PROVOKE: Japanese photography between protest and performance 1960-1975 – in pictures

A touring exhibition looks at the work of postwar Japanese photographers and members of the historic Provoke magazine.

Now still on show at Le Bal in Paris, the exhibition will move to the Art Institute of Chicago in 2017, and includes the work of renowned Japanese photographers who founded and published their work in the iconic Provoke magazine in the 1960s and 1970s.

Shōmei Tōmatsu, 'Chi to bara (Blood and Rose), Tokyo', 1969. © Shōmei Tōmatsu Estate / Galerie Priska Pasquer

Shōmei Tōmatsu, ‘Chi to bara (Blood and Rose), Tokyo’, 1969. © Shōmei Tōmatsu Estate / Galerie Priska Pasquer

“PROVOKE: Between Protest and Performance. Photography in Japan 1960-1975” is on show at Le Bal in Paris until 11 December 2016. Previously, it was on display at Albertina in Vienna, Fotomuseum Winterhur in Zurich and will move to the Art Institute of Chicago from 28 January until 30 April 2017, whose permanent collection makes up 60 percent of the entire exhibition.

The show is produced and organised as a collaboration between all these institutions, and the support of more than 40 international lenders, artists, collectors, museums and galleries. A publication by Steidl accompanies the exhibition, edited by co-curators Diane Dufour and Matthew Witkovsky, who curated the show with Duncan Forbes and Walter Moser.

Provoke 3, cover, 1969. © Takuma Nakahira / Daido Moriyama / Takahiko Okada / Yutaka Takanashi / Kōji Taki Private Collection.

Provoke 3, cover, 1969. © Takuma Nakahira / Daidō Moriyama / Takahiko Okada / Yutaka Takanashi / Kōji Taki / Private Collection

The exhibition focuses on photography in Japan created between 1960 and 1975, and particularly on the work of the founders and other photographers involved in the publication of Provoke, a short-lived Tokyo-based magazine now recognised as a major achievement in world photography of the last 50 years. The magazine was only published in three issues, on 1 November 1968, and 10 March and 10 August 1969, each in an edition of 1,000 copies. The founders of the magazine were the collective of photographers Yutaka Takanashi and Takuma Nakahira, critic Kōji Taki and writer Takahiko Okada. Photographer Daidō Moriyama joined with the second issue.

Daidō Moriyama , from the series "Akushidento (Accident)", 1969. © Daidō Moriyama

Daidō Moriyama , from the series “Akushidento (Accident)”, 1969. © Daidō Moriyama

Takuma Nakahira, photograph from the book 'For a Language to Come (Kitarubeki kotoba no tame ni)', 1970. © Takuma Nakahira / Private Collection

Takuma Nakahira, photograph from the book ‘For a Language to Come (Kitarubeki kotoba no tame ni)’, 1970. © Takuma Nakahira / Private Collection

The subtitle to the magazine of Provocative Materials for Thought came from the idea that visual images cannot completely represent an idea as words can, yet photographs can provoke language and ideas, as magazine founders Takanashi, Nakahira, Taki and Okada, wrote in the foreword to the first issue of Provoke:

Today, at this very moment, language is losing its material basis—in other words, its reality—and floating in space. We as photographers must capture with our own eyes fragments of reality that can no longer be grasped through existing language, and must actively put forth materials that address language and ideas. This is why we have been so bold as to give Provoke the subtitle Provocative Materials for Thought.

Anonymous, Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport, ca.1969. Image courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago.

Anonymous, Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport, ca.1969. Image courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago.

Divided into three sections, the exhibition defines photography as performative, both in a political and artistic sense. The first section entitled “Protest” sets the emergence of Provoke against a backdrop of the ongoing protests of the time. Part II introduces the three issues of Provoke, focusing on their belief in the ephemerality of photographic vision and its grounding in the performative presence of the photographer. Part III looks at performance and how photography of the time became both a variant of Japanese performance art and a means to document it.

