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A Journal of Accounts Art | Culture | Theory

Rana Anani | Stephanie Bailey | Colin Siyuan Chinnery | Patrick Flores | Paul Gladston Reuben Keehan | Nat Muller | Mary Pelletier | Emily Wakeling | Souchou Yao


CONTEMPORARY: Ab-Anbar, Tehran · Addis Fine Art, Addis Ababa / London · Agial Art, Beirut · Aicon, New York · Artside, Seoul · Artwin, Moscow · Aspan, Almaty · Piero Atchugarry, Pueblo Garzón · Athr, Jeddah · Ayyam, Dubai / Beirut · bäckerstrasse4, Vienna · Elba Benítez, Madrid · Marianne Boesky, New York / Aspen · Brandstrup, Oslo · Martin Browne, Sydney · Canvas, Karachi · Carbon 12, Dubai · Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Les Moulins / La Habana · Custot, Dubai · Dastan’s Basement, Tehran · Elmarsa, Tunis / Dubai · Espacio Valverde, Madrid · Experimenter, Kolkata · Isabelle van den Eynde, Dubai · Imane Farès, Paris · Henrique Faria, New York / Buenos Aires · Saskia Fernando, Colombo · Selma Feriani, Tunis / London · Galerist, Istanbul · Gallery 1957, Accra · Gazelli Art House, Baku / London · Green Art Gallery, Dubai · Grosvenor, London · Gypsum, Cairo · Hafez, Jeddah · Leila Heller, New York / Dubai · Kristin Hjellegjerde, London · i8, Reykjavik · Ikkan Art, Singapore · Inda, Budapest · Kalfayan, Athens / Thessaloniki · Dorothea van der Koelen, Mainz / Venice · Krinzinger, Vienna · Lawrie Shabibi, Dubai · Lelong & Co, Paris / New York · John Martin, London · Meem, Dubai · Mitterrand, Paris · Victoria Miro, London/ Venice · Mohsen, Tehran · Franco Noero, Turin · Wendi Norris, San Francisco · Officine dell’Immagine, Milan · Gallery One, Ramallah · Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / Singapore / Shanghai · Pace Art + Technology, Menlo Park · Giorgio Persano, Turin · Plutschow, Zurich · Polaris, Paris · Project ArtBeat, Tbilisi · Katharina Maria Raab, Berlin · Revolver, Lima / Buenos Aires · Rosenfeld Porcini, London · Sanat, Karachi · Sanatorium, Istanbul · Sfeir-Semler, Hamburg / Beirut · Sophia Contemporary, London · Michael Sturm, Stuttgart · Tafeta, London · Tanit, Munich / Beirut · Daniel Templon, Paris / Brussels · The Third Line, Dubai · Vermelho, Sao Paulo · Voice, Marrakech · x-ist, Istanbul · Zawyeh, Ramallah · Zidoun-Bossuyt, Luxembourg · Zilberman, Istanbul / Berlin MODERN: Agial, Beirut · Akara Art, Mumbai · Albareh, Manama · Aria, Tehran · Le Violon Bleu, Tunis · DAG Modern, New Delhi / Mumbai / New York · Elmarsa, Tunis / Dubai · Grosvenor, London · Hafez, Jeddah · Karim Francis, Cairo · Mark Hachem, New York / Paris / Beirut · Gallery One, Ramallah · Perve, Lisbon · Sanchit, New Delhi · Ubuntu, Cairo · Wadi Finan, Amman RESIDENTS: 1x1, Dubai [Poonam Jain] · Erti, Tbilisi [Tato Akhalkatsishvili] · Mariane Ibrahim, Seattle [Zohra Opoku] · Kornfeld, Berlin [Farshad Farzankia] · Lakum, Riyadh [Faris Alosaimi] · The Mine, Dubai [Yasuaki Onishi] · Öktem&Aykut, Istanbul [Jennifer İpekel] · Orbital Dago, Bandung [Piko Iabadiou] · The Rooster, Vilnius [Kristina Alisauskaite] · Tyburn, London [Victor Ehikhamenor]

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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

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD NANCY ADAJANIA India Cultural theorist, editor, writer and curator, Bombay (Mumbai) JOHN BATTEN Hong Kong Writer and art, culture, and urban planning critic

ISSN 2207-1563

THOMAS BERGHUIS The Netherlands/Australia Fellow, Leiden Asia Centre, Leiden University; Principal Fellow (Honorary), School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

© Copyright 2017 Alan Cruickshank in conjunction with the University of NSW Art & Design, Sydney, the authors and artists.

DIANA CAMPBELL BETANCOURT Bangladesh Artistic Director, Samdani Art Foundation; Chief Curator, Dhaka Art Summit, Dhaka Artistic Director, Bellas Artes Projects, Manila

No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission.

FULYA ERDEMCI Turkey/The Netherlands Curator and writer, Istanbul/Amsterdam

d ɪˈv a n | A Journal of Accounts is published biannually by DIVAN JOURNAL and University of NSW Art & Design, Sydney.

PATRICK FLORES The Philippines Professor of Art Studies, University of the Philippines, Manila

Editorial | Subscription | Advertising inquiries: Email: artandculturejournal@gmail.com Post: University of NSW Art & Design Paddington Campus, Cnr Oxford St & Greens Rd, Paddington, NSW 2021 Australia

BLAIR FRENCH Australia Director, Curatorial & Digital, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney

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 art historical, socio-political and theoretical contexts, from the MENASA (Middle East, North Africa, South Asia), greater Asia/Asia-Pacific regions, and Australia.

ADAM GECZY Australia Senior Lecturer, Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney; author, artist PAUL GLADSTON Australia Judith Neilson Chair in 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 | Modern Art, Brisbane VASIF KORTUN Turkey Board Member, SALT, Istanbul RAY LANGENBACH Finland Research Fellow, Finnish Academy of Fine Art, Helsinki SUSIE LINGHAM Singapore Independent thinker, writer, educator and maker in the arts IAN McLEAN Australia The Hugh Ramsay Chair of Australian Art, University of 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 NIKOS PAPASTERGIADIS Australia Professor, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne ROBIN PECKHAM China Editor-in-Chief, LEAP magazine, Beijing SIMON REES New Zealand Director, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth

Cover: Chim Pom, Super Rat, 2016 Photo courtesy the artists, Mujin-to Production, Tokyo, and Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam

TAN BOON HUI USA Director, Asia Society Museum; Vice President of Global Arts & Cultural Programs, Asia Society, New York PHIL TINARI China Director, Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art, Beijing

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MURTAZA VALI USA Writer, art historian, and curator, New York ALA YOUNIS Jordan Curator and artist, Amman

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Contents 18 Editorial

90 Learning from the Future: Tintin Wulia’s ‘1001 Martian Homes’

ALAN CRUICKSHANK

EMILY WAKELING

20 A Phármakon, (Re-)Administered: On the Mainstreaming of Critical Theory, LD50 and the Han-opticon PAUL GLADSTON

32 The Double-Agency of History: Art as Fake SOUCHOU YAO

40 Out of Site: Japanese Art After Censorship

100 This Beautiful, Tangled, Chaotic Game: On Three-Sided Football, Triolectics and World Space(s) STEPHANIE BAILEY

114 Tomorrow Girls: Sci-Fi, Other Worlds and Geo-Politics in Media Art from the Middle East NAT MULLER

REUBEN KEEHAN

122 ‘One Hundred Years’ On: The Worn Away Mask of Jerusalem

52 Still Dancing With Taboos

RANA ANANI

MARY PELLETIER

130 Sounding Out Beijing’s Past and Present

62 Difficult Comparisons: The Curatorial Desire for Southeast Asia

COLIN SIYUAN CHINNERY

PATRICK FLORES

138

IMAGE NOTATIONS

3 — december / 2017


SALTRESEARCH.ORG SALT Research comprises a specialized library and an archive of physical and digital sources and documents on visual practices, the built environment, social life, and economic history. More than 1.700.000 digital documents are open to public access online.

Füreya Koral’s studio in Istanbul [left to right]: Aliye Berger, Fahrelnissa Zeid, Robert Trainer, Şirin Devrim, Hakkiye Koral and Füreya Koral. SALT Research, Yusuf Taktak Archive

SALT founded by Garanti saltonline.org


THE ABRAAJ GROUP ART PRIZE 2018 WINNING ARTIST Lawrence Abu Hamdan SHORTLISTED ARTISTS Basma Alsharif Neil Beloufa Ali Cherri GUEST CURATOR Myriam Ben Salah ART DUBAI March 21-24, 2018 Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai

artdubai.ae abraajgroupartprize.com @AbraajArtPrize facebook.com/AbraajArtPrize


PUBLICATIONS 2016 — 2018

THEATRICAL FIELDS Critical Strategies in Performance, Film, and Video

he words “theory” and “theater” share the same etymological root. From thea, “to see,” the two converge in the act of con templative spectatorship. To come to know something, to watch and observe it, requires critical distance from the object of study. Based on an exhibition of the same name, Theatrical Fields presents seminal texts and newly commissioned essays that explore theatricality as a critical strategy in performance, film, and video. Beyond the theater, the con cept of theatricality points to the constructedness of everyday life. Theatrical forms make visible how our realities are often staged, and also the ways in which our histories are constructed and performed. The politics of the theatrical, and the theatricality of politics, configure a compelling space that offers room to maneuver, and a temporary exile within the imaginary. T

Published by

Sternberg Press

TEXTS Antonin Artaud, Mikhail Bakhtin, Ute Meta Bauer, Bertolt Brecht, Giuliana Bruno, Jacques Derrida, Régis Durand, Josette Féral, Jean-François Lyotard, Eva Meyer, Timothy Murray, Katharina Sykora, Marina Warner

ARTISTS Judith Barry, Stan Douglas, Marcel Dzama, Marie-Louise Ekman, Joan Jonas, Isaac Julien, Eva Meyer and Eran Schaerf, Ulrike Ottinger, Constanze Ruhm

Including Audio File

EDITORS Ute Meta Bauer, Anca Rujoiu PUBLISHERS NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore; Bildmuseet, Umeå; Koenig Books, London

in collaboration with

Published by

and Sternberg Press, 2017

Edited on behalf of the Culture of the German

Published by

NTU CCA Singapore,

Economy at the Federation

König Books, London,

of German Industries

and Bildmuseet, Umeå, 2016

SouthEastAsia: Spaces of the Curatorial focuses on the practice of curating in Southeast Asia, a region experiencing a time of increased global visibility as well as nation and institution building.

NTU CCA Singapore, 2017

NTU CCA Singapore

NTU CCA Singapore, 2016

Association of Arts and

Published by

Theatrical Fields: Critical Strategies in Performance, Film, and Video stages conversations between theatre and visual arts, theoretical discourse and artistic practice juxtaposing artists and theoreticians who share a communal interest in theatricality as a critical strategy to address questions of ideology, gender, power relations.

Becoming Palm is the outcome of a conversation between two friends, artist Simryn Gill and anthropologist Michael Taussig responding to oil palm plantations and “the enormous transformations, human, and ecological, that this crop engenders” (Michael Taussig) in two remote geographical locations, Southeast Asia and South America.

Arachnid Orchestra. Jam Sessions is an interspecies encounter between arachnids and anthropos mediated by sound. The audio publishing project is conceived as a continuation, expansion and circulation of the eponymous exhibition of artist Tomás Saraceno at NTU CCA Singapore in 2015. An album with the jam sessions between arachnids and musicians performed live in the exhibition, and various recordings produced in Saraceno’s studio in Berlin, is included in the publication.

Published by

NTU CCA Singapore and Mousse Publishing, 2018

Place.Labour.Capital. connects cultural production and artistic research to broader political and social concerns, engaging readers with contemporary debates in Southeast Asia and beyond. It weaves together essays, poetry, fiction, artworks, and documentation of NTU CCA Singapore’s past exhibitions, and brings together the voices of more than 80 contributors to the Centre’s programmes.

NTU.CCASINGAPORE.ORG

NTU Centre For Contemporary Art Singapore Block 6, Lock Road, #01-09/10 Gillman Barracks, Singapore 108934 www.ntuccasingapore.org ntu.ccasingapore @ntu_ccasingapore @ntuccasingapore

NTUCCAPUBLICATIONS

Located at:

NTU.EDU.SG


Read AAA’s online publication Ideas. Each Monday, AAA publishes essays, interviews, and curated journeys through our research collections, making connections across Asia and the world.

www.aaa.org.hk

Asia Art Archive 11/F Hollywood Center 233 Hollywood Road Sheung Wan, Hong Kong T. +852 2844 1112 E. info@aaa.org.hk

AsiaArtArchive aaa.org.hk Opening hours Monday-Saturday, 10am-6pm


Dec – Mar

2017 – 2018

Artists we love Billy Apple David Bowie Luis Buñuel Fiona Connor Salvador Dalí Robert Del Tredici Maya Deren Max Gimblett Ane Hjort Guttu David Hockney

Ian Hugo Daisuke Kosugi Len Lye David Lynch John McLaughlin Reuben Paterson Dieter Roth John Stezaker WharehokaSmith

42 Queen Street New Plymouth Aotearoa New Zealand

Open seven days: 10am – 5pm

govettbrewster.com


MATTHEW DAY, KEIR CHOREOGRAPHIC AWARD, 2014, CARRIAGEWORKS. IMAGE: GREGORY LORENZUTTI


John Young, The Worlds of Lowe Kong Meng and Jong Ah Siug (detail), 2017. Image courtesy the artist and ARC ONE Gallery.

The Burrangong Affray: Jason Phu & John Young Zerunge Young APR 2018 Sydney 29 JUN – 14 AUG 181-187 HAY ST HAYMARKET SYDNEY 4a.com.au


FX Harsono, Victim – Destruction I, 1997, performance at the Alun-alun Selatan (Southern Square). Courtesy of Cemeti Art House.

September 8, 2017– January 21, 2018 CURRENTLY ON VIEW

Asia Society Museum 725 Park Ave. (at 70th St.) New York City AsiaSociety.org/NY

Lucid Dreams and Distant Visions: South Asian Art in the Diaspora THROUGH AUGUST 6, 2017

Masterpieces from the Asia Society Museum Collection THROUGH JULY 8, 2018


CONTRIBUTORS Rana Anani is a freelance writer and researcher of visual arts and culture; her articles have been published in Alayyam, Ibraaz and Jadaliyya; co-authored the book Throne Village Architecture, published by Riwaq Centre for Architectural Conservation which looks at feudal mansions and castles from eleven throne villages built in the late Ottoman period; associate curator, Sharjah Biennale, Ramallah Project ‘Shifting Grounds’, 2017; curator of the Institute of Palestinian Studies conference on culture, 2016; Head of Communications, Palestinian Museum 2013-16; currently Project Manager, Qalandiya International; works and lives in Ramallah. Stephanie Bailey is London-based Senior Editor of Ibraaz, a contributing editor for Art Papers and LEAP, Editor-at-Large Ocula.com, and a member of the Naked Punch Editorial Committee. She also writes regularly for Artforum International, and Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, and is the curator of the Conversations and Salon Program, Art Basel in Hong Kong, where she was born and raised. Colin Siyuan Chinnery is a Beijingbased artist and curator; graduated in Chinese Language and Civilisation at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, 1997; worked at the British Library’s International Dunhuang Project, a project dedicated to facilitating international research of the voluminous collection of ancient manuscripts discovered in Dunhuang, established the project’s Beijing office at the National Library of China 19982002; Director ShContemporary Art Fair, Shanghai, 2009-10; Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing 2006-08; Arts Manager, British Council, Beijing, 2003-06, initiated major projects in experimental theatre, live art, sound art and visual arts, bringing a wider public into contact with experimental practice; writes regularly about contemporary art and is contributing editor for Frieze magazine. Patrick Flores is Manila-based Professor, Department of Art Studies, University of the Philippines and Curator of the Vargas Museum; co-curator Under Construction: New Dimensions in Asian Art, 2000 and Gwangju Biennale (Position Papers), 2008;

among his publications are Painting History: Revisions in Philippine Colonial Art, 1999, Remarkable Collection: Art, History, and the National Museum, 2006, and Past Peripheral: Curation in Southeast Asia, 2008; member of the Advisory Board of The Global Contemporary: Art Worlds After 1989, 2011, Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe; member of the Guggenheim Museum’s Asian Art Council, 2011 and 2014; co-edited the Southeast Asian issue with Joan Kee for Third Text, 2011; Guest Scholar Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, 2014; curated South by Southeast, Philippine Pavilion,Venice Biennale, 2015. Paul Gladston 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; was Editor of the Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (Intellect, 2014-16). His monograph Contemporary Chinese Art: a Critical History was awarded ‘best publication’ at the Art Awards China in 2015. Reuben Keehan is a curator and writer based in Brisbane, where he is Curator, Contemporary Asian Art at Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. With a long history in the public, non-profit and artist-driven art sectors, he was previously Curator at Artspace, Sydney 2006-11 and editor of its journal Column 2008-11; his work focuses on critical intersections of art and the public sphere, with an emphasis on the Asia- Pacific. In addition to working on the 2012, 2015 and 2018 editions of the AsiaPacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, his recent exhibitions include Yayoi Kusama: Life is the heart of a rainbow, 2017, Time of others, 2015-16, We can make another future: Japanese art after 1989, 2014, and Out of Doubt, the 2013 edition of the Mori Art Museum’s Roppongi Crossing survey of Japanese art.

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Nat Muller is an Amsterdam-based independent curator and writer; her main interests are the politics of representation, contemporary art from the Middle East, and food; has taught at universities and academies in the Netherlands and the Middle East and has curated exhibitions and screening programs internationally. Recent exhibitions include Spectral Imprints for the Abraaj Group Art Prize, Art Dubai 2012; This is the Time. This is the Record of the Time, Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam & American University of Beirut Gallery 2014-15; Pattern Recognition, A.M. Qattan 2016 Young Artist of the Year Award, Qalandiya International, Ramallah and Mosaic Rooms, London; editor of Sadik Kwaish Alfraji’s monograph (Schilt Publishing, 2015) and Nancy Atakan’s monograph Passing On (Kehrer Verlag, 2016). Mary Pelletier is a London and Istanbul-based art historian and writer who specialises in the history of photography and photographic archival methodology across the Middle East. After four years managing the historical photography program at James Hyman Gallery, London, she spent two years independently researching late nineteenth and early twentieth century photographic archival preservation in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah, and reported on stories related to art and culture from the region for a variety of international publications. Emily Wakeling is a Brisbane-based independent curator and educator working across Japan and Australia. She is a former editor of the Japanese art and design website Tokyo Art Beat, and a contributor to ArtAsiaPacific, Artforum, Eyeline and Art Monthly. Her book, Art & Society was published by Nan’un-do Publishers in 2015. She is currently researching Japanese women artists who work abroad for a PhD program starting in 2018. Souchou Yao is a cultural anthropologist and writer based in Sydney and Port Dickson, Malaysia. His work deals with the anthropology of Chinese diaspora, and the relation between aesthetics and social and political theory. His most recent book is The Malayan Emergency: Essays on a Small, Distant War (2016).


ALAN CRUICKSHANK

Editorial Just over a decade ago I notionally proposed the phenomenal emergence of a cultural Wallace Line separating the greater Asian region from that of Australasia, following the disclosure in the Singapore media by the artistic director of a major quinquennial art event that the proposition of having to travel (the extent of) the distance to Australia from Europe—to advance his research in the selection of artists—was nauseating. His additional criticism asserted that Australian contemporary art was a mimicry of the Euro-American canon, effectively second-hand, and having already successfully visited Southeast Asian countries (the inference being that the art there was original due to its ‘Asian-ness’) that through this imperfect sojourn further south he doubted he would discover anything advantageous, echoing an enduring and pervasive doctrine of his antecedents, allied by a similarly abiding Gallic posture that had considered Australian Aboriginal art to be “primitive” rather than contemporary, and hence equally inapropos and immaterial. 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—becoming known as the Wallace Line. This notional fault-line has been drawn out in ensuing years, not so much by either disaffection or lack of desire to cross it, rather by its pervasive ethos, typified by curator-art critic Okwui Enwezor’s introduction to his 2008 Biennale of Sydney keynote address with a mischievous surmise, that he felt like he had arrived “at the end of the earth” (I quietly proposed that he continue south to Tasmania), a view not dissimilar to Hou Hanru’s 2012 Adelaide Festival Artist Week jocose provocation, of why would he want to come to the “bottom of the world”—its most recent public protraction revealed in an Australian newspaper concerning the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art’s then forthcoming Gerhard Richter survey, where the article referred to the Gallery’s conversations with private collectors and international galleries regarding the loan of artworks, during which one of the latter’s directors countered with “surprise that Australia actually had art galleries” (my emphasis). Concurrent with this ideology have been the undulating dispositions of the Biennale of Sydney, the third oldest international biennial and the first to be established in the Asia-Pacific region, and Brisbane’s Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art first presented in 1993. While the latter is recognised as a pathfinder in its early editions connecting Australia and the region’s art historical and contemporary milieu, the Biennale of Sydney’s protracted deference towards the Euro-American has sustained few interruptions—the most notable being Charles Merewether’s embedded focus on post-Soviet Central Asian states and the Middle East in Zones of Contact in 2006 (his curatorial vision conceived on the Chinese island of Hainan), and to a lesser degree, David Elliott’s The Beauty Of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age—now potentially, partially offset by the appointment of the first Asian artistic director in its forty-five year history, Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum Chief Curator, Mami Kataoka, for 2018. l

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A parallel history to this chronology is the significant transformation of Southeast and East Asian art markets, museum and institutional infrastructure, practitioner mobility and visibility, and (to invoke Patrick Flores) “the density of discourse… the region now strongly placed to mediate any representation of it from without”—a compelling example being Singapore. When I lived there in 1990 there were few visual artists engaging ‘the contemporary’, materially exploring Asian- and self-identity sans the postmodern, as poor cousins to the performing arts, with minimal museum and education infrastructure, attended by a lingering postcolonial cultural ubiety through the Goethe Institute, British Council and Alliance Francaise. Exactly one generation later this environment could not be any more dissimilar, with envisioned State policy investing enormous amounts of capital into expanded infrastructure and events, and its artists and curators internationally recognised. Though this period saw varying degrees of engaging the postmodern, ‘the contemporary’ seems now to have reverted to type, with a restored State and individual pursuit of ‘Asian-ness’ and ‘Asian identity’ at the forefront. Underlining this de facto demarcation and new global focus, signature events such as the Singapore Biennale, Asian Art Biennial, Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale and Shanghgai Biennale, and the recent Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now in recognition of the fiftieth anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), have been predetermined in their principle of consolidating and asserting the presentation of Asian art, incidentally or otherwise at the exclusion of the Other’s other; for example, the directives of the 2013 Singapore Biennale sought to create a “distinctive Asian identity”, its 2016 successor locating Southeast Asia as a vantage point through which to “raise the profile of our region’s contemporary art and artists at a much more intense level” (my emphasis). Both editions were defined by regional curatoriums, presenting Asian artists only. Taiwan’s 6th Asian Art Biennial in 2017, its mission to explore the cultural perspectives of Asia, presented a majority of artists/collectives from the region. Japan’s 2014 Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale presented artists from twenty-one Asian countries, while Sunshower, held at Tokyo’s Mori Art Musuem and National Art Centre also in 2017, presented artworks by eighty-six artist/artist groups from the ten ASEAN member countries, aiming to corral the region’s artistic dynamism and diversity, its media promotion proposing as metaphor the regional meteorological phenomenon of a sunshower for post-WWII decolonisation, democratisation and internationalisation. To one side of this cultural divide “South East Asia” nonetheless presents a contested notion; as a distinguishable entity it has historically been determined by European colonial worldviews and their eventual disengagement (half of ASEAN’s countries did not exist prior to the Second World War), the ensuing reality a disarranged aggregation of differences in culture, race, politics and religion without a “continuous horizon” (this, improbably suggested by the Guggenheim Museum’s 2013 exhibition No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia); the incontestable consequence now being that such inscribed representations of a geopolitical sector, such as “South East Asia” (or “The Middle East”), while seeking to intensify notions of homogeneity and identity—reminiscent of the “Asian values” push in the 1980s—are open to be inclined towards introspectivity, at least. The disjunctions presented by this notional boundary line issue inevitable considerations of connectedness, accord, facility, perception and incorporation, etc. The 2018 Biennale of Sydney, Superposition: Equilibrium and Engagement proposes a panoramic view of how opposing interpretations can come together in a state of equilibrium, inviting an imagined bridging of this however real partition. This issue’s cover image, Super Rat, by the Japanese artist group Chim↑Pom, who present these ‘super rats’ as a symbol of (their) ever-evolving ways of coexistence with human beings, advances an additional, apropos superposition of equilibrium and engagement, for our shared contemplation.

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PAUL GLADSTON

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A Phármakon, (Re-)Administered: On the Mainstreaming of Critical Theory, LD50 and the Han-opticon Throughout a large part of the second half of the twentieth century, roughly from the failed European uprisings of 1968 through to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, critical theory—that variegated agglomeration of doubt associated with the writings of, among others, Julia Kristeva, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, Michel Foucault, Jean-François Lyotard and Jacques Derrida—occupied a seemingly confirmed position at the margins of public discourse. That marginality was not simply a marker of critical theory’s status as an emerging ‘continental’ heterodoxy sceptical of the rationalist optimism of established modernism, but also, crucially, of a cognate resistance to modernism’s projection of the avant-gardes as harbingers of progressive socio-cultural change. Deconstructivism in particular sought to sustain critical difference explicitly through a witnessing of demonstrable deferrals of signified meaning, as signally performed by Derrida’s coining of the term “différance”. While critical theory remained in principle obdurately resistant to rationalist authority, by the beginning of the 1990s it was in practice no longer entirely edgy. The once deviant uncertainties of critical theory had long-since started to filter into the cultural mainstream of Western liberal-democratic societies on the coattails of a nascent institutionalised postmodernism. As a result, public discourse in those contexts began to be shaped by insistently non-absolutist ways of thinking that would have seemed utterly cranky to most people twenty to thirty years before, but were by that time becoming increasingly normative, not least as unintended adjuncts to the deregulated landscapes of global neoliberalism. One of the lasting legacies of all is the institutional embedding of post-colonialist and other forms of identarianism under the general heading of “diversity”. Among the further consequences of this filtering of the uncertainties of critical theory into the cultural mainstream has been the establishment of the tendency known as “political correctness”, which advocates the rooting out of latent rationalist authority while paradoxically foreclosing on any questioning of its own non-rationalist upholding of difference. Over time that tendency has ushered in quasi-Orwellian restrictions on speech and action so pervasively effective that they have significantly stymied public debate, including on the impact of immigration, multi-culturalism and, in light of the rise of a spectrum identarianism, women’s rights to equality and gendered space.1 Those restrictions

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PAUL GLADSTON

have in turn provoked ever-more concerted backlashes on both the right and left of politics that seek to resist the controlling managerialism of institutionalised postmodernism in favour of a return to more straightforwardly dichotomous forms of critical thinking/practice; diverse manifestations of which include the rise of the alt-right and the election of Donald Trump as President in the USA and a Lazarine revival of romantic socialism in the UK at the last general election in 2017, both arguably, as I suggested in a previous article for this journal,2 political equivalents of the living dead. Those backlashes against the managerialism of institutionalised postmodernism intersect with pubic dissent against the socially debilitating effects of neo-liberal globalisation fomented initially by anti-capitalist movements on the far/anarchistic left and more recently the alt-right. They also imbricate increasingly violent conflict in the USA between the alt-right and antifa (anti-fascist) groups, for example at Charlottesville and on the campus of Berkeley University.3 What prevails here however, is not a straightforward stand-off between institutionalised postmodernism and resurgent rationalisms (commensurate with conventional modernist notions of generational disaffinity), but instead a spectral post-postmodernist commingling of those differing outlooks encompassing the paradoxical normativity of the former, and a selective assimilation of institutionalised postmodernist discourses by the latter—for example, an embracing of spectrum identarianism on the left and claims to an upholding of pluralism by elements on the right, viz. Trump’s pronouncements on “taking a knee” protests at NFL games.4 Any categorical distinction between altright and antifa groups can also be called into question since both are resistant to the orthodoxies of postmodernist neo-liberalism while engaging in violent opposition to one another. Critical theory can thus be understood to have been transmuted, by and against its own precepts, into a piously dominant discursive formation susceptible rather than efficaciously resistant to the colonising effects of rationalist thought. To inversely repurpose Derrida’s deconstructive reading of Plato’s Phaedrus, in becoming mainstream critical theory has, like writing in general, revealed itself to be a “phármakon”—a remedy that also acts paradoxically as a toxin.5 Moreover, in doing so it has set itself up—to extend the metaphoricity of Derrida’s reading—as a pharmakós (scapegoat) to be sacrificed in order to maintain the purity of the polity.6 Also added to the mix are s(c)eptic positions that seek to engage with, rather than peremptorily dismiss views inimical to non-rationalist difference, thereby inviting politically correct censure. Indicative of this third positioning are events surrounding the closure of the LD50 Gallery in London. During 2016, LD50,7 an independent gallery situated in Tottenham Road, Dalston in Hackney, staged a conference titled ‘Neoreaction’ showcasing the views of speakers associated with the alt-right, a rightwing white supremacist/exceptionalist movement identified primarily with the USA that distances itself from the neo-liberalism of mainstream Republicanism. These speakers included, among others Nick Land, a one-time philosophy lecturer at the University of Warwick (now living in Shanghai) who has been publicly denounced as an alt-right sympathiser, Peter Brimelow, an anti-immigration activist and Brett Stevens, a writer on “paleo-conservatism”, a rightist tendency advocating significant limitations on centralised government and civil society as well as a rolling back of multi-culturalism and international free trade alongside an upholding of values associated with white Western Christian identity.8 LD50 also staged an exhibition, 71822666 which drew its title from a 4chat social media thread predicting the election of Donald Trump as President and whose organisers cite “realDonald Trump” as an “inspiration” on the LD50 website.9 This exhibition reportedly included “engraved statuettes featuring images of Pepe the Frog, a cartoon that has been linked to anti-Semitism; and a diagram tracing the emergence of and connections among online far-right movements.”10 l

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A key aspect of the alt-right views showcased by LD50 is their relationship to the intellectual tendency known as “accelerationism.”11 Accelerationist theory in general looks towards an increasing intensification of capitalist production as a means toward radical socio-economic change. That process is however interpreted from differing political perspectives. While accelerationists on the left maintain the view that capitalism is inherently contradictory and unstable and that a speeding up of production will hasten its emancipatory demise, others on the right assert that a constantly accelerating and thus selfrenewing capitalism can be sustained indefinitely. Those on the far right of accelerationism also predict that an increasing intensification of capitalist production will eventually lead to violent conflict between ideologically opposed groups and the death of millions, the breakdown of established neo-liberal democracy and, as an outcome, greater levels of individual accountability and freedom under a radically purged capitalism. Whether this dystopian prediction is intended to be taken literally or as an absurdist provocation is by no means absolutely clear. Land, as the acknowledged ‘father’ of accelerationism, has traced its varied relationships not only to Marxist thinking, but also that of Nietzsche and Deleuze and Guattari (notably their conception of deterritorialisation).12 Associations with the arguably protoaccelerationist work of the author Ayn Rand have also been made.13

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Predictably, in the context of a decidedly multi-cultural East London, LD50’s public showcasing of views associated with the alt-right proved itself nothing short of incendiary. Initially, the activities of the LD50 Gallery during 2016 passed with little or no public comment. In February 2017, however, the artist Sophie Jung shared a screenshot on her Facebook profile of a text message conversation with Lucia Diego, the gallery’s owner and director, in which Diego appears to support the anti-immigration executive order restricting movement from selected Muslim majority countries signed by Donald Trump almost immediately after his inauguration as President.14 This share ignited social media debate about LD50 and its engagement with the alt-right, which lead to the initiation of the #shutdownld50 campaign as a focus for demands that the gallery be closed, as a potential locus for the normalisation of far-right ideology. Placard-carrying protests took place outside the gallery in the name of Shut Down LD50 with the support of the Mayor of Hackney, Phillip Glanville and the group Hackney Stand Up to Racism and Fascism. The gallery was also anonymously daubed with anti-alt-right graffiti and one of its windows broken. As a result of continuing protests and attacks on its premises, by early March 2017 LD50 was forced to close and the gallery’s sign taken down. In an interview for The Independent newspaper Lucia Diego acknowledges that the closure had been forced by “anti-fascist” protests and anonymous acts of criminal damage, but also sought to defend LD50 by asserting that the gallery had “only done a show with alt-right people once” and its exhibition relating to Donald Trump’s election as USA President was not intended as a political statement. She also claimed in the same interview that protesters had “not listened” to what alt-right speakers had actually said at the gallery, but merely looked at their biographies “trying to find the most outrageous thing they’ve said or done in the past.” In her interview for The Independent, Diego also states that, We opened the gallery with the idea of looking at the impact of the Internet on society and the world, so most of our shows had dealt with that subject… In the last exhibition we looked at what happened with the presidential election in America. We did these talks in the gallery, and did an exhibition based on all the Internet content that was generated in alt-right forums, on Twitter and other platforms… It was the first time we’d displayed anything political before. It was just merely because it was happening online over the last year and we find it very interesting that all these online platforms were discussing this idea, so we thought we’d curate a show that studies what’s happening online.15 In addition, Diego asserts that she does “not support the liberal agenda,” but is “not an altrighter at all” and that she had not read enough to enable her to make a decision on the movement and was looking at it as a “form of study, but not as a form of sympathy.”16 The LD50 Gallery responded further by publishing a manifesto on its website. This states that protests against the exhibition 71822666 and associated hosting of alt-right associated speakers had been “exceptionally aggressive, militant and hyperbolic” and that they, the gallery, had “presented a very liberal audience with a speaker knowledgeable of [the alt-right] creating… a dialogue between two different and contrasting ideologies and the possibility for discussion.” The manifesto also opines that the gallery was intended as “a vehicle for the free exploration of ideas, even and perhaps when these are challenging, controversial or indeed distasteful.”17 This defence of agonistic public debate by the gallery was upheld by the art critic Jonathan Jones in an article for The Guardian newspaper in which he claims sympathy with the anti-fascist views of protesters against the LD50 Gallery while asserting that “art galleries must be allowed to anger and disgust us” and, moreover, that “we risk becoming… extremists ourselves if we give in to the impulse to shut down opponents.”18 Shut Down LD50 retorted by saying l

