideology and the aesthetic of what he calls ‘mere beauty’ in the artist’s work. Coates goes in for a more personal look at the artist in an interview that eventually, but too slowly, becomes a conversation. It’s biography that is the key to Sherald’s work here. We learn about Sherald’s heart transplant, the role of faith in her life and how important the experience of painting a portrait of Michelle Obama in 2017 was to her career and her sense of being a public figure afterwards. Collectively it’s a little confused. But the illustrations are great. Nirmala Devi


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Winter 2022


from the archives Bruce Conner interviewed by Sturt Penrose, 26 December 1964 sturt penrose I know that you are a painter, sculptor and a film-maker but I believe that it was as an assemblage artist that you first attracted widespread attention. In turning to the assembled medium were you in some way riding with the popularity that it now enjoys in the United States and Europe? bruce conner It may look that way but in point of fact I was interested in objects for their aesthetic merits and importance long before the post-war assemblage movement got significantly underway. Even at High School in 1950 I was engaged upon quite advanced forms of collage alongside my ordinary studies as an art student. But assemblage, in some form or other, has been known to every civilisation. I certainly didn’t invent it. I merely fashion it to suit my own expression as an artist and, of course, to the times in which we live. sp But the renewed interest in assembled objects as works of art in their own right has no doubt influenced your direction and development? At least your audience has become accustomed to the more bizarre aspects of your medium. bc Shall we say that the climate has become more receptive for the particular type of assemblage upon which I am working. But I have always taken a highly individual and personal path in whatever I am doing as an artist. For example, when I was living in San Francisco from 1957 to 1962 I found myself repeating the same theme in my painting. Always expressionless white faces emerging from blackness. Whatever I started out to achieve in terms of paint would end up the same way. I wanted to communicate something but it was becoming impossible. I almost decided to give up being an artist. sp And so it was at this time, almost in desperation, that you turned to assemblage? bc Yes, I did. I began in San Francisco and then went to live in Mexico for a year. Many of the works in the present exhibition at the Fraser Gallery are the result of my stay in Mexico. I began to see more clearly that there is always a dialogue going on between objects and people. And in my assemblages I wanted to show the important and special relationship that I felt about objects that I’d seen


and found. This is somehow difficult for some people to understand. At least if they have conventional ideas about painting. sp Perhaps you can explain further by way of an example? bc Well, not long ago I attended a dinner party in the States with Roy Lichtenstein and other well-known American artists. The party was given by Daniel Spoerri. We sat at the dinner table and the host asked each guest what he would like to eat and drink. I chose bread and wine. Some chose pretty large meals, others small meals and so on. After the meal was over Spoerri asked each guest to leave the table. You can guess that the table was pretty littered with objects of all kinds: half-eaten food, silverware, glassware and the like. It was a regular jumble. But then Daniel Spoerri began to fix the objects of each guest in exactly the position they had been left. You see the individual left-overs had become assembled in such a way that they revealed something of the character and the personality of the guest. And it was done unconsciously. How much more an artist can reveal when he works with objects in a consciously creative manner! sp And so the assemblage medium has added greatly to your vocabulary as an artist? bc It’s taught me many things. One is that to get your message across to your audience you must change your means of saying things. In my Homage to Jean Harlow I am trying to show how objects – discarded now – once had some very real meaning to the person who wore and owned them. I want to strike at the importance and the meaning that lies behind objects. And the fact that there’s nothing very new in this. Isn’t the British Museum one gigantic assemblage? [...] Bruce Conner’s the white rose, 1967, is on view at Thomas Dane Gallery, London, through 12 November 2022


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