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N o. 7 December 2 0 1 9

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A Journal of Accounts Art | Culture | Theory

Hera Chan | Paul Gladston | Reuben Keehan | Elly Kent | Susie Lingham Melanie Pocock | Shubigi Rao | David Teh | Tim Riley Walsh | Yao Souchou


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A Journal of Accounts Art | Culture | Theory

Editor Alan Cruickshank Publisher DIVAN JOURNAL | University of NSW Art & Design Design Alan Cruickshank ISSN 2207-1563 © Copyright 2019 Alan Cruickshank in conjunction with the University of NSW Art & Design, Sydney, the authors and artists No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission d ɪˈv a n | A Journal of Accounts is published biannually by DIVAN ART JOURNAL and University of NSW Art & Design, Sydney Editorial | Subscription | Advertising inquiries: Email: artandculturejournal@gmail.com Post: University of NSW Art & Design Paddington Campus, Cnr Oxford St & Greens Rd, Paddington, SYDNEY NSW 2021 Australia The views and/or opinions expressed in d ɪˈv a n | A Journal of Accounts are those of the contributing writers and not necessarily those of the editor, DIVAN JOURNAL or the University of NSW Art & Design, Sydney divan: from the Persian dīwān, an account book; origin dēvan, booklet; also related to debir, writer; evolved through ‘a book of poems’, ‘collection of literary passages’, ‘an archive’, ‘book of accounts’ and ‘collection of sheets’ to ‘an assembly’, ‘office of accounts’, ‘custom house’, ‘government bureau’ or ‘councils chamber’, to a long, cushioned seat, which in this sense entered European languages divan presents a shift of content and meaning over time coexistent with evolving historical relationships between the East and West. d ɪˈv a n | A Journal of Accounts offers critical interpretations on contemporary art and culture, and its broader historical, socio-political and theoretical contexts, from the greater Asia (Middle East, South/Southeast/East Asia and Asia-Pacific) regions which determine historical and current socio-cultural affinities with contemporary Australian art and society

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD NANCY ADAJANIA India Cultural theorist, editor, writer and curator, Mumbai STEPHANIE BAILEY Hong Kong/United Kingdom Writer and editor, Hong Kong/London THOMAS BERGHUIS The Netherlands/Australia Independent Curator and Art Historian, Leiden; Honorary Fellow, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne DIANA CAMPBELL BETANCOURT Bangladesh Artistic Director, Samdani Art Foundation; Chief Curator, Dhaka Art Summit, Dhaka Artistic Director, Bellas Artes Projects, Manila FULYA ERDEMCI Turkey/The Netherlands Curator and writer, Istanbul/Amsterdam PATRICK FLORES The Philippines Professor of Art Studies, University of the Philippines, Manila BLAIR FRENCH Australia CEO, Carriageworks, Sydney ADAM GECZY Australia Senior Lecturer, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney; author, artist, Sydney PAUL GLADSTON Australia Judith Neilson Chair Contemporary Art, University of New South Wales Art & Design, Sydney ALEXIE GLASS-KANTOR Australia Executive Director, Artspace, Sydney REUBEN KEEHAN Australia Curator Contemporary Asian Art, Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane VASIF KORTUN Turkey Curator, writer, Board Member, SALT, Istanbul LEE WENG CHOY Malaysia/Singapore Independent art critic, Kuala Lumpur IAN McLEAN Australia Hugh Ramsay Chair of Australian Art, University of Melbourne, Melbourne VALI MAHLOUJI United Kingdom Curator, writer, critic and author, London GUY MANNES-ABBOTT United Kingdom Writer, essayist and critic, London CHARLES MEREWETHER Georgia Curator of Contemporary Art, National Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi NAT MULLER The Netherlands Independent curator and critic, Amsterdam DJON MUNDINE Australia Independent curator, writer and art critic, Sydney NIKOS PAPASTERGIADIS Australia Professor, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, Melbourne ROBIN PECKHAM China Co-director Taipei Dangdai, writer

Cover: Downloadable WhatsApp Pepe emoji sticker pack, used by pro-democracy Hong Kong protesters; Hong Kong’s Pepe is a distinctly local meme reincarnated as a “local hero” and an irreverent symbol of their resistance, as opposed to American/post-Trumpian phenomenon. For an extended description see: Image Notations page

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SHUBIGI RAO Singapore Artistic Director 2020 Kochi-Muziris Biennale, artist TAN BOON HUI USA Director, Asia Society Museum, New York PHIL TINARI China Director, Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing MURTAZA VALI USA/UAE Writer, art historian and curator, New York ALA YOUNIS Jordan Curator and artist, Amman

2 — December / 2019


CONTENTS

14 Parergon Southeast of The Southeast ALAN CRUICKSHANK

22 Every Step in The Right Direction: Singapore 1819-2019 YAO SOUCHOU

34 Sotto Voce: What If We Haven’t Yet Asked The Right Questions? SUSIE LINGHAM

46 Possibilities For a Non-Alienated Biennale: Experiences of Conditions of Production in The Kochi-Muziris and Singapore Biennales MELANIE POCOCK

60 Writing on The Run: A Midpoint Rumination on Curating The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2020 SHUBIGI RAO

82 Latent Images: Vanghoua Anthony Vue’s Mediated ‘Photography’ TIM RILEY WALSH

90 Beyond The Pale: Critical Reflections on Society, Politics and Aesthetics Within and at The Borders of China PAUL GLADSTON

104 Many Undulating Things HERA CHAN

110 Garden of Forking Paths: Performance Art Without Performativity DAVID TEH

118 The 2019 Aichi Triennale: Notes on ‘After “Freedom of Expression?”’ REUBEN KEEHAN

130 Contemporary Worlds and The Great Debate ELLY KENT

138

IMAGE NOTATIONS

3 — December / 2019


GALLERIES 畫廊精萃: A2Z Art Gallery A2Z畫廊 Hong Kong, Paris Alisan Fine Arts 藝倡畫廊 Hong Kong Anne Mosseri-Marlio Galerie Basel ARARIO GALLERY 阿拉里奥畫廊 Shanghai, Seoul, Cheonan ASIA ART CENTER 亞洲藝術中心 Taipei, Beijing Axel Vervoordt Gallery 維伍德畫廊 Hong Kong, Antwerp Beijing Commune 北京公社 Beijing Beyond Gallery 非畫廊 Taipei Blue Lotus Gallery Hong Kong CHAMBERS FINE ART 前波畫廊 Beijing, New York Chini Gallery 采泥藝術 Taipei David Zwirner 卓納畫廊 London, New York, Hong Kong Each Modern 亞紀畫廊 Taipei ESLITE GALLERY 誠品畫廊 Taipei FINGERPRINT GALLERY 指紋畫廊 Beijing Gagosian 高古軒 New York, London, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Paris, Rome, Athens, Geneva, Basel, Hong Kong Galerie du Monde 世界畫廊 Hong Kong Galerie Eva Presenhuber 伊娃٥培森胡柏畫廊 Zurich, New York Galerie Ora-Ora 方由美術 Hong Kong Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac London, Paris,Salzburg GALLERIA CONTINUA 常青畫廊 San Gimignano, Beijing, Les Moulins, Habana GALLERY TARGET Tokyo Gallery Yamaki Fine Art Kobe gb agency Paris Hanart TZ Gallery 漢雅軒 Hong Kong Hauser & Wirth 豪瑟沃斯 Hong Kong, Zurich, London, Los Angeles, New York, Somerset, St. Moritz, Gstaad Johyun Gallery 趙鉉畫廊 Busan Kaikai Kiki Gallery Tokyo, New York kamel mennour 卡邁勒٥梅努赫畫廊 Paris, London KRINZINGER Vienna Kukje Gallery Kukje 畫廊 Seoul, Busan Lehmann Maupin 立木畫廊 Hong Kong, New York, Seoul Lévy Gorvy 厲為閣 New York, Zürich, Hong Kong, London Liang Gallery 尊彩藝術中心 Taipei Lin & Lin Gallery 大未來林舍畫廊 Taipei, Beijing Lisson Gallery 里森畫廊 London, New York, Shanghai Longmen Art Projects 龍門雅集 Hong Kong, Shanghai Malingue 馬凌畫廊 Hong Kong, Shanghai Massimo De Carlo MDC畫廊 Milan, London, Hong Kong Michael Ku Gallery 谷公館 Taipei Miles McEnery Gallery New York Mind Set Art Center 安卓藝術 Taipei MORI YU GALLERY Kyoto nca | nichido contemporary art 日動畫廊當代館 Tokyo, Taipei

neugerriemschneider 紿格赫姆施耐德 Berlin NUKAGA GALLERY Tokyo, Osaka, London ONE AND J. Gallery Seoul Ota Fine Arts 大田秀則畫廊 Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai Pace Gallery 佩斯畫廊 Hong Kong, New York, Palo Alto, London, Seoul, Geneva PATA GALLERY 八大畫廊 Shanghai, Taipei Perrotin 貝浩登 Paris, New York, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai

Project Fulfill Art Space 就在藝術空間 Taipei Richard Saltoun Gallery London Sabrina Amrani 薩尼畫廊 Madrid SCAI THE BATHHOUSE 洗澡堂畫廊 Tokyo Sean Kelly New York, Taipei SHIBUNKAKU 思文閣 Kyoto, Tokyo, Fukuoka Simon Lee Gallery Simon Lee 畫廊 London, Hong Kong, New York Soka Art 索卡藝術 Taipei, Beijing, Tainan Sprüth Magers 施布特-瑪格畫廊 Berlin, London, Los Angeles, Cologne, Hong Kong Sullivan + Strumpf 沙利文施特倫普夫 Sydney, Singapore Takeda Art Co. Tokyo Tang Contemporary Art 當代唐人藝術中心 Beijing, Hong Kong, Bangkok Tina Keng Gallery 耿畫廊 Taipei, Beijing TKG+ Taipei Tokyo Gallery+BTAP 東京畫廊+BTAP Tokyo, Beijing Tomio Koyama Gallery 小山登美夫畫廊 Tokyo Tso Gallery 別古藏藝術空間 Taipei Waddington Custot 沃丁頓庫斯托 London WAKO WORKS OF ART Tokyo White Cube 白立方 London, Hong Kong Whitestone Gallery 白石畫廊 Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, Karuizawa Yavuz Gallery Singapore, Sydney Yoshiaki Inoue Gallery Osaka SOLOS 個人展藝: 182ARTSPACE Tainan | intext Art Front Gallery Tokyo | Iku Harada Artinformal Gallery Makati, Mandaluyong | JC Jacinto BASTIAN 巴斯蒂安畫廊 London, Berlin | Dan Flavin Galerie Bhak 朴榮德畫廊 Seoul | Nam June Paik galerie frank elbaz Paris, Dallas | Bernard Piffaretti GALLERY SIDE 2 Tokyo | Takeo Hanazawa HdM GALLERY HdM 畫廊 Beijing, London | Christopher Orr KALOS GALLERY 真善美畫廊 Taipei | Hsu Jui-Chien MASAHIRO MAKI GALLERY 正大牧畫廊 Tokyo, Paris | Koichiro Takagi Mind Set Art Center 安卓藝術 Taipei | Marina Cruz mother’s tankstation Dublin, London | Atsushi Kaga Sies + Höke Düsseldorf | Jonathan Meese Sokyo Gallery 現代美術 艸居 Kyoto | Kimiyo Mishima STANDING PINE 立松 Nagoya | Pe Lang Wada Fine Arts | Y++ 和田美術| Y++ Tokyo | Tetsuya Ishida YIRI ARTS 伊日藝術計劃 Taipei | Hsiao Sheng-Chien Yuka Tsuruno Gallery Tokyo | Tomona Matsukawa YOUNG GALLERIES 新生畫廊計劃: albertz benda New York Double Square Gallery 双方藝廊 Taipei GALLERY VACANCY Shanghai KOSAKU KANECHIKA 金近幸作畫廊 Tokyo Nunu Fine Art 路由藝術 Taipei OVER THE INFLUENCE Hong Kong, Los Angeles Whistle 惠思 Seoul

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CONTRIBUTORS

Hera Chan is a curator and writer based in Kowloon, Hong Kong. Currently, she works as the associate public programs curator at Tai Kwun Contemporary; ongoing work involves building a global contemporary art pageant through Miss Ruthless International. She was the co-founder of Atelier Céladon in Montreal and otherwise, has staged projects at Para Site and Spring Workshop, Hong Kong; UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing; SBC Gallery of Contemporary Art, Montreal; SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin and Artista x Artista, Havana. Her writing has appeared in Artforum, ArtAsiaPacific, ArtReview Asia, Frieze, Ocula, Spike Art Quarterly and TAKE. Paul Gladson is the Judith Neilson Chair in Contemporary Art, University of New South Wales Art & Design, Sydney; previously Professor of Contemporary Visual Cultures and Critical Theory and Director of the Centre for Contemporary EastAsian Cultural Studies, University of Nottingham; has written extensively on the theory and practice of contemporary Chinese art for numerous journals and magazines including Modern China Studies, Culture and Dialogue, Yishu, Leap, Art Review, Contemporary Art and Investment, Artworld, Wink, Contemporary Visual Art+Culture Broadsheet and Eyeline; Editor of the Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (Intellect), 2014-16. Reuben Keehan is Curator, Contemporary Asian Art at Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane; has worked on the 2012, 2015 and 2018 editions of the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art; with a long history in the public, non-profit and artistdriven art sectors, he was previously Curator at Artspace, Sydney, 2006-11 and editor of its journal Column, 2008-11. Elly Kent is a Visiting Fellow, Centre for Art History and Art Theory, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra; a visual artist, writer, translator and researcher with a personal and professional history in Indonesia; currently the Academic Program Officer for the Creative Art and Design Professional Practicum at the Australian Consortium for In-Country Indonesian Studies; writes broadly on artists and art practice/ has worked extensively as a translator for arts organisations, in Indonesia.

Susie Lingham is a writer, educator, curator and interdisciplinary maker in the arts. Appointed Creative Director 2016 Singapore Biennale An Atlas of Mirrors; was Director Singapore Art Museum 2013 to 2016, shaping its new vision/ mission, curatorial direction and acquisition strategy, and oversaw the development, organisation and curating of exhibitions including After Utopia: Revisiting the Ideal in Asian Contemporary Art, 2015 and 5 Stars: Art Reflects on Peace, Justice, Equality, Democracy and Progress, 2015-16; prior, she was Assistant Professor, National Institute of Education/NTU, Singapore 2009 to 2013. Conferred the Distinguished Alumni Medal 2014 by the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, has a DPhil in Literature, Religion and Philosophy, University of Sussex, and has taught at universities and art colleges in Australia, Singapore and the UK. Melanie Pocock is Curator at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK. From 2014 to 2019, she was Assistant Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, where she curated and organised more than sixty exhibitions with Southeast Asian and international artists, including Dissolving Margins (2018-19), Native Revisions (2017) and Countershadows (tactics in evasion) (2014), a trilogy of group exhibitions exploring paradoxical aesthetics in contemporary art; her essays and articles have focused on the work of artists Song-Ming Ang, Heman Chong, Camille Henrot, Michael Lee, Shooshie Sulaiman, Anup Mathew Thomas, Tromarama, Boedi Widjaja, Tomoko Yoneda and Ken + Julia Yonetani, among others; her writing has been published in Art-Agenda, ArtAsiaPacific, Eyeline, Frieze, Kaleidoscope, LEAP, Ocula, Journal of Curatorial Studies and Third Text, artists’ monographs and exhibition catalogues. She is the editor and co-author of the first monograph on the work of Malaysian artist Shooshie Sulaiman, Kerber Verlag, (2014). Shubigi Rao is a Singapore-based artist and writer. Since 2014 she has been visiting public and private collections, libraries and archives globally for ‘Pulp: A Short Biography of the Banished Book’, a decadelong film, book and visual art project about the history of book destruction; her work has been exhibited in the Kochi Biennale 2018, Pune Biennale 2017, Taipei Biennale 2016, Singapore Biennale 2008; her

publications include Pulp II: A Visual Bibliography of the Banished Book (2018), Written in the Margins (2017), Pulp: A Short Biography of the Banished Book (2016); her publication History’s Malcontents: The Life and Times of S. Raoul (2013), chronicled 10 years of artwork and writing under the pseudonym S. Raoul. She is the Curator of the 2020 Kochi-Muziris Biennale. David Teh is a writer, curator and Associate Professor, National University of Singapore; curatorial projects include Gwangju Biennale, 2018, Misfits: Pages from a Looseleaf Modernity, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2017, Transmission, Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok, 2014, Video Vortex #7, Yogyakarta, 2011; his essays have appeared in Third Text, Afterall, Artforum, Theory Culture & Society, and ARTMargins. His book Thai Art: Currencies of the Contemporary was published by MIT Press (2017), and was co-editor (with David Morris) of Artist-to-Artist: Independent Art Festivals in Chiang Mai 1992-98 (2018), for Afterall’s Exhibition Histories series. Tim Riley Walsh is Brisbanebased Desk Editor for ArtAsiaPacific, Hong Kong, and an MPhil Candidate, School of Communication and Arts, University of Queensland; has written widely for publications including ArtAsiaPacific, Frieze, Art Monthly Australasia, Art+Australia, Eyeline, Apollo, Runway and Artlink. He has previously worked in gallery management, communications, and programming at Milani Gallery, Brisbane; Camden Arts Centre, London and the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane. Souchou Yao is a writer and critic based in Port Dickson, Malaysia and Sydney, Australia. He has a PhD in anthropology, and is a former staff member at the Department of Anthropology, University of Sydney. His work deals with the anthropology of Chinese diaspora, and the relation between aesthetics and social and political theory; some previous books are The Malayan Emergency: Essays on a Small, Distant War (2016); Confucian Capitalism: Discourse, Practice and the Myth of Chinese Enterprise (2015) and Singapore: The State and the Culture of Excess (2006). His latest book The Shop on High Street: at home with petite capitalism is forthcoming with Macmillan, Shanghai.


ALAN CRUICKSHANK

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Southeast of The Southeast For more than a decade I have observed, initially in another publication I edited, Contemporary Visual Art+Culture Broadsheet magazine, and revived in a prior issue of this journal, the phenomenal emergence of a ‘Cultural Wallace Line’ intersecting Southeast Asia and Australia; now, the region anywhere southeast of Southeast Asia, being Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and Pacific Islands. Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) was a British humanist, naturalist, geographer and social critic whose theories of evolution by natural selection predated those of Charles Darwin. In 1859, after many years of research in the Malay Archipelago, he proposed a boundary line between the Oriental and Australian faunal regions—separating the ecozones of Asia and Australasia—which became known as the Wallace Line. My initial proposition in 2006 was sensed following the Singapore print media’s disclosure of the then artistic director of documenta’s protestation that the idea of travelling (the extent of) the distance to Australia from Europe—to advance his research in the selection of artists—was something of a loathsome enterprise. He protracted his anxiety by stating that he deemed Australian contemporary art to be derivative of the European-American canon, and having already visited Southeast Asian countries pursuing ‘authentic’, that is ‘original’, ‘Asian’ art, he doubted he would discover anything advantageous through such an imperfect sojourn further south (with the cursory presumption perhaps that contemporary art in Australia was ‘white’ in its mimicry, devoid of a burgeoning indigenous practice and without any multicultural possibilities, with a similar viewpoint regarding New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.) I further expanded upon this theory, that a notional fault-line had been drawn out in ensuing years, not so much by either disaffection or lack of desire to cross it, but rather by a pervasive ethos, initially Euro-American (or The Global North, take your pick) reinforced, typified by curator-art critic Okwui Enwezor’s introduction to his 2008 Biennale of Sydney keynote address, having just arrived at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from the airport, with a mischievous surmise that he felt like he had arrived “at the end of the earth.” Not only was this separation activated by such hegemonic perceptions of distance, but also by a Western art market-driven desire for ‘originalityof-otherness’ exemplified in its post-1989 neo-colonisation of the ‘Chinese art market’ by collectors and auction houses. (As an emphatic response to that status quo Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie lamented during a 2008 symposium at Zendai Museum of Modern Art in Shanghai that there were no Chinese museums then collecting Chinese contemporary art, that it was being bought, sold and amassed elsewhere; China’s contemporary heritage, according to Qiu, “lost.”) As Australia’s self-reflection upon its relationship with the Asian region began to undertake greater political and cultural, not to mention commercial dimensions in the early 1990s, resultant of Southeast Asia’s economic developments and post-4 June 1989 tensions, it sought to culturally engage the region through, for example, the implementation of the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in 1993 by the Queensland Art Gallery, in recognising the need for an ongoing series of exhibitions and forums investing in the contemporary art of Asia and the Pacific, several exhibitions of contemporary Japanese art, and projects such as Mao Goes Pop: China Post 1989 (Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 1993) which toured internationally in various forms; less so, obscurely, as the oldest biennale in the region, the Biennale of Sydney (only Charles Merewether’s Zones of Contact in 2006 and David Elliott’s The Beauty Of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age in 2010 having creditable representations of artists from greater Asia); and prior to these, the establishment of Asialink in 1990,

15 — December / 2019


ALAN CRUICKSHANK

with Asialink Arts promoting cultural understanding, information exchange and artistic endeavour between Australia and the countries of Asia. (It has been stated that in the 1990s Australia presented more exhibitions of contemporary Asian art and more cultural exchanges with Asia than any other Western country.) These outward looking initiatives were preceded by the now seemingly forgotten ARX, an ambitious series of projects organised by a collective of artists and cultural producers in Perth throughout the 1980s and 1990s which brought together artists from Australia and the Asia Pacific for a longitudinal cultural exchange, through developing the parameters for cultural contact and discourse. From its beginnings, ARX was based upon the participation of artists from Southeast Asia, representing a new direction in terms of artist exchange within Australia and the Asia-Pacific. Perhaps impetuously, ARX situated Australian art at the centre of this multi-lateral rather than bi-lateral region. Until 1991 the acronym stood for Australia and Regions Exchange, but following criticism by Southeast Asian artists that Australia had positioned itself in this way, the name was altered to Artists’ Regional Exchange. The last ARX, its fifth iteration in 1999-2000, was held in Perth, Singapore and Hong Kong. A similar critique regarding positioning arose from the first APT. The organisers went to “extreme lengths” to “enhance cultural understanding through long-term engagement with contemporary art and ideas from Asia and the Pacific, [with] a commitment to co-curatorship and consultation, and location of the artist/artwork/audience relationship as central” (according to APT core principles), in presenting nearly 200 artworks by 76 artists from Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea. Unlike other biennales/triennials, the 1993 APT, followed by 1996 and 1999, were based on co-curatorship/team-based curated selections, a model non-existent in the 1990s in the ASEAN region, rather than via a ‘star’ curator. They also presented major conferences, at the time, the largest held in Australia, developed with the participation of scholars, artists and curators from throughout the region. The inaugural APT nonetheless attracted criticism from regional participants during the appended conference and artist’s talks, that the host country’s knowledge, or lack of the Southeast Asian region and its modern and contemporary art, and its display through the APT might satisfy changing national geopolitical views and ambitions, but this had to spring from knowing the region’s art and artists and knowing itself in the process, that such knowledge is not instantly extracted and collected (therefore an over time engagement), and that it should not choose only art it liked but rather that which was considered important to the region. These critiques I will refer to later. The 2nd APT in 1996 presented 101 artists from 17 countries (including New Zealand, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu); the 3rd in 1999, 77 artists from 20 countries (including for the first time Pakistan and Sri Lanka); the 4th in 2002, with only 17 artists from 11 countries, “by a core group of influential artists from the Asia Pacific region who challenged and shaped the course of contemporary art and modern culture over recent decades (Yayoi Kusama, Nam June Paik and Lee U-fan)… supplemented by a younger generation of artists who explored related ideas and themes”; the 5th APT in 2006 reverted to its previous larger-styled format as the opening exhibition for the new Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) with its “strongest representation of Pacific artists to date,” with 39 artists from 18 countries; the 6th in 2009 with 165 artists from 27 countries, including for the first time Tibet, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine; the 7th in 2012 presented 75 artists from 27 countries with a “special focus from Papua New Guinea and New Britain” and the mini-exhibition l

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Parergon: Southeast of The Southeast

‘0–Now: Traversing West Asia’ of seven artists and collectives from the Middle East and Central Asia curated by SALT (Istanbul) curator November Paynter; the 2015 Triennial with 83 artists from 36 countries (including Papua, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, UAE, Iran and India); and the most recent APT in 2018, with over 80 artists and artist groups from over 30 countries. Following the implementation of the first APT, the East Asian/Southeast Asian region has seen a proliferation of new (or rebranding of already established) biennials and triennials, amongst others—Gwangju Biennale (1995), Shanghai Biennale (1996, becoming ‘international’-focused in 2000), Taipei Biennial (1998), Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale (1999, following on from its prior iterations as The Asian Art Show), Yokohama Triennale (2001), Busan Biennale (2002), Guangzhou Triennial (2002), Beijing Biennale (2003), Singapore Biennale (2006), Jakarta Biennale (2006, after an eight year hiatus), Asian Art Biennial Taiwan (2007), Biennale Jogja (2009, following its restructure) and Aichi Triennale, (2010), the most recent being the Bangkok Art Biennale (2018). Research into their artist selections, of the past decade or more in particular, presents an intriguing delineation in participants from the East Asian/Southeast Asian and the AustralianPacific regions. The following crunching of numbers supersedes any intent or desire to theorise or speculate, neither insinuating deliberate exclusion nor the appellation that Australian/New Zealand/ Pacific Islands artists are ‘not good enough’, while further cautiously negotiating such problematic terminologies (of the ‘cartographic imaginary’) of ‘Asia’, ‘Southeast Asia’, ‘Asia-Pacific’, of ‘glocal’, ‘regional’, ‘international’, as well as the equally fraught undertaking of drawing a line on a map. Scholarly writing over the past decade has articulated how these biennials and triennials have been underscored by a multiplicity of driving factors in their envisioning, construction and presentation, from national economic affirmation through to ‘global-city’ promotion, as symbols of cultural advancement and indicators of global visibility/status. Susie Lingham writes in this issue, in her examination of the legacies of the 2013 and 2016 Singapore Biennales, “Art biennales are all about national representation—how nations see themselves and want to be seen; how cities position themselves and their aspirations as cultural centres of influence, whether regionally or globally.” Many of the institutions running these events are further forced by additional conditions to become local and regional in order to build long-term sustainable audiences; indeed, one of the main directives behind the APT model post-2003. An audit shows that these events fall effectively into two groups (and here I invoke my hesitation in using such categorisations, as it can be argued that even so-called ‘Asia’-focused biennales/triennales are ‘international’ or ‘global’ in their attitudes, so as to make such delineations dubious) of demonstrating an ‘international’ model through the presentation of the event’s own national artists with an equal number of international artists, mostly from the Europe/USA nexus, thus giving it an apparent ‘international’ validation (Gwangju Biennale, Shanghai Biennale, Aichi Triennale, Yokohama Triennale, Busan Biennale, Taipei Biennial); and an ‘Asia’-focused model (Singapore Biennale, Taiwan Biennial, Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, Asian Art Biennial Taiwan) predominantly or solely consisting of artists from Asia. The former group infrequently presents one or two Australian artists (or none), even less from New Zealand (or none), and none from the Pacific Islands or Papua New Guinea (the 2019 Singapore Biennale being the first event outside the APTs to include an artist from this country), while the latter group of course essentially excludes these artists (the Singapore Biennale introduced its Asian-region directive in 2013, and the Asian Art Biennial Taiwan, though it has presented a small number of artists from the Middle East,

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Europe, South America etc. since 2013, perhaps as an idiosyncratic reflection of the diversity of its curators, nonetheless presents itself as ‘Asia’-focused.) Space only allows for the following, with all quotes sourced from the relevant event’s website, the larger numbers (especially Euro-American) occasionally lacking an exactness given artists’ duel domiciles and countries of origin. The Gwangju Biennial, established in 1995 is Asia’s oldest, its objective, to “differentiate its global presence as a leader of glocal visual culture.” The 2018 Biennale, Imagined Borders, in “exploring the political, cultural, physical and emotional concepts of borders in today’s global community,” presented over 100 artists, with over 70 from Asia, including both South and North Korea, and five from Australia and New Zealand, through a collective of eleven curators, all from South Korea and the USA, except for Singapore-based curator David Teh (who writes for this issue). The 2016 Biennale, The Eighth Climate (What Does Art Do?)—“What is the essence of art in this age? its connection with the future in midst of daily life and struggles for survival in the present, and how it lands in different contexts throughout society,” with Maria Lind as artistic director, presented over 100 artists, 65 from Europe/USA, 25 from Asia, and two Australian. The 2014 Biennale, Burning Down the House, with “about half of Asian artists reflecting the prestige of Gwangju Biennale, which has been exploring Asian values and Asianness during the past twenty years as Asia’s largest biennale, aiming to deliver the discourses on art by including the Third World countries like South America rather than focusing on Europe,” again presented just over 100 artists, 40 from Asia, 45 from Europe/USA, and one from Australia. This edition was curated by Jessica Morgan (UK). The 2012 Biennale, Roundtable, curated by Nancy Adajania (India), Wassan Al-Khudhairi (Qatar), Mami Kataoka (Japan), Sunjung Kim (Korea), Carol Yinghua Lu (China) and Alia Swastika (Indonesia), presented 92 artists—30 from Europe/USA, nearly 40 from Asia, three from Australia (two with an Asian background), and two from NZ. Under the authority of the Chinese Ministry of Culture and the Municipal Administration of Shanghai, the Shanghai Biennial was initiated in 1996 with the aim to “expand Shanghai’s importance as the ‘gateway to the West’ through the arts sector… to serve as an international platform for the self-portrayal of China and Shanghai… highlighting the increasingly important role of artistic production in the Asia-Pacific region.” With the Power Station of Art now the main organiser and permanent exhibition location, it presents itself as “one of the most influential in Asia,” maintaining “Shanghai as its primary focus.” The 2018 Biennale, Proregress: Art in an Age of Historical Ambivalence, curated by Mexican art critic and historian Cuauhtémoc Medina presented, “Artworks as witnesses of the ambivalence of the present… our relationship with progress and regression,” by 71 artists/artist groups, with 36 Asian or operating from Asia, and over 20 from Europe/USA. The 2016 Biennale, Why Not Ask Again, of “The manoeuvres, disputations and stories that contain and encode turbulences and transports of our time,” curated by Raqs Media Collective, presented 95 artists/artists groups, 34 from Asia, 20 from Europe-USA, 10 from India, 9 from the Middle East and two from Australia. The 2014 Biennale, Social Factory, curated by Anselm Franke, included nearly 90 artists, none of whom were from Australia, New Zealand, etc. However, the 2012 Biennale, Reactivation, curated by Qiu Zhijie included over 80 artists/artist groups through a one-off curatorial model of 30 country pavilions, of the participants over 40 were Asian, one New Zealand artist was shown at the Auckland Pavilion, and via the Sydney Pavilion, five Australian artists were shown. The Aichi Triennale, with a mission to “demonstrate trends in cutting edge contemporary art centered around visual art with an international perspective [to] realise a community-friendly triennial exhibition representing the culture of Aichi/Nagoya,” was founded in 2010. The 2019 l

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Triennale, Taming Y/Our Passion, curated by 7 Japanese and 1 Mexican curators, presented 30 artists/ groups from Japan, 9 from Asia, 17 from Europe/USA, and 1 from Australia. The 2016 Triennale, Homo Faber: A Rainbow Caravan had 4 Japanese, 1 Turkish and 1 Brazilian curators, presenting 37 Japanese artists, 8 Asian, 20 European-American artists and 1 Australian, with (presumably influenced by the Turkish curator) 1 artist from Palestine, 1 from the United Arab Emirates, two from Turkey, one from Kyrgyzstan and three from Egypt. The 2013 Triennale, Awakening–Where Are We Standing?–Earth, Memory and Resurrection, in reflecting on art in the wake of the 2011 East Japan Earthquake, conceived by four curators from Japan and one from the UK, presented 56 Japanese artists, six from Asia, and one from Australia. The Yokohama Triennale, inaugurated in 2001, “an international exhibition of contemporary art that features internationally prominent artists along with up-and-coming figures, and presents the latest trends and expressions in contemporary art… [it] also features many site-specific works highlighting the distinctive charms of the host city. Participants are European and American-based as well as from Asia itself, making the Yokohama Triennale an interesting place to see exciting new art works emerging from this specific part of the world.” The Yokohama Triennale 2017, Islands, Constellations & Galapagos, conceived by three Japanese curators with six associates, four of whom were also Japanese, responded to “the world being shaken to its foundations caused by the expansion of networks beyond conventional frameworks, and events such as conflicts, refugees and immigration crises, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and the rise of populism, the 6th edition examined the state of the world through the themes of isolation and connectivity.” It included 11 Japanese artists, 17 from Europe/America, and 12 from Asia. The 2014 Triennial, Art Fahrenheit 451: Sailing into the sea of oblivion, curated by Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura, exhibited over 400 artworks by 65 groups/ 79 artists—25 from Japan, 31 from Europe/USA, and 9 from Asia. The Yokohama Triennale 2011, Our Magic Hour–How Much of the World can we know?, with Japanese curator Akiko Miki, presented 37 Japanese artists, 30 from Europe/USA, 12 from Asia, and 1 from Australia. The Yokohama Triennale 2008, Time Crevasse, with curators Daniel Birnbaum (Germany), HU Fang (China), Akiko Miayke, Hans-Ulrich Obrist (Switzerland) and Beatrix Ruf (Switzerland), presented 14 Japanese artists, 12 from Asia and 40 from Europe/USA. The Taipei Biennial, presented by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, has over the past decade increased the visibility of Taiwan contemporary art on the global stage, its aim to further involve Taiwan in the “Asian and global international art network.” The Taipei Biennial 2018, Post-Nature –A Museum as an Ecosystem, with co-curators Francesco Manacorda (UK) and Mali Wu (Taiwan), included 16 Asian artists/groups, 14 from Europe/USA and one from Australia. The 2016 Biennial, Gestures and Archives of the Present, Genealogies of the Future, presented over 80 artists, all of whom were Asian except for 18 from Europe/USA, six from the Middle East and one from South Africa. Nicolas Bourriaud curated the 2014 Biennial, The Great Acceleration: Art in the Anthropocene, presenting 28 European-American artists, 17 from Asia, two from the Middle East and six South American. The 2012 Biennial, Modern Monsters/Death and Life of Fiction, with curator Anselm Franke, exhibited 94 artists, one third being Asian, and the remainder mostly from Europe/USA. Of the second category, the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, first staged in 1999 to mark the opening of the  Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, was reviewed in 2017 after a reduction in audience numbers. The Triennale set until 2014, its last edition, a different theme for each exhibition focusing on “the most remarkable movements in Asian art of a particular time to introduce original creativities of Asia… in the context of the history, society and culture of Asia of that time,” its aim to create a

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space of collaboration of Asian artists with people working locally in art and culture, and to provide opportunities of continuous exchange and international activities for the promotion of Fukuoka. The 2014 Triennale, Panorama of the Nextworld: Breaking Out into the Future, presented artists from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brunei, Philippines, Mongolia, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, as did all Triennales back to the first iteration in 1999. In effecting a belt of all countries linking Pakistan to Japan (sans North Korea), it excluded all other countries often represented in Asia-Pacific Triennials. While scholars have presented analogies between the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale and the Asia Pacific Triennial, both events being museum-based (unlike the majority of biennales/triennials), in provincial cities seen by them ‘gateways’ to Asia, committed to collecting Asian contemporary art since the 1980s, and based upon the principles of artists cultural exchange and cross-cultural encounters with a responsibility to promoting audience engagement of and learning from other cultures, it would seem from this particular observation the two events might also be viewed as being poles apart. The Singapore Biennale was initiated in 2006 by the National Arts Council with the aim to position Singapore as an international centre and regional “thought leader” in visual art, and to enhance “Singapore’s international profile as a vibrant city.” The first three Biennales—2006, 2008 and 2011—were formulated by curators from Japan, Sri Lanka/UK, The Philippines, Singapore, Australia and the USA, with broad themes and artist representation. In 2011 the Biennale, Open House presented 27 artists from Asia, 24 Europe/USA and four from Australia; in 2008, Belief presented 66 artists from 33 countries shown in a distinctly ‘global’ presentation, including, apart from the expected Southeast Asian/European-American nexus, artists from Kyrgyzstan, Iran, UAE, Argentina, Kuwait, Ukraine, India, Bahrain, Palestine, Russia and Yemen; with two artists from Australia. The 2013 Biennale amended its horizons under the control of the Singapore Art Museum (see Susie Lingham’s text in this issue) in If the World Changed, “harnessing the energy of the Southeast Asian region to bring to the fore unique practices, concerns and myriad perspectives of artists from this part of the world,” with a team of 27 regional curators, featuring works by 82 artists and artist collectives (ninety-three percent of artworks from Southeast Asia), resulting in the “strongest Asian representation to date.” The 2016 Singapore Biennale, An Atlas of Mirrors, developed by a curatorium of 10 regional curators presented 59 artists and artist groups, all from Asia, enhacing its Southeast Asian dimension. This Asiandirective was relaxed fractionally in 2019 with Every Step in the Right Direction, conceived by curator Patrick Flores with a curatorium of six regional curators, with 70 artists and collectives engaging a more globalised “dynamic relationship between the art world and the larger social context… to enhance the potential of [the Biennale] to fully engage with the ‘current’ atmosphere of both discourse and expression,” the majority of artists being ‘Asian’. Of the others, only one was Australian (of Laotian Hmong background, see Tim Riley Walsh’s text in this issue) and one from Papua New Guinea, as referred to prior, the only instance outside the APT. The Asian Art Biennial Taiwan was first organised in 2007 “as an important platform of artistic exchange between Taiwan and the international arts community.” The 2019 Asian Art Biennial, The Strangers from Beyond the Mountain and the Sea, co-curated by artists Hsu Chia-Wei from Taiwan and Ho Tzu-Nyen from Singapore, presented 30 artists and collectives from 16 countries —26 from Asia, with artists from Iraq, Germany, Israel and Netherlands/Peru. Continuing its predominantly ‘international-Asian’ purview, the 2017 Biennial, Negotiating the Future, with curators Wassan Al-Khudhairi (Iraq), Ade Darmawan (Indonesia), Kenji Kubota (Japan), Lin Hsiao-Yu l

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(Taiwan), included 36 artists/collectives from 21 countries, 24 from Asia and 10 from the Middle East (presumably the influence of the curator from that region). The 2015 Biennial, Artist Making Movement, curated by National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts’ Iris Shu-Ping Huang, presented 25 Asian, one Middle Eastern, one American and two Australian artists. The Asian Art Biennial 2013, Everyday Life, included 30 Asian artists, one Russian, one Euro-Asian and two Australian artists. The 2018 Taiwan Biennial, Wild Rhizome, included 32 artists/groups, predominantly Asian; the 2016 Taiwan Biennial, The Possibility of an Island, presented 30 artists/artist collectives, all Chinese; and the 2014 Taiwan Biennial, 38 artists/collectives, all Taiwanese. The newest regional event, the 2018 Bangkok Art Biennale, Beyond Bliss, its mission “to engage Thai, ASEAN and international audiences,” curated by Apinan Poshyananda with an international advisory group, presented 75 artists/artist groups, nearly 60 being Asian, two from Australia (one part Thai) and one New Zealand (Samoan). Two other events falling within the ambit of this observation, forming another imaginary line between them at rightangles to this propositional fault line, are the Auckland Triennial and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The Auckland Triennial, founded in 2001 (also currently in hiatus), was promoted as “New Zealand’s premier international contemporary art exhibition providing a window into the world of contemporary art while creating a dialogue between local artists and their global counterparts.” The 2013 Auckland Triennial, If you were to live here was curated by Hou Hanru, exhibiting 39 artists, seven from Asia, 13 from Europe/USA, 11 of from New Zealand and five from Australia; in 2010, Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon, presented 11 artists from Europe/USA, five from Asia, five from New Zealand, four from Australia, and three from the Middle East; while in 2007, Turbulence exhibited 10 artists from Europe/USA, nine from New Zealand, five from Australia, two from the Middle East, and only one from China (being the Long March Project). The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, “is India’s first ever biennial of international contemporary art and its story is unique to India’s current reality—its political, social and artistic landscape… [seeking] to invoke the latent cosmopolitan spirit of the modern metropolis of Kochi and its mythical past, Muziris, and create a platform that will introduce contemporary international visual art theory and practice to India.” It has constructed gradually a broad presentation base of international artists, such that since 2011, proportionately more Australian and New Zealand artists have participated in its four editions than in the above East/Southeast Asian events over the same period—2012: three Australian artists in a cast of mostly Indian participants; 2014: two Australian and one New Zealand artists from 96 overall; 2016: two Australian and one New Zealand artists in Sudarshan Shetty’s Forming in the pupil of an eye (with a broader representation of artists from Russia, Turkey, Morocco, Israel, Albania, Greece, Slovenia and Iran), and Anita Dube’s 2018 Biennale, Possibilities for a NonAlienated Life, from 96 artists shown, 44 were Indian artists, 10 Asian, 22 from Europe/USA, and two from Australia. Among other tentative meditations drawn from this brief study, in considering the inherent positivity of the proposition of ‘every step in the right direction’ (the title of the 2019 Singapore Biennale), of the conditions of contemporary life and human endeavour to change, those critiques of ARX and the APT and their pathfinding intentions and aspirations might now be considered in context of elapsed time and subsequent developments; and that this notional fault-line might be mere abstraction. I’d like to acknowledge Caroline Turner, John Clark, Kanaga Sabapathy, Paul Gladston, David Teh and Robin Peckham in sharing their thoughts with me in this exercise.

