ArtReview Asia Spring 2020

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March 29 - May 2, 2020



Conversations matter.

Season 3 debuts in March Featuring Vija Celmins, Kahlil Joseph, Tyler Mitchell, Helen Molesworth, Luc Tuymans, Doug Wheeler, and more Subscribe on Apple Podcasts and Spotify to catch up on seasons 1 and 2

Dialogues The David Zwirner Podcast



ANTONY GORMLEY, LEVEL, 2019, CAST IRON, 49,5 x 186,7 x 33,9 CM, © THE ARTIST

ArtReview Asia vol 8 no 1 Spring 2020

Can’t touch this Presumably you’re reading this magazine because you value, in one way or another, how art helps us communicate, discuss and analyse what’s going on in the world. In this time of social distancing, with covid-19 sweeping across the planet and leaving various forms of devastation in its wake, that world is more confusing than ever. Which, although it may seem something that comes after hoarding toilet paper, antibac gels and facemasks on the priority list, makes art, and the communities that engage with it, more worthy of preserving than ever. It’s why magazines such as this one exist. Online, for those of you who are isolating, as well as in print. In this issue you’ll find, in addition to the usual opinions and reviews that will keep you up to date on what’s happening across the continent, a series of articles that explore how the past informs the present and how traditions transform to fit changing times. Whether it’s the adaptation of traditional dance forms in the performances of Melati Suryodarmo, a documentation of changing working practices in the work of Anna Witt, an attempt to understand new world orders in the paintings of Gordon Cheung or the evolution of new senses of self in the work of WangShui. Similarly, Jes Fan’s special commission for ArtReview Asia examines the ways in which facemasks might provide an opportunity to reconsider what defines the self. But enough with the summarising. That’s what the contents page is for. On with the sermonising instead. ArtReview Asia and its parent company, Modern Media, are not only active in the world of art and ideas. In the ‘real’ world, the company’s sponsorship of the Hubei Songzi City Special Education School has led to its being equipped with infrared thermometers, uv disinfection lamps, medical disinfectant and protective clothing, as well as sanitisers and masks for the students. It’s a further extension of the sense of community that publications like this seek to foster. So, till next time, stay safe and look out for the expanded news, reviews and information at, Twitter, Instagram and ArtReview Asia’s relaunched WeChat channel – where we’ll be publishing more, not less, on how to access some of the region’s most interesting artworks from the comfort of your home. If you’re bored, sad or just plain lonely, feel free to contact ArtReview Asia’s editor-in-chief at ArtReview Asia

Hubei Songzi City Special Education School



Dom Sylvester HouĂŠdard tantric poetries

Art Previewed

Previews by Nirmala Devi 19

Points of View Nathalie Johnston, Clarissa Oon, Deepa Bhasthi 33

Art Featured

WangShui by Mark Rappolt 42 Gordon Cheung 48

Melati Suryodarmo 60 Anna Witt by Mark Rappolt 68

Ultra Flesh™ by Jes Fan 54

page 20 Lisa Reihana, In Pursuit of Venus [infected] (still), 2015–17, ultra hd video, colour, sound, 64 min. Courtesy the artist and New Zealand at Venice


Art Reviewed

exhibitions 76

books 100

Sharjah Architecture Triennial, by Mark Rappolt Park Chan-kyong, by Andy St Louis Martha Atienza, by Carlos Quizon, Jr Zhang Yunyao, by Julie Chun The Posthuman City, by Adeline Chia Dumb Type, by Maki Nishida Sejin Kim, by Andy St Louis Phantom Plane, Cyberpunk in the Year of the Future, by Ben Eastham Wansolwara: One Salt Water, by Neha Kale State of Motion: Rushes of Time, by Adeline Chia Neither Black, Red, Yellow, Nor Woman, by Abhijan Toto Lu Lei, by Fi Churchman Pacita Abad, by Skye Sherwin Biennale Jogja xv, by Kathleen Ditzig Sarah Abu Abdallah, by Rahel Aima Taloi Havini, by Micheal Do Spectrosynthesis ii – Exposure of Tolerance: lgbtq in Southeast Asia, by Mark Rappolt

Nightmare Wallpaper 140928 – 190701, by Pak Sheung Chuen, reviewed by Adeline Chia Winter in Sokcho, by Élisa Shua Dusapin, reviewed by Fi Churchman An Ecotopian Lexicon, edited by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Brent Ryan Bellamy, reviewed by Adeline Chia The Emperor of China’s Ice, by Jun Yang, reviewed by Nirmala Devi ps 106

page 84 Animali Domestici, Bangkok Opportunistic Ecologies (detail), 2019, printed synthetic fabric canvas, embroidery, 300 × 300 cm. Courtesy the artists.


Fred Wilson Glass Works 2009 – 2018 March 10 – May 16, 2020 Itaewon-ro 262, Yongsan-gu Seoul @ PAC E G A L L E R Y

A Moth of Peace, 2018 (detail), Murano glass and light bulbs, 70 × 68 1⁄2 × 68 1⁄2"


Ultra Fleshâ„¢

Garden of Six Seasons 一園六季 16 May – 30 August, 2020 Garden of Six Seasons is a precursor to the 2020 Kathmandu Triennale Artistic Director: Cosmin Costinaş Curators: Sheelasha Rajbhandari and Hit Man Gurung

展覽「一園六季」為 2020 年 加德滿都三年展的序章 三年展藝術總監:康喆明 策展人:Sheelasha Rajbhandari 及 Hit Man Gurung

Para Site G/F & 22/F Wing Wah Industrial Building 677 King’s Road Quarry Bay, Hong Kong Soho House Hong Kong 8/F, 33 Des Voeux Road West Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Para Site Art Space is financially supported by the Art Development Matching Grants Scheme of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Para Site 藝術空間獲香港特別行政區政府「藝術發展配對資助計劃」的資助

Art Previewed

Any meaning 17


The Art of Chivalry between East and West 19.02.2020 - 30.05.2020

Helmet. Iraq, Turkey or Caucasus, c. 1450–1500. Steel damascened with silver and traces of gold, iron. Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi. © Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi / Photo : Thierry Ollivier

Previewed Tim mona, Hobart Through 30 April

Cao Fei National Gallery Singapore Through 25 October

Sheela Gowda Lenbachhaus, Munich 31 March – 26 July

22nd Biennale of Sydney Various venues, Sydney Through 8 June

Cao Fei Serpentine Galleries, London Through 17 May

Yuan Jai Centre Pompidou, Paris Through 27 April

2020 Adelaide Biennial of Contemporary Art Art Gallery of South Australia and Adelaide Botanic Garden Through 8 June

Constructions of Truth Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Manila Through 12 April

Mehlli Gobhai National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai Through 25 April

Anonymous Society for Magick Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong 31 March – 16 May

Know My Name National Gallery Australia, Canberra 30 May – 13 September

Art in the Age of Anxiety Sharjah Art Foundation 21 March – 21 June

Things Entangling Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo 14 March – 14 June

Bharti Kher Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin Through 16 May

Art Power hk

Jeremy Bailey, The Future of Television, 2012, performance, 4 min 10 sec. Courtesy the artist

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At the time of writing, all museum shows, gallery exhibitions, biennials and other art events previewed here were proceeding as planned. However, given the pace of developments around the spread of, and measures to combat, Covid-19, we recommend that you check live listings prior to visiting these shows

extensive contemporary collection, and that those 3,500 hours were accumulated in various stints, rather than on a continuous basis. Between 2006 and 2008, Tim famously had his back inked to a design by Delvoye, a Belgian artist among whose previous ‘bodies’ of work was a line in live tattooed pigs. Upon Steiner’s “I’m not an artist,” says Tim Steiner. “This is not death, his rear skin will belong to German art performance art. I’m a regular dude from Zürich collector Rik Reinking, who bought it for who sits on a box. Because of Wim Delvoye.” €150,000 back in 2008. Reinking gets the skin Steiner is a former tattoo-parlour manager. And (minus anything it is currently attached to) since 2011, this dude has spent a total of 3,500 framed, Steiner got one third of the selling price hours sitting on a box in mona, Tasmania, as 1 and agreed to ‘show’ the work (Tim, 2006–08) one of the private museum’s exhibits. Although by sitting in a gallery three times per year. it should be stated that this work is on loan, Presumably until the moment when ownership rather than part of mona-owner David Walsh’s of his skin is transferred. But ArtReview Asia’s not

a lawyer. The point is that his current Tasmanian stretch comes to an end on 30 April. So you’ve got a little under six weeks to cross the Bass Strait (and, most likely, various other stretches of water) to see Tim in the flesh. What do you get to see? A Mexican sugarskull, a haloed Madonna, red and blue roses, a pair of carp ridden by demonic-looking babies (a Chinese good-luck sign), a flock of swallows and Delvoye’s signature. And, of course, the back of Tim’s shaved head. To make this possible (and besides the 40 hours of tattooing he underwent in the first place), Tim has to go through a daily ritual of yoga and meditation to prepare himself for five hours of doing nothing (he’s on show for that amount of time daily, six days per week).

1 Tim, 2006–08, tattooed by Wim Delvoye. Photo: mona/Jesse Hunniford. Courtesy the artist and mona, Hobart


ArtReview Asia

2 Andrew Rewald, Melde (from the series Ethnobotanicals), 2019, watercolour, gouache, collage, ink, 14 × 19 cm. Courtesy the artist


Obviously that doesn’t quite compare with the breatharian monk Mataji, a devotee of the Hindu goddess Amba and serial meditator, who lives in a cave in Gujarat, wears a sari and claims not to have even eaten since 1940. Military doctors conducted tests on Mataji in 2010 and, having sealed his toilet, declared that while he generated urine, he did not pass it. They were, of course, interested in the military applications of his ‘regime’; if they came across any lifestyle or biological discoveries that would benefit humankind in general, that would be great too, of course. They did allow him the occasional gargle of water and the odd bath, while ignoring claims from rationalists and American scientists (not the same thing) who called bull-

Adrian Stimson, Shaman Exterminator, 2004, 35mm b/w photograph. Photo: Ian Grove. Courtesy the artist

shit and asserted that the whole thing was a farce. It’s all a matter of faith in the end. To be fair, though, Tim’s ritualistic devotions look a lot more believable, if no less unpleasant. And you can spend hours wondering what the whole thing has to say in relation to who owns our bodies, to what extent we own ourselves, whether or not there should be limits to art, why, given that medical professor and irezumi fetishist Fukushi Masaichi famously collected approximately 2,000 tattooed human hides between 1926 and the onset of the Second World War, anyone would see this whole adventure as something novel, and whether or not that line of blue roses is slightly wonky. ‘This only works with me,’

Spring 2020

Tim says, in case there was any doubt about who the living skin belonged to, ‘but I have nothing to do with this… it’s ridiculous.’ Quite. At this stage, the sharper among you are probably thinking that ArtReview Asia began this art tour in Tasmania because most of the Asian art events it would normally be banging on about have been cancelled as a result of coronavirus-related issues. (And ArtReview Asia’s thoughts go out to those many people who are truly suffering from it.) It’s certainly true that the bit of the artworld that involves socialising is taking a bashing. And that’s a reminder of how much of culture in general is based on interacting with others. That art is one of the ways by which we talk to each other. But it’s just


2 Nicholas Galanin, Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan (We Will Again Open This Container of Wisdom That Has Been Left In Our Care) Part ii (still), 2006, single-channel video, 4 min 6 sec. Courtesy the artist 2 Aziz Hazara, Bow Echo, 2019 (still), five-channel digital video, colour, sound, 4 min 17 sec. Produced by the Han Nefkens Foundation, Barcelona

3 Karla Dickens, A Dickensian Country Show, 2020. Photo: Saul Steed. Courtesy Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art

as true that not all the artworld’s a fair: people are still making art; people are still showing art; life hasn’t come to an end. And, in any case, wasn’t the internet invented so that people could socialise and share ideas even without congregating, travelling or literally sharing the same physical space? (More on all that later.) From Tasmania, right on the edge of the real world (unless you live there, in which case it’s likely the centre), it’s masks-on and a short hop to Sydney (btw, with all the flying it takes to see these shows, you’ll be wanting to do some serious carbon offsetting). There, having caught the end of Tim (although not the end that Reinking is waiting for), you can catch the 2 beginning of this year’s Biennale of Sydney.


The name of the event type may be borrowed from Italian, but the name of the show, nirin, is lifted from the language of the Wiradjuri people of western New South Wales, the Nation to which the mother of the biennial’s artistic director, (actual) artist Brook Andrew, belongs. ‘nirin’, the biennial’s initial press statement declares, ‘is a world of endless interconnected centres; a space to gather and to share, to rejoice, disrupt, and re-imagine.’ And don’t we know about interconnected centres right now. Still, in linguistic terms nirin means ‘edge’. And perhaps it’s really the fact that much of the work on show deals with the marginalised peripheries of both mainstream geography and normative societies that links the 100 or so local and international

ArtReview Asia

artists. Among them are current biennial mainstays such as Anna Boghiguian, Arthur Jafa, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Ibrahim Mahama and Zanele Muholi. ArtReview Asia is particularly looking forward to the contribution of Tlingit/ Unangax̂ artist Nicholas Galanin, who will present a new work involving the excavation of the shadow cast by a statue of Captain Cook in Sydney’s Hyde Park as well as his existing videowork Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan (We Will Again Open This Container of Wisdom That Has Been Left In Our Care), Part i and ii (2006). And once he’s released from Tasmania, Tim will (possibly) be charging over to see Ainu artist and musician Mayunkiki’s ongoing project that researches, sinuye, which translates as ‘to carve oneself’

and is the name given to traditional Ainu tattooing practices, which were made illegal in 1872, when Westerners started arriving and Japan wanted to appear more civilised. That and the fact that Japan’s rulers didn’t care for the Ainu people’s claim to indigineity (a claim only fully acknowledged in law last year after centuries of repression and various attempts to obliterate their culture). The artists on show, Andrew states, ‘will reflect on the world today, challenging dominant narratives and proposing exciting new futurisms and paths to healing’. And carving. For those of you who’ve got biennial fever, 3 the Adelaide Biennial of Australian Art is also up and running (make sure to check out the Art Gallery of South Australia’s permanent collections while you’re there). This one’s titled

Monster Theatres. Pointing out the roots of the first of those two words in the Latin words monere (to warn) and monstrare (to make visible), curator Leigh Robb states, rather cryptically (and firmly grasping the current fad for wilfully confusing curating with etymological studies), that ‘monsters are especially revealing in contemporary Australian art practice because they are the embodiment of a cultural moment’. Horrible (from L. horribilis, from horrere). Artists ranging from Abdul Abdullah to Judith Wright will be putting that to the test. ‘Their urgent works of art are warnings made manifest,’ Robb adds, reliving a childhood experience of Hammer horror trailers no doubt. While you have those on your mind (perhaps 1968’s The Devil Rides Out in particular) you’ll want to redon your mask and head to Hong Kong, where

Blindspot Gallery is due to stage a group exhibition, 4 Anonymous Society for Magick. Featuring works by five artists – Chen Wei, Hao Jingban, Lam Tung Pang, Wang Tuo, Trevor Yeung – the exhibition draws its title from the work of nineteenth-century British occultist Aleister Crowley, a man the popular press of the time labelled ‘the wickedest man in the world’. For the purposes of this exhibition, however, it’s not his so-called wickedness but his attempts to define ‘magick’ as the ‘Science of understanding oneself and one’s conditions’ and ‘the Art of applying that understanding in action’ that provide the inspiration. At least that’s the idea. Lam Tung Pang’s newly commissioned The Great Escape (2020), for example, is based around a carousel lantern’s

existence between science and the imagination, fantasy and reality, and an episode in Japanese

4 Hao Jingban, Opus One, 2019, produced by the Han Nefkens Foundation, Barcelona. Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong

4 Chen Wei, Mushroom, 2016, archival inkjet print, 150 × 188 cm. Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong

Spring 2020


5 mixrice, Plants that Evolve (in some way or other), 2013, two-channel video, 10 min 21 sec, 14 min. Courtesy the artist and Kadist, Paris

6 Cao Fei, Fú Chá, 2020 (installation view, National Gallery Singapore). Courtesy the artist

avant-gardist Shūji Terayama’s book Fantasy Library (1968) in which the author is mesmerised by Harry Houdini’s street magic. Hao Jingban’s Opus One (2020) follows a Chinese couple’s search for authenticity as they bid to bridge time and space (the dance’s origins in Harlem) in an attempt to master swing dance. Now that you’re into entanglement, you’ll be wanting to head over to Tokyo, where the final part of a curatorial collaboration between the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo and 5 Kadist opens. Things Entangling is a group exhibition featuring 12 artists or artist groups whose work explores the ways in which histories and realities collide and mutate to resonate with


a specific place. Opus One isn’t in it, although it sounds like it could be; instead it features work by Pio Abad (The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders, 2014–, which reconstructs the collection of Regency silverware, Old Master paintings and Yugoslav glass painting assembled by former Philippine dictators Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos under the assumed names in the title); Liu Chuang (whose three-channel videowork Bitcoin Mining and Field Recordings of Ethnic Minorities, 2018, will be familiar to regular ArtReview Asia readers); and Korean duo mixrice (Plants that Evolve (in some way or other), 2013, is a two-channel video that explores the migrant destinies of people and plants, from

ArtReview Asia

1,000-year-old trees to plants cultivated for food in urban sites). Gardens, migrants and a familiar artistic face also crop up in the National Gallery Singapore’s Ng Teng Fong Roof Garden, where 6 Cao Fei has installed Fú Chá (2020), a swinging, painted wooden ship. Moving back and forth, the curved, fishlike vessel sloshes water out of its front and rear (something with which Mataji would be utterly unfamiliar) according to the arc of its swing, while the words ‘Almost Arriving’ appear in neon above the structure’s frame. The work picks up on the formative role of migration within Southeast Asia (although not the motivations behind it),

the feng shui of the garden itself and, presumably, Singaporeans’ need to be entertained. But interpretation is not ArtReview Asia’s job: you’ll have to decide for yourself as to whether or not it goes anywhere. That, after all, is the point of going to look at art in the first place. The second place you can see new work by a contender for the title of China’s most prolific contemporary artist is at London’s Serpentine Galleries. Titled Blueprints and billed as the artist’s first major solo show in the uk, the exhibition, which surveys work produced from 2006 until the present day, includes a new virtual reality work, The Eternal Wave (2020), and Nova (2020), her latest film. The

new works expand on the artist’s long-running interrogation of automation, virtuality and technology, and the specific context of the urban transformation in Beijing’s Jiuxianqiao district, where she works and lives. …whose work explores the ways in which histories and realities collide and mutate to resonate with a specific place… Sorry, a bit of reverb there. Let’s escape it by heading to Manila and the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (mcad). There, the group exhibition 7 Constructions of Truth proposes to invite us to reflect on the ways in which image and reality collide and diverge, and the ways in which the one can be used to affect our experience

of the other. That, of course, has been the perennial problem of art since Plato documented Socrates’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’, in which a group of prisoners, chained to the wall of a cave for all their lives, experience the world through the shadows it casts. But that’s history. In the present ‘post-photographic’ age (mcad’s words, not ArtReview Asia’s) you can look at how Martha Atienza’s video Man in Suits (2003) pictures working men going about their daily labours – pushing carts, peddling trishaws, paddling boats or baking bread – while wearing suits and ponder, or perhaps even rethink, perceptions of power, appearance, legitimacy and success. Thao Nguyên Phan’s video Becoming Alluvium

6 Cao Fei, Asia One, 2018, video, 63 min 20 sec. Courtesy the artist; Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou; and Sprüth Magers, Berlin, London & Los Angeles

7 Shuruq Harb, The Jump, 2020, single-channel video, 10 min. Produced by Han Nefkens Foundation, Barcelona

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(2019) considers the changes wrought upon the Mekong River by human activity, while Maria Taniguchi’s video Untitled (crystal palace + gauguin) (2009) juxtaposes footage of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs (a series of outdoor sculptures that imagine what dinosaurs might have looked like, created by artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins between 1852 and 1855 and currently cracking to the extent that they themselves are, as one wit put it, in danger of becoming extinct) with a voiceover describing a Gaugin painting. Fantasy meets fantasy then. These days it’s generally accepted that art history as we have inherited it is something

of a fantasy too. (Although given that history in general is always contingent – the production of the present rather than the past – you should be aware of that by now.) Whether that’s because it’s written by the conquerors of various cultures or more simply by men, it’s always hiding something and pushing someone’s agenda. That the agenda is that of a male someone is something that the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra is going to 8 address in an exhibition titled Know My Name: Australian Women Artists 1900 to Now, which features 150 works by the artists in question. Embarrassingly, their names are too many to list here, but they include photographer

and videomaker Tracey Moffatt, video artist Angelica Mesiti, performance artists Bonita Ely and Jill Orr, alongside Margaret Preston, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, Destiny Deacon and Julie Rrap. The project is part of an ‘ongoing initiative’ at the museum to ‘increase the representation of artists who identify as women in its artistic program’. Embarrassingly, as the museum acknowledges, only 25 percent of its holdings of Australian art are made by women. Although perhaps the biggest problem with attempts to address such gender (and other) imbalances is the way in which institutions around the world ultimately use them to talk about, to market or to rebrand themselves.