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that it considered the LD50 Gallery’s claim that it had sought to engender open public debate to be “utterable bullshit.”19 Shut Down LD50’s campaign was not entirely successful. In May 2017 the LD50 Gallery reopened with a new exhibition, Corporeality involving what the Hackney Citizen interprets as a, …veiled response to protests calling for the gallery’s closure, one of the artworks for the new show includes “six computer workstations where participants are encouraged to sit and work through the paper content and destroy it if they find it inappropriate, uninteresting or offensive”. In an article about the exhibition posted on the website Amerika.org,20 one of its participating artists known as Kantbot, is quoted as saying, “This show explores moral entrepreneurship and what it means to deconstruct and control thought in an age when ideas are completely divorced as digital entities, from any tangible reality as objects.” 21 In light of these various statements, any description of the furore surrounding the temporary closure of LD50 as a sharply divided conflict between righteous anti-fascists (Shut Down LD50) and dastardly neo-Nazi sympathisers (LD50 Gallery) cannot be convincingly upheld. Rather, it is one lynching on differing and in both cases no doubt well-meant attempts to preserve freedom of thought and expression—albeit in ways that take on/engage discomfitingly with contrary forms of authoritarianism. As I write, a similar situation has developed in relation to The Guggenheim Museum New York’s withdrawal of artworks purportedly involving violence to animals from the survey

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exhibition of Chinese art, Theater of the World, in the face of objections from animal rights protesters,22 a potential outcome of which is the gifting of a defence against persistent Western criticism of China’s own suppression of supposedly subversive artists and artworks, including a Ministry of Culture notice banning extreme forms of art involving pornography and/or acts of violence against human and animal bodies handed down in 2001. Hate speech and acts of hate against others, whether in relation to alt-right exceptionalism/ suprematism or any other prejudicial ideology (viz. recent events in Myanmar in relation to the country’s Rohingya minority) are utterly indefensible. As are accelerationist fantasies of the desirability of conflict as a necessary route to freedom (one must, of course, ask in this regard, who’s freedom?). However, moves to foreclose critical discussion in relation to the facticity of those things is itself, as Jonathan Jones rightly argues, a contradictory expression of authoritarian extremism. The LD50’s desire to support what is described by Brett Stevens on the Amerika.org website as “a new brand of artist that combines trolling, provocation, surrealism and critical theory into ensconcing art experiences that raise more questions than offer answers”23 presents a clear and present target for those wishing to attack what can be seen as unjustifiable political prevarication. What protesters against LD50 do not wish to take account of, as Land has argued, is the eminent deconstructability of their own rather simplistic and ultimately suppressive oppositional outlook.24 This is not to support the dreadful implications of prejudicial alt-right thinking which is itself not beyond deconstruction as a locus of suppressive opposition. Nor is it to defend LD50’s arguably ham-fisted post-hoc apology for its un-thought through dalliance with alt-right views; Jacques Derrida’s defence of the deconstructivist literary critic Paul de Man’s complicity with Nazism during WWII should already have started alarm bells ringing in that regard.25 Rather, it is to register the problematic circumstances ushered in by a now institutionalised critical theory. What this suggests is the critical necessity, not of an outright dereliction of critical theory in acquiescence to rationalist authority, nor a return to the unattainable (no doubt mythical) golden age of critical theory’s initial marginality, but a refraction of its problematic relationship with authority in relation to present and forthcoming circumstances. The exact viability of such a refractive relationship, which can already be seen to have coalesced under the tentative heading of “neo-deconstructivism”26 remains to be seen. The situation within the People’s Republic of China with regard to criticality is refracted somewhat differently. Translations of standard works of critical theory, including texts by Foucault and Derrida, were available in China during the 1970s, even before the death of Mao Zedong and the ending of the Cultural Revolution. Indeed, members and associates of the critical theory group Tel Quel, including Roland Barthes and Julia Kristeva visited China in 1974, the latter subsequently producing signature articles on Chinese women.27 Since then Western critical theory has been widely discussed by academics and other elites in the PRC.28 There are also official gestures in China towards some of the mainstays of mainstream postmodernism in the West. These include government support, in principle at least, for ethnic minorities, women’s rights and the disabled. However, in spite of academic discussion of critical theory and governmental support for diversity, in practice the more virulent implications of the former are strongly resisted. This is not simply an expression of a general scepticism with regard to Western influences on Chinese society and culture, but also crucially a rejection of a specifically decontructivist undermining of authoritative meaning. In the context of China that undermining is seen as unacceptably inimical both to a historically dominant civilisation-specific conception of Chinese identity, bounded

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in principle by clearly drawn geographic claims to sovereignty since the founding of Republican China in 1911-12 (viz. China’s recent military occupation of the South China Sea), and the authority of the country’s ruling communist party (CCP) to oversee the progressive development of a culturally, and geopolitically Han majority oriented cohesive Chinese society. Under China’s current President Xi Jinping, rejection of Western(ised) criticality has intensified in relation to both indigenous and exogenous scholarship to what Graeme Smith has referred to as the “Han-opticon”.29 Consequently while aspects of Western postmodernity have been accommodated as part of China’s post-Mao modernisation, they ultimately remain marginal to that project. As media reports outside the country repeatedly inform us, within China the political authority of the CCP has been maintained through often spectacular acts of suppression/oppression. These not only include the summary killing of democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square on 4 June 1989, but also ongoing violence against ethnic minorities such as Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang region of Western China.30 Such acts of state violence are reinforced by other forms of social control: not only the persistence of a vast, often regionally disconnected and stymieing socialist state bureaucracy but in addition an increasingly pervasive panoptical surveillance incorporating vague governmental directives and laws that allow for mobile interpretation by state officials as well as tight restrictions on the Internet and social media that seek to exclude the use of communication platforms such a Facebook and Twitter as part of an internationally linked public sphere. Further to which there is now a growing adoption of means associated with post-panoptical societies of control in the West, including the use of network surveillance as a way of the tying of access to credit and employment to good social behaviour.31 In spite of this combination of violent state suppression and tightening social control networks, there are continuing public protests against governmental authority in China. These include localised resistances to the sweeping away of established communities and ways of life as a consequence of the CCP’s centrally driven program of post-Mao modernisation, and strikes against low pay and poor working conditions in relation to an increasingly affluent urbanised Chinese society. With regard to China’s indigenous art world however, open opposition to governmental authority is much less prevalent. The beginnings of contemporary art in China are often traced back to public protests in Beijing in 1979, including members of the unofficial art group, The Stars (Xingxing), calling for freedom of artistic expression beyond the ideological reach of the state. However, since then the combination of a disarming assimilation of social concerns associated with the mainstreaming of critical theory in Western(ised) liberal democratic contexts against the insistent background of continuing political authoritarianism means that there is no shared public platform from which concerted protest can be effectively launched; a position also reinforced by the elite status accorded to successful artists in China in accordance with the traditional standing of the literati (scholar-gentry) artist-poet. Under such circumstances, as the situation of a now effectively exiled Ai Weiwei attests, open artistic opposition to governmental authority has little or no long-term traction. Crucially, such circumstances not only suspend oppositional and mainstream deconstructivist resistances to governmental authority, but in addition any public non-governmentally supported contestation of ideas of a kind played out in relation to the activities of the LD50 or the Guggenheim. It is important to acknowledge in this regard that politically conservative traditional Chinese ink and brush painting, both in ancient and modern forms, remains dominant with popular and elite audiences in China, eclipsing the relatively marginal standing of Western(ised) modern and contemporary art—as evidenced by the recent establishment of a major international ‘Ink Art’ biennale at the Wuhan Art Museum.

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The particularities of this multi-faceted closing down on oppositional and deconstructive resistance to authority in China were recently made all too apparent when a conference that I was co-organising, to be staged there next year, was summarily cancelled by government officials after several months of planning. For ethical reasons (that of course also make me effectively complicit with governmental authority), I choose not to give details of the intended location of the conference and those involved to protect colleagues inside China. The openly stated intention of the conference was to bring together an international group of scholars to critically discuss contemporary art in/ from Asia and related diaspora from transcultural perspectives, in light of emerging debates related to contemporaneity32—a theme very much welcomed by the host institution and one that would be considered relatively anodyne in Western liberal-democratic contexts. Although no explicit challenge was made to government authority in China, the intended focus of the conference is one that runs against its dominant nationalist discourses. It was hoped that such an intervention would open up critical debate in China. Observant government authority saw things differently. If we compare the discursive circumstances prevailing in Western liberal democratic contexts and in China it would be simplistic to assert that the former supports an expansive public freedom of expression while the latter does not. Although in China there is the persistence of an undeniably suppressive authoritarianism and a consequent limiting of the public sphere, in Western liberal democratic contexts the institutionalisation of critical pluralism has itself ushered in powerful restrictions on open debate in ways that are now tempting in the resistant zombies of (deathly) authoritarianism; and here I include the reactionary politics of the alt-right, radical Islam and romantic socialism as well as the suppressive violence of antifa groups. One might venture the observation that in liberal democratic contexts governmental intervention upon culture has become unnecessary given that the cultural sphere is now effectively self-policing, ostensibly as a critical foil to established authority but in practice as a bulwark to its aims. As Gilles Deleuze argued as early as the 1990s, we have now entered beyond Michel Foucault’s conception of modern disciplinary societies, into those of pervasive open-ended control in which “liberating and enslaving forces confront one another” and where opposed responses of “fear” and “hope” commingle and effectively cancel out one another.33 As Deleuze puts it, under such conditions even “art has left the spaces of enclosure in order to enter into the open circuits of the bank,”34 an observation clearly lost on those wishing to physically close down LD50. What remains is the question of how such open-ended controls are exacted differently in differing socio-cultural contexts. Perhaps the only viable line of resistance to controlling authority available to us now, given the contradictorily overdetermined inefficacy of both institutionalised postmodernism and direct rationalist opposition (both of which intersect with one another as fabrics of present-day social control), is a differentiated recourse to the “phármakon” of critical theory. In Greek, the term “phármakon” not only signifies the opposed meanings of remedy and poison, but also a means of productivity. Critical theory might thus be viewed, as Gerasimos Kakoliris indicates in relation to his analysis of Derrida’s deconstructive reading of Phaedrus,35 beyond what might on the face of it appear to be the sterile negativity of an indeterminate shuttling between contradictory meanings, towards the prospect, always-already held-out by Derridean deconstructivism, of that negativity as a continuing producer of meanings—albeit a prospect that must perforce play inconclusively under current conditions in the mainstream and at the margins of public discourse. It is also one that arguably inheres most strongly in the minutiae of particular, always shifting historical circumstances rather than in the abstractions that inevitably accompany supposed authority.

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Notes 1 For a discussion of that stymieing of public debate in the Australian context, see http://www.theaustralian.com.au/highereducation/identity-politics-now-the-focus-of-university-history-courses/news-story/3127976726e0258e328b04968c57bfb7; first accessed 17 October 2017 2 Paul Gladston, ‘(Partisans) Kick the Corpse: Post-Truth and the Contemporary Art World’, di’van | A Journal of Accounts Issue 2, pp. 20-27 3 See Matt Pearce, ‘Who was responsible for the violence in Charlottesville? Here’s what witnesses say’, Los Angeles Times, 15 August 2017; http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-charlottesville-witnesses-20170815-story.html; first accessed 22 October 2017, and James Queally, Pauge St. John, Benjamin Oreskes and David Zahniser, ‘Violence by far-left protesters in Berkeley sparks alarm’, Los Angeles Times, 28 August 2017; http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-berkeleyprotests-20170827-story.html; first accessed 22 October 2017 4 See Patrick Strickland, ‘”Take a knee” anti-racist protests move beyond the NFL’, Al Jazeera, 20 October 2017; http://www. aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/knee-anti-racist-protests-move-nfl-171019153538456.html; first accessed 22 October 2017 5 Jacques Derrida, ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’, Dissemination, Barbara Johnson trans., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981, pp. 63-171 6 In ancient Greece the term “pharmakós” referred to a person, often already condemned to death, sacrificed by a city or other community as an atonement or means of purification 7 The name LD50 refers to the term Lethal Dose 50, a scientific measure of the amount of a pathogen or other toxin required to kill fifty-percent of a test sample. The median lethal dose is regarded as a more accurate measure of toxicity than amounts required to kill one hundred-percent of a sample, which are often variable. The intended significance of the LD50 Gallery’s appropriation of the term is obscure. However, connotations related to accelerationist notions of conflict and related population decrease, as well as systematic Nazi genocide can be inferred (albeit perhaps outwith the actual intentions of the gallery itself) 8 Paleo-conservatism also encompasses a range of conservative attitudes to understanding of the past, including scepticism of evolutionary diversity and common origin theories of human development 9 See LD50’s website page on the exhibition 7182266; https://www.ld50gallery.com/71822666/ first accessed 1 September 2017 10

Chistopher Shea, ‘London Gallery LD50’s Alt-Right Show Should Be Its Last, Critics Say’, New York Times online, 25 February 2017; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/25/arts/design/london-gallery-ld50-alt-right-show-protesthtml?mcubz=0; first accessed 1 September 2017

11

The term “accelerationism” was coined pejoratively by Benjamin Noys in his book Malign Velocities: Accelerationism and Capitalism, Alresford: Zero Books, 2014

12

Nick Land, ‘A Quick-and-Dirty Introduction to Accelerationism’, Jacobite, 25 May 2017; https://jacobitemag.com/2017/ 05/25/a-quick-and-dirty-introduction-to-accelerationism/ first accessed 3 September 2017. This post-postmodernist commingling of otherwise divergent discourses arguably has an up-ended corollary in continuing contestations of ideas on the Marxian left, as exemplified by the Badiou-Rancière debate. While Alain Badiou has sought to maintain the possibility of a transformational relationship between art and the truth of events that is both singular and immanent—by upholding simultaneously an arguably neo-Platonic conception of the invariance of philosophical categories of truth alongside a qualified acceptance of the poststructuralist idea that such truths are historically constructed—for Jacques Rancière what remains crucial is a persistently dissenting redistribution of what he refers to as “the sensible” (conventional modes of thought and practice) as a means towards (what he sees as an already existing principle of absolute) social equality running counter to what can be seen as the latent (modernist) propriety of Badiou’s idealism. See for example, Alain Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, trans. Alberto Toscano, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004 and Jacques Rancière, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, London: Continuum, 2010

13

See for example Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, New York: Random House, 1957

14

Shea, ‘London Gallery LD50’s Alt-Right Show Should Be Its Last, Critics Say’, op cit.

15

All cited from May Bulman, ‘“Far-right” gallery in London forced to close because it “keeps getting attacked”–LD50 has been shut for a month due to “constant attacks”’, Independent online, 15 March 2017; http://www.independent.co.uk/ news/uk/home-news/far-right-gallery-art-hackney-ld50-london-attacked-shut-down-lucia-diego-nick-land-andrewosborne-a7631971.html; first accessed 3 September 2017

16

Ibid. l

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17

All cited from ‘LD50’, untitled manifesto, 2017, https://www.ld50gallery.com; first accessed 18 March 2017

18

Jonathan Jones, ‘No one should demand the closure of galleries – even for far-right artworks’, The Guardian, 22 February 2017; https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2017/feb/22/art-galleries-free-speech-ld50-dalston; first accessed 4 September 2017

19 Shut Down LD50 Gallery, ‘Racists and Fascists out of Dalston! Shut down LD50 Gallery’, 19 February 2017, https:// shutdownld50.tumblr.com/post/157441553836/racists-and-fascistsout-of-dalston-shut-down; first accessed 18 May 2017 20

Amerika.org is the website of Brett Stevens, a speaker at the LD50 Gallery’s ‘Neoreaction’ conference, who has, as the Hackney Citizen reports, “previously praised Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, saying ‘he chose to act where many of us write, think and dream’”; https://www.hackneycitizen.co.uk/2017/05/08/controversial-ld50-gallery-dalston-launchesnew-exhibition/; first accessed 4 September 2017

21 Hackney Citizen, ‘Controversial LD50 gallery in Dalston launches new exhibition’, 8 May 2017; https://www.hackneycitizen. co.uk/2017/05/08/controversial-ld50-gallery-dalston-launches-new-exhibition/ 22 For reporting of the furore surrounding the Guggenheim’s intended showing of art works involving purported violence against animals in Theater of the World, see for example https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/25/arts/design/guggenheim-dogfighting-exhibit.html; first accessed 17 October 2017. For critical discussion of the Guggenheim’s decision to withdraw the works in question, see Ben Davis, ‘Why the Guggenheim’s Controversial Dog Video is Even More Disturbing than You Think’, Artnet, 29 September 2017; https://news.artnet.com/art-world/so-whats-really-going-on-with-that-disturbing-dog-video-atthe-guggenheim-1100417; first accessed 1 October 2017; this article includes references to the present author’s published work 23 Brett Stevens, ‘LD50 Gallery Launches New Corporeality Exhibit’, Amerika, 3 May 2017; http://www.amerika.org/lifestyle/ ld50-gallery-launches-new-corporeality-exhibit/; first accessed 2 October 2017 24

Land, ‘A Quick-and-Dirty Introduction to Accelerationism’, op cit.

25

See Louis Menand, ‘The de Man Case: Does a critic’s past explain his criticism?’ The New Yorker, 24 March 2014; https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/03/24/the-de-man-case; first accessed 10 October 2017

26

Examples of philosophical/critical texts that explicitly or implicitly adopt a neo-deconstructivist stance have been published by Re.press; http://re-press.org/about/. The question of (neo-)deconstructivism has been discussed in architectural circles. See the thread, ‘Deconstructivism: What comes next?’ at Archinect Discussion Forum; https://archinect.com/forum/thread/31908937/deconstructivism-what-comes-next; first accessed 14 October 2017

27

See for example Julia Kristeva, About Chinese Women, London: Marion Boyars, 1977

28

For discussion of scholarly contestations of critical theory in China, see Paul Gladston, ‘Somewhere (and Nowhere) between Modernity and Tradition: Towards a Polylogue between Differing International and Indigenous Perspectives on the Significance of Contemporary Chinese Art’, Tate Papers 21, Spring 2014, no page numbers given

29

For an account of current exclusion and suppression in China of scholarly research problematic to prevailing governmental discourses, see Graeme Smith, ‘The Han-opticon: The hazards of China research in the Xi era’, The Interpreter, 10 October 2017; https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/han-opticon-hazards-china-research-xiera?utm_content=buffercfdfc&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer; first accessed 10 October 2017

30

Anon., ‘Why is there tension between China and the Uighurs?’, BBC News online, 26 September 2014; http://www.bbc. co.uk/news/world-asia-china-26414014; first accessed 10 October 2017

31

See Rachel Botsman, ‘Big Data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens’, Wired, 21 October 2017; http://www.wired.co.uk/article/chinese-government-social-credit-score-privacy-invasion; first accessed 22 October 2017

32

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

33

Gilles Deleuze, ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’, October 59, Winter 1992, pp. 3-7

34

Ibid.

35

Gerasimos Kakoliris, ‘The “Undecidable” Pharmakon: Derrida’s Reading of Plato’s Phaedrus’, in Burt Hopkins and John Drummond eds, The New Yearbook for Phenomenology and Phenomenological Philosophy 13, London: Routledge, 2014

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To enter Singaporean artist Ho Tzu Nyen’s world is to step into a land of ancient intrigue, each footfall stirring up the dust of betrayal in the kingdom of shadows. Like Roland Barthes’ “Japan”, this too is an “empire of signs”. Ho’s two-channel video work The Nameless (2016) overwhelms you with the sheer doubleness of things, where nothing can be pinned down; but unlike Barthes’ Japan, the signs are less pointers to meaning than a strategy to induce confusion and the fatigue of misrecognition. The Nameless is a work that ever energetically denies itself, ladled with no small measure of conceit. The story of Lai Teck, the triple-agent who rose to the post the Secretary General of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), is familiar to this academic hack.1 But a sense of unease stays with me like the bite of a beast refusing to let go. It is the power of Ho’s engaging work to unsettle what we know of this intriguing history of Malayan communism, the trouble being the ‘social facts’ regarding Lai Teck and his career are themselves already in the realm of fantasy, products of reinvention by all manner of people. The Nameless thrives on the real in order to subvert it, in the best tradition of installation art. As you rest your eyes after viewing the videos, what presses on your mind is not an intellectual affirmation of Malaya’s radical history, but endless replays of images featuring the Hong Kong actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai, stern and silent one moment, James Dean-like, methodish self-preening in another. It is a bold move to put something full of hearsays and velvety shadows to deconstruction. Historians agree that Lai Teck was the most enigmatic secret agent in British Malaya. Born in 1901 in Vietnam to Chinese-Vietnamese parentage, Lai Teck allegedly served the French in Indochina. He was recruited by the British and brought to Singapore in 1934 to infiltrate the MCP. He became Secretary-General five years later, and informed the British security service on his comrades’ activities. Under his leadership, and in connivance with his British master, Lai Teck set the MCP on a path of peaceful political struggle, and later during the Japanese occupation (1941-45) he worked with the British stay-behind parties in the Malayan jungle, offering them protection and support. Arrested by the Kempeitai, the Japanese military police, he defected again and served the invaders. One of the fruits of his betrayal was, in September 1942, the massacre of more than a hundred members of the MCP who had gathered in Batu Cave, north of Kuala Lumpur, for a secret meeting. The MCP high command was virtually wiped out, but the Secretary-General never arrived for the meeting. After the war suspicion began to circulate about Lai Teck and his activities. The MCP started an investigation on Lai Teck. A Central Executive Committee meeting was scheduled in March 1947 to air the various complaints against him. Lai Teck chose the more convenient route of not attending and seconding with the party funds to Hong Kong, then to Thailand. This is dry background stuff. Perhaps more worthy of art is the man’s lurid end. Bent on revenge, after Lai Teck’s departure, his successor, the twenty-three year-old Chin Peng tracked him down in Bangkok and organised his execution. In early 1947 the new Secretary-General, accompanied by a Thai communist, saw his nemesis: a figure in the hot, crowded street buying something from a

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street vendor. Chin Peng rushed to the Bangkok headquarters of the Vietnamese Communist Party in Sukhumvit and told them of his sighting. But once again Lai Teck slipped way, and found himself in Hong Kong where he was said to have conferred with the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. But the British colony of Hong Kong was not the safest place to carry out an assassination and Chin Peng followed the man back to Bangkok. The Viet Minh agents had news—Lai Teck was hiding in a small house by a canal. A three-man Viet Minh assassination squad was sent. When they saw Lai Teck, one gripped him by the throat and throttled him to death. The assassins found some discarded hessian bags, wrapped the body and waited for nightfall. As darkness fell, they heaved Lai Tek’s body into the muddy waters of the Chao Praya River. Nothing was left of the man save the legend, the romance of a triple-agent, and the non-whereabouts of the money he stole from the party coffers (“Lai Teck’s Gold!”). What fertile ground upon which to rewrite the narrative of a troubled life! Art grants us the liberty to break free from the constraints of facts; and meditation on Lai Teck’s extraordinary career has the potential to take us to a terrain at once familiar and full of existential gloom. We have heard it all before, though we are not immediately sure where. Perhaps it is Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim (1900), for whom the first fateful act of betrayal by abandoning ship follows him like an ancient curse from which there is no escape. Or perhaps it is André Malraux’s 1933 novel La Condition Humaine (Man’s Fate), about the abortive communist uprising in Shanghai. As the character, the revolutionary Chen Ta Erh, is drawn deeper into the clandestine world of intelligence and assassination, terrorism becomes for him a field of being, both a freedom and a trap. Being so close to death, it became his companion, his own double. His killing after the failed assassination of the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek feels like destiny’s call against which he has no will to resist. Lai Teck was similarly awashed with treachery, similarly dragged through history’s bloody tide. For him being a triple-agent must have been like a modern Casanova with multiple lovers, each night spent with one is a stab in the back of the others in the circuit of conceit and deception. For us, instinct or the need for survival often makes us believe and live in our own lies. Each of us is paired with a fake of our own making, a double of what we are. In The Nameless Ho drew heavily on his own engagement with Lai Teck’s bad faith and multiple identities. The two videos, one narrated in Mandarin, the other in Vietnamese, is each shown in a separate room, literally enacting the duplicitousness in Lei Teck’s career and the state narrative about the radical left in Malaya through appropriated filmclips from Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s famous films (being hugely popular in Southeast and East Asia). In a career stretching over four decades, the versatile Leung has appeared in films ranging from romantic comedies, to historical dramas, crime thrillers and Kung fu epics. It seems right that an actor of such diverse talent and brooding intensity should emerge from the celluloid to become the betrayer of the communist cause. If Lai Teck had gone through the hall of mirrors in his acts of betrayal, Leung’s images are but evocations of gloom and despair that featured in so many of his films. It is easy to catch the sources and their referents. Leung the pimp and crime boss in Tran Anh Hung’s 1995 film Cyclo is not quite Lai Teck the communist leader and antiJapanese guerrilla fighter, but in The Nameless both share an intrepid silence made necessary by their respective careers. There are glimpses of Leung in Wong Kar-wai’s Chungking Express (1994), though it is Brigit Lin who is the listless flâneur in the film. And the brief clips from John Woo’s Hard Boiled (1992) are ingenious, where Leung plays a undercover cop, straddling between his two masters out to destroy each other: the moral tone of one entrapped and seeking deliverance is a hard to miss reference to Lai Teck’s moral burden.

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The Double-Agency of History: Art as Fake

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The Double-Agency of History: Art as Fake

The Nameless is an immaculately crafted work. The strategic use of Leung is one thing, the other the painstaking attempt to ‘smoothen’ the images, rendering them with the same colouration and consistent aesthetic tone. The trade of any video artist, the method contributes no small way to the merging of two protagonists of different times and places. With a sure and a subtle hand, Ho guides the viewer through multitudinous references and meanings, both surprising and prescient. Not only Lai Teck’s dealings, the political creed of British Empire in Malaya and its postcolonial inheritors too were a legerdemain of deception. In an interview with Ocula magazine, Ho was described as “a critical historian, examining hegemonies to expose their structures and faults,” his work untangling “the threads of fictionalised myths and political histories in his intellectual and highly aesthetic practice.”2 It is an appraisal any artist with a deconstructive bent would find worthy. Yet, installation art has its particular character and peril in the execution and the making of meaning. When I first read Michael Fried’s essay ‘Art and Objecthood’3 I was struck by its suspicion of absolute formalism on one hand, and of what we may call “social and cultural reading” on the other. Objecthood in art turns artwork into a self-serving entity, detached from the ideas and discourses of the world. Though Fried did not say it, the ‘thing-initself ’ quality which he delegated to the Minimalist artists Donald Judd and Robert Morris has a legacy in Marx’s notion of commodity fetishism. To read Fried via Marx, artwork can be, like labour and social relationship under capitalism, infected with objectification that feeds on itself, without drawing on the wider social and economic influences. Against ‘art for itself ’ the other sin is when artwork is viewed as nothing more than a product of the wider social surround: the peril of social reductionism. If objecthood makes too much of artwork’s autonomy, social reductionism degrades it, turning it into parasitic thing of social forces and popular desires. Fried’s nemeses are the devotees of artfor-art’s-sake, and academics and critics who built their careers on social and cultural readings of art. Fried’s finely tuned argument is brimful of the dialectical tone. Out of Fried’s complex web of ideas it is sufficient to bring forth the point: objecthood and social-cultural influences are each potent in art and art-making, it is only that we need to recognise the lingering effects of both in shaping the viewer’s experience. In this, the viewer ‘sees’ an artwork as it is, yet somehow is also touched by history. The dialectical twins are never conjoined, and Fried roots for a staging of art—for a form of theatricality—that hikes up the complex connections between art and its viewing experience. Singapore is a society obsessed with its own history. With its independence in 1965 after being expelled from the Malaysian Federation, what is celebrated as national history is a bare fifty odd years. But the heavy hand of nation-building, the nefarious undertaking of the state under the incumbent People’s Action Party, gives everything about the island republic a recognisable mystifying hue. This excessive consciousness of history may well be a major character of Singaporean art practice. It brings to my mind Zai Kuning’s Dapunta Hyang: Transmission Of Knowledge (2015) shown at the Singapore Pavilion for the 2017 Venice Biennale: an expansive, monumental installation that rescues the history of the Riau Archipelago and its sea people, the orang laut, from national neglect; also the performance artist Ming Wong’s Life and Death in Venice (2010), a video installation that is a wholesale mimicking of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (1912), with Wong playing the aging writer Gustav von Aschenbach, all white linen suit and summer hat, in his restless meandering across the canal. There is no direct reference, as in the mode of Zai Kuning, to Singapore’s regional history. But an inevitable postcolonial reading, that Aschenbach now inhabits an Asian figure—a Chinaman in linen suit—allows Wong to turn his double’s scouring mission into his own. While Mann’s Aschenbach is his proxy for meditation on

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philosophy, eroticism and passion, Wong’s figure is more modestly and banally about personal identity to be foraged from history, a project of different intellectual and emotional qualities. Despite its intent, the subversion is only half a bid to success. The Nameless is similarly weighed down with the national history—or the poverty of it. Ho’s method is to alloy two figures whose careers are full of magnificent insubstantiality. This fact makes Ho’s deconstruction a curious move. For everything about the Secretary-General is faked news. The ‘fact’ of Lai Teck’s treachery or heroism, depending on one’s point of view, fragmented and shorn of a solid footing, simply does not lend itself to easy demolishing. It’s like chasing after a ghost, or better like Conrad’s Kurtz in Heart of Darkness (1899), or Leggit in The Secret Sharer (1909), the communist leader is always slipping away from the narrators’ grasp. Lai Teck, already cast in the phantasmal, does not stand still for the comfort of the artist or the critic. The real Lai Teck and his undertakings puzzle and confuse. This is the major difficulty of The Nameless: how do you interrogate something that has already been thoroughly, assiduously, catechised by all manner of people: the British intelligence, the MCP leadership, the postcolonial states in Singapore and Malaysia, and not the least, the befuddled academic specialists. In Fried’s language, with a work like The Nameless, the aesthetic formalism and historical referents are deprived of their integrity, one that is non-existent in the original figure in the first place. Viewing the work, it is hard not to feel the heavy burden of ‘social facts’. For all its reference to history, The Nameless stands on soggy ground; there are no confirmed certainties which it can target as the source of mystification and deceit. And without such certainties, the magnificent doubts and suspicions it evokes in the viewer lurches towards intellectual nihilism, a boat rudderless and adrift in the open sea. The Nameless is a work we want very much to like. We share Ho’s need to rehabilitate a people’s history of communism and to take the state to account. We want to root for a kind transcendence beyond the strange mirroring of ghosts in order to find something we may claim as ‘our history’. Yet, in our post-postmodern world how do we know that ‘our history’ is not another hall of mirrors? The Nameless assiduously spins the loops of discursive impotence and it feels at times the work toys with the prospect of a real history, a history rehabilitated from falsehood and mystification. Truth, if that is the right word, is surely too modest an aim for Ho’s majestic, inventive work. Not only in the age of Trump is truth a corruption of lies and faked news. Empirical facts serve poorly the production of artifice; the choice for art and art making is not Trump, but Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant.”4 Or as the anthropologist would say, art is like a menu: it points to something real but itself is not a meal. When Ferran Adrià, the “Salvador Dali of the kitchen” got his own exhibit, he offered clay models of his famous dishes, but lapsed into the tediously unarty when he served dinner to the donors.5 Art is both the subterfuge and the bridesmaid of the real. In installation art, much effort is given over to creating a visceral experience for the audience. The Russian artist Ilya Kabakov has famously described of his “total installation” that, “The main actor… the main centre toward which everything is addressed, for which everything is intended, is the viewer.”6 This may be a gift—the pure meditative pleasure —for the viewer, but it also extends indebtedness to the viewer who is a participant in the exhibition. This cannot but suggest the viewer’s own complicity in the making and remaking of truth and falsehood in art practice. In an era of faked news, the viewer deserves better. But then the vileness of fakery which Lai Teck’s life had been, and the mighty weight of truth—do not exhaust the possibilities of what art can and should be. This is relevant for Ho’s video installation, as for Ferran Adrià’s ‘food is not for eating’ project. To lighten the writerly task I watched Orson Welle’s 1973 film F for Fake before I began; in the voiceover he says, l

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Every true artist must, in his own way, be a magician, a charlatan. Picasso once said he could paint fake Picassos as well as anybody, and someone like Picasso could say something like that and get away with it… today I believe that man cannot escape his destiny to create whatever it is we make—jazz, a wooden spoon, or graffiti on the wall. All of these are expressions of man’s creativity, proof that man has not yet been destroyed by technology. But are we making things for the people of our epoch or repeating what has been done before? And finally, is the question itself important? We must ask ourselves that. The most important thing is always to doubt the importance of the question.7 Welles’ enemy is the art market whose voracious appetite for artwork that would turn a spectacular profit led to fakes and imitations. But then as art tells the truth, it also lies evocatively, creatively, in a way that lifts itself above from pure falsehood. In this sense, all creative enterprises are to a degree in bed with ‘fakes’. Welles tells us in this voiceover that Picasso could paint fake Picassos as well as anybody. Someone like Picasso could have so grandly got a way with it, and we wish it too for Ho Tzu Nyen’s The Nameless. Notes 1 Souchou Yao, The Malayan Emergency: Essays on a small distant war, Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2017 2

Elliat Albrecht, ‘A conversation with Ho Tzu Nyen’, Ocula; https://ocula.com/magazine/conversations/ho-tzunyen/?auth=req; accessed 16 September, 2017

3 Michael Fried, ‘Art and Objecthood’, Artforum 5, June 1967. This essay has also appeared in Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews, London/Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998, pp. 148-172 4 http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/07/06/199047678/museum-exhibit-celebrates-iconic-spanish-chef-s-food-as-art; accessed 17 September, 2017 5 ‘Tell all the Truth but tell it slant’ is poem number 1129 in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, London: Faber & Faber, 1976, the only one-volume edition containing all Emily Dickinson’s poems 6

See Claire Bishop, ‘But is it installation art?’, Tate Etc., Issue 3: Spring 2005