Yutaka Takanashi, 'Beatles, Marunouchi Shōchiku', Chiyoda-ku, 1965. © Yutaka Takanashi / Taka Ishii Gallery

Yutaka Takanashi, ‘Beatles, Marunouchi Shōchiku’, Chiyoda-ku, 1965. © Yutaka Takanashi / Taka Ishii Gallery

Kōji Taki, photograph from Provoke 3, 1969. © Yōsuke Taki / Private Collection

Kōji Taki, photograph from Provoke 3, 1969. © Yōsuke Taki / Private Collection

The magazine collected examples of protest photography, vanguard fine art and critical theory of postwar era Japan, combined with the use of innovative graphic design and provocatively “poor” materials such as in some Japanese protest books of the time. These books started to come out around 1960 in conjunction with the country’s first large-scale protests, mobilised against the 1960 renewal of the United States-Japan alliance.

The protests, many of which were student-led, developed further in the late 1960s, culminating in 1969-1971, generating a wave of protest photobooks and photographic prints, including the aforementioned innovative graphic design involving photography: serialised imagery, gripping text-image combinations, dynamic cropping, with an alternation of provocatively “poor” materials such as rough paper and low-resolution printing with gatefolds and odd trim sizes.

Anonymous, Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport, ca. 1969. Image courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago.

Anonymous, Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport, ca. 1969. Image courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago.

Provoke members created their contribution to the protest movement, although they claimed that protest photography was exhausted, and asserted the impossibility of effecting lasting change through direct political action. Leading historian of Japanese photobooks and former curator at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography Ryuichi Kaneko (1956-2013) wrote something that had resonated within their practice:

If I can change my mind, if I can change myself, then my photographs can change those looking at the photograph.

The anti-establishment magazine showed a deep connection to the protesters and their ideas. While it brought out in the discussion both the state and its dissenting subjects, it showed the same dissatisfaction with consumer capitalism as the protesters did.

Yutaka Takanashi, 'Untitled (Tatsumi Hijikata)', 1969. © Yutaka Takanashi / Taka Ishii Gallery

Yutaka Takanashi, ‘Untitled (Tatsumi Hijikata)’, 1969. © Yutaka Takanashi / Taka Ishii Gallery

Yutaka Takanashi, from the series "Toshi-e (Towards the City)", 1969. © Yutaka Takanashi / Taka Ishii Gallery

Yutaka Takanashi, from the series “Toshi-e (Towards the City)”, 1969. © Yutaka Takanashi / Taka Ishii Gallery

Provoke shone against a society saturated by mass media and the uncontrolled transformation of urban space, yet it also radically criticised the group dynamics of protest movements, like others in the creative sphere did, such as the architectural collective Metabolism, the performance Fluxus group Hi-Red Center or Shuji Terayama’s Tenjo Sajiki troupe (one of his street performances is also on show).

Hi-Red Center, who blurred the line between photodocumentation and live works involving photography among other media, and dance performers such as Tatsumi Hijikata and Shuji Terayama inspired photographers at that time to include an element of performance in their work. The ephemerality of performance was reflected in how photobooks and photographs were then seen: as contingent things.

Nobuyoshi Araki, Untitled, 1973. © Nobuyoshi Araki / The Art Institute of Chicago

Nobuyoshi Araki, Untitled, 1973. © Nobuyoshi Araki / The Art Institute of Chicago

Kōji Enokura, 'Yochō – Namari no katamari, kūkan e I (P. W. No. 41) (Symptom – Lump of Lead into Space I [P. W. No. 41])', 1972. © Kōji Enokura / Shigeru Yokota Gallery

Kōji Enokura, ‘Yochō – Namari no katamari, kūkan e I (P. W. No. 41) (Symptom
– Lump of Lead into Space I [P. W. No. 41])’, 1972. © Kōji Enokura / Shigeru Yokota Gallery