8 Emily Kam Kngwarray, Ntange Dreaming, 1989, acrylic on canvas, 135 × 122 cm. © the artist. Courtesy National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

8 Joy Hester, Woman with rose, 1956 © the artist. Courtesy National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

8 Thea Proctor, The rose, 1927. © Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Courtesy National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


ArtReview Asia

9 Bharti Kher, Consummate joy and a Sisyphean task, 2019, wood, copper, steel, red jasper stone, 247 × 67 × 200 cm. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

9 Bharti Kher, The offspring of a deity perhaps, 2019, clay, cement, wax, brass, 126 × 20 × 17 cm. Courtesy private collection

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, in Dublin, they do things differently (ha, ha, ha). There, female artists are already ‘acclaimed’ (obviously a different mood to the one at the National Gallery of Australia) or at least they are (because it says so in a publicity note) in 9 the case of British-Indian artist Bharti Kher, who has lent her name and an exhibition of her work (titled A Consummate Joy) to the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. ‘Ireland has always been an interest for me’, the artist said, rather generously, in a statement packaged with those same publicity materials, ‘in its similarities to ancient Indian history and mythologies; from the worship of pagan

goddesses to the practice of oral storytelling and song.’ Not to mention the two countries’ shared history of rebellion against British colonial oppression. Although she didn’t mention that. Just as she didn’t evoke the love affair (mental, not physical, you perverts) between W.B. Yeats and Rabindranath Tagore. Still, the exhibition does include 19 new or recent works, with a particular focus on Kher’s ongoing exploration of mythologies worldwide, and the role of women within those myths and legends. This means sculptures that fuse one incarnation of a goddess with the next to create a series of split or shifting identities – a many-headed, half-Indian

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Artemis, for example – and, at times, abstract sculptures that seem wilfully to elude any sense of interpretative fixity at all. Perhaps there’s a little bit of Yeats in all that after all. ‘I was to stand at [the poet Douglas Hyde’s] side and listen to Galway mowers singing his Gaelic words without their knowing whose words they sang,’ the Irish Nobel Prize-winner once rambled. ‘It is so in India, where peasants sing the words of the great poet of Bengal without knowing whose words they sing, and it must often be so where the old imaginative folk life is undisturbed.’ You see? Ireland and India are the same. And when an artist is really good, their work has become


10 Sheela Gowda, What Yet Remains, 2017 (installation view, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, 2017). Photo: Stuart Whipps. Courtesy the artist and Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

11 Yuan Jai, Cultural Hall of Calligraphy, 2008, ink and colour on silk, 130 × 213 cm. Courtesy the artist

so much a part of everyday life that no one remembers their name. They do over at the Lenbachhaus in Munich, however. That’s where Bangalore10 based Sheela Gowda has an exhibition as a result of winning last year’s Maria Lassnig Prize (named after the great Austrian painter). Initially a painter herself, Gowda moved to making sculpture during the 1990s, and has since gained further ‘acclaim’ for her installation art. Much of her subject matter revolves around issues of labour, gender, precarity and religion (or imaginative folk life, as Yates might put this last), while her works to date


have incorporated 4,000m of rope woven out of human hair (Behold, 2009, first shown that same year at the Venice Biennale in the former ropemaking factory at the Arsenale), involved threading over 100m of (red) thread through the eye of a needle (And Tell Him of My Pain, 1998–2001) and included various of the materials that might commonly be encountered around her home state – among them cow dung, incense and kumkum powder – in her work. There’s nothing so exotic (or quotidian, depending on whether or not you live in Bangalore, or much of the rest of India)

ArtReview Asia

11 in Yuan Jai’s paintings, just ink and pigment on silk. The soon-to-be-octogenarian artist

studied traditional Chinese painting at the department of art at the Taiwan Provincial Normal University during the 1950s before travelling to Europe to study restoration, before returning to Taiwan at the end of the 1960s to join the department of antiquities at the National Palace Museum in Taipei and establish its first conservation department. Having been surrounded by a collection of Old Master paintings, textiles and other artefacts for almost three decades, she took up painting again at the end of the 1980s, and

a selection of her work is currently on show at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. It’ll be no surprise, given the materials you know she works with and those details of her past career, to find out that Yuan mixes traditional Chinese archetypes and influences from Western painting with observations of contemporary life in a series of colourful, often largescale paintings in which architecture, artefacts and spirituality meet to create a unique space of their own. Around about the time Yuan was starting to paint again, the Indian abstractionist (and advertising professional, trained actor,

children’s book author and collector of folk 12 art) Mehlli Gobhai was returning from New York to Mumbai. Like Yuan’s, Gobhai’s paintings reflect a variety of influences, this time ranging from Chola art to American Abstract Expressionism, and almost 200 of his works (created between the 1940s and the 2010s – he died in 2018) are now on show at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai. According to cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote, who, alongside Nancy Adajania, has cocreated the show, ‘Had Mehlli’s career trajectory been managed differently, or had he belonged to a later generation that benefited from global-

isation, he would undoubtedly have been acknowledged as a key figure in the history of global abstraction’. Presumably this exhibition aims at correcting all that. Not the generation to which he belonged, you can’t correct that, but the career trajectory. That’s what art’s good at: rewriting history. In 1947 W.H. Auden published the long poem The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue. The Times Literary Supplement described it as ‘his one dull book’. A year later it had won the exiled Englishman a Pulitzer Prize, and went on to inspire a symphony by Leonard Bernstein and two separate ballets. And now

12 Mehlli Gobhai, Untitled, c. 1970s, collage on wood panel, 51 × 38 cm. Courtesy Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai

13 Tabor Robak, Drinking Bird Universe, 2018, digital video with live data, BrightSign media player, sd card, various cables and hardware, 6 × 184 × 105 cm. Courtesy the artist

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13 an exhibition – Art in the Age of Anxiety, at the Sharjah Art Foundation. 1947 = 2020.

The poem itself broadly covers humanity’s attempts to find stability (of identity and purpose) in a time of change. In Sharjah Auden’s four men talking at a bar have been replaced by ‘more than 60 artworks, spanning sculpture, prints, video, virtual reality, robotics and algorithmic programs developed by more than 30 international artists’. Now, that’s progress. Among the artists included are Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Cory Arcangel, Cao Fei (ok, some names will be very, very familiar to you by now), Wafaa Bilal, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Trevor Paglen, Guan Xiao

and young-hae chang heavy industries. Where Auden described surviving a postwar world ruled by industry and change, curator Omar Kholeif will set out to identify the ways in which our collective consciousness has been shaped and moulded by information, unstable facts and the devices, technologies and networks that connect us to them. Although he might be hard-pressed to match Auden’s 1947 vision of the future to come: ‘Odourless ages, an ordered world / Of planned pleasures and passport-control, / Sentry-go sedatives, soft drinks and / Managed money, a moral planet / Tamed by terror…’ Which brings us right back to our future.

And now that we’re finally here, ArtReview Asia’s conscious that you might be reading this at a time when your travel opportunities are restricted, and your ability to socialise is gone. Its titillations, in short, might not be such temptations. So, sitting around feeling stupid, why not check out some of the online art presentations like this one – – put together collaboratively by a bunch of galleries and arts institutions in Hong Kong? That’s our real future, and it’s better than lying at home ‘being evil in the sight of the Lord’. Nirmala Devi

13 Lynn Hershman Leeson, Shadow Stalker (still), 2019, hd colour video with sound, 10 min. Courtesy the artist and The Shed, New York

13 Douglas Coupland, Father Figure, 2016, acrylic on inkjet print, 127 × 102 cm. Courtesy the artist and Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto

13 young-hae chang heavy industries, samsung, 2018, video, 3 min 37 sec. Courtesy the artists


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Cerith Wyn Evans No realm of thought… No field of vision until 19 April 2020 M A S O N ’ S YA R D

Peter Schuyff until 16 May 2020


Imi Knoebel 29 April – 21 June 2020 Park Seo-Bo 29 April – 21 June 2020 Jessica Rankin 29 April – 21 June 2020

OfďŹ cial partner


17 – 19 april 2020 preview 16 april

international modern and contemporary art fair


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Points of View

What happens when a nation of just under 55 million people emerges from almost five decades of harsh military dictatorship? When, all of a sudden, those millions gain access to communication that is both instantaneous and uncensored (where once it was neither)? When that access to information opens windows not only into the lives of your neighbours, but also to your politicians, your civil servants and even your children? And how do artists respond to such changes, to this rapid and radical encounter with a type of modernity? How do they respond to this transition and find a voice where they had none before? In Myanmar the intellectual space created by the first free and fair elections in 2015 (the

indelible marks Myanmar artists are making history, says Nathalie Johnston

Emily Phyo, Being Daw Htay Yee, #358, iPhone photograph, posted on Instagram, 2015


ArtReview Asia

first in which the results were allowed to stand since the military took power in 1962) has allowed artists to explore public expression with few restrictions. In fact, their biggest problem is often a lack of public space – parks, squares and art institutions, etc. As a result, the present flowering of artistic expression occurs in private galleries, online or in the street. And yet these forms of expression are not a part of some newborn discourse; the works of art being produced probe the many historical layers barely hidden beneath the surface of the times in which we are living. These layers include legacies of colonialism, military dictatorship, the quest for freedom and democracy, the problematic relations between the Burmese Buddhist majority and the numerous ethnic minorities in the country. And Yangon’s contemporary art scene is where they collide. In 2015, for example, artist Emily Phyo performed her own version of a census, photographing a different person every day for 365 days. She recorded their names, professions and ages. That same year, Chaw Ei Thein’s Camouflage Series reflected upon the violence done in the name of Buddhism by painting camouflage colours on sandstone statues of Buddha. In 2016 Bart Was Not Here – a twentysomething Burmese Muslim graffiti artist from Yangon – designed an uncomfortable series of prints picturing the infamous faces of Myanmar’s political figures past and present, such as military dictator Ne Win and the Buddhist extremist monk U Wirathu. In 2019 Kaung Su created a series of paintings titled Genocide, which referred to the ethnic communities of the country and their susceptibility to climate change with abstract storms of colour on paper. The same year artist Htein Lin exhibited Recently Departed, a lifesize replica of a burned and charred house made of wood and rattan, referring to the burned-out villages of Rohingya and Rakhine people in Myanmar, and installed it in the most important colonial building in downtown Yangon – The Secretariat.

Prior to 2015, international discussion concerning Myanmar was all about the fight for democracy. Now, it is almost exclusively around the genocide of the Rohingya population, who suffer not only from violence and discrimination but an almost total lack of visibility within civil society. Important as these two issues are, to those living in the country, Myanmar’s issues expand far beyond these two poles. Since 1948, Myanmar has been in a constant state of civil war between ethnic armed groups and the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s official armed forces. Poverty, natural disaster, gender inequality, religious extremism and climate change are just some of the regular traumatic experiences of those living in the country. And by opening up discussion about such issues, Myanmar’s contemporary art scene is playing an important role, and one deserving of more attention than it currently receives. And, of course, I have a vested interest in that. In January 2020 Myanm/art, where I work, hosted Richie Htet’s first solo exhibition. In an interview that accompanied the exhibition, Htet described being taunted as a young boy on account of his dark skin. His classmates would use common racial slurs such as kala, a term historically used to refer to people from India, but now referring to skin colour. And the slurs have followed him into adult life. But now they relate to his being queer. In an act of defiance, he titled his exhibition A Chauk, a derogatory term for queer people in the Burmese language. In a series of paintings and drawings representing queer bodies, he both shocked and

top Bart Was Not Here, Ole Dirty Bastards – Ne Win, digital illustration printed on canvas, 64 × 91 cm. Courtesy Myanm/art, Yangon left Bart Was Not Here, Ole Dirty Bastards – U Wirathu, digital illustration printed on canvas, 64 × 91 cm. Courtesy Myanm/art, Yangon

Spring 2020

impressed the audiences. This was the firstever public exhibition in Yangon featuring multiple nude males and male genitalia in artwork. Htet’s might not seem like revelatory work in major cities today, where art is an integrated conversation piece. Myanmar was a closed country for many decades, not only to international visitors but also to its citizens. Poverty did not allow them to travel, and neither did the infrastructure. All schools and universities were administered under the direction of the military, and Buddhism reigned as the national religion. Such factors produce a society that tends to be traditional, conservative and slow to accept change. Even within the arts, audience members are sceptical of experimentation or alternative artforms that do not hold with tradition. But many visitors to Htet’s exhibition asked how it was even possible to show such work in the country’s largest city without censorship. Here, each exhibition and every new risk taken is a step towards understanding what a postdictatorship society can be. Nathalie Johnson is director of Myanm/art, Yangon


Wet Season (2019), the latest work by one of Singapore’s most decorated filmmakers, Anthony Chen, features an unhappy high school teacher, Ling, who forms a bond with one of her male students – a relationship that soon shades into more questionable territory. For her grounded, unvarnished portrayal, which offsets some of the film’s predictability and lack of narrative tension, lead actress Yeo Yann Yann won a Golden Horse, the Chinese-language film industry’s most prestigious award. To me, what is more significant than the film’s exploration of female frustration and desire is the fact that Ling is a Malaysian Chinese (as is Yeo herself) who seemingly blends in with Singapore’s ethnic Chinese majority; and yet despite the two Southeast Asian countries’ proximity and shared history, and all her years of residing in the city-state, she remains an outsider.

neighbour and muse Singapore storytellers find inspiration in the country’s fraught history with malaysia, writes Clarissa Oon

above and facing page, top Wet Season, dir Anthony Chen, 2019, 103 min. © Giraffe Pictures, Singapore


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Wet Season is one of a clutch of recent films and plays created by Singaporean artists that reflect wistfully on the country’s tangled relationship with Malaysia. These works appeared during key anniversary years in Singapore, such as last year’s marking of 200 years since the British first set foot in what would become their colony; and 2015, when Singapore celebrated sg50, or 50 years of independence as a nation-state. In 7 Letters, an sg50 anthology of short films, and in selected multilingual plays by Singapore theatre company Wild Rice, what is under scrutiny is not so much current bilateral ties, but the once-symbiotic historical relationship between the city state and its northern neighbour, which has since grown distant and transactional. Wet Season, which hit cinemas at the end of last year, makes this point through the weather and through language. It’s always grey, rainy and depressing in the Singapore Ling inhabits, compared to the one Malaysian scene, which is flooded with sunshine, and she cuts an isolated figure as a Chinese-language teacher in a country where many ethnic Chinese don’t take the language seriously (English is Singapore’s language of upward mobility, whereas Malaysia has kept its independent Chinese-medium schools, and with that a base of Malaysian Chinese invested in the language). Then there is how she codeswitches to Hokkien and Malaysian-accented Mandarin only when talking to her mother on the phone and to her brother, a truck-driving durian seller (Singapore once banned Chinese dialects from the mass media to encourage the speaking of standard Mandarin, and they remain officially frowned upon). From 1963 to 1965, the two former British colonies of Malaya and Singapore, both multiethnic societies, were one country (along with Sabah and Sarawak) – until an unceremonious split. Malaysia went on to institute policies boosting economic and educational opportunities for the indigenous ethnic Malay majority, who today enjoy a privileged position. Singapore, faced with unease among Malays over an ethnic Chinese majority, born of over a century of colonial-era migration, actively promoted multiethnic representation and mixing in areas ranging from politics to public housing, but minority races have over the years also criticised the entrenching of ‘Chinese privilege’. The constant traffic between the two countries, similar in many ways yet also diametrically opposite, gives rise to the tensions highlighted onstage and in moving image. At the same time, the shared experience of decolonisation prior to 1963, with its sense of liberation and heady idealism, has also

inspired artists bent on unearthing a lost limb of Singapore’s past that has been effaced by post-1965 state narratives. One example is the bold 2015 epic Hotel, cowritten by noted Singapore playwrights Alfian Sa’at and Marcia Vanderstraaten, which Wild Rice is reviving this coming June. A cocktail of history and fiction spanning exactly 100 years, the play is set in a Singapore hotel room, where an energetic ensemble plays out different scenes, varying widely and at times jarringly in tone and style. One comic episode, set in the mid-1950s (before the merger with Malaya), has a starstruck Azizah from Penang bursting into the hotel room, where her hometown hero, the iconic Malay filmmaker P. Ramlee, is auditioning actors together with Indian director Phani Majumdar and movie mogul ‘Mr Shaw’, one of the famous Shaw brothers. Replete with song-and-dance sequences channelling Ramlee’s films, the scene is full of joie de vivre and harks towards the promise of a new nation in all its multiethnic plurality. This is in stark contrast to a later scene, in which a much older Azizah and her family arrive at the hotel as Malaysian tourists, amid post-9/11 security and anti-Muslim paranoia. The harsh interrogation of this Malay Muslim family by Singapore police officers conveys the walls that have sprung up – between countries and races – compared to a time when the borders were much more porous. While Hotel may be criticised for romanticising an earlier era in Singapore–Malaysia relations, Wild Rice’s newer work has been more reflective and nuanced in its polemics. Alfian cowrote Merdeka, staged in October last year, with Neo Hai Bin. Despite its potentially didactic premise of a book club set up to dismantle the legacy of Stamford Raffles, the man framed by history textbooks

as the ‘founder’ of ‘modern Singapore’, Merdeka ends up being akin to a very nimble, engaging lecture-performance. Deploying verbal cut-andthrust, well-judged humour, Brechtian devices as well as emotionally resonant songs, the play brings to life lesser-known historical episodes in various ethnic communities’ skirmishes with colonialism. Its triumph must surely be leading the audience in a fist-pumping chorus of “Merdeka!” – the Malay word for independence, which closed Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew’s now-forgotten rousing 1963 speech announcing the end of colonialism and Singapore’s merger with Malaysia. While these works dive into Singapore’s past, the object of concern is really the here and now. Beneath the nostalgia lies growing anxiety among Singapore’s liberals over a new generation of political leaders tightening the reins to establish their legitimacy, further shrinking the space for outliers and dissenters in universities, the media and the public sphere in general. These buried historical narratives matter because the lack of self-awareness and criticality will cost us, these artists say. They include documentary filmmaker Tan Pin Pin, who directed Pineapple Town, one of the fictional shorts in 7 Letters, about a Singaporean woman’s journey to trace the Malaysian birth mother of her adopted baby girl. As the terse one-liner at the end of Pineapple Town puts it: “We are what we know”. Clarissa Oon is an arts writer and editor based in Singapore

above Production image from the 2015 staging of Hotel, written that year by Alfian Sa’at and Marcia Vanderstraaten. © Wild Rice, Singapore

Spring 2020


London-based artist Vasundhara Sellamuthu’s video performance Name on Rice (2019) brings to life the haptic and textural experience of eating a traditionally conducted South Indian meal on a banana leaf. By the end of the work, the carefully controlled divisions between the various foodstuffs laid out at the beginning of the meal have been wiped out. What remains is a smudged map of colours, a country without borders. While this seems to testify to a rather casual approach to dining, in instances such as this, food is never just ‘food’: the multiple processes that make up the experience of eating a banana-leaf meal are the product of mores, unwritten rules and cultural codes. And these determine the making, serving, eating and getting up and leaving at the end of the meal. Moreover, the ‘food maps’ – evidence of what dishes were served, how they were served, where they were put on the leaf, how a person mixed the rice with the curries, what was eaten first and so on – that one finds on used banana leaves function as caste markers. Those steeped in these codes of eating can detect someone’s caste and subcaste just by observing the way diners navigated a meal. That’s because food maps adhere to codes dictated by the caste of the host. At most formal functions, invitees are near exclusively from the same caste, which makes setting these rules and following them both habitual and easy. When food is served with all these set rules, taught and enforced from childhood with the same discipline


coded language You are how you eat, writes Deepa Bhasthi; in india you can still map class on a plate

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reserved for a prayer ritual, there is little room for individual agency and choice in the consumption of the meal. A banana leaf is sliced across the midrib into three pieces, and the lower part is laid down with the tapering end facing the lefthand side of the person who will sit in front of it. There are designated places for each component of the meal: on the upper half of the leaf, salt is placed on the left corner, a pickle next to it, followed by a range of dry vegetable dishes. On the left side goes the papad, placed across the midrib, while rice is served in the middle of the lower half. A dab of payasa, a sweet pudding, is served on the lower right to start the meal. Upon this basic layout, the rest of the meal is built. The curries are always served by an assembly line of men and a few women – extended members of the family usually, but increasingly hired staff from a catering company these days – in a fixed order. Depending upon the community, the caste and especially the subcaste, both the particular dishes and the order in which they are to be served will vary. In mine, the rasam (a kind of thin soup) would be followed by a thicker gravy and a curd-based curry; the desserts would come somewhere in the middle; and, finally, the quintessentially South Indian curd rice would close the meal. Any change in the order of serving is frowned upon and seen as an affront to the guests; should any such thing occur, the hosts will likely carry that stigma for years to come. Entertainment comes suddenly, and inexplicably, during the middle of the meal, when, for example, a young girl learning classical music or an older gentleman well versed in the songs of Yakshagana (a traditional form of theatre) will be encouraged to sing a song or two. They stop eating to do so, offering up their skill for appreciation and criticism. It’s perhaps not surprising, then, that Sellamuthu uses the multiple dishes on the banana leaf, and the numerous combinations and permutations that should be possible when it comes to their consumption, to speculate on the scope for choice and agency in relation to the meal. The food items in her performance are made of pigments, and while these simulacra are used to draw the multiplicity of textures – the liquids, powders and various solids – that make up a formal meal, they also, the artist suggests, indicate how fragile the codification of banana-leaf dining has come to be.