7

The last major film completed by Orson Welles in 1974 focusing on the life of professional Hungarian art forger Elmyr de Hory, and the nature of authorship and authenticity; it also involved the participation of the infamous hoaxbiographer Clifford Irving

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Out of Site: Japanese Art After Censorship

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Japanese artist Meiro Koizumi staged a solo exhibition in May 2017, in rented premises above a Harajuku boutique, charging five hundred yen entry to visitors to watch a twenty-five minute, threescreen video installation. Born in 1976, Koizumi is a reasonably established figure within Japanese art, maintaining a busy exhibition schedule around the country and overseas, having exhibited at many of the country’s major venues and in numerous international biennials, with representation by a high profile domestic and European galleries. Twenty-five years earlier, it would not have been unusual for an artist active in Tokyo to self-fund an exhibition in a rental space, but the growth of a stable institutional framework and a vibrant commercial sector since that time has made such an endeavour unnecessary. Promoted virally, attendance more than doubled the artist’s modest expectations for the exhibition’s nine-day run, and in November the project garnered Koizumi the inaugural Japanese Contemporary Art Transparency Prize for facilitating “debate about actual censorship, corruption, nepotism, discrimination or stimulates freedom of curatorial practice in the local art world.”1 A few months earlier, in October 2016, the artist collective Chim↑Pom converted a fourstorey building scheduled for demolition in the Shinjuku red light district of Kabukicho into a giant work of art-cum-exhibition entitled So see you again tomorrow, too? The building had been the home of the former neighbourhood promotion association, and its demolition was part of a regeneration initiative ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which has seen many of the city’s seedier districts, along with Mitsuo Katayama’s 1964 Olympic stadium, redeveloped and ‘cleaned up’. Chim↑Pom charged a modest entry fee to their exhibition requiring visitors to sign a safety waiver, as the centrepiece of the project was a gaping, unprotected 2.5 metre square hole carved into the floor of the top three levels. The concrete slabs sandwiched into a ‘build burger’ on the ground floor, while numerous works paying tribute to various aspects of Kabukicho—its host clubs, its sex workers, its ramen shops—were arranged throughout the building. The space was animated by talks, performances and parties, and after a successful two-week run the works were left behind to be demolished along with the building. Japanese art has a strong history of off-site or post-museum projects, in which artists have located their works outside the normative display structures of museums and galleries. As varied as their contexts may be—from urban to rural, public to private, intimate to expansive—they have all played a substantial role in shaping discussion around the character and function of contemporary art. This variance of context, however, remains significant, for it indicates the relative isolation in which departures from norms of exhibition and production have taken place. The Japanese off-site may be storied, but it is far from a continuous tradition. Throughout its history, the off-site has operated out of specific contingencies, more often than not in relation to institutional structures of a given time. The “descent to the everyday” of the 1960s, for example, occurred when the country’s antiart groups, who had been briefly unified through the annual open-entry Yomiuri Independent exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1958 and 1962, were effectively prevented from further participation when the host venue expressly forbade the inclusion of “unpleasant” art, among a host of draconian restrictions.2 Turning to the streets out of sheer necessity, groups like Hi Red Centre and such radical successors as the I Group, Monoha, Provoke, Bikyoto and the “non-art” and “wilderness” artists, drew on their expanded field of operations to collectively formulate critiques of artistic subjectivity and aesthetic autonomy, as well as concepts of authorship, originality and objective truth. On the other hand, the mass guerilla art events that took place in Tokyo in the 1990s, such as Ginburart, Shonen Shinjuku Art and Akihabara TV, were produced out of frustration with the thendominant rental gallery system, in which the entire financial burden of mounting, publicising and selling contemporary art was shouldered by artists. Drawing inspiration from the DIY ethic of the Kansai-

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centred ‘new wave’ of the 1980s and the Korean ‘small groups’ movement of the democratisation era, the artists associated with these interventions—among them Masato Nakamura, Takashi Murakami, Tsuyoshi Ozawa and Makoto Aida—developed strategies that would enable them to survive Japan’s long recession and eventually build a sustainable market infrastructure for new art, as well as engendering a range of collaborative experiments and ongoing community-oriented projects. Recent years have seen a return of forms of collectivism within Japanese art, and substantial appetite toward operating outside conventional museum and gallery spaces driven by tactical necessity. Much of this is in keeping with the broad social turn that has gained visibility in Japanese art in the wake of the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, a noticeable politicisation of art after the relatively introspective “zero zero” or “micropop” tendency that dominated the 2000s.3 Japanese artistic radicalism tends to operate in waves, directly reflecting the appetite for political experiment in society at large—the Mavo, Action and surrealist avant-gardes of the 1920s were closely tied to Marxist and anarchist ideas in vogue during Taisho democracy; the Yomiuri Independents and their successors in the 1960s flourished in a context of widespread student unrest. Following Fukushima, the anti-nuclear movement mobilised demonstrations of a scale not seen since the violent demise of the New Left in the early 1970s. This return of protest as a form of popular expression provided a context in which socially critical, formally experimental art could operate as a locus of creative thinking, and while the intensity of public outrage has since abated, critical artists like Koizumi and Chim↑Pom have maintained their momentum. As the horizon of artistic politics has shifted from the personal to the public, self-organisation has emerged as an acknowledgment of the limits of institutional authority and an assertion of community control. At one level, this is a direct extension of the social orientation of current practice, recognisable in the ebullient community festivals of Project FUKUSHIMA! (2011–) initiated by poet Ryoichi Wago and musicians Michiro Endo and Yoshihide Otomo, or the exemplary Don’t Follow the Wind project (2015–) organised by Chim↑Pom in collaboration with curator Kubota Kenji and others, an exhibition staged in the radioactive exclusion zone itself, accessible by virtual reality tour. In various ways, groups such as Art Center Ongoing, the Artists’ Guild, blanClass, CAMP, Las Barcas and XYZ Collective have created dynamic new contexts for engendering, sharing and analysing critical positions in art and culture, providing frameworks for the creation and circulation of work that may overlap with existing institutional and market structures but do not depend on them for legitimacy. There is, however, another darker factor in the return to the off-site in Japanese art, and that is the unfortunate atmosphere of censorship, marked by several widely discussed episodes that have occurred over the past four years. In February 2014, Katsuhisa Nakagaki was forced to remove elements of an installation on display in rented space at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art when museum officials objected to their political content. In July, Tokyo artist Megumi Igarashi, also known as Rokudenashiko, or “good-for-nothing kid” was arrested on obscenity charges—after crowd-funding a two-metre kayak modelled on 3D scans of her own vagina—for distributing the data to donors. The following month police in Nagoya demanded the removal of twelve nude photographic portraits by Ryudai Takano from an exhibition at Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art. And in July 2015, highprofile artist Makoto Aida, participating in An Exhibition for Children – Whose Place is this? at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), reported that museum staff and prefectural government officials had requested the removal of two works from the exhibition after a complaint from a visitor.

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Out of Site: Japanese Art After Censorship

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The responses of the individual artists varied, depending on their circumstances. A veteran practitioner better known for his unassuming bronzes, Nakagaki had already been expelled from Shinseisaku, one of the largest and most powerful dantai or artist associations, whose juried salons are a conservative quirk of the Japanese art system, for the unconventional and anti-nationalist turn his work had taken. He assented to removing three statements condemning right-wing attacks against Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which outlaws war as a means of settling state disputes, as the museum had threatened the closure of the entire exhibition which was held in spaces Nakagaki’s new association had rented from them. The work was subsequently shown in Germany unaltered. Winning widespread support from art and activist communities and the press, Igarashi has actively fought her charges in court, repeatedly appealing rulings against her and asserting a strong feminist position publicly; in 2016 she relocated to Ireland, but continues to campaign in favour of artistic freedom. For his part, Takano organised an elegant response to police intervention—museum staff had been threatened with arrest—by draping a veil over the offending parts of his images, which appeased authorities but drew attention to the act of censorship in the process. “If the government deviates from its stated purpose to temporarily borrow authority from its citizens,” he wrote on his blog, “and instead makes a display of this power, that act is far more grotesque than something like the display of genitalia.”4 By far the most well-known artist of the four, Makoto Aida is no stranger to controversy. Yet his contributions to MOT’s summer 2015 children’s exhibition were a far cry from the satirical eroticism and violence that characterises many of his extraordinary painterly explorations of the Japanese psyche. Aida had worked with his wife Hiroko Okada and their school-aged son Torajiro to produce an entertaining cluster of works profiling the family’s perspectives on various issues in Japanese society. Aida was asked to remove or alter two works within his display, A Video of a Man Calling Himself Japan’s Prime Minister, Making a Speech at an International Assembly (2015), a droll idealisation in which the artist, dressed to resemble Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, apologises for Japan’s military adventures in Asia; and Manifesto (2015), a large, handwritten scroll of the family’s proposals to the education ministry, including a desire for more teachers and reform of the competitive examination system. Though the form of the second work recalled the student radicalism of the 1960s, its content was hardly controversial. Nevertheless, they inspired an intervention from the museum administration, which reports directly to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and a measured response from Aida, who first suggested visible alterations to the works in the mode of Takano’s veil, before publicly detailing his conversations with the museum in his own blog. The complainant was never identified and the works remained unchanged. These incidents were widely reported in news media—Igarashi’s case made international headlines—and triggered substantial public discussion on the limits of freedom of expression provisions, the relevance of existing obscenity legislation, and the susceptibility of public institutions to political pressure. While each case has its own unique characteristics that are worth discussing in detail, the short timeframe over which they occurred and several shared contextual factors, meant that they were not isolated. Though not entirely unfamiliar with instances of censorship, Japan’s artistic community was understandably alarmed at the sudden frequency with which it was occurring. What is undeniable though, is that these incidents have arisen at a time when an increasing confidence among artists in dealing with socially and historically sensitive issues has coincided with a susceptibility among institutions to chilling effects of developments elsewhere in civil society. In 2014, after the Asahi Shimbun retracted historical reporting into the issue of “comfort women” based on discredited testimony, Shinzo Abe accused the newspaper of damaging Japan’s international reputation.

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In an atmosphere of historical revisionism, the incident has provided material for right-wing attacks on all investigations of Japan’s wartime transgressions, regardless of verity or quality of reporting, while politicians have openly discussed shutting down media organisations they deem “politically biased”.5 The United Nations and Reporters Without Borders have both expressed concerns over apparently declining press freedoms. It is understandable then, that museums—already vulnerable to governmental pressure courtesy of the public sector reforms undertaken during the Junichiro Koizumi administration of the 2000s—would be wary about perceptions of overt politicisation. It is important at this point to make a clear distinction about the instances listed above. Megumi Igarashi and Ryudai Takano ran afoul of obscenity laws, archaic ordnances that have been interpreted differently over time—particularly in relation to freedom of expression provisions—but which are generally taken to mean that genitalia must be obscured in publicly distributed imagery. Earlier incidents of this type include the withdrawal of a video by Tadasu Takamine from an exhibition at Yokohama Museum of Art in 2004 after the work was referred to police by the museum’s director, and a long-running court case surrounding the publication of a book of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, which spanned most of the 2000s.6 The cases of Nakagaki and Aida, however, elude such a legal framework, as problematic and frustrating as it may be. In these instances, the directive for removal or alteration of the work in question had come about as a contravention of Tokyo Metropolitan Government regulations permitting authorities to refuse display of works judged to serve a political agenda. Furthermore, they are only the most prominent examples—Nakagaki’s case revealed the hitherto under-reported removal from the same venue of a comfort woman statue by a Korean artist two years earlier, again after an anonymous visitor complaint. It was in this context that the Artists’ Guild, a group set up by Meiro Koizumi along with Hiroharu Mori and Mami Suda to facilitate the sharing of high-end video production equipment and expertise, sought to create space for discussing the limits of artist freedom and the internalisation of censorship regimes at the very institution that had so recently been at the centre of that debate. MOT invited the Artists’ Guild to co-curate its yearly survey of emerging art, the MOT Annual, and the theme of the project quickly shifted towards self-censorship. Perhaps predictably, the exhibition, which bore the English title Loose Lips Save Ships (2016), was an uneasy one, though not without a certain bravery on the behalf of the curators and museum staff in attempting to resolve the question in the public interest. When the exhibition opened in March 2016, numerous works were absent, and negotiations and adjustments continued throughout the three-month duration. In part, this stemmed from certain gestures exceeding MOT’s willingness or capacity to accommodate them, but there were other factors at play. Artist’s Guild member Hikaru Fujii, for example, had sought to present records, documentation and objects collected for the Tokyo Peace Memorial Museum, planned as a commemoration of the March 1945 American firebombing of eastern Tokyo—where MOT is located, and 100,000 of whose residents were killed—but were shelved by conservative councillors in 2002. On refusal of access to these materials by city bureaucrats, Fujii set about constructing the ghost of a display relating to the firebombing, an installation of empty frames, plinths and vitrines accompanied by meticulously detailed captions describing the absent materials. Fujii then invited local residents and survivors of the bombing to contribute testimony in the form of a workshop, documented in video form, animating the otherwise stark space with the incontestable force of collective memory.

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While Fujii’s elegant response to obstructions in his act of historical retrieval was one that enabled the museum to function, however briefly, as a genuine forum for public discussion, other absences were not as successful in conveying the substance of the works they replaced. Most notable among these was an empty space on a wall around a corner from Fujii’s installation, lit by a single spotlight and labelled as a work by Koizumi, titled Air (2016). While this may have read as a deliberate provocation, a glib performance of the act of censorship, Air instead referred to an existing body of work that Koizumi had assented not to show after failing to obtain the full support of the museum. This was a series of digital prints comprising recent and historical media images featuring Emperor Hirohito from which the regent had been erased, leaving a ghostly void. In addition to poetically describing this evacuated visual space, the title was drawn from the idiom “kūki wo yomu” or “reading the air”—the customary practice of understanding the unwritten rules of a situation in order to avoid friction. In relation to Koizumi’s work, this refers both to a general reticence to discuss the validity of the post-war imperial order, and to the practice of interpreting the Emperor’s gestures and turns of speech, given the strict figurehead status to which the role is restricted under the 1947 constitution. Air was instead exhibited for a short run in April, 2016 at Mujin-to Production, an adventurous commercial gallery located close to MOT that also represents Chim↑Pom. The need for a more intimate, more specialised context for such a work attests to the weight of the social pressures associated with taboos surrounding its subject matter. These extend beyond institutions’ lack of confidence in their own capacity to appropriately contextualise these issues for their audiences and stakeholders. In particular, Koizumi was wary of the threat posed by organised ultra-nationalists in harassing and intimidating gallery staff and viewers. Such was the public menace of far right activism that one month later, Japan was forced to pass hate speech legislation following a wave of regularly scheduled, abusive demonstrations against ethnic Korean and Chinese residents, as well as a rise in malicious public pronouncements and internet chatter.7 The energy and ferocity of Japan’s far-right extends to further issues that they perceive as central to Japanese identity. These include questions of Japan’s wartime conduct, the role of the Shinto religion in civil society, and the centrality of national symbols, such as the flag, the anthem and the imperial family. As a condition of surrender to effect the end of the Second World War, Emperor Hirohito renounced his claim to divinity, forged in the mythical origins of his family in 660 BCE through the Emperor Jimmu, scion of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Hirohito’s son Akihito, who succeeded him in 1989, became Japan’s first truly secular and democratic regent, the figurehead of a constitutional monarchy. Some conservatives, lamenting the conditions imposed on Japan following the war, have sought to return the imperial family to its pre-war status, actively pursuing initiatives that have come into direct conflict with human rights provisions, such as the short-lived ruling that school teachers be legally compelled to daily face the flag and sing the national anthem. Akihito, as it happens, has frustrated nationalists, even as he is idealised by them, by regularly expressing remorse for Japan’s wartime actions against its neighbours, and discouraging forced displays of national fealty. In August 2015, Akihito publicly expressed his desire to abdicate by his eighty-fifth birthday in 2019, aggravating a succession debate that has focused on Crown Prince Naruhito’s failure to bear a male heir. It is within this context that any questioning of the imperial system, let alone outright republicanism, has become especially sensitive for institutions, and physically dangerous for individuals. Even a discreet display in a small private space bears an element of risk. The limits placed on public circulation of such work further raise the spectre of the privatisation of critical discourse. How might a space be found which is neither subject to the vulnerability of state supported structures nor limited to the private sphere? l

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Out of Site: Japanese Art After Censorship

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REUBEN KEEHAN

Chim↑Pom’s example provided Koizumi with a template for the presentation of his next work, an exploration of the complex symbolic, ideological and psychological space of Emperor-centricity through video documentation of two interventions staged by the artist at the 15 August 2016 antiEmperor rally, an annual march organised by a coalition of republican groups. It should be stressed that Chim↑Pom’s off-site projects are not in themselves direct responses to censorship, but are more closely related to the site-specific nature of their work. Formed in 2005 by a group of young artists who had worked with Makoto Aida in various capacities, Chim↑Pom first came to broader recognition with Black of Death (2008), a mischievous intervention through which a large murder of crows was guided between Tokyo landmarks, and SUPER RAT (2006), a video and group of sculptures in which enormous, poison-resistant rodents found in downtown Shibuya were taxidermied into the iconic Pokemon character Pikachu—both creatures were pet grievances of then Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara. Chim↑Pom provided some of the first examples of post-Fukushima art, with interventions including the addition of a panel depicting a rippled power plant to Taro Okamoto’s 1969 anti-nuclear mural The Myth of Tomorrow (2011) at Shibuya Station. The incisively comic video KI-AI 100 (2011) was improvised with a group of locals who the collective met while assisting with clean-up operations in tsunami-hit Soma City, forming a circle and shouting out an infectious series of encouragements, jibes and non-sequiturs in an attempt to string together one hundred cheers. This expanded level of engagement—inflected with a trademark looseness—was consolidated when Chim↑Pom organised Turning Around, an exhibition of international activist work at the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art in 2012, a modest though venerable private museum in Tokyo. Chim↑Pom’s practice over the last few years has become increasingly situated. Don’t follow the wind (2015–) is one example of this; So see you again tomorrow, too? (2016) is another. If their Kabukicho intervention was decidedly idiosyncratic, with its all-night party and its highly detailed diorama of the neighbourhood being overrun by Godzilla-sized “super rats”, it nevertheless demonstrated a genuine commitment to the locality. Indeed, their engagement with the tsunami-devastated and radiationpoisoned region around the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has been both ongoing and constructive. Moreover, in a climate in which artistic interventions into social and historical issues are discouraged, the self-organised aspect of their projects, along with the event-like nature of their staging, enables a liberated, anti-authoritarian atmosphere and possibilities for both irreverence and political seriousness unachievable elsewhere. Harajuku space VACANT, which, in addition to exhibitions, hosts book fairs, flea markets and concerts, became the venue for Koizumi’s presentation of Rite for a dream – Today my empire sings (2016). The ultra-left Hantenren march at which the video was shot is an annual event, regularly greeted with typical anger by right-wing counter protests. In the context of the imperial succession debate, however, passions were extremely high, and marchers were opposed by such ferocity that police outnumbered the protesters they were required to protect, by around ten to one. As with the Emperor in his Air series, Koizumi does not feature the marchers in the work, focusing instead on his interventions: a blindfolded chamber orchestra and choir, who intone a hymn; and a handcuffed man, pushed along by riot police at the rear of the march, whose journey is the subject of the central screen for much of the work. The work constructs a narrative based on a disturbing dream Koizumi experienced as a child, in which during a food shortage, his father was taken away to be killed and fed to chickens. The father’s gallows march is performed by an actor within the body of the main protest, propelled by police and subject to the abuse of ultra-nationalists. The video is highly cinematic in character, as the soundtrack builds l

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Out of Site: Japanese Art After Censorship

49 — december / 2017


REUBEN KEEHAN

from an ominous drone to a climactic whirl of mob noise, megaphone feedback and hymnal singing. Thanks to Koizumi’s substantial history of formal experiment and exploration of the dynamics of melodrama, Rite for a dream – Today my empire sings is a powerful emotional experience. But there is nothing particularly offensive about it, no direct expression of blasphemy or even republican ideas. Rather, it proposes a situated consideration of the complex of aesthetics and ideology through which forms of social organisation are expressed in the psychology of their subjects. That the artist did not feel secure in presenting the work within an established context is worrying, but the fact the work appeared at all, and that it was discussed widely in artistic and literary journals, does signal that possibilities for artists exist even when conventional frameworks prove less than accommodating. The tactical approach to finding platforms for work serves to expand the scope of their reception. With a few notable exceptions, Japan lacks a substantial network of small to medium-sized institutions for contemporary art, the sort of venues whose proximity to their audience could help mediate the entry of difficult work into the public sphere. The self-organised, off-site approach demonstrated by Chim↑Pom and a number of other collectives and practitioners offers an alternative, and moreover, opens the possibility of new forms of engagement with diverse communities. Hikaru Fujii’s consultative, collaborative method further proves that there are also ways to engage communities within the framework of museums, even in the face of bureaucratic obfuscation. The question of censorship and self-censorship has been widely discussed within contemporary art circles, and public institutions surely have much to consider. Their role as key nodes of the structure of civil society, a popular bulwark to governmental overreach in any democracy, is far too vital to be left to chance. But artistic responses to various social exigencies—from nuclear disaster to restrictions on freedom of expression—have provided additional platforms for general criticality, and models for new modes of engagement. Notes 1 Japanese Contemporary Art Transparency Prize; http://jcatp.com 2 Reiko Tomii, ‘How gendai bijutsu stole the “museum”: An institutional observation of the vanguard 1960s’, J. Thomas Rimer (ed.), Since Meiji: Perspectives on the Japanese Visual Arts, 1868-2000, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, pp. 144-67 3 Yukie Kamiya first described the “zero zero generation” in her 2002 editorial to a special issue of Bijutsu Techo as “mild mannered reformers” pursuing “feasible utopias” embedded in everyday life, who were not afraid to use traditional symbols and techniques. See ‘Aiming for a feasible utopia’, Bijutsu Techo, February 2002. In 2007, Midori Matsui, rebranding the tendency as “micropop” observed that the artists’ small gestures and unassuming works “expressed a pent-up anger at the monotony of the everyday and a longing for some kind of violent break in the existing order.” See The Age of Micropop: The New Generation of Japanese Artists, Tokyo: Parco Publishing, 2007, p. 45 4 Emily Wakeling, ‘With me: an interview with Ryudai Takano’, Tokyo Art Beat, 9 February 2015; http://www.tokyoartbeat.com/ tablog/entries.en/2015/02/with-me-an-interview-with-ryudai-takano.html 5 Martin Fackler, ‘The silencing of Japan’s free press’, Foreign Policy, 27 May 2016; http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/05/27/thesilencing-of-japans-free-press-shinzo-abe-media/ 6

Mapplethorpe, Tokyo: Uplink, 1994

7

Tomohiro Osaki, ‘Diet passes Japan’s first law to curb hate speech’, The Japan Times, 24 May 2016

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Out of Site: Japanese Art After Censorship

51 — december / 2017


MARY PELLETIER

Still Dancing With Taboos

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52 — december / 2017


Turkish artist, curator and publisher Halil Altındere’s exhibition Welcome to Homeland was held in Istanbul’s Cihangir neighbourhood in September 2017 to coincide with the 15th Istanbul Biennial: A Good Neighbor. Installed in the Sadik Pasha mansion, a gently deteriorating historical residence overlooking the Bosphorus, Altındere presented three new works—the ground floor was dedicated to Space Refugee (2016), an immersive installation centred around a twenty-minute video of the same name featuring the first Syrian cosmonaut, Muhammed Ahmed Faris; while upstairs, Homeland (2016), his rap-music video played alongside a large-scale photographic installation entitled Köfte Airlines (2016). A multifaceted, multimedia exhibition, Welcome to Homeland underscored Altındere’s evolving engagement with the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, and demonstrated a marked development in the artist’s methods of collaborative storytelling. This shift in his practice notably came to the fore in his rap music video Wonderland (2013), in which a young rap group from the Istanbul neighbourhood of Sulukule forcefully airs its grievances against an ongoing urban regeneration project. In examining Altındere’s practice over the past four years (in particular, the four works noted above), and taking into account the immediate political and geopolitical shifts within his native Turkey, we see not only an increasing preoccupation with the idea of ‘land’ but also a shift in the dialogical nature of his approach. Since emerging in the mid-1990s, Atlındere has established himself as one of Turkey’s most provocative contemporary artists, a reputation earned through a diverse multimedia practice that succeeds in excavating and challenging oppressive structures of the state. Through sculpture, video, photographic and multimedia works, Altındere has squarely placed subcultures centre stage, investigated the ubiquity and mundanity of control and security, and oscillated between the tenets of tradition and the desires of modernity—sometimes risking his own autonomy in the face of increasing censorious governmental practices.1 The success of these works often relies on Altındere’s particular brand of cheeky irreverence and ironic, dark humour which extends to the self-referential—indeed, his exhibition Who the f*ck is Halil Altındere? in 2015 at the Kunstpalais Erlangen in Germany cunningly criticised the reputation-based global art scene before one even entered the building.2 The collaborative nature of his recent videoworks indicates a subtle, effective change in production as well as an ambitious expansion of subject matter to include the Syrian refugee crisis, which in the past six years has developed into the largest humanitarian dilemma in the region.3 This is unsurprising, as the influx of Syrian refugees into neighbouring Turkey has had a substantial affect on governmental and societal structures with which Altındere repeatedly engages. In doing so, Altındere has entered into a realm of contemporary art production and themed biennial presentations that quickly become mired in debates concerning ethics, morality and opportunism: is there a responsible way to make art about the refugee crisis?4 In taking into account the works in Welcome to Homeland, individually and collectively, alongside his landmark video Wonderland, this text will examine the visual, aural and distinctly humorous language employed by Altındere to engender a unique viewing experience of investment and engagement linked to the universal idea of one’s homeland—the success of which is due in part to his position within Istanbul and greater Turkey.

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MARY PELLETIER

*** In July 1987, Muhammed Ahmed Faris described to the President of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, his view of their shared homeland by way of patchy, orbital satellite television—“Dear President, I am happy to see my lovely country at the moment. I can see the beautiful coasts, the great green mountains and lands, I can see the city of Jableh and the Golan Heights. It’s incredibly beautiful, and great. I’m very happy.”5 Suspended 400km above Syria in Mir, a new, low-orbit Soviet-built space-station, Faris was in the midst of a public, galactic conversation with the President. As the first Syrian and only the second Arab in space, it was an official moment of national pride, documented by Syria TV and beamed into households across the country. In subsequent footage, Faris exuded cool confidence and radiated joy in equal measure—a courageous yet relatable figure, often pictured with a smile beneath his thick black moustache. A fighter pilot with the Syrian Air Force, Faris had been chosen to undertake rigorous training for two years as part of a joint Syrian-Soviet space program. He spent seven days aboard Mir (a name which, when translated for official purposes, was heralded as “peace”) conducting experiments alongside four Soviet cosmonauts. He returned to Syria a national hero, and ranked up to major general in the Air Force and Air Defense Command. Twenty-five years after his landmark mission to space, as Hafez al-Assad’s son Bashar began a bloody governmental crackdown in response to the growing Syrian revolution, Faris defected from the regime. The sixty-six year-old national hero now resides as a refugee in Istanbul. Faris’ life story is undeniably captivating, one of baffling irony and oppositional imagery—a heroic cosmonaut rendered stateless by a regime he once served in good faith. When The Guardian newspaper ran a profile on him in March 2016, their decidedly cinematic title read, “From astronaut to refugee: how the Syrian spaceman fell to Earth.”6 The epic nature of his biography certainly appealed to Altındere, as it would to a general audience. But it is important to recognise the visual and sensorial devices employed in the production of the Space Refugee video and installation which reach beyond biography to express a more universal understanding of the current refugee crisis and provide commentary on the concept of ‘belonging’ in one’s landscape. As with most of Altındere’s artwork, Space Refugee evades genre definition, and requires a unique hybrid designation—perhaps docu-sci-fi-futurist being most appropriate. The opening credits show the title and Altındere’s name hurtling above the crest of the Earth, to be replaced by a collaged space station and spaceman of inconceivable scale moving slowly through space. For a few seconds, we glimpse Faris’ face, collaged so as to appear inside the spaceman’s helmet. It is curiously comical—and soon gives way to footage and audio from Faris’ space training and journey. Taking the approach of a more traditional documentary, the video transitions to a present-day interview with Faris, standing in an observatory explaining his space journey and the revolution that led to him to flee his homeland, to his new home in Turkey. In control of his own narrative, Faris’ dialogue takes a surprising turn when discussing future possibilities for the fate of the displaced Syrian population: “I hope we can build cities for them there in space where there is freedom and dignity, and where there is no tyranny, no injustice.” Abruptly, the video transitions to a landscape that resembles the dry, red landscape of Mars (filmed in the Turkish region of Cappadocia). The documentary mode continues as various NASA and space experts appear, articulating the increasing inevitability of moving human life to Mars. We learn that, through various international treaties, no one country can purport to own land in space—a utopic vision, especially when juxtaposed with Faris’ enthusiastic motivations for continuing exploration. l

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Still Dancing With Taboos

55 — december / 2017


MARY PELLETIER

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Three young astronauts appear in this Mars-like landscape wearing Palmyra-branded space suits. As they play out the type of exploration narrated by the NASA experts, complete with a mini Mars rover, absurdity flirts with the reality of galactic research—suddenly Faris’ idea of Mars as a ‘safe space’ for an entire population without a country does not seem so far-fetched. In a 2015 interview with Dino Dinçer Şirin and Misal Adnan Yıldız, Altındere describes the collaborative nature of his work from a production viewpoint; I work with the most substantial and suitable medium for what I am aiming to do. If I do not know much about the language I intend to use in my work, I collaborate with an expert. I might need a good painter, sculptor, welder, or an art director. It depends. When you get more experience and have more opportunities, you can work with better and bigger crews. Eventually you get a better result.7 In Space Refugee, this process extends to the figures portrayed in the video—the presence of scientific experts on screen grounds the visuals in fact. The gravity of this subject matter, which engages both the Syrian refugee crisis and the idea of a possible utopia, is lightened by Altındere’s onscreen depiction of comical discovery, but the installation further enhances this with a heavy dose of sci-fi kitsch. Enveloping the artworks, the darkened interior of the mansion’s ground floor glowed a neon blue, partly wallpapered with galactic scenes. Three space-suited mannequins stood on guard in the foyer. Official portraits, painted from photographs of Faris when he was involved in the Syrian-Soviet space program, depicted him primarily as a noble, fearless figure. The familiarity of this type of statesanctioned and publicly-disseminated imagery was offset by Altındere’s use of frames edged with neon blue lights; when a full-body likeness of Faris, in his space suit, is rendered in the form of a small action figure hidden behind a clear convex dome, he plays into traditionally juvenile devices of heroic representation and celebration. The idea of ‘land’ moves from the personal and terrestrial to that of stellar aspiration, as one circular portrait suggests in a halo of words reading “Occupy Mars”. If this installation is rooted in the idea of the future, upstairs, Altındere’s video Homeland (2016), takes us squarely back to contemporary politics, offering a blend of imagery that is more commonly associated with the current regional refugee crisis. This art video, made in collaboration with Syrian rapper Mohammad Abu Hajar and filmed in both Turkey and Germany, was first exhibited at the Berlin Biennial in 2016. Presented shortly after a change in European Union-Turkey migration policy,8 which saw the two entities adopt an agreement to stem the flow of refugees from Turkey to Greece under new resettlement directives, this work is an acutely political display of frustration, voiced by an exisiting refugee, Abu Hajar. Homeland begins with a serene waterside yoga session: “Take your position as an observer… watch and listen all the voices in the environment,” the yoga instructor guides her students, a shrewd directive that perhaps applies more to the viewer than those onscreen. The serenity is soon disrupted by an electrifying syncopation, and the arrival of refugees at the beach. A drone gathering video footage holds a life buoy that reads “Welcome Refugees”. Abu Hajar received asylum in Berlin in 2014 after fleeing Syria for Lebanon, and then to Italy. His rhyming voice-over, suffused with fervent anger, ignites the narrative as a group of refugees undertakes an imagined sea crossing drawn from news footage and mythic imagery—breaking through barbed-wire fences, navigating the waters of darkened underground mazes, and emerging from a wooden Trojan Horse. Abu Hajar is a force—as his words shift between the personal and the general, so too does the camera, volleying between images of mass migration and the rapper’s confrontational visage.

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MARY PELLETIER

“The home is lost/the home is died/the home is behind me now,” he raps as drone footage reveals the German landscape. Ending at Berlin’s decommissioned Tempelhof Airport, now transformed into one of Germany’s largest refugee camps, the subject turns to assimilation, and the clear frustration associated with navigating a new ‘homeland’ that under these (or any) circumstances will never be home at all. Abu Hajar will not trade tabbouleh for currywurst—he will not accept cultural directives. He is determined: “I have a homeland/I have a homeland/I will return even if the time prolonged.” An extended line of credits at the end of this ten-minute video points again to Altındere’s collaborative process: camera operators, production managers, art directors and stuntmen. The artist’s role almost fades to the background as Abu Hajar’s own artistry comes to prominence—here the young rapper has been given a platform, and enhanced by Altındere’s production, spans the realms of conceptual art and political call-to-action. In allowing Abu Hajar to voice the ‘refugee experience’ in these ways, Altındere successfully navigates a contemporary artistic landscape that is increasingly fraught with questions of ethics and morality in the race to address global crises. When comparing both Homeland and Space Refugee to the refugee-focused installations and productions of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, the difference in execution and critical reception is striking. In January 2016, when Ai recreated the photograph of a drowned Syrian infant’s lifeless body, it was rightly criticised as a disrespectful, tone-deaf stunt, capitalising on the death of a child;9 when he encouraged celebrities to don emergency thermal blankets and pose for photographs at a charity gala a few weeks later, Berlin’s culture secretary Tim Renner took to Facebook to draw the line between Ai Weiwei’s lifejacket installation at the Konzerthaus and the ‘obscene’ act: “When Ai Weiwei illustrates the dimensions of terror outside [the gala] with 14,000 life jackets from Lesbos, it is perhaps not subtle but effective and justified; but when the guests of Cinema for Peace are prompted by the organiser to don emergency blankets for a group photo, even if understood as an act of solidarity, it has a clearly obscene element.”10 It may be that Altındere’s more recent video production owes its success to his experience in making Wonderland, which received international acclaim after it was exhibited in the 13th Istanbul Biennial: Mom, Am I Barbarian?, curated by Turkish curator and writer, Fulya Erdemci. This work follows Istanbul rap group Tahribad-I Isyan through the streets of their native Sulukule, a six hundred-year old Roma neighbourhood at the centre of a years-long, divisive urban regeneration project advanced by TOKI, Turkey’s government-backed housing agency. By 2016, the project had already caused the displacement of lower-income Roma residents to make way for new, middle-class housing developments. While in conversation with Şirin and Yıldız, Altındere alluded to the organic nature of the video’s production: “in Wonderland, I did not build the structure on a pre-written script dealing with the gentrification problem in Istanbul. The main characters of the video, the members of the hip-hop group Tahribad-i Isyan, are such strong personalities. After having met them, I created the plot around these young people.”11 Just as Abu Hajar presents himself as a confrontational figure in Homeland, so do the rappers in Tahribad-i Isyan. The video begins with a police chase, recalling the iconography of Altındere’s prior installations involving police cars; the landscape is half-slum, half-construction project. The destination is a meeting with rapper Fuat Ergin, here portrayed as a larger-than-life mob boss wearing a camouflaged fur and a comic crown. He expounds on the destruction of the neighbourhood under the guise of regeneration, issuing a satirical call to arms: “Let art and music be your armaments.” They set out into the streets, airing their grievances; “We pissed on the foundation of the newly built blocks/cos I was pissed at TOKI.”