Daidō Moriyama, Takuma Nakahira and Nobuyoshi Araki became interested in the 1970s in making darkroom activity and other processes of print creation into a visible and active part of photographic creation, as the curators explain, inspired by performers and performance artists. The influence was exercised both ways, as following Provoke photographers, Jiro Takamatsu (a memeber of Hi-Red Center) and Kōji Enokura (of Mono Ha) turned to photoconceptual art, as seen in their series in the exhibition. Enokura wrote, quoted in the press release:

I take photographs for no other reason than to experience the tension that exists between objects and myself, using the camera—the optical machine— as a mediator.

In the show is also work by the most internationally recognised photographer of the time, Eikō Hosoe, whose psychological images explored intriguing subjects like death, erotic obsession and irrationality. In the 1960s, he also collaborated with avant-garde artists such as the dancer Tatsumi Hijikata.

Eikō Hosoe, 'Kamaitachi #31', 1968. © Eikō Hosoe

Eikō Hosoe, ‘Kamaitachi #31’, 1968. © Eikō Hosoe

Shōmei Tōmatsu, 'Henshūsha Nakahira Takuma, Tōkyō, Shinjuku (Editor Takuma Nakahira, Tokyo, Shinjuku)', 1964. © Shōmei Tōmatsu Estate / Taka Ishii Gallery

Shōmei Tōmatsu, ‘Henshūsha Nakahira Takuma, Tōkyō, Shinjuku (Editor Takuma Nakahira, Tokyo, Shinjuku)’, 1964. © Shōmei Tōmatsu Estate / Taka Ishii Gallery

Inspiration for the work by Provoke members also came from photographer Shōmei Tōmatsu, whose images are also on view. Perhaps the most influential Japanese photographer of the postwar era, his documentary work included an element of the surreal, capturing a postwar country in flux. As the press release to the exhibition reads,

Provoke members responded to the precedents set by photographer Tōmatsu Shōmei, as regards the relation of photography to language, and the need to question the subject position of anyone engaged in ‘reporting’ on the times. In magazine and book projects that stretch over roughly a decade – far longer than the quick life of Provoke itself – members of the group acted to take apart subjectivity and to keep photography, and language, in a state of perpetual development: words and images in formation, engaging yet resisting a world dominated by information.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

1454

Related Topics: Japanese artists, photography, performance, museum exhibitions, touring exhibitions

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Hong Kong M+ Curator Pauline J. Yao on the M+ Collection – interview

Hong Kong M+ curator Pauline J. Yao talks to Art Radar about the museum’s collection.

With the dawn of the age of biennials, art tourism and the proliferation of private museum endeavours, the permanent collection seems to have fallen out of favour. Yet a dedicated selection of curators, institutions and collectors still believe in the role of the permanent collection. Art Radar initiates a series of interviews with curators and collectors across South and Southeast Asia talking about the permanent museum collections they have helped to nurture. The series kicks off with a conversation with M+ Hong Kong Curator Pauline J. Yao.

Eiko Otake, 'A Body in Fukushima: Summer', 2014. Video, Yaburemachi, Fukushima. Shown as part of M+ exhibition "Live Art", 2015. Image courtesy William Johnston and M+, Hong Kong.

Eiko Otake, ‘A Body in Fukushima: Summer’, 2014, video, Yaburemachi, Fukushima. Shown as part of M+ exhibition “Live Art”, 2015. Image courtesy William Johnston and M+, Hong Kong.

The M+ permanent collection

The M+ museum, scheduled to open in 2019, forms part of the museum building boom that has taken place across Asia over the last three decades, with over 3,500 new Chinese museums built since 1978. And yet M+ distinguishes itself from its private colleagues for one important characteristic: a long-term commitment to building a permanent collection using public funds with the intention of creating a collection with international reach. The M+ collection recently received generous donations from Uli Sigg, Alan Lau and Hallam Chow, which acted as a vital vote of confidence for the project from important figures in the regional collecting scene.