While the practice of eating lunch and/or dinner off a banana leaf is fairly common in several parts of India, it is in the southern states that the practice is most prevalent. Urban households have long switched to plates for everyday use, but special occasions such as weddings, funerals and other events that are obliged to have a formal setting continue to serve meals on a banana leaf. It is both a nod to tradition and a way to keep costs low – hiring the several dozens of plates required and the labour to clean them afterward is considerably more expensive than buying use-and-throw banana leaves. And in rural households a banana leaf can fulfil an environmentally friendly purpose as well. One absolutely may not begin eating until every bit of the dry items are served. Then there is a way in which each item must be eaten – some you slurp loudly, some not. A skill cultivated from childhood is how to divide the rice in a way that one could taste all the dishes, finish whatever is on the leaf, ask for seconds of a favourite dish and yet leave the meal full and satisfied – a task that needs much calculation on the part of the diner in portion control. How one mixes the rice with the curry matters too: you may use only up to the middle of your fingers: your palm must be dry to show that you are not savage. Navigating through the rasam’s runny consistency to ensure it stays within the borders of the leaf is an acquired skill. Before getting up, there is the crucial last step of dealing with the remains. In my community, we bring whatever is left – salt unused in the curd rice, a vegetable found too spicy, garnish of a curry leaf and such – to the centre of the leaf and leave it there. A burp to announce a full belly. In other communities, people fold the leaf in half – folding it towards yourself marks a happiness with the food, a ‘we’ll come again’, whereas folding it away, usually done so at funeral meals, signifies the end of the relationship with the deceased. The present structure of the banana-leaf meal likely evolved from a combination of culinary aesthetics and ergonomics. As Sellamuthu tells me, the rice zone is where one spends the most time, so it makes sense to have it in the middle. “[On the leaf] you notice the portion sizes gradually getting smaller when you go to the left. You want less salt in your diet, so you put it as far away as you can and you have to stretch and reach for it,” she says, giving examples to explain why the layouts might have evolved the way they did.

all images  Vasundhara Sellamuthu, Name on Rice, 2019, video performance, 2 min 19 sec. Courtesy the artist

Spring 2020

The intricate rules governing how a formal meal is conducted might seem like a quirk of various communities, evolved over generations of meals for both practical and obscure reasons. But in truth, they are a cover for the violence of caste and class that is ingrained into the Indian psyche. The various food maps that are drawn in communities may make for colourful pictures and hearty meals, but how the borders between food items are drawn can make a huge difference in a public gathering, often with sinister results. Where food in general, and communal meals in particular, are supposed to represent the universal binding of people who are different in their beliefs and practices, these ele-oota or ellai saapad serve to sharpen those very differences. The others – those lower down in the social order or those from castes different from that of the host – are served in a separate section of the room, or after the guests belonging to the host’s community have eaten, ostensibly to maintain the sanctity of the eating ritual. Many modern, mixed-caste meals incorporate a buffet section, a codeless meal available to those from castes other than that of the host, that further controls who eats in what ways. Unsurprisingly, nowhere are these rules stricter than among the upper castes, whose sophistication, cleanliness and ritual purity must be maintained at all costs – ideas that have led to nothing good historically. This violence of othering, during the seemingly benevolent act of inviting them to the meal, is a contradiction that is regularly perpetuated. While dishes from northern parts of India, like a piece of parantha or a sweetmeat alien to southern India, are served as a mark of inclusivity and a cautious willingness to stray from tradition, meat is never served on a banana leaf. Increasingly, even in communities that do eat meat, these dishes are not served in community meals. In a political atmosphere where being vegetarian is today equated with being both a true Hindu and being of a higher social order, these deliberate modifications in community eating experiences are a shameful attempt at homogenising a nation’s diet, one meal at a time. In India, with a rightwing government in power and a majority support for its policies, such food politics have acquired a gravitas and a sense of urgency that is, frankly, frightening. Deepa Bhasthi is a writer based in Bengaluru


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If it ended up 41

WangShui by Mark Rappolt


Being and Nothingness


preceding pages From Its Mouth Came a River of High-End Residential Appliance (still), 2018, hd single-channel video, 13 min (on loop)


above and facing page From Its Mouth Came a River of High-End Residential Appliance, 2018 (installation views, empac at Renssalaer, Troy, 2019)

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Bel-Air is a luxury residential complex located in Hong Kong’s University of Hong Kong, ‘sold a 1,126-square-foot unit at Bel-Air in Southern District, next to the Cyberport business development and Telegraph Bay for hk$30 million’ earlier this year, having bought the between the Peak and the South China Sea. Phase one of the project unit for hk$13.8 million in 2009. But you’re not reading this article opened in 2004, with a total of 527 residential units distributed across for advice on the property market. At least I hope not. seven blocks so that there are no more than two or three apartments Bel-Air is the subject of From Its Mouth Came a River of High End per floor. ‘They mostly have open sea views and balconies,’ boasts the Residential Appliances (2018), a videowork by WangShui that was first estate agent’s brochure. ‘They all have light wood finishing and luxury shown as part of a solo exhibition at Triple Canopy in New York and fitted kitchens and bathrooms.’ The eight core blocks that make up subsequently as part of the group exhibition Holy Mosses at Blindspot phase six were designed by Foster + Partners and completed in 2008. Gallery in Hong Kong at the end of last year. Although, as the video They are paired to give the appearance of progresses, it becomes clear that emptifour massive structures forming a wave. ness, rather than Bel-Air, is the real subject You’re not reading this article of From Its Mouth… Unless it’s feng shui, ‘The design concept draws on both a combifor advice on the property market. Chinese mythology or WangShui themnation of European precedents – the Royal At least I hope not selves. Perhaps clarity is not the point. Crescent in Bath and the urban edge of the French Riviera – and Hong Kong’s contemPerhaps the point lies in the fact that everyporary vernacular of breathtaking vertical living,’ the practice says, thing this work appears to reveal it immediately conceals. giving precisely the vision of history, royalty, pleasure and innovation Take the Bel-Air apartment blocks. They are in shot for almost every second of the video, but they remain nothing more than blank that is the stuff of every developer’s dreams. Prices per unit have more than doubled since the development facades, mute objects animated only by the voice of the narrator opened, even factoring in a decline in property prices caused by the purporting to speak for the artist themselves. “A wall,” is how the economic crisis that has followed the covid-19 pandemic. According male narrator describes Bel-Air at one point. to The Standard (‘Hong Kong’s biggest circulation English daily newsOr take that artist. At the beginning of the video, the narrator (who paper’), Xu Chenggang, an economist and honorary professor at the delivers his lines in a lethargic, monotonous monotone) informs us

Spring 2020



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that if we look to the lower left of the screen, we can see them and each emperor would customise a dragon to fly them into the aftertheir drone-operating cameraman, Hercules, just as they disappear life. And pursue that dragon through their lives. These dragons were out of shot. Even if you do notice them, they are far below the camera. fantastical chimerical creatures made up of bits and bobs of other Tiny as ants. animals – a being made up of the things we do know to describe While the name ‘Bel-Air’ is presumably intended to trigger something we don’t. In The Classic of Mountains and Seas, a compenFresh Prince-type associations with the West Coast of the us, it is in dium of 204 descriptions of mythological beings (which the narrator fact fresh air that contributes the most striking aspect of the blocks’ now channels) dating, perhaps, from as early as the fourth century architecture. Each of them incorporates a ‘dragon gate’ – an empty bce, the Torch Dragon has a human face and a snake’s body, and he space between three and four storeys high at the rough centre of these is scarlet in colour. Which is a little like the Aide Willow, except that 50-storey blocks – which, according to feng shui, allows dragons to the latter has nine heads and his snake-body is green. Meanwhile fly through this architectural fortress (the community is gated) from Mount Drum sports a human head on a dragon’s body; except when the mountains of the Peak in order to drink from the South China he turns into a hill peasant, when he looks like a kite, with scarlet Sea. Thus the qi flows through Bel-Air. Although such an ostentatious feet and a straight beak, yellow markings and a white head. The waste of valuable space is something, the narrator suggests, that only Big Bee looks like a locust and the Crimson Moth looks like a moth. adds to the feeling of wealth and luxury of the development itself. Well, you get the picture. Even if there are no pictures of such beings (Cynics would add that the gates placate locals with obstructed views, in WangShui’s video. Just the assertion that they are interspecies that they make alien structures seem local or that they allow adequate and the words coming out of the narrator’s mouth. And an image ventilation while maximising unit space.) WangShui’s project, we are of apartment blocks punctured by holes. told, is to chase the dragon: to fly a drone camera through these gates Now WangShui chases the dragon. “The dragon I have in mind in order to replicate the mythical creature’s journey. Although, when doesn’t have a singular body,” the narrator states. “It shifts between endless vantage points aggregating an Hercules asks why exactly they want to do infinite live image of me. Its name is this, WangShui rather cryptically reports, “I explained to him that WangShui. If the camera is the body and “I explained to him that it was the only way it was the only way that I could that I could become who I wanted to be”. the lens the skin, it becomes almost entirely become who I wanted to be” Feng shui was designated a ‘feudalistic undetectable as it mirrors its surroundings while recording.” Just a wall of apartments superstitious practice’ and banned in China when the cpc came to power in 1949. At the dawn of the Cultural punctured by holes. “I don’t want to know what it is. I don’t want to Revolution (1966–76) it was included among the ‘four olds’ (old ideas, know what I am. Or where I am. Or whether or not this is cinema,” old culture, old customs and old habits) that the revolution sought to the narrator drones. eradicate. And while feng shui has experienced something of a revival “Call me an orientalist. A hyperorientalist Chinese American in China over recent decades, it remains illegal in the prc to register raised in East Asia but not China, who has made it their life’s goal feng shui consultation as a business or to advertise feng shui services. to lose all cultural traction but ended up making work about being Consequently, the narrator informs us, its enduring influence in Hong Asian anyway, because the personal seems more political than ever,” Kong and on Hong Kong’s architecture represents a form of resist- the narrator says, the tone of their voice becoming a little more ance to all that, just as much as it represents a resistance to Western excited, the pace faster. “Clock me as a gay Asian bottom,” they rationalism (for which we might read capitalism). And in this sense continue. “Even though I haven’t had anal sex in years. Because the dragon gates represent carefully preserved voids amid competing I refuse to accept that my physical body must dictate how I have sex or who I have sex with… or that I should trust my highly suspect ideologies. And a shock of the old; lacunae in time as much as space. Meanwhile, the narrator informs us, WangShui has been filming sexual desires that still propagate a Eurocentric hierarchy of desire… Hercules on their iPhone as he operates the drone controls. He taught even though… I don’t want to be male anyway.” We never see the most of the drone operators in Hong Kong and has a unique two- drone completely penetrate the gates and come out on the other side fingered way of operating the joysticks. We get to see none of that. (although with the first gate it is almost all the way). It might have The drone continues to approach Bel-Air and its dragon gates. Eyes done when we weren’t looking or in a section that WangShui cut. By the end of the 13-minute video, which cuts between approaches without a face. Art, we are always told, is about invention. As we fly towards the to various of the gates, it’s hard to work out which side we’re hole, the narrator tells us about how, according to Chinese legend, looking at anyway. ara

facing page From Its Mouth Came a River of High-End Residential Appliance, 2018 (installation view, empac at Renssalaer, Troy, 2019) all images Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong

Spring 2020


Gordon Cheung Interview by Mark Rappolt

British artist Gordon Cheung’s paintings and sculptures dissect the imagery of a globalised world. Drawing on disparate landscape traditions, as well as financial and digital infrastructure, his work maps out our contemporary dystopia. ArtReview Asia caught up with him amid his exhibition in London, Tears of Paradise


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Myth, Belt, Road and the Sublime

above Desert of the Real facing page Towers of Water

Spring 2020


String of Pearls


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artreview asia I’d like to start with how your paintings are created – and talk about perversion. There’s a perverse way that you take the newspaper data of markets and stocks, which is the background for the paintings, and then you overlay it with quasiromantic, idealised landscape imagery, and then further superimpose the data of structural networks in Greater China on top. How do those two things, the slightly romantic portrayal and this data analysis, fit together? gordon cheung We perceive the world through mythologies and stories – fictional realities. These stories bind us and help unite us in order to be able to then pursue bigger projects. The biggest projects are civilisations. From 1995 I started using the stock listings in the Financial Times to reference this information space that we found ourselves in, a digital and communications revolution. I felt that this was our new landscape, and I found it profoundly compelling to try to find a way to visualise. ara In these recent works, which tackle Greater China, or Hong Kong and China – depending where you sit – there’s also a relationship to the colonial history of Hong Kong that is very much about numbers and profits, and has a particular resonance in these works. gc When the handover happened in 1997, I immediately made a piece of work responding to it. I was in the living room of my flat and I grabbed hold of these lychee cans and started shredding them, because they depicted these arcadian landscapes of China with the beautiful image of a factory pumping out smoke. I liked the disparity between those two images. Hong Kong was something back then that I didn’t really understand – even though my parents are from there – as being a colony, with all this imagery of the handover and the importance that was given to it going back to China. It probably took another 15 years before I started to realise some of the histories behind that event, and that’s what I started looking at more in this recent body of work. ara You were talking earlier about how stories are what unites us. Were I a representative of the Chinese government, I might say that it’s infrastructure and railway systems and communication systems that have united us. Maybe you could describe the systems that you’ve mapped out in these paintings. gc The exhibition in London begins with two paintings that offer the widest perspective. Towers of Water [all works 2020] depicts the Himalayan Mountains, referred to as the ‘Water Towers of Asia’, the Tibetan plateau and the main river systems in China that are beginning to be dammed up. It’s to supply hydroelectricity demands, but there are those who rely on the river downstream that China will then have political leverage over. The other painting, String of

Pearls, is actually a term that was devised by a us military consultant to suggest that China’s infrastructural investment in these ports along the Maritime Silk Road is for offence and defence purposes. Obviously, China denies that and says that it’s to do with connecting trade routes and maintaining or strengthening relations between the nations in which they’re investing. Looking at the series of paintings, you get progressively closer to China’s infrastructure projects. For example, the title painting of the show, Tears of Paradise, depicts the Pearl River economic zone, nine districts of 22 million people who are connected by high-speed rail and worth about 20 percent of China’s gdp. Along the top of the painting is a map of the Belt and Road Initiative, which are the nations being connected by China’s trade agreements. It’s the largest project in human history. ara These infrastructure developments also seem to involve curious extensions of Chinese legal dominions, in the sense that a lot of the laws that govern these developments are Chinese law, even if they happen to be, say, in the Pacific Islands. Do you think these structures are shifting the global geopolitics as much as the local ones?

“We perceive the world through mythologies. These stories bind us and help unite us in order to be able to then pursue bigger projects” gc China was the manufacturing hub of the world, and now that their middle classes are growing, there’s a shift towards creating an internal economy. The resources that they need can no longer be solely found within China itself, so they have to extend beyond, and seem to be enacting policies that are more about strengthening mutual trade between nations. Rather than going in and invading or demanding, they’ve decided to work with other nations, which has different repercussions. ara Which is in some ways very similar to, say, the East India Company. gc The East India Trade Company is actually featured in String of Pearls: a boat in the bottom corner of the painting is the British gunboat Nemesis, which was the first to go to China. During what was to be called the Opium Wars, the East India Trade Company was smuggling opium into China in exchange for silver, which eventually led to Hong Kong being colonised by the British. ara In a lot of the works, you’ve pictured these infrastructure systems as constellations – mythologised them.

Spring 2020

gc Yes, they’re written in the stars as if they refer to a sort of destiny. The paintings are a kind of a convergence of real structures, but then these real structures are also surrounded by mythologies. In order to be able to sell these sorts of projects to people to get them to build them, it has to be for a greater ‘good’, and that’s often wrapped up in ideas of becoming ‘greater’. In each of the paintings there’s also a sacred mountain, and these sacred mountains – a set of five – were traditionally sites than an emperor would visit in order to sanctify his divine rights to rule over his subjects. I was layering different fictional realities on top of each other. In general, although not in all of the paintings, there’s a human scale at the bottom, then a harnessing of the landscape through the middle, and then a sort of divine order or fictional reality, and then a future space at the top. ara What is the architecture that you’re depicting at this human scale? gc The buildings or the animals at the bottom are the symbol of the home, the basic unit of a civilisation, and these aren’t any old buildings. For example, in Desert of the Real, the building is one in Kashgar that was demolished. The area depicted in that painting is the Xinjiang province, in Northwest China, where the Uyghur Muslims are being ‘reeducated’ – in what many in the West call ‘concentration camps’. It’s a particularly sensitive subject. Beyond the human-rights issues and the questions of how a civilisation or leadership deals with certain minorities, that area is going to be the busiest intersection of the Belt and Road project – it borders eight nations. One of those nations has invaded China in the past: Russia. At that time, in 1949, the ussr supported the separatist movement of the Uyghur Muslims in that region. They then abandoned them for favourable terms with China. The high-speed rail that runs through the region is what features across the top of the painting, and what enabled a form of internal colonisation; where the demographics of that region were once around 80 percent Uyghur, it has become 45 percent Uyghur and about 40 percent Han Chinese. ara It’s interesting, coming back to statistics and facts, in how they inform the landscapes and constellations to become mythologising and maybe ‘un-datafiable’ characteristics in the works. There’s a sense similar to the structure of science-fiction narratives, trying to fix this point that’s tied to a present reality but obstructed from it at the same time. It also speaks a little bit to the fiction that emerged, for instance, after Tiananmen Square. Some of the fiction about it written from the side of the students would use things like The Classic of Mountains and Seas, an abstraction of reality, in order to tell their story.


gc All art in some ways has a political aspect to it, whether it’s apathy or acting overtly in creating a forum to think about some of those wider important issues. Even classic Chinese ink painting, for example; those painters were often the educated elite who worked for the emperor. The mountains represented the state and culture of the time, and they would use ink painting as a way of recording or codifying their relationship to the state, and how they felt that particular dynasty was in control. ara You use a multicoded language in your work that is hyperlinked in a way – the mountains the people may or may not recognise, the constellations that people probably do not recognise now but might impact on their lives sometime in the future. Your paintings, in the way you construct the images with a newspaper, also have this slightly pixilated aspect. gc That goes back to the notion of mapping an information space that we all exist in. A world in which trillions of capital is able to move instantaneously and, wherever it accumulates, create dystopias and utopias. So the pixel is the unit, if you like, of that space. It’s the atom of that datascape, something that we’re extremely familiar with when we see low-resolution jpeg images and so on, so for me it is this artificial information space, and a pixel represents that. The works are an interface, like a screen, and how so much of our time is engaged through the screen to teleport through these electronic spaces. ara In these recent works, there’s nothing human.

All of the window designs came from a book that I found in a thriftshop in London’s Chinatown about 15 years ago. Some of these can look as though they come from Islamic or even Greek traditions. The scholars on the designs of Chinese traditional windows are very few, but I think it’s probably to do with the transmission of culture, through the Silk Roads, which were basically globalisation at the pace of a camel. ara That’s an interesting reflection in respect to the paintings too, that diffusion of different cultural references. Any one painting might be simultaneously drawn from an eighteenth-century, classical Western landscape, as much as it might also reference a traditional Chinese classical landscape. Does this also relate to the history of landscape, in either tradition, being about ownership, whether it’s physical property or intellectual property? gc I’ve always been interested in the tradition of the sublime landscape painting. But they would’ve had people in them, a tiny figure in them that would represent a conqueror. Often those territories are magnificent virgin worlds, promised lands that the tiny figure has discovered, and so they erased the indigenous people

“There’s a human scale at the bottom, a harnessing of the landscape through the middle, a sort of divine order or fictional reality and then a future space”

gc There isn’t. I wanted to create an existential sort of space, and so when you remove the human, you yourself are the one who remains as you look into these spaces. At the brink of something epic and sublime are these questions of, ‘What does it mean to be? Who am I? Why am I?’ Despite the grandeur of these projects, or the enormity of what is one of the largest human projects in history, these questions persist. What do they ultimately mean?

who were there, both from the narrative of the landscape and in reality. I was always fascinated by the romantic language of it. It would be the force and awe of nature overwhelming the individual, a kind of terror. That experience was what brought you close to the experience of God. God was in the force of nature, the beauty and the sheer overwhelming scale.

ara Are these same questions at stake for you in the sculptural hanging works that feature in the show?

ara Does that mean that in these recent paintings the infrastructures at work are the gods?

gc As the paintings shift from a wider perspective towards more internal China projects, you reach this installation of traditional Chinese windows that for me represent a ghost architecture of homes phasing in and out. They were made in response to the rapid urbanisation of China, where many older buildings with these types of windows were torn down. The windows started to represent, for me, a conceptual demarcation between communism and capitalist communism. Of course, there are a lot of romantic narratives around windows – interiors and exteriors, wistfully looking out – so it had all these type of resonances that I was interested in.

gc I used to think about the stock market in that way – as a new god. What is omniscient, omnipotent? It’s these numbers that affect all of us, and no more sensationally and spectacularly evidenced than by the 2008 financial crisis. There was truly a period where we didn’t know whether the system itself was going to survive, or whether it was going to completely collapse into an apocalypse of sorts. It was this crazy time when ‘the end of capitalism’ was frontpage news. Obviously it carried on, but it’s the idea that these numbers are constantly surrounding us, perhaps in the same way in which divine narratives are constructed.