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Every Step in The Right Direction: Singapore 1819-2019

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Zai Kuning’s artwork for the Singapore Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale was titled Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge (2015). It was an installation of an imagined life-size vessel that served the voyages of the Dapunta Hyang Sri Jayanasa, the first Malay king of the seventh century Srivijayan Empire that covered the Riau Islands south of Singapore. Its centrepiece was a rattan ship suspended in mid-air, seventeen metres long and four metres high, flanked by books sealed in beeswax, insinuating the closure of regional history in the collective memory. Karim Raslan, writing for the South China Morning Post described it as “Haunting, mysterious, full of magic and beauty.”1 The Singapore Arts Council, which brought the work back from Venice to present it at TheatreWorks, a local art and theatre venue, proclaimed less lyrically: the work “is critical to our understanding of the region we are in, even while inviting reflections on the complexity of our cultural identity.”2 Beauty and utility—they are compliments enough for the artist. Yet Dapunta Hyang is glossed with a remarkable existential tinct. Neither lyrical expressionism nor as aid to national identity truly captures its spirit. It teases, it is ironic, it insists on being itself. The gigantic artifice of an ancient ship may well serve to rediscover the history of the region, but it could not have done this with the aesthetics of awe, the pointed spectacle that seems to lead the viewer elsewhere—to the venal ordinariness of social existence in the island republic. *** The 2019 Singapore Bicentennial has declared its mission. This year marks the two hundred years of the founding of modern Singapore by Sir Stamford Raffles, and the nation is to “embark on a journey of discovery… and reflect on leading up to, and beyond 1819.”3 Lee Kuan Yew was the national father who negotiated for the country’s independence, but Raffles was the founder, the original maker of Singapore. Everything of Singapore, including Lee Kuan Yew himself, was owed to the man. The Singapore Bicentennial would trace the beginning of the nation’s history to Raffles’ landing on the island on 28 January 1819, whose genius and foresight would eventually transform the place from a fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis. As with so much of the state narrative, this, too, simplifies; the from-fishing-village-to-modern-metropolis story is only half the truth. If Singapore had been the personal vision of one man, he had a lot of trouble getting Britain to accept it into the colonial fold. Raffles was a former clerk at the East India Company’s headquarters in Calcutta, a modest background in the social hierarchy of pre-Victorian Britain. He saw the island as a place of trade and strategic importance, and he thought a port could be established on the trade route between China and British India that passed through the Malacca Straits. Raffles’ 1818 expedition to Singapore was financed by the East India Company—not the British government. The following year a treaty was signed with the Johore Sultanate, and five years later, in 1824, the island acquired formal colonial status. Between the two events, there was much to and fro between London and Bencoolen, the British possession in Sumatra where Raffles was Lieutenant Governor. He had to convince Whitehall of his own vision, and to give assurance Singapore would not cause a diplomatic row with the Netherlands. Whitehall, in its part, was cautious and as always, worried about the costs of keeping and defending a colony. But London was almost seven thousand miles away. The exchange of letters between Singapore and London took ten months, at that distance the Foreign Secretary could be forgiven for thinking that Raffles was motivated more by personal ambition than by Singapore’s potential benefits to Britain. After all, another ‘upstart’, Captain Francis Light, in 1786 had given Britain the island of Penang, which proved neither profitable nor suitable for ship repair.

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Singapore, the reluctant colony, is not a story much told in the island nation. The founding of modern Singapore almost didn’t happen; it was a near stillbirth. The Singapore Bicentennial would want to run a lustrous story of Singapore, starting from its founding, to the struggle for independence and its arrival as country of First World prosperity. Yet Singapore of near-stillbirth could have served the way the nation sees itself. As the government tells it, Singapore has faced one obstacle after another, everything has been a struggle. Like a sickly child, the Singapore nation was born of pain and trauma: this has been the consistent theme. If many aspects of the Singapore story are ideological sham, the nation’s birth pain is the truth every Singaporean has learned by heart. Raffles’ difficulties and resolve were too distant to be easily imaginable, but the heroic struggles of the People’s Action Party (PAP) under Lee’s leadership are timeless and real. In this telling Singapore was founded by two decades of social chaos and the PAP’s political machinations during the 1950s and 1960s, less by Raffles’ arrival. And to consider a beginning point, that may well be Lee’s 1962 speech he gave to the Malaysian and Singaporean students in London; the subject was Singapore’s economic future; If we lose, fritter away the next decade that we have and not make preparation for our takeoff into the industrial age, then we may well have to regret it… We have got to make sure that the capital we have accumulated is put to good use, that in ten years we take one stride forward, in twenty years we enter the industrial age and in thirty years definitely, we are an emerged nation, not an emerging one. Because, definitely in thirty years, we are going to have an emergent China.4 It was a picture of chilling vulnerability. And the message was clear: people must forever try harder, for all strivings were haunted by their potential failure. The enemies are domestic, and external. In 1964, a year after Singapore joined the Malaysian Federation,5 Lee expressed the same fear; One day, God forbid, not too soon, in (Indonesia)… some order will be restored in place of chaos, and they will begin to move forward. Any time now, it is estimated that the Chinese government can explode a nuclear device. Any time now, the Indians are going to set up jet fighter factories… The moment one of these countries outstrips Malaysia in the human material comforts of life… (Malaysia) must go asunder.6 An Indonesia in chaos, a jet fighter-manufacturing India, and a China with nuclear weapons: they made for an apocalyptic vision. But Lee’s mind was over-wrought, he had a lot to worry about. Besides the prospect of regional conflict and economic rivalry, there were the Communist-led labour unions and radical students to deal with, and not least the eventual British military withdrawal which was sure to leave a defence vacuum. The following year, in 1965, Lee had a minor breakdown, following Singapore’s expulsion from the Federation of Malaysia. He had worked feverishly in negotiating with the ultra-sensitive Malay leadership in Kuala Lumpur to secure a future for the Chinese-dominated city-state. He failed, and had broken into tears at the press conference where he announced the news. He was, in his own words, “emotionally overstretched” and “close to physical exhaustion,” and the separation “weighed [him] down with a heavy sense of guilt” for having failed his supporters and allies.7 To help him sleep his doctor had prescribed sedatives, and pep pills to face the day. Taking these drugs in a condition of nervous exhaustion had a debilitating effect:

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Some in Lee’s circle… felt that commonsense advice had been neglected because of a pharmacological bias to his doctor’s training. The drugs had an innocuous enough effect when Lee could see his way through situations, but under the enormous strain of recent events their impact was curious and unpredictable. One moment Lee could be smiling, offering Tunku a brittle picture of acceptance, even some sort of pleasure. The next moment when he was near people with whom he could allow himself to relax… he would burst into tears or pour forth a torrent of emotion-laden words, recollections, predictions.8 On the night of 30 September the same year, he received news of a military coup led by General Suharto in Indonesia; it triggered off another bout of sleepless brooding. As he remembers: Choo [Lee’s wife] got my doctors to prescribe tranquilisers, but I found beer or wine with dinner better than the pills. I was then in my early forties, young and vigorous; however hard and hectic the day had been, I would take two hours off in the late afternoon to go on the practice tee to hit 50-100 balls and play nine holes with one or two friends. Still, I was short of sleep. Late one morning, when the newly arrived British high commissioner, John Robb, had an urgent message for me from his government, I received him at home lying in bed, physically exhausted.9 All of this was out of character with a man given to emotional restraint and toughmindedness. Lee’s breakdown was not exactly a secret; historians wrote about it, he talks about it in his memoir. But it caused no damage to his stature. As far as mythmaking goes, the National Father fallen sick is godsent. For he had taken the burden of the crisis-ridden nation on his shoulders; the affliction was Lee’s gift to his people, and a template for nation-building. Singapore is not the only country that follows the from-crisis-to-triumph model of national mythmaking. In its short history, the Singapore nation seems to have had its share of obstacles and adversaries. Indonesia had sent commandos during Konfrontasi (1963-66) to cause mayhem in opposing the formation of Malaysia; there were, more prosaically, the writers and journalists out to

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tear down social order; and most devastatingly, something that left an indelible mark on the national psyche, there were the left-wing radicals and communist-led labour unions during the 1950s and 1960s. The pose is languid and a touch defiant. They lean against the wall with their arms barely touching, behind them the Cambridge University landmark, the Bridge of Sighs. Lee Kuan Yew and his then girlfriend Kwa Geok Choo were law students at the university since 1947; they were young and in love. Their quiet repose exudes a delicate intimacy, and a certain social bearing nurtured by family background and the best of British tertiary education. Here at Cambridge, before Lee’s graduation and return to Singapore in 1950, there was still time to relax and enjoy what fancied any young man of reasonable means. The picture dated to 1948. War-worn London might not be the centre of chic and fashion, but it nonetheless held the Olympic Games that summer, and the ‘American Broadway Invasion’ brought Oklahoma! and A Streetcar Named Desire to the theatres. Of these pleasures Lee makes no mention, preoccupied as he was with his final examinations. Nonetheless, this and other pictures included in his autobiography The Singapore Story (1998)10 do show something more than his usual, stern demeanour. The slick hair, the sartorial elegance of tie and woollen vest under a jacket—a picture taken outdoors in the winter of 1947 showed him with a cigarette in the right hand—would have suggested, if not for the academic gown and the Cambridge backdrop, something of a dandy. There is in these postures a quiet, youthful defiance, a romantic indolence of a James Dean or a Marlon Brando, or a character from the sharply fashionable films of the Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar Wai. Some ten years later in 1959, Lee and his team walked to the City Hall to be sworn in as the first self-government of Singapore after winning forty-three from fifty-one seats in their electoral victory. All were dressed in white; the men in open-necked shirts and trousers, the few women in Chinese blouses and cotton pants. It was the attire of the Chinese-educated world whose dynamism and mass support had helped the PAP rise to power. For the students, teachers and labour activists, they had taken to wearing white starched cotton not only for its cool, airy practicality, but also as ideological fashion statement. Pregnant with signs of austerity and sombreness, white cotton was indeed the attire of the politically committed for whom dark Dacron, and not to mention Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard, were Western decadence reincarnate. Of this the PAP leaders were all too keenly aware. Apart from official functions, they would take to dressing in immaculate white even in a tree-planting ceremony or a street-cleaning campaign. These were “copycat exercise[s] borrowed from the communists,” Lee informs, exercises that mimicked the energy and commitment of the radical left. Mobilising “everyone including the ministers,” such public works signified “service to the people” by toiling with the hands and soiling of clothes.11 Lee the Cambridge-educated solicitor, and Lee the austere white-shirted leftist politician courting the masses—they were signs of a remarkable transformation of the man and the party he led. The People’s Action Party has dominated Singapore since its formation in 1954. From the onset, it took a strong anti-colonial stance, demanding national independence through constitutional means. To build a party with a mass base Lee and his colleagues relied on the trade unions and Chinese school activists who brought working class supporters. The period 1954 to 1961 saw the collaboration between the PAP moderates and the radical unionists and communists. But the relationship was volatile. It reached a climax in June 1961 when the radical faction led by the charismatic unionist Lim Ching Siong broke with the PAP and called for the government to resign. Lim together with other radicals were later arrested in a security operation in September 1963. l

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The history of Singapore from 1954 to 1961 was described by the PAP circles as one “astride [the back] of the tiger.”12 A popular cartoon book depicts Lee with his legs across the ferocious beast, the right fist in the air clasping the PAP emblem, ready to punch a blow on its head.13 Melodramatic at best, the cartoon celebrates the heroism and dangers of the PAP enterprise. When we recall Lee’s deft machination in harnessing the left-wing unions to ensure the PAP’s electoral success, ‘crushing the tiger’ also speaks darkly of betrayal and parasitic undertaking of Machiavellian genius. But it was no paper tiger on whose back Lee and the PAP had ridden to power. Lee’s attitude towards the radicals was ambivalent. Their political resourcefulness and commitment were both dangerous and useful to the PAP—unionists like Lim Ching Siong were able to call for mass strikes and violent confrontation with the police. In the PAP narrative, Lim and his followers were “radical beasts” out to destroy the nation. Aware of the violence that the radical left could unleash, envious of the mass support it enjoyed, Lee nevertheless had to defend the unionists. To condemn his leftist colleagues would be seen as throwing weight behind the British and colonialism. Lee, the reluctant suitor of communists, made his position clear in the Legislative Assembly; Not all the riots will make me do it. But I say here and now that if I had the choice between democracy—an independent, democratic Malaya, a Communist Malaya, and a colonial Malaya, I have no hesitation in choosing and in fighting for an independent, democratic Malaya… We will not fight the communists or other fascists to preserve the colonial system.14 However, what was desirable was not only the labour unions’ electoral power, but also their culture. It was not enough to bring the radicals into the PAP’s ranks, the party must itself make visible their socialist-communist commitment. The adoption of the leftist dress code was a part of this strategy. The white cotton shirts and trousers, the street cleaning, the tree planting: they displayed to the masses the party leaders were, in a way, more left than the leftists themselves. The term “yellow culture” (huangse wenhua) refers to pornography, literature of love and romance, and pulp fiction of crime and violence. These inspired anti-social, hedonistic behaviour; they made one oblivious to social commitment and revolutionary aims. Lee traced the idea to Mao’s China; “Yellow culture” was a literal translation of the Mandarin phrase for the decadent and degenerate behaviour that had brought China to its knees in the nineteenth century: gambling, opium-smoking, pornography, multiple wives and concubines, the selling of daughters into prostitution, corruption and nepotism. This aversion to “yellow culture” has been imported by teachers from China, who infused into our students and their parents the spirit of national revival that was evident in every chapter of the textbooks they brought with them, whether on literature, history or geography. And it was reinforced by articles of left-wing Chinese newspaper journalists enthralled by the glowing reports of a clean, honest, dynamic, revolutionary China.15 Lee and other PAP leaders were nothing but culturalists as well. They were aware of the need to perform their leftist credentials, and that personal and collective habits can be remade. However, it was realised that the performance of austerity and self-denial might not be enough. Such a performance must be built on an Other who would embody all the qualities the Singapore nation should not have. The West as transcendental evil given to luxury and bodily corruption: the idea was seeded during the anti-yellow culture campaign and it was planted early in Lee’s feverish imagination. During a visit to Italy in 1957, Lee noted the scene in the streets of Rome;

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[I]t was the age of the scooter… Five years ago, all Vespas running around. This time I went there and the first thing I noted was all the scooters had been replaced by little Fiats, 600, 500, and chaps who’ve got Fiats don’t go and embark on revolution. They are thinking of the next instalment, how to make sure that they’ve got the next instalment to pay the Fiat dealer.16 One day, Lee and his party took time off from official duties for an outing to the countryside: “We went out to the country on Sunday… there must be 100,000 families with the same ideas… everybody with a little Fiat or an Alfa Romeo… And everybody brought a little tent or a fishing rod… if they were young they made love, if they were old they just sat down under the sun and sipped mineral water.”17 As usual, Lee would inject into these scenes of popular idyll something of his didactic vision. “Chaps who’ve got Fiats don’t go and embark on revolution” was a lesson in his mind, for Singapore. People satiated with material goods and social enjoyment had no use for idealism or irrational political demands. People with jobs and a full stomach do not throw barricades up in the streets. History, suitably told and retold, aids the imagining of a nation’s future. In Singapore’s nation-building, real and imagined deprivation, actual and fantasised enemies and figures of evil had run parallel with the reality of economic achievement. The spellbinding story of modern Singapore’s birth is all about that. But the Singapore story, dramatic and heroic, is also the PAP story. Singapore is nothing without the PAP, especially Lee, the architect-parent who brought it into being. The ghostly figures of alterity loom large. And these figures are double-faced. The communists and radical unionists were both builders and destroyers of the nation, and the West had presented itself as cultural evil, but it was also an object of emulation. In Singapore today, the idea of the West as transcendental evil has all but lost its purchase. It is now valued as a source of foreign capital, technology and not the least, designer goods and lifestyle consumption. All that is history. The best one can say about it is that it is a case of plus ça change; things have indeed changed and some remain the same, but the radicals have long gone. The West is no more the figure of the anti-yellow culture crusade, and the government approach to Malaysia and China is cautious. As for the cleaning-living, strong-bodied citizenry, they are out of fashion. But the fear of moral corruption remains. To enter the Marina Bay Sands Casino, Singaporeans require an annual $3,000 pass and a daily levy, a measure to discourage gambling by locals. Homosexual activities are now rarely prosecuted, but the laws against sodomy and oral sex remain enforceable. In these and other cases, the spirit of the state restrictions and regulations is recognised: they are for the national good. *** Singapore is a fascinating place for the anthropologist. There are no villages and tribal rituals, but there are government announcements and policies with twisted logic and ideological slant, with people’s responses as creative as they are complicit with the state’s agendas. During the time I was there in the 1990s, my ethnographic fieldwork consisted of reading newspapers and watching the evening television news, and a good deal of time was spent in the coffee shops in the public housing neighbourhoods to catch local gossip. This was ‘fieldwork’, and the anthropologist had counted on a rich harvest over the three years he and his family were living there—an American teenager was sentenced to be caned by the Court for spray-painting graffiti on cars; the judiciary, in the determination of a sex offence case, ruled that only ‘Nature’ could decide what is natural l

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or unnatural; Parliament debated the moral and physical peril of bar-top dancing by short-skirted young women; and the government successfully sued a foreign newspaper for insinuating that the Singapore state suppressed political dissent. The byzantine arguments and offbeat reasoning were as comical as they were of serious import to local life. On 16 September, 2003, Lee Kuan Yew turned eighty years of age. In the Shangri-La Hotel, some one thousand guests, grass-root leaders, foreign businessmen and government officials gathered to honour him. In his speech, he remembered how life had turned out for him and the nation he had led. “I cannot say I planned my life. That is why I feel life is a great adventure, exciting, unpredictable and at times exhilarating... At the end of the day what I cherish most are human relationships.”18 For all that has been said about him, Lee casts a giant shadow in the region remembered for its Marcoses and Suhartos, their cronies and corruption. His insistence on personal integrity and morality standards for his ministers produces no secret Swiss bank accounts, no public statues of him in heroic poses, no grand edifices as monument to Singapore’s collective glory. After forty years of political power, it was a mellower Lee that people found that night. The birthday dinner was a moving event. People were touched by the passage of time, and the remembrance of the past that had been Lee’s youth and the nation’s beginning. The Straits Times reported, “[Lee] ended the celebrations by toasting the health of Singapore and all Singaporeans, choking back the tears that welled up just before he recited the national pledge. His voice broke toward the end as it became charged with emotion. It was a symbolic end to his birthday.”19 Lee’s eightieth birthday also raised the question on many people’s mind. Having done so much for Singapore, was it not time for him to retire? Lee quickly put an end to such speculation. He announced that he was staying on as Senior Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (his eventual title was Minister Mentor). To keep his seat in Parliament, he would continue to contest the general election. In a special interview with The Straits Times, questions were put to him directly: “Do you see yourself ever being able to withdraw completely from government and politics? When will you retire?” His answer began with a firm rebuttal; he then gave his reasons: “I undertook this responsibility after I won the first elections in 1959, took them into Malaysia in 1963, and took them out of Malaysia in 1965. I still feel a responsibility for them… I will retire from office when I am no longer able to contribute to the Government. But as long as I am fit and able, I will stand as an MP.”20 The journalists persisted. Embolden by the changes signalled by Lee’s ripe age, they continued with their questioning, in a tone almost rhetorical: “Why does it require the Senior Minister to suggest [new policies]? Why not the younger leaders? How come you are still the sole visionary?”21 These questions Lee answered with his usual directness. “I will retire from office when I am no longer able to contribute to the Government,” he said; when that day would be “depends on my DNA, my doctors, and the value of my data bank.”22 Yet one detects a certain disquiet, a sense that his answers no longer satisfied, even for a newspaper renowned for its pro-government views. Can we read into the interview the hint that most Singaporeans would like the Senior Minister to retire, that his staying on was a disappointment? A ‘Singapore without Lee’ may not be the doom scenario the PAP would like them to think. The National Father at eighty was by any standard a finale of sorts. Singapore had experienced no revolution and no grand bloodletting to rewrite the past—even though the nation’s brief history is retold as struggle, filled with traumatic events of its birth. When Singaporeans wished for Lee’s retirement, they were registering the change of time, and the reckoning that perhaps things could be done better and life freer in a ‘Singapore without Lee’. But the National Father rapidly aging was not

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quite his death. The Oedipal struggle was not going to be easily won. The idea had been raised in 1984 about the way future governments would use the national reserve accumulated over the years. Senior PAP leaders like Lee wanted to protect the fund, and to discourage the government from squandering it to appease voters. The government White Paper declared: In many countries, irresponsible free-spending governments have mismanaged the national finances and irreversibly ruined their economies. When a government sets out to spend money on generous subsidies, dispenses largesse in order to bribe the electorate, it has to do so by raiding the country’s financial reserves or by raising large international loans for consumption rather than investment. Before long the country, no matter how rich or well endowed, approaches bankruptcy and economic growth comes to a halt.23 The outcome of the government report was the elected presidency, which since 1993 had taken on, in addition to its ceremonial role, “veto powers over budget decisions” and over government “spending from financial reserves.”24 When the idea was first mooted, there was much speculation whether Lee Kuan Yew would become the President, as he was preparing to handover power to the next Prime Minister after the 1988 general election. However, Lee told the audience in a public speech, “I don’t have to be president and I am not looking for a job. Please believe me.”25 Nonetheless, the elected presidency as guardian of the national coffers was very much Lee’s brainchild, and it seemed most logical that he should take the office. The elected presidency was l

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an unforgettable rehearsal of what was later brought up by his eightieth birthday. The subject of Lee’s mortality would not go away. Lee quickly moved to foreclose on the subject, and his reply was dramatic and with a touch of the macabre; The Straits Times reporting, Mr Lee said that as a member of “that exclusive club of founding members of new countries, first Prime Ministers or Presidents”, he could not disengage himself from Singapore.“Even from my sickbed, even if you are going to lower me into the grave and I feel that something is going wrong, I will get up. Those who believe that [I would not do so] when I have gone into permanent retirement, really should have their heads examined.”26 Perhaps the august National Father too, not only the citizens, could do with a bit of examining the head and gentle probing of the unconscious. For Singaporeans, the wish for his retirement was a wish for the freedom from his continuing firm hand in national affairs. However, this was always mixed with great deal of fear for a world without his political wisdom and powerful influences. Thus the Singaporean subject is caught: Lee’s lasting political influence is a national blessing, but it is also something with which people must struggle in order to break free. With elementary Freudian insight, we say that a father of eternal life, who refuses the natural logic of mortality, is also a father who refuses to let go. And a father who refuses to let go thwarts the maturity of the young, whose arrival in the world demands the critical battle with—and the symbolic slaying of—the father. In the psychic drama of Freud, the son’s Oedipal struggle against the father is over the authority and resources—material and sexual—he holds. Maturity is a matter of breaking out of the shadow of the father, whose real and symbolic demise allows the son to come into his own. The National Father undead works against all this. Singapore is a small nation. Located at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, it consists of the Singapore Island and some sixty small islets; mainland Singapore is fifty kilometres from east to west and twenty-seven kilometres from north to south, with 193 kilometres of coastline. The southern limits run through the Singapore Strait, where the Riau-Lingga Archipelago—a part of Indonesia —comes within sixteen kilometres of the main island. Singapore is small, it is also a place of the sea. Overbuilt, the place pushes the sea outwards, its miserly sandy patches unworthy of the label ‘beach’. To find a beach of sparkling sand and coconut palm, my family and I went to the St. John’s Island, a thirty minute ferry ride south from Singapore harbour. It used to be a quarantine centre for newly arrived immigrants, a post-war detention centre for political prisoners, and later a rehabilitation facility for drug addicts. (It was also was the site of Raffles’ anchorage before meeting the Malay chief of Singapore in 1819.) We had a picnic on the beach, and a view of the city under the azure sky. To say that coming to St. John’s was to take a break from Singapore sounded ungrateful. I had my first full-time university job in Singapore after more than a year’s research, my wife received her artist break by being selected for an exhibition at the Venice Biennale, and our children were happily settled at the Dover Court International School, added to our good feeling. But Singapore’s rich offerings were complicated; they sometimes made you feel you’ve been bought off. The university wage was generous, but the stress and competition among the staff was toxic. The appointment of senior staff had to go through the government channels, and everyone observed the unwritten rules. It was not a good career move to specialise in Marxism or Maoist revolutionary theory. One could write articles critical of the government in academic journals, but not in the popular press in the region. And this was absolute: one was not to associate with the opposition parties. To interview their leaders and to be seen in an opposition rally risked losing your university post. I was just starting

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out, and my expertise in the radical thoughts of Marx, Althusser and Gramsci were rough-hewn. The threat of official censure did not touch me. As usual with these things, its effects did not come to you in a sudden onrush of realisation, but slowly, imperceptibly. A gradual sense of alienation, a habit of being out of sync with the wont of my colleagues—they reminded me how much the ‘thinking profession’ here was at one with wider political culture and the state. Modern Singapore was built by Raffles’ pioneering insight. Location and geography had defined it, British colonial legacy had moulded and crafted it. Unlike many of Britain’s former territories, Singapore had not gone through much in the way of postcolonial soul searching. Its Bicentenary is a small illustration of the Anglophilia that pervades in government and the upper social echelon. Singapore, it is not too much to say, had independence handed to it on a platter by the British: the PAP’s foes were the radicals, not the Empire. If only for this reason, pro-British bourgeoise views and habits are not surprising. Built on a small boxy island, Singapore has not conduced to path-blazing heroism and the creation of epic enterprises. Culturally, it is the proud offspring of the ‘nation of shopkeepers’. The culture of Singapore is pragmatic, commercial-minded, conservative; seemingly a page from Mother England of mercantile capitalism. If Singapore is not governed by shopkeepers, it is certainly by leaders of classic petite bourgeoise values. The ‘petite’ puts the bourgeoise values one grade above in political conservatism; and it elevates modesty to the point of virtue—Singapore, full of bluster about its economic wealth and clean government. But it also knows its place against the leviathans of the world, the United States, China, Japan, Great Britain. Among the citizens ‘petiteness’ is reborn as self-censorship, and as cringing modesty before the National Father and the PAP whose effective rule which has made them again and again return it to power. And the everyday life feels hemmed in. Space matters; the nation’s capital, the centre of political power, is not some faraway place but right where you are. It is hard to sense the mystic, the awesome ritual of the political game. And political leaders have been chosen almost for their sheer lack of charisma and rhetorical passion, qualities no longer suitable in these peaceful times. If one has to put a finger on the texture of social existence, it is the lack of monumentalism and grand gestures. With evident prosperity all around, you feel these are sorely needed in the way of whipping up emotional excitement. And without emotional excitement there is little of febrile imagination. The culture of shopkeepers cuts deep. The conservatism and social stability have been arguably good for Singapore, but they serve poorly the inducement of ideas and path-breaking undertakings. The yearning for bold intellectual and artistic expression is frustrated. And on artistic expression: in a society defined by smallness in many respects, monumentalism comes across as both necessary and an appropriate response to the national ethos that has been so carefully nurtured by the state. If this risks over-generalisation, one is also struck by the veracity of it when one surveys the local art scene. As a critic, I rather think in the local context, a work of modest conception and low-key execution becomes a kind of self-willed belittlement. It is as if the ‘petite’ of petite bourgeoise values has left its mark. Everything of Singapore’s social and political life cries out for an aesthetics of aggrandisement, a magnification of form and conception, in an artwork. The effect would be a profound ironic play on the banal vanity of social and political power. There are artists who have seemingly opted for this approach. In viewing Zai Kuning’s Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge, or Charles Lim’s body of work Sea State (2005-15), one is struck by the paradox of life in Singapore they have strategically brought back. Both open up the vista of the sea and ocean that have been modern Singapore’s origin and economic lifeline; and yet each work is a pin-prick of the l

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spatial confinement and the watery existence that has been rubbed by the urban growth and dense living. There is in their work little in the way of political intent or critique, but a kind of mimicry of the grand ideas and stupendous struggles that make up the national narrative. Notes 1 Karim Raslan, ‘Southeast Asian art at Venice Biennale: the good, the bad and the globalised’, South China Morning Post, 14 June 2017; https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/society/article/2098256/southeast-asian-art-venice-biennale-good-bad-and-globalised) 2 https://www.nac.gov.sg/media-resources/press-releases/Dapunta-Hyang-Transmission-of-Knowledge-by-Zai-Kuning-will-be-presented-byTheatreWorks-in-April-2018.html; accessed 26 October, 2019 3

https://www.bicentennial.sg/ accessed 23 October 2019

4

Michael Barr, Lee Kuan Yew: The Beliefs Behind the Man, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon, 2000, p. 75

5

Singapore gained independence from the British by being admitted into the Federation of Malaysia in 1963; it became a nation-state after separation from the Malaysian Federation on 9 August, 1965

6

Quoted in Barr, Lee Kuan Yew, op cit., p. 76

7

Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore: Prentice Hall, 1998, p. 16

8

James Minchin, No Man is an Island, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1986, p. 156

9

Lee Kuan Yew, From Third World to First: the Singapore Story: 1965-2000, Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings & Times Editions, 2000, p. 25

10

Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore: Prentice Hall, 1998

11

ibid., p. 332

12

John Drysdale, Singapore: Struggle for Success, Sydney: George Allen & Unwin, 1984, p. 172

13

Joe Yeoh, To Tame a Tiger: The Singapore Story, Singapore: Wiz-Biz, 1995

14

ibid., p. 111

15

Lee, The Singapore Story, op cit., p. 326

16

Han Fook Kwang, Warren Fernandez and Sumiko Tan, Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and his Ideas, Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings and Times Editions, 1998, p. 139 17

ibid.

18

Asia Times, 25 September 2003. Regarding the following Asia Times and The Straits Times references, these are from my fieldnotes when I was working in Singapore. I had used these in my book Singapore: the Culture of Excess (Asia’s Transformations) (2007), but the publisher Routledge asked not to have the URL references, etc. 19

Asia Times, 25 September 2003

20

The Straits Times, 14 September 2003

21

ibid.

22

The Straits Times, 14 September 2003

23

Government of Singapore, White Paper on Constitutional Amendments to Safeguard Financial Assets and the Integrity of the Public Service, Singapore: Government Press, 1988 24

Kevin Tan and Peng Er Lam eds, Managing Political Change in Singapore: the Elected Presidency, London; New York: Routledge, 1997, p. xi

25

ibid., p. 208

26

The Straits Times, 15 August 1988

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Sotto Voce: What If We Haven’t Yet Asked The Right Questions?

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BIENNALES WITHIN THE WORK OF THE ART MUSEUM Real museums are places where Time is transformed into Space. Orhan Pamuk, The Museum of Innocence SAM will be pivotal among contemporary art museums in the region and on the region, inspiring humane and better futures. Singapore Art Museum New Vision Statement, 2013 First caveat: these observations are written from a particular lived experience within lived contexts. To excise personal experience is not an option: how will others—and we who actually walked the journey—learn if we excise the very space of learning? Second caveat, some foreground: since 1996, the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), as Singapore’s first, and for nineteen years until 2015, only art museum, has been collecting, presenting and representing the art (modern and contemporary) of the Southeast Asian region. From August 2013 to March 2016, as Director of SAM, I oversaw its transition from statutory board status (National Heritage Board) through the corporatisation process, and with a new mandate to focus on contemporary art was tasked to reshape its vision and mission in the context of the research, acquisition and presentation of contemporary art in Southeast Asia within the global context. The new National Gallery of Singapore, which opened towards the end of 2015, was mandated to focus on the collection, research and presentation of the modern art of the region. SAM was appointed by the National Arts Council (NAC) to be sole organiser for the 2013 Singapore Biennale, If the World Changed, and 2016 Singapore Biennale, An Atlas of Mirrors—but was only informed of the latter after the previous presentation had ended and evaluative reports were submitted, which did not take into account the Museum’s own need to plan long-term and for its own exhibition programming. Both utilised the entire space of the two separate buildings, as well as other spaces in the precinct. Both also deployed most of the staff for the organising, curating and overall management and realisation of all projects, while, apart from these demands, they attended to its ongoing major obligations as the newly mandated contemporary art museum. Bristling with steering, advisory and curatorial committees, co-chair representatives from the commissioner (NAC) and the SAM Board, Biennale operations from 2013 through to 2016 were run relentlessly at high octane-paced urgency, with accountabilities to government and related agencies. Staff had to undertake multiple duties following the Museum’s transitioning to corporate status, and after. It was an extremely demanding time, even without factoring in long-term work and the everyday hydraheaded crises. Art biennales are all about national representation—how nations see themselves and want to be seen; how cities position themselves and their aspirations as cultural centres of influence, whether regionally or globally; how different nations’ and cities’ representations co-exist against and alongside each other. Biennales are cultural investments as much as they are ostentatious generators of cultural—and to some extent—actual capital. And most biennales and triennials are named after the city rather that the country that hosts them; the one departure being the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (based in Brisbane) representing a vast region. Singapore, as a city-state island nation is quite anomalous in this instance—it is all centre—as such, and the nation’s sense of its place in the art world is at stake here, with each edition of the Singapore Biennale.

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Having to oversee these two Singapore Biennales, organising such projects was profoundly challenging in a myriad of ways. My approach—both for the Museum and the Biennale—was to aim to facilitate and support fair representation as much as possible, to provide scope for genuine artistic growth, vision, inquiry and experimentation, and to ensure similar conditions for capacity development for contemporary curatorial practice and research. If the World Changed was ambitious—its aim, to focus almost entirely on Southeast Asia, requiring the appointment of curators from across the region, many of whom were artist-curators, in a deliberate strategy to not merely place the focus on country capitals, but to include research on art in provincial cities from different regions of the various countries involved. Ultimately, there were twenty-seven curators, twenty from Southeast Asian nations and non-institutional locals, and seven internal to the Museum. This mode of working was inspired by the early editions of the APT which focused on a noble vision, of fair representation regionally, and steered away from the more rigid country pavilion mode of curating and presentation. I inherited this purposefully director-less Biennale in August 2013, with the opening scheduled for that October. Having been on the advisory committee I had met some of the Southeast Asian curators, and knew that workshops had been undertaken where the curators selected their artists and artworks, and found consensus in their various choices. What was unexpected was that there was no big picture concept and how the exhibition’s content would be contextualised, and no apparent consideration about its structure and design. At this later stage in the curatorial process, in brainstorms with SAM curators, key words were selected from the flow of discussions, words that persisted in the working process with their co-curators from Southeast Asia: testimonies, histories, locus, spirit, cosmology, interruptions, ancestries, geographies, selves, futures, apocalypse, culture, exchanges, nature, activisms, prophecies, intervention, meridians, materiality and intercessions. From the deeply personal, to the socially and contextually conscious, to the cosmological, speculative and ahistorical, these ideas were iterated throughout the artworks presented in If the World Changed—these words finding form in floor to ceiling wall graphics at the threshold of each zone in the various venues. They operated like indices to the spectrum of concerns and movements during the curating process, to help frame evocative entry points for the visitor’s experience—evocative, in that they represented the sheer complexity involved in curating a biennale that set out to focus on the Southeast Asian experience. These keywords performed as discursive points of entry and departure for experience and consideration. Art works as a catalyst for mediation in society, and biennales as catalysts for artworks, curatorial research and practice—together these catalytic presentations both reveal and bridge the ever-deepening cultural and national chasms so evident in our time. Both If the World Changed and An Atlas of Mirrors, the former with a mainly Southeast Asian focus, and the latter widened—with clear precision—to focus on South, East and Southeast Asia, advanced an understanding of the diversity of socio-cultural, pre- and post-colonial forces, as well as still-lived different colonial legacies being inextricably entangled and very present in the regional consciousness. There has been much discourse and consideration over the apparent ongoing deficiency of a coherent and cohesive art history of Southeast Asia. Historians continue to debate if Southeast Asia as a region is only imagined or if it has not yet been imagined enough—how to hold Southeast Asian nations, historically and culturally diverse heterogeneities together, relationally? Southeast Asia is riddled with sociocultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious, economic, aesthetic and ideological complexities, and despite relative proximities, its sprawling geographies and still-recovering and l

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integrating psychologies do not allow for easy neighbourliness. With geographies profoundly shaping histories and psychologies, interdisciplinary and integrative research is needed to make sense of such dynamics. Global cultures, either East or West, even as they evolve share double-edged legacies—and the concept of ‘values’—inherited, appropriated or recast, has never been more in need of re-evaluation than at this time. Both the 2013 and 2016 Biennales were invaluable resources for their exploration of supposed ‘deserts’ of Southeast Asian research and art histories. It is now time to transcend narrow and agitated insistences on perceiving only recognisable familiar illusions conjured and categorised accordingly. They are not familiar; they are fey. What is required is genuine and new insights into the rapidly ensuing changes. We must be open to epiphany. HISTORIES, SENSED In an era of stress and anxiety, when the present seems unstable and the future unlikely, the natural response is to retreat and withdraw from reality, taking recourse either in fantasies of the future or in modified visions of a half-imagined past. Alan Moore, Watchmen In the context of deeper research, If the World Changed presented the opportunity for SAM, as organiser, to continue its ongoing focus, commissioning and collecting at a more intense level, its curatorial vision to reach beyond the familiar capital city-as-centre and connect with artists and communities in non-capital cities and rural centres of Southeast Asia—an approach both exhilarating and unwieldy. Through this approach, the Museum, as Singapore in microcosm, experienced hosting both our own and other nations’ and their cities’ expectations, aspirations, anxieties and contentions in quite an unprecedented way, with a constant proliferation of diplomatic frontiers. In the catalogue for If the World Changed, I wrote about the c.1504 ostrich egg-globe of the world, discovered in 2013, that was engraved with the map of the world as then-imagined in Europe, and the seas where Southeast Asia should be marked with the now ubiquitous term Hic Svnt Dracones: “here be dragons”—in a sense, these dragons surfaced during this Biennale. Given that the 2013 Singapore Biennale imitated the APT model with the appointment of numerous Southeast Asian curators, the sense of regional difference was distinct, not just between, but within nations. This was particularly significant in the context of geographical terrain and size, given archipelagos with thousands of farflung islands, mountainous and rural regions, and urban capitals as centres of power: the variability of resource distribution was quite distinguishable. The intention nonetheless was for regional and intra-regional representation. The fact that many of the curators were also artists reflected the different conditions and initiatives for both artistic and curatorial practices across these regions. As with the APT in its early iterations, issues and expectations regarding what ‘contemporary art’ should look like also arose—what was on exhibition were not just artworks and artists, but also different curatorial practices. With If the World Changed, certain motifs recurred. Some of the realities of these differences were apparent in the idiosyncratic approaches that brought together particular artworks. Based in Baguio City in the Philippines, and co-curated by Kawayan de Guia and Joyce Toh, AX(is) Art Project’s Tiw-tiwong: The Odds to Unends (2013) spanned thirteen art activities involving over 150 participants, through communities that stretched between Baguio City and along the infamously dangerous Halsema Highway in the Cordilleras mountains. The artworks embodied

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investigative histories spanning various trades and individuals, from well-known artists from the region to an indigenous tattooist; soundscapes; film and bulot figures of the Ifugao culture untraditionally carved as self-portraits of the woodcarvers themselves, an immersion into a very different world of living precariously, sorrowfully yet joyously, on the edges. Also from the Philippines, Abraham Garcia Jr. curated the work of the indigenous Talaandig artists from Bukidon, mostly farmers and hunters working as a collective, who presented a large-scale soil ‘painting’ Memories of the Peoples of the Earth: The Talaandig R/evolution (2013), which depicted a landscape community-map integrating tribal cosmology with everyday ritual and living. What was apparent in this instance was that the curators from each intra-region performed critical intercessory roles for the works and their creators—as teachers, workshop facilitators, trusted allies and friends, as fellow sojourners and artists. Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu-based artist Yee I-Lann, curated the work of Jainal Amambing from Sabah: five oil paintings titled My Longhouse Story (2013). If we look at how cities represent nations, e.g., Kuala Lumpur, as a significant fragment of an unwieldy whole, Sabah, the massive rainforested island of Borneo, is literally another world entirely. The artist referenced his own life experience of growing up in a longhouse community in north Sabah, depicting the separation anxiety involved in the transition from the kampong and its way of knowing and doing, to the larger world of formal schooling, away from home. Yee I-Lann spoke of how this was very much the life she lived, and vividly described how she too, rode on buffalos as a child. There were critical observations, as there were of the Filipino projects, that these oil paintings could not be classified as ‘contemporary art’, a critique which certainly bears examining—as with many other works—but, they need to be considered in the context of the objectives of the Biennale itself. Indonesian sculptor Tony Kanwa’s Cosmology of Life (2013) was also exemplary in this regard. Hailing from Tasikmalaya, his work bears witness to his research into indigenous cultural and spiritual practices across Indonesia. His installation of over 1000 tiny woodcarved splinters and slivers of wood—so needle-thin and minute that magnifying glasses were provided to enable viewers to observe the detail that went into the carving of each figure—emerged as somewhat human, yet with otherworldly features. They were strange and fey and uncanny, whether as single pieces, or amassed. Unabashedly, Kanwa frames his work as a sculptor as spiritual work. Also a sculptor who carves in wood, marble and other materials, Singapore artist Leroy Sofyan, married the readymade to the painstakingly handwrought. His three-dimensional tromp l’oeil objects Chalk & Cheese (2013), were humble everyday mops and brooms, but with carved marble mopheads and long bars of heavily weathered carbolic soap floor-sponges. Deeply critical of both how labour is valued and what is implied by cleaning work, in the context of national identity and how certain official histories are derived, Leroy Sofyan pushed his materials to breaking point, testing their resilience and frailty, his sculptures as ironic measures of society, witnesses to how society undervalues the labourer. Significant in this instance was that Soyfan was untried in the so-called artworld, discreetly making his socially critical artworks; from a curatorial perspective, a risk well taken. And, Indonesian architect-artist Eko Prawoto, and his commissioned bamboo-constructed ‘volcano’, Wormhole (2013), its organic, curvilinear splendour sited outside the stately National Museum of Singapore, a visible juxtaposition to colonial legacy. Prawoto works in Yogyakarta, and this work could be viewed to reference the relationship between the earth and sacred landscapes, e.g., the very sculptural manmade mountain, Boroburdur in Central Java, the enormous stepped l

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stupa with Buddha figures and reliefs built near the actual volcano Merapi, but which references the mythic sacred Mount Meru, first imagined in Hindu mythology as the centre of the world axis. Wormhole had several oculi, where the sunlight streamed in and cast beautiful light-shapes on the grass below. The title is very significant too, alluding both to cosmic theories on spacetime and time travel, and also to that most earthly of creatures, the earthworm, whose deep tunnellings are essential to all plantlife and forests. Both sculptural and architectural, Wormhole was an outstanding example of the cross-disciplines referencing and integrating traditional practice with contemporary approaches. These particular Southeast Asian and Singaporean artworks were held in sharp relief to one of the few works that did not hail from this region: the Japanese work Peace Can Be Realised Even Without Order (2012) produced by teamLab, was a strikingly sophisticated high-tech work by these ‘ultra-technologists’, complete with motion sensors, holograms and sound. Yet the phantasmagoric figures referenced ancient indigenous dance, a sensibility resonant with many of the Southeast Asian artworks. It was only possible to present such a high-cost production through appropriate sponsorship. Technologically, the Southeast Asian artworks might be perceived as having been ‘cast into the shade’ by this project; such a comparison reflects upon the differently paced legacies, histories and lived realities co-existent in the contemporary art of Asia and the region. Following the closure of If the World Changed, the Singapore Art Museum conducted an evaluation session to have curators share their experiences and thoughts on key subjects—curatorial, operational and organisational issues as well as their individual perspectives on how If the World Changed contributed to their understanding of Southeast Asian contemporary art. Whether or not these discussions were beneficial in their various contexts there was an attempt through this Biennale to cultivate understanding and appreciation of the very unique sensitivities in the contemporary art of Southeast Asia, sensitivities alert and alive to all its influences, anxieties, and evolutions. EVERY MAPPED ‘HERE’ IS A MIRRORED ‘THERE’ What does a mirror look at? Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse: Dune Having left the position of SAM Director in 2016, I was appointed the Creative Director of An Atlas of Mirrors, and worked with the Museum to strategically develop and implement its vision, framework, concepts, presentation and positioning, leading curatorial workshops with four associate curators from India, China, Malaysia and Singapore, and the SAM curators, and developed frames of reference for all the international participating artists. Considering the content and modes both individually and in the wider context, I worked with the curators to define what held the selection of artworks together. An Atlas of Mirrors spanned geometry, geography and psychogeography; histories, ahistories and stories; nature and culture; national identities and selves; home, walls, migration and gaps in the maps of society’s consciousness. Featured on the catalogue cover of An Atlas of Mirrors was a map of (the prehistoric supercontinent) Pangea, with a printed indication where Southeast Asia would have been: an allusion to the fact that both its nations and the region are in continuing drift and collision, both literally and metaphorically. We share histories and our worlds continue to collide. Every mapped ‘here’ is a mirrored ‘there’; we bear each other’s imprints. Significantly, for this iteration, the Benasse Prize inaugurated its Asian Edition after focusing for the previous decade on the Venice Biennale, allowing for the first time Southeast Asian artists to be recognised and supported in a wider context, a much needed validation.