The M+ Permanent Collection and Pauline J. Yao

Pauline J. Yao joined M+ in late 2012. Prior to joining the museum, Yao served as Assistant Curator of Chinese Art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and holds an MA in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago. In 2006, Yao travelled to China on a Fulbright grant and subsequently co-founded Arrow Factory in Beijing, one of the city’s important alternative art spaces. In 2007, she was the inaugural recipient of the Chinese Contemporary Art Award’s Art Critic Award. She is the author of In Production Mode: Contemporary Art in China (2008), and co-editor of 3 Years: Arrow Factory (2011). She currently overseas the acquisitions of new works in the collection and has a particular focus on South Asian and South East Asian contemporary art.

Art Radar talks to Pauline J. Yao about the her curatorial practice and expanding the M+ collection.

Patty Chang, 'Fountain', 1999. Single-channel video, 5 min 30 sec.(on display as part of the "Live Art" exhibition) ©All rights reserved. M+ Collection, courtesy of the artist and West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

Patty Chang, ‘Fountain’, 1999, single-channel video, 5:30 min (work formed part of “Live Art” exhibition, M+ Museum, 2015). © All rights reserved. Image courtesy M+ Collection, the artist and West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

You joined the M+ as curator in 2012. Could you tell us what have been the most successful projects you have worked on so far and what has surprised you most about working at M+?

The M+ “Live Art” exhibition in 2015 stood out for me because it was a really adventurous approach within the context of M+. The show included live performances in the street as well as polished stage productions, large-scale installations and a group exhibition, all spread across multiple venues and districts. Turnout was high and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. With that project I saw the incredible dedication of our team and Hong Kong audiences. One of the nicest things about working at M+ is that there is a strong collegial atmosphere within each project and across the team generally. Most of the curators I work closest with are people I have known for years before joining M+ and there is a built-in sense of camaraderie that is very rare to find in museums.

Hu Xiangqian, 'Reconstructing Michelangelo – Perfect Editing', 2015. Performance (work formed part of "Live Art" exhibition, M+ Museum, 2015). Beijing ©All rights reserved. Image courtesy of the artist and Long March Space.

Hu Xiangqian, ‘Reconstructing Michelangelo – Perfect Editing’, 2015, performance at M+ Museum, 2015 (work formed part of “Live Art” exhibition, M+ Museum, 2015).
© All rights reserved. Image courtesy of the artist and Long March Space.

Arrow Factory. Storefront Gallery, Beijing. Image courtesy the curators.

Arrow Factory. Storefront Gallery, Beijing. Image courtesy the curator.

How does your background in independent and non-profit initiatives, such as Arrow Factory, inform your practice as a curator now? What do you think larger institutions, such as Asian Art museum of San Francisco where you served as Assistant Curator of Chinese Art, or your current role as curator at M+ Museum, can learn from smaller scale independent art spaces?

Despite being radically different in size and operating budget, doing Arrow Factory and M+ (and doing Asian Art Museum of San Francisco) are actually not as far apart as one would think. At Arrow Factory we were always conscious about the fact that we faced a general public who may or may not have a background in contemporary art, and for M+ and Asian Art Museum it is actually quite similar. Arrow Factory was of course tiny and not publicly funded so it had far more flexibility, but in fact the core mission of wishing to be on the front lines of facilitating interactions between art and audiences remains consistent across both organisations.

Zhang Wei 張偉, 'Fusuijing Building', 1975. Oil on paper, 26 x 19cm. M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong Courtesy of the artist and West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

Zhang Wei 張偉, ‘Fusuijing Building’, 1975, oil on paper, 26 x 19 cm. M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong. Image courtesy the artist and West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

You are involved in the expansion of the M+ permanent collection. Could you tell us about how the collection is developing?