ArtReview Asia

ara The hanging window-frame works are also made up of the stock listings from the newspaper, numbers that construct the geometries of the frames. Is one way of seeing them just as a mathematical pattern? gc The numbers on the stock listings represent the dominant economic model on a global scale. It was, at the start, a convenient material to use. I was literally using it like a pigment for paintings, pulping to make my own version of the paint, but that paint was actually information of the very space that I was trying to depict in the work. Now it’s data that no serious trader would use, this information is redundant. It seems part of tradition, just as much as eighteenth-century landscape painting is. Now the primary use of the stock listing pages in the newspaper is as advertising space. I still think it has this relationship to that information space, and that’s the reason why I still continue to use this material. In making the paintings or the sculptures, the core concerns, and the way that I think about constructing things, are similar. You just exchange different materials. I usually draw out a mind map, and then I’m able to piece out certain conglomerates of interconnected ideas and find the visual formats for each of those and layer them together. Both began from my interest in looking at the history of China, which became that much more important to me over the years. Understanding the contradictions and coming to terms with being born in the uk, living here in the uk, not understanding what the handover meant in 1997 and what it means to be a colonial subject who was born in a different country, as well as having the passport of the coloniser. ara Are the Tears of Paradise that gives the show its title a negative or positive thing? gc As soon as you frame a work of art within a political forum, it becomes a very divisive issue. My aim is to lay down the facts and then leave it open to discussion. I don’t think in England or Britain they know that much about the Opium Wars, or what the Empire actually really did to the world that they colonised. These are extraordinary stories and incredible systems of organisation, achieved at a great human cost. Tears of Paradise is an ambiguous term. Whose paradise is it, and whose was it before? Who is crying over it, in joy or sadness, and who’s tearing it apart? These are some of the longrooted historical questions that I’m interested in not only learning about but figuring out, and asking whether this is what we want our humanity to actually represent. ara Gordon Cheung: Tears of Paradise is on view at Edel Assanti, London, through 18 March

Tears of Paradise all images 2020, financial newspaper, archival inkjet, sand and acrylic on canvas, 150 Ă— 200 cm. Courtesy the artist and Edel Assanti, London

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Melati Suryodarmo Interview by Mark Rappolt

Performing to Resist 60

ArtReview Asia

Born in Solo, a historic royal capital of Java, Melati Suryodarmo has, over the past decade, established a reputation as one of Southeast Asia’s leading performance artists. She is particularly feted for her durational works, which might involve crushing and grinding hundreds of kilograms of charcoal over a 12-hour period (I’m a ghost in my own house, 2012) or dancing on butter until she collapses and leaves, exhausted (Exergie – Butter Dance, 2000). For almost 20 years she lived and worked in Germany. While her performances cross cultures, her body, and by extension the female body, remain a constant. This month she opens a major solo exhibition at Museum macan, Jakarta.

back to my hometown, Solo. The studio is just a house I rent, but it has a 5,000sqm garden with a lot of thick trees. I built an open-air platform stage with very simple rigging for the lights. We organise Undisclosed Territory, an annual festival of performance art, and host a ‘laboratory’ for performance art, as well as a ‘dance laboratory’ for young choreographers in the region. Every two months, we support young choreographers or composers who develop performances for a small theatre in collaboration with the art centre. It’s all very simple. But I need to do this, and as long as it’s still possible to do it in Indonesia, I’m going to continue. I love it, it’s totally independent.

artreview What’s it been like to develop the exhibition for macan?

ms They don’t teach performance art here. The institutions are limited, so I love the idea of supporting an ecosystem of performance art and independent artists. In doing so, I understand what is happening in my surroundings. I think artists cannot be separated from the art community, the art environment. If you don’t support your environment, you become more alienated from that society.

melati suryodarmo We’ve been working on it for three months and I feel a constant déjà vu. Seeing all the objects and the documentation again, and trying to remember what happened at those times in my life. It’s like performing my archive: although some of those performances will be performed by others, and some I’ll present myself. ar Do you have to go into training to do those, or do you just take the condition you’re in as a given? ms There are various methods of training. For a long durational performance that lasts 12 hours, I really need at least two or three days of total quietness, but also physical space, and physical training for endurance. This show includes a very tough piece called The Black Ball [first performed in 2005 at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam], where I sit in a chair for eight hours a day for four days. The chair is installed up on the wall more than two metres from the floor. That’s it. No movement, no nothing. That will be challenging for me to do again. Not a challenge in the sense of The Guinness Book of Records of course, but I’m afraid that people will consider it that way. In Indonesia they love that sort of thing. But I guess people will mostly think, ‘Why do you torture yourself by doing this?’ ar Why do you torture yourself by doing this? ms It’s not torture, it’s a resistance. My faith in performance art derives from the spirit of resistance. Even after more than 20 years of practising performance art – starting in the underground scene in Berlin, and now performing in museums, galleries, art fairs – I still do grassroots activities in my hometown. Initially I was going back and forth between Germany and Indonesia. Then, in 2012, I decided to move

ar Is this in response to the fact that there aren’t such spaces in Indonesia in general?

Suryodarmo obtained a degree in international relations at Padjajaran University in Indonesia before moving to Germany in 1994, where she studied under Butoh dancer Anzu Furukawa and later Marina Abramovic´, graduating with a masters in performance art from the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Braunschweig in 2002. This shift to dance and performance isn’t without precedence: Suryodarmo’s mother was a practitioner of traditional Javanese dance. Her father, Suprapto Suryodarmo, was a dance artist and choreographer who founded the Lemah Putih art centre in central Java and taught dance for over five decades, developing his own method of freeform movement called Amerta.

facing page Transaction of Hollows (2016): Dressed in a white suit, the artist notches a bamboo arrow into a gendawa (traditional Javanese bow) and shoots it into the gallery wall. She repeats this action 800 times over four hours. Lilith Performance Studio, Malmö, 2016. Photo: Petter Petterson

ar You mentioned earlier that your work is a form of resistance – resistance against what? ms The idea of using the body as my main medium is about presenting the life aspect of the person who is making the art. I like the idea that the artwork is a ‘lifework’. It’s not like the conventional performing arts. This is not acting or dance. When I move, it’s not necessarily choreographed. ar But is it still related to choreography? ms It’s slightly different. Maybe seven decades ago, during the boom of performance art, it was

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facing page, top Exergie – Butter Dance (2000): The artist walks into a space, heading towards 20 bricks of butter that are prepared on a square dance mat. She stands with her back to the public. She turns around and steps on the butter. She dances and lets herself fall over if she slips on the butter. The artist gets up and continues to dance. This action is repeated until she loses her energy. It takes around 20 minutes. The artist takes off her shoes, stands up slowly and leaves the space. VideoBrasil, São Paulo, 2005 (first performed at Hebbel Theater, Berlin, 2000). Photo: Isabel Matthaeus

like that, but not now. Now we have a totally different environment with the addition of the digital world in visual art, where everything looks super-high-pixel and hyperreal. I’m not scared of this, but we need more energy that is direct. I think there is a space for the artist and the audience to experience something that is revealed at that time and in that space, impressions that are left in the memory of the audience and the performer themselves that are very subtle and very specific. It’s not like a selfhealing experience or anything. I hate that – performance of self-healing is not my thing. ar Never?

facing page, bottom Sweet Dreams Sweet (2013): Performers in white outfits arrive in pairs, walk, sit and lie down in the performance area. They dip their feet into liquid that dyes their stockings blue. Over two hours, 28 female performers gradually occupy the performance area. Jakarta Biennale, 2013. Photo: Sayekti Lawu

overleaf, left I Love You (2007): For between three and six hours, the artist moves around an entirely red performance area holding onto a sheet of glass (90 × 200 × 1 cm). She repeats the phrase ‘I love you’. She describes this as a mantra that, ‘depending on the recipients, the meaning of the phrase becomes blurred. Language is expressed, but it is sometimes not representative of what we think. Our capability of using language is limited.’ Ebent07 Festival, Barcelona, 2007. Photo: Angel Vila

“Performance is not an individual experience, it’s a shared collective experience. A performance should be able to be perceived from many perspectives. I think that’s why it will always be interesting”

ms Never. Maybe the only time was for The Promise performance [2002, Landesvertretungshaus Niedersachsen, Berlin], when I was thinking about the subject of femininity and of my mother, who suffered from cancer – but then I thought, many people suffer from cancer too. I try not to present my private stories in my performances. I let go of my personal background. Because in many cases, these lead to works that are whiny: ‘I’m a suffering female, so I scream, and I want to fight for my rights, so I open my shirt and go naked’. I’m a bit worried about this method. Of course, people can express these sentiments in whatever way they like, but it’s just not my way. ar A lot of your work concerns gender and the role of women. Do you feel like you have to moderate that for a local audience? ms Yes. I think I need to learn more about the history of gender relations in our society. For example, I often fought with my late father, criticising him as a ‘soft Javanese’, for being macho, or a patriarch – this kind of thing. And he would say, ‘Why do you accuse me of such things? I have not learned from my parents how to be a man, or how to differently respect women. I thought I already respected women, but that is still wrong today.’ Then I realised, of course, his environment was different, his background was traditional Javanese, and they treat and respect women differently. It cannot be an immediate change. And that little example relates to how I see things in terms of what is private or selfhealing, and performance. Performance is not an individual experience, it’s a shared collective experience. A performance should be able to be perceived from many perspectives. I think that’s why it will always be interesting.

Suryodarmo has performed extensively over the past three decades in galleries, institutions and festivals, including the 50th Venice Biennale (2003), Manifesta 7 (2008) and


ArtReview Asia

exhibitions within the Singapore Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, Canberra; the exhibition at Museum macan is her first institutional solo exhibition.

ar You use traditional forms and engage with tradition in your work. Is that to change them or to respect them? ms For me, tradition has the potential for transformation. Tradition has a quality of change and exchange. To see tradition as a solid form is not correct. Institutions love to make traditions fixed things. But take Javanese dance: many of the traditional Javanese dances have no author. There are specific dances that are created for the palace, mostly by the king. But most of the art is created anonymously. There’s no original creator because the dances also change over time. I love the idea of how traditions are maintained, but also how traditions can change. Traditional knowledge is so rich. I’m slowly realising how rich, for example, Javanese mysticism is. ar Were you interested in that connection, and that grounding within Javanese culture, when you decided to go to Europe? ms My dad had a big influence on me. He was an artist who developed his own method of dance and movement. He didn’t just create dance for the stage, but dance for the people. He would do different kinds of ritual performances, but the way he did it is, of course, very different to what I do now, because he was self-taught. He really learned from nature and he studied philosophy. It’s a totally different approach, but the idea of connecting us with the ground, with reality, with nature, is very inspiring to me. I think to get closer to the human, our human reality, we also need to learn from nature. What I know from Java is that there’s a lot of local knowledge of nature. And not just nature in the sense of the environmental context, but also knowledge of the human body, of health, death, birth, traditional medicine and even cooking. A lot of those knowledge systems are being lost, because we’re not using them anymore. ar Is it difficult, given what you’ve described as the contemporary reality of Solo, to bring some of the contemporary performance techniques that you developed in Europe to your hometown? ms No, because I never claim the elements of traditions per se. For example, I did some research in Makassar, South Sulawesi, where I met a fifth gender (bissu) shaman in the Bugis tradition. Bissu are intersex people; a documentary about it will also be presented in the exhi-

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bition. I was curious about the shamanistic practice, but I was mainly there to understand the meaning of emptiness as a state of mind. There’s a lot of exposure now on gender identity, but while I was researching, the gender context came to me later, when I connected it with the Bugis’ spiritual concept of emptiness. The shaman, who is considered the conduit between the people and a higher spirit, is a person who is totally free of gender identity. I still cannot describe this shaman, who I really, really adored. We became friends. They showed everything to me, they were very generous. They passed away already in 2011. There was a special connection, and I try to be careful not to expose or exploit that culture. I’ve been practising Javanese meditation since I was teenager, but for me, I have some natural connection with the Bugis of South Sulawesi. I don’t understand the language, and I don’t want to exoticise the culture. I don’t buy into exotic or cultural tourism. It’s a method of ethics, and that matters to me, as that culture is part of Indonesia. ar Would you feel the same way, or the same sense of responsibility, about something that was not part of Indonesia, like Butoh dance or these other cultural forms? ms Butoh is often misunderstood. Butoh is very connected with its Japanese roots, but as a form it’s also influenced by Mary Wigman, the German expressionist dancer and choreographer. The spirit of Butoh can go anywhere. It can go in any form, actually, because the spirit of Butoh is not just ‘the dance of darkness’, it means grufti [German slang for gothic] dance. It’s the darkness of Japanese tradition – Zen Buddhism. It’s about the darkness before we know something. Butoh is a means of reaching a kind of enlightenment. Enlightenment not in terms of nirvana but of understanding. There are different understandings about Butoh as a form of dance and Butoh as a bodily performance. The complexity of Butoh is that there are so many theories that are made up by Western historians or researchers. But if you

go to different masters of Butoh, they explain Butoh totally differently. Butoh was a movement from Asia after the Second World War that consciously tried to resist both tradition and Western influence. It’s a fluid way of seeking a new form, and that’s also present in performance art. I think Butoh is very strong, but I don’t believe that Butoh belongs to Japan only. Butoh should be open to everyone, because it has already spread since the 1950s. You cannot stop the flow. ar You said you’re inspired by the history of art in Europe and the West as well as from Asia. Do you think that people in Indonesia see you as more of a Western artist? ms Yes, probably. They probably still see me as very Western-influenced, but I have had a Western education. I had seven years studying in Germany. I cannot avoid the influence of the West, and for me it doesn’t matter, because since my early practice during the late 1990s, I’ve tried to avoid the politics of representation. Because there are so many different positions to take: shall we talk about how the United Nations divided us after the Second World War? How about the Eastern bloc and Western bloc? What is the meaning of being part of the Third World countries? I was aware early enough, maybe because I studied international politics before. I was aware of where I put myself as Melati Suryodarmo, ‘Indonesian artist’. And that if I am an ‘Indonesian artist’, do I have to represent the Indonesian identity in terms of culture and art? And what does it mean to be a ‘representative’ of Indonesian culture and art in the international art world? It’s so much pressure. Art needs freedom. And if the world is not free, then freedom begins in your work and your thinking. Freedom begins in the mind, not from the determination of what kind of identity is attached to my skin. ara

preceding pages, right The Black Ball (2005): Inspired by Egon Schiele’s Organic Movement of Chair and Jug (1912), a drawing in which a chair and jug are captured midfall, Suryodarmo sits on a chair attached two-and-a-half metres up a wall. Below the chair is a shelf covered with Astroturf, designed by Marina Abramović. For eight to ten hours a day, for four days, the artist sits on the chair holding a black rubber ball. She says, ‘I am compiling all the silent moments I have ever experienced in my life, especially those when I felt fear or loss. I approach the closest path, the most sensitive line, between my body and the undiscovered landscape of my psychological experiences. I am listening to my silence, focusing on its darkness.’ Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2005. Photo: Oliver Blomeier

facing page, top Why let the chicken run? (2001): Asked by curator Jens Hoffmann to reflect on the history of performance art, Suryodarmo drew from Ana Mendieta’s filmed performance Untitled (Death of a Chicken) (1972), in which Mendieta shakes the blood from a decapitated white chicken onto her naked body. Instead Suryodarmo, wearing heels and a black dress, sets a black rooster loose in the gallery, and gives chase. kw Institute, Berlin, 2001. Photo: Roland Runge

facing page, bottom An Afternoon with Powang Matoa Haji Saidi (still), 2020

all images Courtesy the artist

Why Let the Chicken Run? features 12 selected performances by Melati Suryodarmo and is on show at Museum macan, Jakarta, through 31 May

“To see tradition as a solid form is not correct. Institutions love to make traditions fixed things. But take Javanese dance: many of the traditional Javanese dances have no author. There’s no original creator because the dances also change over time”

Spring 2020


Anna Witt Let’s Go Places by Mark Rappolt




ArtReview Asia

Three men stand before a neutral background, their empty hands produce value? How is that value measured from the worker’s point of enacting machinic processes of grabbing, moving, positioning, assem- view? Does it derive from overcoming challenges faced? Is it a question bling, folding, counting, processing, unpacking or packing. At least of satisfaction? Is it entertainment value? Moreover, if work is starting those are some of the possible ways of interpreting whatever it is they to seem like a form of leisure (albeit of the boring rather than the fun are doing. The soundtrack is a series of chords struck on a stringed variety), where does that leave leisure? The workers will reach that line instrument, possibly a koto. It’s not quite clear if this is some form of of questioning later on. For now, they are worrying about the notion contemporary dance, calisthenics, meditation or the effects of muscle that they might, at some fast-approaching point in the future, become memory and automatic behaviour. But it has a green-screen character- redundant. Or as they slip into a more human register, and work begins istic, in the sense that this appears to be a performance that will have to become a matter of relationships, that they might not be needed, context added to the content at some later stage. One of the actors has that they might be rejected. One of the participants describes a section ‘have a good time’ printed on his T-shirt pocket. It’s equally unclear as of the production line in which one worker operates a machine while to whether or not this is sincere, ironic or simply a matter of chance, three others inspect what it produces. He worries that if, as seems but it’s the only direct message in view. possible, an ai takes over the inspection The scene marks the opening of a functions, then the machine worker What in other places is often three-channel videowork by Viennawill be left alone. It’s loneliness that is described as a job killer is here, in the based German artist Anna Witt, titled the problem. That worker is now on the face of Japan’s ageing and declining centre screen, miming the production Unboxing the Future. It is, in some ways, a followup to an earlier videowork, care actions. The screens to his sides show an population, an industry saviour empty space and a lonely pile of boxes. (2017), which focused on two Indonesian geriatric nurses caring for dementia patients in Japan, and a more ‘It can be hard to notice the signs that you are stagnating in your general body of work addressing labour, precarity and societal forma- job,’ ‘workplace thought-leader’ Liz Ryan noted in a slightly ott selftion. Unboxing the Future was commissioned for last year’s ill-fated help article in Forbes back in 2016. ‘If you’re not learning new things edition of the Aichi Triennale (which was overtaken by controversies all the time, you are slipping backwards, because time doesn’t stop. surrounding censorship following the closure of a section titled ‘After The only thing you will ever have to sell to a new employer or to your Freedom of Expression?’) and is now on show at Galerie Tanja Wagner clients is your background – the experiences you’ve had, the judgin Berlin. The actors in this undrama are workers in the Toyota factory ment you’ve acquired and the stories you are in a position to tell. in Toyota city (formerly Koromo but renamed in 1959 because of its None of these things will grow unless you are growing in your job all status as the headquarters and main production hub of the car manu- the time!’ So perhaps labour today is a question of accumulated expefacturer) in Aichi Prefecture. Next to the factory is the Toyota Kaikan riences and stories, like the ones being shared in this video. Unless Museum, where new cars and occasionally new robots are displayed that’s a roundabout way of saying that labour is one of the ways by to the public. Toyota, then, means many things. It is an industry, which people accrue identity. A personality. Indeed, later on in the an economy, a performance, a city, a lifestyle and a culture. And, video, one of the workers will say that he is his job (until relatively of course, somewhere in the midst of all that, a brand of automobile. recently people working for larger employers in Japan expected and The museum is also the meeting point for daily public tours of were expected to stay loyal for life). the Toyota production plant in which the artwork is shot. Witt recalls The discussion moves on to describe how ai is in fact relatively inefbeing particularly struck by the production process on her first visit: ficient at assessing quality. “There are things that robots cannot see,” “On the one hand, it’s done by robots, and more particularly robot one worker exclaims, pointing out that the human eye is an amazarms; on the other hand, you have these line workers who are incred- ing construction. “That is our strength!” another says. But cameras are catching up. “The future is almost ibly skilled, super fast, and the way they here,” a colleague warns as two of the move is like a performance”. There’s “There are things that robots channels cut to workers going through a sense then in which her performers cannot see,” one worker exclaims, the motions of an inspection, looking are an objet trouvé. pointing out that the human eye and pointing around while only their Cut to a conversation among a larger upper bodies move. As though they group of workers (subtitled in English) is an amazing construction are reduced to torsos, heads and arms – and a move from objets to subjects. One describes how automation has reduced what was once a four-person their bodies slowly being erased. job on the line to a solo occupation. ai is becoming an increasingly A robotic arm replaces one of the workers onscreen, then another, normal part of Japan’s manufacturing industry. What in other places until the worker in the centre increasingly looks like he is mimicking is often described as a job killer (or in extreme cases, featuring rogue the machines rather than any human action, and workers begin to robots and military drones, just a killer) is here, in the face of Japan’s speculate about what a society without labour might be like. A society ageing and declining population (predicted to drop from around 127 in which “we just do what we want to do”. “We chose our jobs to follow million people to under 100 million by 2049), an industry saviour. The our dreams,” one of them asserts. workers recognise this. But this new kind of work is uninteresting, And what of free will? (The word ‘robot’ derives from the Czech the workers struggle to find motivation or job satisfaction. Now work robota, meaning forced labour, and evolved from the feudal class system – although questions of class don’t seem to be much of is too easy. At this point, for the viewer, a question arises concerning what the an issue for these workers. Witt points out that while the group function of labour might be today. Is it still to produce ‘stuff’? Is it to in the video was assembled to act as a type of ‘workers’ forum’, it is in