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An Atlas of Mirrors was conceived differently to If the World Changed, but with the same objectives of highlighting Southeast Asia; as stated in the curatorial statement, “the arc of our shared histories encompasses East and South Asia.” In this instance, within the context of South and East Asia, we followed the flow of influence within and between these geographical regions, their histories and socio-political conditionings. With creative and curatorial processes clearly in accord through a series of workshops and working processes the emergent wide-ranging content was conceived thus—An Everywhere of Mirrorings: space. An Endlessness of Beginnings: time. A Presence of Pasts: memory. A Culture of Nature: nature. A Share of Borders: boundaries. A Breath of Wills: agency. A Flow of Identities: identity. A Somewhere of Elsewheres: displacement. A Past of Absences: absence. This zoning of content was critical as poetic structure, both in the actual exhibition space allocation and in the chapter structuring of the exhibition’s publication. This meant that all curators could work with each other across their own roles and SAM portfolios, representing regions and countries. Through their curatorial essays, they could contribute to and learn from each other’s research that traversed these representations. The main focus for An Atlas of Mirrors was to give contemporary art its scope within the fractal realities experienced in living and working in Asia, and Southeast Asia in particular. From the emotional to conceptual dimensions of human experience, art has always been the means through which both hopes and fears, a sense of the spiritual, and everyday realities find expression. Across the Biennale, artworks reflected upon a sense of histories and omissions, resistance, trauma, reclamation, identity and belonging. The following artworks for example, presented recurring themes and ideas, and how these might offer a sense of our times. Singapore sculptor and painter David Chan was commissioned to create the twenty-four metre work, The Great East Indiaman (2016), a whale skeleton handcarved in wood within a welded steel and concrete ship’s ‘skeleton’. Here Chan referenced the founding of Singapore in 1819 by Stamford Raffles, but re-imagined in a fantastic tale, in the context of the British East India Company. He conflated the colonial merchant ships, all known by the generic name of ‘East Indiaman’, and a ‘recast’ in wood of the Indian fin whale skeleton that used to hang in the National Museum of Singapore. The National Museum was in the past many museums in one, presenting natural history, culture and art. The Great East Indiaman was sited on the lawn outside the now Singapore historyspecific National Museum. The original whale skeleton, remembered by many Singaporeans, has been returned to Malaysia, where it was found in Malacca in 1892. Chan encountered many difficulties in its realisation as there are very few places where artists can make and store such large artworks, and for that reason the sculpture had to be broken up post-Biennale.1 Despite Chan’s own attempts to save his artwork through approaching various institutions, and given that the Singapore Bicentennial, of Raffles’ founding of Singapore, the very subject of Chan’s work, would occur in 2019, there was no governmental-institutional foresight to consider it as important and relevant to purchase. This somewhat myopic mindset is a recurring local motif. To date this is the largest commissioned sculpture that poetically embodies Singapore’s founding. Intriguingly, it is significant to consider that there were a number of history-referencing boat-centric artworks in An Atlas of Mirrors, reflecting perhaps the islandic and archipelagic nature of the region’s historical consciousness. Maps figured noticeably as well, from Sri Lankan artist Pala Pothupitiye with Other Map Series (2016); Qiu Zhijie (China), One Has to Wander through All the Outer Worlds to Reach the Innermost Shrine at the End (2016); Ryan Villamael (Philippines), Locus Amoenus (2016); Made Wianta (Indonesia), Treasure Islands (2012); and Titarubi (Indonesia) with History Repeats Itself (2016).

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Pothupitiye’s handworked framed maps of Sri Lanka, from Ptolemy’s of Ceylon, to current day, overlaid historical moments and periods with the geography, encompassing colonialism, civil unrest and religious extremism, even redrawing maps as animals to symbolise the ethnic wars between the Singhalese, as lions, and the Tamils, as tigers. Qiu Zhijie’s maps were large-scale traditional Chinese ink drawings draped on the gallery walls, with calligraphic witticisms annotating and tale-tagging figures, drawing upon speculative and alternative histories—like the pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact theory of China and the New World—through engaging commentary. These maps were accompanied by a glass-blown bestiary of chimerical monsters, a reference to all that was unknown and wildly imagined in the various ages of discovery. Amidst this cartography of histories, Qiu humorously inserted an image of islands in the South China Sea being claimed by his own country, positioning them as contested. Made Wianta’s Treasure Islands (2012) were large organic-shaped buffalo-hide maps, studded with mirror fragments and nails. The moment in history he mapped is especially significant, when New Amsterdam became New York: this was a tale of two islands, starting in 1667 with the Treaty of Breda, when the Netherlands exchanged New Amsterdam for the spice island of Rhun in Maluku. Wianta’s maps spoke of land and islands, ‘skinned’ of their treasure. Fellow Indonesian, Titarubi’s History Repeats Itself (2016), of sensational gold-plated nutmeg-cloaked spectres standing upon longboats, also made reference to the colonial looting and burning of ships by the Dutch East India Company, but with a sense of redress in an imagined future.

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Ryan Villamael’s paper sculptures of the creeping vine Monstera deliciosa, made up of maps from the sixteenth century to the present, turned the oldest part of SAM (made visible from its first retrofit in 1996) into a greenhouse of history, through geography as flora. This was imagined as nature taking over the Museum, the museum as repository of culture. Nature versus Culture, and vice versa. All the double-sided leaves of the vine made reference to the Philippines being the longest-colonised Southeast Asian country, and its most visibly, psychologically resilience. Singapore artist Zulkifle Mahmod’s SONICreflection (2016) was a sonic map of the cultural urbanscape of contemporary Singapore. An insightful representation of its increasingly cosmopolitan cityscape, it posed the query, what does ‘difference’ sound like? Singapore cannot function competently without migrant workers. Through its dire need for external labour and expertise, it might be concluded that Singapore is necessarily much more diverse and complex, and increasingly so, than its politically presented ‘four races’ (Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians) living in harmony. This work was a paced sound recording of the micro-colonies of other Southeast Asian communities, of Thais, Burmese, Filipinos and others living and working in Singapore. As a final example, and as an interesting contrast to SB2013’s Japanese representation by teamLab, Nobuaki Takekawa’s Sugoroku–Anxiety of Falling from History (2016) consisted of quaint hand-drawn maps, woodblock prints and old-school objects including Sugoroku board games that recalled the 1950s and 1960s—the critical reference to this period in Japanese history being significant—that post-war Japan was in denial of its failure to become a world power by colonising Asia, and displaced its own historical anxieties with the pursuit of economic success. The slightly self-deprecating charm of this work could be seen as a psychological mirror addressing the apparent gap between defeated post-war Japan and the state of art technologies that we’ve come to associate with this country since the 1980s. WHAT IF WE HAVEN’T YET ASKED THE RIGHT QUESTIONS? But should we only tell stories that reflect our own background? Should we refrain from telling stories that originated elsewhere, on the grounds that we don’t have the right to annex the experience of others? Absolutely not. A culture that never encounters any others becomes first inward-looking, and then stagnant, and then rotten. We are responsible… for bringing fresh streams of story into our own cultures and from all over the world, and welcoming experience from every quarter, and offering our own experience in return.2 How do cultures imprint upon each other? What divides society? Who and what do we identify with, and why does a sense of belonging drive us? What belongs to you? What is your story? Who tells your story? Mirrors, maps, and changing worldviews: to evolve artistically in a socio-cultural context, there must be trust in the relevant lived experience, expertise, and vision. In determining the conditions for art to flourish, there is no ‘safe pair of hands’: only those who tacitly make sense of things and with creative, responsive and responsible risk-taking, or those that have been disciplined into submission or self-preserving caution. For a small island city-state, with its cultural practitioners and administrators having to continue to circumvent the same barriers after nearly three decades of determined and heartfelt work, this suggests a lamentable lack of faith in the evolving, creative forces that drive artistic processes. If one person’s freedom of expression is another person’s experience

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of oppression, how does an evolving society balance these rights and responsibilities, i.e., the right to express, and the right to experience? How does responsibility intercede for freedom, and freedom develop a sense of responsibility? As many of these issues overlap with the critical subject of art in Asia and Southeast Asia, I cite from my own research, [Identification] Do the deeper psychological dimensions of the ideas of ‘belonging to’, ‘belonging with’, ‘what belongs’, need more focus in the contexts of art historical writing, art critical and theoretical writing, curatorial work, collection building, and the roles of museums, cities, and nations? [Relationships: Sensitivities and Responsibilities] The many strands in relationship making include the diplomatic, economic, political, cultural and academic. Given that these realms are inhabited relationally, and intertwine, how can a common set of rules of engagement for the research of Asian/Southeast Asian art be initiated, arbitrated and negotiated? What are the most productive ways of sustaining these relations while developing research?3 What was the nature of the return from the intense and often difficult processes that realised If the World Changed and An Atlas of Mirrors? What is the value of meaningful artistic engagement and production in Southeast Asia? How is it socially and art historically evaluated? How does experience develop into expertise and methodologies? There is a sense that underlying this spectrum of concerns there are legacies that are shared—of type, not necessarily of kind: indigenous, cultural, colonial legacies. Gains amidst the losses, histories and stories, state, nation, city, ethnicities, ethics, aesthetics, all concatenating into each other. Spectres from the East-West balance of power—postcolonial and imperial—lingering amidst newly arising imperial powers, with their own postcolonial vendettas, responsibility, structure, restructuring, ambitions, fears. How are the disparate histories and their variable trajectories sensed, experienced and shared—resistances, trauma, reclamation, need for representation, agency, address and redress? While the experience may be shared, colonial inheritances do differ—the influences and imprints of language, law, structure, religion, value systems, aesthetics and psychology all contrast in very real ways. Aspirations are syncopated and speeds and rhythms are moderated accordingly. Resilience varies greatly. Where one thinks the centre is, there is another and another, and exerting diverse push-pull forces. There remain gaps in these maps still, and unknowns remain unknown. Time for further quest(ion)s: there is no purely objective space or pace to begin from; a crucial illusion. A delusion. For those who dare, learn to ride those unruly dragons. At their pace. Notes 1 The irony is that the Singapore Art Museum, as the only contemporary art museum in Singapore, is neither a purpose-built space to present or store large scale artworks. Currently SAM is being refurbished, a development to which as Director I submitted multiple proposals 2

Phillip Pullman, Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling, Oxford: David Fickling Books, 2017, pp 14-15

3 Response to the ‘Asian Art Research in Australia and New Zealand: Past Present, Future’ Symposium, University of Sydney, 15-16 October 2015, published in Our Geographies Map Our Histories: A Response to ‘Asian Art Research in Australia and New Zealand: Past Present, Future’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Art, Volume 16, Issue 2, 2016, pp. 236-246. Published online by Taylor & Francis, 10 November 2016; http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/raja20/16/2

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Possibilities For a Non-Alienated Biennale: Experiences of Conditions of Production in The Kochi-Muziris and Singapore Biennales

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The title of this essay is both a tribute to and rewording of the theme of the 2018 Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Possibilities for a Non-Alienated life. In her curatorial note for the exhibition, artistic director Anita Dube identifies “virtual hyper-connectivity” as the primary cause of human beings’ current alienation “from the warm solidarities of community.”1 Feeding this alienation, Dube suggests, is a fundamental lack of empathy for people whose socio-economic, material (and invariably virtual) conditions differ from our own. In order to mitigate our increasing estrangement from others, Dube advocates pursuing “a politics of friendship,” whose interdependent relationships would make us more aware of the circumstances which shape different communities’ lived experience.2 To quote Dube, “If we desire a better life on this earth… we must in all humility start to reject an existence in the service of capital. Through the potential of social action, coming together, we ask and search for … critical questions, in the hope of dialogue.”3 This search for dialogue with communities and contexts surfaced throughout Dube’s Biennale, in projects whose materials and logics of assembly drew on Kochi’s coastal environment. Nowhere were these materials and logics more apparent than in Ecoside and the Rise of Free Fall (2018), an installation by Bangladeshi artist Marzia Farhana, composed of broken household furniture, appliances and objects. Bound with heavy-duty rope and strung across multiple rooms of one of the Biennale’s main venues, the refuse had been collected by Farhana from parts of Kerala (the Indian state where Kochi is located) which had been affected by flash floods in August 2018.4 Through its archive of battered objects, Ecoside and the Rise of Free Fall not only reminded viewers of the immense damage caused by the floods (which resulted in the deaths of more than 360 people and the displacement of one million),5 but the ethical imperative of the Biennale’s artists to address them. By using remnants from the floods as her work’s content, Farhana also highlighted the very real material conditions which shape artistic production. Such preponderant, and at times precarious conditions of production have affected the Kochi-Muziris Biennale since its inception. Founded in 2012 by artists Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu,6 it has striven to establish optimum conditions for participating artists and audiences, despite operating in a country in which the majority of art institutions are poorly funded and driven by partisan agendas.7 But if South India’s tropical climate and uneven arts infrastructure make staging a large-scale event like a biennale tough, Kerala’s unique differences from other Indian states create interesting opportunities to tackle these challenges. With a long history of migration, and more recently communist politics, Kerala is one of the most culturally diverse and literate states in the country: a situation which has nurtured some of India’s greatest artists and writers.8 Thus, while there may be few precedents for contemporary art in Kerala, its vibrant culture and engaged communities provide fertile ground for a biennale to take root.9 Kerala’s unique heritage and culture can be seen in Kochi’s historical buildings, which are used as exhibition venues. The distinctive architecture of these buildings, built in a combination of colonial and vernacular styles, provides artists with indelible sources of inspiration. But for all their charm, these buildings’ dilapidated infrastructure also creates significant logistical issues. Their lack of climate-controlled rooms, electricity and water (in earlier editions), for example, have made installing sensitive and technically complex works difficult. Infrastructural issues have also caused delays in the installation of artworks and the exhibition opening. Several critics (myself included) have commented on such delays, highlighting them as intrinsic parts of the “Kochi Biennale experience.”10

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Why critics have felt compelled to comment on such logistical aspects deserves some scrutiny. If such delays appear to contravene the principles of public events (which are usually expected to open as scheduled), they also diverge from the ostensibly seamless organisation of other large-scale biennales, such as Gwangju or Sydney. Famed for their ability to bring together staggeringly large groups of artworks, these biennales look from the outside like neoliberal powerhouses, capable of producing exhibitions of a consistently high (and frequently expensive) standard. Yet underneath this impression often lies a messier reality, in which curators and participants find themselves buckling under the pressure of ambitious scopes and insufficient resources.11 Considering these models, did my own criticism of Kochi’s delays reflect what I perceived to be its organisers’ struggle to execute a similar kind of exhibition, under equally pressured conditions? Living in Singapore—a country which is well-known for its own Biennale—provides an interesting context from which to consider this question. Established in 2006, the Singapore Biennale has earned a reputation as one of the most impressive large-scale biennales in Asia, with a roster of artists that regularly totals more than fifty to ninety participants.12 Endowed with a generous budget from the cultural ministry, it benefits from the streamlined efficiency of its home country, whose robust transport, economic and arts infrastructure has made staging such a large-scale event both plausible and desirable.13 For many artists, the Singapore Biennale’s generous resources and well-equipped, air-conditioned venues are a dream, because they enable the production of ambitious works largely unconstrained by climatic limitations. The negative side of Singapore’s organised infrastructure, however, is its frequent protocols which can limit artists’ creative possibilities, especially their use of public sites.14 Equally limiting can be restrictions on artistic content deemed illicit or taboo by national institutions and the government.15 In past editions, works such as Welcome to the Hotel Munbar (2011) by Simon Fujiwara,16 and Unwalked Boundaries (2016) by S. Chandrasekaran17 have either had to be reconfigured or closed due to their “sensitive” content. This essay considers the ways in which conditions of production and presentation have affected artists in the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and Singapore Biennale. How have their different visions of affected the artists’ scope? What spatial and conceptual constraints do their sites impose? How does financial support for artists differ between them? My motivation to examine these subjects comes from my work as a curator, which often involves negotiating with artists various aspects of artistic production. It is also driven by the current lack of writing on biennales which focuses on the perspectives of artists. While tight budgets and short timeframes are considered key pressures for organisers, they are less recognised as challenges for artists, despite the latter’s frequent role as both production coordinators and creative directors.18 Understanding how such pressures vary between biennales is crucial; a variability which makes comparing Kochi and Singapore an interesting case study. If the latter is seen to represent the high end of Asian biennales, Kochi reflects the artist-driven and self-organised biennale which has become a defining feature of Asia’s arts ecology.19 Having experienced both over the past few years, I have heard first-hand how their different parameters influence artists’ processes and the works they produce for them. A number of artists who I have spoken to highlight Kochi’s artist-led methodology as one of the most pleasurable aspects of participation, because of the way in which it places artists at the heart of its execution. The fact that the artistic director has always been an artist also invariably reflects the KMB’s core aim to embody the conditions of artists.20

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Possibilities For a Non-Alienated Biennale: Experiences of Conditions of Production in The Kochi-Muziris and Singapore Biennales

NEGOTIATING SITES: HERITAGE BUILDINGS, PUBLIC SPACES AND THE MUSEUM One of the most interesting conditions attached to artists’ participation in both the Kochi and Singapore Biennales has been the creation or adaptation of works for specific sites.21 Listed heritage buildings—Kochi’s historical venues, for example—are considered especially dynamic among artists because of their material vestiges and in-built history. Balancing the character of these sites with the distinctive qualities of one’s own work, however, can create tensions. Reflecting on her experience of creating her installation, The Tuning Fork of the Mind (2008) for the 2008 Singapore Biennale, Shubigi Rao explains, The experience [was] crazy, frustrating and consequently exhilarating as the work [had] to mutate according to the dictates of the site. I love that random, freakish evolutionary process, where the work is never as important as the venue, or the event, and can consequently slip its moorings of having rigid artistic pretensions, and just be a more gleeful, self-ingesting experience.22 The “self-ingesting experience” of Rao’s work came across in its museum-like display of archives, artefacts, machines and videos which sought to demonstrate the unique activity of the brain while looking at art.23 While the pseudo-scientific premise of the work evoked contemporary societies’ frequent need for empirically proven theories of art, it also suggested art’s right to ambiguity, and the ways in which such ambiguity can elicit curiosity as much as confusion. Intrinsic to the work in equal measures were its wit and artifice, the latter seemingly veiled by its archival display. At first glance, Rao’s work seemed anything but site-specific, its self-contained room sealing its contents from the visual regime of the Art Deco building where it was installed. Yet, on closer analysis, it was this very contrast that enhanced the conceptual and physical fabrication of The Tuning Fork of the Mind. By effectively creating a shell within a shell, and deliberately tussling with “the dictates of the site,” Rao highlighted her work’s own manipulative gesture.24 The imposing character of pre-existing sites is often felt in artists’ works at Kochi and its historical venues. While the interiors of many of these buildings have been renovated into whitecube galleries over editions, their core architecture remains and frequently impacts on artists and their works. The strong aesthetics of Kochi’s historical buildings require careful negotiation: while creating a dialogue, artists must also assert the presence of the artworks within them. Artworks which have succeeded in achieving this balance include Life is a River (2012) by Ernesto Neto, and One Hundred and Nineteen Deeds of Sale (2018) by South African artist Sue Williamson. Neto’s artwork, which was presented in the 2012 edition in the uppermost floor of Moidu’s Heritage Plaza, comprised an interconnected series of suspended, cocoon-like drops, which each contained spices signifying Kochi’s involvement in the spice trade. Attached to the ceiling like a bodily addendum, the work evoked Neto’s characteristic labyrinthine tunnels and bulbous forms, while uniquely responding to its site. In Williamson’s work for the 2018 Biennale, onlookers’ views of the coastline were partially blocked by a line of shirts and cloth upon which were written deeds of slave sales. These deeds, which Williamson had found in the Cape Town Deeds Office, account the enslavement of Indians who were brought to Africa by the Dutch East India company in the seventeenth century to work in the company’s African estates and gardens.25 Installed on the seafront terrace of Aspinwall House —the former nineteenth-century premises of English trader John Aspinwall—the work situated darker aspects of Kochi’s colonial history within a global context, all the while maintaining the poignancy of Williamson’s poetic gesture.26

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Possibilities For a Non-Alienated Biennale: Experiences of Conditions of Production in The Kochi-Muziris and Singapore Biennales

Such strong responses to existing sites have been much less a feature of the Singapore Biennale, where—with the exception of the first three editions—artists have mostly been invited to create works for gallery spaces. Commentators have attributed this shift to the National Arts Council’s appointment of the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) as the main organiser, which has led its direction since 2011.27 Since this transition, artists’ works have been increasingly shaped by the working processes and spaces of SAM: its emphasis on accessibility, didactic wall labels, and use of its own galleries, for instance. Many critics see this shift as working against the Biennale’s original aim to situate contemporary art within the city.28 Given the dominant role of art biennales globally as activators of local architecture and cultural scenes, one would have expected, and perhaps hoped for the Singapore Biennale to operate in a similar way, by offering artists inroads to spaces to which they would otherwise lack access. The disappointment of artists and critics in the shift towards institutional spaces has no doubt been increased by the critical success of works which were made for public sites in earlier editions, such as Ho Tzu Nyen’s farcical operatic court trial, The Bohemian Rhapsody Project (2006), and Everything is Contestable (2006) by Indian artist Ashok Sukumaran, which enabled members of the public to turn the lights of the Armenian Church (whose patron saint is Gregory the Illuminator) on and off via an outdoor switch.29 Perhaps the increasing reluctance of the Singapore Biennale to invite artists to create works for public sites can be understood in light of the processes required to secure them. Proposals for a number of public sites for the 2016 edition, for example, took several months to be processed, only to be rejected six months before the opening.30 Such experiences have tended to discourage curators and project managers from pursuing these spaces on behalf of artists. If not all artists benefit from their work being presented in public sites, other artists, whose practices hinge upon interaction with public communities, have inevitably felt restricted. Consider Indonesian collective ruangrupa, who, having submitted a proposal to engage residents of Singapore’s HDB (high-rise public housing) communities through workshops exploring “vernacular culture”, were informed by the Biennale’s organisers that using the HDB’s void decks (ground level communal areas) for the workshops would be “too difficult”. Instead, the collective was encouraged by the project managers to hold the workshops in one of the galleries of the National Museum (where their final work was presented).31 Given how ruangrupa works—a process which readily involves its members adapting to available resources—it would be unfair to claim that the Biennale’s refusal to pursue the collective’s original proposal fundamentally restricted the scope of their work. However, it certainly limited the possibilities for them to embed their project within the city and among its inhabitants; gestures that would have made the 2011 Biennale’s title-theme of ‘Open House’ somewhat more authentic. If the use of listed buildings and public sites rarely throws up the same constraints in Kochi —indeed, the majority of venues are leased free of charge—it is turning such spaces into structures suitable for museum-standard displays which creates the biggest challenges. In Jitish Kallat’s 2014 edition, Ho Tzu Nyen presented Pythagoras (2013), a video installation which explores forms of veils and ventriloquism through ghostly and theatrical motifs. Among these motifs are images of retracting curtains and an enigmatic white-haired character, whose “possessed” head surfaces throughout the work’s images.32 Consisting of four videos and eight channels of sound, the complex installation required a special program to synchronise its multiple elements, as well as a sealed black room in order to enhance the luminosity and crisp definition of the videos. These kinds of presentation requirements are profoundly difficult to achieve in Kochi, which lacks capital acquisition of high-level AV equipment, as well as ready-to-use black-box spaces. To overcome these hurdles,

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Ho brought his technical team with him from Singapore and installed the work together with the Biennale’s technicians. The installation suffered several setbacks: the AV equipment (which Ho had sent by freight from Singapore) was held up by Indian customs and only released two days before the opening. As a result, Ho and his team were forced to squeeze one week’s installation into forty-eight hours, and pass the remaining tasks onto the Biennale’s team.33 CONSIDERING COSTS: FEES AND FLEXIBLE RESOURCES In light of the issues that Ho Tzu Nyen faced during the installation of Pythagoras in Kochi, one wonders why he decided to present the work, especially in a physical environment which was so clearly unsuitable for it. To this question Ho responded, “It was important for me at that time to bring my most technically complex work to a place that one wouldn’t really imagine has the infrastructure for it… I think it is crucial to try out complicated works in settings where the infrastructure and financial support are not like Singapore’s… for me, it is crucial to try to show them everywhere and to everyone.”34 Ho’s response outlines perhaps one of the most fundamental contrasts between Kochi and Singapore: their vastly different resources. Having received funding from Singapore’s National Arts Council for a number of works and exhibitions, Ho is acutely aware of the country’s generous resources and privileged access to high-end equipment and expertise. Presenting Pythagoras at Kochi thus provided a means for him to redistribute some of these resources, within a context less privileged than his own. That Ho was able to deploy such resources is a testament both to Singapore’s relative wealth and his own robust setup as an artist. Indeed, throughout his career, Ho has consistently been able to acquire funding and technical expertise for large-scale productions; a skill which has been as vital to the development of his practice as his research and ideas.35 The artist’s ability to secure adequate production and presentation resources can determine success or failure of their participation in international biennales. This kind of “requirement” is not only attached to expensive practices (for example, multimedia works), but artists and practices across the board.36 Such a requirement has been triggered by the increasing pressure on budgets, which are quickly consumed by personnel, freight, installation and marketing costs. Once these cost lines have been accounted for, there is often surprisingly little money left for artists and the production of their works. Relying on artists to support these costs, however, produces a number of logistical and ethical issues. For one, it excludes artists who are unskilled in writing funding applications or securing external support. Secondly, it frequently requires artists to devote as much time and energy to fundraising and logistics as the creative development of their works; a division of attention which can negatively impact on the latter. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the fees offered to artists by the Singapore Biennale are highly valued among its participants. Fees are usually separated into two parts: artists’ fees (typically an honorarium or an amount that acknowledges the loan of their work), and a production fee, which finances the development and/or fabrication of new work. There are different fees for commissioned works, which require artists to create a new work from scratch, often in response to the Biennale’s theme. Fees for new commissions have consistently been around the S$2,000-mark (which excludes production fees). The lowest fees are for existing works (which are paid on top of artists’ loan fees), and are usually S$500.37 For the development of an existing work (a third category), artists in the 2016 edition received S$1,000. Issues have arisen when boundaries between these categories are not clear-cut, such as extensive development of an existing concept, which, while not commissioned, l

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inevitably necessitates a tailored approach. However, for most artists I spoke to, budgets for production—whatever the nature or form of their works—were forthcoming and adaptable.38 In Kochi, the situation is radically different. Historically, it has operated on a slim budget, a situation that requires its organisers and artists to secure significant external funds for artwork production and presentation. In 2013, as part of the fundraising strategy, artistic director Jitish Kallat launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise some of the budget deficit (which was then estimated at Rs50m).39 If the campaign was driven by financial necessity, it was also designed “to raise the profile of the biennale worldwide” and to “allow people to take ownership of… and feel proud of it.”40 Thus, what began as a fundraising campaign also ended up as one for the Biennale itself, a strategy which, while putting pressure on its production and participants, was savvy. By making the Biennale’s situation as a self-financed, ground-up event public, Kallat was able to galvanise local and international support, and disseminate news of the Biennale widely. Over time, such tactics appear to have worked: since the first edition, Kochi has succeeded in attracting a range of public and private sponsors, including the Keralan government, BMW and the South Indian Bank.41 However, and despite these initiatives, difficulties in securing financial support for persist. Participating international artists are usually asked to seek funding for their projects by applying for grants available through the arts councils and cultural ministries of their home countries. There is, of course, a strategic dimension to such a request, because it enables the Biennale to draw on resources to which it would not otherwise have access. It is also worth noting that asking artists to seek their own funding for participation has become a common practice in biennales such as Gwangju and Venice.42 In Kochi, however, this practice has an additional, practical aspect—the Biennale (which operates as a non-profit foundation) is currently unable to receive money directly from international sources.43 As a result, Indian and local artists are usually paid by the (Kochi Biennale) Foundation, while international artists are compensated through international grants. The problem is that the latter invariably depends on international artists’ fundraising skills. So, while for some artists (like Ho Tzu Nyen), these tasks form an essential part of their work, for others, they are less familiar and easy to access.44 Most of the artists I spoke with regarding this issue come from Singapore, where public funding for international projects is accessible and often generous. Both Shubigi Rao and Ho Rui An recall their application for funding from Singapore’s National Arts Council for their participation in the Kochi Biennale as straightforward.45 Ho Rui An suspects that the NAC’s keenness to support Kochi comes from its status emerging, a quality which, as I mentioned earlier, has also made it attractive to private sponsors. However, the lack of guarantee attached to funding applications has prompted the Biennale to pursue funds that would enable it to offer a standard fee to all artists, regardless of their nationality.46 Such universal fees are not only viewed by global arts institutions and individuals as professional but ethical, because they mitigate disadvantages and discrimination that artists might suffer at more fundamental levels in relation to their race, gender or educational background.47 Currently, international artists seem to regard Kochi’s adaptive model with sympathy, recognising its struggle to balance budgets and maintain its global scope. Many artists consider it a unique and exciting creative opportunity which enables them to work in a cultural and economic context that is different to their own. In Singapore, artists find these challenges humbling, and a stark reminder of the privileges that the Singapore Biennale affords them. The resources which Kochi provides in other forms, such as its brigade of enthusiastic volunteers, are also deemed by artists as

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invaluable, and on some levels perhaps more important than monetary support. Reflecting on the process of developing her work for Anita Dube’s 2018 edition, Shubigi Rao remembers the vital role of a local resident, who, having learned of her research on Keralan libraries, enabled her access to a rare archive. In her work, The Pelagic Tracts (2018), the fruits of this access can be seen, its photographs and re-imagined material from the archive forming key “protagonists”, its semi-fictional narrative of the history of book smuggling in the region.48 LEARNING CURVES Like many artists, Rao feels that the camaraderie fostered by the Kochi Biennale between artists and local residents is unique, and was one of the most positive aspects of her experience in 2018. It has a high track record of local volunteers who assist artists like Rao in the research and production of their works. While the practice of enlisting volunteers is common to all biennales (Singapore included), it is the sense of ownership which Kochi’s volunteers have that is distinctive.49 Such local engagement has not only been fostered through educational and outreach programs during the Biennale, but also between editions. These programs, coupled with the integration of artworks into public sites, have increased local understanding and awareness of the Biennale and its aims.50 These practices, as I discussed earlier, are much less evident in the Singapore Biennale, even if it benefits from year-round arts infrastructure and institutional support.51 l

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Kochi’s sense of a shared endeavour can be hard to cultivate in other biennales and their large numbers of artists. Focused on the production (and later installation) of their works, participants can find it difficult to engage with other artists, the pressures of creating one’s best work often limiting their desire for social engagement. The opening reception (and opening programs) are perhaps the best situations for participating artists to meaningfully engage with one another free from the pressures of installation. Opening receptions are frequently constructed events themselves, their setups and seating plans carefully worked out by their organisers and curators. With the Singapore Biennale, the opening reception is usually a very formal affair, and tends to resemble more a diplomatic event than an artistic celebration. Artist and co-curator of the 2016 edition, Michael Lee, observed that the format of the reception and its roots in Western hospitality made many artists from non-Western cultural backgrounds feel uncomfortable.52 By contrast, the atmosphere in Kochi is more casual, because the installation almost always spills into the opening days. Still embroiled in the process of making the exhibition, artists (and audiences) are obliged to embrace artworks’ lack of finishing. One would think that this kind of spillage creates its own stresses for artists. However, the challenging conditions of Kochi tend to create the opposite effect: that is, greater engagement and empathy with the struggles of other participants. If many artists consider biennales as important vehicles for the production of new work, an equal number also see them as vital opportunities to connect with peers and personal development. There, they have the opportunity to see other artists’ works ‘in the flesh’ and gain insights into their artistic processes. Invited by artistic director Jitish Kallat to develop a work for Kochi’s 2014 edition, Ho Rui An learnt considerably by observing the ways in which experienced artists adapted to the challenging conditions.53 The invitation also enabled Ho to create his first full-length lecture performance, a format which has since become his hallmark form.54 On the day of his performance, Solar: A Meltdown (2014), Ho was forced to move its location to the outdoor green in front of the pavilion where it had been due to take place. The move was necessary because the ongoing construction of the pavilion had overrun its schedule. To replace the projector envisioned for his accompanying video, Ho also had to find a freestanding monitor that would enable his images to be viewed outside in daylight. Yet, despite these shifts, Ho’s alternative narrative of colonial enterprise struck a surprising chord with its new site. The view of the construction in the background created an apt parallel with his narrative’s alternative account of British imperialism and its roots in the sweat of colonial labourers.55 In hindsight, Ho also claims it formed “an allegory for the biennale itself,” the latter’s attempts to emulate an essentially Western exhibition model reflected in the workers’ struggle to finish the pavilion.56 Whether ephemeral constructions like Kochi’s pavilion are worth the time and resources devoted to them is worth considering. The fact that Ho Rui An’s performance and other events on Kochi’s opening day could not take place inside the pavilion, meant that its production value was not fully recouped. Balancing resources for production against mediation and engagement is integral to the practices of artists like Shooshie Sulaiman, whose works rely upon people’s capacity to participate, or create their own meaning from them. For the 2011 Singapore Biennale, Open House, Sulaiman was invited to present a version of Rumah (2006-11), an installation which comprises personal documents, drawings and collages installed on a selection of wooden walls from her former studio in Kuala Lumpur. The installation was the largest iteration of Rumah at the time, a scale which had been actively encouraged by the curators through the work’s production budget. However, the final production incurred further costs, which Sulaiman had to supplement with her own funding.

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Reflecting on her experience, she felt that the scale of her work’s production outweighed the resources channelled into its mediation. After the Biennale’s opening she received little critical feedback about the reception or activation of the work through talks and discussions; aspects which she considers fundamental to its operation.57 Following Open House and other large-scale exhibitions in which she has recently participated, Sulaiman has decided to reduce the scale of her works’ physical production, and focus more on their immaterial relationships and connections with communities. Without these relationships, she feels, her physical artworks become redundant, and their production value lost.58 TOWARDS A NON-ALIENATED (BIENNALE) LIFE By tracing artists’ experiences of the Kochi and Singapore Biennales, it is possible to see two sets of conditions emerge: one aligned with the parameters of the museum (Singapore), the other with the adaptive self-organised capacities of artists (Kochi). In Kochi, questions of resources and process have been as creative as they have been practical, and prompted artists to consider the means and contexts of their own practices. At the heart of these reflections have been the ethics of production processes. While seeking to mirror an international biennale model, Kochi has, at the same time, produced its own, one formed by an active reflection on the conditions of participating artists. It is undeniable that the robust systems and infrastructure of the Singapore Biennale facilitate artists’ production, and provide them with significant financial support. Yet its problem is arguably its very efficiency, which operates on a streamlined, but largely uncritical model. The lack of flexibility surrounding Singapore’s infrastructure has also limited artists’ abilities to work in ways which do not adhere to its protocols. However, if Kochi’s key lesson is the value of giving artists the freedom to respond to a biennale’s conditions, it is also important not to romanticise infinite flexibility. Kochi’s aim of providing participating artists with a universal fee, for instance, reflects its organisers’ recognition of the benefits of certain protocols, particularly when it comes to financial compensation. Underlining this initiative is the danger of forming assumptions about different artists’ circumstances, and the importance of not alienating Kochi’s conditions from the latter. Perhaps only once such understandings are achieved—to paraphrase Anita Dube—can we imagine possibilities for “non-alienated biennales,” where production and “pedagogy [can] sit together and share a drink… and dance and sing and celebrate a [biennale] dream together.”59 Notes 1 Anita Dube, ‘Curatorial Note’, Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018: Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life, e-flux, https://www.e-flux.com/ announcements/211346/kochi-muziris-biennale-2018possibilities-for-a-non-alienated-life/ 2

ibid.

3

ibid.