I have been involved in acquisitions of visual art since I started at M+ in late 2012 and it’s been an incredible process to be a part of. When I joined there was the M+ Sigg Collection and some assorted pockets of other material from Hong Kong artists and photographers, and virtually nothing in the way of architecture or design. But now the collection has grown to nearly 6000 objects and spans multiple disciplines and geographies ranging from Hong Kong and East Asia to now South and Southeast Asia as well as many international artists and makers. The collection continues to grow but we are also getting more strategic about our decisions and our pace has slowed somewhat as we turn attention towards planning for the opening display.

Zhang Xiaogang 張曉剛, 'Bloodline Series—Big Family No. 17-1998', 1998. Oil on canvas, 149 x 180.5cm. M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong (By donation). Image courtesy of the artist and West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

Zhang Xiaogang 張曉剛, ‘Bloodline Series—Big Family No. 17-1998’, 1998, oil on canvas, 149 x 180,5 cm. M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong (by donation). Image courtesy the artist and West Kowloon Cultural District Authority.

At M+, one of the key areas you work on relates to South and Southeast Asian Art. Could you tell us about the current collecting scene and specifically how you are building the M+ collection in these areas?

For the last four years I have been actively involved in researching and proposing acquisitions of works by visual artists across Asia and beyond Asia, but in the last two years have been focusing more efforts on areas of South and Southeast Asian art. In addition to travelling to the region more to meet artists, academics and specialists, I have been also facilitating discussions with my colleagues about how we can find ways to incorporate aspects of South and Southeast Asian cultural production into the narratives and themes we have for the M+ collection as a whole.

Sopheap Pich, 'Head in Arms', 2010. Rattan and burlap. 69 x 72 x 39 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and M+, Hong Kong.

Sopheap Pich, ‘Head in Arms’, 2010, rattan and burlap, 69 x 72 x 39 cm. Image courtesy the artist and M+, Hong Kong.

M+ recently acquired five works from Hong Kong collector Mr Hallam Chow. Could you tell us about how this acquisition came about and what it brings to the collection?

Hallam and I have been friends for some time so he actually reached out to me directly (via wechat no less!) saying that he had a few artworks that he was considering to donate to M+. He was very clear about which works he was looking to gift to M+. Since all of the names were ones I knew and had already been researching for the M+ collection, I was thrilled and responded immediately. We set up a meeting to look at things together and in that process he offered a few more works by additional artists. With the exception of Sopheap Pich, all of the artists are new to the M+ collection. With every donation timing also plays a role – in the last year we have been looking to build up the M+ collection with regard to South and Southeast Asian art, and so his timing was perfect. The donation has given us a much needed boost at a crucial moment in time.

What ideological or financial factors restrict your ability to acquire artworks for the M+ collection? Have you ever made a decision to pursue an artwork that was then not subsequently acquired?

We are extremely fortunate to not have any real restrictions on what we collect, but this doesn’t necessarily make things easier. Even though M+ has a budget for building the collection, our financial resources are actually quite limited when one considers that the funds must stretch across all areas of art, architecture, design and moving image, as well as time period ranging from 1950s to the present. We spend a lot of time discussing how to best use the resources we have. And being that M+ is entirely publicly funded, we are also extremely judicious – every acquisition is carefully discussed and scrutinised before it reaches our committee for approval.

Antony Gormley, 'Asian Fields', 1989-2003. Installed in non-art venues (car parks and warehouses) in Ghangzou, Beijing and Shanghai. Image courtesy the artist.

Antony Gormley, ‘Asian Fields’, 1989-2003, installed in non-art venues (car parks and warehouses) in Ghangzou, Beijing and Shanghai. Image courtesy the artist and M+, Hong Kong.

What works or bodies of work are you particularly excited about in the collection? And what artists are absolutely indispensable for a permanent collection, such as that of M+, which intends to be a serious rival to other international permanent collections?