Spring 2020



ArtReview Asia

fact composed of both labourers and engineers, classes of worker that The workers are now performing synchronised actions in a circle. would not normally interact.) On the centre screen, a group of workers The group discuss how work improves them as individuals and as are performing in sync. Maybe ai will lead to a new way of thinking, a social group. Meanwhile other people are putting utopian dreams because it will take care of discussions about efficiency and progress in place on their behalf. There’s a revolution going on around them. to the point that humans won’t have to think about that anymore. This January, at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las The group, arranged in a grid, perform their actions (which now Vegas, Toyota announced the construction of Woven City, a city seem totally robotic) again. Some of the performers talk to each other. of the future, designed in collaboration with the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels’s big (a firm that presents its projects as artworks) on a It’s the first time this has happened outside of the forum moments. Back to the discussion, where one of the workers reflects on the fact 70-hectare site that was formerly home to one of its factories. It will that if he works an eight-hour day and sleeps for another eight, and use it to test ai, driverless cars and advanced robots. And the ways in lives until ninety, he’ll only have 30 years of excess time in which to which these interact with humans – the 2,000 of them (employees, have a ‘private life’. If you factor in overtime, that might be only 10 or researchers and their families) that will live there. ‘In an age when technology, social media and online 20 years. But in a world without labour, retail is replacing and eliminating our that could stretch to 60 years. How If you have to think about leisure, would he know what to do with that? it might become more like work. We’re natural meeting places, the Woven City will explore ways to stimulate human Right now, leisure is a reward; it might reaching the horizon of an ambition. interaction in the urban space,’ Ingels lose its value if things change. Moreover, the group discuss, if you have to think told cnn at the launch. ‘After all, human And the ambition is to have fun about leisure it might become more connectivity is the kind of connectivity like work. Even for those who don’t like their jobs. We’re reaching that triggers wellbeing and happiness, productivity and innovation.’ Woven City ties into a larger plan adopted by the Japanese governthe horizon of an ambition. And the ambition is to have fun. In 1938 the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga published Homo ment in 2015 titled ‘Society 5.0’. It aims at creating ‘a human-centered Ludens, a study of the essential importance of play to the development society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of of culture and society. The book went on to influence the thinking of social problems by a system that highly integrates cyberspace and the Situationist International through the 1950s and 60s, and, in recent physical space’. It’s an ‘improvement’ on Society 4.0 (the ‘information years, game theory. In it, Huizinga offers five characteristics that define society’) ‘because there is a limit to what people can do’. play. The first is that it is an exercise of freedom and free will; the second Witt’s workers worry about how they will earn money to fund two determine that it is distinct from ‘ordinary’ or ‘real’ life; the fourth all this leisure time. They have a point: in worker communities is that it requires order; and the fifth that it is without interest – that around the world, leisure means shopping malls, and shopping malls no profit can be gained from it. Above all, he asserted, it is about having require money. “I like music,” says one. “Maybe I’ll start learning the fun. During the discussions about their anxieties, the workers cover guitar.” The workers perform a discordant instrumental on a variety issues that comprise the first four. And they are about to come to the of stringed instruments, among them guitars, lutes and shamisen. fifth. But for the moment, the nervous, utopian discussion in Toyota Drums and cymbals join in. The workers begin cutting up each other’s city brings to mind New Babylon, the anticapitalist city of play (inspired grey-white overalls. Removing cuffs and sections. Creating everything by Huizinga’s study) imagined by the artist and sometime-Situationist from rags to what might pass as contemporary designerwear. A kind of Constant Nieuwenhuys in a series of sculptures, drawings, paintings play that also looks a bit dangerous, as the scissors cut close to bodies. and films made between 1959 and 1974. Constant imagined a world in One of the workers recalls a time when he tried to grow rice using which automation had made work, rather than workers, redundant. only manual labour. It was hard. Machines are good, he concludes. They His speculative cityscape was therehave liberated us. The problem, another fore designed to cater to and embody a concludes, remains money. Society is too What for Constant’s generation was society of leisure, a society based on play. based on an economy where everything a utopian scenario – a model of living ‘It is obvious that a person free to use his has a price. The Japanese are too serious, the dream – is, for the Toyota time for the whole of his life, free to go a female worker suggests. Too much where he wants, when he wants, cannot governed by rules. She feels trapped workers, a cause of anxiety and fear make the greatest use of his freedom in a box. At times she feels compelled in a world ruled by the clock and the imperative of a fixed abode,’ the to raise her arms while queueing for the subway. She apologises to Dutchman wrote. ‘As a way of life homo ludens will demand, firstly, that her colleagues for her outrageous assertions. They voice a form of he responds to his need for play, for adventure, for mobility, as well as muted support. all the conditions that facilitate the free creation of his own life… Homo Cut to machine dials. The group perform the music and the ludens himself will seek to transform, to recreate, [his] surroundings, dance they’ve been rehearsing all along. “I proposed some perforthat world, according to his new needs.’ Which of course is a rather mance elements,” Witt confesses, “but a huge part of the work is the self-serving way of saying that homo ludens will turn to art. But what’s initiative of the workers: they performed the music and created the choreography. It is very much their own input.” most striking, watching Witt’s videowork, is the way in which what for Constant’s generation was Press play. ara all images Unboxing the Future (stills), 2019, a utopian scenario – a model of living the dream three-channel hd video, colour, sound, – is, for the Toyota workers, a cause of anxiety and Unboxing the Future is on show at 29 min 9 sec. Courtesy the artist fear, if not quite a nightmare. Galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin, until 22 April and Galerie Tanja Wagner, Berlin

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Art Reviewed

Being my own work 75

Sharjah Architecture Triennial Rights of Future Generations Various venues, Sharjah 9 November – 8 February In art circles, architecture exhibitions get a bad rap. ‘[I] wasn’t convinced that an art biennial should be hosting an architecture edition,’ writes Hoor Al-Qasimi, Sharjah Architecture Triennial chairperson, in the guidebook to its inaugural edition (she’s also president and director of the Sharjah Art Foundation, which organises the emirate’s longstanding art biennial). ‘I often found exhibitions about architecture limiting, and sometimes detached from the broader issues that surround them,’ she continues. Which already leaves you wondering whether or not this is going to be an exhibition about architecture at all. Part of the problem is that in architecture exhibitions you’re always conscious (with or without reason) that you’re looking at something that’s standing in for the real thing, a reference that has no independent ‘life’ beyond the referent. As opposed to artworks, say, which are supposed to be self-sufficient independent entities (even a portrait presupposes its subject’s death). So perhaps it’s not surprising that the triennial’s curator, Adrian Lahoud, has chosen to use this multivenue presentation, titled Rights of Future Generations and featuring 35 projects, to attempt to redefine the common-sense definition of architecture. Buildings are out (by and large); management of the environment, ecology, land rights and land use are in. At the Al-Qasimiyah School, a former elementary school constructed during the mid1970s, whose repetitive cell-like classrooms

serve as one of the triennial’s main venues, the new ways are not always in evidence. Take Bangkok-based architecture studio (all)zone’s Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun (2019). The title (lifted from a 1968 Pink Floyd track) conjures apocalyptic sci-fi narratives: we’re all gonna burn! The work itself is more prosaic: a passive alternative to air conditioning that offers environmental and psychological (it connects people to the ‘natural’ environment) benefits. It’s an aesthetically pleasing red and orange fabric net, spanning a courtyard. The gallery next door is air-conditioned, leaving you to ponder whether the work represents an idea, an ideal, a product, a colourful, decorative geometry or simply a throwback, a fantasy in a land in which architecture and air-conditioning are now so intricately linked that you’re not sure which is the product of which. Indeed, air-conditioning is one of the innovations that prompted the construction of a new souk in Al Jubail back in 2015, leaving the old market (constructed during the early 1980s) available to be the triennial’s second hub. ‘The old market was crowded, lacked proper ventilation and was smelly,’ one relieved shopper told The National at the time of the upgrade, not realising that she was talking about an important piece of the emirate’s architectural heritage that would one day anchor the triennial ‘within the context of Sharjah’s long history as a trade hub, with a vibrant, multi-ethnic landscape cultivated by migration and exchange’.

Internal view of Sharjah Vegetable Market, Al Jubail


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Back on message (and in the former school), Dogma’s Platforms (2019), a series of geometric details and a book, archives the foundations of architecture through an index of 24 historical examples of the platform – from Aboriginal Bora rings and Ancient Greek threshing floors to Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House – in order to suggest that the levelled ground from which architecture begins is not a pragmatic point of connection between a structure and a base, but rather a site upon which people meet or gather to interact: the byproduct of social and political negotiation. It’s a message that Dogma singularly fails to communicate in visual terms (perhaps because the argument is at best visually uninteresting or at worst fundamentally nonvisual), but that finds extension (and, in a sense, extension is what this exhibition is really about) in Feral Atlas Collective’s nearby ‘transdisciplinary experiment in the art of telling terrible stories’ (a multimedia archive documenting the nondesigned byproducts of human intervention in ecologies and landscapes). Feral Atlas (2019) is presented in such a way that it looks like an exploded ebook. Swiping through text and image, presented on tablets and screens, we learn about how railway construction in the Bay of Bengal led to the rampant propagation of water hyacinths clogging up its waterways, cutting out its light and increasing oxygen demand; we learn about how the poisonous cane toads introduced to Australian sugar plantations to control native pests went

Atacama Press Conference, part of the opening programme of Rights of Future Generations, 2019. Photo: Matthew Twaddell

Spring 2020


Marina Tabassum Architects, Inheriting Wetness, 2019 (installation view). Photo: Antoine Espinasseau


ArtReview Asia

rampant, devastating the indigenous ecology. ‘We work in the hope that this kind of noticing will make a difference,’ the collective concludes, without entering the specifics of how or to whom. But perhaps the real effect of this is to suggest that architecture’s status as the locus of political and social negotiation (an argument that was much more powerfully communicated in the talks programme that marked the triennial’s opening, covering topics such as the struggle for water rights of the Quechua people in the Atacama desert, the problematics of humanitarianism in Gaza and the protection of native seeds in Mexico, to name but a few) extends to its relationship with nonhumans too. And yet despite a sense that one of Lahoud’s goals is to propose that ‘rights’ belong to landscapes as much as to people, it is humans who remain at the centre of the most successful elements on show here. Marina Tabassum Architects’ Inheriting Wetness (2019), a study of the changing territory in the delta region of southern Bangladesh, where land emerges and submerges in a way that forces a migratory living on local residents (whose houses are often built so that they be easily dismantled), provides an impetus to illuminate often murky ownership records for lands that may one day reemerge from the waters as an inheritance for future generations. Presented in three stilt houses (and as such one of the only projects that directly addresses building), the project and its display are nevertheless only fully brought

to life by interviews with residents, and their personal stories. ‘Someday my son will build me a brick building,’ says one of the elderly interviewees. Although the triennial, as a whole, buries such basic desires. Staying with the theme of people, the Ngurrara Canvas ii (1997) is an abstract painting that maps a territory and played a key role in a successful native title claim put forward by Aboriginal communities from the Great Sandy Desert in Australia. Almost uninterpretable by a nonnative audience, the painting is on display at the Sharjah Foundation, where it was activated at the triennial’s opening when its makers and their descendants walked across it to describe the landscape it represents and to tell the stories of where they were from and where they had travelled.Meanwhile, in the local desert (about 45 minutes outside the city), dj and composer Nicolás Jaar (ChileanAmerican, based in New York) is seated on the ground outside the ruined Mleiha Fort, entertaining a crowd of lounging listeners, splayed out on cushions around him, with a new ambient soundwork experienced via 16 speakers buried in the sand. The idea, one presumes, is that this meditative experience might encourage them to feel and hear the desert. But he abandons the work shortly before the end, saying that they might better experience the landscape and its ruins without his intervention. More esoteric than that is artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s multimedia

lecture-performance Natq (2019), originally commissioned for last year’s Sharjah art biennial, which further positions storytelling as the central feature of this triennial via the work’s exploration of xenoglossy, reincarnation and the possibility of past lives as a legitimate (and perhaps the only) means by which hidden, concealed or overlooked injustices can be revealed and made right. Just as you’d learned that it was painting that was supposed to do that. One of the curiosities of the triennial’s vision of an expanded realm of architecture is that it seems to look everywhere except where it is in the rapidly urbanising territory of the uae. As intriguing as Tabassum’s display is (and, let’s face it, the way things are headed, the problems it covers are going to be shared by more and more of us), what of, for example, the estimated 700,000 Bangladeshi migrants, who often live and work under difficult circumstances in the country? What about the people who just want hygiene and shelter? There’s an abiding sense in which a real common-sense definition of architecture gets lost here in the attempt to create a definition that expands away from bricks and mortar. But the implications of Lahoud’s thought are as intriguing as they are problematic. Perhaps the real assertion in this triennial is that, left to their own devices, humans create problems not solutions. And that the best we can hope for from architecture is merely an organised means by which to clean up our mess. Mark Rappolt

Member of the Ngurrara Canvas ii Artist Group during the Ngurrara Canvas ii Awakening Ceremony, part of the opening programme of Rights of Future Generations, 2019. Photo: Talie Eigeland all images Courtesy Sharjah Architecture Triennial

Spring 2020


mmca Hyundai Motor Series 2019: Park Chan-kyong – Gathering National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, Seoul 26 October – 23 February In a world where conditions of crisis are increasingly seen as the new normal, art can offer opportunities for reflection on our changing reality and a means of comprehending catastrophe. Park Chan-kyong’s latest project gives viewers plenty to process, incorporating multiple mediums and modalities to propose a multivalent consideration of the value of community in trying times. While grounded in a rigorous conceptual framework (navigating notions of modernity, tradition, representation and historicisation), Gathering also delivers on an emotional level by moving beyond polemics of institutional critique and postcolonial discourse to contemplate how individuals in society cope in the aftermath of disaster. The result is an ambitious, compelling and occasionally unwieldy exhibition that probes the depths of this acclaimed photographer, filmmaker and critic’s meditations on community and crisis, conjuring a motif of duality as its unifying principle. On entry, visitors are funnelled through a visual archive of sorts, which serves as a test ground for alternative art histories and exhibition methodologies. In Small Museum of Art (all works 2019) Park imagines a museum structured to reflect its regional context and specific historical legacy, rather than acquiesce to the worldviews perpetuated by archetypal Western art institutions. This mazelike installation comprises photographic reproductions of works by other artists, interspersed with a selection of reference images and sparse wall texts, articulating a loose network of indeterminate relationships between elements. Here, objects by conceptual artists Kim Beom and Chung Seoyoung are presented in dialogue with a largescale ink painting on folding screen by avant-garde modern artist Lee Ungno, while photos that document the construction of mmca’s original flagship building during the 1980s appear beside images of traditional Korean mountain spirit shrines. Park’s unorthodox approach to installation schematics in Small Museum of Art reinforces a sense

of scepticism towards institutionalised systems of display and reifies the contingent nature of Park’s proposed framework: unmounted photographs are fixed directly to the wall; texts and captions are handwritten in pencil. In this way, Park promotes the idea of the museum as a subjective frame of thought rather than a vehicle for predetermined or necessary ideologies. And that paradigm informs the rest of the works in the show. Emerging from this prelude, viewers encounter a configuration of discrete, nonsequential works by Park that form a robust platform for regarding contemporary concerns within an East Asian dialectic. At the heart of this constellation is Water Mark, a sculptural installation of 16 cement panels that seem to float parallel to the floor. Inscribed with stylised renderings of waves that reference Korean folk art, Japanese rock gardens and computer-simulated seascapes, these hardened, heavy masses project an uncanny sense of buoyancy. Crucially, for Korean audiences who gather around this symbolic body of water, the simultaneous presence and absence manifest in Water Mark induces inevitable associations with the sinking of the Sewol ferry, a national tragedy that claimed more than 300 lives in 2014. The shared sense of loss sparked by Park’s subtle monument to victims of this disaster elicits and reflects a collective solidarity among visitors in the exhibition space. This dynamic is echoed in a nearby photographic installation that examines the repercussions of national tragedy on an ecological level by visualising the unseen effects of radiation on a local environment. Fukushima, Autoradiography centres around images of plants, animals and objects collected from the Fukushima exclusion zone after the 2011 Daichi nuclear disaster. Presented in slideshow format, this work crosscuts photos of the lush Fukushima landscape with black-and-white autoradiographic images that reveal glowing, ghostlike masses of radiation harboured by an array of specimens. The stark contrast between these two sets of images

facing page, top Water Mark, 2019, cement, 5 × 110 × 110 cm (each). Photo: Hong Cheolki. Courtesy mmca, Seoul


creates an interstitial space of subjectivity between positive and negative, where the untethering of what is seen from what is known reminds viewers to think about which to trust, as well as of the potential for disaster within our contemporary energy infrastructure and beyond. Among a somewhat redundant assortment of the remaining works of photography, mixedmedia installation and sculpture on view, Park’s new film Belated Bosal serves as the conceptual centre of the exhibition. A black-and-white photonegative effect suffuses this work with an otherworldly quality that inverts normal patterns of perception to envision a landscape in which the sun is black and shadows are white. The film unfolds slowly and deliberately against this disorienting background, incorporating dreams of previous lives and elements of magical realism in a vague narrative that follows two women as they separately traverse a rugged mountain landscape before jointly performing an unusual funeral rite. Both visually and thematically, a lingering sense of disaster pervades this quiet and slow-moving film, which at interludes makes mention of nuclear facilities and testing programs that adopt Buddhist nomenclature in semantic conflations of science and superstition. The film’s overtly Buddhist title simultaneously references a specific account of Siddhartha Gautama’s death, as well as the notion of pursuing a path towards enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings. Belated Bosal draws heavily on Buddhist scripture for nearly all of its narrative elements, which combine with the haunting and surreal mountainous setting to situate the work in the discursive domain of Korea’s rich folk-religion traditions. By placing such classical indigenous ideologies in the context of crisis, this work permits viewers to question different types of gatherings, the manner of their formation and the objectives they seek to accomplish. Like the rest of the exhibition, Belated Bosal denies the possibility of a singular interpretation, favouring a pluralistic logic reflective of the relativism intrinsic to Eastern belief systems. Andy St Louis

facing page, bottom Fukushima, Autoradiography, 2019, film photo converted to digital image, autoradiography, text, slide show, 24 min 40 sec. Collaboration with Masamichi Kagaya and Satoshi Mori. Courtesy the artist

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Spring 2020


Martha Atienza Equation of State Silverlens, Manila 7 December – 11 January At the centre of Martha Atienza’s solo exhibition is a mechanism involving a tank of water (Equation of State ii: Rhizophora stylosa, all works 2019). In it are a number of small aquarium fish; above it are a row of mangrove saplings hanging on a string. A system of automated weights and pulleys drops the mangroves into the water to moisten their roots, then draws the plants up again, evoking the life of mangroves as they are submerged in tidal waters. This exhibition, which includes new installation and video works, builds on Atienza’s interest in the relationship between humans and the ecologies in which we live. This time, the artist explores concerns of the climate crisis, particularly as it involves ecological decline and human resilience. Scientists have described some climate risks as ‘slow-onset events’ (sea-level rise, watertemperature rise, ocean acidification), and the exhibition’s slow, gradual flow recreates this condition to the point at which one wonders

if this thematisation feels too deliberate and mediated. The unhurried pacing can be seen in the two videos in the show, which are titled after specific gps locations and tide measures. In Panangatan…, a camera pans along the coast of Bantayan Island (the artist’s ancestral home) in Cebu, where the local community is vulnerable to rising seawaters and consequently receding coastlines. Capturing the lives of fisherfolk, formations of rocks and mangrove forests, the video contains minimal sound and action, except for a scene in which a child dives into the water. Life continues. A similar sense of persistence is evoked in the three-channel video Tarong/ Kaongkod..., showing a diver bobbing amid the waves of the sea. He dives deep, his chest visibly compressing, then rises above surface, chest expanding, as the human body mimics maritime waveform while both submitting to and overcoming the forces of nature. Also exploring the idea of endurance is arguably the most dramatic work of the show,

Equation of State, 2019 (installation view). Courtesy the artist and Silverlens, Manila


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Equation of State i, another plant bath that is mounted in a separate, darkened room. This time, only a single sapling is involved, and a single spotlight illuminates the plant and the pool of water. When the water is disturbed, shimmering reflections are thrown onto the wall. Because the plant is set higher and the interval between dippings longer, a sense of tension is created as the viewer waits for something to happen. On reflection, then, the darting fish in the first contraption, forced to respond to a recurring disruption, function as a foil to these tropes of endurance and passivity. Might they provide a way to reimagine how human agency asserts itself in times of crisis? Maybe we could cultivate a relation to crisis where we remain anxious but always responsive, and, in certain situations, animated and exuberant – like a flittering school of fish, alert to quivers of light or vibrations of movement. Carlos Quijon, Jr

Zhang Yunyao Palace of Extasy Qiao Space, Shanghai 10 October – 12 January Entering this exhibition of paintings by Zhang Yunyao is a confounding experience. The Shanghai-based artist offers viewers a visual assault of classical Greek and Roman forms, which have little context in his homeland – particularly for general audiences who may not be aware that such forms provided a model for socialist-realism productions that dominated Chinese art during the period of the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). As you move from one enormous panel to the next, Zhang’s figures materialise in hyperrealist glory, handrendered not in oil on canvas but rather graphite on felt, an unconventional medium that has engrossed the artist since 2011 for its challenging tendency to smudge and soil. An overwhelming sense of disquietude pervades each of the 16 canvases hung in the

main gallery, since very few, if any, of Zhang’s depictions can be easily traced to exact sculptural prototypes. He has bastardised his portrayals of eminent gods, goddesses and emperors with aggressive marks of overdrawing and fractured compositions, as if his painted sculptures are at the point of implosion. The valiant Perseus holding aloft the head of Medusa in Study in Figures (avidatia) (2017) is himself decapitated and fragmented in layers in Zhang’s interpretation of the iconic form. The fierce gesture of Heracles as he fights a lion with his bare hands in Release (2018) and of men abducting a resisting Sabine woman in Study in Figures (2019) signify a declaration of penultimate perfection in their nude naturalism, as if chiselled like marble statues. Zhang’s use of archetypes from Western antiquity exemplifies the ways in which ideal

paradigms can be appropriated as symbols of authority as evinced by the passage of forms since the civilisation of the Greeks, the Romans and the Renaissance, and their revival for neoclassical creation of a nation by the United States’ forefathers as well as by the Soviet and Chinese Communist regimes. While embodying the ethos of classical ideals, Zhang’s paintings also direct our gaze to the transgressive nature of subjugation that often accompanies acts of domination. Most poignantly, as revealed in Release, the masculine virility of Heracles, for example, stands against a background of draped flaccid forms. Notwithstanding acts of aggression evinced through the deployment of terror or force, Zhang seems to suggest that even the most Herculean power cannot sustain its erection. Julie Chun

Release, 2018, graphite on felt, 215 × 200 cm. Courtesy the artist and Qiao Space, Shanghai

Spring 2020


The Posthuman City ntu Centre for Contemporary Art, Singapore 23 November – 8 March If you’re thinking of being laid to rest in a coffin, consider a biodegradable death suit instead. Footed and mitted, Jae Rhim Lee’s Coeio – Infinity Burial Suit (2016) might resemble a set of snuggly adult pyjamas, but the material is woven with the spores of a flesh-digesting mushroom that speeds up decomposition and neutralises any toxins released from the rotting body. Environmentally conscious burials are not new, but Jae’s concept, which embraces morbid-sounding scientific research (she fed bits of her hair, nails and skin to various mushrooms to determine the most efficient strain) to achieve an ashes-to-ashes ideal, is refreshing. The suit, available to buy online for us$1,500, inaugurates a new fashion category: ecofriendly postmortem wear. The blithe weirdness of this product is typical of an exhibition that draws on science and art to consider the world from a less anthropocentric perspective. The posthumanism of its title is a broader philosophical project that challenges the universalist status of the human subject and its separateness from nature, and its selection is generally utopic, proposing alternatives for a more diverse and interconnected world. A section features works that are part art-installation, part functional-design, aimed at improving human lives while minimising environmental damage. These include a portable water purification device that looks like a water wheel (Lucy + Jorge Orta’s Orta Water