4

Text by Maddie Klett, with contributions from Anita Dube, Anushka Rajendran, John Xavier and Samira Bose on Marzia Farhana, KochiMuziris Biennale 2018: Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life (exhib. cat.), Kerala: Kochi Biennale Foundation, 2018 5 Jo Sommerlad, ‘Kerala floods: What causes flash flooding and why has it been so severe in India?’, The Independent, 21 August 2018; https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/kerala-floods-latest-india-cause-flash-flooding-landslides-explained-a8500801.html 6 While Bose Krishnamachari continues to serve as President of the Kochi Biennale Foundation and Director of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Riyas Komu has since stepped down from his management positions; https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/kochi/riyas-komu-resigns-frombiennale-trust/articleshow/68505149.cms

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7 Veeranganakumari Solanki, ‘The Kochi-Muziris Biennale: Interview with Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu’, Culture 360, Asia-Europe Foundation, 14 January 2013; https://culture360.asef.org/magazine/kochi-muziris-biennale-interview-bose-krishnamachari-and-riyas-komu/ 8 Famous Indian writers from Kerala include Arundhati Roy, author of The God of Small Things (1997), which won the Booker Prize, and Kamala Surayya Das (1934-2009), who is widely known as one of India’s most radical feminists 9 My definition of contemporary art here relates to the Western neoliberal model, in which an artwork, by nature of its media (conceptual painting, new media), circulation (in global institutions and centres of contemporary art) and alignment with Western categories of art (postwar, postmodern), inscribes itself into the Western notion of “the contemporary”. Such a designation refers less to art made in the present (an expansive definition that would accommodate many forms of art) but to art which bears the visible markers of these media and categories. See Terry Smith, What is Contemporary Art?, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009 10

Melanie Pocock, ‘The Kochi-Muziris Biennale’, Third Text, 27:2, 2013, p. 291

11 See Kate Brown’s recent excellent analysis, ‘Biennials are proliferating worldwide. There’s just one problem: Nobody wants to pay for them’, Artnet, 21 March 2019; https://news.artnet.com/market/venice-biennale-hidden-costs-1493455 12 The total numbers of participating artists for Singapore Biennales to date have been: ninety-five in Belief (2006), fifty in Wonder (2008), sixty-three in Open House (2011), eighty-two in If the World Changed (2013), sixty-three in An Atlas of Mirrors (2016) and seventy in Every Step in the Right Direction (2019) 13

Jeannine Tang, ‘Spectacle’s politics and the Singapore Biennale’, Journal of Visual Culture 6:3, 2007, p. 365

14 Such protocols, for example, include the use of public sites, which are governed by Singapore’s various public authorities. To use these sites, artists and local institutions—even those under the national cluster—are required to submit formal applications. It is difficult to obtain permission to use sites if there are not adequate provisions for public safety, or if the intended use is deemed unsuitable for the purposes of the area. Compounding these issues are differences in working philosophies and cultures between ministries and their statutory boards. Approvals are only granted by directors and senior directors; very few executive decisions are delegated to middle management staff, which causes delays and a tendency to say ‘no’ instead of pursuing what often become lengthy processes 15 Sensitive subjects include the depiction of homosexual content, nudity and religion (where the latter could be considered “offensive” to the referenced community). See the Media Development Authority’s classification guidelines for more information; https://www2.imda.gov.sg/ regulations-and-licensing-listing/content-standards-and-classification/standards-and-classification/Arts-Entertainment 16 For a detailed discussion of cases and processes of arts censorship in Singapore (including Simon Fujiwara’s work in the 2011 Biennale) see Susie Lingham, ‘Art and Censorship in Singapore: Catch 22’, ArtAsiaPacific 76, 2011; http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/76/ ArtAndCensorshipInSingaporeCatch22 17

In the case of S. Chandrasekaran, a participant in the 2016 Singapore Biennale, An Atlas of Mirrors, the latter’s request for him to adapt his initial proposal led him to conducting a public “blood oath ceremony” in which he swore “never to perform in Singapore until [the proposal] was performed.” In their explanation as to why his initial proposal—which would have involved a walk-performance commemorating the contribution of nineteenth-century Indian convicts to the development of Singapore—was rejected, organisers Singapore Art Museum stated that the work’s “very strong visual bearings or similarities to a sacred and religious ceremony… could be deemed offensive or religiously sensitive for certain segments of the community.” See Reena Devi and Shamnuga Retnam, ‘Artist cuts himself, takes blood oath, after his performance piece was cut from the Singapore Biennale’, TODAY, updated 28 October 2016; https://www.todayonline.com/entertainment/arts/ artist-cuts-himself-takes-blood-oath-after-his-performance-piece-was-cut

18 To explain this point further, while standard artists’ contracts stipulate the institution’s and the artist’s shared responsibilities for the artist’s work, it is the artist who primarily coordinates and oversees the production of their work 19 Jeannine Tang, ‘Spectacle’s politics and the Singapore Biennale’. See also Charles Green and Anthony Gardner, Biennials, Triennials and documenta, Chichester: Wiley, Blackwell, 2016, for descriptions of the distinctions between biennials in different socio-economic contexts, and the phenomenon of biennales in Asia 20 Artistic directors of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale to date have been Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu (2012), Jitish Kallat (2014), Sudarshan Shetty (2016) and Anita Dube (2018). Singaporean artist Shubigi Rao has been appointed the artistic director of the fifth edition in 2020

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21

This observation draws on informal conversations I have had with different artists who have participated in these biennales as well as interviews conducted specifically for this text with artists Ho Rui An, Ho Tzu Nyen and Shubigi Rao, and curator Michael Lee 22

Shubigi Rao, ‘Tuning Fork of the Mind’, Universes in Universe, September 2008; https://universes.art/en/magazine/articles/2008/shubigi-rao

23

ibid.

24

Rao recalls that outfitting her allocated room at South Beach was a significant challenge. The heat generated by her installation’s blackcoloured room and video works led her to spending a portion of her artist’s fee on air conditioning. Shubigi Rao, conversation with the author, 16 September 2019 25

Maddie Klett, op cit.

26 The entire process of One Hundred and Nineteen Deeds of Sale (2018) involved the (originally) muddied garments first being displayed in Cape Town in September 2018. The garments were transported to India, where they were washed in a public laundry in Fort Kochi and rehung at the Biennale 27 Khim Ong, ‘If Only the Singapore Biennale Didn’t Change: Tracing the Four Editions of SB’, Article: The Singapore Biennale Review, Singapore: The International Association of Art Critics, 2013, p. 8. The mixture of public sites and gallery spaces in Open House (2011) could be seen as another result of the National Arts Council’s handover of the Biennale to Singapore Art Museum (which occurred mid-way through that edition’s development) 28

ibid.

29

Lee Weng Choy, ‘Singapore Biennale 2006: Belief’, caa reviews: A Publication of the College Art Association, 12 April 2007; www.ccareviews.org/reviews/964#.XS7fPZMzai4 30

Michael Lee, conversation with the author, 21 August 2019

31

ruangrupa, conversation with the author, 12 August 2019

32

Press release, Ho Tzu Nyen: Pythagoras, Michael Janssen Gallery; https://www.galeriemichaeljanssen.de/ho-tzu-nyen-pythagoras/

33

Ho Tzu Nyen, email to the author, 23 September 2019

34

ibid.

35 Ho’s epic, hour-long multi-disciplinary performance, Ten Thousand Tigers (2014), for example, was co-commissioned by Wiener Festwochen (Vienna Festival), Carriageworks, Sydney and the Asian Culture Complex-Asian Arts Theater in South Korea, and involved a travelling, configurable set, cast and technical crew 36

Kate Brown, ‘Biennials Are Proliferating Worldwide. There’s Just One Problem: Nobody Wants to Pay for Them’, op cit.

37

These figures have been confirmed by Michael Lee (co-curator of the 2016 Singapore Biennale) and Shubigi Rao (participant in the 2008 Singapore Biennale). Conversations with the author, 19 August and 16 September 2019 respectively 38 Budgets attributed for production can cover both physical fabrication, artists’ expenses, and contracted staff and assistants required to produce the project. Michael Lee, conversation with the author, 21 August 2019 39 ‘Rosalyn D’Mello on How The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is Remaking India’s links to the global artworld’, ArtReview Asia, Spring 2015; artreview.com/opinion/ara_spring_2015_opinion_rosalyn_dmello 40

Statement by Kochi Biennale co-founder, Riyas Komu, quoted in ibid.

41

Kochi Biennale Foundation, Annual Report: 2016-17, p. 73; http://www.kochimuzirisbiennale.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/AnnualReport-2016-17.pdf

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42

Ho Rui An, who has participated in both Kochi Biennale and the Gwangju Biennale, describes needing to apply for National Arts Council funding in order to underwrite costs associated with travel, research and production. Ho Rui An, conversation with the author, 18 September 2019

43

The reason for this is because the Kochi Biennale Foundation does not yet have a permit from the Indian Government to receive foreign funds. The FCRA (Foreign Contributions Regulation Act) regulates individuals and associations’ receipt of foreign funds. The aim of the act is to prevent individuals’ and organisations’ acceptance of foreign funds for activities that would be detrimental to the national interest. Kochi Biennale Foundation, email to Melanie Pocock, 29 October 2019 44 Artists who are not represented by commercial galleries, or whose work does not circulate in the art market often find it difficult to secure support, for instance. See also Kate Brown, ‘Biennials Are Proliferating Worldwide…’, op cit. 45

Shubigi Rao and Ho Rui An, conversations with the author, 16 and 18 September 2018 respectively

46

Kochi Biennale Foundation, email to the author, 29 October 2019

47

This could mean artists discriminated against as a result of their race, gender, political beliefs or socio-economic background. These factors, whether at an application or canvassing stage, or earlier in life, can limit artists’ possibilities to galvanise financial support for their work 48

Shubigi Rao, conversation with the author, 16 September 2019

49 ibid. Among locals, the Biennale is also widely known as “The People’s Biennale”. See Balamohan Shingade, ‘Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018: Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Life’, Art-Agenda, 18 January 2019; https://www.art-agenda.com/features/250382/kochi-muziris-biennale2018-possibilities-for-a-non-alienated-life 50 Outreach programs conducted by the Kochi Biennale include the Students’ Biennale, an exhibitionary platform which encourages art students from art colleges across South Asia to reflect on their practice and exhibit on an international stage, and ‘Let’s talk’, a public conversation forum that explores topics related to cultural practice, and which runs throughout the year; https://kochimuzirisbiennale.org/ 51 To expand this point further, many artists and arts professionals feel that Singapore is currently suffering from a glut of arts institutions and activity: from the enormous site and programming of the National Gallery Singapore to the city-state’s various country-themed and national arts festivals, which include the Singapore International Festival of the Arts, da:ns (the dance festival programmed by The Esplanade), and the Singapore International Film Festival. The dominant perception, however, is that all this activity is achieving (proportionately) little in terms of increasing locals’ engagement with contemporary art 52

Michael Lee, conversation with the author, 21 August 2019

53

Ho Rui An, conversation with the author, 18 September 2019

54

Ho Rui An’s subsequent lecture performances include Screen Green (2015-16), DASH (2016) and Asia the Unmiraculous (2018–) See https://horuian.com/ 55

Ho Rui An, conversation with the author, 18 September 2019

56

ibid.

57

Shooshie Sulaiman, conversation with the author, 20 September 2019

58

ibid.

59

Anita Dube, ‘Curatorial Note’, op cit.

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Writing on The Run: A Midpoint Rumination on Curating The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2020 South Asia’s largest arts festival, and with the upcoming edition now running for four months instead of the usual three, the scale of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is diverse, intense, and immersive. In just over four editions the Kochi-Muziris Biennale has become a crucial platform for regional and international art and discourse in South Asia. Situated largely on the island of Fort Kochi in the state of Kerala, the KMB is the embodiment of Kochi’s rich histories and cultures, a pluralism that predates the Western Enlightenment. Incidentally, this ethos made its way into the artwork I made as an artist in the last edition in 2018, where I stayed for almost two months in Kochi, researching and developing a short film and installation of a semi-fictional history of book-smugglers. Using existing letters and records from Kochi’s libraries and archives, and based on my interactions with local librarians, paper pulpers, and junk and boatyard workers, I examined “loss, the indecipherable, migrancy, displacement and cross-cultural experience—one that is as much about the movement of ideas and language as it is about the political and economic legacies of power structures.”1 For a biennale that has always been artist-led, every edition of the KMB allows for an unconventional exercise in curating. As curator of the 2020 Biennale, and as an artist in conversations with other artists, I think about curating the Kochi-Muziris Biennale beyond the final production. Process, method, technique, undercurrents and original contexts are more than background, and the challenge is to ensure that the exhibition doesn’t descend into a flattening spectacle, and the invariable fatigue of encountering so many artworks doesn’t devolve into shallow readings. There are multiple ways to alleviate this, which is why the KMB commissions new work, and encourages production on-site where possible. But it also becomes vital to recognise the importance of going beyond site as encompassing frame. It is important to ensure that sites (especially heritage sites with immense historical baggage) do not supersede the works displayed. Ideally sites can provide sensory or cognitive cues to viewers that would, I hope, make the reading of regional specificities more fluid. This in turn leads to the next challenge—how can one retain regional contexts of artworks from across the globe?

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Perhaps one method would be to recognise the way so many of these contexts intersect. An obvious example would be how postcolonial nations continue to grapple with generational trauma, and how artists navigate the collisions of borders, communities, languages, media and so on when negotiating this. These approaches may be similar or divergent, but what is notable is that they remain imperatives that are still current, especially when thinking about the way so much of the global South continues to cater to the North in terms of resources, but also in the neo-colonising of nations as ideological battlegrounds. It isn’t simply about the ‘balance of power’—itself a hierarchical phrase that denies other forms of power within communities and collectives—but about recognising that the rhetoric that privileges certain groups over others is already being reframed or dismantled, and a key aspect of this reframing involves the acknowledgement of intersecting contexts. I’m especially enthused by the effectiveness of collectives in decolonising and recording subsumed histories. BEYOND REGION In formulating the curatorial structure of a biennale such as Kochi-Muziris, it is important to consider the problem of constructing region. As the first curator who isn’t based in India, and as a Singaporean, I am excited by the opportunity to spotlight the vivid practices and discourses in Southeast Asia, while simultaneously being troubled by this geographical classification The main reason, for me, will always be the dangers of the appeal to authority, or the claim to speak on behalf of a region from a position of knowledge that, as a curator, is sometimes expected. Classifications such as “South Asia” or “Southeast Asia” are difficult to reconcile. They appear to bring together states that diverge quite radically, but also given the complex geo-politics, histories, and cultures with porous ‘boundaries’ here, “South Asia” would present them as a supposedly unified geographical region. Personally, these terms are especially troubling because it assumes that we must read this rich tapestry, this multiplicity, primarily as state (or nation) first. This is especially applicable when we see how the interaction between cultures or communities is invariably framed as transnational or statist, where national identity is regarded as the signifier of all parties in the conversation. At the same time I do recognise the importance of cultural production (in thinking, writing and in making) in postcolonial states having to grapple with what constitutes statehood, nation-building, and regional allyship, and in recognising other forms of power within communities and collectives. Critical cultural production here is also about recognising that the rhetoric that privileges certain groups over others is already being reframed or dismantled, and that a key aspect of this reframing involves the acknowledgement of intersecting contexts. I have always been wary of the designation of a single city or state as a ‘hub’, or centre of cultural production. Almost every Baltic and East European city I visited claimed to be the “next Berlin”as if that were a validation of cultural accomplishment.2 This anxiety of being included in the hegemonic idea of Western Europe and its definitions of what constitutes the currency of contemporary cultural practice narrowly demarcates the default position within which we can discuss practice, action, thinking, and the urgencies of our time. As one of the gallerist Kalfayan brothers put it, “Why the next Berlin? Why not the next Hong Kong, or the next Beirut, the next Sao Paulo?” If any city can claim to be (forgive the neologism) a ‘spokesite’ or cultural centre, surely these cities are more vital.3

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The perception of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale being only regional is an assumption that I am unwilling to make. It seems to be rooted in the perception that sites outside the global North are, by simple virtue of location, necessarily regional. Historically, Kochi has traded (in its ancient form as Muziris) over two thousand years ago with Mesopotamia, Babylon, Assyria and Egypt. Its trading history is rich and continued even under its colonisation by the Portuguese, Dutch and English. Where there is trade there are exchanges of ideas, cultures, religions and languages,4 and so it could be argued that Kochi has always been internationalist. Where the KMB might be considered regional would be in its localness, in its connection to Kochi. It’s one of the first things noticeable when visiting the Biennale—the way its residents have a personal involvement, with strong opinions about the art and artists of each edition. At the announcement of my appointment as curator, I had spoken of the way biennales are often akin to floating cities that are unmoored from their locality or regionality. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale is unique in that it is rooted in the intertwined histories and cultural multiplicities of Kochi, while providing a crucial platform for a larger discourse of the critical, political and social impulses in artistic practices. To shift the lens through which we read the spectacle of exhibition, especially biennale spectacle, dialogue and practice must be repositioned through acknowledging intersecting narratives, and retain, as much as possible, the original contexts of the works. I believe it is possible for the KMB to retain regional realities and histories through cementing existing affinities and establishing new commons. A biennale such as this is also a way to distinguish the majority world from Euro-American perspectives, and to postulate alternative strategies to exhibition-making. While acknowledging the criticisms of biennales, it is necessary to parse what aspects of regional biennales can contribute to the sustainability of the scene, and to the disruption of linear chronologies. The KMB holds the potential to demonstrate non-entrenched ways of looking at, exhibiting and making art from the majority world. COMMONS AS CRUCIBLE Perhaps this why I can imagine the Kochi-Muziris Biennale as being more than a cultural staging area, but a crucible within which these intersecting discourses and practices can occur. A biennale is so much more than a mere accumulation of coincidental collisions. As a possible knowledge commons, the conversations that would emerge from the exhibition, the seminars and other programming would be vital in demonstrating the diversity of strategies that artists employ. Our commingled digital futures are inextricable from the transmission of knowledge, ideas and capital, and so too are we subject to neoliberal infiltration and control. Though we may share the same concerns of land, migration, the climate crisis, rising autocratic regimes, and embedded technology and surveillance, for instance, we diverge in our methods and approaches in thinking and in making. This is what I’ve been looking for during my curatorial research and travel during 2019. This diversity of strategies, methods, and production can be emphasised and shared. This is not new, and is evident in, for instance, the significant work increasingly being done by artist collectives. A powerful example would be the multiple acts of remembering and reintegrating precolonial community-based thinking and practices in performance. Active decolonising initiatives, unearthing of overlooked histories and bodies of knowledge—all these are of keen interest to my plans for the KMB, as they have always been in my work as an artist. As for the Biennale’s focus on the global South, I am not aiming at only emphasising solidarities, but to also recognise the contradictions inherent in any notion of all-encompassing terms. Localness has its problems as much as sweeping or essentialist ideas of what constitutes the l

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Writing on The Run: A Midpoint Rumination on Curating The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2020

discourses and practices of the global South. Aspects that speak more of localness to me are the divergent methods and approaches employed when talking about geopolitical borders, for instance. While certain South Asian practices tend to focus on land, Southeast Asian practices that address the same geopolitical concerns look towards the sea. These terrains are method, metaphor and medium to examine concerns as wide-ranging as issues of ownership, rights, displacement and exile, landscape and ecologies, human interactions with other species, and natural rhythms and human impact, bodily autonomy, idealised and failed bodies and gendered violence, post-industrial devastation and regenerative propositions. The concept of nation and inviolability of borders is a depressingly pernicious myth that denies the diffusion of languages and ideas, and the way digital spread resists nationalisms. We can see this reflected in growing investigative methods in artistic practices that directly excavate and implicate the monetisation of everything—environment, activism, crisis, knowledge production, transmissions and access, global capital flows and inequities. Perhaps the difference here is the rejection of the narrative as singular, choosing instead an embracing of submerged and manifold stories, and where and how and through whose agencies they diverge. Across South Asia, East and Southeast Asia, West Africa and South America, I have encountered a number of practices that demonstrate a sureness of context and purpose. Of special note are those that examine the politics of language hegemonies, historical record, suppressed or vanishing languages and indigenous ways of life. This is cause for optimism as well as damning counterpoint to hegemonic and monolithic narratives. Sometimes embodying a spectacular materiality and tactility, these works range from the filmic, literary and text-based, or even nonverbal and nonmaterial articulations, to critical reinventions of craft traditions and performative gesture. The critical reinventions here refer not just to the influence of traditional medium, tactility, texture, technique and craft. There is a strong understanding of generational heritage as disruptor of hierarchical global market forces, convention, and fickle trend. I’m excited too by the growth and quality of art historians, archivists and writers in Southeast Asia, a number of whom are also working with living artists and artists’ spaces. THE BIENNALE AS BULWARK One of the guiding principles behind my practice as an artist and writer is the maxim that it is not necessary to be effectual in one’s time. This acceptance of pace of change, but more importantly the recognition of the impossibility of quantifying effectiveness, has allowed me to spend a decade at a time on single projects. In my current position however, it is possible that for the first time, the work can be effectual, or at the very least, provide the necessary opportunity for eventually effective work. So while I accept the various criticisms of the biennale as a vehicle for activism I think it is important to recognise that political awareness does not inevitably mean humourless, dour, overearnest or aesthetically lacking art. Such simplistic dichotomies are reductive and dismissive of what is patently obvious—that artists are as affected by their environment, as much as shared urgencies and critical turning points in discourse. To argue for a non-political biennale (and what does that mean?) is to argue for intellectual and creative isolation from lived experiences, realities, fears and aspirations. I might go so far as to call it reductive escapism, a pernicious desire to separate artist from environment, and art from lived context.

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One of the desires of cultural institutions, artists, writers, academics, etc. is to contend with the urgencies of their times. In doing so it is easy to become disenchanted with, or apathetic about the state of our societies, our collective futures, and the planet. Yet I would argue that our fears for the future do not detract from our abilities to think and to make, but fuel our yearning to articulate through art the complexities of our realities. This affirming power of artistic work, no matter the medium, has been a keystone in my practice, and will continue to inform my curatorial work for the KMB. I have an unshakeable conviction in the power of storytelling as strategy, and of the transgressive and transformative potential of satire and humour. Optimism in practice—in artistic practice and collective work, especially in regional or local contexts and forms—includes questions like the possibly redemptive and revolutionary power of practice beyond the market. This has underpinned my practice (and especially when I’ve made new artwork for biennales) and is an important aspect of my curatorial research. The biennale as a bulwark against despair may seem a laughable idea. But the ability of our species to flourish artistically in fraught and dire situations, this refusal in the face of disillusionment to disavow our poetry, our languages, our art and music, our optimism and humour, is a stubbornness to be celebrated, as are the communities that come together to make this happen. This is what I hope to foreground in the next edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. IN SUMMARIUM I’m writing this almost exactly a year to the date of the opening of the KMB in 2020. This coincides with the end of one seemingly dismal decade. We seem doomed to repeat the mistakes of history: note how much of contemporary geo-political farce and tragedy is performed by those secure and smug in the supremacy and primacy of their culture, their language, their nation, their tribe, their religion, their ideology and their ‘values’. The inability to read the cultures and mentalities outside one’s own is a miserable state, of one that we should be ashamed, not smug. A commons then, is not just an archive that holds in stasis till activated. It is prolific, shapeshifting, and impure. Here we can read and listen, here meaning and implication can be glimpsed, parsed, reinterpreted and so live on in the minds of others, an ever expanding, rerouting, mutating web. This web also reaches across narrow geography, theological and political concerns—solidarity crosses over, solidarity in the shared ideal, whether it be free speech, free press, individual liberty, defining the spirit of the law and jurisprudence, and the emancipation of people. The intersections of people and incidents, flashpoints of censorship and sites, all point to the crucial importance of the political, cultural, literary, scientific and philosophical climate necessary for ideas to thrive and flourish. There is unsurprisingly no perfect concatenation of circumstances, times or epochal characteristics necessary for groundbreaking work, ideas or revolutions. The human need to think freely without proscription, in spite of, and sometimes because of repression, all point to the way we react to conflict. The only enemy is apathy. That has no name or face, and it lies entwined with its bedfellow—self-censorship. Given that a number of us are subject to the latter what can be effectual in the work that we do? How does my work as an artist and writer, examining the history of cultural destruction and resistance, and the constructions of knowledge commons, inform my work as a curator here? Over the last decade of practice I’ve come to believe that the act of writing is not a solitary process. As I travel alone across the globe as part of my curatorial research for the 5th edition of the KochiMuziris Biennale in 2020, I’ve unexpectedly felt this harden into a conviction that even the most seemingly solitary of endeavours or journeys is not inherently isolationist, but derives its impetus from that wellspring of collective knowledge and ideas. The many voices that populate and inform l

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Writing on The Run: A Midpoint Rumination on Curating The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2020

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Every Step in The Right Direction: Singapore 1819-2019 l

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Every Step in The Right Direction: Singapore 1819-2019

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Sotto Voce: What If We Haven’t Yet Asked The Right Questions? l

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Sotto Voce: What If We Haven’t Yet Asked The Right Questions?

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Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Biennale: Experiences of Conditions of Production in the Kochi-Muziris and Singapore Biennales l

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Possibilities for a Non-Alienated Biennale: Experiences of Conditions of Production in the Kochi-Muziris and Singapore Biennales

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Latent Images: Vanghoua Anthony Vue’s Mediated ‘Photography’

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Many Undulating Things l

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Many Undulating Things

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The 2019 Aichi Triennale: Notes on ‘After “Freedom of Expression?”’ l

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The 2019 Aichi Triennale: Notes on ‘After “Freedom of Expression?”’

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Contemporary Worlds and The Great Debate l

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Contemporary Worlds and The Great Debate

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Writing on The Run: A Midpoint Rumination on Curating The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2020 l

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Writing on The Run: A Midpoint Rumination on Curating The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2020

our processes of thought, action and choices, are evident in the realisation and manifestation of those choices, and in the ease in which so many disparate practices from across diverse regions can be comprehended with surprisingly few barriers. It helps that artists tend to gravitate towards similar or linked issues, and grapple with shared urgencies, even though their methods and approaches may differ greatly. It is these differences that I find so intriguing, in part because they speak to the particular contexts or specific environments within which artists think, live and practice. Sometimes this can be easily seen as regional specificities, beyond mere essentialism. I’ve also had the joy of experiencing practices where a particular sensibility is borne from a mismatch between personality and the suffocating conformity of peer and prevailing ideas. Sometimes this is evident in the sort of humour that we recognise as an exercise of survival and resistance against brutal totalitarianism, but sometimes the humour is aphoristically poetic, perverse, deliciously bizarre, and quietly tangential in a completely unexpected and revelatory way. One of my favourite encounters was with an artist whose work effortlessly crossed very fraught class and political divides through one of the funniest forms of endurance performance I have seen. It also demonstrated the anarchic absurdity at the heart of a lot of endurance performances that sometimes gets overlooked. There is optimism in the darkest humour even, and this is what leavens the direness our time. It is in the robustness of humour that we can imagine the possibility of kinship, and remember that we are not isolated in this fight. Notes 1 From the curatorial wall text by Anita Dube, curator of Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018 2

I heard this from heads of cultural institutions, state museums in particular, but also from sundry artists, curators, and writers

3

My discomfort with this is part of the same unease with which a biennale’s curator is suddenly a spokesperson for region

4

A Tamil collection of poetry from the period, the Akananuru, has exquisite descriptions of these interactions. In Pliny’s Natural History, he refers to Muziris as the “first emporium of India”

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Latent Images: Vanghoua Anthony Vue’s Mediated ‘Photography’ In his early teens, Sydney-born Hmong-Australian artist Vanghoua Anthony Vue became aware of a sensation of floating between two places. The experiences that his family underwent in Laos and Thailand before arriving in Australia in 1988 left in him a latent memory of another place. Now Brisbane-based, Vue expresses this “sense of home” in Australia rubbing against a sense of home elsewhere.1 Reflecting on the theme of belonging in his doctoral thesis, Vue describes the personal relevance of Australian academic Jill Bennett’s questioning of any permanent notion of ‘home’, where the trauma and affect expert asks, “[is] home the place where I was born, the place my ancestors came from, the place where I am now?”2 In this transient context to ‘belong’ to a place is a process of constant negotiation in the present and a remembrance of past lives and places. This text focuses particularly on the themes of history and memory within Vue’s art, and does this through an engagement firstly with the context of the repeated displacement of the Hmong people, before considering how his series Fading Marks (2015-16) and its mediated photographic influence elaborates on the complexity of trauma and remembrance. This series of fifty-two paintings strongly connects to a psychological experience of migration and the residual longing for a site or era that is no longer readily accessible, due to conflict, time elapsed, or simply geographical distance. In Vue’s case, his parents experience as refugees fleeing the secret war in Laos had an indelible impact on their livelihoods and those of their children—the central inspiration behind these paintings. As Vue presents his most ambitious installation work to date at the 2019 Singapore Biennale, a sitespecific work that draws from the lessons of Fading Marks, this text concludes with an analysis of this new artwork in the context of the artist’s broader practice. HMONG TEXTILE TRADITIONS REINVENTED That Vue’s work frequently reflects on an experience and perception of place is unsurprising in the context of his Hmong heritage. An ethnic group described as residing predominantly in China and Southeast Asia, Hmong history is marked by migration, persecution, and diasporic life across various countries. Where the Hmong originate from is still contested. Possible locations include the Huang He or Yellow River basin of Central China, southern China,3 the steppes of Siberia,4 Mongolia, and even Mesopotamia.5 Recalling the transient meaning of ‘home’ by Bennett, a notion of an ‘original’ home seems in flux across scholarship. As American academic Keith Quincy importantly l

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notes, reflecting on their migratory life, though the Hmong have “wandered for centuries over the face of China and southeast Asia,” it was oppression that kept them on the move, rather than wanderlust.6 Thai academic Prasit Leepreecha recognises transience and diaspora as part of Hmong identity, describing them as a “transnational” people.7 Displacement has persisted as a threat for the Hmong for centuries—since migration from China began in the late eighteenth century due to attempts at “cultural subjugation” by the Chinese,8 they began to settle in northern Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and the east of Burma.9 Amongst Hmong communities in these countries, a tourist trade of making and selling their vibrant and distinctive textiles to Western visitors has flourished since the mid-1950s, and become a widely known characteristic of their culture.10 Vue’s art is a multidisciplinary fever dream of hi-vis tape, photography, painting, sculpture and site-specific installation. Moving across mediums frequently allows Vue to avoid stereotype and challenge expectations that he sees as frequently projected on artists from minority backgrounds. Vue’s research-based practice is guided by his experience as a first-generation person of Hmong and Australian heritage. Hmong visual culture, especially paj ntaub (flower cloth), their distinctive textile traditions of geometric and often overtly colourful clothing designs, is regularly melded into his art. These predominantly matrilineal traditions function in a layered way: as a “signifier of ethnic identity… [and] different subgroups,” the wealth of the wearer and their family, as well as for its “spiritual and protective functions, as the designs and patterns are thought to provide a safeguard to the person wearing the textile from physical and spiritual harm.”11 Beginning with hemp cloth, batik and/or embroidery is incorporated to create finely detailed designs. Particular colours are associated with certain sub-groups of the Hmong, with the Black Hmongs utilising dark indigoes and the Flower Hmong favouring more exuberant colours. Strong beliefs persist in Hmong culture around the use of a hidden visual language within their clothing, based on an ancient Hmong writing system that had to be secretly incorporated into designs to escape its destruction during Chinese oppression.12 Vue sustains and reinvents paj ntaub in his practice by combining these traditions with materials drawn from the ‘Australian’ visual lexicon to generate transcultural objects or compositions. In his recent series Hmong-visibility (2019), Vue repurposes hi-visibility workwear commonly seen on Australian building construction sites. Working collaboratively with his relative Mai Yia Her, Vue introduced pre-made Hmong-style textile pieces, beads, and other accessories drawn from his daily life into the surface of clothing, such as legionnaires caps and singlets, complicating and personalising these long-held traditions in a contemporary context. The bright palette of contemporary Hmong textiles also inspires Vue’s public interventions as part of his ongoing “tape-affiti” works (2015–). Utilising high-vis industrial tape on buildings and windows, Vue translates formal aspects of Hmong language, referring back to their hidden presence within clothing and incorporating designs inspired by these histories to create striking urban installations. Referencing the spiritual and protective functions of paj ntaub, these abstract and layered compositions both assert Hmong identity, but also offer an ameliorative purpose within the spaces they temporarily inhabit. As a self-identified contemporary transcultural artist, Vue’s art contributes to “definitions of identities that are not based on difference and essentialism but rather on processes of negotiation and experimentation… exploiting the mistranslations with which cultural hegemonies often apply to those in marginal and peripheral positions.”13 By drawing the eye of the viewer through fluorescent hues and geometric patterns, Vue affirms Hmong identity in an Australian context, as well as their agency more broadly in a world that easily forgets past acts of oppression.

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PHOTOGRAPHY, TRAUMA, AND MEMORY The Hmong’s displacement continued in the twentieth century amongst the widespread conflict in Southeast Asia as part of the Second Indochina War (1955-75). The United States military and CIA led covert operations in Laos that began in 1957, training a guerrilla resistance force of predominantly Hmong people, along with the Royal Lao Government forces, to hold back the Communist Pathet Lao backed by North Vietnam and several divisions of invading North Vietnamese (NVA) during a ground war conducted between 1962 to 1973.14 The Vietnamese communists sought the control of Laos for its strategic value, specifically the Ho Chi Minh Trail and its significant supply and transport capacity, just as American forces saw the country as a key firewall against communism’s spread through Southeast Asia.15 The ‘secret’ war’s clandestine nature was due to Laos’ status alongside Cambodia and Vietnam as neutral territories determined in the 1954 Geneva Agreements, established after the end of French colonial rule.16 All foreign powers except France were prohibited l

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Latent Images: Vanghoua Anthony Vue’s Mediated ‘Photography’

from establishing or maintaining bases in the country, or introducing new troops, military personnel, armaments, and munitions.17 This ruling frustrated the USA, specifically President Eisenhower who saw Laos as the first “domino” in the broader region.18 In addition to the ground war, the US Air Force conducted the heaviest bombardment of a country per capita in history across Laos between 1964 and 1973—580,000 bombing missions took place and two million tons were dropped, equivalent to one every eight minutes for nearly nine years.19 By 1973 communist forces controlled the majority of strategic regions in Laos. With the US in a process of disengagement from Vietnam, it slowed and then ceased its funding and support to the resistance and the Hmong. By May 1975 the Pathet Lao occupied the country’s major cities and asserted control over Laos. Thirty-five thousand Hmong died fighting in the conflict, a significant number considering the relative size of the Laotian Hmong population. Many were interned in concentration camps, with the rest either siding with the Pathet Lao, resisting through further armed conflict, or fleeing the country. By 1988, the year of Vue’s birth in Sydney, 130,000 Hmong had migrated to Thailand. Vue’s parents, who had fled as part of this exodus, eventually left Thailand, emigrating to Australia. Despite its overt brutality, Laos’ secret war is a conflict endangered by public amnesia. Due to official US denials and partly general indifference in the shadow of the broader and more prominent conflicts that make up the Second Indochina War, full public acknowledgement and thus official remembrance remains fraught and contested. Since 2015, Vue has begun to engage with these histories through the medium of photography because of its use as a factual record, but his engagements with images are consistently mediated by different practices or material approaches, rarely presented as direct examples of their base medium. In Vue’s series Fading Marks, fifty-two small format paintings in oil and acrylic on wood each engage with a single photographic still, drawn from a portfolio of images of the conflict compiled by the artist. In Untitled #31 (2015), a background bloom of central white light isolates a small, blurred paratrooper floating downwards—our recognition of his minute form assisted by the billowing, jellyfish-like parachute unfurled above. Another soldier drops into the top right frame, though his chute only briefly registers as it is engulfed amongst the cold, grey glaucoma that vignettes the scene. Untitled #8 (2015) also depicts a bloom of central white light, yet in this work it is bisected by a horizon line made by an airplane wing. At the heart of the work and the wing, an aircraft engine looms with its propellers spinning, the force of the blades seeming to almost push eddies of paint out from it. Small particles of light or dust appear to blow around it. The clarity of both works, like the other fifty in the series, is compromised by a sort of fog or atmosphere that rests across the picture plane—as if we look upon these moments through a semiopaque lens. These works speak to the difficulty of remembrance in a climate of denial—across time, distance, and even different generations. Each depicts a scene from the broader conflict of the war in Laos. Though Vue did not directly witness the trauma and violence his parents experienced, he notes his position as part of what Polish-American academic Eva Hoffman calls the “hinge generation” —descendants of primary witnesses who inherit a transferred knowledge of events.20 This transference occurred for Vue predominantly during his childhood as his parents recounted their past—through personal reflection, as well as via media such as the 1997 documentary film Hmong & General Vang Pao: The Secret War in Laos, 1960-1975, itself an amalgamation of other video resources.21 As children, Vue and his siblings were sat down by their parents to watch the film in their home, accompanied by their father’s corrective or supportive narration. Where many sought to overlook these events, Vue’s upbringing was characterised by an active engagement, led by his family, to remember this

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trauma and its impacts—though Vue notes the reluctance (or perhaps inability) of his mother to fully recall the depths of these experiences.22 The sense of visual delay that these works embody echoes an experience of trauma that Sigmund Freud refers to as “a feature one might term latency.”23 As American literary theorist and academic Cathy Caruth describes in her analysis of Freud’s term, what is curious about his engagement with the inherent lag of traumatic experience is that the, historical power of the trauma is not just that the experience is repeated after its forgetting, but that it is only in and through its inherent forgetting that it is first experienced at all. And it is this inherent latency of the event that paradoxically explains the peculiar, temporal structure, the belatedness, of historical experience: since the traumatic event is not experienced as it occurs, it is fully evident only in connection with another place, and in another time.24 Vue’s paintings appear caught beneath this weight, this belated experience of events so disruptive that to have lived through it is only felt afterwards. For Vue personally, as a member of the following “hinge generation”, the afterlife of his parents’ past recalls what Marianne Hirsch labels “postmemory”. Hirsch argues that this term reflects a secondary memory that is constructed by the descendants of primary witnesses, the inheritance of a past that is still being worked through.25 As a sort of painterly postmemory, these works describe a process of complex, diverted recollection. This sense of temporal drag is generated through Vue’s studio process. As he began research for these works, Vue downloaded the same documentary from YouTube, taking film stills from this digital copy, printing them and then working from these in his studio. He utilised multiple layers of thinned paint to construct the scenes, effaced their legibility by sanding back particular areas between applications, as well as blurring other sections with a softer brush. Dust and debris caught amid each layer were allowed to settle, generating imperfections that added to the works’ veiled ambiance. Through these approaches, Vue visualises a conflicted reflection, challenging typical notions of photography’s role of bearing witness. Vue’s mediated engagement with photographic sources recalls similar approaches in the work of artists such as Gerhard Richter, or Christian Boltanski’s expanded and degraded images. British art historian Joan Gibbons, in her analysis of the work of Boltanski—whose practice engages with the Holocaust, memory, and photography —considers his art’s invocation of “the having-been-thereness of the photographic index,” its imbued sense of the present moment which Boltanski’s work actively tries to erode.26 Vue’s work seems to recall these practices, generating in its own right a powerful tension between bearing witness and attempts to overlook traumatic events. Though Vue seems to reflect critically in these works on history’s capacity for full representation of the past, they remain importantly ambivalent. For one, these images still hold a deep relevance to his familial circle and to the Hmong people—of the past’s events, which they continue to recall for themselves and their children. They also speak to the recognition of an inherent temporal rip at the heart of our lives, pulling our experiences and memories toward inevitable oblivion. Hmong culture, based as it is in a strong tradition of oral language and history, places significant value in the role of memory. As Australian historian Paula Hamilton and American academic Linda Shopes note, oral history as a process is inherently reliant on it.27 As people who have experienced significant trauma due to exile and attempts at diminishing their role in history, memory—personal, familial, social—is crucial to Hmong experience. Far from dismissive of remembrance, Vue infuses these works instead with a reverent energy that runs counter to the visual ‘forgetting’ that the picture plane seems to describe. When viewing these works in person, a halo of l

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colour reflects from the wall behind them—generated by Vue’s practice of painting the back of each work with bright pink and orange or yellow and green fluorescents. Their glow seems to push the works off the wall and toward the viewer, subtly asserting themselves in a way that runs counter to the overcast sky palette of the picture. Rather than fully dissipating, like a drop of ink in an ocean—as these paintings seem to threaten—each work’s aura grounds their presence in the now. Though these events from Laos’ secret war appear to struggle against attempted repression before our eyes, these works subtly celebrate the inevitable return of these experiences—their life extended through their active recollection by the living. SINGAPORE, SITE, ARCHIVES, PATTERNS With the increasing relevance of non-traditional means of recording the past, such as Vue’s work, Hirsch (in speculating on the capacity for memory to offer something that history cannot, relevant to attempts to diminish the history of Hmong) notes a growing “need for aesthetic and institutional structures that broaden and enlarge the traditional historical archive with a ‘repetoire’ of embodied knowledge,” an area of previous neglect by many historians that is broadly labelled as “memory studies.”28 Yet, as cultural memory academic Andreas Huyssen provocatively speculates, “[what] good is the memory archive? How can it deliver what history alone no longer seems to be able to offer?”29 Building on the investigation into the secret war in Laos and its aftermath that he began in Fading Marks, Vue’s proposal for the 2019 Singapore Biennale, Present–past–patterns (2019), considers the possibilities for presenting a memory archive that conflates official documentation with the personal. Every Step in the Right Direction, the title of this year’s Biennale, represents faith, according to Artistic Director Patrick Flores, in “the potential of art (and its understanding) to rework the world,”30 a sentiment that is strong within Vue’s practice, and perhaps reflecting art’s capacity to function as Hirsch’s “‘repetoire’ of embodied knowledge.” Present–past–patterns is a site-specific response to the public spaces of Singapore’s Gillman Barracks arts centre. It continues Vue’s engagement with images, yet here they are drawn from a cross-section of archives: the official of state-sanctioned repositories, the semi-official of the internet, and the personal family album. By melding photographs drawn from each of these sources into a ‘fabric’ of public consumption, Vue challenges dominant modes of remembrance, conflating and comparing the traditional and non-traditional. In his proposal, Vue describes the Hmong’s consistent relegation to “the perimeters of celebrations of nation-hood—absorbed, forgotten and relegated to the margins as ‘colourful ethnic others’… their history often ‘covered over’ or ‘weaved out’ from official historical accounts and from public knowledge.”31 Taking stills from the 1997 documentary that informed Fading Marks, Vue also incorporates images found through the University of WisconsinMadison Libraries’ important Laotian and Hmong image archives of life within the country during the war, as well as found images from the internet of key locations from the conflict, such as the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp in Thailand. Vue situates his familial history within this context through the inclusion of photographs also drawn from his family’s albums, showing his parents’ life within this camp after fleeing Laos and prior to relocating to Australia. Vue selects, crops, edits and then collages images from these sources to create black and white photo-patterns that he applies to the walls and wraps around the columns of a number of the Barracks’ outdoor spaces. These patterns retain this same sense of ambivalence that Vue’s earlier paintings presented. The original source image becomes the basis for a broader, melded digital effect that threatens to become ‘wallpaper’, as if challenging the viewer to overlook the reality of the subject matter. The threat of the decorative