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Still Dancing With Taboos

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MARY PELLETIER

Over the course of the video, the rappers cross paths with a zabita or security guard, and swiftly begin beating him. The darkness escalates as they set him on fire—as ashes fall over the landscape, each of the rappers is shot. They continue rapping regardless, only to enter into a fight with a construction digger which charges at them like a monstrous animal. As the song comes to a close, a Molotov cocktail is thrown at a TOKI banner which erupts into a ball of flame. In illuminating a gentrification crisis with the raw language of these young men, Altındere’s video succeeds in transforming the bureaucratic nature of governmental discourse into an expression of immediate cause-and-effect. The imagery is familiar and visceral in equal measure, as the initial comic nature of the neighbourhood’s youthful defense quickly gives way to vengeful murder. Wonderland was a standout work at the Istanbul Biennial, garnering international praise, and was subsequently purchased by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In examining the video’s success, it is important to note that it was produced in February, 2013 and completed before the violent police crackdown on those protesting the proposed demolition of Istanbul’s Gezi Park, which began the following month. When the Istanbul Biennial opened in mid-September of that year, the riots had ceased, but the spirit that had spurred on months of protest continued to simmer. As a result of the political unrest, Wonderland resonated deeply with both local and international visitors. This critical reception also posed a unique challenge, as it became inseparable from the swell of international news coverage, as Altındere discussed with Şirin and Yıldız: “I have noticed that people have higher expectations of me since I made Wonderland. It moves independently, has a life of its own and is not my work anymore. All of a sudden it became a bigger entity, so it was not easy for me to make new video works immediately after.”12 Welcome to Homeland was presented to coincide with the 15th Istanbul Biennial: A Good Neighbor, curated by Elmgreen and Dragset, centred around various appreciations of what makes a ‘good neighbour’ and the shifting concept of ‘home’, ranging from the local to the global. Just as the tense political climate that surrounded the 13th Biennial reflected the urgency of its central theme (use of the public domain as a political forum, challenging contemporary forms of democracy), so too did Elmgreen and Dragset’s edition analyse a current political climate—throughout Turkey, Europe and beyond —where ideas of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’ are continually in flux. “In times where political problems are looming so large they seem ungraspable, inaccessible and unfathomable to us as individuals, we hope to bring politics home—back to its roots,” the curators’ introduction reads. “The microcosm reflects the macrocosm and vice versa.”13 Though not officially exhibited as part of the Biennial program, Altındere’s exhibition substantiated that assertion. In presenting drastically different individual accounts of the refugee journey, which in turn uphold deeply personal interpretations of ‘home’ and ‘belonging’, Space Refugee and Homeland make the incomprehensible numbers of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis accessible. The final component of Welcome to Homeland acts as an ironic reminder of the limitations refugees face when they reach a destination and also serves to reinforce the scale of their crisis in considering the video’s unique narratives. Köfte Airlines, initially conceived as a billboard and shown at Berlin Art Week in 2016 was installed as a wall-sized photograph. In the image, lines of refugees sit atop an airplane that boldly displays its name, Köfte Airlines with a Turkish flag painted alongside the cockpit door. The image appears digitally altered, and it is, to a degree—the tilting of the plane and the barren landscape are fabrications. In reality, Köfte Airlines is a restaurant located in a disused and renovated jetliner off the highway in the city of Tekirdağ, in Eastern Thrace, west of Istanbul. Altındere worked with the country’s immigration administration, bringing together a group of refugees who wanted to take part in the project.14 A film of the production process plays alongside the wall/photo, providing l

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evidence of the physical collaboration for those who might presume the entirety of the photograph was a collage. The absurd title, referencing the region’s ubiquitous meat dish, belies a serious question: not where the refugees will go but how will they go? At the time of the photograph’s conception, agreements regarding the placement of refugees was at the top of the EU-Turkish political agenda —where, rather than how. Köfte Airlines provides space to meditate on the restricted movement of those seeking asylum, and the inhumane conditions encountered along any stage of the refugee journey. Altındere offers an absurd solution to these problems by inventing a refugees-only airline. But after witnessing the various journeys undertaken in Welcome to Homeland, one must ask, does it really seem that absurd? Notes 1 See Kaya Genç, ‘Turkish Contemporary Art 2.0’, Kaya Genç interviews Halil Altındere, Los Angeles Review of Books, 16 January, 2016; https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/turkish-contemporary-art-2-0/#! 2 See Amely Deiss, Sarah Lampe, Dino Dinçer Şirin and Misal Adnan Yıldız, Who the F*ck is Halil Altındere, Stadt Kunstpalais Erlangen, 2015 3 See ‘Syria conflict at 5 years: the biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time demands a huge surge in solidarity,’ UNHCR, published 15 March, 2016; http://www.unhcr.org/news/press/2016/3/56e6e3249/syria-conflict-5-years-biggestrefugee-displacement-crisis-time-demands.html 4 Rob Sharp, ‘Is There a Responsible Way to Make Art About Syria?’, Artsy, 22 April, 2016; https://www.artsy.net/article/ artsy-editorial-is-there-a-responsible-way-to-make-art-about-syria 5 For documentary footage of Muhammed Ahmed Faris, see Rosie Garthwaite, ‘From Astronaut to Refugee: The Syrian Spaceman Who Fell to Earth’, The Guardian, 1 March, 2016; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/01/fromastronaut-to-refugee-how-the-syrian-spaceman-fell-to-earth 6

Ibid.

7

Şirin and Yıldız, ‘Interview’, Who the F*ck is Halil Altındere, p. 92

8

See Elizabeth Collett, ‘The Paradox of the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal’, Migration Policy Institute, March 2016; https://www.migrationpolicy.org/news/paradox-eu-turkey-refugee-deal 9 See Henri Neuendorf, ‘Ai Weiwei Hits a New Low by Crassly Recreating Photo of Drowned Syrian Toddler’, Artnet, 1 February 2016; https://news.artnet.com/market/ai-weiwei-reenactment-drowned-syrian-toddler-417275 10 Henry Barnes, ‘Celebrities don emergency blankets at Berlin fundraiser for refugees’, The Guardian, 16 February, 2016; https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/16/celebrities-don-emergency-blankets-at-berlin-fundraiser-for-refugees 11

Şirin and Yıldız, ‘Interview’, p. 91

12

Ibid., p. 94

61 — december / 2017


PATRICK FLORES


Difficult Comparisons: The Curatorial Desire for Southeast Asia

In the effort to curate Southeast Asia, the curator compares. The curator traces details of affinity and deviance, distance from and intimacy with the subject or the material. In the course of curatorial play, however, the circumstances, as well as the consequences of comparing tend to be overlooked. It might be because the region is reckoned at the outset to be already fully formed as a collective, and as such, the only thing left to be done is to recognise and capture it in a curatorial situation: to finally name it as an exhibition of Southeast Asia. Here we face the fundamental anxiety of the curatorial and the regional. I argue that both the curatorial and the regional should be simultaneously conceptualised in a common space made possible by the curator and the schema that entitles the curation. I also argue that since the curatorial is a situation, the region should be released from its identity as a fully formed collective; and that, in turn, the curatorial should be plastic enough to be shaped by a formative region, or a region in a condition of forming. It is only within this gamut of reciprocal calibrations that the comparable, or the diverse, becomes comparative or equivalent, and the curatorial and the collective are productively performed as instances of, in the words of social-cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, “process or precipitate formation”1 or as the critic Guy Brett would put it, “phases of the kinetic”.2 Singaporean art historian Kanaga Sabapathy points out, “Comparative seeing is the heartbeat of exhibitions; comparative seeing is vital for thinking on and studying art, historically. Having said this I must add that comparative studies and seeing are not given and easy; they have to be worked for.”3 Because of such exigency, as Sabapathy has signalled, the comparison is necessarily difficult. It is problematic because of the great risk involved in gathering works from various contexts and making them represent, in one way or another, a singular, monolithic region that is continually dispersed by monsoon and rainforest, spirits, calamities and migrations. The difficulty lies in the double movement of bringing works from discrete, usually nation-bound matrices, to a shared context and claiming them as contemporary and regional from a mess and welter of paradoxically inchoate national forms. Such difficulty is productive, because it moves briskly between incipience and cohering.

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Judith Butler in her essay ‘Values of Difficulty’ reasons that to confront difficulty is to deserve the possibility of communication and hence of sociability. Butler asks, “But is it not part of a critical practice, a critical approach to language and, indeed, to rhetoric, to ask what constitutes the norms of communicability, and what challenges them, and how it is that a critical consideration of the norm and its challenges forms part of a comparative approach to literature?”4 She continues that these norms of communicability are plural and therefore demand a process of translation in the gesture of comparative work, which she considers a “fundamental and irreversible condition of communication itself.”5 A difficult comparison is made more complex by the desire for a region and the political process of distinction and discrimination, of inclusion or exclusion that is intrinsic in curation. Butler raises the challenge of translatability that either “compels the violence of a certain colonial expansionism” or opens up the “possibility of meeting up with the limits of our own epistemological horizon, a limit that challenges what we know to be knowable, a limit that can always and only function as the radically unfamiliar within the domain of ordinary language, plain speaking, common sense.”6 To compare and to curate is therefore to translate and portray those that are compared and curated regional and contemporary, within porous and interpenetrating time and space. I am reminded of Michel Foucault’s phrase “sudden vicinity of things” in his preface to The Order of Things.7 According to Foucault: “Moreover, it is not simply the oddity of unusual juxtapositions that we are faced with here. We are all familiar with the disconcerting effect of the proximity of extremes, or, quite simply, with the sudden vicinity of things that have no relation to each other; the mere act of enumeration that heaps them all together has a power of enchantment all its own.”8 In the mind of Philippine national hero Jose Rizal, this comparison is akin to a temptation of semblances or an enchantment of affinities.9 And in Alexander Baumgarten’s seminal treatise on aesthetics, this might pertain to a state of confusion as seen against the achievement of conception, “an organic interpenetration” that leads to “extensive clarity.”10 A TALE OF TWO EXHIBITIONS The exhibition Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now (2017), heralded as the largest exhibition of Southeast Asian contemporary art to be held in Japan, rests on these burdens of representation as well as the fear of repeating the longing to account for an art history, on the one hand, and to intuit the new and the now among eighty-six artists and through fourteen curators, on the other. Part of the burden is the institutional context in which the exhibition takes place, framed by the bureaucracies of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Japanese institutions such as The Japan Foundation Asia Center, the National Art Center Tokyo, and the Mori Art Museum. Another is the structure of the curatorium and its preparedness to take on Southeast Asia. Over the years, the density of discourse in Southeast Asia has significantly heightened, and no curatorial effort worth its salt could afford to neglect the criticality of the interlocution. To do so would be to reverse the gains of the field and turn colleagues in the region into yet another coterie of informants rather than annotators of both the region and Japan. To do so would be to reduce a Southeast Asian exhibition to orientalist, exotic, vertiginous traffic. The exhibition at the outset, therefore, treads on fragile ground, given the cogent counterbalance offered by the region, which is now strongly placed to mediate any representation of it from without. This is further complicated by the commemorative nature of the project, the fifty years of the ASEAN, that the organisers had faceted as the main angle of the event. The interest of Japan in Southeast Asia seems to hover above what is perceived as the region’s economic and cultural dynamism: “Not only in economic terms, Southeast Asia is also now attracting attention throughout the world as a l

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The Double-Agency of History: Art as Fake l

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The Double-Agency of History: Art as Fake

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Out of Site: Japanese Art After Censorship

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Still Dancing with Taboos

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Learning from the Future: Tintin Wulia’s ‘1001 Martian Homes’

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This Beautiful, Tangled, Chaotic Game: On Three-Sided Football, Triolectics and World Space(s)

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Tomorrow Girls: Sci-Fi, Other Worlds and Geo-Politics in Media Art from the Middle East l

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Tomorrow Girls: Sci-Fi, Other Worlds and Geo-Politics in Media Art from the Middle East

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‘One Hundred Years’ On: The Worn Away Mask of Jerusalem l

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‘One Hundred Years’ On: The Worn Away Mask of Jerusalem

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new hub for cultural exchange in the 21st century.”11 It is this vitality and energy that is desired by the curatorial enterprise. Such extensity is always tricky, and the exhibition fails to confront the difficulty with earnestness and acuity. Instead, it turns to what it calls a “loosely chronological” approach to the period it defines (1980s to present) and to cover a heterogeneity of art from the art worlds of the ten nation-states in Southeast Asia. A “loosely chronological” framework on a fraught geopolitical worlding of Southeast Asia may initially offer a latitude, but in the course of the curatorial process, may prove to be frustratingly maladroit in decisively delineating conjunctures of social form and sensible life. In the guise of this looseness, the exhibition shirks the responsibility of staking positions on art and history no matter how provisional these might have to be; and so the general feeling is one of randomness as it proceeds across the two buildings of the Mori Art Museum and the National Art Center nearly serially from theme to theme. These themes are verisimilarly weakly inflected; and, sadly, no cogent phenomenological experience comes from this encounter between audience and artistic proposition, and ultimately no discursive speculation is wagered. It seems to be all stimuli. The 2016 Singapore Biennale titled An Atlas of Mirrors, for its part, is not so constrained by the customs of chronology. It is mainly concerned with the “present” and the location of Singapore within the region as it tries to see the world from where it is perched. It is a rather copious premise, one that may catch all mingled things in this irremediably wired world. That being said, the Biennale of around sixty artists and nine curators, endeavors to recollect, to reflect on, and to expand the ambit of Southeast Asia to include South and East Asia. While Sunshower appears to aimlessly sprawl like a bazaarlike sensorium in the vein of a faux Roppongi flaneurie, An Atlas of Mirrors is more conscious of, or nearly neurotic about, the pedagogy of themes. In many ways, in fact, it tends to overly thematise the ecologies of the art scapes that it fleshes out curatorially. The art is envisaged to speak to the themes within nine conceptual zones. According to its Creative Director, Susie Lingham, the nine zones are fractals, mirror-maps that condense collective nouns in sensations or situations that they hold together. For instance, the “everyday of mirrorings” references “space” and the “somewhere of elsewheres” points to “displacement”.12 The problem is that the main theme does not seem to be informed by any specific inquiry emerging from the locality or the region that it considers; neither does it seem to mutate from theoretical conversations in Singapore or elsewhere. In other words, how do atlas and mirror demonstrate themselves as tropes and ideas, and not just themes? How can they be disseminated as elements of local moral worlds? And how do the works of artistic practice further modulate the tone or deepen the texture of the heuristic themes? It would have been interesting had the works been given the chance to excite and unhinge the themes and rearticulate them as tropes and ideas, rooted in the field and exposed to the vicissitudes of the aesthetic. After which, they would be re-conveyed as the ciphers of the exhibition, bearing both tentative thinking and thoughtful sensibility—and no longer just uninstructively molecular themes. HOW TO CURATE THE REGION, HOW TO REGIONALISE THE CURATORIAL With research as a primary stratum of exhibitions, we can begin to reflect on how exhibitions are produced for and in Southeast Asia. As part of the attempt to acknowledge its presence in a curatorial context, the region is surveyed as a field or a geography of art. It could be a historical survey, a survey of forms, a survey of tendencies. Whichever the inclination is, the initiation seems to represent a place that is cast as a space of art. It is, in many ways, a geopolitical and geopoetic gesture: geopolitical because it makes choices based on a place, made distinct, and therefore political in

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curatorial terms because it signifies or materialises the region in a particular way; and geopoetic because art and place are situated in a state of interactive production or mutual making, which means that it is not only place that makes the art, it is also art that makes the place. The projects of large-scale and sustained biennales in Fukuoka, the Singapore Biennale, the Singapore Art Museum and the National Gallery Singapore are cornerstones in the edifice of Southeast Asian art. Their formalisation of the regional material has produced canons, but their ventures have also yielded continuing investigations which ensure ever-emerging permutations of insight. The other mode besides the survey exhibition is the thematic. In this perspective, the region is rendered sensible or made sense of through certain trajectories into how its vast and intricate lifeworld can be explained through art and the curatorial intervention. Such a desire to explain and transpose the region artistically and curatorially may be conditioned by the desire to propose a context through which to understand it. In the survey mode, the technique seems to be art historical in its various declensions; in the thematic mode, the logic seems to be ethnographic. The art historical tends to condense the story of art as a series of the emergence of forms in time and space, while the ethnographic tends to describe the ecology that makes these forms in the thickness and flux of mutating life. Sunshower seems to respond to the necessities and potentials of both the survey and the thematic modality and integrates aspects of both tendencies. For instance, it sets a time frame, which is 1980s to the present, and nominates the production within this temporal parameter as “contemporary art”. In this instance, Sunshower first takes a position in relation to the history and theory of art in its use of the word “contemporary”, as it is both a historical and a theoretical category. Secondly, the time frame implies a survey in the way it carves out a span of time from history. Thirdly, it identifies Southeast Asia as a distinct region that can be surveyed through art; and since the context of ASEAN looms large in the imagination of the project, the region can only be surveyed if the exhibition properly represents its constituencies. Finally, Sunshower, in the wish to interpret the region in time and space, has to depict whatever it is that makes this contemporary art lively or possessing a high level of life. This liveliness is made to carom across themes which fluctuate from the logic of aesthetic practice to the conditions which make art possible, from general descriptions of the art scape to questions which enable art to be produced in a certain way. These themes, therefore, are sometimes normative like “Diverse Identities” or elusive like “What is Art, Why do It?”13 This fluctuation may be a symptom of Sunshower’s instinct to move away from previous modes of choreographing exhibitions and to avail of a mixed register of phrases to reference that which motivates creative agents to produce. The lead curator Mami Kataoka states that a “panorama” and therefore a “survey” is actually a means to allow several generations of art makers to both “transcend” borders that differentiate and to parlay them into “the cyclical nature of successive periods of time.”14 But in light of the “region” how can this transcendence be effected? And in light of the contemporary, how can the cyclical be contemplated? Is it not that borders make a region? And is it not that the contemporary is a break from the modern? Unless, of course, Sunshower proposes the region that is Southeast Asia to be an illusion, or a failure, or an obstacle that must be surmounted, and that the contemporary to be part of the modernist continuum. Kanaga Sabapathy has spoken about the modern as marking “the new as progressive, as particular and worldly” and “as distinct and of its time in the region’s art, historically.”15 Does the contemporary then cede the particular to the transcendent and the historical to the cyclical?

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Another complication arises when Sunshower expresses a retrospective interest in a specific period in Southeast Asian art. Mami Kataoka validates the inclusion of young curators from the region to reflect on this time frame from a generational perspective. Here, the survey modality comes to the fore again: the inclusion of these curators seems to be part of the agenda to represent both the region and the generation of curatorial agents. This could only mean that the region persists and that a disruption between generations is assumed; and we see this not through the themes but through the curatorial structure and its decisions. The themes, however, are made to relocate the discussion from the so-called tradition/modernity tension to what Mami Kataoka terms as “a contemporary understanding of ‘tradition’ that is part of daily life in this day and age.”16 The preference, therefore, is to ground the contemporary in the Southeast Asian quotidian, and with younger curators reassessing it. Such a grounding, however, diminishes the aspiration of Southeast Asian art to the “universal”. As Kataoka puts it, “it was not possible to include conceptual artists that deal with more universal themes, and who are not circumscribed or limited by regional attributes.”17 In this formulation, the regional and the contemporary appear to be incompatible, prompting her to doubt the usefulness of the term to characterise Southeast Asian art. And without the contemporary in the equation, only this would remain: Southeast Asian art from the 1980s to the present, unperturbed or unimportuned by the contemporary but also stripped of a skeptical position in relation to the modern, which has conceptualised the region, art, and the contemporary in the first place. (And just a note on this “conceptual art” predicament: While Kataoka denies the acumen of the regional to articulate the conceptual, the exhibition overinvests in and underexplains the presence of the Philippine artist Roberto Chabet, whose inclusion derives from his putative conceptual practice. By valorising Chabet, it is clear that the exhibition chooses artists who conveniently conform to the normative narrative of the international contemporary and mimic the protocols of the metropolitan aesthetic. Why, for instance, not include the work of David Medalla who radically revises the language with a ludic, queer, performative, post-colonial parole? Medalla’s precocious oeuvre does not only demand inclusion in the prevailing narrative, it demands that the narrative of the contemporary begin elsewhere. Corollarily, why not insinuate the Philippine social realist movement that had asserted the socialist dialectic in relation to the conceptualist temptation? By not doing so, Sunshower provincialises Southeast Asia twice: first by eliding the post-colonial translation and second by affirming the modernist replication in a regional outpost.) I am sure that Sunshower had built on the work of Southeast Asian curators done over time. But the perspicacity through which it had carried out the task may have been wanting. The textual production of Japanese curators and critics on various projects in Japan, in fact, have formed part of the discourse of art history as seen in the anthology of writing on Southeast Asia collated recently by The Japan Foundation Asia Center titled Shaping the History of Art in Southeast Asia.18 The co-editor Kajiya Kenji has annotated the turns in the exhibitionary perspective in Japan on Asian art: the “pursuit of a unique Asian-ness” in the 1980s to an “emphasis on difference with the West” and “Western modernity”.19 According to him, “in the second half of the 1990s multiculturalism became the dominant discourse, before it was decried and replaced by heightened interest in artists as individuals or in hybrid culture.”20 After 2000, Kajiya Kenji perceives a “shift towards peer-to-peer communication to promote exchanges within the Asia region.”21 The two modes of the survey and the theme can, however, be destabilised when the concern shifts beyond both art history and the region, thus destabilising as well the notions of the modern and the nation. Such a movement away requires new methods of curating. In this respect, how do we compare, for instance, between the curatorial practice needed for a museum exhibition on a region

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and for a biennale on and by the region, like those in Indonesia (Jakarta and Jogjakarta) that are more idiosyncratic and less formulaic? Or how do we appraise the new institutions of contemporary art like Maiiam Contemporary Art Museum in Chiang Mai and The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nusantara (Museum MACAN) in Jakarta? Is this a matter of choice between the disciplinary system of art history and the speculative discourse of contemporaneity? Or the divide between art history and ethnography? I am wary and worried about the dichotomy driven between these habits of sensing and study, and the distinctions and discriminations they produce for whatever substance in the world that interests them. Art history and ethnography, for instance, suggest degrees of the alienation and autonomy of lifeworlds and their material at the same time that they invite attentiveness to and involvement in the processes of making. Art history and ethnography, therefore, may be able to reconstitute their objects and subjects, the persons and things that they engage. In all these undertakings, what is important is the approach or the theoretical attitude of the curator that also shapes the mode of writing, the configuration of the archive, research and scholarship. We can scan several tendencies in this regard. First is the international in which the context for the national and for its relations beyond it is primed and pursued. Second is the postcolonial in which the nation does not exist in a political vacuum but is rather charged as part of the process of struggle for independence and emancipation. Third is the global contemporary in which levels of locality including the nation or the region are constellated within a wider latitude of spaces and interactions, from the distribution of capital to the migration of people. Fourth is the curatorial in which the practice of gathering or convening art in itself forms the discourse that is not tied to the aforementioned categories and can in fact be critical of them. Whatever the research attitude or the procedure of knowing and presenting artistic practice may be, the field work of the curatorial must always be alert to immediacy and process, to what suddenly turns visible, to paraphrase the exceptional artist-curator-poet Raymundo Albano, and to what has taken time and what takes time to transpire. The curatorial present, therefore, in the regional contemporary must be attentive to both longue durĂŠe and emergency. PROSPECTS AT THE THRESHOLD Both Sunshower and Atlas of Mirrors betray predilections underlying the curation of Southeast Asia. The impulse of Sunshower is to introduce Southeast Asia to a Japanese audience in spite of the many years of introductions from The Japan Foundation and the experiments in Fukuoka since the 1980s. This never-ending introduction tends to infantilise both the material that is Southeast Asia and the Japanese art public, resulting in an exhibition that lies between stasis and bedlam. Atlas of Mirrors is an elaboration of a reconnaissance project from an ascendant regional economy such as Singapore, a search for the unheralded or the affirmation of achievers. It is largely a barometric exercise that while productive does not always ensure analysis nor guarantee position. It is most successful when it catches artists at a watershed of maturity, as exemplified by Ade Darmawan, Bui Cong Khanh, or Niranjan Rajah or even Han Sai Poor. For its part, Sunshower is most interesting when it is sympathetic to facture (as gleaned in the work of Dusadee Hutrakul, Maung Day and Than Sok) and not to the fiction of its Southeast Asian fantasies.

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The said fiction could have been made more lush had the Japanese curators only marked out for the Southeast Asian curators, supposedly co-operators in this conspiracy, the intellectual scope to surface their aspirations more fully. The catalogue, for instance, does not even spare space for their thoughts; they are egregiously absent and so are not contemporaneous—or contemporary. It finally becomes a dominantly Japanese affair in the end, which raises specters of national and curatorial imperialism even as it tries to dissipate its being hegemonically, singularly, metaphysically Japanese in operations that make them more susceptible to difference, plurality and intersubjectivity. And to some extent, such inability to open up the erstwhile post-war “greater co-prosperity sphere” amid the opportunities of sprightly interrogations leads us to ask how tenuous curatorial postures like these are as we become more assiduous in asking questions like: What really happened in the exercise of restraint over the work of Tiffany Chung at the behest of the Vietnamese diplomatic officials? How does the political economy of trade and financial interests of Japan and to some extent of the Mori Art Museum shape curatorial investments in Southeast Asia? The Director of Mori Art Museum, Fumio Nanjo was also the founding Artistic Director of the Singapore Biennale in 2006 and again Artistic Director in 2008. How do Tokyo and Singapore skew the infrastructure, human resources, artistic options, curatorial talent and intellectual capital of the region? That being posited, let us walk through some of the predicaments that trouble the curatorial desire across current initiations. At this point, we hold out a foil. In light of the voicelessness of Southeast Asian curators in Sunshower, it is salient to hear their voices here, to feel the pressure and the promise of their arguments, and so are quoted at length. First the temptation to thematise is difficult to resist. The themes typically emerge from what is perceived as a context without discussing fully how this context is conceptualised. This context is then made to explain why certain forms materialise. What we do not see or feel is the strain between this so-called context and the form that is exhibited. What is the relationship between the two? Is it entirely a relationship based on causality? This is the impression I get from the curatorial notes of After Darkness: Southeast Asian Art in the Wake of History organised by Asia Society in 2017. This penchant to preserve the binary is apparent in the question it asks: “At a time of social and political tension, how should art and artists respond to the challenges of the moment? Does art have the power to change the world or does the world shape the evolution of art?”22 And the exhibition answers the question by relating the creative form to a political event. For instance, it supposes, “Indonesian artists FX Harsono and Tintin Wulia have each created powerful work following the turmoil and intermittent violence that erupted in Indonesia during the 1998 Reformasi period, the country’s politically motivated transition to a democratic government. Their practices before and after this period illustrate the complex ways in which artists participated in this transition and were also changed by it.”23 This tendency extends to artists from Vietnam and Myanmar: While Harsono and Wulia drew power from their position as insiders, the artists from Vietnam featured in the exhibition may be seen as part of the legacy of the American-Vietnam War. Dinh Q. Lê and Tuan Andrew Nguyen of The Propeller Group collective came to the United States as refugees in their youth and returned to Vietnam in recent years, not only to focus on their own practices but also to rediscover their cultural roots. In the process, they have played pivotal roles in helping to rebuild the cultural infrastructure of Vietnam. From Myanmar, Htein Lin and Nge Lay’s intense and personal work reflects not only their responses to the dramatic transformation within the country as it undergoes reform and political transition but also their powerful attachment to and regard for their society and kin.24

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On the other hand, the exhibition curated by the scholar and curator Roger Nelson titled People, Money, Ghosts (Movement as Metaphor) in 2017 takes us to a different direction curatorially and in terms of the art world ecology, exploring; …how the travel and migration of populations and industries, ideas and spiritual beliefs, aesthetics and technologies, and artists themselves are continually remaking our world—within and beyond the region we call Southeast Asia—and how this is manifested in the practices of the exhibiting artists. That is, the exhibition is about the process of movement itself as the hinge on which the works turn, rather than about questions that can be said to inhere in any single location. All of the exhibited works were created not in the artists’ ‘home’ cities, but rather in distant sites charged with locally-specific meanings, both historical and contemporary.25 In this initiation, it is no longer the geographical or geopolitical context that is central, but the geopoetic through the dynamic and the logic of movement. According to Nelson, the works of artists Khvay Samnang, Amy Lien, Enzo Camacho and Nguyen Thi Thanh Mai; …consider movement both as an experience, and as an object of artistic research. Each of the artists have chosen questions and concerns relating to the displacement of people, the shifts in foreign capital, and their haunting after-effects as historical traces in contemporary locations. These sites of interest mirror the artists’ own experiences of movement and processes of working. In recent years, the exhibiting artists—like many others—have embraced travel as a necessary condition for practice. This increased mobility becomes a methodology of research and experimentation; that is, movement figures both an experience and a subject for artistic research. This is also related to infrastructural shifts within the transnational system of contemporary art, including the rise of artists’ residencies as important sources of financial support and creative enrichment. No longer primarily just about experiencing a new location or detouring from routine, residencies are now opportunities for interactions that complement and reinforce diversely layered networks. The artist’s residency is a format rendered especially important in contexts with limited state support for contemporary art, and in globalising neoliberal economies, which drive artists (like others) to seek opportunities in diverse locations from largely non-state sources. Unlike large-scale exhibitionary formats such as biennales, the ascending phenomenon of the artist’s residency has been subject to relatively scant scrutiny in scholarly, curatorial, artistic and other settings. These artists offer a way of seeing this region as a dynamic network of inter-relationships that are constantly being reconfigured, and that hungrily hop across national borders within Southeast Asia, and across the imaginary boundaries of the region itself.26 The second tendency in recent curatorial practice is to reconsider modern art history as a way to understand that account or the discourse of the contemporary from the 1970s to the present. In this respect, Concept Context Contestation—curated by Iola Lenzi, Agung Hujatnikajennong and Vipash Purichanont in 2014—makes an attempt. According to the curators, the exhibition, …instigates cross-national and cross-generational expressive dialogues to reveal the region’s deployment of conceptual approaches in the making of art with social purpose. Including media and artistic genres of all types, the exhibition further uncovers the cross-disciplinary nature of regional contemporary art. Finally, exposing artists’ predilection for interactive strategies that stimulate public engagement with real issues, Concept Context Contestation: Art and the Collective in Southeast Asia illustrates the way in which Southeast Asian contemporary art meshes with life.27

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The exhibition tries to achieve its ambitions by identifying the “conceptual” or the “conceptual strategy” as a framework for the contemporary as well as the engagement with everyday life. What might be the basic problem here is that the “conceptual” is foregrounded at the outset as a cross-cultural, trans-art historical category without investigating how the local ecology had conversed with or mediated the concerns of the conceptual, which had been wrought elsewhere and by other social contexts. One of the curators, Iola Lenzi argues that “conceptual approaches constitute a key attribute of the contemporary even as many artists slip seamlessly back and forth between modernist and contemporary languages.”28 The question is why privilege the conceptual to define the contemporary when there is already a recognition of the back-and-forth movement between the modern and the contemporary? Another exhibition that exemplifies the effort to revisit art history is Misfits: Pages from a Loose-Leaf Modernity, organised by the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin in 2017. Its main argument is this: How can outsider figures in modern art question the framing narratives of art history—the bounds of national narratives as much as those that organise global contemporary art? How is visibility generated and art validated? The three artists Tang Chang, Rox Lee and Bagyi Aung Soe defy clear classification, developing their work outside of art’s institutions. Their consciously marginal positions suggest alternative criteria for canonisation: refusing patterns of identification, developing a critical transnational consciousness, and understanding modernity and the present as a precarious, contested state. With concrete poetry and abstract expressionism, experiments in performance, comics, animated film, and above all, drawing, Misfits showcases work from personal archives that haven’t previously been accessible to a wider public.29 What we see in this exhibition is the risk of rewriting Southeast Asian art history through the eccentric work of artists, as well as that of art historians and curators. Misfits was curated by David Teh in collaboration with Yin Ker, Merv Espina and Mary Pansanga. The last example, the Guggenheim Museum’s No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia curated by June Yap in 2013, is a rather institutional one. A prominent museum in New York positions itself as a global museum and therefore extends its collection policy through an exhibition program that allegedly accounts for underrepresented regions, which include Southeast Asia (curiously lumped with South Asia). Surely, the geographic and the geopolitical cast an overwhelming shadow on this project but which are repressed by the curatorial premise. According to curator June Yap, “No Country is not framed as a descriptive or prescriptive representation of the region’s aesthetic expressions and developments. Rather, its title subverts the logic of the nation-state as the unit of representation in order to create latitude for dialogue about it.”30 To accomplish this, “No Country offers a selection of artworks that possess dialectical character, in that while endeavoring to forge community in the region, they also engage with the complications of the identity and representation of those entities that go by the name of nation.”31 While this may be an attractive scheme, it is hard to imagine a dialectic when the curator also conjures Southeast Asia as a “continuous horizon”; and if she does succeed to imagine it, she does not probe why the Guggenheim is interested in the regional and the global. That part of the dialectic should really be telling. The projects of Sunshower and Atlas of Mirrors are complex. Their curatorial premises do not encompass the indeterminate creative life that happens in the spaces of their appearance. The exhibitions, the art in them, and the ecology that is created within and beyond, are so much more than the curatorial urges that liberate them. They offer lessons about curating Southeast Asia and should give us the chance to critically gauge not only the art that is curated but the curatorial impulse

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in relation to a more complex understanding of the region and what it means to summon the nation, the region and the world in our time and against it. It is interesting that Sunshower merges the words “contemporary” and “now” in its title. The two terms may actually not be reconcilable and that tension inheres between them. The French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy is of the mind that the term “contemporary” belongs to art history and instead selects the term “art today” to speak of art in the present that might resist the capture of both the discourse of art and history. Nancy elucidates that “art today” is a sign and a gesture that implies something other than signification. In his imaginarium, art today is a making of the world, “a form of possible circulation of sense.”32 In other words, it is, as Judith Butler mentions in the beginning of this text, a proliferation of translation, like the scattering of light from place to place, from sun to shower. And here Sunshower might have been able to draw inspiration from Nancy’s words, if it only worked hard enough and was sufficiently sensitive to the toil of others in the field: When you make light play… you are precisely in the process of giving a form to the world, to the material world, to the world of light, to the world of the sun, or to the world of candles, of all the other lights. You are in the process of giving a form which is nothing other than a new play of light, or nothing other than making light shine, but one can also say that “nothing other than making light shine” means in Latin going from lumen, the light that has settled on things, to lux, which is the original light, the light that illumines, not the one that is settled on things… hence it goes back to the creation of the world.33 Notes 1 See Arjun Appadurai, ‘Grassroots Globalisation and the Research Imagination’, Public Culture 12, No. 1, 2000 2

See Guy Brett, Force Fields: Phases of the Kinetic, London: Hayward Gallery, 2000

3

T. K. Sabapathy, ‘Thinking on the Contemporary in Southeast Asian Art (Exhibitions), Historically’, (keynote presentation), Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now, The National Art Center, Tokyo, 8 July, 2017, p. 6. 4 Judith Butler, ‘Values of Difficulty,’ in Just Being Difficult? Academic Writing in the Public Arena, Jonathan D. Culler and Kevin Lamb eds, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003, p. 199 5

Ibid.