– Portable Water Fountain, 2005) and a series of procedures to transform wastewater from tofu and tempeh production into usable materials (Irene Agrivina’s Soya C(o)u(l)ture, 2014). How practical and scalable these projects are remains to be seen, but they are prototypes for an optimistic model of urban life with less wastage and pollution and better access to resources. Another recurring interest in the show is in forms of knowledge beyond anthropocentric, scientistic frameworks. This includes recognising the agencies and intelligences of other species, illustrated by Thai design practice Animali Domestici’s colourful tapestry of the country’s capital in which snakes, pigeons and rats share the streets with humans (Bangkok Opportunistic Ecologies, 2019). Indigenous systems of understanding also get a look in with Marjetica Potrč’s Earth Drawings (2009–16), which depict the cosmologies of communities in Australia, Norway and the Amazon in beautiful mind-maps linking ideas, origin stories and places. Most of the works here promote neighbourly coexistence with other species, but the more exciting ones blur the line between humanness and animality, culture and nature – another key posthuman trope. Pierre Huyghe’s Untitled (Human Mask) (2014), a 19-minute video featuring a monkey wearing a Noh-inspired mask wandering around an abandoned restaurant in the Fukushima restricted area, is a hypnotic, disturbing and at times weirdly

touching classic of the genre. In different lights the macaque resembles a deranged woman, a restless child and a trained primate whose real face and nature remain a mystery. By mimicking human actions and yet not quite achieving perfect mimesis, the monkey invites and repels empathy. The video has been interpreted as portraying the inevitable subjugation of animals to an anthropomorphic gaze and emphasising the divide between human and animal consciousness. Yet the monkey’s playacting, the cultural theorist Ana Teixeira Pinto has argued, also suggests that humanness is, like gender, at least partly performed. Nicholas Mangan’s Termite Economies (Phase 1) (2018) features another kind of interspecies collaboration. Mangan was inspired by a true story of Australian scientists researching the possibility of using termites to discover gold deposits, and created scale models of what these termite mines might look like. Rickety, soil-coloured and filled with skinny spirals, the structures blend insect architecture with the undergroundtunnelling systems of human mining sites. Some of them, their forms generated by swarm software, look like honeycomb cells. Others, with their corkscrew tunnels, evoke themepark waterslides. But then again, I’m looking through human eyes. A complete paradigm shift might mean abandoning such analogies altogether, a more radical undertaking for which this exhibition is only a starting place. Adeline Chia

The Posthuman City, 2019 (installation view, with Irene Agrivina, Soya C(o)u(l)ture, 2014, in the foreground and Ines Doujak, Ghostpopulations, 2016–19, on the wall). Photo: Kee Ya Ting. Courtesy the artists


ArtReview Asia

Dumb Type Actions + Reflections Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo 16 November – 16 February Founded by a group of friends at Kyoto City University of Arts in 1984, Dumb Type gained immediate critical acclaim for experimental live performances that melded digital design, music and performance. Many of its members past and present are influential artists in their own right, working in fields that range from the visual arts (Toru Koyamada, Tadasu Takamine, Shiro Takatani) to music (Toru Yamanaka and Ryoji Ikeda), to name a few. Teiji Furuhashi, an icon of 1980 and 90s media art, who died from an aids-related illness in 1995, was at the core of this nonhierarchical group’s formative first decade. This major retrospective, an expanded version of an exhibition hosted in 2018 at the Centre Pompidou-Metz, traces some 35 years of work and illustrates how epochal Dumb Type was, both in style and substance. The collective’s use of digital sound, electronic devices and industrial materials to create architectural installations is an aesthetic that can be seen in the work of a new crop of media-art protégés such as Rhizomatiks. Dumb Type’s subject matter – the ways in which society had become increasingly alienating, despite the promised benefits of new communication technologies, addressed in performances such as Pleasure Life (1988), or by the agonised strobe-lit bodies of dancers in s/n (1994) – also remains as relevant as ever. Curated by Yuko Hasegawa, the exhibition is a ‘best of’ showcase, bringing together six

largescale installations, most of which are performerless, reworked versions of early sets and edited documentary videos of key live productions. These include a version of 1989’s Playback, an installation based on the performance Pleasure Life, featuring 18 metal stands, each with a turntable that plays a record featuring original and new sound materials – among them early Dumb Type compositions, the greetings in 55 languages sent into outer space on Nasa’s 1977 space probe Voyager, and new field recordings. Particularly striking is lovers (1994/2001), a poetic and poignant solo work by Furuhashi, made just before his death. Video projections of naked men and women run across and vanish from the walls. Motion sensors that pick up the presence of visitors prompt the appearance of a ghostly figure – Furuhashi – who embraces the viewer before disappearing. Given that most of the installations are recreations of historical live events, there is ample space for creative reconfiguration. For example, a 16m led videowall combines scenes from Dumb Type’s last three performances, or (1997), memorandum (1999) and Voyage (2002), together with some newly shot materials. A concrete poem-like collage, the work transcends its nature as edited documentary footage. But other recomposed works are questionable. The final work of the show,

for example, combines the 1994 video installation love/sex/death/money/life, now turned into a sleek led videowall showing the words in large letters, with a reproduction of the stage set of pH (1990), comprising a truss bridge that is in constant motion, sweeping across the empty ‘performance area’. The resultant hybrid is visually strong yet conceptually puzzling – why combine two pieces from different phases from the group’s development? But it does raise important questions about the afterlife of live new-media performances: in what sense is there an ‘original’? And to what extent are modified versions or recut documentary recordings new works? For all of Dumb Type’s cutting-edge technical sophistry, love and longing for human connection were key themes in the group’s first decade under the informal leadership of Furuhashi. After he died, its concerns seem to have shifted towards the creation of new technical and formal aesthetics. But this development is not well articulated in the exhibition, given its mix-and-match approach to representing works that treat Dumb Type’s oeuvre as a series of interchangeable units. To get a fuller and more accurate sense of the group’s evolution, one is better off perusing the modest section of the exhibition that showcases archival materials and short videos of the original performances themselves. Maki Nishida

Actions + Reflections, 2019 (installation view). Photo: Nobutada Omote. Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo

Spring 2020


Sejin Kim Walk in the Sun SongEun ArtSpace, Seoul 23 October – 30 November Sejin Kim’s two-channel video installation Messenger(s) (all works 2019) centres on an unlikely protagonist: Laika the space dog, whose foray into Earth-orbit aboard Sputnik 2 in 1957 was predestined to end in fatality. As a subdued tribute to the countless living beings that have been sacrificed throughout history for the sake of ‘progress’, this work functions as a prologue to the exhibition. And by framing a tale of Soviet heroism in the context of a dog’s inability to give consent, Kim implicates authority figures throughout history whose desires to enact a ‘greater good’ were used to justify the slaughter of innocents. From there, Walk in the Sun invokes conditions of powerlessness and speculative claims to territory in real and virtual worlds across multiple timelines, probing inhumane assessments of ‘acceptable’ loss of life, systemic marginalisation and exploitation, and the prospect of global conflict in the not-so-distant future. Kim’s attention to the tenuous agency of society’s most vulnerable resonates in To the North for Nonexistence, which unfolds a firstperson account of territorial dispossession

experienced by the Sámi people, an indigenous minority who inhabit the Arctic territory of Sápmi that stretches from Norway to Russia. Over the course of five visually distinct chapters, this single-channel video juxtaposes encyclopaedic information related to the history and culture of the Sámi and their ancestral homeland, along with reference photos and infographics. A nonlinear narrative component of the work situates the forced displacement of a contemporary Sámi woman by Swedish authorities within a larger trajectory of colonial encroachment and involuntary assimilation. Concluding the exhibition is a work that demonstrates Kim’s hybrid approach to storytelling by combining documentary-style production and speculative fictionalisation. 2048 considers the projected future for a virtual territory that serves as a not-so-subtle representation of Antarctica; cgi renderings of Antarctic landscapes, along with actual footage captured by Kim during her recent residency at South Korea’s Antarctic King Sejong Research Station, background a dystopian vision of the geopolitical outlook for our planet’s largest

deterritorialised landmass. Set 30 years in the future, this three-channel video installation describes a geopolitical scramble for territory and resources among the world’s great powers after the expiration of the Antarctic Treaty, an international agreement prohibiting military and commercial activities on the continent. Kim’s use of an archival documentary mode of presentation – a forecast as historical fact – contends that such an uncertain future could have been prevented, if only a consensus had been reached to place peace and preservation before self-interest and greed. A deft integration of reality, fiction, archive and anecdote in Kim’s video oeuvre generates whys and wherefores that are inconclusive yet visceral; shifting notions of causality and temporality underscore a consistent call to action in defiance of traditional power structures. Regardless of nationality, viewers find themselves compelled to solemnly recognise the existential instability imposed upon large segments of society throughout history, and to reconsider the shared fate of all humanity in an increasingly hostile world. Andy St Louis

Mosaic Transition, 2019, two-channel looped video, four-channel sound, 5 min 34 sec. Courtesy SongEun ArtSpace, Seoul


ArtReview Asia

Phantom Plane, Cyberpunk in the Year of the Future Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong 5 October – 4 January Living in unhappy exile during the Second World War, Bertolt Brecht wrote that rapidly expanding Los Angeles was proof that God didn’t need to build two residences for the dead. Heaven alone would suffice, he suggested, because it could serve ‘the unprosperous, unsuccessful / As hell’. That the hypercapitalist city of the future will double as utopia and dystopia – it’s only a matter of wealth and privilege – is a trope of the science-fiction genre cyberpunk, to which this timely exhibition of work by 21 artists is addressed. On the ground floor, Lee Bul’s After Bruno Taut (Beware the sweetness of things) (2007) sets the tone by translating the modernist architect’s Alpine fantasia into a steel-and-glass model suspended from the ceiling. Such an Elysian project might have seemed emancipatory when Taut proposed it in 1918, but a century later Lee’s floating structure suggests the privacy-free megalopolises envisioned by surveillance states. That sense of menace permeates the eye-poppingly lit paintings of Tetsuya Ishida – in which isolated citizens inhabit a Kafkaesque bureaucracy ruled over by inhuman hybrids – and the mixed-media assemblages of Tishan Hsu – inorganic materials and biomorphic forms combining in grisly cyborgian visions. Made during the 1980s, these

works prophesy a near-future at once intricately networked and thoroughly alienating, a progress that imprisons as many as it liberates. Published in 1984, William Gibson’s Neuromancer was among the first genre novels to predict how the architectures of digital space would be designed to control transgressive desires. Cleverly installed in the museum’s lobby as a preface to the exhibition, Seth Price’s Romance (2003) documents the artist’s attempts to move freely through the artificially constructed world of an early text-based videogame. Conducted in a scrolling written exchange between artist and program, the latter’s impatient rebukes to the artist’s aimless curiosity (‘you find nothing of interest’) are a reminder that coded realities are, if anything, less tolerant of drift or resistance than their meatspace analogues. Which might explain why the antiheroes of cyberpunk are so often hackers, among them pioneers jodi, represented here by the deconstructed videogame sod (1999). The desire to operate off-grid is shared by the groups of black-clad protesters who, in the streets around Tai Kwun on the day of my visit, are meticulously smashing cctv cameras. The relationship between the state, technology and freedom cannot be mistaken for an academic issue in Hong Kong, and several

works reimagine a city that served (like the Tokyo documented in Takehiko Nakafuji’s estranging black-and-white photographs) as model for cyberpunk’s visions of the future. Orientalist fantasies of neon-drenched Asian megalopolises collide with local anxieties about lost identities in Shinro Ohtake’s retrofuturistic assemblage Mon Cheri: A Self-Portrait as a Scrapped Shed (2012) and Ho Rui An’s video Student Bodies (2019), one of several to use ghosts as metaphor for those left behind by the technologisation of society and the abstraction of communities. A city in which residents take refuge from the dismal present in artificial simulations of an idealised past is the subject of an animatedvideo installation by Zheng Mahler (a collaboration between artist Royce Ng and anthropologist Daisy Bisenieks). Nostalgia Machines (2019) offers a final reminder that cities might no longer need to be segregated by class or colour to enforce social hierarchies: people sharing the same physical space will operate in different realities and, consequently, simply stop seeing each other. As I walk through Hong Kong’s elevated walkways, peering occasionally over the edge to observe the violence playing out on the streets below while fellow pedestrians attend to their phones, it seems that Ballardian future may already have arrived. Ben Eastham

Zheng Mahler (in collaboration with Reijiro Aoyama), Nostalgia Machines, 2019, video installation, 15 min. Courtesy the artists

Spring 2020


Wansolwara: One Salt Water unsw Galleries and 4a Centre for Contemporary Art, Sydney 17 January – 29 March Wansolwara, a pidgin word from the Solomon Islands that loosely translates as ‘one ocean, one people’, is an ambitious exhibition that spans two institutions and features work by 20 contemporary artists with ties to Oceania and the Pacific. But Wansolwara rejects the ideas of geographical categories defined by generations of colonial explorers – and now the cavalcade of tourists, wearing plastic leis, that tumble daily off hulking cruise ships. Instead, it revolves around the idea of a single continuous waterscape that knits distinct communities in a shared kinship. In doing so, in the context of a year that marks the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s voyage to Australia, it refuses the terms of modernday geopolitics – and imagines, in its wake, a different kind of future. A woman lies facedown, arms outstretched, back illuminated by a chandelier. She adjusts her body slightly, as if trying to make herself more comfortable. She turns her head, locks eyes with the viewer. Around her, palm fronds glisten, quivering with secret energy. This scene is charged, alive with hidden meanings. But you are left in the dark. Dark Light (2017), a videowork by Samoan artist Angela Tiatia, hangs in the front room of Sydney’s unsw Galleries. The work refers to a famous image: Max Dupain’s Sunbaker, a 1937 portrayal of suntanned leisure that’s come to stand in for all the breezy freedoms of AngloAustralian life. But in the presence of the more recent work, I am reminded of something else – Paul Gauguin’s 1892 portrayal of his young Tahitian mistress: Spirit of the Dead Watching (Manao Tupapau). His subject lies flat on her stomach, hand concealing her face, presenting Oceania as sensual and mysterious, an extension of the artist’s basest desires. Tiatia’s work, too, is sensual and mysterious. But the mysteries are those that arise from wrestling with your own subjectivity, of acknowledging how you’ve been shaped by who is watching you and summoning the courage to watch back. On the first floor, a minisurvey of work by twice-removed Fijian-Indian Australian artist Shivanjani Lal centres around Yaad Karo (1879–1920) (2019). Across this series of maps, lifted from a 1980s school atlas, the artist hand-

stitches the route free ships once took across the Pacific. Alongside this, she sews the path taken by her ancestors, part of the Girmitiya, the community of Indians who, under British rule, were transported to Fiji to work on sugarcane plantations as indentured labour (thus replacing outlawed slave labour, allowing Fijians to preserve their culture, and ensuring revenue for European settlers). In Hindu culture, crossing the ocean – the kala pani, or black waters – was taboo, dissolving links to caste and kinship. Lal’s stitches, done in red thread, the threads often loose and fraying, grow increasingly assertive. At some points, the maps, which centre around Australia, itself complicit in the same colonial systems, appear to drip with blood. To stitch is an act of repair. But it can also suture. And to heal a wound, you have to acknowledge it first. Slavery, of course, occurred across the British Empire, everywhere from British Ceylon to Jamaica and Barbados. So many former British colonies, scattered throughout the Great Ocean, are still grappling with the legacy today. The idea ‘one ocean, one people’ doesn’t just refer to the past or the future. It also recalls a shared sense of historical struggle. Although Wansolwara highlights these specific tensions, it leaves the viewer to do the work of finding resonances between different postcolonial realities. And given the buried nature of many of these narratives, this feels a little like a missed opportunity. A centrepiece of Wansolwara is ‘O le ūa na fua mai Manu‘a’, a series of moving-image works curated by Léuli Eshrāghi, a Montreal and Darwin-based Sāmoan curator with Persian ancestry. Taking its title from a Sāmoan proverb that references the relief that greets longawaited rain, this part of the show debunks Western modes of seeing and knowing. For instance, the 2016 videowork Creatura Dada, by the Anishinaabe French artist Caroline Monnet, inserts native female artists into Dadaism’s origin story. But the magic, for me, was about seeing First Nations women – such as director Alanis Obomsawin and artist Nadia Myre – devour grapes, slurp oysters and impale lobsters, lost in the realm of the sensorial, seizing the pleasure that Dali

facing page, bottom Caroline Monnet, Creatura Dada (still), 2016, hd video, 4 min. Courtesy the artist

facing page, top Shivanjani Lal, Yaad Karo (1879–1920) (detail), 2019, mixed-media installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist


and Duchamp took for granted. Elsewhere, Bundjulung and Ngāpuhi choreographer Amrita Hepi’s A Body of Work (At the End of the Earth) (2017), in which dancers writhe and twist on clifftops, is a love letter to her collaborators, to constellations of care that transcend oceans. Like the figure in Dark Light, who shares these dancers’ unashamed sensuality, the human body is inseparable from the social body. It moves, speaks and resists. And it finds solace in other people. This is also the case for Gurrutu‘mi Mala – My Connections (2019), a spellbinding video by Gutiŋarra Yunupiŋu, a twenty-one-yearold Yolngu filmmaker with hearing loss. Like all Yolngu children, Yunupiŋu, from East Arnhem Land in Australia’s Northern Territory, was taught Yolngu Sign Language, a now-endangered ritual dialect. In the work, the image of the artist appears ten times. Each version performs a sign, drums in the background recalling heartbeats, lifeforce. Words might elude him, but his connection to his ancient language means that he can still speak clearly to those who can understand. The works in Wansolwara are rooted in the specific. But they also rail against the scourge of authenticity. ‘There are no true interpreters or sacred guardians of any culture,’ the great Samoan poet Albert Wendt wrote in his famous 1976 essay ‘Towards A New Oceania’. The exhibition takes this edict seriously, mining unlikely connections between people and finding lineage between places we don’t expect. On the ground floor of 4a is Auckland artist Rebecca Ann Hobbs’s South (2010–11), a series of videoworks that see members of South Auckland’s Pacific Islander community dance on bridges, in industrial spaces and in shopping malls. They borrow their moves from vogue and dancehall, forms conceived in 1980s Harlem and 1970s Kingston that have crossed the Great Ocean and jumped time and space to give voice to the struggles faced by Pacific Islanders decades into the future. The dancers strut, pop and roll, their movements electric and deliberate. Bodies can be misunderstood, underestimated. But they can also use old language to create new spaces and dream up new ways to be free in the process. Neha Kale

ArtReview Asia

Spring 2020


State of Motion: Rushes of Time National Archives of Singapore and 20 Depot Road, Singapore 10 January – 2 February Off the coast of Narathiwat Province, southern Thailand, is an artificial reef made out of military tanks originally used during 1980s border disputes with Communist Cambodia. Tada Hengsapkul’s two-screen video installation You lead me down, to the ocean (2018) shows one such tank in its watery retirement grounds. Surrounded by schools of fish, it appears to be the environmentally friendly poster-boy for demilitarisation. But text projected on the other screen suggests a more complicated version of Thailand’s Cold War legacies. The words are drawn from letters exchanged between a Thai soldier and his wife during the Vietnam War, chronicling personal experiences of a war that would have lasting effects on Thai politics. Although the power of the Thai junta is pretty much taken as given now, it actually rose to power during the little-known us-backed Thai involvement in the Vietnam War. In this context, Hengsapkul’s work takes on more sinister connotations, evoking submerged histories that are still exerting a malign influence on the country’s fortunes. The complex interactions of personal memories and collective histories, and their

lingering impact on the present, are some of the themes explored in Rushes of Time, this year’s edition of the Asian Film Archive’s annual exhibition series State of Motion. Put together by three guest curators, Cheong Kah Kit, Selene Yap and Tan Guo-Liang, the show aims to ‘reflect on the relations between ideas of time, bodies of memory and the moving image’ – vague enough to encompass a mixed bag of ten works. The show is spread out over two venues, the National Archives of Singapore and a rickety warehouse space in Depot Lane. The National Archives section explores the idea of a repository, with an open-studio presentation by artist Koh Nguang How on Singapore’s history of performance art, for example. Over at the warehouse space is where the curating opens up to a looser interpretation of the archival theme, such as Pat Toh’s Topography of Breath (2020), featuring 156 full-length self-portraits after an injury, showing the body as site of memory and trauma. The commonsense understanding of an archive is that it speaks for the past, but a number of artworks here disrupt this convention. The results are abstract works detached

from the worldly facts and meanings with which they were once associated. In Edit, cuttings (2018), Sonya Lacey washes the ink from newspapers, dyes them, then cuts and arranges them into rectangular prints with pale washes of colour. Presented flat on tables, some prints resemble the veined, granular surfaces of marble, others washi paper collages. For Halberd Head… (2008), Sriwhana Spong filmed a Javanese spearhead in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a no-video policy, using a pinhole camera fitted with Super-8 film. She then superimposed colour filters created by the influential Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, who was a fan of Goethe’s theories on colour. Spong’s film is filled with moving orbs, pretty flares of light and no specific detail. In both works, materials that are tasked to speak (newspaper, documentary film, museum artefact with postcolonial history) become recalcitrant, and information is turned into mood. One could read these works as forms of strategic, even defiant, mutisms. But given the considerable amount of labour expended for these projects, it is a shame that their hard-earned silences are anodyne rather than thought-provoking. Adeline Chia

Pat Toh, Topography of Breath, 2020, performance, 156 photographs. Photo: Joseph Nair. Courtesy the artist