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seems further implied by the pattern’s subtle similarity to that of Hermann Rorschach’s inkblot tests, originally utilised as part of psychological testing, but now ubiquitous on Pinterest. Vue’s interest in engaging with audiences in public spaces, as evidenced by his ongoing commitment to public art commissions across his career to date, is one that connects broadly with Korean-American art historian Miwon Kwon’s redefinition of site specificity, away from its association with permanence and immobility during its birth in the land art of the 1960s and 1970s, towards its “impermanence and transience”32 of today, in an era of mass migration and global biennials. This temporal and transient publicness is present in the materiality of Vue’s installation —constructed from self-adhesive and removable vinyl, Present–past–patterns will itself migrate from this site at the conclusion of the exhibition. Though temporary, Vue ensures its overt visibility through his framing of the black and white photo-patterns with bands of bright fluorescents that evoke the same palette and glow of the Fading Marks series. Recalling too the ‘tape-affiti’ of earlier public works, Vue alternates high-vis fluoro pink and green duct tape to create vivid strips of powerful exclamation. Covering the ‘borders’ of the site, such as the ‘cuffs’ and ‘socks’ of the structural columns, the edges of the roofs, or the ‘kickboards’ of steps, Vue’s lurid additions challenge attempts at erasure of Hmong presence, as these colours refer to, despite still being relegated to peripheral architectural areas. Though these also may threaten to be read purely as decorative elements, Vue incorporates into some areas codified writings influenced by personal experiences, including the loss and retention of language, the experience of bilingualism, the legacy of Hmong writing systems and textile designs, and his own interest in typography and graffiti. This same tension of legibility and erasure visible in Fading Marks is expanded in Present–past–patterns on a new, more impactful scale. Vue’s recent engagement with photography and archival resources, and the Singapore Biennale commission Present–past–patterns, represents an important shift in his practice toward themes of history, memory, trauma, and the difficulties inherent to representing the past. As ‘memory archives’, Vue’s works establish a powerful dichotomy between dominant cultural hegemonies and personal recollection. By visually describing the latency of traumatic experience and the qualities of postmemory, Vue’s art challenges official attempts at forgetting—instead, asserting Hmong identity and belonging through personal, familial and cultural memory. Notes 1 Vanghoua Anthony Vue, ‘Frictions of Difference–Transcultural Reimaginations, Reinterpretations, and Reconsiderations in Contemporary Visual Arts’, PhD Dissertation, pp. 10-11 2

Jill Bennett, Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma and Contemporary Art, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005, p. 137

3

Keith Quincy, Hmong: History of a People, Cheney, Cheney WA: Eastern Washington University Press, 1995, p. 29

4

Kou Yang, ‘Commentary: Challenges and Complexity in the Re-Construction of Hmong History’, Hmong Studies Journal 10, 2009, p. 2

5 Gary Yia Lee, ‘Diaspora and the Predicament of Origins: Interrogating Hmong Postcolonial History and Identity’, Hmong Studies Journal 8, 2008, p. 22 6

Quincy, op cit., p. 30

7

Prasit Leepreecha, ‘Hmong Across Borders or Borders Across Hmong? Social and Political Influences Upon Hmong People’, Hmong Across Borders Conference, University of Minnesota, October 4, 2014. Hmong Studies Journal 15, 2014, p. 1 8

Geraldine Craig, ‘Patterns of Change: Transitions in Hmong Textile Language’, Hmong Studies Journal 11, 2010, p. 5

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9

Nicholas Tapp, ‘Hmong’, Encyclopaedia Britannica; https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hmong; accessed 2 October, 2019

10

Craig, op cit., p. 7

11

Vanghoua Anthony Vue, ‘Hmong Textile Traditions’, Project Paj Hoob (exhib. cat.), Hobart: Gallery Ten, 2014, p. 10

12

ibid., p. 13

13

Vue, ‘Frictions of Difference’, op cit., p. 1

14 Keith Quincy, Harvesting Pa Chay’s Wheat: The Hmong and America’s Secret War in Laos, Cheney, WA: Eastern Washington University Press, 2000, p. 3-5 15

Quincy, ibid., pp. 1-2

16

Davorn Sisavath, ‘The US Secret War in Laos: Constructing an Archive from Military Waste’, Radical History Review 133, 2019, pp. 104-05

17

Sisavath, ibid., fn. 7

18

Seth Jacobs, The Universe Unraveling: American Foreign Policy in Cold War Laos, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012, p. 22

19 Sisavath, op cit., 103; ‘Secret War in Laos’, Legacies of War, accessed 30 October, 2019; http://legaciesofwar.org/about-laos/secret-warlaos/ 20

Vue, ‘Frictions of Difference’, op cit., p. 66; Eva Hoffman, After Such Knowledge: Memory, History, and the Legacy of the Holocaust, New York: Public Affairs, 2004, p. xv. Hoffman utilises this term in relation to The Holocaust, though its relevance is still apparent here

21

Vue, ibid., p. 89

22

ibid., p. 88

23

Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, Katherine Jones trans., New York: Vintage, 1939, p. 84

24 Cathy Caruth, ‘Trauma and Experience: Introduction’, Trauma: Explorations in Memory, Cathy Caruth (ed.), Baltimore MD: The John Hopkins University Press, 1995, p. 8 25 Marianne Hirsch, Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997, p. 243; Joan Gibbons, Contemporary Art and Memory: Images of Recollection and Remembrance, London: I.B. Tauris, 2007, p. 73 26

Gibbons, ibid., p. 77

27 Paula Hamilton and Linda Shopes, ‘Introduction: Building Partnerships Between Oral History and Memory Studies’, Oral History and Public Memories, Paula Hamilton and Linda Shopes eds, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2008: p. vii-xvii 28 Marianne Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust, New York: Columbia University Press, 2012, pp. 2-3 29

Andreas Huyssen, Present pasts: urban palimpsests and the politics of memory, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003, p. 6

30 Patrick Flores, ‘Artistic Director’s Statement’, Singapore Biennale 2019; https://www.singaporebiennale.org/#/director-statement; accessed 21 October, 2019 31

Vanghoua Anthony Vue, proposal for the Singapore Biennale 2019

32

Miwon Kwon, One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002, p. 4

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Beyond The Pale: Critical Reflections on Society, Politics and Aesthetics Within and at The Borders of China Throughout much of the latter half of 2019 lawmakers and police in Hong Kong have been caste in a persistently negative light by the Euro-American media for their handling of public protests against what is seen as the growing influence of mainland China on politics and governance in the special administrative region. Faced by increasingly confrontational/violent street protests Hong Kong’s government under the leadership of its Chief Executive Carrie Lam has continued to uphold the region’s existing Beijing-sanctioned rule of law—based (notionally) since the handover from Britain in 1997 on the principle of ‘one country two systems’—while refusing calls for the establishment of a Western-style liberal democracy separate from mainland China. Police have defended the Hong Kong government’s position by seeking to suppress the actions of protestors through sometimes excessively violent means—including the use of live gunfire and summary beatings—thereby extending an established reputation for brutality earned during the time of British colonial rule.1 All of which has been presented internationally, even within mainland China, as part of twenty-four hour rolling news. This negative coverage of government and police authority in Hong Kong has been accompanied in the Euro-American media by continuing vilification of Beijing’s treatment of Uighur Muslims in the autonomous region of Xinjiang. As a response to repeated and sometimes violent resistance to majority Han Chinese rule, alongside signs of local Islamic fundamentalism linked to acts of terrorism in Xinjiang and elsewhere in the PRC,2 Beijing has shut down mosques and established so-called “vocational re-education” centres in Xinjiang aimed at “assimilating” Uighurs “safely” into mainstream Chinese society. The similarity of the layout of those centres to concentration camps as well as leaked directives from Beijing making clear its desire to impose severe and uncompromising discipline on recalcitrant Uighurs3 has resonated chillingly within the Euro-American media-sphere where remembrance of the Holocaust is firmly established and critical coverage of the detention of Muslims at Guantánamo Bay also persists.4 Perhaps in part due to international pressure Beijing has stated recently that Xinjiang’s “re-education centres” have now been closed having fulfilled their purpose. The truthfulness of that statement remains to be confirmed.5

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Negative coverage of governmental actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang by the EuroAmerican media is, of course, entirely predictable. Suppressive violence recently enacted by the Hong Kong government and Beijing in response to dissent is automatically concerning from the point of view of liberal-democratic societies. That concern is magnified by the PRC’s long-standing image as an authoritarian one-party communist state which remains firmly lodged in the popular imagination of Euro-American societies in spite of nearly forty years of social and economic modernisation since the acceptance of Deng Xiaoping’s so-called policy of ‘Reform and Opening-up’ in 1979.6 Moreover, that image has itself been exacerbated by the PRC’s growing and perceivably threatening political, military and cultural presence on the international stage in recent years—including the building of military bases in the contested area of the South China Sea—and the counterposing rise of Trumpian exceptionalism in the USA—the latter presenting itself as an antidote to neo-liberalism’s projection of a new international post-Cold War capitalist world order deconstructive of spent ideological oppositions. While the Cold War may have ended symbolically in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall, its traces have undeniably persisted in circumstantially refracted form. From the point of view of the Euro-American media mainland China and all its works remain resolutely ‘beyond the pale’. This resurfacing of stark ideological opposition may provide a reassuring sense of rationalist certainty for some in response to the deconstructive social and economic uncertainties and precarities uncaged by neo-liberal globalisation. However, it also serves, as it did during the Cold War, to gloss over the rather more complex character of ostensibly opposed political discourses lived in relation to the variable and permeable particularities of localised social conditions and cultural identities on the ground. As the espionage novels of John Le Carré indicate, political differences between the capitalist West and communist East during the Cold War were in many respects a façade to mutually sustaining deferrals and intersections played out spectacularly as ideological struggle.7 That deferring-intersectional condition has, if anything, come into even plainer sight since 1989, with the PRC having officially embraced capitalist modes of production pragmatically in the context of ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, and Euro-America, an institutionalised Third Space postmodernist critique of established capitalism and its associations with colonialismimperialism. All of which contributes to the condition now widely referred to as ‘contemporaneity’, as a displacement of once dominant Western(ised) post-Enlightenment discourses by the conspicuous paradox of a seemingly intractable though closely interconnected global factionalism,8 dubbed by philosopher Peter Osborne as a present global “unity in difference.”9 It is, however, possible to go beyond the current reprising of a simplistic Cold War dialecticism by shedding light on the PRC’s culturally specific vision of itself and its approach to governance. That vision is one bound up with aestheticisations and non-rationalisms which may seem akin to those of Nazism viewed through the interpretative lens of Walter Benjamin—in which auratic authority is seen as buttressed by non-rationalist appeals to the supposed certainties of tradition—but are within China historically durable and for many therefore both natural and reassuring. Although by no means intended as an apology for the undeniable and eminently questionable authoritarianism of Beijing—or indeed by association that clearly wished for by Donald Trump on his home turf—available to us is a more nuanced understanding of contemporary Chinese politics and its relationship to tradition. Such an understanding is arguably crucial to any criticalproductive engagement with the increasing and inescapable impact of a revivified China on the contemporary world-stage. The alternative is a potentially bellicose confrontation between siloed, mutually uncomprehending political, socio-economic and cultural domains. l

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This essay focuses on two indicative contexts: that of political resistance to Beijing’s authority in Hong Kong since 1997; and initiatives taken by the PRC’s ruling Communist Party (CCP) in Fujian —historically one of China’s remotest regions—intended as ways of managing and lessening the social and economic disparities brought about by the country’s industrialisation and urbanisation of the last four decades. In both of those contexts appeals to social cohesion can be seen as based on the persistence of traditionally shared Confucian values of harmony and reciprocity. Values that are nevertheless subject to differing ideological perspectives—being viewed by many in Hong Kong opposed to Beijing’s authority as a basis for mainland Chinese imperialism. In August 2019 I took part in an international conference organised by the China Academy of Art (CAA) Hangzhou at its newly established Practice Base of Social Aesthetic Education near Ningde in Fujian. The conference, Sharing and Participating–the ‘Commons’: Art Social Aesthetic Education Summit 2019, was intended as a forum for the sharing and discussion of differing outlooks on the idea of aestheticised social engagement set against the background of current, governmentally supported efforts to redevelop rural areas within mainland China as a means of reducing inequalities between cities and the countryside.10 One of the consequences of the PRC’s prodigious modernisation since the late 1970s has been the opening up of significant socio-cultural differences between urban and rural areas, with the latter having remained closer to the conditions of materially impoverished Maoist collectivism, while the former has become the cradle of a burgeoning version of bourgeois capitalism, albeit one inflected by Chinese ‘socialist characteristics’. Fujian was until recently an extremely isolated mountainous province, only accessible by often crudely built and maintained roadways or tracks. As such, the province has been a historical place of flight from conflict as well as exile or retreat for those resistant to prevailing authority11 —for example, supporters and acolytes of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) after transition to the Qing (1644-1912). Fujian is now penetrated by an increasingly extensive modern highway and high-speed railway network and as a result the site of fast-growing towns and cities with modern amenities, such as supermarkets, shopping malls and international four-star hotels. The province nevertheless retains much of its rugged bucolic character and is still the site of numerous small towns and villages with buildings whose fabric dates back to the Ming Dynasty and beyond. International delegates to the conference arrived in Fujian by high-speed train from Shanghai after a journey of four hours that would have taken at least twice as long much less than a decade ago. From there they travelled for a further two hours to CAA’s practice base by coach, journeying through mountainous countryside punctuated frequently by urban construction. On arrival the international delegates were greeted eagerly by the base’s resident staff and students. They were also treated to a series of predictably declamatory speeches extolling the virtues of the conference’s organisers as well as those of the PRC’s President Xi Jinping and the CCP. At the conclusion of the speeches and heralded by fireworks, doors of the building behind the speakers’ podium swung open to reveal a carefully curated exhibition of the work of the centre, comprising photographic records and assemblages of traditional artefacts alongside ‘relational’ artworks and documentary films representative of Fujian’s historic and contemporary rurality. The conference took place over the best part of a week and was divided into presentations before lunch and group visits to sites of rural redevelopment in the afternoon. The presentations were characterised by sometimes pronounced differences in cultural and socio-political outlook. Although our hosts spoke passionately, intelligently and admirably about the need for rural redevelopment as a way of countering social inequalities—including one speaker, through the appropriation-translation

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of Joseph Beuys’s ideas of artistic democracy,12 their outlook was one frustratingly but understandably constrained by an inability/unwillingness to directly criticise domestic political authority. Such direct criticism in open forum is vanishingly rare in mainland China where confrontational public dissent from CCP orthodoxy remains anathema (critical discussion is enshrined in Chinese law but only among experts and in closed session and is therefore both troublesome and risky to stage). The approach of local mainland Chinese delegates to the conference was also discernibly inflected by China’s long-standing syncretic Confucian traditions that uphold the aesthetic as a realm of nuanced feeling commensurate with ethical social governance. Following Immanuel Kant’s development of a tripartite philosophy dividing practical reason from pure reason and judgement at the end of the eighteenth century, dominant discourses in Euro-America and related Westernised spaces have tended to uphold the aesthetic as an autonomous, or relatively autonomous locus of transformational resistance to established authority. China has historically by contrast upheld a sense of close reciprocity between the aesthetic and authority as a basis for ethically informed social governance. This non-rationalist sense of reciprocity is fundamental to Daoist/Buddhist-inflected neo-Confucian ideas dominant for over a millennium during China’s dynastic-imperial period from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) to the Qing Dynasty, China’s last. It is also embodied historically by imperial China’s scholar-gentry administrative class, known in Anglophone contexts as the Literati and in Mandarin as the Shi, whose ability as painters, poets and musicians was taken as an index of their fitness to oversee the workings of state. Crucially the Literati/Shi were morally obligated to uphold the continuity and development of the Chinese dynastic-imperial state, including though an understandably oblique/symbolic rather than oppositional resistance in that context to overweening authority—as exemplified historically by the group known as the Seven Intellectuals of the Bamboo Grove: Daoist inclined Literati who during the third century CE dissented from the authority of the Jin Dynasty (265-420). A close relationship between ethically informed governance and the aesthetic thus persisted as a fundamental underpinning to Chinese dynastic-imperial rule. Although echoes of rationalising Euro-American post-Enlightenment critical distancing have informed the development of modernity in China since the nineteenth century—not least in relation to communist party co-options of the idea of socialist realism—they have continued to intersect with a durable civilisation-specific Confucianism, an intersection brought to the fore by recent CCP appeals to neo-Confucian ideas of unifying social harmony/reciprocity, in response to the social and cultural upheavals brought about by Reform and Opening-up, alongside perceptions of a persistent and threatening Euro-American colonialism-imperialism. Where critical distancing remains a staple of progressive Euro-American modernity, in China proximate critical obliqueness has been taken as a sustained underpinning to socio-cultural continuity and development. The yimin, “leftover subject” or scholar, who withdraws into nature, remains a familiar figure within Chinese culture to this day. Critically inclined contemporary artists in and from mainland China can in most cases be seen to have adopted similarly proximate-oblique approaches. As the detention and effective exile of Ai Weiwei makes clear, open oppositional dissent from governmental authority within the PRC is easily commuted by the state. Complicity with and resistance to prevailing authority are thus typically hard to distinguish. Each can nevertheless be seen to manifest itself in indeterminate reciprocal relation to the other. ‘Worrying’ about the perfectability of the state along ethically/ aesthetically informed Confucian lines has remained a constant within China13 and as such can be understood to have pervaded the CAA Fujian conference’s support to CCP strategy. l

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Protests in Hong Kong during the second half of 2019 were initiated by a mass demonstration on 12 June against the Hong Kong administration’s stated intention to pass a law allowing extradition of indicted individuals to mainland China.14 The protests continued through an array of public actions, including peaceful assemblies for and against Hong Kong’s established Beijing-backed administration, almost daily running street battles between the Hong Kong police, ‘black shirt’ anti-Beijing protesters and ‘white shirt’ pro-Beijing groups, repeated occupations and blockades of Hong Kong’s international airport and a violent occupation of the Hong Kong legislature on 1 July—as part of which British flags and historical Hong Kong flags incorporating the former were unfurled as symbols of democratic freedom, somewhat ironically given the UK’s colonialistimperialist legacy.15 During the protests savage beatings have been meted out by protesters and police alike. Police and their families have been denounced in public and on social media. Protesters have been arrested and subjected to summary detention. Despite an announcement from Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam on 4 September that the extradition bill had been terminally withdrawn and the subsequent holding of a series of ‘town hall’ consultations aimed at establishing public dialogue, protests continued to escalate as part of a more general resistance to its perceived complicity with Beijing and amid demands from protesters for a public enquiry into police violence, the unconditional release of protesters detained by police and the establishment of democratic processes in Hong Kong free from mainland Chinese interference. In advance of the 70th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the PRC, on 1 October 2019 battles between protesters and police became increasingly ugly with extreme violence on all

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sides.16 Black shirt protesters added to the repeated building of street barricades, disruption to public transport and damage to public property with the throwing of Molotov cocktails, including at police stations. Police repeatedly deployed riot sticks, water cannon, tear gas, pepper spray, baton rounds, snatch squads, and on occasion live ammunition against street protesters. On 1 October a black shirt protester was for a time critically wounded by a policeman firing at point-blank range. This shooting was followed on 13 November by further violent incidents: another shooting of a protester by police, the driving of a motorcycle into a crowd of protesters and bystanders by a policeman, and the setting on fire of a pro-Beijing resident by protesters. In November protesters moved to occupy university campuses strategically placed in relation to Hong Kong’s transport infrastructure. Police sieges ensued resulting in the eventual dispersal of those occupations despite protestors erecting substantial fortifications and deploying a range of potentially lethal weaponry including bows and arrows. District council elections in Hong Kong on 24 November saw the returning of democracy candidates to all but one of the contested administrative roles17—a significant signal to Beijing of the wider public mood in Hong Kong. Much to the displeasure of Beijing, a bill was passed by the US senate on the 19 November giving tacit support to democracy protestors by establishing twice-yearly monitoring of Hong Kong’s special status separate from mainland China under US law as well as a presidential process for the handing down of sanctions against anyone contravening human rights within the region.18 In recent years there have been major socio-economic upheavals within Hong Kong, including spiralling land and property prices and markedly increased migration/commuting from mainland China that have impacted significantly upon the region. Many Hong Kong residents and particularly the young are now excluded from property ownership and subject to escalating competition for jobs and access to resources. Added to which are local perceptions of the dilution of Hong Kong’s specific cultural identity by growing numbers of migrants and commuters from mainland China. Continuing protests against the influence of mainland China over Hong Kong are no longer fuelled simply by a desire to uphold democratic and legal rights conferred on the region by the establishment of the ‘one country, two systems’ policy supposedly vouchsafed by Beijing until 2047 under the joint Sino-British agreement as part of the transition from British rule. They also reflect matters of socio-economic and cultural protectionism in the face of what might be seen as creeping de facto mainland Chinese colonialism-imperialism contrasting and eclipsing the de jure existence of a politically and legally autonomous Hong Kong. Preceding the 2019 Hong Kong protests were Taiwan’s so-called ‘Sunflower Movement’ —involving public protests against increased cross-straits collaboration with mainland China —which took place during March and April 2014 and the Occupy Central Movement, otherwise known as the Umbrella Movement—involving public protests against perceived anti-democratic reforms allowing pre-screening and selection of electoral candidates in favour of Beijing—which took place in Hong Kong during September and December 2014. The Occupy Central/Umbrella Movement protests extended long-standing public resistance to Beijing influence over Hong Kong after its handover—including a massive and successful demonstration on 1 July 2003 against implementation of Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law calling for the local enactment of laws prohibiting “treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government.”19 The Taiwan and Hong Kong protests of 2014 not only saw public resistance to Beijing’s political influence but in addition contributions to that resistance through visual and other forms of culturalartistic representation/performance. The Sunflower Movement derives its name from the upholding l

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of actual sunflowers by protesters as a heliotropic symbol of hope, a somewhat ironic usage in the context of Taiwan given metaphorical references to Mao Zedong as the sun and the mass of the people as sunflowers during the PRC’s revolutionary period. Umbrellas were widely used by protesters in Hong Kong during 2014 to protect against the deployment of pepper spray and tear gas by police. Umbrellas thus became a highly visible symbol of public protest as well as a practical means of resistance to police violence. The 2014 Hong Kong protests also saw the self-conscious making of situated public artworks and the staging of street performances, some involving the use of umbrellas as symbolic objects. The Sunflower and Occupy Central/Umbrella movements share in similar co-options of artistic production and aestheticised experience that have accompanied anti-capitalist and other public protests internationally, as part of a widespread ‘Social Turn’ in the arts characterised by what might be described as a post-postmodernist return to oppositional resistance, which has gained significant traction after the global downturn of 2008.20 Amidst the prevalence of mobile street battles rather than static occupations, the situated use of visual art and performance as part of the 2019 Hong Kong protests has been far less pronounced than in 2014. More widely used have been contingent/impromptu forms of visual signification, such as posters, stickers, graffiti and the dissemination of memes on social media whose perfunctory execution and often straightforward conveying of messages can only be loosely allied to the established conventions of a sophisticated Western(ised) contemporary high-art practice and its characteristic use of various forms of defamiliarisation (carried over from postmodernism). There would appear under those changed circumstances from occupation towards mobile conflict to be a practical acknowledgement of the limits of studied aesthetic resistance and its subordination to the exigencies of direct physical struggle. The use of umbrellas by protestors as both a practical means of defence against tear gas and water cannon and as readily interpretable signifiers of oppositional political intent nevertheless persists in the popular imagination world-wide. There is, moreover, what might be seen as a distinctive visual-cultural aesthetic of protest signified by the motley though recognisably shared sub-cultural garb of black shirt protestors as well as their use of posters, graffiti and on-line postings, all of which plays out semiotically in dyadic contrast to visual signifiers of identity associated with white shirt protestors and the police. Photographic documents, as well as physical and virtual relics of the 2014 and 2019 Hong Kong protests, are nevertheless being upheld and therefore institutionally decided within the purview of the international art world’s currently fashionable social turn as indexes of radical socially-engaged artistic expression.21 Such a view maintains the expanded field accorded to the aesthetic as part of postmodernist-lite discourses, whereby all modes of expression have the potential to be considered as art. The sustainability of that romantically expansive upholding is however eminently questionable. In light of the more intellectually rigorous interventions of poststructuralist postmodernism it is arguably no longer possible to sustain the very ideas of a categorical aesthetic and critical distancing upon which Western(ised) post-Enlightenment artistic criticality is based. Moreover, an autonomous or relatively autonomous critical aesthetic is arguably something that has long-since been recuperated by a pervasive capitalist spectacle.22 To which one might also add artist and critic Grant Kester’s observation that claims of the impact on society of oppositional socially-engaged art are largely unproven by systematic scholarship.23 This is not to deny outright the possible critical impact of the aesthetic as an uncertainly drawn category on an equally indeterminately structured society, but to suspend any simple rationalising understanding of what that impact might be and how it might take place. The sanctification of aestheticised protest in Hong Kong by the international artworld

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emphatically as ‘art’ is therefore arguably misleading in its desire to keep faith with the integrity of an aesthetic domain whose assumed status in relation to post-Enlightenment discourses has been placed inescapably under erasure. It is also arguably as a consequence more of a gestural sop to rationalising oppositional ideology than a reflection of the demonstrably more complex relationship of the aesthetic to society. Media coverage of the 2019 Hong Kong protests inside and outside mainland China has inevitably been subject to the effects of ideological parallax: while international news media providers such as the BBC and Sky committed to Western conceptions of liberal democracy have tended to paint the actions of the Hong Kong government and Beijing implicitly or explicitly as politically repressive,24 within mainland China, where discourses supportive of central CCP-led socialism and cognate neo-Confucian notions of social harmony hold sway, the actions of protesters are presented as unnecessarily divisive, unpatriotic and detrimental to the rule of law, as well as the economic development and general well-being of Hong Kong.25 Following the pattern of abiding Cold War ideological divisions, escalating violence among black shirt protesters has been reported by Chinese media as tantamount to terrorism26 and tacitly by supposedly impartial Western media as part of a justified struggle for freedom.27 While Chinese state media coverage of the 2019 Hong Kong protests has been subject in the UK to an OfCom investigation into its impartiality,28 it is also illuminating to recall responses in the public sphere to widespread riots in the UK during 2011: an ideologically inchoate proletarian uprising against government and police authority that was almost universally condemned by local journalists and politicians as being against the interests of “ordinary” people.”29 When it comes to mainstream interpretation of public resistances to authority dominant discourses play a definitive role in dividing opinion. As I write, Beijing has refrained from stepping in directly to quell the protests in Hong Kong by deploying mainland security forces openly on the region’s streets, no doubt partly in light of the international opprobrium heaped on the PRC following the Tiananmen killings of 1989. By the time this essay is published, circumstances may have altered. The prospects of democratic revolution, the violent imposition of mainland government authority or unresolved relatively lowlevel conflict in Hong Kong remain poised. Events might conceivably fall in any of those directions; although the latter two seem more likely given strong public support for Beijing within mainland China30 at present and the overwhelming might of the PRC’s repressive state apparatus. None of the above would have transpired in the ways that it has without the historical drawing of a border between Hong Kong and mainland China as a means of demarcating the limits of British colonialist-imperialist authority. Britain’s acquisition first of Hong Kong Island after the First Opium War with China in 1842, Kowloon after the Second Opium War in 1860, and then the neighbouring New Territories on a ninety-nine-year lease in 1898, establishes the fundamental geopolitical division in relation to which present-day conflicts between mainland China and Hong Kong’s citizens have emerged. While Britain did little if anything to foster democracy during the time of its colonial rule, it did seek to secure certain legal and democratic rights for Hong Kong citizens after 1997 as part of the Sino-British Joint Declaration underpinning Hong Kong’s transition to a Special Administrative Region of the PRC—including the continuation of Hong Kong’s local British influenced jury-based legal system, limited elections for local public office with the continuing assent of Beijing and the establishment in 1987 of the British National (Overseas) Passport for permanent Hong Kong residents before 1 July 1997, which confers the pale shelter of British nationality on its holders while withholding automatic rights of residency in the UK. It is precisely l

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the situating of Hong Kong as an indeterminate borderland fringing mainland China that has set the scene for localised conflict. As a cartographic inscription on the geo-political body politic, the border between Hong Kong and mainland China has taken on lasting and unforeseen meaning. The drawing of firm geographical boundaries, which became established from the early Modern period onwards, is a principally European and then Euro-American invention tied to divisions of national and regional sovereignty, allocation of resources and projections of colonialistimperialist power. Geographical and geopolitical borders historically outside that invention were more nebulous, usually constituting the notional limits of agglomerative empires or the aggregated lands of city states and other sovereign spaces across which tribal/nomadic societies would otherwise spread or traverse. The division of the world into modern nation-states intersects with and is often interrupted by that second configuration. There are, in short, persistent intersections between the staking out of hard geographical boundaries and other more fluid performative states of social being/identity. The legacy of those intersections—as events in the Middle East and proximate parts of Asia since the end of WWI make abundantly clear—have resulted in continuing conflicts over sovereignty and self-determination. Prior to the early third century BCE, what is now thought of as China comprised an array of competing states. The coalescing of China as an empire began with the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BCE), China’s first. From the Qin Dynasty until the ending of the Qing Dynasty (the last), China was a dynastic imperial state within graduated limits of authority but without absolute geographical boundaries. Underpinning Chinese dynastic authority were the related concepts of the Mandate of Heaven—a desired state of harmonious reciprocity between heavenly and temporal realms vouchsafed by the ultimate authority of the former—and Tianxia (everything under heaven)—a perceived state of indeterminately circumscribed authority reaching out concentrically from the central power of China’s emperor through the provinces of Chinese imperial state and tributary states to ‘barbarians’ beyond the immediate reach of imperial rule. These and other related ideas associated l

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with a syncretic Daoist-Buddhist inflected Confucianism constitute the discursive foundations of what is perceived within China as a durable civilisation-specific identity. As such, they allow for assertions of China’s centrality to the world while drawing short of the necessity for any totalising colonisation of spaces beyond the immediate sphere of Chinese authority. The durability of Tianxia as a discursive prescription for governmental authority is evidenced by recent calls by intellectuals within the PRC for its application globally as part of a new post-West world order.31 While the emphasis in these calls is on the desirability of states of mutual reciprocity upheld by Daoist-inflected Confucianism (as symbolised by Daoism’s non-rationalist cosmological pairing of yin-yang)—in ways arguably resonant with counter-cultural new ageism in Euro-American contexts—it is also possible to view present-day assertions of the relevance of Tianxia as a continuation of historical Chinese imperialism. With regard to which one might look towards the outcry within the PRC in the news media, and on social media, against support voiced by the general manager of the Houston Rockets basketball team for democracy protestors in Hong Kong. In the face of that outcry and suspension of lucrative showcase US National Basketball Association fixtures within the PRC, the NBA was forced to distance itself from support for the Hong Kong protests.32 Although China’s impact on the international stage remained weak throughout much of the Modern era, its growing economic and military strength has resulted in a return to much greater international reach and influence, not least in the spheres of media and culture. The uncertain limitations of Chinese power signified by Tianxia are manifested by fortifications erected historically along China’s immediate imperial territorial borders, including the so-called Great Wall of China (Wanli Changcheng) and the Miaojiang Great Wall. The Great Wall, which is in actuality a series of related fortifications stretching along China’s northern limits, was initiated during the seventh century BCE and successively added to, from the Qin Dynasty to the Ming Dynasty. These fortifications were used as a means of defence preventing incursions into Chinese territory by nomadic groups from the north. Their discontinuous and overlapping structure was also intended to protect and facilitate trade along the Silk Route, restricting movement in and out of China along prescribed and regulated channels. A similar state of controlled porosity pertains to the Miaojiang Great Wall, which was constructed during the sixteenth century both for defence against outsiders and regulation of trade along China’s southern border. China’s historical border defences—which could be opened and closed according to need—can be understood to reflect the indefinitely circumscribed reach of its imperial power as well as the discursive non-rationalism underpinning Confucian ideas of social order. The permeability of imperial China’s historical border defences is underscored by the incursion of conquering Mongol forces from the north during the thirteenth century, who simply adopted the expedient of circumventing the Great Wall, resulting in the establishment of the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). When addressing recent events in Hong Kong and Xinjian from an Euro-American interpretive perspective there is a reflexive tendency to position cultural differences/diversity in opposition to overweening authority—albeit somewhat paradoxically in the case of the former with regard to local appeals for American intervention, and the latter the West’s own fears of Islamic insurgency. Within the context of Chinese society cultural opposition of that sort is simply incompatible with durable and widely upheld Confucian principles of orderly and ethical governance encompassing social differences under majority Han rule. It is unnecessary for the CCP to impose its will simply in an Orwellian manner. Although integration of surveillance and spectacularism is now pervasive as a mode of social control within mainland China—as given shape by the idea of

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the Han-opticon linking good social behaviour to social and financial credit33—also efficacious are high-context CCP appeals to Confucianism as a durable discursive framework for harmonious social cohesion. That framework remains deeply ingrained as part of the Chinese cultural habitus and will not be perfunctorily given up, in spite of its obduration of democratic suffrage and an associated freedom of speech (which have been traded historically for social stability). As Beijing’s influence on the world-stage grows and as the ascendancy of Western-style democracy falters in the face of growing populisms, as well as the wider factionalism of contemporaneity, it is also one that the rest of the world will perforce increasingly have to come to terms with. Those committed to the persistence of criticality as a necessary adjunct to the relationship between aesthetics and social development will perhaps take at least some comfort from syncretic Confucianism’s codification of the aesthetic as a means of proximate-oblique critical intervention, albeit one whose indeterminacy presents itself almost automatically as weak from a rationalising post-Enlightenment perspective. Notes 1 Ray Yep, ‘The 1967 Riots in Hong Kong: The Diplomatic and Domestic Fronts of the Colonial Governor’, The China Quarterly 193, 2008, pp. 122-139 2

Anonymous, ‘Why is there tension between China and the Uighurs?’, BBC News; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-26414014; accessed 12 December 2019

3 Anonymous, ‘Data leak reveals how China ‘brainwashes’ Uighurs in prison camps’, BBC News; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asiachina-50511063; accessed 11 December 2019 4 Peter Beaumont and Rod Austin, ‘Guantánamo Bay branded a ‘symbol of Islamophobia of Trump presidency’, The Guardian; https://www. theguardian.com/global-development/2019/jan/11/guantanamo-bay-branded-a-stain-on-us-human-rights-record; accessed 11 December 2019 5

Chris Buckley and Steven Lee Myers, ‘China Said It Closed Moslem Detention Camps. There’s Reason to Doubt That’, The New York Times; https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/09/world/asia/china-xinjiang-muslim-detention.html; accessed 11 December 2019

6

Anonymous, ‘Chronicle of Reform and Opening-up in China’, China People’s Daily; https://www.telegraph.co.uk/peoples-daily-online/ business/chronicle-reform-opening-up-china/; accessed 3 December 2019 7

See, for example, John le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1974

8 See Terry Smith, Okwui Enwezor, Nancy Condee eds, Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2008 9

Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: The Philosophy of Contemporary Art, London: Verso, 2013, p. 2

10 Anonymous, ‘Art Helps Rural Rejuvenation-2019 International Forum on Social Aesthetic Education and Practitioner Conference Opens’, China People’s Daily; https://wap.peopleapp.com/article/rmh6795230/rmh6795230?from=timeline&isappinstalled=0; accessed 10 December 2019 11

Anonymous, ‘Fujian’, Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fujian#Song_dynasty; accessed 8 December 2019

12

See anonymous, ‘Joseph Beuys. Every Man is an Artist 1978’ (sic), Tate; https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/beuys-joseph-beuys-everyman-is-an-artist-ar00704; accessed 9 December 2019 13

Glora Davies, Worrying about China, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2007

14 James Chan, ‘Did Hong Kong witness a riot on June 12? Justice chief’s answer holds the key’, South China Morning Post; https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3016061/did-hong-kong-witness-riot-june-12-justice-chiefs-answer-holds-key; accessed 14 December 2019

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15 Mary Hui, ‘How to understand the symbolic occupation-and destruction-of Hong Kong’s legislature’, Quartz; https://qz.com/1656991/whyhong-kong-protesters-destroyed-the-citys-legislature/; accessed 14 December 2019 16 Martin Farrer and Naaman Zhou, ‘Hong Kong protester shot in chest as China National Day demos intensify-as it happened’, The Guardian; https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2019/oct/01/china-anniversary-nation-marks-70-years-of-communism-amid-hong-kong-protests-live; accessed 10 December 2019 17 Emma Graham-Harrison and Verna Yu, ‘Hong Kong voters deliver landslide victory for pro-democracy campaigners’, The Guardian; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/24/hong-kong-residents-turn-up-for-local-elections-in-record-numbers; accessed 10 December 18 Anonymous, ‘US Senate unanimously passes Hong Kong rights bill, sending legislation to House’, CNBC News; https://www.cnbc. com/2019/11/20/us-senate-passes-hong-kong-rights-bill-sending-legislation-to-house.html; accessed 4 December 2019 19 Anonymous, ‘Huge protests fill HK streets’, CNN News; https://edition.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/asiapcf/east/07/01/hk.protest/; accessed 4 December 20

Gregor Jansen, Matthias Hübner, Alain Bieber, Pedro Alonzo and Robert Klanten, Art and Agenda: Political Art and Activism, Berlin: Die Gestatlten Verlag, 2011

21 Billy Anania, ‘The Viral Artwork emerging from Hong Kong’s Protests’, Hyperallergic; https://hyperallergic.com/535273/the-viral-artworkemerging-from-hong-kongs-protests/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=D010620&utm_content=D010620+CID_888198d021bc0d17f58b6cc 02bda74da&utm_source=HyperallergicNewsletter; accessed 6 January 2020 22

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, New York NY: Zone Books, 1994

23

Grant Kester, ‘Editorial’, Field: A Journal of Socially Engaged Art Criticism 1(1), 2015, pp. 1-3

24 Kerry Allen, ‘Hong Kong protests: Celebrities, big brands and China’s media game’, BBC News; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asiachina-49428931 accessed 4 December 2019 25 Dan Zhang and Ran Feng, ‘Evidence shows Hong Kong protests well organised’, CGTN News; https://news.cgtn.com/news/2019-08-28/ Evidence-shows-Hong-Kong-protests-well-organized-JwLP8pLKWA/index.html; accessed 4 December 2019 26

Anonymous, ‘China describes Hong Kong protests as “near terrorism”’, BBC News; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asiachina-49348462; accessed 4 December 2019

27 See for example Simon Tisdall, ‘Hong Kong’s protesters have scored one for democracy, but the struggle is far from over’, The Guardian; https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/04/hong-kong-protests-carrie-lam-extradition-bill-beijing; accessed 20 December 2019 28 Jim Waterson, ‘OfCom investigates CGTN over coverage of Hong Kong Protests’, The Guardian; https://www.theguardian.com/media/2019/ sep/23/ofcom-investigates-cgtn-over-coverage-of-hong-kong-protests-china; accessed 3 December 2019 29 See for example Andrew Sparrow, ‘Politicians Condemn Tottenham Riots’, The Guardian; https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/aug/07/ politicians-condemn-tottenham-riots; accessed 20 December 2011 30 John Kennedy, ‘Maintaining Popular Support for the Chinese Communist Party: The Influence of Education and the State-controlled Media’, Political Studies 57(3), pp. 517-536 31

See Tingyan Zhao, Redefining a Philosophy for World Governance, London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2019

32 James Ashford, ‘The NBA-China fallout explained’, The Week; https://www.theweek.co.uk/103791/the-fallout-between-the-nba-and-chinaexplained; accessed 14 December 2019 33

Graeme Smith, ‘The Han-opticon: The Hazards of China research in the Xi Era’, The Interpreter; https://www.lowyinstitute.org/theinterpreter/han-opticon-hazards-china-research-xi-era; accessed 1 May 2018

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Many Undulating Things It was the humidity that was first recognised by the British when they arrived in Hong Kong, their sensitive skins unacclimatised to the tropics, where every surface was sensuously alive. In the third chapter ‘Ferro Vitreous’ of Many Undulating Things (2019), and in Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings (2017), filmmakers Bo Wang and Pan Lu trace the British fear of contagion in Hong Kong. They culled a scene from the 1955 film Love is a Many Splendored Thing where an American journalist (William Holden) estranged from his wife in 1949 meets Dr. Han Suyin (played by Jennifer Jones)—they embrace in her Hong Kong apartment. This scene was filmed in a Los Angeles studio, the bronze makeup on the journalist’s face supposedly depicting the dense tropical air filtered through the whirling shadows of an overhead fan. In contrast, scenes in Bo Wang’s and Pan Lu’s film shot in the shopping malls of Hong Kong portray their structure as one large organic entity, people secondary to their function, put into motion by the comforting machinery of airconditioning. As direct confrontation, the density of air instigates both fascination and fear, leading to the desire to manipulate the climate for personal comfort. That fear was one of contagion as well, perhaps even of their invader status: a fish does not know it is in water. And (being aware of) humidity is a constant reminder that one is not in their rightful element. The unseen viruses of this new land were provocative to violent intervention, a narrative running parallel to the fear of the mechanisms of virality employed in the 2019 Hong Kong protests. Climate control had been a fantasy of the British colonial government in Hong Kong, demonstrated through their forestation projects in 1880s, and obsession with “miasma”. In Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings, the film’s voiceover imparts that miasma, or impure air, was considered for centuries to be the most dominant force in causing illness and death. It cites physician Thomas Southwood Smith from 1830: “Nature, with her burning sun, her stilled and pent-up wind, her stagnant and teeming marsh, manufactures plague on a large and fearful scale.” Tropical air is thought to contain more biomass, more miasma. But it wasn’t theirs alone. Changing the weather became possible for the People’s Republic of China when they seeded clouds by firing rockets and shells loaded with silver iodide to make it rain prior to the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Beijing Weather Modification Office is part of a nationwide effort at weather control, the largest in the world employing 37,000 people. The urban legend of “Li’s Field” suggests that the richest man in Hong Kong, Li Ka-shing, controls the weather, as some major typhoons have missed Hong Kong altogether or have appeared on the weekend, meaning no work days were lost. In 2014, as a signal of a failure of climate control, the glass ceiling of Kowloon Tong’s Festival Walk Mall burst apart at the seams, allowing it rain inside the building. People from across Hong Kong rushed to witness the spectacle, turning their gaze upward toward the sky.