6

Butler, ‘Values of Difficulty’, p. 206

7

Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Kuman Sciences, New York: Routledge Classics, 2002, p. xvii

8

Ibid.

9

See the novel Noli Me Tangere, Berlin: Berliner Buchdruckerei-Actiengesellschaft, 1887

10

See Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, Reflections on Poetry, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1954

11

Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now, p. 11

12

Susie Lingham, ‘Our Fractal Realities’, Singapore Biennale 2016: An Atlas of Mirrors, Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, 2016, p. 15

13

See Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now

14

Mami Kataoka, ‘Sunshowers in Southeast Asia: A Premise for an Exhibition’, Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now, p. 276 15

Sabapathy, ‘Thinking on the Contemporary in Southeast Asian Art (Exhibitions), Historically’, p. 2

16

Kataoka, ‘Sunshowers in Southeast Asia’, p. 286

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17

Ibid., p. 287

18

See The Japan Foundation Asia Center Art Studies, Volume 3: Shaping the History of Art in Southeast Asia, Patrick Flores and Kenji Kajiya eds, Tokyo: The Japan Foundation Asia Center, 2017 19 Kajiya Kenji, ‘Asian Contemporary Art in Japan and the Ghost of Modernity’, Count 10 Before You Say Asia: Asian Art after Postmodernism, Tokyo: The Japan Foundation, 2009, p. 220 20

Ibid.

21

Ibid.

22

After Darkness: Southeast Asian Art in the Wake of History, https://asiasociety.org/new-york/exhibitions/after-darknesssoutheast-asian-art-wake-history

23

Ibid.

24

Ibid.

25

People, Money, Ghosts (Movement as Metaphor), http://www.jimthompsonartcenter.org/ exhibition/222-people-moneyghosts-movement-as-metaphor

26

Ibid.

27

Iola Lenzi (ed.), Concept Context Contestation: Art and the Collective in Southeast Asia, Bangkok: Bangkok Art and Culture Center, 2014

28 Iola Lenzi, ‘Conceptual Strategies in Southeast Asian Art: A Local Narrative’, Concept Context Contestation: Art and the Collective in Southeast Asia, ibid., p. 10 29

‘Misfits’: Pages from a loose-leaf modernity, https://www.hkw.de/en/programm/projekte/2017/ misfits/misfits_start.php

30

June Yap, ‘No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia’, https://www.guggenheim.org/wp-content/ uploads/2013/02/guggenheim-ubs-map-No-Country-Contemporary-June-Yap-curator-essay.pdf

31

Ibid.

32

Jean-Luc Nancy, ‘Art Today’, trans. Charlotte Mandell, Journal of Visual Culture 9, no. 1, 2010, p. 98

33

Ibid.

Parts of this text are taken from the paper titled ‘Difficult Comparisons: Surveys, Themes, and Other Ways of Curating Southeast Asia’, presented at the Mori Art Museum on 1 October, 2017 for the exhibition Sunshower: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now.

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Learning from the Future: Tintin Wulia’s ‘1001 Martian Homes’ Tintin Wulia’s contribution to this year’s Indonesia National Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale looked like it was inspired by science-fiction. A large, glowing, transparent oval-shaped construction titled Not Alone (2017) contained erratically pulsating lights. Projected onto the ceiling above was what appeared to be a mirroring image of the work on the floor and its surrounding viewers. To the side, a video, 1001 Martian Homes (2017), set in the year 2165, incorporated monologues of people discussing their family secrets and histories in an era of colonisation on Mars. The third work, Under the Sun (2017), was a staircase with monitors embedded into the walls, in which the viewer looked at numerous eyes displayed on the many small and large circular video screens. Being ‘watched’ the audience could then, at the top of the stairs, peer through a small hole in the wall into a behind-the-scenes space on the other side. Thus the viewer was staring back at him/herself; from the peephole the viewer’s curious eye was recorded via a camera and displayed back via a monitor. Leaving the installation, the viewer could determine from where the eyes on the monitors were sourced. Under the new directorship of the Indonesian Agency for Creative Economy (BEKRAF) and curated by Agung Hujatnikajennong, the exhibition 1001 Martian Homes was, in this longest-running of international art biennales, the first time a national pavilion has held an exhibition across two venues on opposite sides of the globe. The live video feed above Not Alone came from an identical exhibition installed in Senayan City shopping mall in Jakarta. Through live streaming, viewers in Venice and Jakarta were experiencing the same art exhibition in real time, but in very different locations. 1001 Martian Homes is Wulia’s highest-profile commission to date and considering how her practice has critiqued the unstable natures of globalisation and citizenship—including her own—she was far from an obvious representative for Indonesia’s showcase presentation. Nevertheless, the exhibition presented a milestone in Wulia’s career, culminating in even more developed renditions of her recurring themes and motifs. *** In the exhibition’s catalogue, curator Hujatnikajennong introduces Tintin Wulia as a “post-1998 Reform artist.”1 She first became known as a film activist and director in the years immediately after the fall of President Suharto’s oppressive regime in 1998. Over the subsequent two decades, her practice has progressed from short films, to video art, to interactive installation art, undertaking international study and residencies, with film screenings and exhibitions across four continents. Growing up with the challenge of being from an ethnic minority in Indonesia, Wulia and her family were subject to discrimination

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against “Chinese religion, beliefs and traditions”2 including the Chinese language. Only Indonesian was spoken in the household, and in a recent interview she recalled that, “I didn’t know that the gathering that we had once a year at my grandma’s was actually Chinese New Year—no one called it that, it wasn’t called anything, because calling it a Chinese celebration would’ve made it [an] offence.”3 In 1965, Wulia’s grandfather was one of the many thousands forcefully taken and likely killed by anti-communist campaigns often instigated by the military and government.4 Because of the official silence surrounding these incidents in the decades that followed, families of the 1965 victims, like Wulia’s, suffered for multiple generations from severe social stigma and discrimination. In the 1990s, Wulia had her first chance to study abroad, through a degree in film scoring in Boston, USA. She returned to Indonesia in 1998, making music for a production company and starting her independent film projects, during which she watched the anger and uncertainty of the ‘May 1998 riots’ unfold across the country. Those events were the inspiration for her first film, Violence Against Fruits (2000), which shows in close-up a persimmon being chopped and eaten. A text explains that the fruit originates from China, despite the common assumption that it comes from Japan. A man and a woman also discuss the reasons people don’t eat dogs. The woman offers responses such as dogs being ‘man’s best friend’ and the man asserts it’s because dogs can fight back. According to the artist, “the feeling of being a victimised Chinese-Indonesian was prominent.”5 The two elements—the persimmon and reasons for not eating dogs—combine to symbolise the vulnerability of the Chinese minority in Indonesia. This work and others, Are You Close Enough (2000) and Everything’s Okay (2003) were presented in Darwin at 24HR Art and Rotterdam at the Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art. In the following decade, her list of major international presentations grew to include Istanbul Biennial (2005), Yokohama Triennale (2005), Jakarta Biennale (2009), Moscow Biennale (2011), Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (2012), Gwangju Biennale (2012), Sharjah Biennial (2013) and Jogja Biennale (2013). Wulia first began making short films as it provided the possibility to expand across mediums and, most importantly, she wished to make something critical: “Something ‘creative’ doesn’t always mean it’s critical—I’ve experienced how unfulfilling ‘creative’ could be. My art practice provokes me to be critical.”6 Her practice is also driven by a desire to challenge expectations: “I spent so much time in my life resisting to be boxed. Around 2004 I was starting to be seen as a filmmaker and I deliberately challenged that by starting to make interactive installations.”7 With extended international travel, Wulia experienced considerable difficulties having an Indonesian passport. In 2012, she was stopped at German immigration despite having a valid permit to enter the Schengen area, the German Border police initially judging her visa and passport unsuitable. Eventually, with assistance from an official she gained entry but the experience left her thinking of and comparing the local and international difficulties she has had with her citizenship and the politics of borders.8 Wulia’s experience of borders and citizenship aligns with global theorist Manfred Steger’s description of globalisation as a “messy and incomplete”9 process, applied unevenly on top of more traditional nation-state systems, while leaving gaps and fault lines that can be difficult to negotiate. After her German border experience and in dealing with Indonesian bureaucracy over the course of her life, Wulia came to the understanding that national borders and citizenship are performed at an individual basis, via officials, and are alarmingly dependent on the individual, autonomous judgments and actions of these authorities.

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In a globalised world, people remain at the mercy of chance. In her practice-led research Doctorate in the School of Art at RMIT University in Melbourne undertaken between 2007 and 2013, Wulia used the term “aleatoric”—borrowed from experimental music—to describe a process that includes chance as well as the interpretation of that chance by the performer. As inspired by Steger’s words, her unpublished exegesis centralises the fact that she is a artist living and making art in the “unbalanced, unfinished” system of globalisation.10 In her practice, it is the audience who become performers, responding to chance encounters with other members through the work. At the centre of her artwork from this period is a playful, deconstructive critique of geopolitical borders using three devices—walls, maps and passports. Wulia produced three key works (often on more than one occasion) based on the passport motif. Displayed as part of the 2012 Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art at the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane, Eeny Meeny Money Moe (2012) was a set of four arcade-style claw machines. Instead of containing soft toys as their prizes, the machines held hundreds of small red, blue and black copies of passports from various First and Third World nations. In what was an enticing as well as frustrating experience, visitors could attempt to ‘win’ a passport by trying the controls. All the machines were connected to the active machine in the centre and mimicked its actions. This system represented, as described by curator Julie Ewington, the “innumerable replicated individual actions” that make up our mass societies today.11 The Most International Artist in the Universe (2011) is a stop-motion video in which the artist explains how she accumulated one hundred and forty passport while holding them like playing cards, before they move animatedly in a line across the floor. It is an exercise in considering her birthplace across time and in alternative time trajectories—for example, if she was born one hundred years before, she could have had a Dutch passport; if the Japanese had won the Second World War, she would have a Japanese passport; and so on. As the passports stretch across the screen on a mass-scale, discussing all the factors that could have altered her “inter-nationality”, the work challenges the resolute value of a passport, and therefore one’s national identity. One of Wulia’s ongoing art projects is (Re)Collection of Togetherness (2007–) in which she uses her collection of fake passports in installations along the walls or floor of a gallery. Upon closer inspection, there are squashed mosquitoes inside the pages—mosquitoes being, of course, able to travel anywhere, carrying people’s blood in their bellies—and across borders. When British ships arrived on Australian shores in the eighteenth century, mosquitoes, lice and rats were common in the spread of foreign diseases. Health checks (especially after the bird flu epidemic and more recently Zika virus) are often included alongside passport inspections by immigration officials. In this sense, the presence of a squashed mosquito is symbolic of the “messy and incomplete” permission that a passport-carrier may still have to overcome in order to cross a border. Terra Incognita, Et Cetera (2013), incorporating Wulia’s other driving motifs, of maps and walls, was produced for Art Stage Singapore and the Sharjah Biennial in 2013. Explaining the ‘rules’ of her work Wulia indicated that everyone was encouraged to claim a piece of the artist’s world-map that she had drawn on a large wall. In a playful way, visitors could claim a territory simply by affixing a tiny cocktail umbrella to a part of the gridded map and writing one’s name.12 In this act, Terra Incognita, Et Cetera is a deconstruction of the methods that governments and their players use to enforce their political borders, and draws attention to the important role of the individual when given a sense of power. Beyond passports, walls and maps, many of Wulia’s works continue to exploit this “messy and incomplete” nature of globalisation. In 2011, when stopped at the German border, she was on her way to contribute a work titled The Butterfly Generator (2011) to the major exhibition The Global Contemporary: l

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Art Worlds After 1989, held at KZM Museum of Contemporary Art in Frankfurt. This art work’s title makes reference to chaos theory’s ‘butterfly effect’ which contends that small causes like the beating wings of a butterfly in Brazil can lead to larger effects, like a tornado in Texas. The Butterfly Generator, initiated in a German art museum and concluding in a gallery in Hong Kong, utilises products sold in a multinational furniture store found in both cities, and follows instructions given by the artist to ‘hack’ the products to produce an original art work.13 As articulated in the exhibition catalogue, her work captures the contradictions of globalised art. On the one hand, globalisation allows for greater opportunities because of more locations, things and knowledge; it allows the artist to make an artwork that exists in two cities at the same time, made with the same items available in both countries. On the contrary, globalisation also means the loss of opportunities because of the process of standardisation that reaches as many people as possible.14 From her Indonesian and Australian studios, this artwork makes the limitations of globalisation visible. Its reliance on a multinational chain store is its essential motivation, while the artist’s instructions to modify the items are a way to playfully work within this system. One of her other long-term projects, Trade/Trace/Transit (2014–), follows the material of cardboard in its varying movements and stages. This project took her to Hong Kong, to the robust, street-level trade that caters mostly to Philippine migrant workers’ demand for the cheapest possible ‘housing’ material. Wulia draws on and paints this cardboard ‘housing’ in order to follow the material’s journey through various trade points. These drawings then ended up at a cardboard recycling factory where they were pressed into large, heavy bundles bound with string; then displayed at Art Basel Hong Kong in 2016 and Osage Galley in Hong Kong, to be appreciated as artifacts of people’s lives and as symbols of extraordinary inequity in our modern globalised migrant paths. Episode four of the project’s video, Proposal for a Film: Within the Leaves, a Sight of the Forest (2016) introduces a fictional future, told in past tense, of a family that travelled between Earth and Mars. In the video’s context, the story is inspired by the migrant workers of Hong Kong’s Central district.

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*** Reconsidering Wulia’s Venice Biennale exhibition and in the context of her personal background, career path and past work, 1001 Martian Homes has built upon her critical interests even further. Under the Sun, as well as slotting into the artist’s ever-developing set of new media skills, is a work that conceptually connects Wulia’s interest in art that operates upon individuals’ chance responses. The eyes on the screens were a collection of ever-building, crowd-sourced footage as more and more visitors interacted with the work. As the exhibition had two sites, the work therefore had two sets of audiences contributing—a viewer’s peering eye at the Venice Indonesia Pavilion would peer at a viewer in Senayan City—without ever showing one’s passport. Similarly, Not Alone is at the mercy of visitors’ contingent encounters and actions. It relied on visitors gathering close, both in Venice and Jakarta, to admire the work or satiate their curiosity. Resembling a glittering night sky or some extraterrestrial communication, it could have easily been assumed that the title referred to the big question, are we alone in the universe? It is only in close proximity that the live-streaming camera transmits the audiences’ images back to Jakarta and vice-versa, to remind viewers they are indeed not alone. We are all a part of globalisation—within its potentials we are actors, and within its limitations we are subjects. Additionally, Not Alone and Under the Sun could be a message for those who share intergenerational suffering from Indonesia’s post-independence power struggles and under the Suharto regime. In her doctorate research, Wulia re-examined the personal shame she grew up with caused by the stigma attached to losing a grandparent in 1965. Wulia explains; “I was able to eventually reflect on the bigger picture by focusing on the border, i.e. the so-called coup as a military dispute between two sets of power over the whole nation-state. This allowed me to engage a wider public through the realisation that the experience was actually a communal one.”15 The works operate on a shared experience rather than a usually personal and reflective one, which demonstrates how connected all our experiences can be. The video 1001 Martian Nights speaks of the artist’s past and present via a speculative future. The monologues are intimate and sad tales of survival in which people share memories of a time in which family members were forcefully removed, enslaved and jailed. Although set in a possible future in which humans colonise Mars, these are in fact Wulia’s family histories from three or more generations ago. Mars is a conceptual substitute for the recent past from post-independence times as well as the migratory journeys her ancestors made between China and Bali: This story is in fact about my family: around the 1880s, my Balinese paternal great-grandparents went back and forth between southern China, decades before it became the People’s Republic of China, and Bali, well before the formation of Indonesia as we know it today. They had two sets of children in each place, my grandfather and granduncle in Bali, and their siblings in southern China. Later I also discovered that my grandmother actually had half-siblings in southern China whom she never met. She described them once to me as “people with the same family name”.16 Indonesia chose a critical voice to represent it at the Venice Biennale and, thanks to the Internet, simultaneously inside Jakarta. In the exhibition catalogue the commissioning body BEKRAF expressed a rather incomplete understanding of Wulia’s art: for them, it is about the way the “Internet and digital technology are constantly evolving and shaping our perceptions toward physical spaces and geographical boundaries,” but her art is a great deal more subversive than this causative reading of technology. On the contrary, Wulia tends to utilise new media to be creatively critical of the kinds of issues traditionally off-limits in official Indonesian histories. Constructing artistic critiques about the oppression of the l

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Chinese minorities allowed the artist to open up, first to friends and then to her art audiences, about her own family secret concerning her grandfather. Although discussion of—let alone an apology for —the killings of thousands of suspected communist supporters without trial is still forbidden by the Indonesian government,17 Wulia has found ways to express her personal history amongst a larger picture of borders and globalisation. Although its appearance suggests science-fiction, her double-exhibition is very much about the past and present, one in which ethnic Chinese citizens often have their identity and movement across borders challenged and, sometimes violently, suppressed. Tintin Wulia’s life has been subject to changing geopolitics and the chance decisions of others in power on an individual scale. Her art effectively communicated this experience to her Jakarta and Venice audiences in video, installation and interactions that were purposefully, conceptually—like globalism itself—messy and incomplete. Notes 1 Agung Hujatnikajennong (ed.), 1001 Martian Homes, Jakarta: BEKRAF, 2017, p. 1132 2

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legislation_on_Chinese_Indonesians; accessed 2 December 2017

3

Interview with the artist, 29 November 2017

4

Ibid.

5

Tinti Wulia, ‘The Name Game’, Inside Indonesia, 12 October 2008; http://www.insideindonesia.org/the-name-game

6

Interview with the artist, op cit.

7

Ibid.

8

The artist reflects on the experience in depth in her unpublished PhD exegesis: “This personal experience of the deportation is critical to my research project because it introduces four inter­related impetus to my research about the border… (1) the geopolitical border as the focus of my research, and its multitude of manifestations within the power relations of the nation­state, (2) challenges to the cosmopolitan utopia of the ‘borderless’ world and a shift of focus onto the dynamics of the border as part of the reality of globalisation, (3) the shaping of border dynamics by subjective socio­political actions coming from the individual actors, and (4) my own personal standpoint as a background to my research, in the context of the cosmopolitanism tendencies occurring in the contemporary art world along with contemporary globalisation processes.” Tin Wulia, Aleatoric Geopolitics: Art, Chance and Political Play on the Border, Doctor of Philosophy unpublished exegesis, Melbourne: RMIT University, 2013, p. 30 9 Manfred Steger, ‘Political Ideologies and Social Imaginaries in the Global Age’, Global Justice: Theory Practice Rhetoric, Vol. 2, 2009, p. 1 10

Wulia, Aleatoric Geopolitics: Art, Chance and Political Play on the Border, p. 36

11

Julie Ewington, ‘Tintin Wulia: Crossing Borders’, 7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, 2012, p. 214

12

Viewed online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SK5BrtD5Ai0

13

Viewed online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXnrCdFvKxE

14

Jakob Birkin, ‘Tintin Wulia’, The Global Contemporary and the Rise of the New Art Worlds, Hans Belting, Andrea Buddensieg & Peter Weibel eds, Karlsruhe, Cambridge & London: ZKM | Centre for Art and Media & The MIT Press, 2013, p. 465

15

Wulia, Aleatoric Geopolitics: Art, Chance and Political Play on the Border, p. 44

16

Eva McGovern-Basa, ‘Not Alone’, ArtAsiaPacific No. 103, 2017, p. 112

17

For example, Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary The Look of Silence, about a man confronting the men who killed his brother as part of the 1965 anti-communist purge was banned by the Film Censorship Institute in 2014; http://www. thejakartapost.com/news/2015/12/11/the-look-silence-breaks-censorship-with-free-download.html

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This Beautiful, Tangled, Chaotic Game: On Three-Sided Football, Triolectics and World Space(s)

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The only thing that we can be sure of is that life means movement. Asger Jorn1 I “Time,” wrote situationist and artist Asger Jorn, “is the change that is only conceivable in the form of a progressive movement in space, while space is the solid that is only conceivable in its participation in a movement.”2 In other words, “The action of space-time is the process, and this process is itself the change of time in space and the change of space in time.”3 Space and time cannot exist without the other, nor do they possess “a reality or value outside of change or process.”4 To put it another way, the hyphen in space-time represents the process—movement and variation—that binds these concepts in continuous relation, without allowing both elements to completely fuse (or collapse) into one. Situating this in human terms, Jorn wrote: “What makes the space-time of a human life a reality is its variability. What gives the individual a social value is the variability of their behaviour in relation to others.”5 Between the individual and the collective, variability is what upholds (or witholds) the autonomy of a person while enabling concord (or discord) among the many. “If this variability becomes private,” wrote Jorn, who saw subjectivity as non-individualistic; that is, “excluded from social valorisation—as is the case under authoritarian socialism”—then “human space-time becomes unrealisable.”6 To counter this effect, Jorn proposed a “hyperpolitics” that would “strive for the direct realisation of humanity”—the kind of politics that could, as he put it, valorise humanity itself.7 (Behind this proposal is Jorn’s view that value is subjective and unstable, and its surplus should not be eliminated but understood beyond economics, through society, biology, and the “counter-value” of art, whose “function as an index of the very instability of social values” is “something conventionally useless and therefore crucial.”8) Jorn expressed these ideas in an essay published in Internationale Situationniste #4 (June 1960), two years before he proposed three-sided football9 as an antagonism to normal football: what he saw as a spectacle predicated on the ultimate binaries, ‘us versus them,’ which represents “the worst aspects of modern capitalism.”10 As an alternative, Jorn envisaged a game played on a hexagonal pitch with three teams, three goals, one ball and no referee.11 The rules related to standard football are reversed and subject to revision, and the team that lets in the fewest goals wins, making the victory defensive rather than offensive.12 Three-sided football offers a practical diagram to illustrate Jorn’s (avowedly non-academic) conception of “triolectics”—“the assertion that any complementary relationship must always be at least triple and can never be established in a purely duple system.”13 Both the theory and the game elaborated on the artist’s ideas surrounding human space-time, and enacted a refusal of “the normal dialectic of thesis, antithesis and synthesis,” which resulted in a game of “merciless either–or, luck or misfortune, renewal or annihilation.”14 Jorn also challenged “the static idea of complementarity”15 put forward by physicist Niels Bohr to explain wave-particle duality in the study of light and matter: that while it is impossible to observe wave and particle aspects simultaneously, their mutual observation and description (used “alternatively in different experimental arrangements”) enables a better understanding than if each is taken alone.16 Jorn reasoned that the only conclusion to draw from Bohr’s theory, if philosophy was to gain “new possibilities of existence” from it, was “the necessity of the simultaneous presence of several complementary or mutually incompatible but equally valid philosophical systems, principles or tendencies.”17 But to follow this line of thought would lead nowhere, Jorn supposed, unless it resulted in a critique of the

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theory’s limits (though “a purely philosophical critique” would “conclude nothing at all”), and the introduction of a third independent yet complementary theory of light alongside those of waves and particles.18 Crucially, Jorn’s concept of triolectics, and his critique of Bohr’s complementarity, was rooted in his artistic study of light and colour.19 He illustrated this by referencing Philipp Otto Runge’s colour ball, a spherical model that maps all possible variations based on the relations between primary and complementary colours. At the centre of this sphere, Runge noted, “all nuances of the surface dissolve by an identical number of grades into totally indifferent grey: in ratios that depend on the degree of activity in the total sum of elements.”20 On this model, Jorn saw that “colours oppose each other like the angles of a triangle, not in an antagonism of two poles. Red has as its contrast a mixture of yellow and blue—to become green; blue, a mixture of red and yellow—to become orange; yellow a mixture of red and blue—to become violet.” What he concluded from these observations was that “all mixtures are characterised as actualised poles,” and “variability and play are the elements which make up the mixture.”21 Thus, while the three primary colours—in accord with Bohr’s theory—relate to each other complementarily, Jorn conceded, “the complementary colours relate dialectically and not complementarily to each other, as their synthesis abolishes the colour effect.”22 (Leading Jorn to conclude that the theory of complementarity does not hold up in the world of colour.23) What emerges is an ongoing connection between “complementary statics and dynamic dialectics,” in which “an equivalence of all particulars, in their particularity” is created.24 This dynamic is reflected in the “completely continuous progression” that Runge described in the colour sphere, where “the size of the structure develops from the differences between the elements and its form from the reciprocal inclination of the elements.”25 (Jorn wrote that the basic process behind his triolectical system is modifiable, extendable, and “totally undogmatic.” In short: fusion—the actualisation of a conjunction—creates fission, every “compromise isolates and virtualises the opposite standpoint,” and the resulting antagonism creates “a situation”—the basic elements of which “can be organised by the formation of two situations equally different and complementary to the first.”26) *** When developing his theory of triolectics, Jorn engaged with the ideas of Romanian philosopher Stéphane Lupasco, who believed that things “are able to exist only in function of their successive and contradictory conflicts.”27 As Lupasco observed, “all energetic movement—which ever form it takes —implies an antagonistic event such that the actualisation of one brings about the potentialisation (the virtualisation) of the other.”28 These “Antithetical elements,” Lupasco noted, “possess the constituent property of the idea of dynamism itself ”29—the third of “three intersecting dialectics” that ensures a continued movement between two antagonistic forces.30 But Jorn perceived a problem. For one, he rejected Lupasco’s position—which takes into account the second law of thermodynamics, whereby entropy increases in a closed macrophysical system and homogeneity governs the evolution of particles, including photons, in the microphysical world—that light equals death.31 To counter this, Jorn put forward Newton’s view that light is a nonhomogenous assemblage of constituent (heterogeneous) particles (colours) and Goethe’s assertion “that the division of light into colours is an inverse process”—that is, “of materialisation” and “a tendency towards ‘life’.”32 Jorn also believed that Lupasco had been “taken captive by an antagonism bounded by the opposition of the homogenous and the heterogeneous,”33 and “did not—or did not l

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wish to—take account of ” the “placing of all mixtures in play.”34 (As opposed to the example of Runge’s colour wheel.) This rejection of Lupasco’s “arbitrary antagonisms”35 relates to the main difference Joao Leao identifies between Jorn’s and Bohr’s ideas (and by association, Lupasco’s): “that complementary relations were, by definition, unresolvable, while triolectic relations suggested a number of intermediate compromises which amounted to creative resolutions.”36 Referring again to Runge’s colour wheel, where everything moves towards a grey centre, Jorn described the fact that in nature the opposite occurs: “everything becomes greyer and greyer the more it spreads out and becomes distanced.”37 Furthering his train of thought, he wondered, “Is our perception of space one-sided, like our perception of past and future, and thus oriented? Should the idea of the expansion of the universe be supplemented with another about that same universe in the process of shrinking?”38 These questions, in which Jorn’s observations are positioned as a third independent reading between two others, point to another critique the artist had of Bohr’s position: that he made the mistake of “cutting out the observer as an influencing element” by making “him one with the conditions of the observations.”39 What Jorn found lacking was the crucial demarcation between the objective, actual and subjective—“or, to put it another way, object, instrument and observer.”40 It is this third position, an “Archimedean point outside of that which is to be moved,” that Jorn sought to reinstate.41 For any two descriptions of a phenomenon “to be sufficient or complete,” Jorn wrote, “a third necessary description is always ignored, which is only to say that the three descriptions form a unit and thus become philosophically accessible.”42 This idea could be aligned with what Jorn called the abolition of variability (“as far as meaning is concerned”) once thought and expression have become standardised (or rationalised) into a concept, with those who do “not follow these rules of the game… simply not taken into account.”43 This oversight is rectified on the three-sided football pitch, where the third unaccounted thing in any philosophical system that Jorn identified is given space to assert itself. In so doing, the idea that “two dialectical oppositions neutralise each other, like positive and negative,” is upended with the introduction of “three mutual oppositions.”44 In other words, by inserting a third element into a binary system that creates an aggression between bilateral opponents, tensions are mediated in a way that avoids the endgame of a fixed two-way confrontation. Movement thus becomes “the instrument with which one ascertains positions and positions are the instrument with which one ascertains movement.”45 The result, as academic Karen Kurczynski observed, is lateral and continual “evolution without any teleological end.”46 After all, with three terms rather than two, “Jorn’s triolectic schemata disrupted conceptions of progress and regression” so “that no forward or backward motion could be described.”47 Another way to understand Jorn’s theoretical game is through his definition of a law and a rule. “A law is to be considered absolute in a given situation,” he explained, “but a rule is a law which one decides to follow or not follow, and in a given situation or a particular form of situations is thus still open to choice and decision.”48 Therefore, variability—what makes human life a reality and defines the social value of a person in relation to others—is the law of the game, the outcome of which is contingent on the individuals playing at any given time and the rules devised among players within the game itself. Three-sided football thus becomes more about devising, enacting, observing and mediating a constantly shifting (and crucially open) field of polarisations, compromises and potentialities rather than a zero-sum contest. In practice, the game demonstrates Jorn’s belief—in reference to Raymond Aron—that it is possible “to harmonise a hierarchical system of values (in itself) with Max Weber’s world of free play.”49 (“To reject this would be a fallacious illusion.”50)

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Yet, despite the political undertones, Jorn denied any kind of political advice behind his game, or the ideas it enacted. (“I am only trying to discover what happens,” he insisted.51) But there were real-world implications to the game’s propositions, especially considering the period in which Jorn was thinking them through: when the Third World liberation movement was actively seeking a third way through the polarisations of North and South, East and West, Left and Right, Communist and Capitalist. “It is like a football match where both sides are trying to win,” he said of the “naïve competition” produced by such duality.52 II Amazingly, there is no record of Jorn ever having staged a game of three-sided football. It is said that the London Psychogeographical Association organised the first match in the early-1990s as part of the Glasgow Anarchist Summer School.53 It has since been played elsewhere, including London, where the Deptford Three-Sided Football Club (D3FC), which formed in 2012, has its home ground. A ThreeSided World Cup was staged in 2014 at the Museum Jorn in Silkeborg, Denmark, where Jorn was born. Organised by the International Three Sided Football Federation, teams came from all over the world (France, Germany, Poland, England, Lithuania, Turkey and Denmark), and the Danish team Silkeborg KFUM won the tournament. Another Three-Sided Football World Cup was held in Kassel in August 2017, and the next one is apparently scheduled for 2020 in London.54 D3FC have a succinct description of the game on their website. “In open play,” they write, “teams are free to form (or break) alliances in order to gain advantage against the opposing team(s). While tactical planning plays a role in such manoeuvres, the penetration of the defence by two opposing teams imposes upon the defence the task of counterbalancing their disadvantage through sowing the seeds of discord in an alliance which can only be temporary.”55 In practice, anything can happen. This brings us to the dialectic of triplicity, as developed by philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre. In his work, Lefebvre pointed out “the problems in the reception of Marx’s work because of the two-term opposition between bourgeoisie and proletariat,” which does not take into account “the third aspect of land” and “ultimately the territory of the nation-state.”56 As academic Stuart Elden explains, “one of Lefebvre’s problems with dialectical materialism is its tendency toward a linear, teleological picture of historical change.”57 In the 1970 publication La fin de l’histoire, Lefebvre took a lateral approach to the concept of progress, which allowed “the dialectic to not simply be the resolution of two conflicting terms but a three-way process, where the synthesis is able to react upon the first two terms,” and no term is prioritised over the other.58 (As is the case in Jorn’s conception.) For Lefebvre, the dialectic is part of a continual process, which in itself represents the third element. “The third term is already everywhere,” Elden continues.59 (Or as Lefebvre put it, “no two without three.”60) In this sense, the dialectic is not about resolution or negation, nor is synthesis its end result, just as Jorn asserted. It is an ongoing non-teleological movement, which brings to mind the rhizome theory, as famously proposed by Deleuze and Guattari—a concept also created to break down oppositional binaries that were perceived to characterise Western thinking. The rhizome is an “antigenealogy” composed of (organic) plateaus; Deleuze and Guattari cite Gregory Bateson’s definition of a plateau as “a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities whose development avoids any orientation toward a culmination point or external end.”61 It is a concept “composed not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion” with “no beginning or end,”62 as in nature—where “roots are taproots with a more multiple, lateral, and circular system of ramification, rather than a dichotomous one.”63 l