ArtReview Asia

Neither Black/Red/Yellow Nor Woman Times Art Center, Berlin 28 September – 11 January Curated by Nikita Yingqian Cai, the Guangzhou Times Museum’s chief curator, and the Guggenheim Museum’s Xiaoyu Weng, Neither Black/Red/Yellow Nor Woman brings together works by 19 artists from Asia as well as Europe and Latin America. It is also the first major exhibition at the Times Art Center’s newly opened outpost in Berlin. Taking as a starting point a quote from Vietnamese theorist and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-Ha, the show broadly works through forms of being and movement beyond narratives of origins or diaspora, and moves away from direct representations of Asia or Asianness. It offers instead a complex look at forms of itinerancy and belonging that are produced through such movement. The first work one encounters is art historian and researcher Mia Yu’s film essay A Journey from Silence (2017), documenting the archives of Pan Yuliang. A seminal figure in the histories of both Chinese and European modernisms, Pan, who during the 1930s achieved fame and a degree of notoriety for becoming the first Chinese woman artist to paint in a Western style, remains largely forgotten in both contexts, despite having spent most of her life in Paris, where she also taught. Yu’s hands place photographs and archival materials on a table as she narrates a nonlinear presentation of Pan’s

life and her own archival investigations. She lays the objects out like tarot cards, conjuring Yuliang’s spirit, and through this idiosyncratic recitation, she challenges the canon of both Western and Chinese art histories. Yu asks how monolithic visions of nation and identity have occluded the complexity of relations that a figure like Yuliang embodied. Shen Xin’s video installation Warm Spell (2018) alludes to the magical and the sensuous. Shot on the island of Koh Yao Yai in Thailand, the work weaves together fictional and real interviews, looking at the complex entanglement between queer bodies, spirits, economies, race and movement, juxtaposing the figure of the migrant, the expat and the tourist. Moving fluidly between awkwardly staged fiction, documentary and mythical forms of storytelling, the artist collapses distinctions between local and nonlocal to dramatise the social production of place. One of the most interesting constellations in the show is between Copenhagen-based Jane Jin Kaisen’s Apertures/Specters/Rifts (2016), FrenchColombian artist Laura Huertas Millán’s jeny303 (2018) and Bangkok-based Arin Rungjang’s Gossamer Rungjang ‘Mother’ (2014), for the way they examine microhistories in the context of grand narratives and complicate ideas of agency

beyond narratives of victimhood. Kaisen’s blood-red lightbox interweaves a pair of narratives concerning journeys to North Korea: her own, in May 2015, and that of Danish journalist Kate Fleron in May 1951, at the height of the Korean War. Kaisen intersperses Fleron’s images with her own, blurring the lines between historical truth and the imagination of a place. In Rungjang’s two-channel videowork, one screen dwells on the resting body of his mother, while a second screen narrates her story following his father’s death due to injuries inflicted by neo-Nazis during a business trip to Hamburg in 1977, their juxtaposition speaking to resilience in the face of unforeseen and obscured violence. Huertas Millán’s work interlaces footage from Bogotá’s now-disappeared brutalist icon edificio 303, once a hotspot of activism, with a conversation with Jeny, a queer person who talks casually about their delinquency and criminal activities. Through these, and works by Thao Nguyen Phan, Mai Ling, Evelyn Taocheng Wang and others, the show charts a course that looks beyond particular frameworks of identity politics and narratives of victimhood, while acknowledging continued pain and oppression, and offers instead a more refreshingly nuanced position. Abhijan Toto

Arin Rungjang, Gossamer Rungjang ‘Mother’, 2014, two-channel video, digital hd h264, colour, sound, 12 min 53 sec, 23 min 59 sec. Courtesy the artist

Spring 2020


Lu Lei Wander Giant Shanghart, Shanghai 6 November – 15 March I’ve walked the wrong way through the installation. And by the wrong way, I mean off the designated path and into a sprawling mass of what looks like concrete-cast cannonballs and the broken pieces of some vast grey slab. The work, titled In the cold winter, the giants gather at the center of the square, playing marbles game with sand, according to the direction of the stars (all works 2019), is actually a clutter of planetlike spheres (148 of them), shooting meteors (complete with dust trails) and the broken bits of a constellation map, all moulded from greyish sand and resin. Some of the map’s pieces are embedded with planets, and we might imagine that ‘the giants’ have engaged in an overly enthusiastic marbles match, resulting in the destruction of the galaxy. Given that the sizes of the planet-marbles are somewhere between a big watermelon and a shotput, it’s as if the viewer is being situated as a cosmic-size giant (though not one who has played the game). I gingerly move out of the Milky Way.

Beijing artist Lu Lei’s Wander Giant is arranged across three rooms, each titled as a ‘Chapter’. I’ve just left ‘Chapter 1: Game of the Giants’, which also presents a series of artificially rusted aluminium-cast models of factories with improbably tall chimneys titled In the summer night, the giants use bat catchers to attract bats, and are positioned around the edges of the room. What are these factories? Are they where the bat catchers are made? What is a bat catcher, and why do the bats need catching? In ‘Chapter 2: Reveries of the Giants’, more cast-aluminium sculptures: this time a pair of smooth grey busts, male and female, with giant glass lightbulbs for heads (w&h Were Hit by Lightning), which are however unlit; and two oversize cochleae, complete with semicircular canals and a trumpet-shaped outlet, each perched on a packing crate (Long Live the Roar!). The latter, instantly putting the viewer on a microlevel, incites a feeling of long absence evoked by the ash-grey ossified appearance of the sculptures, and by the strange irony in the

disconnect between the disembodied earparts and the lightbulb heads gone kerflooey. The last room (‘Chapter 3: The Giant Walking’) contains two concrete walls that curve either side of an aluminium Tatlin’s Tower-like water fountain. The Parentheses Corridor and Hand Washing Basins, rather than being an international powerhouse for the promotion of Communism, is a leaking minimonument set upon a low tiled platform. Thirty-two sets of plumbed-in taps circle their way up and around the tower, and dribble water down into the basin of the fountain. The dripping is the only sound that punctuates the room. According to the exhibition information, Lu Lei takes the shapes of these sculptures from his childhood imagination. And it turns out the artist’s given the exhibition a different title in Chinese – Absurd Fiction. As someone wise once said, ‘Meanings is not important… I cannot be right all the time. Quite often I is left instead of right.’ Fi Churchman

Wander Giant, 2019 (installation view). Courtesy the artist and Shanghart, Shanghai, Beijing & Singapore


ArtReview Asia

Pacita Abad Life in the Margins Spike Island, Bristol 18 January – 5 April In the short documentary Wild at Art (1995) the late painter Pacita Abad explains how she was once detained in Hawaii, suspected – because she was from the Philippines – of travelling with a fake passport. This brush with systemic prejudice led to her series Immigrant Experience (the works shown here are dated 1991–94), huge quilted canvases painted and embossed with embroidered forms using the ‘trapunto’ technique. They occupy over half her exhibition at Spike Island, where they hang, flaglike, from the ceiling. But this isn’t fight-the-power protest art the story might suggest. Rather Abad filtered what she learned from fellow immigrants from places as diverse as Cambodia and Korea in works of colour-saturated affirmation. We’re shown people’s day-to-day challenges and aspirations: at work, negotiating the school system, getting married or shopping for groceries. America’s land of plenty is evoked in glowing street signs and trolleys brimming with branded goods. These are rendered with all the vibrant appeal of the flora and fauna, costumes and traditions from beyond the us that also feature in these works. Though Abad studied art in Washington, dc, it was the traditions of the countries she travelled to in Asia, Africa and Latin America she related to most. Her paintings incorporate

everything from batik to macramé, mirror embellishments and ink drawing. Each surface is intensely worked with dots and dashes of pigment and stitching, sewn-on shells, sequins and beads, real clothes and cutup dyed fabric, and the abstract trapunto paintings that occupy the rest of the gallery are a kaleidoscope of this technical cosmopolitanism: an early work composed of swirling, dripping organic shapes is inspired by the peeling walls of her home country’s capital, Manila. The series Oriental Abstractions (1984–92) uses Korean ink-brush painting as a starting point for screen-printed, mosaiclike constellations of crescent moons elaborated with dots, latticework and zigzags. Trippy titles like Liquid Experience (1985), a work in which hot red mountainous forms recall Japanese landscape painting, suggest the San Francisco counterculture scene that, having fled Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship during the 1970s, first nurtured her creative sensibility. Though her work was not unknown in the us, Abad worked largely outside the Western artworld, making and showing paintings in the countries she visited. She was invested in a broad and local audience (creating public artworks like her 2004 covering of Singapore’s Alkaff Bridge in multicoloured patterns) and favoured unconventional methods of distribu-

tion (decorating dresses and even a dinner set). But with the recent drive to address art history’s predominantly white, male and Western-centric blind spots, and a resurgent interest in fibre art, her paintings have lately gained exposure, with major museum acquisitions, a survey in Manila and inclusion in international art fairs. Dubbing herself a ‘woman of colour’ with cheerful double entendre, she approached identity in a manner distinct from the nuance of today’s debates. Yet her sense of globalist empathy speaks enthusiastically to our own, particularly in this fraught moment, when borders are closing. What rescues her project from exoticism is how Abad approaches her material as a fellow outsider, keen to give other overlooked people and creative traditions a platform through her painting. Her labour-intensive process, the works’ size and their installation – here, hung from the gallery’s lofty ceilings – all emphasise that this is a project of everyday monumentalism. The effect is especially striking in la Liberty (1992), in which a brown-skinned Statue of Liberty poses triumphantly in an intricately decorated patchwork dress against a rainbow sunburst. She’s ‘a woman of colour’ in every sense and, like all of Abad’s work, an exuberant banner for multiculturalism before the term became a staple of artists’ discourse. Skye Sherwin

Life in the Margins (installation view), 2020. Photo: Max McClure. Courtesy Pacita Abad Art Estate

Spring 2020


Biennale Jogja xv Equator Do we live in the same playground? Various venues, Yogyakarta 20 October – 30 November Do we live in the same playground? is an acid-laced provocation. It stings of the resentment accumulated through years of systematic marginalisation. Indeed, focusing on Indonesia in particular and Southeast Asia more generally, its curators – Akiq aw, Arham Rahman and Penwadee Nophaket Manont – use this rhetorical question to foreground the underprivileged and the forgotten through the work of 52 artists from the region. But unlike other exhibitions that address Southeast Asia as a spatial periphery of an international artworld, this one posits that ‘Southeast Asia’ as a geopolitical construct creates, in and of itself, other peripheries that require attention. In this context, ‘the periphery’ is not a place as much as it is the communities that live within the category of ‘Southeast Asia’ but don’t benefit from that construction, while still suffering from the histories of neoliberalism out of which Southeast Asia, as a regional trade zone and geographic entity, was created. Do we live in the same playground? is neither your typical international nor regional biennale. Yet, it is a biennale in all the ways that make biennales important discursive spaces and curatorial platforms. Presented across three main locations including Taman Budaya and Jogja National Museum, the exhibition privileges artworks that highlight lesser-known subjectivities as well as practices that are informed by long-term engagements with communities and lived experiences from the region. Bali-born Citra Sasmita’s Timur Merah Project:The Embrace of My Motherland (2019), for example, is an installation comprising suspended spice bags, text written in turmeric on the floor and scrolls that recall Kamasan paintings – a waning tradition of Balinese painting that illustrates canonical Javanese narratives such as the stories of Panji Malat, or the Indian epics of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Citra herself learned the form through meeting Mangku Murray, a Kamasan painter in Bali. Her installation reimagines the kakawin (a formal Javanese court literature fusing Hindu mythology and accounts of contemporary court life), originally written by male authors and articulating patriarchal rule, by shifting the attention to women as active protagonists in these stories.

Similarly, Yosep Arizal’s largescale installation Tanggalan Barohiwiyah (2019) appropriates a 15-day calendar system (taken from a Javanese divination manual found in the artist’s home) that instructs its (presumably male) reader on how to arouse a woman prior to sex. In Yosep’s version of the manual’s drawings, however, a man is the object of desire. These drawings are accompanied by a large, wall-mounted yonic sculpture that narrates the calendar to its viewers. Given the strict governance of public space in Indonesia, such a display would not be possible outside of the relatively liberal spaces of Yogyakarta. As such, the inclusion of works such as those by Yosep and Citra speaks not only to a feminist attempt to address the historical and societal obscuring of women, but also to the political potency of this biennale. The exhibition’s most poignant political gesture, however, is Moelyono’s Pembangunan Taman Monumen Marsinah (The Establishment of Marsinah Monument Park) (1993–2019), an homage to labour-activist Marsinah from Sidoarjo, East Java, who was raped and murdered on 8 May 1993. Taking the form of a monument housed in a space that emulates a public square, it includes a video, a commemorative plaque and makeshift wreath, images of Marsinah plastered on walls and a suspended body covered in a sack. Originally intended to be exhibited in Surabaya 20 years ago, it was censored due to its critique of Suharto’s brutal repression of labour protests. Marsinah’s killing, linked to her role as a representative for a workers’ protest at the Indonesian watch factory at which she worked, brought international criticism to bear on Suharto’s regime. Beyond the astute use of the exhibition as a space to address lacunae in mainstream discourse and history, the most rewarding aspect of the exhibition is its dedication to the difficult task of presenting artistic practice as a productive form of research and documentation. Gan Siong King’s Kecek Amplifier (2019) is historiography as a stylised video, interspersed with technical facts about synthesisers and jokes based on a conversation with Malaysian artist Nik Shazwan. Elsewhere, a room is dedicated to the exhibition of the late Roslisham Ismail’s

facing page, top Citra Sasmita, Timur Merah Project: The Embrace of My Motherland, 2019, acrylic on Kamasan canvas with turmeric and spices, 90 × 400 cm. Courtesy Biennale Jogja xv, Yogyakarta


final artwork (the Malaysian artist, also known as Ise, died this past July), Langkasuka: Journey Part One, which presents and unpacks the research and discussions he had undertaken with artists Chan Fei Meng and Imran Taib, exploring the culinary history of the Ancient Malay Kingdom Langkasuka that spanned Southern Thailand and the east coast of Malaysia, and is believed to have been founded during the second century. Building on this, the biennale particularly privileges new research based on direct engagement with communities and their lived experiences. For example, a commissioning programme (the Residensi Kelana programme) provided artists Ferial Afif, Tajriani Thalib and Ipeh Nur with the opportunity to study the rituals, belief systems, archives and oral traditions of different communities, in search of everything from forgotten Sumatran heroines to traditional rumah betang houses to the maritime lifestyles of the village of Pambusuang in West Sulawesi. The exhibition is at its strongest when it commits itself to the presentation of such practices and seeks to circumvent direct representations. But even when it does present artworks more concerned with a symbolic decolonisation of representation rather than an address to material realities, the curatorial gesture reverberates with political intent. The inclusion of Khairulddin Wahab’s Native Malay in Landscapes Apart from Painting (2014–), a series of self-portraits of the artist in traditional Malay attire against the backdrop of the rolling hills of the British countryside, is less interesting as a literal subversion of colonial photography than for the fact that Khairulddin is the only Malay Singaporean artist selected for this exhibition – speaking, perhaps, to the obscurity of the Malay minority in Singapore’s colonial and neocolonial histories. Do we live in the same playground? is a radical proposal for what a biennale can be and how curatorial gestures can be mobilised to move beyond the surface politics of representation. And in that respect, it is a strong case study for how the biennale format can still be a sandbox in which we all want to play. Kathleen Ditzig

facing page, bottom Yosep Arizal, Tanggalan Barohiwiyah, 2019, mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy Biennale Jogja xv, Yogyakarta

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Spring 2020


Sarah Abu Abdallah For the First Time in a Long Time Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai 17 December – 20 April It turns out that everything happens in ‘da salad zone’. A woman sits inside a giant metal stockpot and uses her hands to drag-twirl herself across a cerulean-carpeted floor, as if she were on a spinning-teacup ride at a funfair; later she stumbles around with the pot on her head. And even though she is filmed through a partially open door, the feeling is more stylised than voyeuristic: get a good shot of me doing this. Later on, schoolgirls fantasise about Japan as the camera tracks a spider across a terrazzo floor. A family bickers about lapsed vegetarianism while a cockroach scuttles across tiles. Cars slosh through a flooded road. Everyone is so stubborn and so bored. The video The Salad Zone (2013) is one of a sparsely hung assortment of five works from the last six years by Sarah Abu Abdallah. The Saudi artist gained attention in 2011 with Saudi Automobile, in which she painted a wrecked suv baby-pink – a comment on her country’s thenban on women driving – and is known for her irreverent, slice-of-life videos. Here the video is shown alongside a friezelike painting in one large museum gallery, with a multichannel video installation that dominates another darkened room. And in a third, sunnily windowed space, a drawing and some live plants. The

selection mirrors the casual, vloggy feel of the videos, where you half-expect the artist to pop up saying, “Make sure you click the link below to subscribe!” Somehow, it all works. In The House That Ate Them Whole (2018), the dwelling in question gets so bored that it makes a meal out of its residents. The story unfolds over three screens – one on each wall, surrounding the viewer – through lurchy, spinning cinematography, talking-head-style witness testimony and sung narration, all of which contribute to a pervasive sense of audiovisual claustrophobia. Warbled lines like “destruction can be slow and unnoticed” and “it is important to eat” seem to fix the house as a metaphor for the insatiable appetite of urban development. This anxiety becomes more explicit in an installation of raised soil-beds planted with tomato vines in the next room. The seedlings are an heirloom variety Abu Abdullah remembers from her childhood, the farming of which has all but disappeared as oil extraction and unchecked urbanisation encroach upon the farmlands that once surrounded her hometown of Qatif. Its title, Trees Speaking with Each Other (2019), suggests that the trees are logging onto mycorrhizal networks or the ‘internet’ of fungi that plants use to communicate with each other.

The Salad Zone (still), 2013, video, 21 min 27 sec. Courtesy the artist and Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai


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Perhaps this is just a way of describing how our brains have mutated on the internet. In Abu Abdallah’s work, images and references aren’t mixed so much as made to duke it out with pool noodles, to entertaining effect. The first gallery is dominated by Bad Hunches (2019), a 23m-long painting hung from the ceiling that snakes through the space like a ribbon worm. Patchy, dieselly sloshes of black that suggest a topography of extreme scale – either a satellite view of the earth or a cellular-level map – are collaged over with printed-and-cutout images melding personal snapshots (a kid on a tricycle, gahwa cups and tarot cards, a hand flexed to show off some nail art) with assorted digital flotsam (a medical diagram of a torso, house facades, an embarrassment of tomatoes), portents of the other works in the show. Those scenes of domesticity in Salad Zone are meanwhile intercut with a pair of niqabis methodically smashing a tv using garden implements – vengeful tomato farmers perhaps? When they’re done, they turn towards the camera with no small satisfaction and stand, inverted shovel in hand like a Grant Wood painting transposed to eastern Saudi Arabia. Standing at the precipice of change and wary of being wholly consumed, a Khaleeji Gothic. Rahel Aima

Taloi Havini Reclamation Artspace, Sydney 17 January – 23 February Focusing on the Australian-run Panguna mine – once the largest open-pit mine in the world – Reclamation burrows deep into the wounds of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville of Papua New Guinea and gives poetic form to the intersecting realities of Bougainvilleans as they seek to rebuild a society ravaged by mining interests. Those interests resulted in the displacement of thousands of refugees throughout Oceania, including Taloi Havini’s family. In this, her first Australian solo exhibition, the Bougainville-born, Sydney-based artist takes a less-is-more approach, exploring this history through a suite of eloquent and atmospheric works suffused with anguish and longing. Three wallpaper prints surround the gallery entrance: Copper mineral #1, detail. Habitat and Copper mineral #2, detail. Habitat (both 2018–19) are shots of copper ore leaching into azure water taken from her videowork Habitat (2018), while Bougainville District Map, Department of Direct Administration, October 1965 (2019) depicts a map of the boundaries of Bougainville Island that have been redrawn and relabelled by an Australian administration. Through these visual metaphors, Havini sets the symbolism of toxic copper contaminating a water supply beside the reshaping of the island’s geography to serve as an authoritative indictment of the

resource imperialism Panguna has imposed on Bougainville’s environment and first nation systems of political and social organisation. In an adjoining room, the four-channel Habitat serves as a powerful elegy to people affected by the island’s civil war. Narrated by Bougainvillean community leader and activist Kuntamari Crofts, of the Barapang Matonaru Clan of South Nasioi, in her native tongue – one of 19 languages spoken on the island, and one also spoken by Havini – the video alternates between using all four channels to display vast scenes of the open-cut mine or wetlands, and showing archival footage of the civil war and Bougainvillean protests simultaneously on separate channels, setting up dynamic contrasts. Stitched together into a loose narrative, the scenes of lush scenery and violence tell of the years leading up to, and following, 1988, when the activities of Panguna occasioned a secessionist rebellion that swept across the region, resulting in over 15,000 deaths. Lingering shots of the terrain serve to illuminate a landscape seeded with tragedy, bitterness and destruction, revealing the disquieting truths that speak of Australia’s often violent and imperialist agenda in the Pacific. Havini has long collaborated with female members of her Hakö community, as a means

by which to extend the matrilineal systems of political, social and cultural organisation that exist on the island. The newly commissioned Reclamation (2020), an installation steeped in the rhythms and traditions of Bougainville, embodies this modus operandi. The work comprises locally sourced palm and cane constructions – collaboratively shaped, often by four to five clan members working in groups, to embody different aspects of Hakö culture, from personal totems, to private cultural ceremonies, to indigenous musical instruments – arrayed across an undulating terrain of sandy earth. In intentionally echoing the inhospitable but strangely beautiful lands depicted in the video Habitat, Reclamation is devised as a counter to the colonial maps presented elsewhere in the exhibition, offering an indigenous means of surveying Bougainville culture and stretching Western concepts of time, space and representation. By recasting her understanding of indigenous Hakö culture and ancestral home, Havini’s works depict a society simultaneously traumatised by war yet filled with hope for its future. As Bougainville relishes the successful referendum for independence only months ago, Havini’s part-elegiac, part-polemic exhibition is a timely corrective to Australian history at large. Micheal Do

Reclamation (detail), 2019, cane, vine, steel, varnish, site-specific installation, dimensions variable. Photo: Zan Wimberley. Courtesy the artist