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The film essay Many Undulating Things opens by citing Karl Marx in Capital Volume 1, ‘Chapter 16: Absolute and Relative Surplus Value’—“It is not the tropics with their luxurious vegetations but the temperate zone, that is the mother of capital.” In Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings, and Many Undulating Things, the filmmakers delve into the history of botanical transplantation. They describe how John Reeves was sent to Hong Kong to collect tropical plants to be sent to Kew Gardens in London; botanists were sent to Hong Kong and across Asia to collect living specimens for the Gardens’ permanent relocation. These symbols of Empire arrived in the form of transplanted living plant specimens. Most did not survive the journey. In the 1830s, Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward devised the Wardian Case, a miniature glass greenhouse to accommodate the specimens, containing the original soil and a mimicry of the conditions under which the plants flourished. The plants were considered authentic, housed, transplanted and consumed by the provenance of a global empire. These preceeded the glass atriums of the Parisian shopping arcades, which brought in natural light and climate-controlled conditions under which citizens would browse the shop windows. Acculturating taste was made possible through a strict regiment of temperance, stimulating a seamless experience without rupture. Much like the climate-controlled malls in Hong Kong, this over-commodified temperate zone became the mother of capital. In these films, the camera observes the maze of escalators in different malls in Hong Kong. Unlike the suburban destinations of the United States, the malls in Hong Kong are integrated through passageways and entry-exit points, pedestrians and shoppers transferring seamlessly from street to mall. These malls are nexus points of gathering, attached to the MTR subway system. There are no discernible fissures in this city, even though the infrastructural changes that have occurred are dramatic. It becomes impossible to imagine a past beyond what is experienced in the immediate present. This is where the film-maker’s work lies, in the fissures of this story. They follow the workers and streams of movement, the people you never notice, but are ever present. Their presence is what informs their film essays, punctuating an apparent endlessness of the city, and marking the multiple rebirths that have occurred and been forgotten—the end of British administration, the end of ‘greening’ projects, the end of socially enforced segregated housing between the British and the Chinese. This challenges the texture of the city and what holds it together, and points to its striations. In these fissures, the proposition of life on shifting ground arises: once we lived differently, and now, we can also live a different life. What one sees was built by others, and what one wants to see can be built by ourselves. Stefan Al’s book Mall City: Hong Kong’s Dreamworlds of Consumption (2016)1 states that Hong Kong has the world’s densest concentration of malls, about one per square mile, with one in four people employed in the retail and wholesale sector. The city has a reputation for being “Asia’s shopping paradise”, “the pearl of the Pearl River Delta”, and “Asia’s World City”; the Hong Kong Police Force, 30,000 strong and greater per capita than London, is known locally as “Asia’s Finest”. The first ‘mall battle’ of the 2109 Hong Kong protests occurred in July at Shatin’s New Town Plaza, when riot police stormed the centre to confront protesters who were exiting through its atrium, following the cessation of a protest. Debate later hypothesised that there may have been discussions between the mall’s management and the police—mall staff turned off the air conditioning, prompting the exit of the protesters. Before this, in June, a protester fell from an elevated podium of the Pacific Place Mall in Admiralty, having unfurled a banner that called for the withdrawal of the extradition bill. He was wearing a yellow raincoat, the colour being representative of the movement. Increasingly, shopping malls have become sites of embattlement, but also of creative civil disobedience. Groups of protesters gather in mall atriums, singing protest songs. In a mall in Sha Tin, people folded origami l

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cranes and promoted their cause to passers-by. In November, multiple malls were trashed, the most dramatic of these occurrence at the luxury mall, Festival Walk next to Kowloon Tong station, where protesters set fire to a large Christmas tree. The destruction of these privately-owned ‘public’ spaces saw a war waged on the enforcement of climate control. The regulation of these physical spaces is executed architecturally: now street and roadside railings are being torn down with the burning of subway stations. The city infrastructure regulating the flows of people is being rearranged. In constant flux, these transactions are being made live during protest gatherings. When a street march becomes too dense, people spread out, to give each other space—to breathe, or to run. The protesters are constantly testing the temperature as well. The miasma once feared by the British in many ways was a fear of virality itself—of unseen and unpalatable elements. The conflagration that led to the Hong Kong protests had been smouldering under the surface for years, from mainland diaspora and its discontents to the younger generation born after the 1997 Handover, the official passing of the territory from the British to the People’s Republic of China. The strategies formulated by protesters incite a similar fear in the current environment, the majority of which is being constituted by Beijing. Networks on social media forums such as LIHKG, Telegram and WhatsApp orchestrate diverse forms of civil disobedience, generating a framework that involves people from all social levels. Mobilising social media for transmission of protest tactics, actions and media, this movement reveals itself to the public only when it chooses to. Graphic designers upload posters online and almost immediately are seen in printed form pasted on walls across the city. The Lennon Walls2 in underpasses and overpasses featured the latest memes and developments, a mood board for the sentiment of the current moment. Protesters maximised their use of social media in an all-pervasive way, where online to offline transmission became almost immediate, flash gatherings generating thousands of people in a few hours. Just like the service workers and manual labourers highlighted in Bo Wang’s and Pan Lu’s films, it is the deceptively anonymous that keeps these flows moving. This virality is mediated by a massive collective, which regulates and controls its own visibility and legibility.

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Academic Ackbar Abbas writes in the oft-cited Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance (Public Worlds) (1997)3 that Hong Kong is a city that is continually transformed, politically and literally. In Many Undulating Things the narrative is divided into three chapters: ‘Water Demon’, ‘Night Air’ and ‘Ferro Vitreous’. The first scene begins with a faux-junk sailing past the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, the site built for the 1997 Handover ceremony when thousands of international journalists flew in to cover the event which overshadowed the Asian Financial Crisis of the same year. The rolling waves of Victoria Harbour are illuminated by the famous bright lights of the city, and the junk’s red dragon wing sails remain motionless, a decorative pandering to British-colonial trade era. The sounds of a weather report can be heard as background noise. None of these diegetic sounds, of conversations between mainland tourists and radio reports are translated as subtitles; a double entendre, it assumes two audiences. Overheard, the sounds of the city become part of the fabric of its psyche. Another layer is presented for those who understand Cantonese and Mandarin, gently applied footnotes to the narrative voiceover that guides the course of the filmic essays. The notion of climate control or ‘talking about the weather’ can be synonymous with an insurgent political discourse, a syncretic code where poesis is politicised. These images feel instructive, informing the narrative: we are left to find the “brave waves in between” (if I might translate literally the Chinese title of Many Undulating Things) to piece together our conclusion on this overwhelming place. It does not offer a militant cinema as evidenced by pro-left propaganda in the wake of the 1968 protests in the West or the music videos and journalism produced by various protester blocs, but it does demand a militant viewing. If an image is shown differently, it must be seen differently as well. As Hong Kong’s mainstream film industry has engaged the market dynamics of mainland productions, a film centre that used to export its motifs globally has turned inward. Many Undulating Things, Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings and Traces of an Invisible City: Three Notes on Hong Kong (2016) form a trilogy of sorts, film essays that depict the sensuous rhythm of the city now, its literal ebbs and flows, to a soft voiceover discussing the influence of British colonialism in the territory. To reread these works now (in the context of the protests) means discovering the clues of a movement fermenting under the sleek surfaces of the city. Hong Kong is a city that moves fast. Even the escalators tend to cycle at twice the speed of those in other cities. Railings direct traffic and human flows, maximising the time spent from points A to B. Many of these railings have been taken down now by the protesters, in an organised removal of the infrastructure that prevents being together in the way they desire. The state owned MTR Corporation’s public transportation system has been under attack as well, for abetting in the aggressive actions of the police. The concept of “be water”4 also runs at the same velocity, with its participants addicted to the consolidated live streams, police action tracking apps, online forums and Telegram messages. Rereading these films affords a space of slowness, and surveillance of the quotidian that is a sensation of movement, one expressing a dark humour, a sense that the more globalised a city becomes, the more it offers flat planes of movement to stimulate the sensation of being still. The political question now is one of autonomy; all protesters strive for greater political and legal autonomy, less so for the greater territory. The independent space propopsed by Bo Wang’s and Pan Lu’s films is the time for study, for tracing colonial influence, and to inspire a different way of looking at one’s surroundings. These films follow a typical documentary format that delineates its narrative through chapters. The voiceover is gentle yet authoritative. In Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings, the first of three chapters, ‘The Exhibition’ is filmed at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai during Art Basel Hong Kong. The camera follows the meanderings of an elite art audience l

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during what appears to be the Fair’s VIP viewing days, but lingers on the service workers who direct people to the bathrooms, or help people find their missing jackets. They appear mostly attentive or idle, of gesturing hands and worker badges. The direction is not didactic, rather they present images of labour that have fallen out of the frame. This human labour that makes possible the Class-A efficiency of Hong Kong is shown in Many Undulating Things where a voiceover describes the necessity of the manual unloading and transference of shipping containers just outside the port. What began as demonstrations against the proposed Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation, commonly known as the extradition bill to mainland China, led protesters to formulate five demands to address police violence and the government’s lack of transparency. A city known for its effectual infrastructure in which flows of people and capital freely circulate is now a port city with no exit plan. The strategies of the protests that have unfolded since June 2019 can be best described by the directive to “be water”. To me the term has come to represent the quick and vulnerable organising tactics taken on by protesters to adjust the temperature of any given situation through direct democracy. The Hong Kong District Council elections were held in November. With a record seventyone percent voter turnout, the pro-democracy camp gained control of seventeen out of eighteen District Councils, taking 388 seats out of the 452 contested. Many young people will cite the 2014 Sunflower Movement in Taiwan as inspiration for the Umbrella Movement the same year, which also influenced the protests of 2019. Like the flowers that bloom unexpectedly, their potency can similarly be reproduced socially. From the glass boxes of our controlled climates, a new formulation of climate can emerge, a new politic of transference—not a protest of dogma but one in pursuit of freedom, an other possible society constituted through praxis. The methodology of virality is not a means to an end, but a rehearsal in of itself, in how people can work together. On 11 November 2019, it was Singles Day in mainland China, an invention of dorm culture from Nanjing University in 1993 which has evolved into an Alibaba-driven consumerist holiday whereby single people are encouraged to celebrate their love through an online shopping frenzy. Sales abound. Over $US42 billion in revenue is generated in this one day. The same day in Hong Kong saw the Hang Seng Index fall nearly three percent when a protester was shot by the police. The week before, protester Alex Chow Tsz-lok fell to his death under suspicious circumstances from a carpark building, fleeing a police raid. His father left a simple note at Chow’s memorial. It read, “My child, your duty is done. Rest in peace. I am proud of you.” A few wild flowers were taped to the bottom right of the page. Through Bo Wang’s and Pan Lu’s films, the present historical is shown, allowing for the political to be assessed by its subjects. The story they tell is far from complete, and the chapters they present are those in a much longer epic with no end. For that, the images they make and assemble become a promise for the future person, documents that prove that such a time existed. Notes 1 Stefan Al (ed.), Mall City: Hong Kong’s Dreamworlds of Consumption, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 2016 2 The original Lennon Wall was created during the 2014 Umbrella Movement democracy protests, located at Admiralty, of post-it notes advocating democracy and universal suffrage. During the 2019 protests over 150 new walls appeared across Hong Kong 3

Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance (Public Worlds), Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1997

4

The 2019 protesters have taken on the famous quote from martial arts star Bruce Lee, “be water, my friend” as their methodology, to be fluid, fast moving and flexible

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DAVID TEH

Garden of Forking Paths: Performance Art Without Performativity

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I The study of modern art is in the midst of a profound recalibration. Even as we are compelled to rethink where and how we look for its histories, the value of research has surged, and nowhere more than in Asia. Swept along by these currents, efforts to historicise contemporary art exemplify the challenges of that disciplinary rethink. What should be the primary objects of such a history: artworks, artists, exhibitions, or something else? And how have its crucial turns been recorded and remembered? Should we prioritise individuals, groups, or the institutions that validated their currency, often under the imprimatur of nation-states? Such quandaries have brought the 1990s squarely into focus as a pivotal phase in modern art’s formal and geographical dilations, its principal actors now old enough, and established enough to be thinking about their legacy, as a new canonising machinery swings into action. All this has been propitious for Performance Art, despite whatever difficulties it may present for dealers and collecting institutions. Somehow assured of the genre’s relevance, of its purchase on the worrying tangles of public life, the global art world has become better at valuing performance, keener to commission it, and more determined to historicise it. While the return of other 1990s preoccupations, like technology and identity, suggests political stasis or failure, performance’s retrospective glow is only enhanced by its perceived kinship with dissent, and with an older Modernism’s evasion of market forces. But however clear those resemblances, performance—as a mode of visual art—has now traversed so many times and places that they can scarcely amount to any kind of genealogical proof. And though performance was never peripheral to the story of Southeast Asian contemporary art, in either the official historiography of institutions or ground-up accounts of artist-run scenes, its prominence has not always proven favourable to a thoughtful, critical reckoning. Cheap and immediate, mobile and ephemeral, it appealed for all the reasons it appealed to progressive artists elsewhere: for its knack for provoking censure, for its agility in dodging regulation, and covering its tracks in the authoritarian conditions that prevailed in Asia even once the Cold War had thawed. If it invoked critical postures struck on the backdrop of social democracy (and social change) in the West, Asia’s tightly constrained public spheres would be no less conducive to politicisation of the aesthetic. Yet the legacy of resistance has become less clear, as something called ‘performativity’ has emerged as a mainstream value in contemporary practices with neither political agenda nor anti-market pretensions. In some recent remarks of the Indonesian artist, Otty Widasari, this modulation seems almost unconscious, natural enough in her national context to escape scrutiny.1 Performance Art is said to have emerged in step with political protests of the 1970s, but is nevertheless the proper precedent for the wider ‘performative’ culture now reflected in electronic and commercial media.2 An all-too-familiar lacuna: a genre once qualified by formal criteria and its socio-political agenda gives way to a style held to be ubiquitous, but hardly defined; the modish vocabulary of the present permits only hazy connections with the past. The new performativity could well be historicised in relation to Performance Art, but surely, Performance Art’s recuperation would also need to be explained as part of this ‘performative’ trend. Meanwhile, the welcome afforded performance in Asia’s more and more confident institutions calls for even greater caution. It was an obvious keynote of Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia, 1960s-1990s, a recent collaboration between national museums in Japan, South Korea and Singapore that made a transparent, summary claim for art’s social and political efficacy.3 Yet on closer inspection, more than one claim was being made here. On a connotative level, performance was an efficient mood indicator, signalling urgency, directness, liveness, the fugitive, etc.; an index

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of contemporaneity. But it served a denotative function too, giving the exhibition a self-evident practical and iconographical consistency, proving that that contemporaneity was, for all of its appeals to locality, transnational. In other words, performance was a corroborating sign, proof of a certain Cold War comradeship in time (Groys) that was demonstrably regional.4 For observers in this part of the world, the exhibition’s continental ambition could not but recall another 1990s habit: the narrative bundling that constituted “Southeast Asian contemporary art” as such, in surveys made by acquisitive institutions outside the regional economy of art-making.5 If performance is a key to understanding that period—and few would dispute it—it was not as a defined, self-conscious movement, much less a discipline, but rather as a kind of outlet or escape trajectory from disciplines and from discipline per se. One of the few things that had unified Southeast Asian modern art was its active depoliticisation by postcolonial states during the Cold War. Once any revolutionary fervour had subsided, national academies built largely on the premises of colonial ones tended towards the measured diffusion of abstract and representational styles and the bureaucratisation of artistic training, divided into ‘disciplines’. In societies where the stateinstitutional aegis guaranteed professional distinction, income and social mobility, departments were naturally averse to cross-media experimentation. By the 1990s, these academic bureaucracies were badly outmoded, as middle classes had grown, paths to foreign study had opened up, and so-called post-studio practice had come to prevail on the international circuit.6 Art History still has work to do comparing these national academies and holding them accountable for what they did to artists’ competencies in each place. In Thailand the decline is stark: up to a point, modern artists—even those matriculated in the state system which had a near-monopoly from the 1940s—were ‘artists’ in the general, non-artform-specific sense registered in most Southeast Asian languages. Luminaries of the 1960s and 1970s, academy-trained or not, were autodidacts practicing multiple art forms: Prateuang Emjaroen, Angkarn Kalayanapongse and Chang Sae-tang were poets or musicians, as well as painters; Paiboon Suwannakudt began his creative life as a choreographer. But after the experiments and repressions of the 1970s, which rearranged and hardened academic art-form divisions, most who went through the national school came out practically illiterate, or worse, pretended to be.7 This ‘specialisation’ reflects the wider, regional context in which artists would embrace performance—alongside ‘conceptual’ strategies and photography—in defiance of those divisions, breaking with (and breaking down) the technical orthodoxies of an institutionalised modernism. II It is this transdisciplinary promise of performance, more than its putative political efficacy, that explains its appeal in independent scenes and its preponderance in Modern Art’s becoming contemporary and transnational. Multidisciplinary experiments flourished at the junctions where the region’s artists crossed paths in the 1990s, not only the recurring flagship exhibitions like those in Brisbane (Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art) and Fukuoka (Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale), but also lesser-known intersections only now starting to receive their art historical dues. The transnational, biennial platform Womanifesto, for example, initiated in Thailand in 1997, was not exclusively a performance platform; yet performance offered women artists a practical latitude to experiment that many men, especially those ensconced in patriarchal national institutions, still did not enjoy.8

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Such gatherings could of course be historicised as a continuation of the story of Modern Art, its dilation beyond the North Atlantic or, if one prefers, a more geographically neutral history of formal dilation carried on here and there, but in any case resembling an older modernist evasion of the market. There are pitfalls in this approach—not least, the twin curses of belatedness and Eurocentrism—however sanguine we may be about the prospects of a ‘global’ history of modern art, and however attentive to the local stakes of those experiments. But this inclusiveness is not what’s driving today’s demand for histories of the 1990s, which are not so much extending art history’s ‘modern’ as back-dating its ‘contemporary’. That is sure to sound like an arbitrary claim—I admit it’s a polemical one—but it should help to clarify the stakes of the recent surge in art history’s value, so evident in exhibitions, collections and research in this region. For this ‘retroactive’ orientation, desire for a history of the contemporary, is quite different from progressive urges to resume or reanimate modernism. Instead, it is conditioned by three realisations: first, of the exhaustion of disciplinary Art History and its failure to take root in places newly subscribed to art’s international system and market; second, of the resulting deficits in that system’s fiduciary budgets, in the rationales underpinning value or the significance of art works; and third, that ‘contemporary’ is no longer an innocent, chronological term but an acutely ideological one, a value judgment often conferred or imported from elsewhere. ‘The contemporary’ is no longer simply the ‘progressive’ dimension of the modern, if ever it was; no doubt our awareness of its ideological dimension compels its historicisation today. And though Southeast Asia’s art histories may increasingly traverse national boundaries, revealing larger continuities (that may be regional, global or translocal), our contemporaneity is sure to be no less multiple than our modernity. If the regional viewpoint seems less blinkered than national ones, it is nevertheless usually dependent on them. We are often reminded of the arbitrary geography of Southeast Asia, its lack of geological, ethnolinguistic or cultural uniformity, of its gestation in the colonial imagination. We are less often reminded that participation in region has almost always been contingent upon national representation and the elaboration of what Patrick Flores has called “national form,” and that Southeast Asia’s facture, its realisation as a curatorial and exhibitionary construct, has been enacted primarily by states and national institutions, some Southeast Asian, and some not.9 Still today, in this unreflexive regionalism—let’s call it ASEANism—an artist cannot be regional without first being nationally interpellated. One becomes Southeast Asian not in spite of one’s national affiliation but precisely by virtue of it. Performance thus lies at the intersection of two dominant narratives. It is an art form whose vitality attests to both a history of regionalism, and a regional history of experimentation. It was in any case the most visible and most energised experimental form when contemporary art took on regional coherence, and therefore takes pride of place in our art historical picture of Southeast Asia, the lingua franca of artist-run scenes in the 1990s. Performance gave this geography—which was evidently much wider than ASEAN—a consistency that was not just stylistic but also organisational and economic. It was favoured by the first artists to form ground-up, transnational networks that were to prove exceptionally durable, and which didn’t just circulate art works but enabled their production.10 It is the only art form to have had the benefit of such networks. Painting, sculpture and photography still relied on ‘diplomatic’ circulation; media artists remained isolated; indie filmmakers met at festivals, but enjoyed no regional production loop until much later. There was no regional association of installation makers or video artists. But at this point in our historical summary, the art-form distinctions become harder to define, and for most artists at least, much less important. l

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III The two names for live visual art, ‘Performance Art’ and a more inclusive ‘performance’, were not distinct or severable when artists began to congregate outside the architecture of Modern Art in the late 1980s, nor when they began circulating transnationally in the early 1990s. Performance was an obvious hallmark of their gatherings but for most of those involved, ‘Performance Art’ was not yet identifiable as a genre or set of techniques, much less as a discipline. One often hears these artists claim that Performance Art didn’t really exist, or that they weren’t conscious they were making it, at the time.11 By the end of the 1990s, however, though still untamed by the academies, Performance Art had become distinct from the performance taking place for video cameras, and that engendered by socially engaged, participatory and so-called relational projects. In the last twenty years or so, this distinction has become paradoxically clearer, even as the term “performance” has been applied more loosely, to encompass diverse, contemporary idioms. The ‘performativity’ engaged in newer genres is less tied to the physical body, and resiles from the activism of the older artist-run groups. Meanwhile, artists who did assume the mantle of Performance Art—like Chumpon Apisuk, Iwan Wijono, or Lee Wen—have not been historicised as video or installation artists, though they did employ those media, which are in any case integral to the study and collection of their work. But they were not innovators in those media and indeed, their brand evidently hardened around the live, bodily, unrepeatable séance as the millennium turned.12 So what happened to performance? How did it split into these two distinct modes, and why? By the time Performance Art did see itself as such, though regionalist and abidingly artistrun—still deferring the separation of powers embodied by the curator—it had become exclusive and doctrinaire. Restricting itself to the material vocabulary of the body, it began to repeat political gestures that had made sense during the liberalisation of the 1990s, but later came to seem nostalgic and out of sync with international contemporary practice. It gave up, in other words, the sine qua non of modernism, that basic vocation to change art, a performativity—in an almost Austinian sense of the term—that had been immanent to progressive modern art since Duchamp. In the iconological collage opposite (a ‘musée imaginaire’ worthy of a Riegl, or perhaps of a Coomaraswamy), that performativity lies hidden in the mix with Performance Art, across decades and across countries. For in visual terms, there is no telling them apart. It may ultimately be the inflexive, social dimension, and not aesthetic choices, that separates Performance Art from a more expansive and worldly performativity. Somehow, Southeast Asia cultivated a Performance Art without performativity, one indifferent to the global circulation into which the region has so decisively entered this century. When it comes to representation in museums and collections, the horizons and itineraries of Southeast Asia’s performance pioneers turned out to be not global but regional. Their festivals became quasiinstitutional; live actions conceived for a triennale opening could be reified as installations, ripe for collection. But the institutional footing that Singapore, Japan and Australia gave them was to become their ceiling. And ironically, this Performance Art broke ranks with an international contemporaneity just as the performing body was making an epochal comeback, as its Euro-American figureheads were being canonised for bluechip collections and as performativity was becoming ubiquitous, a staple of contemporary art programming. The younger Southeast Asian artists now practising performance alongside other forms are indifferent, if not oblivious, to the legacy of the region’s pioneers. The successful ones, at least, are going further, younger, at higher frequency.13

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Performance will surely remain pivotal for any history, especially a social history, of this region’s contemporary art, and particularly if we value art’s capacity for nurturing non-parochial forms of community. But that doesn’t imply an inclusive community, and nor is Performance Art’s history necessarily a history of inclusion. It is for us to decide who among them are really our contemporaries. Notes 1 Otty Widasari, ‘Indonesian Performance Art in the Performative Generation,’ 2019 presentation at Ilmin Museum of Art, Seoul; https://69performance.club/ 2 Cf. the more ‘affirmative’ uses to which video was put by young artists after Reformasi. See Agung Hujatnikajennong, ‘Everything True Melts through the Screen’ in Amanda Katherine Rath ed., Taboo and Transgression in Contemporary Indonesian Art (exhib. cat.), Ithaca, NY: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, 2005, pp. 51-57 3

Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia, 1960s-1990s was a co-production of the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, the Japan Foundation’s Asia Center, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul and the National Gallery Singapore. The curatorial statement in the catalogue leaves no room for doubting art’s capacity for “revaluation” of, and liberation from, elitist, colonial and otherwise undemocratic forms of modernity. Performance did not dominate the exhibition, but without it that claim would have been untenable. Bae Myungji, Seng Yu Jin and Suzuki Katsuo eds, Awakenings, Art in Society in Asia, 1960s-1990s (exhib. cat.), Singapore: National Gallery Singapore, 2019, p. 11

4 Boris Groys, ‘Comrades of Time’, e-flux Journal, 11 December 2009. If there is a vantage shared by the organising institutions, it is not that of the enlightened, post-authoritarian museum but that of still meddlesome ministries trying hard to conceal their repressive reflexes. In Japan, we could cite the controversies arising from the vast 2017 survey, Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now, and the contentious exhibition After “Freedom of Expression”pulled from this year’s Aichi Triennale. The Korean art community is still roiling from revelations of the blacklist, nearly ten thousand strong, compiled under disgraced former President Park Geun-hye. In Singapore, the Awakenings catalogue was deemed too “sensitive” for distribution 5 The primary vehicles of this aggregation were the surveys held in Fukuoka and Brisbane, and from 1996, those mounted in and around the Singapore Art Museum. Recent examples include Negotiating Home, History and Nation, 2011, and the Southeast Asian core of the Singapore Biennales 6

This institutional history may reveal more historical parallels with the socialist Second World than with the North-Atlantic First World

7

It is hard to name graduates of Thailand’s national academy after 1976 who are known for writing. Two that spring to mind, Araya Rasdjamrearnsook (b. 1957) and Uthis Haemamool (b. 1975) both won notoriety, and pariah status in the art system, for their literary engagements 8 Asia Art Archive, ‘Inverview with Varsha Nair,’ 2009; https://aaa.org.hk/en/ideas/ideas/interview-with-varsha-nair. A historical resumé was posted online in 2015 at womanifesto.com, while two archival exhibitions have since been mounted, in Bangkok and Sydney 9 Patrick Flores, ‘Turns in Tropics: Artist-Curator’, in Nora Taylor and Boreth Ly eds, Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art: an anthology, Ithaca, NY: Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications, 2012, pp. 171-188 10 The main nodes of these networks were festivals like the Nippon International Performance Art Festival (founded in 1993), Asiatopia in Thailand (founded in 1998), and Singapore’s Future of Imagination (founded in 2003) 11

See e.g., David Teh and David Morris eds, Artist-to-Artist: Independent Art Festivals in Chiang Mai 1992-98, London: Afterall Books, 2018

12 That ‘brand’ sometimes foreshortened an artists’ technical range. Correcting this remains an urgent task for historians. See e.g., Chuong-Dai Vo’s reckoning with Lee Wen’s writing and drawing in her ‘Line Form Colour Action’, Afterall 46, 2018, pp. 15-25 13 Roger Nelson, ‘“Performance is contemporary”: Performance and its documentation in visual art in Cambodia’, UDAYA Journal of Khmer Studies 12, 2014, pp. 95-141

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The 2019 Aichi Triennale: Notes on ‘After “Freedom of Expression?”’

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The conflagration that erupted during the opening days of the 2019 Aichi Triennale undermined a good exhibition, and intensified a debate several years in the making concerning freedom of expression. In the process it exposed new dynamics of censorship and intimidation, while at the same time prompting innovations in artist organisation and advocacy. Subsequent developments suggest distressing trends, but the artists involved and Japan’s artistic community at large have demonstrated remarkable solidarity and resilience, offering new models of collective action and community engagement that might find relevance elsewhere, especially across Asia as blossoming artistic activity meets varying modes of official and unofficial censorship. The transition of July to August can be a punishing time to visit Nagoya, even for those familiar with summers in the megalopolises of Asia’s Pacific coasts. With daytime temperatures in the high thirties, and relentless humidity, it seems an odd time to stage a sprawling international art exhibition in the industrialised flatlands of central Japan. For tourists who have not mastered the maze of air-conditioned underground shopping streets that traverse Nagoya’s central business district, negotiating the city can be a test of endurance and hydration. But for all the dilemmas associated with the alignment of tourism and cultural policy—and in 2019 these would become profound—the Aichi Triennale was launched in the middle of the school holidays, an indication of who might be its primary audience. A reminder, too, of the civic function of events like these, and, in a crowded calendar of Japanese art festivals, of the Aichi Triennale in particular, with its unique mandate to represent the whole of Aichi Prefecture. The 2019 edition will unhappily be remembered for the inclusion and almost immediate closure of the exhibition within the Triennale, Hyogen no Fujiyu Ten: Sonogo (literally, “The Unfreedom of Expression Show: Afterwards”), styled more poetically and prophetically as After “Freedom of Expression?” This is a shame on many levels, not least for how unnecessary the affair turned out to be, but also because it overshadowed and distorted what was arguably the strongest and most engaging Aichi Triennale to date, at a time when the event, already in its fourth iteration, needs to distinguish itself from a host of regional competitors. It is frustrating to know that so many of the questions tied up in the sudden interdiction were already addressed with far greater subtlety in the body of the exhibition itself, but also gratifying that it was precisely the artists involved who sought to untangle the hideous knot that political cynicism and viral outrage had tied. If nothing else, this incident brought into full public view the complex forms of censorship that have dogged the production and presentation of art in Japan for some time, intensifying over the past half-decade. After “Freedom of Expression?” was intended to be a circuit-breaker, to utilise the resources and profile of the Triennale and its star artistic director, journalist and media critic Daisuke Tsuda, to present a selection of previously censored works for appraisal by a consenting and discerning audience. A response from reactionaries was of course anticipated, with organisers having coordinated with local police, and this section of the exhibition clearly sign-posted and confined to a discreet corner of the Aichi Arts Center. The overall mood, particularly among artists involved, was one of confidence and criticisms limited the typical minutae of curatorial practice: the space was crowded, some of the works didn’t seem to have been censored as such, there were none of the highprofile cases that involved sexuality. It did seem something of a distraction—questions of the topic seemed to dominate the press conference, for instance—but from an audience perspective at least, these matters sat within the realm of ‘biennial criticism’.

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Biennials, or more properly large-scale, regular international art exhibitions have been a fixture of Japan’s cultural landscape in recent decades, with some noticeable antecedents. Established in 1952 as the Japan International Art Exhibition, the Tokyo Biennale ran until 1990. It is best-known for its 1970 edition, Man and Matter, for which critic Yusuke Nakahara asserted full curatorial control, eschewing the Biennale’s genre-based selection, the privileging of formal artist associations, and clearly distinguished ‘foreign’ and ‘domestic’ sections in favour of an integrated display of Japanese and international artists based on aesthetic and conceptual sympathies. In 1979, Fukuoka Prefectural Art Museum initiated the Asian Art Show with a survey of modern art from Japan, China and India, and a far broader panorama of contemporary practices in 1980 that was reprised every five years from 1984, eventually evolving into the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale in 1999. The international open-air sculpture exhibitions that proliferated during the 1980s provided the framework for the rural-based, community-engaged Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, whose first edition opened in 2000, while a more cosmopolitan, urban counterpart was created in the Yokohama Triennale the following year. Between them, these three examples, with their differing models, initiated the current era of Japanese biennials and triennials. Initiated in 2010, the Aichi Triennale—along with the Setouchi Triennale, then establishing itself as the Setouchi International Art Festival—launched something of a second wave. Aichi was a novel creation, an exhibition based across an entire Prefecture rather than just a single city. While the 2010 exhibition focused on venues in Nagoya, subsequent outings expanded this reach to other smaller cities, including Okazaki and Toyohashi. A further hallmark of the project has been its embrace of the intricacies of urban geography, situating work in less visited sites—such as a historic textile district, a defunct bowling alley, department stores that have seen better days—that reveal economic and cultural complexities of their context. In its first three outings, the Triennale seemed subject to a tension about what kind of event it wanted to be, a regional development exercise like Echigo-Tsumari or another stop in the international biennial circuit. By the 2019 edition, this tension had been resolved. Tsuda’s Aichi Triennale was installed across two of its regular venues in Nagoya, the Aichi Arts Center and Nagoya City Museum, and customarily included a number of offsite projects, this time clustered around Shikemichi and Endoji, an ageing but lively downtown shopping district. Refreshingly, several sites at the city of Toyota were included for the first time, including an elegant chapter at the enviable Toyota Municipal Art Museum. That museum’s curator Yoko Nose joined Meruro Washida from Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and Mexican artist Pedro Reyes in a curatorial team led by Shihoko Iida, previously a curator on the second edition. Specialist curators for film, music and performing arts programs were also invited. Somewhat unusually for these kind of events, the artistic director was not involved curatorially. Rather, this curatorium set the theme of the Triennale, determining a framework for the curatorial team to follow. Tsuda’s proposition was complex and poetic, with an untranslated Japanese title, Jo no jidai (roughly, “The Age of Empathy”, but with nuances relating to truth and desire that Tsuda outlined in his concept statement), and an orthographically challenging English subtitle, Taming Y/Our Passion. It was essentially an attempt at retrieving Bismarck’s definition of politics as “the art of the possible” by placing current definitions of art at its centre, in the face of the populist nationalisms emerging globally.1 The curatorial team responded by organising a highly socially-engaged coterie of artists. Major international figures such as Tania Bruguera, Dora García and Candice Breitz headlined a selection that noticeably favoured representatives of the recent political turn in Japanese art. l

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The resulting exhibition was neither dry nor didactic, instead privileging inventive and experimental practices, with numerous moments of poetry and play. Leung Chi Wo and Sarah Wong’s Endoji Meeting Room (2019) was an affectionate tribute to the outmodedness of its site, balancing humour and insight in its combination of the photographic and archival, narrating real and imagined histories. Nearby in an Edo-period residence, Michiko Tsuda took the shifting planes and fluid delineation of inside and outside in Japanese housing as the point of departure for an engaging combination of mirror reflection, prerecorded video and CCTV that effectively choreographed the movement of viewers around the room. Tadasu Takamine, one of Japan’s most socially sensitive artists, was in mischievous mode, slicing an enormous slab of concrete from the bottom of a disused swimming pool and standing it on its end. Such interventions leavened the overall tone, successfully foregrounding artistic innovation as a framework for whatever potential politics the Triennale as a whole might propose. The inclusion of After “Freedom of Expression?” was the most literal manifestation of Tsuda’s theme of “the art of the possible”. In some respects this was entirely appropriate to the rest of the Triennale, given the various resonances across the exhibition and many shared themes. At the same time it felt somewhat removed. It had after all not been organised by Triennale’s curatorial team; it was a captain’s pick, assembled by a separate committee which had been responsible for the project on which it was based, Hyogen no Fujiyu Ten (The Unfreedom of Expression Show), that had gathered previously censored works at a small private gallery in 2015. The Aichi version, updated to include works removed from public display in the interim, did not have the spaciousness or finish of the rest of Triennale. Instead, it was tightly packed into a single gallery space and one narrow hallway. Its accompanying wall texts, which patiently explained the circumstances of each prohibition, read in a voice altogether different from the remainder of the overall exhibition. As an exhibition in itself it was nonetheless a rewarding experience, containing a number of works whose interdictions had provoked discussion and consternation in contemporary art. These included Meiro Koizumi’s Air (2016), Katsuhisa Nakagaki’s Portrait of the Period–Endangered Species Idiot JAPONICA–Round Burial Mound (2014), and the version of Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung’s Statue of Peace (2011) that had been removed from the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2012 for referring to the issue of “comfort women”, of forced sexual slavery during the Second World War.2 Other notable works were a redacted version of Chim↑Pom’s 100 Cheers (2011); Nobuyuki Oura’s Holding Perspective Part II (2019), referring to a 1986 incident when a museum in Toyama was forced to sell a series of collages of Emperor Hirohito he had made and destroy catalogues featuring the work; and a cenotaph by Masao Shirakawa, based on a monument to Koreans forced into wartime labour in Gunma, that stood for ten years before a prefectural government demanded it be taken down, with Shirakawa’s work itself forbidden exhibition because of the ongoing controversy. The absence of several well-known works that had fallen victim to obscenity laws was notable —although the committee explained their principally legal rationale for this.3 Overall After “Freedom of Expression?” was interesting and coherent, largely due to the high standard of many of the artists and the tendency of the subject matter to centre a related set of issues: war crimes, the imperial system and Article 9, the peace clause in Japan’s constitution. Phonecalls started coming into the Aichi Triennale offices on 31 July before the exhibition had even opened to the public, following a mention in The Asahi Shimbun, a respectable, editorially liberal national daily, that Statue of Peace would be appearing in the exhibition. This much had been expected, and though having the switchboard jammed was vexing, organisers were adamant

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that the exhibition would continue. Moods would darken the following day. As the temperature nudged forty degrees and the press tour moved to Toyota in far smaller numbers than had swarmed After “Freedom of Expression?” the day before, information started to circulate that staff and volunteers at the Aichi Art Center had taken hundreds of calls, many of them abusive, threatening and outright racist, with particular enmity toward Korea. A Facebook post had circulated and an army of trolls moved into action. With aggressive denial of the “comfort women” system—a favoured talking point on the ultra-right—complaints initially focused on Statue of Peace, but soon expanded to include Oura’s work, when press coverage mentioned that it featured a scene of a burning photograph of Hirohito. As civil servants, staff were required to listen to the complainants in full, with many of them taking over an hour and as callers read from pre-distributed scripts—the sound of pages turning could be heard in the background.4 Staff also had to give their names if requested, leading to threats against them and their families. The volume was so great that extra personnel, including the Triennale’s curators had to be rostered on, and calls shut down government departments Prefecturewide, even reaching shopkeepers in the area around Endoji. Some protestors even entered the gallery, abusing staff and other visitors. At the same time, Nagoya’s outspoken Mayor Takashi Kawamura, who had attended the opening celebration, went to see the work for himself, and immediately demanded that it be removed for “trampling on the feelings of the Japanese people.”5 His political rival, Aichi Governor and Triennale Chair Hideaki Omura retorted that this would violate constitutional provisions on freedom of expression. But the damage was done and the calls intensified. Even Ichiro Matsui, Mayor of Osaka 180 kilometres away, who among other provocations had once created sister city ties with San Francisco when a comfort woman statue was installed there, felt compelled to comment. In a l