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Lefebvre had his own organic interpretation of the non-teleological dialectic, which he applied to his conception of space. He did so by unifying three manifestations or “modalities” of it—conceived (representation of space), lived (space of representation), and spatial practice (which structure lived reality)—into one theory of spatiology, which explores how space “gets actively produced.”64 Thus, “space becomes reinterpreted not as a dead, inert thing or object but as organic and alive”—it “has a pulse, and it palpitates, flows, and collides with other spaces.”65 In this conception, the real and imagined co-exist simultaneously within representational space, which “may be qualified in various ways” —physical, mental, social—“because it is essentially qualitative, fluid and dynamic.”66 Embracing “the loci of passion, of action, of lived situations,” which “immediately implies time,” the space of representation—lived space—is understood as multi-layered and never still.67 This concept lent itself to the way Lefebvre made “political purchase of process thinking” as urban theorist Andy Merrifield points out, and “of conceiving reality in fluid movement, in its momentary existence and transient nature.”68 Building on Lefebvre’s work, Edward Soja (also an urban theorist) devised a theory of what he called “thirdspace,” whose close approximation is Lefebvre’s lived space of representation. Thirdspace is “a limitless composition of lifeworlds that are radically open and openly radicalisable; that are allinclusive and transdisciplinary in scope yet politically focused and susceptible to strategic choice; that are never completely knowable but whose knowledge nonetheless guides our search for emancipatory change and freedom from domination.”69 Crucial to this conception was trialectical thinking; what Soja described as “difficult” since it “is disorderly, unruly, constantly evolving, unfixed, [and] never presentable in permanent constructions,”70 just as Jorn himself implied with his “eminently flexible triolectical system.”71 Quoting Soja, these ideas present a challenge to “conventional modes of thought and taken-for-granted epistemologies.”72

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Such a rhizomatic mode of thinking finds grounding on the three-sided football field, which articulates Soja’s thirdspace, filled as it is “with politics and ideology, with the real and the imagined intertwined, and with capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and other material spatial practices that concretise the social relations of production, reproduction, exploitation, domination, and subjection.”73 On this hexagonal pitch, three football teams subvert these very dynamics in a game normally bound up in “the mythic bi-polar structure of conventional football, where an us-and-them struggle” plays out.74 Like its binary forebear, the three-sided game is lived representational space in action. But three-sided football is not governed by fixed rules. It is constituted by individuals existing as independent entities, team members and players governed by a set of unstable rules that everyone on the pitch negotiates among themselves. What emerges, to follow Soja’s formulation of thirdspace, is a site of struggle, liberation and emancipation: “a strategic location from which to encompass, understand, and potentially transform all [other] spaces”—be they conceived, perceived and so on—“simultaneously.”75 This is what makes three-sided football such a useful and practical diagram—it encourages a lived examination of space in the sense that Lefebvre considered it: “not only with the eyes” or “the intellect, but also with all the senses” and “the total body.”76 (“The important thing is to demonstrate that we do not see or sense what is at all, but what happens,” Jorn said.77) Enacting the game, or even thinking about it as a possibility, enables a greater awareness of the dynamics at work within space itself, as defined by the complexity of its inhabitants who exist not as either/or, but both/and/also/maybe and despite.78 This view aligns with how Jorn saw the act of establishing “subjectively acting causal relationships” as a work of “magic or art.”79 The result of such an establishment, as he hinted in his writing, is an “artistic humanism” that he believed was the “key to an all-embracing exchange of experiences that knows no bounds of either language or politics or convictions.”80 (“For Jorn, the art that matters most is a subjective realism that extends beyond the individual and invokes a collective practice,” to quote Mackenzie Wark.81) These dynamics were exemplified in 2010, when writer and critic Sally O’Reilly staged a threesided football game during the run-up to the United Kingdom’s general election, with three teams representing the main political parties at the time—Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat. (This election marked the second time since World War II that a UK election resulted in a hung parliament; 2017 being the third.82) As writer and editor Ajay Hothi observed, “O’Reilly’s 3-Sided Football Match was an example of a participatory public event in which the fundamental notion was to highlight the absurd nature of artifice”—in this case, of the two-sided football game and how that relates to contemporary political structures—“and how that imposes an inflexible nature onto a core concept” (the practice of politics itself).83 Ultimately, Hothi writes, the match demonstrated “how it is possible to maintain a relational status quo in a situation in which rules are flexible or non-existent.”84 Embedded in the concept of three-sided football, then, is a proposal: to establish “a truly cosmopolitan mental fellowship”85 whereby the individual and collective are understood as a complex set of conflicting, playful and variable relations, at once mutually exclusive, yet inter-dependent. The game, like art, is based on an “invitation to expend energy, with no precise goal other than what spectators themselves can bring to it.”86 (As Jorn said; “Play is not consciously directed to any goal but is a delight, an identification with things themselves. This is why play develops best in community.”87) To follow Jorn’s opinion that art is not a representation but “a direct transformation of nature” that does not reduce “nature to essence or order,” such freedom would result in “the transformation of human qualities into real values.”88 This was Jorn’s vision for an artistic revolution.89

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III In deliberating on three-sided football and the formulations of trialectic thinking that the game visualises and enacts, consider the problem Jorn observed with modern atomic physics: that it produced an isolated “world picture constructed upon the wave interpretation” and an imprecise “fusion of the particle and the ray concepts” as a result.90 “Only when one decides to set up a complementary description of all three observations,” he wrote, will “three world pictures clearly emerge.”91 “These pictures could be mutually complementary,” Jorn wrote “providing one keeps them strictly separate.”92 Every element should be taken on its own and with others. Now let’s apply this idea to the real world, currently in the throes of complete upheaval, with the past, present and future seemingly unfolding all at once. This is something that Hank Willis Thomas’ recent exhibition, The Beautiful Game at Ben Brown Fine Arts in London, illustrates through the prism of football, with a group of artworks that challenge the same dichotomous ‘us versus them’ binary

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inscribed into football that Jorn confronted. Tracing a link between European and American football, colonialism, and—by association with Thomas’ previous work, the history of slavery—the exhibition uncovered the sheer complexity of the world by zeroing in on a microcosm of it, as identified in the culture of an international team sport. On view was a series of ten quilts made from various football jerseys, including Arsenal and Liverpool, with sponsorship logos, from Chevrolet to Etihad, visible in compositions that are based on—or directly copy—modernist paintings and flags made by Asafo warrior groups in the Fante region of Ghana. “The function and aesthetic of Asafo flags,” the exhibition statement notes, “which have been made from the colonial period to today… developed in relation to African contact with Europe starting in the eighteenth century.”93 Under British influence, some flags were designed in the colonial style, with a Union Jack featured on the top corner. As academic Nana Adusei-Poku writes, these flags would come to represent rivalries that were encouraged by the British as part of a “administrative strategy of indirect rule,” which was intended to prevent a united uprising among the colonised—a Machiavellian gesture of divide and conquer.94 In Thomas’ exhibition, three quilts make reference to these flags, with figures donning the insignia and/or sponsorship logos of contemporary football teams, including Adidas and Nike, thus connecting the battlefields of the past with the football pitches of the present, here framed as sites of globalised, proxy war. Yet, beyond the two teams pitted against one another on the football field in the context of this exhibition, Thomas’ quilts and their myriad references—which also include national rugby teams like the All Blacks, Tonga, Panama, South Africa and England—expand on this idea of global war as something multi-positional, intersectional and materially complex. With Arsenal’s homeground named after Emirates airline, the current reality, as Thomas shows, is one where the historical faultlines—for example, between coloniser and colonised—are not as clear-cut as they once were. Thus, to quote Adusei-Poku once more, central to The Beautiful Game is an investigation “into how modern sport is a reflection of historical power structures,” while posing “the question of how to deal with a past that continuously ruptures the present.”95 In Thomas’ flags, the binary field is disrupted. The pitting of one team against another (be it national or local) is made trinary through the inclusion of historical and supra-national elements—from the history of imperialism to contemporary corporate sponsorship, which one could argue are inter-related—that are also present in the game. In making this visible in his work, Thomas asks his audience “to see” as Lefebvre implored, “how homogeneous abstract space manifests itself in a dislocated and dismembered landscape of capitalism”—“a global space pivoting around ‘uneven development’ and pell-mell differentiation” (to quote Merrifield again).96 As Lefebvre said, “The space that homogenises … has nothing homogeneous about it.”97 Thomas expanded on this idea by drawing a link between the politics of international corporate sports culture, and that of the global art market in his exhibition. The Beautiful Game opened during Frieze Art Week 2017, with one of Thomas’ Endless Columns presented as part of Frieze’s public exhibition at Regent’s park, composed of twenty-two realistically rendered footballs made from painted resin. Its composition and name—Endless Column (22 Totems) (2017)—reference the work of Constantin Brancusi, a sculptor who, like many other European and American modernists, owes much to the influence of African art, even if no credit, or due respect, was actually given to the artists, or regions, from whom they profited. (“African art IS modern art, it just wasn’t named as such,” Thomas has stated.98) Thus, by overlapping global football with the culture of global art conveys the crux of what Thomas proposes when thinking about both realms as sites in which world history continues to play out a two-sided game, whereby a crucial third side (or world) tends to become marginalised or ignored. l

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The Beautiful Game brought this marginalised world into the picture so as to complicate it, just as Jorn’s three-sided football disrupted the binary game in order to expand the field. In both cases, the idea is to widen the frame and demonstrate the dynamics—process, variability and movement—that mediate the overlapping positions that human beings can sustain in a changeable world that is organic, evolving and contradictory. As living beings, we are prisms that reveal a cross-hatching spectrum of ongoing histories and the politics that have emerged from them. And as we move through space and time, our forms are likewise beholden to the forces that seek to contain the continuum that our bodies negotiate. This is why Jorn decided to offer his own response to what was essentially a scientific discussion surrounding complementarity—it was and is the artist’s right to challenge those frames that seek to define the human experience without taking into full account the actual complexity of lived experience itself. (As Mackenzie Wark observes, the limit Jorn saw in “scientific socialism” was its embrace of “a materialist world view, but not a materialist attitude to life. His artistic materialism proposes to fill this gap.”99) *** What could we learn today, politically and globally, if we were to think about a three-sided game that one artist envisioned as a means to break out of the stalemates left to us by history? In summer 2015, three simultaneous games of three-sided football were launched at high speed into each other as part of the Alytus Biennial in Southern Lithuania. It was an attempt at “uncovering the deep triolectics at play within the science of exceptions,” as reported by The New Cross Triangle Psychogeographical Association (NXTPA).100 “In doing so, the assembled situlogists successfully glimpsed the quantum hyperspace of psychogeographic gameplay, completing the first phase in what has been called a ‘Great Unworking’: Three-sided football’s attempt at the psychogeographical ‘unbinding’ of Europe.”101 The account of this supercollider game is as barmy and beautiful as one would expect. “Whilst the teams acted like nations, defending their territory and making raids against opponents,” the NXTPA reported, “the overlapping space in the centre realised that they were all of the same class, and thus rather than working with their team alliances, self-organised a form of class solidarity amongst themselves to co-operatively defend their goals against the whirling melee around them.”102 What emerged in this game was, to borrow the diagram of Runge’s colour ball, an emergence of that grey space at the centre of the sphere where all possible colours interact. Through this controlled chaos, created by the activation of every individual on the field and defined by the variability between them, an interactive solidarity was negotiated that effectively broke through the binary rules normally applied to the collective body, as demonstrated by two-way football. In this hyperpolitical situation then, humanity itself, as Jorn imagined, became valorised beyond the structures of normative politics. What was visualised, to borrow the words of D3FC and the Strategic Optimism football club, was three-sided football’s potent essence as a practical exercise of being in the world, relationally: “Not oppositional but superpositional,” with “contradictions resolved by blending multiple simultaneous potentialities.”103 Maybe this was the aim of Jorn’s conception: to offer a moving reflection of the world in all of its conflictual complexity; a material explosion of all things possible, thanks to the liberation of fixity from the production of meaning (and being). To play the game is to learn to exist—together, separately and in complementary opposition—in “a tangled and chaotic truth” rather than a “symmetrical and finely chiselled lie.”104

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Notes 1 Asger Jorn, ‘What is an Ornament?’ (1948), in Jorn, Fraternité Avant Tout, Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2011, p. 203 2 Asger Jorn, ‘The End of the Economy and the Realisation of Art’, trans. Reuben Keehan, Internationale Situationniste #4, June 1960, p. 1 (of 4). Viewed on Situationist International Online: http://www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/economy.html 3

Ibid.

4

Ibid.

5

Ibid.

6

Ibid. See also Mackenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, London: Verso, 2011, p. 51 7

Asger Jorn, ‘The End of the Economy and the Realisation of Art’, op.cit.

8

Karen Kurczynski, The Art and Politics of Asger Jorn: The Avant-Garde Won’t Give Up, New York: Routledge, 2016, p. 215

9

Asger Jorn, ‘The Natural Order’, published in 1962. See Cosmonauts of the Future: Texts from the Situationist Movement in Scandinavia and else where, Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen & Jakob Jakobsen eds, Brooklyn: Nebula in association with Autonomedia, 2015, pp. 156-157 10

Geoff Andrews, ‘The Three Sided Football Revolution – Football’s New Idea’, 9 June 2013; http://geoffandrews-philosophyfootball.blogspot.be/2013/06/the-three-sided-football-revolution.html

11

As described on the Deptford Three-Sided Football Club website in a text published 23 March 2013; https://d3fc. wordpress.com/2013/03/27/asger-jorn-on-three-sided-football/

12

Jorn, ‘The Natural Order’, pp. 156-157

13

Ibid., p. 135. Jorn’s italics. Jorn also mapped out his conception of triolectics in great detail in the 1964 paper, ‘On the Triolectical Method in its Applications in General Situlogy’, also published in Cosmonauts of the Future: Texts from the Situationist Movement in Scandinavia and else where, pp. 238-249

14

Jorn, ‘Luck and Chance Dagger and Guitar’, in Cosmonauts of the Future: Texts from the Situationist Movement in Scandinavia and else where, p. 41. Jorn’s italics

15

Ibid.

16

‘Complementarity Principle’, in Encyclopedia Britannica; https://www.britannica.com/science/complementarity-principle. See also Kristian Camilleri, ‘Heisenberg and the wave–particle duality’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics, Volume 37, Issue 2, June 2006, pp. 298-315

17

Jorn, ‘The Natural Order’, p. 134. Jorn’s italics

18

Ibid.

19

Ibid., p. 135, pp. 157-158. See also ‘On the Triolectical Method in its Applications in General Situlogy’, p. 242

20

Philipp Otto Runge, as quoted by Rolf G. Kuehni, ‘Philipp Otto Runge’s Color Sphere: A translation, with related materials and an essay’. See http://www.iscc.org/pdf/RungeFarben-Kugel.pdf, p. 14

21

Jorn, ‘On the Triolectical Method in its Applications in General Situlogy’, p. 242

22

Jorn, ‘The Natural Order’, p. 158

23

Ibid.

24

First quote, ibid. Second quote, Strategic Optimism Football, ‘Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Triolectic’, 11 September 2015; https://strategicoptimismfootball.wordpress.com/2015/09/11/preliminary-problems-in-constructing-atriolectic/

25

Philipp Otto Runge, as quoted by Rolf G. Kuehni, ‘Philipp Otto Runge’s Color Sphere: A translation, with related materials and an essay’, op cit.

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26

Jorn, ‘On the Triolectical Method in its Applications in General Situlogy’, p. 246-247

27

Stéphane Lupasco, as quoted by Joesph E. Brenner in ‘The Philosophical Logic of Stéphane Lupasco (1900-88)’, Logic and Logical Philosophy, Volume 19, 2010, p. 248. See http://www.apcz.pl/czasopisma/index.php/LLP/article/viewFile/ LLP.2010.009/967

28

Jorn, ‘On the Triolectical Method in its Applications in General Situlogy’, p. 240

29

Ibid., p. 246. Lupasco, as quoted by Jorn

30

Jorn, ‘On the Triolectical Method in its Applications in General Situlogy’, p. 246

31

Basarab Nicolescu, From Modernity to Cosmodernity: Science, Culture, and Spirituality, Albany NY: SUNY Press, 2014, p. 129. See also Jorn, ‘On the Triolectical Method in its Applications in General Situlogy’, p. 243 32

Jorn, ‘On the Triolectical Method in its Applications in General Situlogy’, ibid.

33

Ibid., p. 242

34

Ibid.

35

Ibid., p. 249

36

Joao Leao, Senior Systems Specialist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as quoted in ‘The Silkeborg Interpretation Redux or Jorn’s Detournement of Niels Bohr’s Complementarity Theory’, a report on his contribution to the ‘Cut and Thrust: Reconsidering Asger Jorn’ seminar workshop which took place at the Museum Jorn in March 2012, published on http://www.hildegoesasger.org at: http://www.hildegoesasger.org/2012/05/the-silkeborginterpretation-redux-or-jorns-detournement-of-niels-bohrs-complementarity/

37

Jorn, ‘The Natural Order’, p. 159

38

Ibid. Jorn’s italics

39

Ibid., p. 143

40

Ibid. Jorn’s italics

41

Ibid., p. 144

42

Ibid., p. 135

43

Ibid., p. 140

44

Ibid., p. 157

45

Ibid., p. 144

46

Karen Kurczynski, ‘Red Herrings: Eccentric Morphologies in The Situationist Times’, in Expect Anything Fear Nothing: The Situationist Movement in Scandinavia and Elsewhere, Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen & Jakob Jakobsen eds, Brooklyn: Nebula in association with Autonomedia, 2011, p. 139, p. 140

47

Ibid.

48

Jorn, ‘The Natural Order’, p. 171

49

Jorn, ‘On the Triolectical Method in its Applications in General Situlogy’, p. 245

50

Ibid.

51

Ibid., p. 157

52

Ibid., p. 156

53

Deptford Three-Sided Football Club, ‘An Introduction to Three Sided Football’, 1 March 2012; https://d3fc.wordpress. com/2012/03/01/an-introduction-to-three-sided-football/

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54

John Hartley, ‘Sport of the Week: Three-Sided Football’, That One Sports Show, 23 October 2017; http://thatonesportsshow. com/podcast/sport-of-the-week-three-sided-football/

55

D3FC, ‘An Introduction to Three Sided Football’, op cit.

56

Stuart Elden, Understanding Henri Lefebvre: Theory and the Possible, London/New York: Continuum, 2004, p. 36

57

Ibid., p. 37

58

Ibid., pp. 36-37

59

Ibid., p. 36. Jorn’s italics

60

Ibid.

61

Gilles Delueze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi, Minneapolis/ London: University of Minneapolis Press, 2005, p. 22

62

Ibid., p. 11, p. 21

63

Ibid., p. 5

64

Andy Merrifield, Henri Lefebvre: A Critical Introduction, New York: Routledge, 2006, p. 105. Merrifield’s italics

65

Ibid.

66

Lefebvre, quoted by Andy Merrifield in Henri LeFebvre: A Critical Introduction, p. 110

67

Ibid.

68

Ibid., p. 105. Lefebvre’s italics

69

Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996, p. 70

70

Ibid.

71

Jorn, ‘On the Triolectical Method in its Applications in General Situlogy’, p. 245

72

Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places, p. 70

73

Ibid., p. 68

74

This description is found on a number of three-sided football pages. See Gabriel Kuhn, Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics, Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2011, p. 228 75

Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places, p. 68

76

As quoted by Andy Merrifield in Henri Lefebvre: A Critical Introduction, p. 115

77

Jorn, ‘The Natural Order’, p. 162. Jorn’s italics

78

What Soja has described as the fundamental principles of thirdspace

79

Jorn, ‘The Natural Order’, p. 167. Jorn’s italics

80

Asger Jorn, ‘Neither Abstraction Nor Symbol’, trans. Peter Shield, originally published in Danish as ‘Hverken abstraktion eller symbol’ in the exhibition catalogue Henri Michaux, Silkeborg Museum, Denmark, 1962, pp. 7-13. See http://www. museumjorn.dk/en/text_presentation.asp?AjrDcmntId=455

81

Mackenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, p. 51

82 Bronwen Maddox, ‘The British constitution can handle outcomes like this’, The Financial Times, 9 June 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/6d83e31c-4cd9-11e7-a3f4-c742b9791d43

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83

Ajay Hothi, ‘On the methodologies of the adaptation of text for gallery exhibition’, MPhil by Thesis, Critical Writing in Art & Design, Royal College of Art, London, October 2014

84

Ibid.

85

Jorn, ‘Neither Abstraction Nor Symbol’, op cit.

86

Jorn, ‘The End of the Economy and the Realisation of Art’, op cit.

87

As quoted in Birtwistle, p. 76. See Mackenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, p. 51 See also Hilde Goes Asger; http://hildegoesasger.org

88 First two quotes, Mackenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, ibid. Third quote, Jorn, ‘The End of the Economy and the Realisation of Art’, op cit. 89

Jorn, ‘The End of the Economy and the Realisation of Art’, op cit.

90

Jorn, ‘The Natural Order’, pp. 160-161

91

Ibid., p. 161

92

Ibid., p. 159

93

The Beautiful Game, curatorial text; http://www.benbrownfinearts.com/exhibitions/121/overview/

94

Nana Adusei-Poku, ‘The Beautiful Game’, exhibition essay in a booklet published to accompany Hank Willis Thomas, The Beautiful Game, Ben Brown Fine Arts, London 5 October–24 November 2017. Adusei-Poku’s italics

95

Ibid.

96

Andy Merrifield, Henri Lefebvre: A Critical Introduction, p. 112

97

Lefebvre, quoted by Andy Merrifield in Henri Lefebvre: A Critical Introduction, ibid.

98

Naomi Rea, ‘Hank Willis Thomas on His New Work, Charlottesville, and Modernism’s Debt to African Art’, Artnet, 3 October 2017; https://news.artnet.com/art-world/hank-willis-thomas-interivew-1057031

99 Mackenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, op cit. 100 The New Cross Triangle Psychogeographical Association, ‘Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Triolectic: Thoughts suggested following experiments in the use of “pataposition” to render three-sided football in n-dimensional space (in two parts)’, 15 December 2015; https://www.alytusbiennial.com/2-uncategorised/720-preliminary-problems-in-constructing-atriolectic-thoughts-suggested-following-experiments-in-the-use-of-“’pataposition”-to-render-three-sided-football-in-ndimensional-space-in-two-parts.html 101

Ibid.

102

Ibid.

103

Text for ‘Jorn and Trocchi United: A Workshop in Practical Triolectics’, http://www.antiuniversity.org/Jorn-and-TrocchiUnited-A-Workshop-in-Practical-Triolectics 104

Asger Jorn, quoted by Peter Shield in Jorn’s ‘Neither Abstraction Nor Symbol’, op cit. Also quoted in Graham Birtwistle, Living Art: Asger Jorn’s Comprehensive Theory of Art Between Helhesten and Cobra, Utrecht: Reflex, 1986, p. 69. Courtesy Mackenzie Wark, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, op cit.

With thanks to Reema Salha Fadda

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Tomorrow Girls: Sci-Fi, Other Worlds and Geo-Politics in Media Art from the Middle East In the cyber garden of Babylon, the weather is more than wonderful. Hassan Blasim1 If you can imagine—or imagine—yourself, you can image—or imagine—a being not-yourself; and you can also imagine how such a being may see the world, a world that includes you. Margaret Atwood2 In his foreword to the collection of science-fiction stories on Iraq, Iraq+100: Stories from a Century After the Invasion, Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim laments that there is very little science-fiction writing or writing about the future in Arabic.3 I would add to this that specifically there is very little Arabic science-fiction writing by women. In Iraq+100 only two out of the ten featured authors are women. If science-fiction in Arab literature seems to remain—for now at least—the domain of men, then women are at the forefront with video and media art. Artists from Palestine such as Larissa Sansour, Mirna Bamieh and Noor Abed imaginatively rethink complex issues pertaining to the Palestinian condition. Whether they address territory, nationalism, the theft of resources, or dispossession within a context of temporal and political stasis, these artists not only reposition Palestine out of its uneasy post-Oslo status quo,4 but also propel it into a speculative future. Cairo-based Maha Maamoun’s video 2026 (2010) draws on urban class divisions, the rapid growth of gated communities and increasing polarisation between Cairo’s have and have-nots. Similar concerns are raised in Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s novel Utopia (2007) in which Egyptian society in 2023 has been fully segregated between the wealthy and the poor. Both Maamoun and Towfik’s dystopian versions of Egypt veer not far away from reality. As is the case with much sciencefiction, tomorrow is already here.

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Conversely, in the Gulf, tomorrow was yesterday. There, oil-wealth, a local version of hypermodernity and consumer capitalism on steroids, mix into a toxic futuristic cocktail. Today, Mike Davis’ decade-old description of Dubai in which he asks whether you have ended up in “a new Margaret Atwood novel, Philip K. Dick’s unpublished sequel to Blade Runner or Donald Trump on acid”5 still resonates. Six years later Qatari and Kuwaiti artists Sophia Al-Maria and Fatima Al-Qadiri would echo much of Davis’ observations and coin the term “Gulf Futurism” as a “subversive new aesthetic, which draws on the region’s hypermodern infrastructure, globalised cultural kitsch and repressive societal norms to form a critique of a dystopian future-turned-reality.”6 A slick post-internet sensibility informs their work, often intertwining elements of conspicuous consumption with historical critique, as well as a good dose of juvenilia and teenage angst. Similar sensibilities can be found in the most recent work of Fatima Al-Qadiri’s younger sister, Kuwaiti artist Monira Al Qadiri. The above illustrates that the conceptualisation of futurities in the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region are as heterogeneous and diverse as the region itself. In this respect, context is everything. What makes the genre of science-fiction perhaps particularly attractive for artists from a region where the relation to the future is, and has been fraught, is the possibility to conjure an imaginary undone from nationalist and populist ideologies that are defined by nostalgia for a (mythical) past. One glaring example is ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and its ambitions to re-establish the Caliphate. Others include Pharaonic or Nasserite Egypt, Palestine before the 1948 Nakba, pre-Civil War Lebanon (1975-90), Sumerian and Akkadian Mesopotamia for Iraq. Thinking, let alone dreaming, of tomorrow in places where the pressures of the present weigh heavily, is no small feat. Events have taken a turn for the worse after the 2011 uprisings that started so hopefully and shifted the region’s eye to the future instead of the past. With the exception of Tunisia, in much of the Middle East the Arab Spring is a spent force, blunted by the resurgence of the ancien regime, as in Egypt, or usurped by religious fundamentalists and bogged down in violence, as in Syria, Yemen and Libya. In the meantime the monarchies of the Gulf, hardly affected at the time, with exception of Bahrain, continue to suppress

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anything that smacks of dissent. It is a far cry from the sense of possibility that was felt during the uprisings. As such, it is no coincidence that in the past few years there has been a surge in the use of science-fiction from artists of the region to, on the one hand, put forward viewpoints that demonstrate resistance and resilience towards hegemonic narratives and introduce an array of speculative and technologised fictions and subjectivities, while on the other, to recuperate—however faint—a sense of possibility. This is not to say that we are served up naive utopias. To the contrary, there is no lack of apocalyptic dystopia in these art projects. Their unifying force, I would argue, is a speculative openendedness and the potential for stories to take a different turn, if not now then maybe in the future. FROM PALESTINE TO THE MOON AND BACK: TERRITORY AND TIME One of the most popular tropes in science-fiction is time travel. The ability to travel back and forward in time is simultaneously an extreme encounter with promise and disillusion, as it is with a past or future Other, which might seem familiar but still remains to an extent alien. Since the Oslo Accords Palestine has been stymied by political paralysis, stuck in a temporal limbo of violence, statelessness and suspended self-determination. The deferral of change has become symptomatic to the Palestinian condition. Palestinian sociologist Salim Tamari once quipped that Palestinian society is pickled. While this provides fertile ground for artists to represent stasis, it also engages them to imagine a way out, and rupture what is besides an occupation of Palestinian land, also an occupation of Palestinian time. Indeed, the time squandered in queuing up at checkpoints, waiting for permits, making detours from point A to point B because of closures and roadblocks, anticipating the next incursion or war, followed by the next ceasefire and useless peace process, and on a more fundamental level, awaiting a sovereign Palestinian state, Palestinians are forced in a position in which they have unwillingly become experts at wasting time. What better way then of challenging the tyranny of time than attempting to hack it? This is exactly what Larissa Sansour does in her most recent video In the Future they Ate from the Finest Porcelain (2016), co-directed with Søren Lind. Sansour is no stranger to using science-fiction in her work in order to depict the absurdity of Palestinian life under the Israeli occupation. For example, in her much celebrated 2009 video A Space Exodus, a riff on Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 cult classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, the idea of a viable Palestinian state on planet earth is abandoned altogether and a cosmic solution is found by colonising the moon for a Palestinian homeland. Palestinaut Sansour, kitted out in a space suit including space boots with Oriental-style upturned caps, defiantly plants a Palestinian flag on the Moon. This ironic act of reverse colonisation re-appropriates the Zionist dictum that Palestine for the Jews was “A land without a people for a people without a land.” Here the unpopulated moon is declared fit for Palestinian settlement. In Nation Estate (2012) Palestine and its entire population are concentrated into a prime real estate location, a colossal high-rise that soars into the clouds. From the top floor of this luxurious prison the glistening monumental Dome of the Rock and its golden cupola can be seen in the Old City of Jerusalem. However, the inhabitants of this gated community can only consume Jerusalem by proxy—the real estate development is divorced from Jerusalem by the separation wall. Control towers and a whole array of military surveillance technology are its most immediate neighbours. In both films territory, the key symbolic signifier in the Palestinian pursuit of sovereignty, is dislocated and uprooted to an elsewhere that is disconnected from Jerusalem, the capital of historical Palestine, and transposed to either outer space or a skyscraper on the outskirts of Jerusalem.7 In other words, the threat of population transfer or forced migration is countered in Space Exodus by an extra-terrestrial move, and in Nation Estate by one that is extra-territorial. Both ‘solutions’ are extremely far-fetched and otherworldly, but such is the reality of the Palestinian experience. l

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In the video In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain, time and the control over time —specifically the past affecting the present and the future—rather than land takes centre stage. Like territory, time is a scarce resource and a coveted instrument of power in the dynamics of nationbuilding that informs all three videos. What sets In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain apart from the previous videos is the actualisation of the national dream is deferred until an unspecified time in the future. Moreover, the words “Israel”, “Palestine” and “Occupation” are never mentioned, making the work more universally about dispossession and colonisation. We never actually see Palestine in the future. We can only try to imagine it, akin to Sansour’s unnamed female protagonist, who calls herself a “narrative terrorist”. Her weapon of choice is archaeology, a discipline heavily instrumentalised by Israel to ‘prove’ a historical claim to the land. The protagonist, who we hear in voice-over talking to a female interlocutor (a therapist, a journalist, a jailer?), tampers retro-actively with history by creating hard ‘facts on the ground’. From spaceships she and her comrades bomb the post-apocalyptic landscape with beautiful keffiyeh-patterned crockery that is to be excavated by archaeologists in the future, like this, a fictitious insert in the past, will become historical fact in the future. An artificially planted piece of evidence becomes scientific truth: in the future they will discover that in the past they indeed ate from the finest porcelain. As such Sansour’s leading lady not only establishes the historical presence of her community, but insists it is sophisticated as well. The main takeaway of the video is that timelines, like territories, can be stretched, come undone and be re-occupied. At the same time we are asked to proceed with caution and remember that the outcome of any activist act, even that of a time hacker, is a speculative one. The video’s opening and closing lines are the same, suggesting that somehow we too seem locked in a time loop, or a recording that is played over and over again. The latter echoes the repetitive political choreography of the post-Oslo era. Whether Sansour’s protagonist succeeds to break out of these temporal confines is unknown. More unresolvedness and stretching of time are found in Noor Abed’s media installation The Air Was Too Thin to Return the Gaze (2016). Abed’s project deals with the alledged sighting of a UFO on 8 August 2015 over the West Bank village of Bir Nabala, northwest of Jerusalem. Here a sciencefiction fantasy is merged with the political reality of the separation wall. An event that occurred in the past is willed to re-occur in the future in order to make sense from it. The wait for the return of a UFO in a village hemmed in by the wall can be read as messianic: perhaps this UFO will break the political stalemate and liberate Palestine, or inaugurate the Palestinian return to their homeland. The truth is that whatever this alien body might bring is unidentified. The UFO could be as much a harbinger of independence as it could be of war, or something entirely different. In a sense the UFO is marked, like so many unrealised hopes and promises in Palestine, by its ‘absent presence’ and as such underlines its volatile political situation. In Abed’s laboratory-like installation we find a poster inviting the people of Bir Nabala back to the site where the UFO was first allegedly sighted. A series of photographs document this gathering, depicting villagers on rooftops with their gaze firmly pointed towards the sky. The main exhibit is a video in which the artist, like a forensic scientist with only her white-gloved hands visible, pieces together a memory device and other debris found at the site. There is also a light box with an image of a clear blue sky as described to Abed by the main witness of the event. Similar to Sansour’s video the act of witnessing takes place in the past and is propelled into the future. In The Air Was too Thin to Return the Gaze the anticipation remains unmet. Indeed, the title of the project already hints that the act of seeing and witnessing is not reciprocated. Moreover, the grainy footage the UFO left behind on the memory device is not very different from drone surveillance: the wall, some buildings, perhaps some farmland.