I am rather excited that M+ managed to collect Asian Field, a monumental and highly influential installation piece by British artist Antony Gormley. The work consists of over 100,000 hand-formed clay figurines that were produced by villagers in Guangdong province in 2003 and marks a rare moment of ‘participatory’ art making when such practices were virtually unheard of in China. Key figures such as Yayoi Kusama, Tehching Hsieh and Nam June Paik are indispensable to any art history of the 20th century and therefore have been crucial additions to the M+ collection, not to mention others of equal importance within circles of Asian art too numerous to mention here.

In your 2008 essay Critical Horizons – On art criticism in China, you reflect on the issues facing art criticism in the Asia region, highlighting the lack of academic rigour in art writing and the way in which the work of art critics is often overshadowed by the tastes of collectors and curators. To what extent is the collection a reflection of market dynamics?

Every collection – private or public – is somehow a portrait of the time in which it was produced. This is unavoidable. But there is a difference in being indirectly influenced by market forces and being totally steered by them, and museums, especially public ones such as M+, are built in such a way so as to minimise these effects. Having said that, museums cannot be nor should strive to be totally divorced from the market or fully objective – they are always shaped by individual tastes of the curators, and contain a certain degree of subjectivity, as well as a dose of serendipity.

Antony Gormley, 'Asian Fields', 1989-2003. Installed in non-art venues (car parks and warehouses) in Ghangzou, Beijing and Shanghai. Image courtesy the artist.

Antony Gormley, ‘Asian Fields’, 1989-2003, installed in non-art venues (car parks and warehouses) in Ghangzou, Beijing and Shanghai. Image courtesy the artist.

In the same essay you talk about the need for “discursive density” (citing Lee Weng Choy) when approaching contemporary art in Asia. As a proponent of art historical rigour, could you tell us a bit about how you have contributed to the rigour of the M+ collection’s collecting policy? Do you see the growing collection as making a “discursive” intervention into the collecting practices of the region?

I think a way to interpret this idea of discursive density is to think of it as a kind of inter-relatedness or interconnectedness, in that density can come from a concentrated wealth of ideas or accumulated layering of knowledge. In this sense, what M+ is doing – building a collection that is centred on Asia and explicitly interested in revealing connections between Asian artists and thinkers within Asia – is contributing to that sense of density. The models for publicly funded museums in Asia have, up to now, hewed very closely to a nationalist agenda. But with M+ we embrace the transnational but specifically geared towards building narratives that look at relationships within and amongst Asian cultures as well as how these interface with the rest of the world.

The M+ curatorial endeavour also includes a digital project and an online journal. Could you tell us about your role in these projects and how they are developing?

We have been working on an ambitious digital platform called M+ Digital that will house a broad range of new web-based content – texts, videos, discussions and online exhibitions – and acts as our virtual home in the lead up to the opening of the M+ building. I have been working mostly on TEXT+IDEAS, a fully bilingual, bi-annual online publication that will feature essays and critical writing on visual culture. We have put together a small editorial board here in Hong Kong and are already commissioning texts for the first and second issues.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, “The Serenity of Madness” (2016), installation view at MAIIAM, Chiang Mai. Image courtesy MAIIAM.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, “The Serenity of Madness” (2016), installation view at MAIIAM, Chiang Mai. Image courtesy MAIIAM.

What exhibitions have been particularly important in the last two years for the regional scene?

Nowadays there are so many biennials around its nearly impossible to see them all! But there are some new ones such as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale that I think have been adding significantly to the scene, and with more museums and spaces generally a many more good quality retrospectives than before such as the Apichatpong Weerasethakul show “The Serenity of Madness” that opened at the new MAIIAM in Chiang Mai or even the David Diao‘s show at UCCA.

What are you reading at the moment? And whose work are you currently particularly excited about?

New Games: Postmodernism After Contemporary Art by Pamela M. Lee (the introduction by Johanna Burton is epic) and Mao’s Golden Mangoes and the Cultural Revolution, edited by Alfreda Murck.