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press conference on the morning of 2 August, Yoshihide Suga, Shinzo Abe’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, ominously suggested that a major exhibition grant through the Agency of Cultural Affairs could be withdrawn on the basis that the contents of the Triennale had not been described in the application. That same morning, a truck driver in Inazawa City used a convenience store fax machine to declare that a network of people would “bring gasoline cans to the building,” a direct terrorist threat.6 The timing could not have been worse, for two reasons. One month earlier, the Abe administration had suspended the sale of chemicals vital to South Korea’s semiconductor industry. While it claimed that some of the materials were being exported to third parties, including North Korea, there was widespread speculation that controls had been tightened in response to the Supreme Court of South Korea’s decision that Japanese companies were liable for compensation claims for victims of forced labour during the Second World War. The ban sparked a trade war and led to boycotts against Japanese businesses in Korea, while Korean airlines suspended flights on major routes between the two countries. Public sentiment was at its worst, and inflammatory and discriminatory comments proliferated in mass and social media. Then, on 18 July, an arson attack on the studios of Kyoto Animation killed thirty-six people and injured an additional thirty-three. The perpetrator had used forty litres of gasoline as an accelerant. At a press conference on the evening of 3 August, Omura and Tsuda announced the closure of After “Freedom of Expression?” citing public-safety concerns and their duty of care to stressed staff and volunteers. It was effectively an emergency measure, but it directly contradicted the exhibition’s intentions. Streamed online, the announcement was watched intently by artists around the country. Three hours later, the organising committee of After “Freedom of Expression?” held their own press conference denouncing the curtailment and, as an expression of solidarity, Korean artists Minouk Lim and Park Chan-Kyong requested the withdrawal of their works in the Triennale until the mini-exhibition could be re-opened. Even before the announcement, as closure seemed certain, participating Japanese artists, with Koki Tanaka, Hikaru Fujii, Meiro Koizumi, Akira Takayama and art producer Natsuko Odate coordinated a response. Tanaka drafted a statement which was edited by the five, then distributed to other Japanese artists by Takayama and to overseas artists by Koizumi. The statement made three requests: the restoration of the Aichi Triennale’s “autonomy from political pressure and intimidation”; the re-opening of the exhibition in full while ensuring safety of staff and visitors; and the creation of “a platform for free and open discussion that is open to all.” “We participate in art not to suppress or divide people,” it declared, “but to find different ways of creating solidarity among them, and to pursue the possibilities for free thinking beyond political beliefs.”7 It was issued on 6 August with an initial seventy-two signatories, accumulating a further fifteen over the next four days. Significantly, artists Tsubasa Kato, Bontaro Dokuyama, Nodoko Odawara and Goro Murayama did not sign the statement. Kato asserted that while he agreed with ninety-nine percent of the statement, thorough public consultation and the creation of popular support should precede the re-opening of the exhibition.8 Odawara, meanwhile, requested the closure of her work, which included a stunning recreation in neon of the arrow-shaped pillar that originally marked ground zero of the Nagasaki atomic bombing. The four dissenting artists, along with Tanaka and Tania Bruguera, who had stayed on in Japan, participated in an artist meeting on 10 August, where Bruguera proposed that a more public colloquium be organised. Two days later, Tsuda and participating artists met for four hours at the Aichi Arts Center, with the last two hours open to the public. On 13 and 14 August, having allowed Triennale authorities a week to consider the proposals of the 6 August statement, a group of international artists including Bruguera,

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Monica Meyer and Ugo Rondinone, along with Triennale curator Pedro Reyes, signed an open letter requesting the withdrawal or alteration of their works until such time as the exhibition could be seen in full.9 Tanaka joined them on 3 September, requesting that his space be roped off so that audiences could see his installation but not enter it. There were now three major tendencies among the Triennale artists: the largest group, requesting that the exhibition be re-opened; a boycott group, predominantly consisting of Spanishspeaking and Korean artists; and a smaller group of Japanese artists in favour of greater public engagement. What was extraordinary about this situation was that the three groups maintained a concensus, allowing differing tactics in pursuit of the same goal. Bruguera, a veteran of artist organisations and contesting state censorship, was particularly influential, offering support and advice that everyone should pursue in their own direction. Communication between artists, and between artists and the media was managed smoothly and adroitly, in marked contrast to that of officials who were hindered by internal processes and outpaced by the speed of events. That many of the artworks in the Triennale remained on display was significant. Artists acknowledged and respected the necessity felt by others to withdraw or alter their works, while those joining the boycott were mindful of rationales for maintaining participation, whether because of threats from the ultraright, a commitment to visiting publics, or a fear of the Triennale unravelling completely. Moreover, there was much in the Triennale itself that elaborated upon issues raised in After “Freedom of Expression?” Tanaka’s installation was produced through collaborations with Zainichi Korean and haafu (half-Japanese) communities revealing realities of discrimination, at the same time celebrating an internal ethnic diversity that is typically unacknowledged in national discourse. In a complimentary way, Fujii continued his exploration of imperial-era ‘Japanisation’ exercises, re-enacting assimilation training in occupied Taiwan. Dokuyama too dealt with legacies of Japanese colonialism in Taiwan, interviewing older, Japanese-speaking Taiwanese citizens in a video shown alongside an enchanting cherry blossom tree whose flowers were made entirely from uiro, a sweet identified with Nagoya. Kato’s work also explored national identity with a video of three musicians tethered together in such as way as to make playing the national anthem almost impossible. These contributions found dramatic accompaniment in Ho Tzu Nyen’s Hotel Aporia (2019), an ambitious four-part installation in a historic former restaurant and inn in Toyota, taking inspiration from a Second World War kamikaze unit that once enjoyed its final meals at the venue, weaving a complex narrative reaching from Kyoto School philosophy to signs of war in the films of Yasujiro Ozu. It was a stunning work, whose visual device of blurring the faces of Ozu’s actors functioned as a powerful metaphor for ideological obfuscation and historical lucanae. The engagement extended to a greater public than just the Triennale audiences. As some artists withdrew, Takayama set up a call centre, staffed by artists, handling the complaints still flooding Triennale and Aichi government phone lines.10 Then Kato and Dokuyama announced the creation of two artist-run spaces in rented premises in Endoji. The first, Sanitorium, drawing its name from a comment by Australian Triennale-participant Stuart Ringholt, was conceived as a space for open discussion, organised by Kato and other artists. At its first public meeting, a local right wing group attended to attempt to stifle discussion, but the artists present decided to press forward forming broader coalitions. Dokuyama, meanwhile, created TAGA-GU, an exhibition space that would also host talks, aimed at connecting directly with residents of the Endoji area. Protests and assemblies were occurring elsewhere as well, as local citizens campaigned independently for the exhibition to be re-opened. Statements of concern were issued by the International Committee l

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for Museums and Collections of Modern Art, the Japanese chapter of International Association of Art Critics, and a number of other civil society and professional organisations, all taking place in the context of intense media attention and belligerent commentary from Mayor Kawamura, Cabinet Secretary Suga, and Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa, the latter stating he would never permit such an exhibition to take place in his Prefecture, whose capital city, Yokohama, is home to one of Japan’s leading triennials. In the first week of September, Yui Usui and Ai Ohashi, two young female artists exhibiting at the Nagoya City Art Museum and After “Freedom of Expression?” respectively, circulated a petition framing the attack on Statue of Peace as a gender issue, part of a system of denial of histories of sexual violence and pervasive discrimination at all levels of society.11 This was allied by a statement from the Artist’s Guild, whose members included a number of the participating artists, inclusive of Koizumi and Fujii, drawing attention to the wider significance of the closure within a pattern of censorship and self-censorship in Japan.12 On 10 September, Usui, Ohashi, Takayama, Koizumi and Chim↑Pom member Ryuta Ushiro held a press conference at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Tokyo, announcing the foundation of the collective ReFreedom Aichi. Funded through the sale of artworks, its role would be to negotiate with relevant authorities to secure conditions appropriate to re-opening After “Freedom of Expression?” They also announced a project with the hashtag #YOurFreedom, mimicking Tsuda’s orthography, through which they would collaborate with a broader public. Their first initiative, launched a few days later, was directly inspired by Monica Mayer’s shuttered work The Clothesline (2019), in which visitors could anonymously share instances of sexual abuse on pink-shaded slips of paper attached to a clothesline in the installation. #YOurFreedom’s version was devised by the collective Kyunchome, whose work in the Triennale gave voice to people undergoing gender transition. They invited the public to similarly share on pink-shaded post-it notes instances when they felt their freedom was being restricted, which were fixed to a window near the After “Freedom of Expression?” exhibition space, and ultimately to its door. As the weeks extended, and negotiations and court cases continued both in public and behind closed doors, artists sought to increase the pressure, with Fujii and then Candice Breitz signalling their intention to withdraw their projects. On 23 September, Governor Omura held a press conference to offer some optimism that discussions between the After “Freedom of Expression?” organising committee and the Aichi Triennale secretariat might find agreement on conditions for the exhibition to be re-opened. Three days later, Japanese government cultural minister Koichi Hageuda made a shocking announcement. The Agency for Cultural Affairs (or Bunkacho) was rescinding a promised grant on the basis that the Triennale had not disclosed “pertinent facts” in its application for public money. The amount withheld was staggering: ¥78 million (US$700,000). Understandably, this decision provoked outrage. Omura promised to take the matter to court. PEN Japan released a statement to the effect that the decision “could be considered an endorsement of the cowardly acts that led to the suspension (of the event) due to threats.”13 The opposition Constitutional Democratic Party intimated that the Prime Minister’s office must have influenced Bunkacho’s considerations, while the leader of the Japanese Communist Party decried it as outright state censorship (ken’etsu), a serious charge in Japan, where the word has a strict constitutional definition.14 ReFreedom Aichi responded vigorously with an online petition that would eventually amass over 100,000 signatures, demanding the reinstatement of funding.

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Remarkably, it was at this point that during a hearing at the Nagoya District Court, the organising committees of After “Freedom of Expression?” and the Aichi Triennale reached an agreement on terms for the exhibition’s re-opening. There were four conditions: both sides needed to cooperate to ensure there would be no disruption, entry would be limited to holders of pre-booked tickets, the exhibition would be presented in its entirety, and visitors would be presented with careful explanations of the content and informed of the findings of a review commissioned by the Prefecture into the events that led to its initial suspension. On 8 October, the exhibition re-opened. On its first day, entry was limited to two groups of thirty people chosen by lottery. This was expanded to six groups of thirty-five the following day. Kim Seo-kyung and Noboyuki Oura visited to speak about their artworks, and a talk event was organised specifically on the topic of Statue of Peace. Kawamura blustered in the media and promised to stage a sit-in. The phonecalls continued —two hundred on 8 October—but the Triennale organised a quick turnover of shifts to limit pressure on staff. Akira Takayama re-opened his artist-staffed call centre, taking four hundred and eightytwo calls in the first three days. Then, at 5pm on 14 October, the shutters came down. The fourth Aichi Triennale had been seen in its integrity for a total of ten days in its seventy-five day run. With the question of Agency for Cultural Affairs funding not resolved by early November, ReFreedom Aichi intensified efforts to keep the issue in the news. In an instance of public theatre conceived by Takayama, they attempted to present the first 100,000 signatures to their demand for the grant to be restored at the Agency’s offices in Tokyo, only to be rebuffed and eluded in the most Kafkaesque manner, just as they had expected after one month of trying to set a meeting with Bunkacho’s Secretary.15 Meanwhile, artists were coming under increased scrutiny, particularly on social media. Edited clips of Chim↑Pom’s 100 Cheers were circulated to heavily distort the work’s intent, casting an endearingly boisterous, irreverent and ultimately humanising response to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami as a sarcastic humiliation of its victims, and triggering sustained troll attacks on the group’s Twitter accounts. Makoto Aida’s droll Video of a man calling himself Japan's Prime Minister making a speech at an international assembly (2014), which had been playing without any problems at the privately funded Mori Art Museum in Tokyo throughout the Triennale attracted international attention when it was cited as one of the reasons for the withdrawal of Japanese Embassy support for the group exhibition Japan Unlimited at MuseumsQuartier in Vienna, at the instruction of Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi. Clearly, this dilemma remains affective, but general observations can be drawn. The Aichi Triennale was not just the biggest story in Japanese art in 2019, it was one of the biggest media events in the country. As Tokyo-based art critic Andrew Maerkle presented in a salutary report early in the event, it was and remains an absolute crisis for art and freedom of speech in Japan.16 It was an extraordinary moment, but one that fitted a pattern that has emerged over previous years, where any public proposition contrary to revisionist narratives that seemed extreme even a decade ago is met with popular outrage and institutional pressure. The question of historical sexual slavery, which was officially acknowledged by the Japanese government in the 1990s, has become taboo, while visual representations of the country’s wartime Emperor and now—remarkably—its current Prime Minister, are considered sacrosanct. As elsewhere, the use of public resources to platform anything that runs counter to the dominant agenda, which includes government support for cultural activities, is a regular target of the far right, and a proximity between state agencies and ministerial control impedes transparent and independent decision-making. Even more disturbingly, this operates in concert with a violent, outwardly xenophobic and misogynist subculture that uses relentless l

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intimidation to achieve its dubious ends. For a country rightly celebrated for its soft power, this encumbrance on cultural production and presentation is worrying. Social media played a significant role in these dynamics, determining the sheer magnitude of the initial reaction to After “Freedom of Expression?”, which far outstripped anything the Aichi Triennale team, for all their preparation, could have anticipated. But social media does not operate in a vacuum. As with the firestorm of protest that shut down three artworks in the Guggenheim Museum’s 2018 survey of Chinese art on the basis of a salacious and misleading article in The New York Times, the social media blitz on the Aichi Triennale was closely tied to reporting from far more conventional media outlets, albeit in their digitised form. How these narratives are handled will continue to be challenging for artistic communities—not only in Japan—but this situation needs to be accepted as a concrete configuration of the public sphere at this juncture in the twenty-first century. Political interventions of the kind staged by Nagoya’s Mayor, which effectively legitimised the ultra-nationalist reaction, also play a role, and are becoming increasingly prevalent as opportunism affects politics globally, but also as insufficiently briefed public

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figures are pressed for media comment on nuanced cultural matters. This too is a feature of current public discourse, and artists and institutions will need to find ways to protect themselves. As issues of publicness, they have implications that far exceed the fluid borders of the art world, and require society-wide solutions. As an example in this specifically Japanese context, hate speech legislation introduced in 2016 does not actually penalise transgressions; tighter laws would criminalise the openly discriminatory abuse levelled at After “Freedom of Expression?” while de-normalising the ideological framework from which it emerged. These events have also confirmed the vulnerability of publicly funded organisations to political pressure, as the trouble-free showing of Aida’s work at the Mori Art Museum demonstrates. Exhibitions operating within the framework of cultural diplomacy have been particularly susceptible, although not usually from the Japanese aspect. High profile incidents of official censure occurred in 2017 when Tiffany Chung’s contribution to the Japan Foundation’s ASEAN anniversary exhibition Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now was altered at the insistence of the Vietnamese Embassy, and a work by Pangrok Sulap was removed from a Japan Foundation project in Kuala Lumpur after a complaint by a local businessman. Japan Unlimited, which was part of a program of events organised to celebrate 150 years of diplomatic relations between Austria and Japan, was the first widely reported instance of direct intervention of Cabinet in an international presentation. Nevertheless, that project, organised externally, went ahead without alteration. The total suspension of a significant sum of funding through the Agency of Cultural Affairs is of an altogether different order of magnitude, with significant implications for the long term sustainability of art institutions seeking to maintain curatorial autonomy. The principle of transparent, arms-length decision-making for cultural resources, protected from the arbitrary intervention of sitting politicians, remains necessary to the long term health not just of the arts, but of an open and active public sphere. More encouragingly, these events also confirmed the maturation of new modes of action and engagement being pursued by artists. Taken as a whole, the responses of the artists involved in the Aichi Triennale to the closure of After “Freedom of Expression?” and the circumstances surrounding it suggested the emergence of a new level of agency for artists in Japan, where a boycott is one of a number of tools that also include intimate engagement with diverse communities. It was in some sense no coincidence that a number of the Japanese artists in the exhibition had also been involved in some way with either the Artists’ Guild collective or its unsuccessful attempt to confront the issue of selfcensorship with the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo’s exhibition Loose Lips Save Ships in 2016.17 Their commitment to working through art to explore possibilities for new political configurations fitted neatly with Tsuda’s theme for the 2019 Aichi Triennale. The experience of Loose Lips Save Ships gave them a toolkit to deal with the situation as it arose, maintaining communication, solidarity and comradeship across a comparatively vast polity of over ninety geographically dispersed artists, as well as sympathetic cultural workers, as they experimented with a range of tactics and modes of address. It is tempting to see the blurred faces of Ho Tzu Nyen’s excellent Hotel Aporia as an unwitting illustration of the way the Aichi Triennale must have appeared to viewers for sixty-five days between 4 August and 7 October, with its roped off rooms and empty projection screens. Tempting too to see Tsuda’s theme of taming passions as wholly ironic, given the way events concluded. But it was not passion that was the enemy of freedom of expression during the Aichi Triennale so much as cynicism. For all the problems of their mode of address, large-scale exhibitions remain spaces in which new solidarities can be created, knowledge can be shared in common, and passion can thrive in the l

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face of indifference. It is reassuring to know that even as the Aichi Triennale’s capacity to perform these functions was reduced, its artists stepped in to do just that, with the goal of finding pathways back to some form of normality where, as Minouk Lim asserted in her statement of withdrawal, art institutions can “protect the dissonance of difference in every aspect.”18 Notes 1 Daisuke Tsuda, ‘Concept’, Aichi Triennale 2019, Taming Y/Our Passion, 27 March 2019; https://aichitriennale.jp/en/about/concept.html 2

On these incidents, see Reuben Keehan, ‘Out of site: Japanese art after censorship’, di’van | A Journal of Accounts 3, 2017; pp. 40-51

3 Daisuke Tsuda, ‘Aichi Torienaare 2019 “Hyogen no Fujiyu Ten: Sono Go” ni kansuru owabi to hoohoku’ (Japanese), Medium, 15 August 2019; http://medium.com/@tsuda 4 David McNeill, ‘Freedom fighting: Nagoya’s censored art exhibition and the “comfort women” controversy, The Asia-Pacific Journal Japan Focus, 15 October 2019; https://apjjf.org/2019/20/McNeill.html 5 Motoko Rich, ‘The exhibit lauded freedom of expression. It was silenced’, The New York Times, 5 August 2019; https://www.nytimes. com/2019/08/05/world/asia/japan-aichi-trienniale.html 6 ‘Truck driver used fax to threaten Aichi Triennale over “comfort women” exhibit’, Tokyo Reporter, 8 August 2019; https://www.tokyoreporter. com/crime/truck-driver-used-fax-to-threaten-aichi-triennale-over-comfort-women-exhibit 7 ‘Statement by the artists of Aichi Triennale 2019 on the closure of “After Freedom of Expression?”’, ART-iT, 6 August 2019; https://www.art-it. asia/en/top_e/admin_ed_news_e/201937 8

Tsubasa Kato, Facebook post, 6 August 2019

9 ‘In defense of freedom of expression’, 13 August 2019, reproduced in ‘Artists decry censorship of Aichi Triennale, demand removal of their works’, Artforum, 13 August 2019; https://www.artforum.com/news/artists-decrying-censorship-of-aichi-triennale-demand-removal-of-theirworks-80480 10 ‘Call centre will handle protests after closed art exhibit restarts’, The Asahi Shimbun, 7 October 2019; http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/ AJ201910070031.html 11 ‘Artists and cultural workers’ statement on gender equality and “After Freedom of Expression”’, ART-iT, 4 September 2019; https://www.art-it.asia/en/top_e/admin_ed_news_e/203165 12 ‘Statement from the Artists’ Guild on the wider significance of Aichi Triennale censorship’, e-flux, 5 September 2019; https://conversations.e-flux.com/t/statement-from-the-artists-guild-on-the-wider-significance-of-aichi-triennale-censorship/9400 13 ‘Critics lambaste withdrawal of festival subsidy as “censorship”’, The Asahi Shimbun, 27 September 2019; http://www.asahi.com/ajw/ articles/AJ201909270026.html 14

ibid.

15 The intervention was covered in detail in Kota Hatachi, `Seijika ga kenryoku o kooshi shite…' aatisuto ga bunkachoo ni “ikari” no koe o ageta riyuu’ (Japanese), Buzzfeed News, 8 November 2019; https://www.buzzfeed.com/jp/kotahatachi/artist-appeal 16 Andrew Maerkle, ‘The threat to freedom of expression in Japan’, Frieze, 15 August 2019; https://frieze.com/article/threat-freedomexpression-japan 17

Keehan, op. cit.

18 Minouk Lim, statement addressed to visitors of the Aichi Triennale, 6 August 2019; https://www.art-it.asia/en/top_e/admin_ed_ news_e/202494

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Contemporary Worlds and The Great Debate One afternoon in mid-2013, I found myself wandering around a fairground in Bandung, Indonesia. The ground was dusty and littered with cast-off packaging, occasional muddy patches were bridged with wooden pallets cracking under the weight of pedestrian traffic. As I followed artist Tisna Sanjaya through the fair’s alleyways, the screams of exhilarated children rose above the accompaniment of chugging motors, the air heavy with the smell of diesel, kerosene and deep fried food. Tisna Sanjaya spread his sketches and annotated photographs on a wooden bench and pointed to a Ferris wheel nearby, explaining his plans to turn the ride into a performative artwork for an upcoming international biennal. We took a ride on the wheel as the sun began to set, and then continued to wander the fairground, with the artist stopping regularly to speak to ride-owners and operators, and to look back at his plans while observing the different swinging, turning and spinning machines. The brightly coloured, full-size swinging ship, known in Indonesia as a kora-kora after Moluccan sea vessels, caught his attention, and he began a discussion with the two young men operating the swing. Later that year I witnessed his performative installation, Doa Kora-Kora (Boat Prayer) (2013) make its debut at the Biennale Jogja XII, Not a Dead End with the artist taking up position at one end of the vessel and an Islamic cleric seated at the other. This was no prettified replica, but rather an original fairground ride, with a rusty steel frame and brilliant colours carrying a boat assembled from welded panels painted to resemble a cartoon-style wooden boat. On the ground in front a traditional central-Javanese seated orchestra and dancers performed, while on the boat the artist and the cleric discussed the relationship between Islam, art, beauty and aesthetics. I marvelled; this kind of artwork, so precariously balanced and toxically-fuelled could never be shown in risk-averse, health-and-safety obsessed Australia. I was right, of course, but I was also wrong. In 2019, the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) commissioned what might best be described as an homage to Doa Kora-Kora, resulting in the work Seni penjernih dialog (Art as purifying dialogue) (2019). This kora-kora, unsurprisingly, did not swing, but was firmly anchored on a wooden platform. It also appeared to hang from a large A-frame, as though if the circumstances warranted it might well begin to move. The aesthetics were also tailored (tamed, even) somewhat to the environment it found itself in; raw timber replaced the colourfully painted metal panels of the original. But the references to Javanese culture remained, with a gamelan orchestra tucked into a corner, and wayang golek (carved wooden rod puppets), also anomalously unpainted, perched starboard and port. Inside the boat a large flat-screen television, held in a wooden frame to match its rustic surrounds, presented videos of the original Doa KoraKora in action, and various performances and video works from the artist’s three decade long career. In an interview with Indonesian journalists, Sanjaya explained that although the form had altered, this in itself became an opportunity for dialogue between the artwork and his own understanding of the technical limitations of the (museum) space. In this we might read that there are also limitations in the cultural space into which Sanjaya’s work had been inserted. l

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This essay aims to explore the kinds of limitations and possibilities that an exhibition like Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia1 presents, by examining the selected works and their ‘performance’ in the museum environment, and the context from which they emerge. How are they received, what is translated, what is lost in translation? This was, as NGA director Nick Mitzevich proclaimed in his opening speech, an “ambitious” exhibition. But in further describing it as “broad and representative” he may have raised the spectre of a kind of exemplar that the inter-institutional curatorial team (of which I was a satellite member) had attempted to wrestle the exhibition away from.2 Modern Indonesian art workers have since the form’s earliest manifestations resisted, deliberated, deified and despoiled the very notion of a representative art of Indonesia. Perhaps, paradoxically, the ongoing “great debate” over what constitutes Indonesian art is what best represents contemporary art in Indonesia.3 CONTEMPORARY INDONESIA OR CONTEMPORARY ART? There is a complex nub in this problem of representation, particularly when applied to contemporary art. This nub resides in the nature of contemporary art itself, in particular the drive for it to respond to its own times. For more than the twenty year period over which this exhibition casts its range, Indonesian society, culture and politics have been continuously agitated, encompassing the Reformasi era immediately after the fall of the thirty-two year authoritarian reign of President Suharto, and the subsequent decades which revealed the extent of his New Order’s repressive mechanisms. The consequences of the release of this authoritarian pressure played out in sometimes unpredictable

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ways, and the results, direct and indirect, have continued to confound. The lifting of restrictions on religious expression made way for an often oppressively dominant Islamic culture, which is now expressed in fields as diverse as women’s fashion, through to the interpretation of blasphemy laws. An increased collective consciousness of human rights and gender issues has brought many Indonesians ‘out of the closet’ but the increased visibility of co-habitation practices tacitly long accepted prompted a violent backlash from both community and legislation. This has also been aided by the decentralisation of a system that had vested all power in the Java-centred government, which while allowing indigenous groups to regain control over their destinies, also opened up space for peripheral corruption, collusion and exclusion of minorities. Indonesian contemporary artists (and many visiting artists) respond to these events sometimes in prescient fashion, and sometimes with the same bewildered and eclipsed reactiveness as most of the population. Eko Nugroho is an excellent example of an artist whose work has shifted from resistance to New Order restrictions on freedom of speech, to expressions of disquiet with the emergence of a cacophony of unfiltered voices and opinions articulated in the public space. His Daging Tumbuh brand began as a photocopied comic, distributed hand-to-hand from its establishment in 2000, as the excited flush of hard-won democracy swept young Indonesian artists into celebration. His artworks in Contemporary Worlds, however, are a more cynical reflection on the side-effects of democracy and the political milieu that is now filled with ever-present campaigning, demonstrations, moralistic overtones and an excess of contesting parties.4 Nugroho’s demonstration banners, loudly declaring in white on black “DEMOKRASI” and “NATIONALISME”, stand to attention under an illuminated sign that more quietly states, “COLLOSAL TRAP”. In an irony perhaps missed by many, the banners were created using the batik process, often associated with Indonesian-ness both inside and outside Indonesia, but in fact a largely Javanese tradition that is also claimed by Malaysia and practiced widely in Africa. While Nugroho’s politically declarative works demonstrate his transformation to pessimism since the heady days of democratic reform, senior artists like FX Harsono, who had worked alongside activists and NGOs to undermine the New Order, initially found themselves in a creative vacuum following Suharto’s fall.5 Harsono’s Gazing on Collective Memory (2016), at the exhibition entrance, continues his shift in focus which began with a re-evaluation of his practice’s role in telling stories of Indonesia. Harsono’s own declaration of democracy, Voice Without Voice/Sign, (1993-94), spelled out demokrasi in sign language, with photographic silkscreens of hand signs applied to canvas. Harsono is now concerned with those unheard voices from Suharto’s New Order and many other periods of Indonesian history. Chinese-Indonesians like Harsono have historically suffered the brunt of violence and marginalisation in Indonesia in spite of their centuries-long presence in the archipelago. Gazing on Collective Memory’s nostalgic black and white images, and Chinese and Peranakan (ChineseMalay) artefacts illuminated by red electric candles might not so readily alert the visitor to the recent backlash against Christian, Chinese-descent former governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. The unfortunate events that saw ‘BTP’, or Ahok (his Hakka nickname) jailed for two years on blasphemy charges alarmed many Chinese-descent Indonesians, who have in recent years been able to freely practice their culture in the public realm. Both Nugroho’s and Harsono’s artworks are such that the average visitor, or those well versed in Indonesian politics and culture, might not possibly be able to discern their multiple layers. What, if anything, should the museum visitor be learning about Indonesia from an exhibition of contemporary art? What should they learn from contemporary art in general? l

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PEDAGOGY, COMMUNITY, RESEARCH, MATERIALITY: THE ART MAKING PROJECT While contemporary artists’ commitment to their own learning, research and expressive methodologies can sometimes be obscured by the sheer spectacle of exhibitions in national institutions and the international biennale circuit, these are no more than the manifestations that come into the mainstream of public discourse. Behind and beyond these activities, ecologies of practice cultivate the production of contemporary artworks that will, for the most part, never be seen on the global stage. When we examine that stage, we see artworks that are developed ‘behind the scenes’ in an environment that we may never encounter. Artist collectives provide intellectually and experimentally creative environments from which, on occasion, an art ‘star’ might arise. Artistrun initiatives create exhibition opportunities for emerging and established artists, to critique each other’s artwork, and potentially push theoretical and real boundaries. Research-based projects comb archives and reveal histories never before acknowledged; community art projects are often intended only for the benefit of the community involved and some have no more than pedestrian documentation, and perhaps a budget acquittal to represent what they have, or have not achieved. This is the unglamorous side of contemporary art, but it is the larger part of that world and the part where the work is done. When we view the global stage, we may have the opportunity to look beyond the oversized prints, projected videos, repurposed images, objects and ideas and discover where they came from. In Indonesia, the historical context of society, politics and art has nurtured particular forms of art, the evidence of which has carried through—consciously or otherwise—to those works presented in Contemporary Worlds. The educational potential of art did not go unnoticed by Indonesian artists, their artist collectives focused on sharing both skills and ideology, and many of their members were students and/or teachers who played active roles in the independence movement in the early twentieth century. Over subsequent decades art was frequently employed through both formalised policies of bodies like the Institute for People’s Culture (Lekra) in the 1950s and 1960s, and the experimental methodologies of individual artists, as in Moelyono’s “conscientisation art” which he first began to formulate in the late 1980s. In the 1970s Moelyono was, along with FX Harsono, part of a cohort of artists who were deeply engaged with then emerging ideas around contemporary forms, such as installation, kinetic, immersive and participatory art—these artists sought to departition high and low art, and make their work accessible to ordinary Indonesians. The New Art Movement’s boundary-pushing exhibitions from the mid-1970s and into the 1980s were followed by the Proses 85 exhibition, in which several artists, including Harsono and Moelyono, embedded themselves within a local environmental NGO, witnessing such social issues as mercury poisoning in Jakarta Bay, rampant plastic waste dumping, and the side effects of mass development projects. Moelyono’s work appeared in the 3rd Asia-Pacific Triennial but fell short of his original concept, and he has not gained the international recognition of many of his contemporaries. Art historian Susan Ingham speculates that Moelyono’s work is difficult to translate into an international exhibition context, although “the artist himself says he does not find the transition from village to gallery difficult. His real work, he says, is in the village, that is his praxis or action, and the work in gallery is for reflection.”6 Resonances of the kinds of pedagogical intent Moelyono continues to champion are evident in Contemporary Worlds. In Tisna Sanjaya’s Seni penjernih dialog (Art as purifying dialogue) this was made explicit through the inscription of the words etik, pedagogik and estetik on the wooden platform supporting the boat, and through the dialogical lectures with community and intellectual leaders performed there on the opening weekend. Yet it also appears more subtly in Yudha ‘Fehung’

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Kusuma Putera’s gentle participatory photographic project Past, present and future come together (2017), which presents members of unconventionally formed families or households into a ‘single body’ enveloped with found fabric, revealing a single head. With participation remaining one of the driving factors for experimental art in Indonesia, institutions should recognise the importance of supporting audience access to works in the way the artists envisage, even though this diverges from the static displays museums traditionally construct. In Indonesia, with museum culture relatively nascent and free from the burden of ‘how it should be done’, museums and galleries are responsive to this, and to some extent are part of a context of production that encourages experiments in participatory and immersive art.7 Tita Salina’s 1001st island–the most sustainable island in Archipelago (2015) embraces the kind of deep research that developed from earlier forms promulgated by Lekra’s imperative to “go down below” into the lives of the poor and marginalised.8 Emerging from a separate collaborative project that has involved annually traversing and mapping the northern coast of Jakarta, Salina developed a floating island created from plastic rubbish retrieved with the local fishing community. An impeccably produced video documents the project from the collection of the waste through to her performative invocation of its island status, marooned between the natural Thousand Islands archipelago (north of Jakarta) and the man-made islands of Jakarta’s Garuda reclamation/sea-wall project. The installation of this work drew a constant stream of contemplative viewers, demonstrating how careful crafting of the “reflections” Moelyono referred to, in collaboration with exhibition designers, can draw an audience into greater communion with a works’ intention. The universality of the themes in Yudha ‘Fehung’ Kusuma Putera’s and Tita Salina’s works overcome any distance that may have emerged for audiences encountering Akiq AW’s light-hearted revision of the jingles and decorative cement reliefs associated with the New Order’s “two children are enough” campaigns (also accompanied by sanctions enshrined in educational and welfare policy). For the many Indonesian and ‘Indonesianist’ viewers, such references might have been obvious; for others, recourse to wall texts and the catalogue was probably required, or else contentment with the jaunty images and videos. In other works, such as Entang Wiharso’s Temple of Hope: Door to Nirvana (2018-19) a sense of exotic spectacle, an unknowability, may have been the most attractive aspect of this monumental steel construction with its lace-like patterns and atmospheric shadows. But upon closer inspection, what then of the comic book imagery, and quotes from popular culture? Does the viewer understand this work as a “meditation on impact of intolerance towards difference” as described in the exhibition catalogue?9 The “great debate” of Indonesian art has continued into the present day and into Contemporary Worlds, albeit in a different form. The notion of Indonesian art as inherently political is one that collaborating Indonesian curator Enin Supriyanto articulates in his catalogue essay, in reference also to the history of exhibitions of Indonesian contemporary art in Australia, and throughout the world. Supriyanto points, as he has done on a number of occasions, to the work of the Jendela Art Group, as evidence of the invalidity of the political assumptions around contemporary art in Indonesia. Handiwirman Saputra’s sculptural exploration of the materiality of detritus, the Tromarama collective’s videos infused with temporal tension and disrupted expectations, Albert Yonathan’s massive three-dimensional mandala and Faisal Habibie’s floating negative metal shapes left behind by industrial processes are, for Enin, “rebelling against the socio-political ‘frame’” imposed on Indonesian art by forces inside and outside the nation. The artists, its seems, regard these issues “not important enough to be part of their work.”10 But is this anti-heteronomous l

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position as strident as Enin suggests? Tromorama’s videos feature cleverly constructed dissolutions of the boundaries of image and effect—a standing screen featuring a fan blowing noisily points at a video projection of a tea towel ruffled by the breeze; a ball rolls along a surface on one screen before dropping into the next in a different colour, or a different scene or object entirely. Supriyanto contends Tromorama is addressing issues around the mediated image and our relationship with them through the Internet; surely this is one of the most socio-politically charged issues of our time. Alia Swastika (one of four Indonesian collaborating curators) also presents an alternative vision of the political in her essay on the body and women artists, when she reflects on the work of artists emerging in the years following the fall of Suharto in 1998, which frequently invoked personal narratives to reveal the effects of political decisions. These tactics were necessary to allow them to develop from older notions of what politics concerns, “Issues such as identity, sexuality, women’s standpoints on politics and intimacy, spirituality and environmentalism were less noticeable during the New Order, as politics was always discussed with a capital P, and referred to notions of state and power.”11 Perhaps this too is the socio-political frame that Enin Supriyanto sees post-Reformasi artists rebelling from, capital P politics rather than the stuff of interaction with the body politic. UNDERSTANDING ‘INDONESIA’ THROUGH CONTEMPORARY ART The media reception to Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia, though largely positive, was also hugely divergent in interpretation. Australian art historian Sasha Grishin reverted to a familiar observation of Indonesian contemporary art as having been influenced by the “common parlance of biennale art,” but tempered this with the contention that the bright colours and (presumably) exotic

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soundscapes identified a “national characteristic—their Indonesian DNA.”12 By contrast, Australian art critic John Macdonald was impressed by what he sensed as a “defiant rejection of nationalistic rhetoric” which, he seemed to suggest, is indicative of a similar sentiment among the Indonesian population.13 Nothing could be further from the truth; contemporary artists in Indonesia have perhaps even less in common with the broader, highly nationalistic Indonesian citizenry than compared with their Australian counterparts. Art critic Alison Carroll perceived a lack of exposure of Indonesian art in Australia, stating that more space is needed to “to find the sense of theatre, of the magic lurking in shadows, of the mischief and moral purity of the gods, of the elegance of line and style of a culture trained to see the angle of an arm or the bend of the knee as highly pondered action.”14 What such commentary had in common appeared to be an interpretation laden with nostalgia for a notion of Indonesia as something Other—to varying degrees, impressed by its aesthetic and experimental qualities, they have perceived Contemporary Worlds as representative of an imaginary Indonesian culture, one which is essentialised, unified and simple; knowable, digestible. These familiar tropes fail to represent urban Indonesians who are more likely to recognise the angle of an arm as indicating a selfie or a we-fie; nor do they represent those Indonesians whose performative and visual traditions have only recently begun to attract recognition outside anthropological circles and which are far often from elegantly ponderous. Yet many of the works in Contemporary Worlds engage with the ways in which culture and intellectual debate manifests in contemporary Indonesia—encouraging, even demanding a we-fie; they invite interaction with screens, quote comics, discuss postcolonial discourse, and reflect on religion and history in a nuanced, inquisitive way. That Indonesia is not a singular culture has been the basis of the “great debate” that continues today, and this diversity remains the source of both great tension and enormous pride in Indonesia (“unity in diversity” being the nation’s motto). But the dominance of a Javanese centre in contemporary art is one of the aspects the NGA’s curators contended with in their early considerations, including the Indonesian collaborating curators through their respective practices in Indonesia. As NGA Director Mitzevich specified in his catalogue foreword, the majority of the works were drawn from “Bali and Java’s key artistic centres of Bandung, Yogyakarta and Jakarta.” With Ubud missing, the inclusion of IGAK Murniasih and I Made Wiguna Valasara placed it firmly in this nexus. Handiwirman Saputra and his compatriots in the Jendela Art Group are from the Minangkabau ethnic group in West Sumatra but have taken up that culture’s migratory tradition of merantau and moved permanently to Yogyakarta, along with arts students from around the archipelago. Just four of the twenty-six artists were born outside Java or Bali, and while some live and work away from those islands, they are based in Germany, Japan or the USA when not in Indonesia. While it is true that over half of Indonesia’s population lives on Java, on the global stage there remains a disproportionate under-representation of artists who work on other islands. This fact represents what is required of curators from such institutions when aspiring to ‘discover’ Indonesia and its contemporary art. Collaborating curator Alia Swastika is involved in one such project (of discovery) in her role as Director of the Yogyakarta Biennale Foundation, which recently held the Biennale Jogja XV, the fifth in a series specifically themed around locations on the equator. For the 2019 iteration, Indonesia meets Southeast Asia, the theme of the periphery prompted the curators to arrange projects and residencies specifically away from Java and Bali, to encourage artists to travel further into the archipelago. Artists from West Sulawesi, Banda Aceh, Makassar, West Kalimantan and Madura were l

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also included. Another of the curatorial team, Grace Samboh, is instigating research into tertiary visual art education across the Indonesian archipelago. When these projects have percolated through to the foundational layers of contemporary art in Indonesia, the local biennials, artist-run-initiatives, community projects, collectives and research projects, perhaps the work produced by their many practitioners who are not based on Java and Bali might adorn the institutions of the global stage. Until then, most of us will have to be content with exhibitions that bring us into close contact with the issues that preoccupy the majority of (non-peripheral) contemporary artists in Indonesia: unsurprisingly, not far removed from the issues that preoccupy global contemporary art elsewhere —the failure of democracy to provide a voice for minorities, the amelioration of the rapid destruction of our shared earth, the deconstruction of structural inequities, and sustaining our cultural constructs. Notes 1 Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia, National Gallery of Australia, 21 June–27 October, 2019 2 Nick Mitzevich was quoted by Erin Cross, ‘New Exhibition Highlights Modern Indonesia’, The Canberra Times, 22 June 2019. The reference to the inter-institutional curatorial team appeared in the Director’s Foreword to the catalogue, p.10 3 The term “The Great Debate” was first used by Claire Holt in her 1967 study of modern art in Indonesia, to refer to what is known in Indonesia as the Cultural Polemic of 1935. Through published forums, writer and intellectual Takdir Alisjahbana argued that Indonesians should seek equality by cultivating Western individualism and materialism, while the poet Sanoesi Pane urged a syncretic approach based on his perceived superiority of the East. Claire Holt, Art in Indonesia: Continuities and Change, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967, pp. 211-254 4

Fifteen parties contested the 2019 general election, down from 2009 when thirty-eight parties registered, slightly up on the last election in 2014 when twelve parties were officially accepted. Vikram Nehru and Nadia Bulkin, ‘How Indonesia’s 2014 Elections Will Work’, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2013. For more on the evolution of the Indonesian party political system see Paige Johnson Tan, ‘Reining in the Reign of the Parties: Political Parties in Contemporary Indonesia’, Asian Journal of Political Science 20, 2012, no. 2 5 This period was examined in the exhibition and publication 15 Years Cemeti Art House: Exploring Vacuum, Yogyakarta: Cemeti Art House, 2003 6

Susan Ingham, ‘Powerlines: Alternative Art and Infrastructure in Indonesia in the 1990s’, PhD thesis, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007, p. 248 (unpublished) 7 I explored this in detail in my PhD thesis, Ellen Kent, ‘Entanglement: Individual and Participatory Art Practice in Indonesia’, Australian National University, 2016 (unpublished) 8

Antariksa, Tuan Tanah Kawin Muda: Hubungan Seni Rupa-Lekra, 1950-1965, Yogyakarta: Yayasan Seni Cemeti, 2005