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It does not make us see anything new. This might precisely be Abed’s point: in times of protracted violence and injustice, we become blind, even if through the eyes of an alien. Noor Abed seems to ask how to represent something when the act of seeing—whether a homeland, peace, or the occupation —has been perpetually postponed. ALIEN (M)OTHERS Abed casts her protagonist as an alien, a foreign body. Not only does she by doing this underline the increasing alienation, if not demonisation, between Palestinian and Israeli populations since the building of the wall, but in times of growing populism, conservatism, xenophobia and nationalism, points to polarisation on a global scale. Our zeitgeist increasingly resembles a cheap spy novel, ridden by paranoia, fear of foreign agents and conspiracy theories. Or, as a science-fiction story in which the alien is the quintessential Other, the embodiment of what we fear most. Both Palestinian artist Mirna Bamieh and Kuwaiti artist Monira Al Qadiri use the figure of the alien in their video works, albeit very differently. Bamieh’s The Pessoptimist (2015) takes as its starting point the first chapter of Palestinian author Emile Habibi’s well-known satirical novel The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist (1974). Habibi’s novel describes the life and hardships of Saeed, a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship accused of being a collaborator. Saeed is an innocent, an anti-hero who is abducted by aliens and looks down from outer space on his life below. Bamieh, making her film more than four decades after Habibi’s novel—two intifadas, a failed Oslo Accord, three Gaza wars, countless Israeli settlements, a separation wall and much blood and violence later—shows that like Habibi’s Saeed, her protagonist does not understand the world he is living in. Indeed, Habibi’s Saeed living in 1974 and Bamieh’s living in 2015 both struggle to adjust to the rapid pace of geo-political change and how to carve out an existential space for themselves. As an anti-hero Saeed is the antithesis to the powerful revolutionary figure of the fedayeen,8 the stonethrowing youth of the intifadas, or even the non-violent resistance of sumud 9 (perseverance). It seems that Saaed has lost agency in most aspects of his life, in many ways turning him as a pars pro toto for much of the Palestinian population. However, both Habibi’s book and Bamieh’s video are in and by themselves instances of agency and resistance. Both works illustrate how under occupation the reality of life is stranger than fiction. An additional layer to Bamieh’s narrative is the complex relationship between urban Palestinian real estate development, expanding Israeli settlements, and the segregating function of the wall in the West Bank. The video is peppered with scenes of traffic in, and views looking from Ramallah at the Israeli settlements on the surrounding hilltops. It is a confusing territorial, political and existential landscape. No wonder Saeed is befuddled and at loss. Saeed himself is viewed as an alien in his own society. First he is shunned by his community with no one talking to him for over fifteen years, later he is put on display as an exhibit in the National Museum as (the voice-over imparts), “the only person never to have seen the wall in his life.” The video ends with Bamieh herself hugging a deflated plastic toy: the head of a unicorn, very much a metaphor for Saeed. Bamieh somehow redeems Saeed by turning him, albeit symbolically, into that rare mythological animal of fantasy. However, taking a more cynical view, it might also be a comment on the prospect for a Palestinian State. Monira Al Qadiri’s video The Craft (2017) is a rapid-paced science-fiction Bildungsroman in which the viewer is taken back to the artist’s childhood spent respectively in Senegal and Kuwait in the 1980s. Sentiments of nostalgia for Kuwait’s golden oil boom era of the 1960s and 1970s, the glamour and conspiratorial wheeling and dealing of international diplomacy, and consumer capitalism are merged with the loss of childhood innocence and geo-political changes in the region. However,

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more than anything else, The Craft interrogates identity and allegiance in a volatile region in an equally volatile time. The video’s opening scene shows the artist’s father, at that time the Kuwaiti ambassador in Dakar, exiting the gates of their home and driving to work. Qadiri’s voice-over cautions, “everything is not as it seems. You start to question reality, the world as a whole. Are we really where we think we are? Are we there? Are we really us?” A few minutes later we learn that the embassy is not really that but a spacecraft in which malevolent aliens plot to subsume the human race and plunder the planet. It is a typical science-fiction scenario, but Qadiri adds the component of parental betrayal into the mix. She laments that as children they were often left to their own devices by their busy diplomat parents. This is further supported by the many family photos of the artist and her sister pictured together, but primarily by themselves. Qadiri shares a particularly traumatic episode of maternal abandonment in which her mother goes—supposedly—to an embassy party, but ends up entering a spaceship. The inside of the spaceship is modelled on an American diner. As child’s drawings of American junk food—burgers, hot dogs and double-decker sandwiches—begin to fill the screen, we are subtly l

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reminded that in the 1980s the Cold War still divides the world in East and West. The Gulf, like so many other places in the American sphere of influence, aspires to become more like America, still seen as the ultimate signifier of modernity, more often than not by blatant consumer capitalism: drinking CocaCola, eating fast food and wearing jeans. The First Gulf War in 1990 and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait bring all dreams of becoming America crashing down. Perhaps this is the Al Qadiri sisters’ realisation that they do not live in a makebelief America but in the Arab world with as its neighbours Wahabi Saudi Arabia, Ba’athist Iraq under Saddam Hussein and the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the moment when the masks come off and identity forcefully manifests itself. Similar to the other video works discussed here, ambiguity and open-endedness inform The Craft. Qadiri cleverly combines several conceptual strands, veering from a child’s coping mechanism for an absent parent that casts the mother as an alien, to the presence of the Iraqi soldiers in Kuwait as an alien invasion. Whereas Bamieh’s protagonist Saeed finds agency, however limited, in his refusal to make sense of a surreal situation, Qadiri attempts to find solace in hers by turning it into an extra-terrestrial scheme. Both works exude an air of defeat, whether it is Saeed, trapped in his and Palestine’s existential crisis, or Qadiri who in the closing sequence of the video meets the exhausted and demoralised alien in Beirut, its spaceship camouflaged as a ruin from Lebanon’s Civil War. “It’s all over now. The plan failed. Go away,” the alien replies to her in a feeble voice. But by doing that it opens up an opportunity to image and imagine a new and different future. In times when we might feel bogged down by pessimistic resignation at the state of the world, this is an important promise. Notes 1 Hassan Blasim, ‘The Gardens of Babylon’ in Iraq +100. Stories from a century after the invasion, Hassan Blasim (ed.), London: Comma Press, 2016 2

Margaret Atwood, ‘Flying Rabbits’ in In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, London: Anchor Books, 2011, p. 21

3

Hassan Blasim, ‘Introduction’, Iraq +100. Stories from a century after the invasion, op cit., v-x

4

The Oslo Accords signed in 1993 between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel were a set of agreements aimed at achieving a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, working towards the final aim of achieving a viable twostate solution. It resulted in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and limited self-governance in parts of the West Bank and Gaza 5 Mike Davis, ‘Fear and Money in Dubai’, New Left Review 41, September-October 2006; https://newleftreview.org/II/41/mikedavis-fear-and-money-in-dubai; last accessed 1 December 2017 6 ‘Fatima Al Qadiri and Sophia Al-Maria on the starkly avant garde culture of the Middle East’, Dazed Magazine, 14 November 2012; http://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/15037/1/al-qadiri-al-maria-on-gulf-futurism; last accessed 1 December 2017 7 At the time of writing USA President Trump declared on 6 December 2017 Jerusalem the capital of Israel and his intent to move the USA Embassy from Tel-Aviv, thereby breaking with international policy since 1948. His move was followed by international outcry and condemnation. See for a good opinion piece Rashid Khalidi, ‘Trump’s error on Jerusalem is a disaster for the Arab world… and for the US too’, The Guardian, 6 December 2017; https://www.theguardian.com/ commentisfree/2017/dec/06/trump-jerusalem-disaster-arab-world-israel?CMP=share_btn_tw; last accessed 6 December 2017 8 Fedayeen, literally meaning “those who sacrifice themselves” was a term used predominantly from 1948-80 for Palestinian guerrilla fighters, in their struggle for national liberation 9

Cfr. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumud; last accessed 4 December 2017

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‘One Hundred Years’ On: The Worn Away Mask of Jerusalem

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…the lived present constitutes a past and a future in time. Gilles Deleuze1 On 13 October 1933, an Arab demonstration massed at the New Gate in the old city of Jerusalem protesting against British policies encouraging Jewish immigration to Palestine.2 As the British police suppressed the demonstration,3 a photographer from the American Colony4 was standing opposite the gate with a camera in hand. He took a photograph of the confrontation: a fallen body, demonstrators en masse flooding the streets, the police armed with guns and clubs attacking the crowds, and men climbing up to the top of the ancient walls of the city to observe the fracas below. This image epitomised the upheaval that was occurring at the time, not only in Jerusalem but also in Jaffa and most of the Palestinian towns. Eighty-four years later, on 24 April 2017, Jack Persekian stood in front of New Gate in the same position as the American Colony photographer. He tilted his camera so that it would be aligned to the same angle in the image of the 1933 demonstration. In Persekian’s photograph, he captured a tram passing in front of New Gate, with people and tourists wandering about in what appears to be a normal day—except that it wasn’t, as the colonial history of the city continues to cast a shadow upon what might seem to be a tranquil day. Born and raised in the old city of Jerusalem, the Palestinian-Armenian artist and curator Jack Persekian has witnessed its major transformation in his lifetime. Only a few decades ago, Jerusalem was a hub for Palestinians—economically, culturally and politically, as well as socially. But since the early 1990s, access to the city has been restricted through checkpoints, ongoing closure, the eightmetre high separation wall and a ring of Israeli settlements5 that are now connected through the Light Rail, a section of which appears in Persekian’s New Gate (2017) photograph—these transformations never apparent in the old photographs of Jerusalem that are sold to tourists. Wandering the narrow labyrinthine alleyways and traditional souks inside Jerusalem’s ancient walls, one cannot help but notice the Orientalist photographs that are on sale in the small shops lining both sides of the pathways, something that never fails to fascinate Persekian as he encounters them almost on a daily basis. They do not reflect the reality of the city nor the Jerusalem that tourists come to visit, but rather an imaginative place in an augmented reality where time has stood still. At the time of writing, this year marks the centenary of historical events that have changed the face of Palestine and the entire region—The Balfour Declaration,6 the entry of British forces into Jerusalem and the following victory against the Turkish Army in the First World War, which brought about the end of Ottoman rule—and the semicentennial of Israeli rule in East Jerusalem since the 1967 Six Day War. Persekian has taken these events as reference points for his recent project  One Hundred Years, as he explores the city’s photographic history, reflecting upon its radical transformations over the past century. By superimposing a photograph taken today with one from the same location approximately one hundred years ago, he creates a unique series of images giving the superimposed old and contemporary photographs new meanings, while simultaneously creating an alternative narrative deeply referential to its political context and revelations over the years. The project consists of two parts: After Matson and After Whiting, based on the American Colony photographic collection of historical photographs of the Middle East, of which a large part are panoramas.7

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Persekian focuses on the historic photographs of Eric Matson (1888-1977) and his colleague John Whiting (1882-1951), both of whom lived a considerable part of their lives at the American Colony commune east of the city, working in the photography department and printing and selling their photographs mainly to an expanding tourist market. The Matson Collection consists of over 2,000 glass and film negatives and transparencies, over 1,000 photographic prints and eleven albums, while the Whiting Collection has 3,200 negatives, including those images that Whiting hand-colored himself. Eventually, both collections were donated to the Library of Congress in Washington. From the Matson Collection, Persekian has chosen panoramic photographs of the old city of Jerusalem from its four corners, while from the Whiting Collection he chose a set of hand-coloured photographs of different neighbourhoods and streets, a number of which consciously reveal Orientalist inclinations. To understand this project and its basis, it is necessary to examine the history of these photographic archives. Nineteenth century Orientalist photography of the Middle East was a manifestation of the colonial powers’ political interest in the region, aimed to visualise a popular biblical narrative in order to justify their agendas. Photography was one of the approaches through which Zionism reinforced its problematic narrative of Palestine, “A land without a people, for a people without a land.”8 Edward Said additionally points out that, “Orientalism can be discussed and analysed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient—dealing with it by making statements about it, authorising views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.”9   Even the Arab and local photographers who were born or raised in the city did not hesitate to take pictures with an Orientalist inclination that emphasises the biblical story of the Holy Land; for example, the Armenian photographer Garabed Krikoiran (1847-1920) and his Lebanese apprentice Khalil Raad (1869-1957), both of whom were among the first local commercial photographers in Palestine and particularly in Jerusalem, extensively documented various aspects of Palestinian life, including the political upheavals that occurred during the British Mandate. While the stereotypical portrayal of Jerusalem has not ceased to exist since the colonial powers began exerting their interest in the region, for local photographers and shopkeepers, their motives for taking and selling these photographs, both past and present, has been simply to make a living by appealing to the tourist market.10 Though documenting the Holy Land in the colonial era was never an innocent, legitimate act, some of these photographs are important and still referenced today. For example, the German Army conducted comprehensive aerial documentation capturing over 2,800 aerial and landscape photographs of the city and Palestine during World War I—now available in the Central Archives of the Bavarian State Survey Office,11 their aim at the time being to provide accurate information about the movements of British troops in the region. Researchers have continued to refer to this unique archive as it provides detailed information about the geography of Palestine before the Nakba,12 including some of the many Palestinian villages subsequently obliterated in the process of establishing the State of Israel. In contrast, the goal of Orientalist institutions, such as the Palestine Exploration Fund, responsible for wide-scale archeological research, was to strengthen biblical stories with archeological “discoveries”13 emphasising in the process the Zionist narrative and paving the way for the realisation of the next wave of colonial agendas in Palestine. With this in mind, a camera in one hand and the archival photographs in the other, Persekian toured the city in search of the sites from which the original images were taken. Finding their exact locations was complex given the old city’s topography having changed acutely over time. By circumventing these challenges and aligning the angles he took a series of new photographs showing what has become of old Jerusalem in the present day. l

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‘One Hundred Years’ On: The Worn Away Mask of Jerusalem

Persekian’s superimposition of the old and new photographs or side-by-side is not intended to compare or contrast the past and present aesthetics of the locations but rather to emphasise the historical transformations that have taken place. In doing so, the past resonates vividly and allows space for contemplation of the city’s current reality which continues to change at a rapid pace—Persekian offers an opportunity for reflection upon the political changes and the upheavals of the twentieth century, yet with an eye to the future. Walter Benjamin notes that a “painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, [while] the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web.”14 Through this project, Persekian probes the core of the original photographs and delivers them to a contemporary reality. The subtle contrast in the heart of these images is not between the old and new, but between the past, today’s reality and the many layers of colonial history that exist in-between. In Al Wad – Khan El Zeit Junction (2017), Persekian places his contemporary image over the original hand-coloured photograph of a major Old City junction, creating a strange and austere new world where Orientalist romance meets present day reality, being both deceptively simple in its execution and disturbing in its suggestion. This image in particular, in which a soldier’s post makes an appearance in the contemporary photo, brings to mind Persekian’s previous project In the Presence of the Holy See (2014) and demonstrates the bleak and mundane existence of the city’s occupation by Israel. Confronted by this actuality, the historic photographs also reveal their hidden motives, which can clearly be seen in Outside Damascus Gate (2017) and Herod’s Gate (2017), where their Orientalist features are suddenly exposed. The panoramic view of   Jerusalem from Slopes of Scopus (2017) subtly shows the major transformations of what has become of the Jewish Quarter since 1967. While the original 1930s photograph shows buildings fusing harmoniously with their surroundings, a striking contrast appears in the present day image as modern buildings have replaced their demolished, historic forerunners. The collocation of these two specific photographs brings the shadows of what was a continuous natural development of past Arab, Muslim, Christian and Jewish cohabitation of the quarter, to haunt the image of the neighborhood completely erased and replaced with new dwellings. This work reminds us of the city’s past, which at the height of Ottoman rule was inclusive, where people belonged regardless of their backgrounds, religions or ethnicities.15   In contrast, looking carefully at the horizon that runs through several of the images, the urbanisation of the western side of the city is conspicuous, as is the underdevelopment of the eastern side where Palestinians reside. Although subtlely apparent, the policies introduced to suppress the Palestinian presence are clearly noticeable. Persekian stealthily inserts his contemporary vision into the old images, conveying them into the present time as a confirmation of the ongoing life of Jerusalem. Digging through the many layers of its history might be the task of an archeologist at the Albright Institute for Archeological Research, where the project was exhibited initially. However, Persekian gives the viewer the chance to become archeologists themselves, encouraging their discovery of what has taken place over the past century and how the seeds of colonialism have grown slowly into a system that has tightened its grip over the city’s future. Persekian’s practice is rooted in using photo-collage, a technique dominant in his two most recent projects. Through superimposition, he has created a singular and often surreal image that subverts the original view. While it requires a conscious effort to perceive both images as two separate photographs, part of this project is presented with transparent and translucent slides, allowing the audience control of the collage process by freely moving the two images apart and bringing them back

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together. Displayed inside illuminated boxes, each work consists of the new coloured image on top of the original black-and-white image, forming a scene that can be viewed as a single work, or explored separately, moving between the two images and different realities. The edges of the archival photographs, the inscriptions at the bottom or at the top, as well as their backgrounds appear throughout in what seems an expression of longing for the textures and aesthetics of traditional photographic processes now lost to the digital era. Persekian has stated that he is attracted to photographic collage for the “dissonance” it creates. He compares it with “counterpoint” in music, where two musical tunes with strong independent identities create a third or perhaps a fourth tune when played together. His interest comes from the unexpected outcome of the combination of two photographs from different times. He notes, “You always get something new, a different meaning, yet it remains part of the overall structure and balance between the two moments in time and the many years in between.”16 Since this project invites the people of Jerusalem to reassess their relationship with the city and observe the daily details that go unnoticed around them, it was essential that it be exhibited in a public space. The garden of the Albright Institute of Archeological Research, off a main thoroughfare in the eastern part of the city, was the perfect location to attract Jerusalemites strolling through the heart of the city, thus creating direct exchange and wide engagement with its residents. His previous project, In the Presence of the Holy See, also presented in a public space, was based on his conviction that art should converse with the public in the street rather than with the elite in a white cube, without compromising quality or creativity. As he says, “I am a bit apprehensive presenting art in a venue that resembles an adulated place, therefore, I prefer to exhibit my work in public spaces which are different in nature and essence to where artworks are normally exhibited.”17 In his opinion, the public should be able to assess, comprehend and enjoy the work, realising that these conditions offer no shelter for feeble artworks in disguise. These artworks are executed on a smaller scale in comparison to In the Presence of the Holy See, which were displayed on huge billboards in Manger Square in Bethlehem on the occasion of Pope Francis’s visit to Palestine in 2014. At about 80cm. x 110 cm. each, exhibited in light boxes on tables, they are ideal for display in a public space—curious faces could be seen gazing through the transparent photographs, comparing the details with great interest.   Considering that one hundred years have passed since Matson walked around the city looking for locations to photograph, if alive today what would he document? Imagery similar to Persekian’s that reflects the current reality of the city—the Light Rail, the tourists passing by New Gate and the changes in the Jewish Quarter, or would he preserve the biblical narrative? While Persekian has not created this series to appeal to the tourist market he nevertheless has used historical archives to create a new portrayal of Jerusalem. The duality of his approach, an aesthetic quality that reflects the intrinsic beauty of the city and an exploration of its details, succeeds in wearing away its mask of history, revealing the hidden narratives behind what would seem to be innocent photographs for sale in souvenir shops.

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Notes 1 Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Paton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, p. 73 2 Under British protection, the Jewish population of Palestine grew from 56,000 in 1917 to 174,000 by 1931, to 553,600 in 1944. See Walid Khalidi, ‘The Hebrew Reconquista of Palestine’, The Journal of Palestine Studies, 2009/2010, Volume 39, p. 24 3 The protests in 1933 took place in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa and Nablus. For details of the Jerusalem demonstration see, Tali Hatuka, ‘Negotiating Space: Analysing Jaffa Protest Form, Intention and Violence, October 27th 1933’, Jerusalem Quarterly, issue 35, 2008, p. 9 4 The American Colony was a utopian Christian community formed by religious pilgrims who immigrated to Jerusalem from the USA and Sweden. Further information can be found at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/matpc/colony.html 5 Since 1967 until 2001, around 47,000 residential units were built for Jews on confiscated Palestinian private land and not a single residential unit for Palestinian residents who form one third of Jerusalem’s population. See B’Tselem’s statistics on Jerusalem at http://www.btselem.org/jerusalem 6 The Balfour Declaration in 1917 promised a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine as part of the British Empire’s policy to dominate the strategic region and its immense oil wealth. See Etienne Balibar and Jean-Marc Levy-Leblond, ‘A Mediterranean way for peace in Israel-Palestine?’ Radical Philosophy, Nov/Dec 2006; https://www.radicalphilosophy. com/wp-content/files_mf/rp140_commentary1_amediterraneanwayforpeaceinisraelpalestine_balibart_lévy_leblond.pdf 7

Read more about the Matson Photograph Collection; http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/matpc/background.html

8

For further reading see Diana Muir, ‘A Land without a People for a People without a Land’, Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2008, pp. 55-62; http://www.meforum.org/1877/a-land-without-a-people-for-a-people-without 9

Edward Said, Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books, 1979, p. 3

10

Michelle Woodward, ‘Orientalism in Photography’, see http://www.photorientalist.org/about/orientalist-photography/

11

See Nada Atrash, ‘Mapping Palestine: The Bavarian Air Force WWI Aerial Photography’, Jerusalem Quarterly Winter/ Spring 2014, issue 56, p. 95 12

The landmark year of 1948, which witnessed the displacement of over sixty percent of the Palestinian population

13

Laura Robson, ‘Archeology and Mission: The British Presence in nineteenth century Jerusalem’, Jerusalem Quarterly, Winter 2009, issue 40, p. 14 14

Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, Hannah Arendt (ed.), trans. Harry Zohn, New York: Schocken/Random House, 1969

15

“The Ottomans scrupulously continued the Muslim tradition of tolerance toward Christian religious interests in Palestine. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem was acknowledged in the sixteenth century as the custodian of the Christian holy places, and from about the same time France became the guardian of the Latin clergy. Like earlier Muslim powers, the Ottoman Empire opened its gates to hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Spain and other parts of Christendom. But the vast majority, as in the earlier centuries after the Crusades, did not choose to live in Palestine.” See Walid Khalidi, Before Their Diaspora: A photographic history of the Palestinians, 1876-1948, The Institute of Palestine Studies, pp. 27-35

16

Conversation with Jack Persekian, Ramallah, 9 September 2017

17

Ibid.

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Sounding Out Beijing’s Past and Present

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Before the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, all civic housing in Beijing was limited to one storey with uniform grey walls and roofs, arranged in a grid radiating away from the Forbidden City and enclosed by an imposing wall. Old Beijing was based on a very specific idea of order. Only Imperial or religious buildings were allowed colour, following a strict code. Within this grid each house was its own enclosure, a series of courtyards within a wall, like a miniature version of the city. These courtyard houses were linked together by a series of narrow lanes called “hutongs”, punctuated by parks and temples. A hundred years later, Beijing is an unwieldy city of over twenty million people, six ring roads and twenty subway lines. Although the idea of the grid still exists, each walled enclosure might now contain a government complex, a residential compound of over 10,000 residents or a massive shopping mall. It is becoming so immense that the Chinese government is building a new city, Xiongan, nearly three times the size of New York City, simply to accommodate Beijing’s overspill. There are thirty lane highways leading in and out of Beijing, and one particular traffic jam in 2010 stretched for over sixty kilometres and lasted more than ten days.1 A mental image of Beijing that used to conjure up the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven, now equally brings to mind staggering air pollution and the city as an unruly monster, hardly the mirror image of celestial order. The historical ruptures that took place between the drastically different Beijings of then and now are overwhelming to contemplate, from the Chinese Revolution that toppled China’s last Imperial dynasty to the Japanese occupation before and during the Second World War; from the 1949 Communist victory to the calamity of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76)—every seismic historical change created fundamental rifts in Beijing’s cultural and material fabric. The clashing disorderliness of the city today is a sharp reflection of that historical chaos. While these momentous times have been well documented and researched by academics, as an artist I am more interested in discovering how to represent a myriad of subjective experiences of such times, of a personal experience of history from multiple perspectives without resorting to a documentary approach. It seems that the answer is to attempt entering into a new kind of dialogue with residents of Beijing, to create a kind of social sculpture. But how to achieve that? A resolution began to slowly emerge years before I considered this exploration. In 2005 while working for the British Council’s Beijing office I initiated a project called Sound and the City, for which four British musicians were invited to come to Beijing to experience its sound environment and to use these experiences to make sound pieces. Each musician had to approach their proposal from a different perspective. Although I set out to produce an alternative project aimed at Beijing’s art and music professionals, the ensuing content received limited feedback from that demographic; instead it attracted enthusiastic attention from mainstream media. As a result, organisations made contact about the possibilities of sound design in parks, museums and city planning. It was as if the medium of sound might open up a conduit between contemporary culture and everyday life, illuminating a new sense of possibility for people who know little about art. This was both inspiring and perplexing; an analysis of the project’s outcomes being instructive. The invited musicians were Clive Bell, Peter Cusack, Brian Eno and David Toop. Clive Bell was fascinated by China’s unconditional surrender to the sentimental kitsch of Chinese pop, that Chinese people love to sing in the streets without any hint of self-consciousness. He took ten of the most popular songs in China at that time and created cover versions using instruments he had collected from across the world, plus those he bought at the panjiayuan antiques market in Beijing. Bell rearranged the music so that it would be personalised but still instantly recognisable to those who knew the songs, and invited experimental musicians to play and sing with him. His cover interpretations were then produced as a CD and freely distributed to music shops around Beijing, to be played in the streets together with

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their antecedent Chinese songs. Although it was impossible to verify how often or even whether the music shops actually played his CD, his idea grasped the spirit of what sound means to a city in the way it is lived. Regardless of pop music’s monopoly on Chinese music culture, what it meant for people’s lives and how it formed part of their experience was relevant to how they and sound interacted in the city. Peter Cusack used a radio station to mount a public competition titled ‘Your Favourite Beijing Sounds’, for which he invited listeners to think of city sounds they liked the most. The response was compelling as many people, plus mainstream media outlets, realised that sound carries extensive personal, cultural and emotional information. Brian Eno created a sound installation in Ritan Park (Temple of the Sun) using sixteen CD players placed around the wall that circles the alter to the sun. Each CD played bell sounds at random, of different pitches and intervals, combinations and directions. Even though the sounds created were based on an historic Russian bell, the complete effect was inexplicably Chinese. The soft bell sounds were the perfect sensorial foil to the park’s red wall, pine and cypress trees, and elderly men flying kites. David Toop devised a sound installation in a building specifically created in Sun Yatsen Park next to the Forbidden City, combining the sounds he recorded during his stay in Beijing with abstract electronic compositions to create an uncanny acoustic world—part old Beijing, part unknown future. Although there was no follow-through with post-project overtures, Sound and the City was a breakthrough venture, both in terms of personal curatorial thinking and exploring new possibilities for the medium. Sound was not utilised in my subsequent artworks or curatorial projects, as it was considered incomplete as a suitable structure in the broader cultural sense for it to become meaningful.

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I was subsequently invited to consult upon the content of the new Shijia Hutong Museum, of which I had a special relationship as it occupied my family’s old courtyard home in Beijing. Owing to the aforementioned historical changes, our home passed into the hands of the government—even though it was returned to us in name, it was never returned in actuality. After a strange sequence of events, The Prince’s Trust (co-founded by Prince Charles) funded the construction of a museum on these premises for their only project outside the United Kingdom. As part of the consultation process I recalled Sound and the City and the importance of sound in traditional Beijing culture, and so proposed that recordings of old Beijing be included in the museum. Upon reflection this presented an almost impossible realisation, to create a history of Beijing only through sound. One element of approach was contingent upon the fact that much of traditional Beijing’s culture has disappeared and what little remains is in the rapid process of being lost forever. The objective of recording vanishing sounds had cultural meaning, but lacked contemporary relevance. Neither a historian nor a cultural heritage researcher, I am devoted to the present. In considering this focus of past sounds and how they relate to living people’s memory, it occurred to me while listening to Sound and the City, that the musicians would acknowledge how sound became embodied as part of people’s living memory, and therefore part of the present. For me one distinctive sound was the ubiquitous taxi-metre jingle heard in Beijing taxis at that time. Hearing the recording in 2013, my memory was transferred back to 2005, a miniature Proustian experience, triggering buried emotional memories. I calculated that if I could faithfully record certain sounds it might trigger similar experiences for other people. Thus sound would be a conduit, and the emotional memory the substance.

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This concept turned on its head the notion of the historical, as history is usually understood as the endeavor to discover or at least approach degrees of objective truth. This approach had the opposite effect, where a particular sound would trigger a completely subjective experience, likely incapable of being shared with another person. If a history of Beijing might be possible based on the premise of using only sound, it would mean something completely different for every Beijing resident. This would therefore approach the notion of a social sculpture, though it would be partisan—as only individual people would be the receivers of its purpose. For past sounds to be faithfully recreated it would require the participation of those who created them. This assistance would be a crucial element for the work to be meaningful in a social sense, as it would necessarily involve people of all ages and walks of life, creating multiple layers of experience, reaching back in time while based in the present. Owing to the urgency of some traditions bordering on extinction, the project was initiated with capturing the sounds of old Beijing, of a time when the framework of traditional culture remained unscathed before the Communist Party took over in 1949. Old Beijing’s culture was unique in that it was saturated with sound—the countless variations of street hawking, and the keeping of song birds. Existing all over China, especially in Beijing due to the large number of people who had money and free time to explore and refine eccentric amusements, one of these bird keeping pursuits was pigeon fancying. While pigeon fanciers around the world concentrate on the bird’s looks or speed, in Beijing whistles were attached to them so that they made an extraordinarily, beautiful sound when flying in a group. Many Beijing pigeon fanciers bred numerous kinds of pigeons, while others specifically made different types of pigeon whistles. Of these, some were straightforward, consisting of two bamboo shafts each producing a different tone, but more complex whistles were made from small gourds, consisting of as many as fourteen whistles, some specifically angled for the air produced by the pigeon’s beating wings. There were master whistle-makers whose work included elegant jade or ivory ornamentation that have since become collectors’ items. While the popularity of this tradition had survived the Cultural Revolution for more than thirty years, it is now in steep decline as many people complain that pigeons are a health risk, and their whistles sources of noise pollution. Pigeon whistles are now collected as ornaments, this pursuit divorced from the quality of the sounds they create. Similarly, the keeping of songbirds is diminishing. Once a beautiful feature of every city’s soundscape, the government has since passed a law prohibiting their private ownership, as all Chinese domestic bird species are now classified as wild animals, bringing this grand tradition to an abrupt end. Beijing bird owners trained their songbirds to extreme lengths. Perhaps the most extraordinary example of this was the training of the lark to imitate a repertoire of thirteen different sounds, from a knot of sparrows in a tree to the sound of a creaky-wheeled barrel, of cats, dogs, and other species of songbird, all recited in a strict order. Such a bird might take several years of patient work to train, and their proud owners would invite select audiences to attend recitals (while searching them for cameras and recording devices, to avoid a competitor stealing his hard work). Street hawking declined in the early years of the People’s Republic as private businesses were co-opted by government-run shops that provided fixed incomes. The selling of each type of service and goods used to have a definite song or sound associated with it, so that it would be instantly recognisable from a distance. Now these songs are performed at temple fairs or television variety shows, mostly theatrically embellished shadows of the originals. In recent years the last group of elderly street hawkers have either passed away or became seriously ill. Without their living memory, future recordings or performances would lack historical validity. The importance of being able to accurately recreate the sound environments from that period will become invaluable for a cultural history that has been largely l

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neglected. Though ‘old Beijing’ seems like an extinct culture well beyond the reach of the city’s new generations, it nonetheless attracts young followers eager for new experiences. Correspondingly, the early period of Communist China is just as important—cultural sounds were largely replaced by those ideological, as the Communist Party sought to transform society through mass mobilisation. One such movement was the Great Sparrow Campaign, officially known as the Four Pests Campaign (1958-62), that aimed to eradicate all sparrows (along with rats, flies and mosquitoes), as part of the Great Leap Forward. Sparrows were identified for extermination to promote hygiene and reduce hunger, as they ate grain and fruit, which reduced crop yields. Chairman Mao Zedong, acting against the advice of scientists, mobilised the masses with military precision; people in cities and the countryside were synchronised into action to ensure the sparrow’s complete destruction. Citizens of all ages, without respite, screamed and shouted, banged gongs, pots and pans, waved flags, and used sticks to hit trees, preventing the sparrows from perching anywhere such that they fell dead to the ground from exhaustion. Thousands of free-fire zones were created for people to shoot them. Schools, factories and army units were mobilised in a total war until the sparrows had all but become extinct in China. In social and environmental terms, the campaign was catastrophic. The eradication of the sparrows gave insects free reign over the countryside, decimating crops, the eventuating ecological imbalance contributing to the Great Famine (1959-61) in which an estimated thirty to forty million people died of starvation. By 1960 even Chairman Mao had to change course, ironically having to import sparrows from the Soviet Union.2 In terms of sound, it would have been the most spectacular pandemonium—a whole species of animal exterminated using largely sound. One of the biggest challenges of my project has been how to reenact such historical scenes with sufficient accuracy. In the Great Sparrow Campaign, the sounds would have come from all directions, screaming and shouting, with the clanging of metallic objects and distant gunshots mixed with the more subtle sounds of flags waving. Many people would have been involved, but how to source and organise survivors from that generation to take part in such a bizarre recreation, given that the end product would simply be the making of sound? Several cultural heritage organisations were interested in providing funding, but their participation would have clearly identified this as a heritage project, steering its content towards that outcome, whereas the project was envisioned to produce an artwork —its financial independence being central to its existence, as well as artistic merit. For the project to have meaning, it would need to engage audiences in a new way, and a wider section of society. For this to be possible, it would be important to understand China’s zeitgeist at this point in time. Looking back upon art history, Andy Warhol removed the barriers between high and pop art at a juncture when it was no longer viable to ignore the power of popular and commercial culture upon society. Christo and Jeanne-Claude took art out of the museum by realising exciting projects in the public realm, and the YBAs (Young British artists) created controversies that electrified the previous static relationship between art and public. In no way attempting to create the kind of authority of these artists, my project might at least attempt to recognise points of rupture. These previous art historical precedents appeared in the post-industrial Western world, where highly educated publics were open to new forms of artistic expression. In China, the existence of contemporary art has only just begun to enter the public realm, as private museum projects are flourishing, though without major institutions such as The Tate or Museum of Modern Art to guide public tastes; the formal aesthetics of contemporary art would mostly therefore be for professionals. The space where new possibilities are opening up is the Internet—given the tightly controlled mass media in China, increasing numbers of young people are using the Internet as a space for exploration. In particular, live streaming has become an increasingly