Rebecca Close

1444

Related topics: Acquisitions, East Asian artists, South Asian artists, Globalisation, Museum collections

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10 Highlights from the Shanghai Biennale 2016

Art Radar brings you a selection of highlights from the 11th Shanghai Biennale.

The Shanghai Biennale themed “Why Not Ask Again: Arguments, Counter-arguments, and Stories” runs from 12 November 2016 to 12 March 2017 at the Shanghai Power Station of Art and is curated by Indian art group Raqs Media Collective.

shanghaibiennale2016

In the two years since the last biennale, Shanghai has worked hard to consolidate its cultural position as an influential art hub in Asia – a place where contemporary art is important, relevant and available. For the 11th edition of the Shanghai Biennale, the choice of the the Delhi-based artist and curatorial group Raqs Media Collective, comprising Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula, and Shuddhabrata Sengupta, suggests an Asian trajectory that explores narratives of the region. This stance follows other recent regional biennales such as Singapore, Taipei, Busan and Gwangju conceived in resistance to a global perspective, which is perceived as being skewed towards the powerbase of the West and to Modernity.

Art Radar profiles 10 outstanding artworks presented at the 11th Shanghai Biennale.

Mou Sen and MSG, 'The Great Chain of Being—Planet Trilogy', 2016, installation view at 11th Shanghai Biennale 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

Mou Sen and MSG, ‘The Great Chain of Being—Planet Trilogy’, 2016, installation view at 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

1. Mou Sen+MSG — The Great Chain of Being—Planet Trilogy (2016)

Undoubtedly the star of the show, at least in terms of its theatricality, Mou Sen+MSG’s moonscape installation is a site-specific and immersive work that insists on a live experience. It is somewhat in the spirit of Christoph Büchel, Mike Nelson or Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The latter’s’ The Dream City was actually installed in the same space at Shanghai Power Station of Art in 2015.

The Great Chain of Being encompasses sound, ambiance, the smell of charcoal, light effects and a winding route below the impacted surface of a grey planet where a moon-like spotlight rakes the surface with cold light. The spectators enter passing through the gutted fuselage of an airplane. They are flanked by copper funnels broadcasting snatches of a soundtrack of past political conflicts. The narrow walkway leads to a succession of tableaux, all with a foreboding sense of devastation. At the centre, in a black pool, a vitrine of plant growth supporting a swarm of live bees has apparently crashed through the roof. Despite its elaboration, it all looks handmade. At the end, visitors emerge back in the museum with a sense of having witnessed planetary destruction and steam-punk rebirth.

Lee Mingwei, 'Our Labyrinth', 2015, performance in Shanghai Power Station of Art for 11th Shanghai Biennale 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

Lee Mingwei, ‘Our Labyrinth’, 2015, performance in Shanghai Power Station of Art for 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

2. Lee Mingwei — Our Labyrinth (2015–ongoing)

Another cycle is enacted in Lee Mingwei‘s poetic performance work. A reservoir of grains, contained in a white collar, is intermittently swept around the floor in gentle rhythmic patterns before being gathered together again. The action transforms and dignifies the cleaner’s labour, no longer directed towards getting the job done but beautified by going round-and-round.

Hu Xiangqian, 'The Labor Song I Night', 2012,view of video at 11th Shanghai Biennale 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

Hu Xiangqian, ‘The Labor Song I Night’, 2012,view of video at 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

3. Hu Xiangqian — The Labor Song I Night (2012)

Hu Xiangqian orchestrates a claustrophobic scene where an acapella group dressed in scarlet uniforms rehearse songs written by the artist in a tiny security guard kiosk. A female singer provides a pure soprano to a break beat chorus. The setting suggests covert activity – free aspiration beyond and above the strictures of space and uniformity.