Spring 2020


Spectrosynthesis II – Exposure of Tolerance: LGBTQ in Southeast Asia Bangkok Art and Culture Centre  23 November – 1 March What’s the purpose of art exhibitions? What, if anything, do we expect them to do in the current time? These, and questions like them, are ones that plough through your mind when you leave Spectrosynthesis II. ‘Plough through’ in a good way. Spectrosynthesis II is the second iteration of a touring exhibition based around the collection of LGBTQ art currently being amassed by the Sunpride Foundation (a Hong Kong-based private organisation led by Patrick Sun). The first, featuring work by 22 artists, took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei, in 2017, shortly after a Constitutional Court ruling paved the way for Taiwan to become, two years later, the first Asian country to legalise samesex marriage. The current exhibition features work by more than 50 artists and takes place in a country in which same-sex sexual activity is legal (while Spectrosynthesis was on show in Taipei, Bangkok was named the second most gay-friendly city in Asia, after Tel Aviv), but in which same-sex couples and households are not accorded the same legal protections as oppositesex couples (legislation regarding civil partnerships is currently being discussed in parliament), and change of legal gender is not recognised. Both the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei and the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) are government-run institutions. Context is important here, because Spectrosynthesis II, like its predecessor, is a show that attempts to balance an awareness-raising intent with a more traditional framing as a display of works of artistic and art-historical merit. Ultimately, while there’s no doubt that the message of tolerance and acceptance is shouted out loud (in no small part as a result of the differences in geopolitical context in which the artworks were created), you enter wondering whether or not the LGBTQ theme of the exhibition will narrow the frame for the interpretation of individual artworks. The exhibition opening was certainly marked by a celebratory mood, with a carnivalesque drag performance (worthy of one of Bangkok’s celebrated queer nightclubs) by the Dicklomacy Queers Spicey(est) Sisters (Ming Wong, Bradd, Radha, Tamarra, Josh Serafin

and Amadiva), titled Land of a Thousand Rainbows (2019), that paraded through the crowded walkways of the BACC’s main atrium, ending on a stage at the entrance to the exhibition with (naturally) a pumped-up rendition of I Will Survive. But within the context of the mixed bag of works that make up the exhibition itself, it is those which allow a darker mood to enter that shine. In this vein, Thai photographer Ohm Phanphiroj’s short videowork Underage (2010), which surveys the lives of eight male child sexworkers (the youngest only eleven years old) in Thailand, particularly stands out. Phanphiroj’s subjects talk to camera while viewed in a car wingmirror, in one of its seats or in nighttime streets and alleyways, about their dreams of going to America, about having a boyfriend or about their girlfriends. They talk about the realities of how they began to work in prostitution (Tao, sixteen, was asked to do so by his father), how they encountered their first customers. A picture develops that abstracts their sex lives from sexuality and links it to issues of poverty, desperation and necessity. The questioning is remorseless; some of the subjects are moved to tears. Arin Rungjang’s five-channel video installation Welcome to My World (Tee) (2019) explores his childhood fascination with the female transsexual daughter of his babysitter, who mesmerised the artist-to-be with her beauty, but killed herself while Rungjang was still a child. We learn that her mother called her E-Tee – in Thai slang, the E is used before the proper name of a woman and Tee indicates an ethnically Chinese boy; but everyone can get the reference to an alien in a bicycle basket too. In the installation itself, a black-and-white video lingeringly documents the beautiful naked body of a transgender migrant-worker prostitute, whom the artist met while on a recent residency in Germany. It’s an unadorned means of making things visible. But the work goes beyond just that. In a lengthy text pinned on a wall outside the installation, the artist (who is himself gay) links his encounters with E- Tee to his own early

confusions about fitting into a binary world and the suicidal thoughts (partly inspired by E-Tee) that came with it, which are then further linked via an interview to the life of the trans prostitute in Germany. The ultimate result is that the beautiful, idealised images in the gallery setting are connected to the broader, rougher, more brutal reality of a life lived outside it. And yet this is a moving tale of sympathy, solidarity, suffering and pain, elements of which are picked up in many other works on show. The first two appear most obviously in David Medalla’s interactive work A Stitch in Time (this version from 2017, but work that has gone through a variety of iterations since 1967), for example, in which visitors are invited to stitch words and objects onto a sheet of fabric. The last two are evident in a series of five papercut works by Xiyadie, which, although exuberant and colourful in form, document the artist’s internal battles, which include an attempt to mutilate his own genitals and the experience of a forced heterosexual marriage. Elsewhere, the blatant eroticism of works such as Yan Xing’s slick video-homage to Robert Mapplethorpe (The History of the Fugue, 2012), Lionel Wendt’s homoerotic photographic portraits or the priapic sexual symbolism of the late Martin Wong’s paintings and Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran’s earthenware sculptures (given the spread of sexualities it purports to represent, the exhibition is, visually, rather cockheavy) might lead you to think that all art is defined by sexuality. Whereas the latest in Maria Taniguchi’s ongoing series of delicate ‘brick’ paintings (Untitled, 2019) and a chunk of Danh Vo’s atomised Statue of Liberty (We The People, 2011–16) suggest that reflections on that kind of identity are simply one of many things going on. Within this vast assemblage, the former type of work outweighs the latter, however, leading you to wonder whether or not an exhibition such as this one has lost a degree of complexity as much as it has gained in its broader message of tolerance. Although that criticism might be one of the many kinds of intolerance this exhibition seeks to overcome.  Mark Rappolt

Martin Wong, Mi Vida Loca, 1991, acrylic on canvas in antique frame, 157 × 91 cm. Courtesy the artist


ArtReview Asia

Spring 2020


Books Nightmare Wallpaper, 140928 – 190701 by Pak Sheung Chuen Para Site, hk$360 (hardcover) During the Umbrella Movement in 2014, when Hongkongers took to the streets demanding more transparent elections, Pak Sheung Chuen, who made a career out of gently interventionist conceptual gestures, felt his art was out of touch with political reality. So he joined protesters in the occupation of the city centre. But the movement fizzled out, there was no electoral reform and prominent instigators were eventually arrested and charged. Pak fell into depression. As part of his recovery, he started attending the court hearings of people involved in the Umbrella Movement. There, he took notes, and in a meditative state, made automatic drawings. Some he simplifies into ideograms he calls ‘seals’, which look a bit like logos of secret orders. Others he tessellates into patterns he calls ‘nightmare wallpapers’. All of them are subject to long written analyses by him. These Rorschach-like shapes, in which Pak sees human figures and objects, as well as specific imagery like angels, were drawn during the last five years and are now collected in Nightmare Wallpaper. In this hard-to-categorise publication, Pak uses art and writing to process his feelings of failure and disillusionment. Featured are some court reports he wrote for his column in the Sunday edition of Chineselanguage newspaper Ming Pao, and some docu-

mentation of performances he did, such as his annual ceremony of burning a picture of the fire seen in Tiananmen Square. There’s also a series of poetic letters exchanged with a protester in jail. And of course the notebook scans and the automatic drawings done while attending court hearings. Editor Freya Chou says the book is meant to be consoling, especially for Hongkongers facing a political impasse described by the government as the ‘worst crisis in Hong Kong since the Handover’. At the time of writing, clashes between pro-democracy and proBeijing camps have not abated, with the coronavirus epidemic stoking more antimainlander sentiment. Is this book, then, as Chou suggests, ‘a proposition on how to release the internalised trauma and melancholia from the recent political instability; how to reconcile with violence, conflicts, and most importantly, with oneself’? It certainly has a reflective quality, and doesn’t agitate for direct political action. Instead it is more concerned with internal transformation – most clearly seen in the seal and wallpaper works, which relinquish conscious control and embrace the irrational. On the one hand, I am open to the idea that these automatic drawings may loosen up the

stagnated conversation around politics, by throwing up symbols so esoteric that they cannot be instrumentalised. After all, research shows that when it comes to political opinion, a lot of our cognitive and emotional reactions are triggered subconsciously. On the other hand, I’m not really sure what these psychic excavations or Pak’s lengthy interpretations bring to the table. It’s a bit like telling people about last night’s dreams: they are fascinating only to the dreamer himself. If the book has a rehabilitative effect, it is found more obviously in the direct interventions Pak makes into the lives of others. With an inmate called Z, he exchanges letters on music, art and their shared Christianity. Their correspondence is the most affecting section of the book. Z reflects on how much the Umbrella Movement has cost him. In one missive, he describes the view from his cell, with the moon over the water and the lights from the fishing boats, a scene he shared with his wife in a letter, ‘letting her know that we are living under the same sky’. A few letters later, his wife leaves him. He says his impending release feels ‘like going from a small cell to a bigger one’. Politics often relies on binaries – us versus them, victory and defeat – but there are human experiences that are beyond such categorisation. At its best, Nightmare Wallpaper gestures towards that truth. Adeline Chia

Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin, translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins Daunt Books Originals, £9.99 (softcover) She doesn’t have a name, or at least no one speaks it. She works in a quiet, dilapidated guesthouse in Sokcho, a fishing town and popular holiday destination in northern South Korea. It’s offseason, desolate and cold. Unsure of what she wants in life, she is adrift. Winter in Sokcho – in its first English translation; the novel was originally published in French in 2016 – takes place over a few weeks either side of Seollal (Korean New Year), during which the protagonist finds herself drawn towards a guest at the hotel: Yan Kerrand, an enigmatic French comic artist who, having wandered the world for years, has arrived in this small border town to finish the last of a comic book series.


Elisa Shua Dusapin’s first-person narrative is formed of crystalline sentences that favour lucid imagery to describe themes of loneliness, familial obligation, identity (the protagonist’s mother is a Korean fishmonger, but she doesn’t know her European father), societal pressures and sexuality. And while all this seems to lie just beneath the same layer of ice that keeps the town frozen over the winter, Dusapin has a knack for thawing the narrative with moments of intimate tension between the protagonist and Kerrand, or with more intensely corporal descriptions like, ‘I scrubbed myself for a long time… scraping away at dead skin cells and sebum… then I plunged into the scalding water until my

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skin dissolved into a mass of muscle and fat’ – uncomfortably mirrored by a description of the mother’s preparation of puffer fish. Indeed, the act of scrubbing and of renewal is a recurring motif: in another guest, whose cosmetically altered face is hidden by bandages, in Kerrand’s nightly, ritual ripping-up of his drawings. Throughout the novel there is a melancholic sense that, like footprints in the snow, the relationship between the protagonist and Kerrand is on the brink of melting away. And it’s only at the very end, at the brittle edges of this love story, that the characters break apart from each other. It’s also in this act that they finally find themselves coming into form. Fi Churchman

Spring 2020


An Ecotopian Lexicon Edited by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Brent Ryan Bellamy University of Minnesota Press, $24.95 (softcover) Like microplastics, mentions of the Anthropocene have been everywhere for a while now. From articles about climate change to scholarly essays on psychotherapy (‘ecological grief’, anyone?), the current geological epoch named after humankind’s impact on earth is inescapable (even if you don’t believe in it). Needless to say, it doesn’t make for cheerful reading. The tenor of most environmental coverage is apocalyptic. The List of Doom includes: rising sea levels, ocean acidification, desertification, The Sixth Extinction and whatever sign of how human beings – or, to be more historically accurate, Western industrialist nations (well, mainly) – have screwed up the planet. Which is why this book, a lexicon of new words via which to address climate change, is such a breath of fresh air. Comprising concepts from sci-fi and loanwords from other languages, the index doesn’t downplay the direness of the ongoing environmental disaster but does give us new perspectives from which to respond to it. Each entry features the loanword and an essay explaining its provenance and application. The texts, which are written mostly by professorial types whose specialties include English literature, anthropology and environmental studies, range from the drearily academic to the gloriously weird. But the entries’ basic messages are: do not despair; be humble; get creative. Some words are direct calls to action, such as blockadia (popularised by Naomi Klein’s 2014

This Changes Everything), referring to unconventional efforts by different interest groups – including indigenous ones – to oppose extractive industries. Others are more philosophical, advocating a loosening of the boundaries of the self to be more attuned to nonhuman others (pa theuan, from the Thai, meaning ‘wild forest’ and referring to spirits, gods and wild animals, a class of unpredictable beings that cannot be known but must be respected), or being open to the wider flow of life through all creation (sila, from Inuit, meaning the interconnectedness of all phenomena, reminiscent of the Tao or the Force in Star Wars). And then there is the kooky corner. ~*~, a loanword from dolphinese, is pronounced by ‘lightly blowing a stream of air across the sensitive back of one’s hand’, writes Melody Jue. The official meaning is ‘tickling at a distance’, and can apparently be used to communicate ‘ecological affects’ such as ‘the vibrations of an earthquake, the force of a tsunami, or the rush of monsoon wind’. Crunchy? Maybe a little. But then again, where did the stone-cold rationality of Western Enlightenment get us? Colonialism, misogyny, senseless ecological plunder leading to the apocalypse, etc. In these end times, there is a case for opening your mind to radical alterities. In fact, the most powerful words in this glossary are those that act on us not just by rational argument but other more mysterious, invocative ways. Take misneach, from the Irish, meaning a type of

courage for those not in the mood to be courageous. Its pronunciation, mish-nyuhkh, fleshy and wet, mobilises the entire mouth as well as the imagination. It is a one-word poem. Then there’s fotminne, or ‘foot memory’, from Swedish novelist Kerstin Ekman’s Blackwater (1993), meaning our primeval connections to the ground beneath our feet, a poetic way to think about our relationship to land as one of embodied memory. You don’t remember a place, your feet do. Another evocative word is godhuli, from the Bengali, ‘the time of day when cows, with their hooves kicking up dust, return from pasture to their nightly refuge’. (Or twilight in boring old English.) A beautiful, prismatic word that combines illumination and dirt, it is also an auspicious time for Hindus to conduct ceremonies such as weddings. Writing about a work by artist Alex Hartley called Nowhereisland (2012), where a piece of land revealed by Arctic glacier melt is towed around the coast of England, American artist-activist Suzanne Lacy quotes Ference Marton, Ulla Runesson and Amy Tsui in Classroom Discourse and the Space of Learning (2004): ‘Powerful ways of acting spring from powerful ways of seeing’. It seems counterintuitive to think of the Anthropocene, this godhuli hour on earth, as a blessed time. But the climate emergency has inspired collective action, imaginative art and expanded worldviews. We might be richer for the experience – provided we come out the other side. Adeline Chia

The Emperor of China’s Ice by Jun Yang, illustrated by Yuuki Nishimura Verlag für Moderne Kunst, €15 (hardcover) A catalogue in the form of a children’s book, or a children’s book in the form of a catalogue, The Emperor of China’s Ice explores the myth that inspired Jun Yang’s 2018 contribution to the Austrian Sculpture Park in Graz: a colossal block of ice that was buried in an embankment that winter and excavated in the spring of the following year, to be eaten as a shavedice dessert. Japanese picture-book illustrator Yuuki Nishimura shows us the child emperor (who, as in all such myths, reigned ‘a long, long time ago’) sweating under Beijing’s summer heat and, despite the servant fanning him, summoning the empire’s scientists, thinkers and advisers to work out how to get him something cooling to eat on a summer’s


day. The problem is solved that winter by filling a box with ice taken from a frozen lake and burying it. It is unearthed – the ice somewhat diminished, but more or less intact – the following summer, at which point shavedice desserts are ‘invented’. An annotated map shows us that these delicacies eventually ‘spread’ east to Japan and west to Ancient Rome, while later still Marco Polo brought gelato from China to Italy. The timelines are a bit sketchy – ‘a long, long time ago’ is replaced by ‘more than 2,000 years ago’, followed by fairly precise dates (Italy, 37–68 ce; Japan, eleventh century; China, thirteenth) – and some of the arrows connecting places point both ways, making the

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sense of any originary shaved-ice moment rather vague. But perhaps that’s fitting for an Austrian artist of Chinese birth who spends his time between Vienna, Taipei and Yokohama (where his two daughters live and whence the interest in Japanese picture books derives). The book’s simple format certainly helps maintain the simplicity of the work’s conceptual origins, while allowing a touch of the fairytale in case anyone takes it too literally. Most deliciously, it makes an analytical text by the sculpture park’s director, Elisabeth Fiedler (‘Jun Yang – The Emperor of China’s Ice. Between Myth, history and cliché’) look redundant and out of place. Yum. Nirmala Devi

June 18 – 21, 2020 Tom Burr, early childhood development (2018), Art Basel in Basel, 2018 [Top]; Ugo Rondinone, zero built a nest in my navel (2005), ART 37 in Basel, 2006, by Kurt Wyss [Bottom]


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Art and photo credits

Text credits

on the cover Jes Fan, Ultra Flesh™, 2020. Courtesy the artist

Words on the spine and on pages 17, 41 and 75 are from Yasunari Kawabata, ‘Silence’, in First Snow on Fuji (1999), trans Michael Emmerich

on page 101 photography by Luke Walker

Spring 2020


These days most people seem to have forgotten how they had to respect Muslims, their muftis Post Script that I invented Egyptology. They remember and prophets, their customs and habits, the my military genius. My daring island escapes. role of women in their society, the Quran and Me sitting masterfully astride a rearing, terrified mosques. I took my men to see the tops of the white horse (unless it was a brown horse, but Pyramids before our first battle (your historians the colour is not important: I had many horses say I couldn’t have because they weren’t visible in my time), defying the elements and fearlessly from where we were, but I was there, they crossing the Alps. And, I don’t doubt, the fact weren’t). I was a cultural tourguide. I even wrote that I invented the law in France. But they often to the Egyptians to calm their fears: ‘People of forget that La pierre de Rosette… c’est moi! Even Egypt,’ I said, ‘they have told you that I come to those who don’t forget say that I ‘attacked’ destroy your religion, but do not believe it; [tell and ‘annexed’ Egypt as a colony in order to them] in reply [that] I come to restore your rights, do it. That I was unwoke! Crétins! punish the usurpers and that I I was on a mission civilisatrice, respect God, his prophet and the bringing the genius of Liberty Quran more than the Mamluks.’ (I was a bit worried about the and Enlightenment to the Egyptians’ grasp of history so oppressed Mohammedans. I added in another bit reminding In any case I wasn’t attacking them that the Mamluks were Egypt when I invaded it; I was unwoke slaves from the Caucasus attacking India! I did it to save Tipu – foreigners – rather than people Sultan in Mysore. Even the most with rights that anyone should be mediocre of military strategists concerned about.) We’re all Muslim – even the ‘boot man’ – knows – that was the general drift. that. (You know that the lumpen Indeed, it was me who directed representative of the English the 1798 celebrations of the oligarchy appropriated his boot Prophet’s birthday. I even dressed from the Germans, don’t you? up in oriental clothes and a turban And then hid his act of cultural to make the Egyptians realise I was vandalism by switching the type one of them. Muhammad Ali (the of leather used, tightening the fit, Pasha, not the boxer) wrote me fan removing or adding a few tassels mail; I wrote to a local sheikh about – it’s not important, whichever, you my plans to ‘establish a uniform get the drift. And now you people celebrate him as the inventor of regime based on the principles some sort of foot condom. The man of the Quran which alone are true invented nothing! The man was and which alone can lead men a thief, a dandy and a fop! His greatto happiness’. They loved me. I set up l’Institut d’Égypte. You est follower was Beau Brummell; had to be French to be a member, everyone else thought he was a but critical distance is important bore. And what kind of country in these things. When some rebels celebrates a cobbler? One that asked me not to bomb the Grand Europe doesn’t need. Anyway, in Mosque when they holed up in case you won’t take my word for it, it after the so-called ‘Revolt’ of here’s an account, by one of your Cairo, I could explain to them in contemporary historians, of him their own language why they were in action in India (where he was Jean-Léon Gérôme, Bonaparte et son Etat-Major en Egypte (detail), 1863 delusional: ‘God is too late!’ (For oppressing the natives, btw, those of you who don’t understand the language, He changed it from Wesley because the disstealing their land so he could exploit it for it’s a bit of a riff on God is great.) I even ordered penser of this nepotism thought it sounded his own profit) while I was liberating Egypt the compilation of a French–Arabic dictionary more ancient. (I know! Not even his own idea! (the Ottomans had lost control and chaos was for those people who weren’t such fans of There’s a lot of that in his ‘career’, btw.) The tool the only true ruler) in order to save Mysore: distance. Some of my soldiers said I acted more didn’t even know who he was – that’s why I ‘The commander chosen for this operation like a Mussulman than a Catholic; some of the never bother to mention him by name. At least was Col. Wellesley, but advancing towards the locals started calling me Ali Bonaparte. We even I knew that I was French. Or Italian. In any case tope after dark on the 5 April 1799, he was set talked about conversion, but I told them that, I ruled one nation and defeated the other, so upon with rockets and musketfires, lost his much as I would have loved to, my soldiers were it doesn’t really matter. I was a revolutionary; way and, as Beatson politely puts it, had to French (some of them at least) and thus a bunch he was a reactionary. “postpone the attack” until a more favourable While the Muslim-bashing puppet of capiof alcoholics who couldn’t possibly give up the opportunity should offer.’ Sad.) talism was lost (he hurt his knee in the ‘battle’), sauce. That’s the reason why, btw, they eventuYou know he only got the job in India I was woke. When he was running away from ally lost Egypt – after I had left – and later, the because his brother was Governor-General? Muslim muskets, I was telling my soldiers about Empire: they were drunks; I was woke. ara And that Wellesley wasn’t even his real name?

The Eagle in Egypt


ArtReview Asia

June Art Fair ope el

90, 40 tr. m

iehe R 1–8 ns p n Bas 58

VI, VII, Oslo Christian Andersen, Copenhagen The Breeder, Athens Croy Nielsen, Vienna Document, Chicago Dvir Gallery, Brussels / Tel Aviv

Gaudel de Stampa, Paris François Ghebaly, Los Angeles Green Art Gallery, Dubai Green Gallery, Milwaukee Galerie Meyer Kainer, Vienna Misako & Rosen, Tokyo

Neue Alte Brücke, Frankfurt Stigter van Doesburg, Amsterdam XYZ collective, Tokyo

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