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popular agency through which people express themselves. The Internet economy has also become immense, creating a generation of Wang Hong or Internet celebrities who accumulate tens of millions of online fans, which translates into revenues that equal or perhaps even surpass the earnings of top Chinese film stars.3 While a vast majority of these celebrities rely on fashion and lifestyle, an alternative culture is growing among this hierarchy, cultivating a generation of young people who want something different and unobtainable from mainstream media. Reflecting upon the project Sound and the City, it was perceived as alternative and experimental, attracting mainstream interest due to its content linking sound with real life experience. By making a history of Beijing using only sound, it established a framework that enhanced that link between life and sound, and as a result it created intense interest. Using an alliteration that would be instantly recognisable, I titled the new project Sound Museum, and began making appearances on television and popular Internet platforms. One particular mini-documentary produced by the WeChat media platform Sola received over a eleven million views, with the reality TV show viewership (both at the time of writing) now at 110 million views, presenting further consideration of the Internet as a site for developing an extensive audience. In conducting interviews and sound recording sessions through live streaming, with edited content for traditional video platforms, this approach allowed people to see the whole project develop in real time, including research and re-enactments. The project’s development would be the work itself, live streaming sessions enabling interaction with audiences, for research leads and resources, volunteers and crowd funding for larger recording projects. Sound Museum would thereby become part of the Internet economy by sourcing all project resources from netizens via online platforms. Yet the interactivity of the entire project cannot be restricted to historical times. Contemporary sound is just as important in understanding our relationship with the historical. Although there are many field recordists globally documenting contemporary sounds, including all major Chinese cities, there are few projects which seek non-professionals to make recordings themselves. The interactivity of live streaming is the perfect vehicle for asking netizens to search for interesting sounds in their city. In combination with the historical, contemporary sound becomes part of a much larger cultural context. The latter need not be restricted to any geological location, as there is no specific culture or history attached to them. What constitutes compelling sounds in different cultural or urban contexts is often unexplored, and while most artistic projects focus on the audience, here the endeavour concentrates on the experience of people who are interested in exploring their local environments for these engaging, stimulating sounds. The straightforward proposition advanced by Peter Cusack’s original London project transposed to Beijing, asked people to nominate their favourite sound. The results from both London and Beijing are a fascinating mix of the very ordinary and extraordinary. Like the taxi meter sound that triggered an emotional memory for me, many ordinary sounds can mean more to one’s everyday experience than might be considered. I am currently working towards projects involving local communities in different parts of the world—the challenge is to determine what their precise outcomes might be, and to the meaning and importance that sound has for different people. Notes 1 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/aug/24/china-60-mile-motorway-tailback 2

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-36802769

3

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-36802769

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Page 20 Image courtesy http://neoavantgarde.de/diedocumenta-14/ from the article ‘Die documenta 14 zwischen Kritik, Krise, Politik und Zusammenhalt’. The announcement of the fourteenth edition of documenta’s dual-siting met immediate controversy. Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis struck the original note in 2015, in a violent aside that never ceased to shadow the exhibition: “It’s a gimmick by which to exploit the tragedy in Athens in order to massage the consciences of some people from documenta. It’s like rich Americans taking a tour in a poor African country, doing a safari, going on a humanitarian tourism crusade.” Documenta’s project, he added in a later interview, was “neocolonial” and “extractive”, pretending to distribute resources across the eurozone… in Athens in late June, anti-documenta posters and graffiti papered city walls and museum entrances… in front of the Conservatoire. “Dear Documenta,” read one: “I refuse to exoticise myself to increase your cultural capital.” “Dear Documenta,” went another: “It must be nice to critique capitalism etc. with a 38 million euro budget.” Another offered a questionnaire. “Documenta is like: A) The World’s Fair B) The Eurogroup C) The Eurovision D) All of the Above.” Around the corner from the Benaki Museum, a message was scrawled across an abandoned car, a detournement of documenta’s title, “Learning from Athens,” spun to “Yearning for Athens.” “Crapumenta,” “Learning from Capitalism,” and “Earning from Athens” all showed up repeatedly… It was hard not to feel a frisson of glee, observing each minor obstruction, each new encounter of anti-documenta street art, fragmented through the city like advertising, or some faint cubist silhouette. William Harris, ‘Obscurity of Purpose, Immediacy of Experience’; https://nplusonemag.com/online-only/online-only/ obscurity-of-purpose-immediacy-of-experience/

Page 23 ‘magraki LD50’ magraki Saturday morning, Dalston. The #LD50 gallery in London has been accused of secretly hosting the so-called alt right and of curating white supremacists… protesters demanded its closure. https://www.instagram.com/p/BRBgOujAaL1/?taken -at=849011504

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Page 25 Image courtesy http://www.independent.co.uk/ news/uk/home-news/ld50-gallery-protestlucia-diego-donald-trump-alt-right-hackneydalston-a7596346.html. A cartoon frog often used by supporters of Donald Trump has been declared a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League, because of its popularity with white supremacists from the “alt right” movement. The character, called Pepe the Frog or the “sad frog,” is often depicted as a squinty-eyed amphibian with wide, red lips pressed together in a sort of grimace. The character was originally designed in 2005 as a non-racist, humorous meme, and circulated through the Reddit, 4chan and 8chan communities. Trump tweeted an image of Pepe from his Twitter account last October, showing the frog with Trump’s signature hairstyle, standing in front of a podium as President of the United States. 28 September, 2016; http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/ popular-trump-meme-pepe-the-frog-labelled-hatesymbol-1.3092496

Page 28 Top: China’s Communist Party is getting into app development… with dozens of apps to educate and promote social networking among party members… China’s communist leaders are increasingly treating the internet as a crucial battlefield… to reach—and control—the youngest and most connected of its 90 million party members. ‘The Communist App Store: China’s endless apps for tracking, organising, and motivating party members’; https://qz.com/ 1089384/the-communist-app-store-chinas-endlessapps-for-tracking-organizing-and-motivating-partymembers/ Bottom: Ma Desheng and the members of the Stars Group gathered on the balcony of the National Art Museum of China, 1980; http:// artasiapacific.com/Magazine/87/EternalSpring

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Pages 32, 35, 36 Ho Tzu Nyen, The Nameless (video stills), 2015 Photos courtesy the artist From the films City of Sadness, Hou Hsiao Hsien, 1989; Bullet in the Head, John Woo, 1990; Days of Being Wild, Wong Kar Wai, 1990; Hard Boiled, John Woo, 1992; Ashes of Time, Wong Kar Wai, 1994; Chungking Express, Wong Kar Wai, 1994; Xich lo (Cyclo), Tran Anh Hung, 1995; Happy Together, Wong Kar Wai, 1997; The Longest Nite, Patrick Yau, 1998; In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar Wai, 2000; Infernal Affairs (Part 1), Andrew Lau/Alan Mak, 2002; 2046, Wong Kar Wai, 2004; Lust Caution, Ang Lee, 2007; The Great Magician,Yee Tung-Shing, 2011; The Silent War, Felix Chong/Alan Mak, 2012; The Grandmaster, Wong Kar Wai, 2013. Of all the great cinematic cultures of the world, it is perhaps Hong Kong cinema that has shown the most intense fascination with ‘comprised’ individuals… By overlaying multiple languages and compiling images of a single actor against different Asian films made between 1989 and 2013, The Nameless attempts to represent the historical, shifting, multifaceted figure as one who not only influenced a crucial period of Malayan history, but also as one who embodies the layered historical and ideological complexities of Southeast Asia; https://www.artbasel.com/catalog/artwork/39155/ Ho-Tzu-Nyen-The-Nameless#&gid=1&pid=1


Page 39 No definitive photos of Lai Teck exist, matching his enigmatic history. This image, purportedly of him, was sourced from both http://www.payer. de/thailandchronik/chronik1947.htm and http:// minhduc7.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/ly-quang-dieuva-chinh-sach-ngan-ngua.html

Page 47 Chim↑Pom, Super Rat (Diorama Shinjuku), 2016 Photo courtesy the artists and Chim↑Pom Studio, Tokyo. ‘Super Rat’ is a name coined by pest controllers for a new breed of poison-immune rat proliferating explosively in urban areas. The artists found the Super Rats’ ever-evolving ways of coexisting with human beings to be symbols of themselves as well as Japanese people who live in the midst of radioactive contamination and people who face hardship in society around the world. http://chimpom.jp/project/superrat.html Page 51 Meiro Koizumi, Air, 2016 Photos courtesy the artist, Mujin-to Production, Tokyo and Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam.

Pages 40, 43 Meiro Koizumi, Air, 2016 Photos courtesy the artist, Mujin-to Production, Tokyo and Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam. AIR is the title of series of artworks Koizumi created for the current exhibition, MOT Annual 2016: Loose Lips Save Ships at Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), but was not realised to exhibit. After consultation between the artist and MOT, Koizumi decided to leave only a caption of the artwork on display to show a trace of his self-censorship… Koizumi created the work AIR, a portrait of the Emperor of Japan, for the exhibition and in the MOT exhibition leaflet it is introduced as a work born out of dilemma that he can ideate with neither a man nor a taboo… In the society we are living in, self-censorship and regulation are carried out in various situations across genre… We should not continue being innocent bystanders and satisfied with provided information against such regulation and censorship. Mujin-to Production, http://www.mujin-to.com/ press/koizumi_2016_air_en.htm

Page 49 Meiro Koizumi, Rite for a dream – Today my empire sings (video still/installation view/video still), 2016 Photos courtesy the artist, Mujin-to Production, Tokyo and Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam. The scene was shot at the annual anti-Emperor demonstration that takes place every August 15th. In opposition to the anti-Emperor rally of 200 demonstrators, proto-fascist nationalists from all over Japan gathered and tried to stop the demonstration… I use this particular scene to depict my own childhood nightmare, in which my father was caught by the police to be sacrificed for the survival of the community. This echoes the stories of other father-figures, such as Jesus Christ and the Emperor, who are destined to be sacrificed to keep the higher order. Meiro Koizumi, http://www.asianartbiennial. org/2017/content /EN/ArtistDetailaspx?enc= 98E75B5289C49565056DF5CBEC9B17F7

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Page 52 Halil Altındere, Homeland (installation view), 2016 Photo courtesy the artist and Pilot Gallery, Istanbul. HD video, color, sound, 10’6” Vocals and lyrics Mohammad Abu Hajar Music Nguzunguzu Commissioned and co-produced by Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art. With the support of SAHA Association. Halil Altındere takes a timely, topical, and often irreverent approach to questions of marginalisation, repression and political resistance. His projects have ranged from manipulating official documents and symbols such as passports and flags to creating a music video in collaboration with the hip-hop group Tahribad-i İsyan, who rap about inequality and gentrification in their Istanbul neighborhood. Can art respond to a global situation as divisive and critical, and with effects so polarising and shifting as the current migrant crisis? Blending realism and humor, Altındere’s new video Homeland, shot in Turkey and Germany, incorporates scenes based on real-life footage to address the crisis engulfing Turkey and the globe… The video ends at Oranienplatz in BerlinKreuzberg, where refugees lived and protested in self-built tents for two years. In the context of Berlin, a refugee destination and a political centre where Europe’s response to the crisis is forged, Altındere’s document uses the driving rhythm and street cred of rap to spotlight the experience of forced migration. http://www.saha.org.tr/en/ projects/project/halil-altindere


Page 55 Halil Altındere, Mini Faris, 2016 Photo courtesy the artist and Pilot Gallery, Istanbul

Page 56 Halil Altındere, Homeland (video stills), 2016 Photos courtesy the artist and Pilot Gallery, Istanbul Among the artists at this year’s Berlin Biennale was Halil Altındere, a Turkish artist who partnered with well-known Syrian rapper Mohammad Abu Hajar. His artwork is a music video that took a pointed look at the refugee crisis in Germany. “I thought, okay, let’s just explode everything and I started writing what I was trying to tell people, that if you connect the story of Syrians and other people that had to flee, if you connect it from the early beginning until they are in Germany you maybe get over those supremacist attitudes of just treating us as refugees,” said Abu Hajar… Abu Hajar himself is a refugee, having fled Syria in 2012 because of his outspoken political views against the Assad regime. He doesn’t like to be called a refugee and his work for the Biennale tries to highlight this. “I didn’t choose to be a refugee. I was not born as a refugee, so I’m something else and I wish that people would just see that I’m a human being before being a refugee,” said Abu Hajar. https://globalnews.ca/news/3086401/art-as-themessage-refugee-experience-in-the-digital-ageon-display-at-berlin-biennale/

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Page 59 Halil Altındere, Wonderland (video stills), 2013 Photos courtesy the artist and Pilot Gallery, Istanbul. In 2009, three pubescent boys from Istanbul’s west side felt crushed under the government’s unlawful actions and started rapping together in response. Then 15-year-olds Asil (Slang),Veysi (V.Z.), and Burak (Zen-g), from Romani, Kurdish, and Eastern Anatolian backgrounds respectively, had been watching Sulukule get torn down for an “urban transformation project” over the last few years, and they felt a strong urge to tell their side of the story. By the time the band came up with its first song, new construction equipment was already maneuvering into the spaces that once contained their friends’ houses, making way for government-associated, expensive apartments the families from Sulukule could rarely afford. The historical neighborhood had been home to Romani people for over 600 years… Although Tahribad’s eponymous first album is released with a major Turkish record label, its lyrics are critical of the government in a way that no one else dares to explore in post-coup crackdown Turkey… In 2013, their first video with Altındere, Wonderland, was shown at the Istanbul Biennial, and met with critical acclaim. From there, the video went to London’s Serpentine Gallery, and MoMA PS1, and eventually acquired by MoMA. “Wonderland spoke not just for Istanbul, but many other metropolises around the world, dealing with the same gentrification process at that very moment,” Altındere says of the video’s success. “Their songs right now could easily apply to the EU in the face of refugee crisis, or post-Trump America, as much as they do to the political situation in Turkey.” Wonderland created a domino effect for all the artistic collaborations that came after… While talking to Tahribad, the idea of art as a weapon comes up a lot (“we resist by making our art,”), as does the importance of intergenerationality. All three band members teach writing and hip-hop dance classes to Sulukule’s remaining Romani children, as well as Syrian refugee children in Istanbul. “In the middle of the turmoil and displacement, we think, maybe there is a way out for them in hip-hop. A way that might eventually help them get out of poverty.” https://i-d.vice.com/en_au/article/kzwawa/howa-gen-z-rap-group-from-istanbul-becamethe-definitive-voice-of-turkish-youth

Page 62 Agan Harahap, from the series Mardijker Photo Studio, 2015 Photo courtesy the artist Harahap reworks archival photographs to present fictive portraits of the Mardijkers, a community of descendants of freed slaves found in major cities in the East Indies (present-day Indonesia). Comprising indigenous people from conquered Portuguese territories, as well as people of Portuguese ancestry, the Mardijkers occupied an in-between status: despite adopting European religion and culture, they were classed with the ‘natives’ by the colonial government. The superimposition of European faces on ‘native’ bodies, and vice versa, captures the fluidity and instability of identities within this community, a situation which the artist views as analogous to contemporary Indonesia’s negotiation with ‘global’ culture. In this series of arresting and enigmatic portraits, some subjects appear to adopt foreign dress and ways of life confidently, while others reveal their uncertainty or hesitation. These images also comment on colonial photography, which often exoticised its subjects, as well as our expectations of the photographic image as ‘truth’ and ‘document’. 2016 Singapore Biennale: An Atlas of Mirrors; https:// www.singaporebiennale.org/agan-harahap.php

Page 65 Titarubi, History Repeats Itself, 2016 Photo 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 burnt-out ships in this installation recall the ominous appearance of European armadas on the horizon during the early centuries of European colonialism.…They are spectres from the past, a dark mirror to our present. 2016 Singapore Biennale: An Atlas of Mirrors, https://www.singaporebiennale.org/titarubi.php

140 — december / 2017


Page 70 Halil Altındere, Köfte Airlines, 2016 Photo courtesy the artist and Pilot Gallery, Istanbul

Pages 66, 67 Ho Tzu Nyen, The Nameless (video stills), 2015 Photos courtesy the artist At the heart of Ho’s films is an observation of history; more specifically, a weaving of fact and myth to unravel and reveal what one is told versus what one believes to know, interprets and remembers. Ho’s work may be described as a “dense constellation of particles—constantly shifting shape” giving way to new layers, discoveries—elements of interpretation. A rich fabric of references, historical, art historical, technically and musically, Ho’s work is one of multiple engagements, readings and experiences. Careful and deliberate, his practice sits on the cusp of investigative research, the work of a true scholar, and that of a proficient as well as articulate narrator. https://edouardmalingue.com/artists/ ho-tzu-nyen/

Pages 68, 69 Top: Chim↑Pom, So see you again tomorrow, too? (installation view), 2016 Photo courtesy the artists and Chim↑Pom Studio, Tokyo So see you again tomorrow, too? 15-31 October, 2016, Kabukicho Promotion Association Building 1-19-3, Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0021 Web: chimpomparty.com Chim↑Pom statement: Tokyo’s landscape has drastically started to change in the past few years. While Kabukicho is launching a district-wide reconstruction, Shibuya’s PARCO and Tokyo’s oldest station Harajuku are undergoing renovations, not to mention the constant construction taking place in Shinjuku and Shibuya Station. Coupled with anti-earthquake procedures taken after March 11th, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has rolled out a major remodelling plan for the city. The cliché of “rebuilding the city by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics” is being touted as the pretext for everything, aside from just supporting the athletes. In fact, the National Stadium reconstruction issue symbolised this tendency. Why does it have to be by the Olympics in the first place? Some express concern over recovery efforts in the Fukushima area stalling due to the expected construction rush requiring more workers. However, the government has been appealing to the international community on the significance of the Olympics by calling it “The Recovery Olympics.” Looking back, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was one of the big turning points for the post-war ruins to develop into the present city of Tokyo. The Olympics presented a vision for Japan, which was still a developing country at the time, to grow into an economic powerhouse through infrastructural and urban development. This exhibition venue, the Kabukicho Promotion Association Building, was also built in 1964 just 5 months before the Olympics. After suffering a long recession, Japan was recently hit by the Great Tohoku Earthquake. People are trying to superimpose the situation back then onto the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. “People from all over the world will visit... Our economy will improve...” Many positive mantras are reproduced with an ambiguous sense of hope. What is recovery? What is a city? Was the future of the 21st century meant to repeat a 20th century vision? Japan has historically continued to “scrap and build” while facing many disasters, and its people have lived alongside this changing cityscape. Through an exhibition itself that experiences a “scrap and build,” we question Japanese people’s method of drawing a blueprint. http://chimpom.jp/project/ kabukicyo.html Bottom: Meiro Koizumi, Rite for a dream – Today my empire sings (installation view), 2016 Photo courtesy the artist, Mujin-to Production, Tokyo and Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam

141 — december / 2017

Page 71 Halil Altındere, Wonderland (video stills), 2013 Photos courtesy the artist and Pilot Gallery, Istanbul

Page 72 Tintin Wulia, (Re)Collection of Togetherness, 2008 Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane Would a mosquito become me if she had my blood in her belly? … The belief that blood is related to identity is something imposed by the government, out of their needs to control their citizens. Tintin Wulia, https://aaa.org.hk/en/ideas/ideas/interviewwith-tintin-wulia


Page 77 Larissa Sansour, In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (video still), 2016 Photo courtesy the artist In her typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, Sansour looks at the politics of archeology and how myths of the past can become historic interventions with the power to create nationhood. In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain depicts a desperate contest to establish territorial precedence as a means of survival when all else is lost. The film subtly alludes to the tactics of some Israeli groups, such the Elad Association, who make it their mission to strengthen their connection to Jerusalem through archeological digs and excavations and to assert the longevity of their people on the land. However, no direct reference is made to this, Israel or its occupation, a departure from Sansour’s usual trajectory. Instead Sansour presents her most universal film to date highlighting how the construction of national mythology can create and justify present identity, power and territorial claims. As Edward Said writes in Culture & Imperialism: “Appeals to the past are among the commonest of strategies in interpretations of the present.” http://www.lawrieshabibi.com/exhibitions/45/ overview/

Pages 74, 75 Top: Hank Willis Thomas, The Endless Colum III, 2017 Bottom: Hank Willis Thomas, Visa, 2017 Photos courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts, London

Page 73 Top: Tintin Wulia, Not Alone (installation view Jakarta), 2017 Bottom: Tintin Wulia, Under the Sun (installation view Jakarta), 2017 Photos courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane The short movie 1001 Martian Homes, the dome shaped installation Not Alone and another installation work, a staircase called Under the Sun… will thrust visitors into a journey to the future but at the same time provoke a sense of déja vu… When watching the movie those who are familiar with the communist purge of 1965 will easily understand that the artist is referring to this dark point in Indonesian history… There are too many similarities, rather than coincidences, between “reality” surrounding the anticommunist crackdown and the “imaginary” political persecution the characters… claim to have endured. And the fact that the characters were political prisoners in their real lives all but underlines Tintin’s intention to contribute to the efforts to rewrite the sad episode of Indonesian history, which have intensified since the start of the reform era in 1998… As an artist Tintin has the luxury of exercising her power of imagination and improvisation through her use of metaphors and symbols. For many they blur facts and fiction, but at the same time they enrich the discourse on the historical juncture of 1965, about which many of the Tintin generation are unaware. https://www.pressreader.com/indonesia/thejakarta-post/20170720/281505046273544

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Page 76 Larissa Sansour, Nation Estate (video still), 2012 Photo courtesy the artist Nation Estate is a nine-minute sci-fi short offering a dystopian yet humorous approach to the deadlock in the Middle East. With a mixture of computer generated imagery, live actors and arabesque electronica, Nation Estate explores a vertical solution to Palestinian statehood. In Sansour’s film, Palestinians have their state in the form of a single skyscraper… One colossal high-rise houses the entire Palestinian population… Each city has its own floor: Jerusalem on the 13th floor, Ramallah on the 14th floor, Sansour’s native Bethlehem on the 21st, and so on. Intercity trips previously marred by checkpoints are now made by elevator. As the main mode of transportation, the elevators become platforms for communication, and the elevator ads take on a life of their own… [they] hone in on the core issues of life under occupation and address future problems reminiscent of those standing in the way of any progress today, suggesting that no negotiated solution will work without resolving these central issues. https://www.ibraaz.org/projects/32

Pages 78, 79 Jack Persekian, After Matson/After Whiting, from the exhibition One Hundred Years, 2017 Top: New Gate, 2017 Historic Photograph Title: Arab demonstrations on Oct. 13 and 27, 1933. In Jerusalem and Jaffa. Arab demonstration at the New Gate. Police cordon stopping the procession. Jerusalem, Oct. 13 Bottom: Al Wad - Khan El Zeit junction, 2017 Historic Photograph Title: [Inside] Damascus Gate, Jerusalem Photos courtesy the artist

142 — december / 2017


Page 105 Three-sided football table devised by Asger Jorn to explain his triolectics. Image sourced from https://www.flickr.com/photos/kaeru/13842895995

Page 80 Video stills from In Search of Sounds of Lost Beijing by WeChat video platform Sola. Photo courtesy Colin Siyuan Chinnery and Sola

Page 107 Hank Willis Thomas, Champion (White), 2017 Photo courtesy the artist and Ben Brown Fine Arts, London

Page 90 Tintin Wulia, Under the Sun installation, 2017 Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Page 92 Tintin Wulia, Five Tonnes of Homes and Other Understories (installation view, Art Basel HK), 2016 Photo courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane Like thick books with drawn covers, the massive bales of cardboard waste in Five Tonnes of Homes and Other Understories are physical digests of their route. They contain physical traces of people, stakeholders that make up the nodes of the route, attaching diverse values to the cardboard waste along the way. Tintin Wulia, http://www.tintinwulia. com/tradetracetransit/?portfolio=five-tonnes-ofhomes-and-other-understories

Pages 95, 97, 98 Top: Tintin Wulia, Under the Sun (installation view Venice Biennale), 2017 Middle: Tintin Wulia, (Re)Collection of Togetherness– Stage 3, (installation view,Van Abbemuseum, Netherlands), 2008 Bottom: Tintin Wulia, 1001 Martian Homes (installation view Jakarta), 2017 Photos courtesy the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Page 100 With apologies to the manufacturer. For another version see http://www.philosophyfootballfc.org. uk/index.php

143 — december / 2017

Page 115 Larissa Sansour, In the Future They Ate from the Finest Porcelain (video still), 2016 Photo courtesy the artist Ibraaz Projects In the Future they Ate from the Finest Porcelain (extended consultation). PSYCHIATRIST: You call yourself a narrative terrorist. But before turning to archeology you used to work with archives and documentary. RESISTANCE LEADER: I still do. Only the premise has changed. I used to see archive and documentary as shortcuts to a truth-based countermeasure to the versions of history written by our rulers. Now I don’t. Truth is beside the point. Legitimacy is not a rational concept, it’s emotional, psychological… This region has been held captive by myth and fiction for millenia, the convenient narrative of one intruder always followed by that of another. It’s all about implementation and sedimentation. Myth hides best out in the open. Its reception is its camouflage… History is by default revisionist. Archival photos don’t depict history, history is the story we tell about these photos, and this story was never immune to fiction, religion, folklore or myths… Whatever you do with archival resources of the past, be it photographic, written or archeological, you are already intervening. My project simply accepts this narrative intervention and embellishes that aspect. It’s not about getting history right, but about making it useful. It’s by no means just a game. https://www.ibraaz.org/projects/130


Page 130 Old Beijing street hawker, date unknown

Page 118 Top: Larissa Sansour, A Space Exodus (video still), 2009 Photo courtesy the artist When it comes to the Middle East, something quite peculiar and contradictory is at play: mythologised perceptions of the region coexist with a certain stubborn insistence on its specific geography and localised politics… A Space Exodus plays on this line of thinking by reimagining one of America’s finest moments—the moon landing —as a Palestinian triumph… While A Space Exodus addresses a specific problem, it also comments on the power of images and codes, and their relation to how we perceive things. Larissa Sansour in conversation with Niels Van Tomme; http://www.artpapers.org/feature_articles/ feature1_2012_0102.htm Bottom: Noor Abed, The Air Was Too Thin to Return the Gaze (video still), 2016 Photo courtesy the artist

Page 120 Monira Al Qadiri, The Craft (video stills), 2017 ​Photos courtesy the artist Housed in the obsolete atmosphere of an American diner, The Craft is a film that revolves around childish fictions laced with serious suspicions towards the real world… Reality gradually disintegrates like quicksand around this central question, as paranoia and speculation begin to take hold. Futuristic architecture, popular culture, dream readings, junk food, alien abductions, geopolitics, international diplomacy, war and peace; all of these once solid staples of modern life now become tinted with a general sense of distrust, overshadowing everything. Like a ticking time bomb at the center of the nuclear family unit, the suspicion reaches a crescendo when the protagonist suddenly discovers that the American century has finally ended. http://www.moniraalqadiri.com/projects

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Pages 122, 125, 126 Jack Persekian, After Matson/After Whiting, from the exhibition One Hundred Years, 2017 Photos courtesy the artist In descending order: Herod’s Gate, 2017 Historic Photograph Title: Sheep market outside Herod’s Gate, Jerusalem Outside Damascus Gate, 2017 Historic Photograph Title: Pack train outside the Damascus Gate, Jerusalem Jerusalem from North, Nablus Road, 2017 Historic Photograph Title: Jerusalem (El-Kouds). First view of Jerusalem from the north Jerusalem from Slopes of Scopus, 2017 Historic Photograph Title: Temple Area from Slopes of Scopus Jerusalem’s landscape as we know it today, is merely a surface layer, a slice in a long tumultuous history that has seen people and civilisations taking over from preceding ones. Over time, layers are obscured and sometimes obliterated to the point where only but few traces or ruins can be found, if any… This body of work is an attempt to encourage people, in general, and especially Jerusalemites, to reassess their relation to this city, reexamine it carefully, indulge in its details and love it—not for what it was and what it symbolises, but for what it can be. And as Mies van der Rohe put it so eloquently: “God is in the detail.” Jack Persekian, After Matson-Whiting catalogue, pdf.

144 — december / 2017

Pages 132, 133, 136 Video stills from Colin Siyuan Chinnery’s sound project In Search of Sounds of Lost Beijing, 2017 Photos courtesy the artist and Sola

Page 136 Colin Siyuan Chinnery pigeon whistle collection Photo courtesy the artist


Mona Saudi, Growth, 2002. Sharjah Art Foundation Collection | Zineb Sedira, Sugar Silo I, 2014. © Zineb Sedira. Courtesy the artist and the galleries The Third Line, Dubai and Plutschow Gallery, Zürich | Anna Boghiguian,The Salt Traders, 2015. Installation view at the 14th Istanbul Biennial Tuzlu su [Saltwater], 2015.Courtesy of the artist and Foundation for culture and Arts, Istanbul | Mohammed Ibrahim, Primodial, 1988. Sharjah Art Foundation Collection | Photo by Latif Al Ani | Raedah Saadeh, Vacuum, 2007. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation

Spring 2018 Exhibitions

Mona Saudi 7 March – 7 June

Zineb Sedira: Air Affairs and Maritime NonSense 16 March – 16 June

Anna Boghiguian 16 March – 16 June

Mohammed Ahmed Ibrahim 16 March – 16 June

Latif Al Ani 16 March – 16 June

Active Forms Selections from Sharjah Art Foundation Collection 16 March – 16 June

sharjahart.org


Photograph taken at Artistree

Participating Galleries 10 Chancery Lane 1335Mabini 303 Gallery 47 Canal A Miguel Abreu Acquavella Aike Alisan Sabrina Amrani Antenna Space Applicat-Prazan Arario Alfonso Artiaco Artinformal Aye B Balice Hertling Beijing Commune Bergamin & Gomide Bernier/Eliades Blindspot Blum & Poe Boers-Li Tanya Bonakdar Isabella Bortolozzi Ben Brown Gavin Brown Buchholz Buchmann C Gisela Capitain Cardi carlier gebauer Carlos/Ishikawa Chambers Chemould Prescott Road Yumiko Chiba Chi-Wen Mehdi Chouakri Sadie Coles HQ Contemporary Fine Arts Continua Pilar Corrias Alan Cristea Chantal Crousel

D Thomas Dane Massimo De Carlo de Sarthe Dirimart The Drawing Room E Eigen + Art Eslite Gallery Exit Experimenter F Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel Fox/Jensen G Gagosian Gajah Galerie 1900–2000 gb agency Gerhardsen Gerner Gladstone Gmurzynska Goodman Gallery Marian Goodman Richard Gray Greene Naftali Karsten Greve Grotto H Hakgojae Hanart TZ Hauser & Wirth Herald St Hive Xavier Hufkens I Ingleby Ink Studio Taka Ishii J Annely Juda K Kaikai Kiki Kalfayan

Karma International Paul Kasmin Sean Kelly Tina Keng Kerlin Kohn König Galerie David Kordansky Tomio Koyama Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler Krinzinger Kukje / Tina Kim kurimanzutto L Pearl Lam Simon Lee Leeahn Lehmann Maupin Lelong Lévy Gorvy Liang Lisson Long March Luxembourg & Dayan M Maggiore Magician Space Mai 36 Edouard Malingue Marlborough Mazzoleni Urs Meile Mendes Wood DM kamel mennour Metro Pictures Meyer Riegger Francesca Minini Victoria Miro Mizuma Stuart Shave/Modern Art The Modern Institute mother‘s tankstation Mujin-to N nächst St. Stephan Rosemarie Schwarzwälder

Nadi Nagel Draxler Nanzuka Taro Nasu Nature Morte neugerriemschneider nichido Anna Ning Franco Noero O Nathalie Obadia OMR One and J. Lorcan O‘Neill Ora-Ora Ota Roslyn Oxley9 P P.P.O.W Pace Pace Prints Paragon Peres Projects Perrotin Petzel Pi Artworks PKM Plan B Platform China Project Fulfill R Almine Rech Nara Roesler Tyler Rollins Thaddaeus Ropac Rossi & Rossi Lia Rumma S SCAI The Bathhouse Esther Schipper Rüdiger Schöttle ShanghART ShugoArts Side 2 Sies + Höke Silverlens

Skarstedt Soka Sprüth Magers Starkwhite STPI Sullivan+Strumpf T Take Ninagawa This Is No Fantasy + dianne tanzer Timothy Taylor team Daniel Templon The Third Line TKG+ Tokyo Gallery + BTAP Tornabuoni V Two Palms Vadehra Van de Weghe Susanne Vielmetter Vitamin W Waddington Custot Wentrup Michael Werner White Cube White Space Beijing Barbara Wien Jocelyn Wolff Y Yamamoto Gendai Yavuz Z Zeno X David Zwirner Insights 55 313 Art Project Aicon Asia Art Center Bank Baton Beijing Art Now

Dastan‘s Basement du Monde EM Espace Fine Arts Literature Gow Langsford HDM Johyun Maho Kubota Leo MEM Mind Set Mori Yu Sakshi Misa Shin Standing Pine Star Tang Wooson Yang Zilberman Discoveries A Thousand Plateaus a.m. space A+ Contemporary Capsule Commonwealth and Council Don Ghebaly High Art Hannah Hoffman Jhaveri JTT Kadel Willborn Emanuel Layr Michael Lett Josh Lilley MadeIn mor charpentier Öktem&Aykut Project Native Informant ROH Projects SKE Société Tarq Urano Various Small Fires

Profile for UNSW Art & Design

Di'van | A Journal of Accounts | Issue 3  

Critical interpretations on contemporary visual art and culture and its broader art historical, theoretical and socio-political contexts, fr...

Di'van | A Journal of Accounts | Issue 3  

Critical interpretations on contemporary visual art and culture and its broader art historical, theoretical and socio-political contexts, fr...

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