9

Beatrice Thompson, ‘Entang Wiharso’, in Jaklyn Babington and Carol Cains eds, Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia (exhib. cat.), National Gallery of Australia, 2019 10

Enin Supriyanto, ‘A sight for sore eyes: after the riots and commotions’, Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia, p. 34

11

Alia Swastika, ‘The Private and public body in the works of Indonesian women artists’, Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia, pp. 43-52

12

Sasha Grishin, ‘Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra is a milestone exhibition for Indonesian artists’, The Canberra Times, 27 June 2019; https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6242157/a-milestone-for-indonesia-and-the-nga/; accessed 4 November 2019 13 Alison Carroll, ‘Indonesian art is fresh, energetic and lively. Why do we not see more of it?’, The Conversation, 9 July, 2019; http:// theconversation.com/indonesian-art-is-fresh-energetic-and-lively-why-do-we-not-see-more-of-it-119747; accessed 4 November 2019 14

John MacDonald, ‘Indonesia: Contemporary Worlds’, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 July 2019

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From the Artists Investigating Monuments Project, June 2000. Concept: build a platform of equal height and as close as possible to the statue of the Raffles Landing Site, invite audiences and passersby to go up onto the platform and look at the statue, take photographs and interview those who go up to the platform asking them their feeling of looking at Raffles from a different perspective; Lee Wen; http://leewen.republicof daydreams.com/aim-raffles.html

Cover He may have become a far-right internet meme in the West, but Pepe the Frog’s image is being rehabilitated in Hong Kong where democracy protesters have embraced him as an irreverent symbol of their resistance. Throughout the days of protests rocking the international finance hub, banners featuring the cartoon frog and stuffed toys of the amphibian have become ubiquitous, providing much-needed moments of levity as the violence escalates… Pepe’s embrace by Hongkongers is the latest bizarre twist in the fate of a cartoon character who went from relative internet obscurity to international notoriety. But it also shows how popular digital trends can mean very different things depending on where you live in the world. Alt-right appropriation: Created in 2005 by American artist Matt Furie as a “chill frog-dude”, Pepe became an internet meme within online forums. During Donald Trump’s election campaign he was embraced by the altright and white nationalist corners of the internet, leading Furie to pronounce his original creation dead in 2017. But in Hong Kong and China, Pepe never had those connotations and was instead known as the “sad frog”. The character became especially popular earlier this year when he appeared within downloadable WhatsApp sticker packs which users add to messages. When huge pro-democracy rallies broke out in June, young Hong Kongers were already pinging Pepe stickers to each other. But new protest-themed variations of Pepe quickly emerged, transforming him into a pro-democracy Everyman. Soon Pepe was being graffitied onto pavements, plastered across protest “Lennon Walls”, even painted on finger-nails… “Because we have the masks on our faces, we have to express our feelings in other ways,” explained Dennis, a 26-year-old physics graduate who has set up an Instagram account that gathers the new Pepe memes.Yet Pepe’s new appeal also lies in his flexibility, Dennis said. Pepe v Popo: In Hong Kong, he is no longer just mainland China’s “sad” frog meme. Instead, he is a defiant expression of the frustration many Hong Kongers feel under China’s rule and its Beijing-loyalist local leaders. “My own definition is that Pepe is for the people, in contrast to the ‘Popo’–the police–who are not,” he said. Protesters are increasingly aware of Pepe’s inadvertent connection to the far right. When The New York Times ran an article in August on the controversial character’s adoption in Hong Kong, it sparked an extensive debate on the online forums and social media platforms used to organise the protests. Would continuing to use their much-loved icon harm their cause? A consensus appeared to emerge. Hong Kong’s Pepe was a distinctly local meme. And if his notoriety in the West would help keep international attention focused on the protest movement, so be it. Creator Matt Furie appeared to signal his support for Pepe’s new role, writing in an email to a protester: “This is great news! Pepe for the People!”; https://www.hongkongfp. com/2019/10/03/hong-kong-protesters-transformalt-right-pepe-frog-pro-democracy-symbol/

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Page 14 Map of Southeast Asia and Australia as it was known to European mapmakers in 1803

Page 30 Charles Lim, Seas State 8:The Grid (detail) (2014) Image courtesy the artist In the various maritime maps produced between the 19th century to the present day, Singapore has changed from ‘Singapore Island’ to ‘Singapore’ reminding us that the contact zones between land and sea continue to evolve. From Charles Lim Yi Yong, Sea State (catalogue), Singapore Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2015 Page 22 Zai Kuning, Dapunta Hyang:Transmission of Knowledge, 2015 Image courtesy the artist Delving into the history of the pre-Islamic Melayu world, I discovered the empire of Srivijaya (7-13th century), which began with a wealthy, ambitious and visionary Malay king, Dapunta Hyang Jayanasa, who aspired to conquer Southeast Asia. It is said that King Dapunta, with 20,000 men, began his conquest in year 684 to acquire wealth, power and ‘magic power’ in a journey called Siddhayatra. In time, the Straits of Malacca, the Sunda Straits, the South China Sea, the Java Sea and the Karimata Straits all came under his control… The almost mythical accounts of Dapunta and his conquest were fascinating to me. How many ships did they build to carry 20,000 men? How did they navigate the complicated and often treacherous geography of a region containing thousands of islands? How could this piece of history vanish and become completely forgotten? I began to wonder and imagine a 7th century Malay Buddhist/animistic world where ships were vessels seeking power, fortune and magic power, each vessel both a house of knowledge and a dungeon of death and torture. Zai Kuning, abstract for Dapunta Hyang:Transmission of Knowledge, The Esplanade, Singapore 2015

Page 25 Lee Wen, Untitled (Raffles), 2000 Image courtesy the artist

Page 34 Titarubi, History Repeats Itself, 2016 Image courtesy the artist History Repeats Itself is a meditation on the history of power, seeking to make visible the legacies of colonial conquest in Southeast Asia. The burntout ships in this installation recall the ominous appearance of European armadas during the early centuries of European colonialism. At the same time they make reference to the burning of ships in Indonesia by the Dutch East India Company in an attempt to seize control of the lucrative spice trade. Standing atop the charred ships are shadowy, cloaked figures. Their robes are made of goldplated nutmeg, a spice once worth its weight in gold, over which countless wars were fought. Their rich sheen suggests grandiosity and pomp, and their hollowness conjures the illusoriness of riches and power: at its heart, empty. They are spectres from the past, a dark mirror to our present. 2016 Singapore Biennale, An Atlas of Mirrors short guide. In Banda Islands, the only place then in the world where nutmeg was grown, nutmeg, mace and other spices were seen by Europeans as valuable as gold… The Dutch East India Company burned Indonesian ships in order to control the spice trade. Nutmeg was a Dutch monopoly for almost 200 years. The Jakarta Post; https://www. thejakartapost.com/life/2017/01/20/an-odysseywith-your-future-self-singapore-art-biennale-2016. html

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Page 43 Qiu Zhijie, One Has to Wander through All the Outer Worlds to Reach the Innermost Shrine at the End, 2016 Image courtesy the artist

Page 39 Top: Toni Kanwa, Cosmology of Life, 2013 Image courtesy the artist Moving on to a serene state, Toni Kanwa and his usual approach of working went into meditative states at every carving of his tiny sculptures. He believes that all his being lies in the power of a Higher Spirit; https://www.tonikanwa.info/a-b-o-u-t Bottom: Eko Prawoto, Wormhole, 2013 Image courtesy the artist Indonesian architect Eko Prawoto’s ‘wormhole’ punctuates Singapore’s cityscape by pitching three conical bamboo structures on the lawn of the National Museum of Singapore. Aesthetically, the walk-in sculpture simulates the contours of a mountain range, which are native to Indonesia, but quite uncommon to Singapore. Indonesian folklore regards mountains as an axis meditating between the earth and the heavens, an idea that influences the artwork’s namesake; a wormhole is the hypothetical opening in the galaxy, which would allow for time and space travel; https:// www.designboom.com/art/eko-prawotopitches-wormhole-with-conical-bamboostructures-11-01-2013/

Page 40 Svay Sareth, Toy (Churning of the Sea of Milk), 2013 Image courtesy the artist, SA SA BASSAC, Phnom Penh and ANRDT, Berlin Svay Sareth’s works in sculpture, installation and durational performance are made using materials and processes intentionally associated with war –metals, uniforms, camouflage and actions requiring great endurance. While his critical and cathartic practice is rooted in an autobiography of war and resistance, he refuses both historical particularity and voyeurism on violence. Rather, his works traverse both present and historical moments, drawing on processes of survival and adventure, and ideas of power and futility. More recently, Svay confronts the idea that “the present is also a dangerous time” through the appropriation and dramatisation of public monuments that hint at contentious political histories; http://sasabassac. com/artists/svaysareth/svay_about.htm

featured in the work. Without these pieces, the piece has been rendered “meaningless, almost a tribute to Franco in the end,” as the artist put it. Although Singapore is thought to be one of the most progressive countries in Asia, this incident suggests that there is still resistance to free expression. The erotic objects were left in the exhibit for the first two weeks of the Biennale… This piece, along with other works, have been displayed in their original incarnations in other museums worldwide, including the Tate Museum in London, England and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, Japan; http://www. wiki.ncac.org/Welcome_To_The_Hotel_Munber _(installation) Bottom: S. Chandrasekaran, Unwalked Boundaries, 2016
 Image courtesy the artist Building on Chandrasekaran’s exploration of body and identity, this installation–in the form of “an intention to walk” focuses on the thousands of Indian convicts who, from
1825 to 1873, were transported to Singapore and served their sentence as manual labourers… point[ing] to the artist’s intended role as embodied conscience, highlighting the awkward gaps in Singapore history where the convicts’ contributions
have been long overlooked. 2016 Singapore Biennale Shortguide

Page 46 Aspinwall House, Fort Kochi Photo courtesy the Kochi Biennale Foundation

Page 54 Sue Williamson, One Hundred and Nineteen Deeds of Sale, 2018 Image courtesy the artist Few details are on record of the history of people enslaved in India and brought on the ships of the Dutch East India Company to work at the Cape Town Castle and the Company Gardens in the 17th century… Sue Williamson has inscribed this scant information in black ink on to cotton working shirts and lengths of cloth sent from India in a recollection of the original journey; https:// www.sue-williamson.com/one-hundred-andnineteen-deeds-of-s

Page 50 Top: Simon Fujiwara, Welcome To The Hotel Munber, 2011 (installation 2013 Singapore Biennale) Fujiwara’s architectural installation is intended to resemble a hotel bar during Franco-era Spain. Originally, he planned to write an erotic novel featuring his parents (who owned a hotel during this period), with his father as the homosexual protagonist. Instead, Fujiwara–known for incorporating architecture, performance art, and storytelling into his works–used that concept to create an imitation of the bar in the hotel his parents owned, with sexual objects hidden around the room. Gay pornography, castanets arranged to resemble testicles, and wine barrels with fake fingers pointing out of them adorn the ‘bar’. First, a sign warning [Singapore Art Museum] visitors of the installation’s “sexual nature” was hung up before the entrance to Fujiwara’s exhibit area. Then, without asking or consulting with Fujiwara, the museum staff removed all of the erotica

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Page 65 Gigi Scaria, Chronicle of the Shores Foretold, 2014 Image courtesy the artist [an] installation that draws together multiple histories and mythologies of labour, religion and maritime trade that lie entwined on the coastline it stands on… Scaria in this work orchestrates a confrontation between several overlapping episodes from Malabar’s history, such as the arrival of not just traders, but transformative cultural influences such as Islam and Christianity to its shores via the sea; https://artsandculture.google. com/asset/chronicle-of-the-shores-foretold/ hgG98GRmuVF5IQ


Page 66 Zai Kuning, Dapunta Hyang:Transmission of Knowledge, 2017 (installation view, Venice Biennale 2017) Image courtesy the artist

Page 67 Charles Lim, SEA STATE 4: Line in the Chart (photographic still), 2008 Image courtesy the artist SEA STATE 4: line in the chart (2008) derives from an image of a sea wall, complete with a sign warning ‘No entry, restricted zone’ in three of the four official languages (English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil) of Singapore, which Lim discovered at the northeast border of Singapore. Intriguingly, one of the things that Lim’s research reveals is that the limits of Singapore’s sovereign waters, unmarked on maps, are much harder to trace than those of the port authority. Mark Rappolt, ‘Charles Lim: SEA STATE’; https://artreview.com/features/ summer_2015_ara_feature_charles_lim/

Page 69 Ryan Villamael, Locus Amoenus, 2016 Image courtesy the artist Latin for a “pleasant place”, the phrase Locus Amoenus also evokes the notion of an escape into an ideal landscape. In this instance, the pastoral paradise has been sited within a house of glass –the greenhouse–an engineered Eden for flora uprooted from its native soil. Indeed,Villamael’s ‘greenhouse’ houses unusual foliage: intricate cut-outs created from archaic and contemporary Philippine maps. Coalescing notions of nature and nurture, culture and the cultivated, the work probes the imaging of the Philippines’ fraught history as the country that endured the longest colonial rule in Southeast Asia. Collapsing multiple realities, the installation is cut from maps that have two sides–a semiotic layering that conjoins the historical with the present-day. Creeping down from the ceiling, the Monstera deliciosa looks to colonise its climate-controlled space in the museum. It is situated in the Singapore Art Museum in the only space where a section of the original colonial building façade from 1852 is still visible. 2016 Singapore Biennale, An Atlas of Mirrors short guide

Page 70 Heri Dono, Smiling Angels from the Sky, 2018 Image courtesy the artist …represents a universal symbol of hope for the future. Heri Dono; https://www.facebook.com/ KochiMuzirisBiennale/posts/indonesian-artist-heridono-tells-us-about-his-work-smiling-angels-fromthe-sky-/2356397801050719/

Page 68 David Chan, The Great East Indiaman, 2016 Image courtesy the artist Commingling fact and fiction, The Great East Indiaman revisits Sir Stamford Raffles’ landing in 1819, which led to the founding of modern Singapore. In place of the triumphant European male protagonist, the artist recasts the narrative as a fantastical tale of a mythical, now-extinct species of whale that brought Raffles to these shores. In this invented folklore, the whale species called the ‘East Indiaman’ was domesticated as man’s marine beast of burden…The work, sited on the front lawn of the National Museum of Singapore, also recalls the skeleton of an Indian fin whale that was once the highlight of the museum; https:// artsandculture.google.com/asset/the-great-eastindiaman/XAF9n9WPHGmJag

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Page 71 Shooshie Sulaiman, Rumah Sulaiman di belakang kedai Ah Guat, 2011, site specific installation 2011 Singapore Biennale Image courtesy the artist

Page 72 Vanghoua Anthony Vue, Hard Hat Devi(l)-(n)ation #3, 2017-18 Image courtesy the artist

Page 73 Vanghoua Anthony Vue, Present–past–patterns, 2019 Installation view 2019 Singapore Biennale Image courtesy the artist

Page 74 Bo Wang and Pan Lu, Many Undulating Things (video stills), 2019 Images courtesy the artists The film begins and ends in a shopping centre in Hong Kong. We carefully observe the smooth movement of the escalators, the constant flow of people that never stops: as if this gigantic complex could concentrate the circulation of the entire city, or even, the entire country. From there, it will be more a tale about concrete, enormous port warehouses, overpopulated tower blocks, the fragments of still recent colonialism... Through the history of urban changes, we witness the profound social transformation of this territory that is constantly swinging between the East and the West. Hong Kong thus emerges, like an archetypal space of many other cities of globalised capitalism. Many Undulating Things offers a complex reflection on the relationships between landscape, nature, urbanisation and society… A political poem. Elena López Riera; https://www.visionsdureel.ch/ en/2019/film/many-undulating-things-1

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Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Together with works by professionals such as Hong Kong artist Justin Wong and Badiucao, a Chinese political artist living in Australia, these creative outputs ended up as physical objects attached to Lennon Walls. Vivienne Chow; http://www.bbc.com/culture/ story/20191211-the-powerful-images-of-hongkongs-protests Bottom: In Hong Kong, political art has taken on a distinct style, from design to distribution. Banners are not just plastered onto main roads–they are sent directly to residents via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi almost immediately after they are created. The graphics serve multiple purposes; some advertise upcoming protest marches, others contain subversive criticism of the authorities and many encourage unity and stamina. A key theme of protesters’ posters is the ability to “be water”, a phrase inspired by martial arts icon Bruce Lee that encourages fluidity and adaptability to any situation. This is in stark contrast to the 2014 protests, which remained in one area of the city as protesters set up camp against the authorities. This poster was distributed on Telegram by an unknown artist; https://globalnewznetwork.com/ be-water-hong-kong-protest-mantra-influenceshow-art-is-designed-and-distributed/

Page 75 Top: Image sourced from https://ia801009.us.archive. org/4/items/HongKongProtests2019_posters_02/ EAJXACYUcAAaWXT.jpg … one of the many examples completing the online-offline creative cycle that has been fueling the Hong Kong protests. Drawing references from popular culture and fine art, these creative outputs first propagate the ideologies of the protests in the digital realm. They are dispersed via social media, encrypted messaging platform Telegram and Apple’s bluetooth-enabled AirDrop. Then they cross into reality, ending up as protest art objects or performative protests in the streets, turning public spaces into a canvas or an art gallery. Images of streets that are full of these creations travel back to cyberspace and are spread further via social media. “The transformation of public space itself is art,” Him Lo, an artist and curator from Hong Kong, tells me during a panel discussion in Hong Kong titled ‘Visual Art in Public Space’. “We have more imagination of public space, taking the chance to transform space into place.” “This movement requires a great deal of creative power in order to sustain, and the emergence of artistic creativity during this process is natural. These creative outputs are embedded in the collective action and empowering the movement,” Professor Francis Lee, Director of the School of Journalism and Communication at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, tells BBC Culture. The strategy of ‘be water’, inspired by Hong Kong kung-fu icon Bruce Lee’s famous philosophical quote, is the fundamental principle of the protests–which come and go. Unlike the city’s past political demonstrations, such as the Umbrella Movement in 2014, where protesters led by political leaders occupied specific sites for 79 days, the current movement does not operate on a singular model, Professor Lee explains. “It has to constantly evolve and there is always something new.” And speaking during the ‘Visual Art in Public Space’ panel, Hong Kong artist Kacey Wong, best-known for his protest art, said that due to the mobile nature of the protests, art attached to the protests also has to be mobile. Digitally-made works fit the bill. Protest art, illustrations, animated shorts and publicity posters by anonymous creatives have gone viral, such as those inspired by Japanese anime and an iconic work by an anonymous artist called Harcourt Romanticist that references

Page 78 FX Harsono, Gazing on collective memory, 2016 Image courtesy the artist Gazing on collective memory is a poignant installation referring to the tragic history of the Chinese in Indonesia. The seemingly fragile work consists of a cluster of spindly wooden stands that support memorabilia including photographic portraits, delicate porcelain offering bowls and school books. Hundreds of electric candles hover over this assemblage, casting a warm golden light and alluding to the resilience of individuals and communities who are damaged by, but survive, a brutal history. The end of Suharto’s New Order enabled the emergence of a genuinely democratic political system in Indonesia, but Harsono has continued to advocate for a truer version of history so that younger generations might learn from the failures of the past to create a more inclusive society for all Indonesians. National Gallery of Australia Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia media kit

Page 76 Tadasu Takamine, Anti-thesis: Gazing up at the endless blue // stained forever by its color // I have ceased to be myself, 2019 Image courtesy the artist

Page 77 Nodoka Odawara, (1946-1948), 2011-19 Image courtesy the artist Both sculptor and researcher, Odawara Nodoka deploys art and writing to critically engage with the topic of Japanese sculpture, specifically during the beginning of the modern period and the Second World War. Her work goes beyond dealing with sculpture as an artistic genre, bringing to the fore the underlying issues of Japan’s modern and contemporary history. The trajectory of public sculpture closely reflects the shifting of eras and of society. Attesting to this are the arrow-shaped pillar that once marked the epicenter of the atomic bomb’s explosion in Nagasaki, the statues of soldiers and the monument formerly known as the Hakkō Ichiu Tower erected during the war, as well as the proliferation of statues of female nudes in the post-war period; https://aichitriennale.jp/en/ artwork/T02b.html

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Page 79 Tita Salina, 1001st Island-the most sustainable island in Archipelago, 2015 Image courtesy the artist In Tita Salina’s practice, intervention, installation and moving image come together in response to site-specific issues that have global resonance. 1001st island–the most sustainable island in Archipelago explores transnational issues of community disenfranchisement, environmental pollution and government corruption as they manifest within the Indonesian government’s grand plan for the restoration and redevelopment of Jakarta Bay. Long plagued with a legion of environmental issues, Jakarta Bay and its environs are impacted by extreme pollution, the reduction of important fishing stocks, and rapid land sinkage due to groundwater extraction that provides drinking water for Jakarta’s 10 million inhabitants. Combined with the threat of rising sea levels, these problems jeopardise communities of small-scale fishermen and coastal traders who live on and around the bay… To create 1001st island, Salina collaborated with local fishermen from one of the threatened communities to collect some of the plastic rubbish that plagues the bay. Wrapped in a fishing net to construct an artificial island, it was then dragged behind a fishing boat into the bay and released to become the 1001st island in the chain of islands north of Jakarta known as the Thousand Islands. Ironically, due to plastic’s longevity and because it floats on water, the island is almost indestructible. National Gallery of Australia Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia media kit


Page 88 A poster designed in the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda style. It reads “Living in a time of chaos, we have grave responsibility. Unite for Hong Kong’s destiny, fight the battle for the defence of liberty.” Image sourced from https://international.thenewslens.com/feature/ hkantielab/123058

Page 80 Top: Robert Montgomery, The Strange New Music of the Crying Song, 2012 Installation view Aspinwall House Image courtesy the artist Bottom: Subodh Gupta, What Does The Vessel Contain That The River Does Not, 2012 Image courtesy the artist What does the vat contain that is not in the river? What does the room encompass that is not in the city? This world is the vat, and the heart the running stream, this world the room, and the heart the city of wonders. Excerpt from ‘The Sufi Path of Love’. Through his use of found, commonplace objects, [Subodh Gupta] explores cultural dislocation prevalent in an era of shifting powers, as well as personal histories. [The work] evokes the conflicting feelings of belonging and displacement, movement and stability, and explores the liminal space between these states of being. Inspired by the work of the 13th century Persian poet Rumi, What does the vessel contain… is a traditional fishing boat… filled from bow to stern with chairs, beds, window frames, fishing nets, plastic jars, cans, an old radio, cooking pots and pans, suitcases and a bicycle. The ancient Sufi philosophy embedded in Rumi’s poetry speaks eloquently about the idea of the microcosm–the containing of an entire universe within the human soul. With this large-scale work, Gupta too creates a microcosm containing one person’s entire existence, bundled together and crammed into a vessel which appears as if it is about to set sail. For the artist, this boat ceases to be just a simple mode of transportation, but has evolved into an extension of the greater paradigm of survival, sustenance and livelihood; https://www.hauserwirth.com/hauser-wirthexhibitions/4674-subodh-gupta-what-does-thevessel-contain-that-the-river-does-not

Pages 95, 99 Posters and artworks from the 2019 Hong Kong protests sourced from https://boingboing. net/2019/09/05/the-art-of-protest.html and https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/hongkong-s-cultural-workers-hits-streets-in-protest In Hong Kong, the ongoing protest movement immortalises its political action in real time through art… Artists disseminate this work anonymously from all over the world on the encrypted messaging app Telegram… Art and politics are uniquely linked in the city, reinforcing the youth-driven struggle against human rights abuses; https://hyperallergic.com/535273/the-viralartwork-emerging-from-hong-kongs-protests/? utm_medium=email&utm–campaign=D010620 &utm_content=D010620+CID_888198d021bc0d 17f58b6cc02bda74da&utm–source=Hyperallergic Newsletter Image 1: The artist Harcourt Romanticist applies [his] imagery to Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, with a protestor at the center waving a black Bauhinia flag. On the right, a figure in a yellow raincoat faces away from the viewer with hood drawn in homage to the first death of the movement, a banner-hanging protestor who fell off of scaffolding in June. The adaptation quickly went viral and appeared in public displays across the city Image 2: Since sovereignty of the former British colony reverted to China in 1997, the bauhinia blakeana, or Hong Kong orchid tree, was incorporated onto the territory’s new flag… Social media users are posting pictures of wilted or bloodied bauhinia flowers to express solidarity with protesters in Hong Kong Images 3, 4, 5: https://boingboing.net/2019/09/05/ the-art-of-protest.html

Page 100 Protesters storming into Hong Kong’s legislative chamber painting slogans such as “No to China extradition”, “Release the martyrs” and “Carrie Lam step down” on the walls, while others put up a colonial era Hong Kong flag. Image sourced from https://english.kyodonews. net/news/2019/07/155a8456b306-hong-kongprotesters-scuffle-with-police-on-1997-handoveranniv.html

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142 — December / 2019


Page 104 Bo Wang and Pan Lu, Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings (video stills), 2017 Images courtesy the artists The devastating tropical climate created strong fear and anxiety in the British troops who stationed at Hong Kong after the Opium Wars. The 19th century myth of Miasma, the bad air, related epidemic diseases with air, environment and race, which later helped to consolidate the vertical segregation on Hong Kong island. Acclimatisation efforts were made in pace with expansions of the British Botanic Empire, a global network of scentific researches of plants, which circulated not only botanic specimens but also images created for the purpose of study. In the particular case of Canton in South China, local commercial artists were commissioned to make plant paintings. This work examines the peculiar dynamics between imperialism, scientific research, race and the right to look in 19th century Canton; http://www.bo-wang.net/miasma.html Artist and film director Bo Wang’s practice delves deep into socio-cultural discourses, engaging nuanced subjects, such as how images, symbols, and spectacles function in a society; urban spaces and their transformations; the meaning of “community” and discourses on postcolonialism. His essay films examine history and contemporary reality with acute theoretical awareness and humor, uncovering connections that weave together new narratives. In collaboration with Pan Lu, researcher and writer whose interests coalesce around the topic of cultural and cross-cultural analysis of various textual forms, Bo Wang’s 28-minute essay film Miasma, Plants, Export Paintings investigates the intertwining histories of 19thcentury colonialism. The underlying historical narratives in the film include John Reeves of the East India Company searching for draughtsmen in Canton, the popularisation of Chinese painting among European upper-class men, the British occupation of Hong Kong, and the 1894 plague outbreak. The work revolves around the Western myth of the miasma, a toxic fume believed to envelop tropical regions like Hong Kong. The consequent vertical segregation of Hong Kong situated British colonists on higher elevations from which they cast their exoticising gaze upon the “primitive” Orientals, who were believed to be more resistant to miasma. Exported paintings from China furthered the fetishisation of the Orient, while later photos documenting the plague epidemic, attributed to Asians’ lack of hygiene, embodied a scientific gaze that discerned their technological backwardness. Asians, as the object of the gaze, were defined by images circulated by the colonists, which ultimately helped construct a reality where everything falls into a single, Eurocentric synchronising metric. The film offers a re-examination of such a worldview, once considered to be absolute and immortal; https:// fifth.uralbiennale.ru/en/painter/pan_lu_bo_wang/

Page 107 Bo Wang and Pan Lu, Many Undulating Things (video still), 2019 Image courtesy the artists The film begins and ends in a shopping centre in Hong Kong. We carefully observe the smooth movement of the escalators, the constant flow of people that never stops, the musical fountain that presides over the centre of the internal courtyard, as if this gigantic complex could concentrate the circulation of the entire city, or even, the entire country. From there, it will be more a tale about concrete, enormous port warehouses, glazed galleries built for universal exhibitions, overpopulated tower blocks, the fragments of still recent colonialism... Through the history of urban changes, we witness the profound social transformation of this territory that is constantly swinging between the East and the West. Hong Kong thus emerges, like an archetypal space of many other cities of globalised capitalism. Many Undulating Things offers a complex reflection on the relationships between landscape, nature, urbanisation and society. Thanks to its exhaustive approach, the film questions the function of cities in the development of the capitalist system; http://www.bo-wang.net/mut.html

Page 110 Tang Da Wu, They Poach the Rhino, Chop Off His Horn and Make This Drink (1989) Image courtesy the artist Tang Da Wu staged They Poach the Rhino, Chop Off His Horn and Make This Drink at the National Museum Art Gallery and the Singapore Zoo in 1989. This powerful work brought together installation, performance, ritualistic elements from traditional Chinese culture, as well as contemporary social commentary. The piece can be read as a critique of consumerism’s role in destroying nature. It refers to the Chinese myth about the medicinal properties of the rhinoceros horn, and the resultant indiscriminate poaching and near-extinction of the rhinoceros. Tang installed a sculpture of a huge rhinoceros without a horn, surrounded by empty drink bottles in a spiral arrangement. He built an altar beside the missing horn and performed ritualistic gestures that signified mourning and grief for the animal’s death. Tang went on to use an axe to destroy the spiral pattern created by the bottles, suggesting its slaughter. National Gallery Singapore media release, Awakenings: Art in Society in Asia 1960s-1990s

143 — December / 2019

Pages 113, 115 “... to run this piece we would need to do something a bit unorthodox with images of both Performance Art and ‘performative contemporary art’... the point being that visually, one can hardly tell them apart, i.e., iconographical art history won’t help us explain why/how some of them progressed into global circulation and thrived there while others washed their hands of international contemporaneity and remained ‘Southeast Asian’... A kind of wallpaper composed of contiguous thumbnails, looking almost like a Google image search for ‘SEA art body 90s’... some works suggesting the political valence of performance; some standing for not-yet-canonised SEA activity; and some that mark the more recent ‘performative’ vogue.” David Teh’s suggestions for images to accompany his text, emails, August 2019. Reproduced on these pages are works by Lee Wen,Vasan Sitthiket, Navin Rawanchaikul, Sutee Kunavichayanont, Dadang Christanto, Tran Luong, Araya Rasdjamrearnsook, The Propeller Group, House of Natural Fiber, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Khvay Samnang, Roberto Villanueva, Michael Shaowanasai, Arahmaiani and others, as well as documentation from the Chiang Mai Social Installation and Womanifesto festivals. In 1995, an informal gathering of women artists, writers and activists in Bangkok put together a feminist art exhibition, Tradesexion. Calling themselves Womanifesto, this collective went on to organise biennial events that aimed to increase women artists’ visibility. It was the first feminist collective of its kind in the region, seeking to strengthen links between women artists regionally and internationally. See Varsha Nair, ‘Womanifesto: a biennial art exchange in Thailand’, Southeast of Now 3:1, 2019; https://muse.jhu.edu/article/721050 Images courtesy the artists


Page 118 Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung, Statue of a Girl of Peace, 2011 Image courtesy the artists In an ironic turn of events, the organisers of the 2019 Aichi Triennale in Japan have closed down After “Freedom of Expression?” an exhibition tracing the history of censored artwork in Japan… [the Japan Times]… points to political pressure following a statement by mayor of Nagoya Takashi Kawamura, in which he demanded the closure of an exhibition which “tramples on Japanese people’s feelings”. Statue of a Girl of Peace by Korean artists Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung was made in reference to the Korean women who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War–euphemistically called “comfort women”. The sculpture depicts a teenage girl sat on a chair, with clenched fists and a bird on her shoulder, and the original version was made in 2011 to mark the 1,000th Wednesday demonstration in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, demanding a sincere apology and compensation from the Japanese government for the surviving victims and their descendants. Since then, other versions of the statue have been placed around the country and internationally, including at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum where a member of staff destroyed a miniature version of the work, claiming it violated the museum’s policies. The exhibition’s curators have contested the Triennale’s decision to close down the show, saying it constituted “the most significant censorship case in the post-war Japan era”, while over 70 artists participating in the Triennale have penned a letter to the organisers denouncing ‘menacing acts and intimidation’, and insisting that the show remain open… Tensions around the subject of comfort women have escalated amid strained diplomatic relations between Japan’s rightwing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who refused to renew an apology to the victims, and South Korea’s leftwing government. In 2015, former Korean Prime Minister Park Geun-hye agreed for a foundation to be set up for the victims which would be funded by Japan, a settlement which was widely decried as unsatisfactory. On 5 July of this year, South Korea officially dissolved the US$8.8 million foundation amid ongoing disputes over reconciliation; https://artreview.com/news/ news_6_aug_2019_aichi_triennale_censorship/ The life-size statue of the seated girl, who is 160 centimeters tall, is a throwback to the women’s childhoods when they were forced into wartime sexual servitude. Clad in hanbok, the traditional Korean dress popularly worn at that time, the girl’s hair is roughly cut to ear length, symbolising the deprivation of the women’s right to selfdetermination. Cast under the young girl is a mosaic shadow of an old woman, a representation of the comfort women’s fragmented and shadowed lives, as well as the suffering they had from their childhoods all the way to now as elderly women. At the heart of the mosaic of black gravel sits a fluttering white butterfly, exuding hope for the victims’ reincarnation into a better world… The girl’s quest for freedom and peace is embodied in a small bird perched on her shoulder, which also plays the role of spiritually linking surviving victims to those who already passed away; http://www.koreatimesus.com/decipheringsymbolism-of-girl-statue/

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Page 122 Ho Tzu Nyen, Hotel Aporia, 2019 Image courtesy the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong The venue, Kirakutei, is a Japanese-style inn and restaurant that was popular from the Taisho up to the Showa period. It used to be crowded with workers in the sericultural industry before, with naval officers during, and with people from the auto industry after the war. Towards the end of the war, members of the Kamikaze Kusanagi Unit had a final dinner there before their suicide mission against the US Navy fleet at Okinawa. The characters appearing in Hotel Aporia include members of that special attack unit, a group of Kyoto School philosophers during wartime, and cultural workers (such as film director Ozu Yasujiro and animator Yokoyama Ryuichi) who were dispatched to the South Seas as members of a propaganda corps. The diverse lives and fates of these characters help us understand the multitude of forces, and the complex and often contradictory ideological and historical backdrops of those tumultuous years in which militant nationalism was inextricably intertwined with anti-modernism and promises of liberation. Hotel Aporia is the stage on which concealed histories are awakened. In this work, various conflicting contexts wavering between buried memories and forgotten records are pieced together, and layers of consciousness –including those who tragically lost their lives –unfold and find unexpected resonance. Here, historical facts appear in front of the visitor in the full force of their tragedy, yet everything woven in dazzling fiction, like a gathering of mysterious ghosts; https://aichitriennale.jp/en/artwork/T04. html

Page 131 Eko Nugroho, Carnival Trap 2, 2018 Image courtesy the artist Belonging to a younger generation of artists who emerged post-Reformasi–known as generation 2000 or the Internet generation–Eko Nugroho witnessed the rapid social and political changes that followed the fall of Suharto’s 32-year rule. Working primarily with popular culture imagery–street art, comic books and science fiction–seamlessly woven together with traditional Javanese motifs from batik and wayang, Nugroho has developed hybrid pop-figures that embody the attitude of this period… More recently, these figures have found new surfaces as the artist playfully experiments with different media–sculpture, embroidery, mural painting, contemporary wayang kulit performance and installation. Nugroho’s multidisciplinary practice has grown from a central objective: to find public space, in any shape or form, to share his art… Made of upcycled plastic debris collected in Yogyakarta, [Carnival trap] addresses Nugroho’s concerns regarding Indonesia’s plastic predicament that affects the entire archipelago. This not only situates the artist in a local conversation but is a comment on the wider global issues of waste management and land pollution. Conceptually, this work likens Indonesia’s current political situation to a carnival, charged with colourful lights, roaring noise and a seemingly collective euphoria. National Gallery of Australia Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia media kit

Page 127 Ho Tzu Nyen, Hotel Aporia (video still), 2019 Image courtesy the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong Ho Tzu Nyen’s artistic practice, which primarily includes film and multichannel installations, explores the construction of historical narratives through images and events such as documentary, theatre, art, philosophy, and archival materials. The layers of appropriated and original visual materials converge into complicated meditations on topics such as colonialism in his native Singapore, religion, and even abstract ruminations on concepts such as the cloud. Environments and site responsiveness are also important parts of his work, a recognition of the way a work’s context can alter one’s viewing experience; https://www. artsy.net/artist/ho-tzu-nyen-he-zi-yan

Page 135 Tisna Sanjaya, Seni penjernih dialog (Art as purifying dialogue), 2019 Image courtesy the artist Senior Indonesian artist Tisna Sanjaya was a founding member of the 1980s Bandung-based art movement jeprut–a Sundanese word for a unique regenerative force. Jeprut is analogous to a short-circuiting of the everyday, where existing conditions are broken by an exploding light, resulting in new energies and possibilities. During Suharto’s reign, and together with his collaborators, Sanjaya staged performance-based ‘happenings’ of a tactically improvised and abstract nature. To shield the jeprut artists from government censure, works were performed and concluded quickly, existing only as ephemeral experience. Adopting the mantra “Say it (even if bitter), and then pray it”, Sanjaya’s works can be understood as art activism, publicly broadcast to local and global effect in the post-Reformasi era. National Gallery of Australia Contemporary Worlds: Indonesia media kit

144 — December / 2019


50 # 10 Chancery Lane 1335Mabini 303 Gallery 47 Canal A Miguel Abreu Acquavella Aike Alisan Sabrina Amrani Anomaly Antenna Space Applicat-Prazan Arario Alfonso Artiaco Artinformal Aye B Balice Hertling Beijing Art Now Beijing Commune Bergamin & Gomide Bernier/Eliades Blindspot Blum & Poe Boers-Li Tanya Bonakdar Ben Brown Gavin Brown C Gisela Capitain Cardi Carlos/Ishikawa Chambers Chemould Prescott Road Yumiko Chiba Chi-Wen Clearing Sadie Coles HQ Contemporary Fine Arts Continua Paula Cooper Pilar Corrias Cristea Roberts Chantal Crousel

D Thomas Dane Massimo De Carlo de Sarthe Dirimart du Monde E Eigen + Art Eslite Espace Gallery Exit Experimenter F Selma Feriani Konrad Fischer Fortes D‘Aloia & Gabriel Fox/Jensen Stephen Friedman G Gagosian Gajah gb agency Ghebaly Gladstone Marian Goodman Gow Langsford Richard Gray Greene Naftali Grotto H Hakgojae Hanart TZ Hauser & Wirth Herald St Max Hetzler Hive Xavier Hufkens I Ingleby Ink Studio Taka Ishii J Annely Juda

K Kaikai Kiki Kalfayan Karma International Kasmin Sean Kelly Tina Keng Kerlin Peter Kilchmann David Kordansky Tomio Koyama Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler Krinzinger Kukje kurimanzutto

The Modern Institute mother‘s tankstation

L Pearl Lam Simon Lee Leeahn Lehmann Maupin Lelong Lévy Gorvy Liang Lin & Lin Lisson Luhring Augustine Luxembourg & Dayan

O Nathalie Obadia OMR One and J. Lorcan O‘Neill Ora-Ora Ota

M Maggiore Magician Space Mai 36 Edouard Malingue Matthew Marks Marlborough Mayoral Mazzoleni Fergus McCaffrey Greta Meert Urs Meile Mendes Wood DM kamel mennour Metro Pictures Meyer Riegger Mind Set Francesca Minini Victoria Miro Mitchell-Innes & Nash Mizuma

March 19 – 21, 2020

N nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder Nadi Nagel Draxler Richard Nagy Nanzuka Taro Nasu neugerriemschneider nichido Anna Ning Franco Noero

P P.P.O.W Pace Pace Prints Paragon Peres Projects Perrotin Petzel Pi Artworks PKM Plan B Eva Presenhuber R Almine Rech Regen Projects Nara Roesler ROH Projects Tyler Rollins Thaddaeus Ropac Rossi & Rossi Lia Rumma S SCAI The Bathhouse Esther Schipper

Rüdiger Schöttle ShanghART ShugoArts Side 2 Sies + Höke Silverlens Skarstedt Société Soka Sprüth Magers Star Starkwhite STPI Sullivan+Strumpf T Take Ninagawa Tang Templon The Third Line TKG+ Tokyo Gallery + BTAP Tornabuoni Two Palms V Vadehra Van de Weghe Vitamin W Waddington Custot Wentrup Michael Werner White Cube White Space Beijing Barbara Wien Jocelyn Wolff Y Yavuz Z Zeno X Zilberman David Zwirner Insights A Thousand Plateaus Asia Art Center Bank

Baton Beyond Empty Gallery Hunsand Space Yoshiaki Inoue Johyun Kogure Richard Koh Leo MadeIn Jan Murphy Nova Contemporary Pifo Misa Shin The Third Gallery Aya Axel Vervoordt Watanuki / Toki-noWasuremono Wooson Discoveries A+ Contemporary Bangkok CityCity Capsule Château Shatto Commonwealth and Council Crèvecoeur Don Fine Arts, Sydney Green Art High Art Jhaveri JTT Maho Kubota Emanuel Layr David Lewis mor charpentier P21 Project Native Informant Jessica Silverman Park View / Paul Soto Southard Reid Gregor Staiger Tabula Rasa Yuka Tsuruno Vanguard

Henry Moore with his sculpture Seated Woman at ART 01, 1970 by Kurt Wyss (Above); David Zwirner at Art Basel Hong Kong 2019 (Below)

YEARS

Participating Galleries

Profile for UNSW Art & Design

Di'van | A Journal of Accounts | Issue 7  

Di'van | A Journal of Accounts | Issue 7  

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