Wang Haichuan, 'Seven days', 2013, installation view at 11th Shanghai Biennale 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

Wang Haichuan, ‘Seven days’, 2013, installation view at 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

4. Wang Haichuan — Seven Days (2013)

Wang Haichuan has built another tight space, this time from physical materials that also represent new aspiration. He has created it out of timeworn furniture, abandoned by residents of the former Chongqing Copper Cash Manufactory as they are relocated to new apartments.In Seven Days he creates an inner sanctuary to the old life, a little bit dark and smelly. It is a work about freedom from the symbolic residues of the past.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, S'o Far', 2016, Installation view at 11th Shanghai Biennela 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, S’o Far’, 2016, Installation view at 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

5. Sun Yuan and Peng Yu — So Far (2016)

Letting go is more elaborately staged in Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s work, in which two heavy forklifts strain against one another. Three pairs of ceramic pots are chained up between them, their rims kissing together, while a vacuum pump removes the air inside, making them nearly inseparable as atmospheric pressure braces them together. On this occasion, it looks like the machinery wants to pull them apart but the force of nature is not going to let that happen.

ZhengBo, 'Sing for Her', 2013–2016, interactive installation. Installation view at Power Station of Art, 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy Shanghai Biennale.

ZhengBo, ‘Sing for Her’, 2013–2016, interactive installation. Installation view at Power Station of Art, 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy Shanghai Biennale.

6. Zheng Bo — Sing for Her (2013–2016)

Positioned outside the museum, Zheng Bo‘s Sing for Her appears to be a huge iron megaphone and proves to be an oversized karaoke system, including a screen. Visitors are invited to sing along to the songs of local migrants. The acoustic means of amplification connects old technologies to living communities.

Liao Fei, 'Event', 2015. Installation view showing the crowds at the opening of the 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

Liao Fei, ‘Event’, 2015, installation view at the opening of the 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

7. Liao Fei — Event (2015)

The dichotomy of ancient and modern is reconsidered in other works that propose a connection between enduring materials and change. Liao Fei’s Event is a kinetic work in which an electric bulb makes a perilous elliptical orbit around a marble boulder shielded on one side by a slatted steel plate. The bulb’s orbit is apparently inflected by an attraction to the rock but the mechanical system inevitably swings it back onto its circuit each time its light flows over the surface. The interposition of the steel plate at the closest point also speaks of other forms of control.

Lin Ke, 'Star Travel', 2013, performance video detail, installation view at the 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy Shanghai Biennale.

Lin Ke, ‘Star Travel’, 2013, performance video detail, installation view at the 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy Shanghai Biennale.

8. Lin Ke — Star Travel (2013)

In an interview for Randian Raqs Media Collective comment:

The question, after all, is about opening up a space of thought that moves in jagged lines and creates unexpected connections.

This comment could be a description of Lin Ke’s Star Travel. The artist connects stars with Photoshop’s polygon select tool only to discover that tiny movements of the heavens thwart his enterprise and he has to deselect and start again. It is as if the eternal refuses the tawdry contemporary effect.

Ma Hajiao, 'Mr Quan', 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

Ma Hajiao, ‘Mr Quan’, 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

9. Ma Haijiao — Mr Quan (2016)

Mr Quan is a project by Chinese artist Ma Haijiao that reports exhaustively on the life of Ma Guoquan, a man who has suffered a head injury causing mental impairment. The work consists of an extensive biographical film recording the subject’s awkward ruminations on his life and various touching creative works he produces in the spirit of a savant. It is as if the accident has projected him into a different framework of living, hard to comprehend but elegant and creative.

Tao Hui, 'Talk about body', 2013, video detail at 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

Tao Hui, ‘Talk about body’, 2013, video detail at 11th Shanghai Biennale, 2016. Image courtesy and photo Andrew Stooke.

10. Tao Hui — Talk about body (2013)

There is more confusion in Tao Hui’s video Talk about body. The artist, disguised as a young Muslim woman, shyly perches on the edge of a bed surrounded by a inexplicable group of characters. They attend as he describes his physical attributes as an anthropological subject. The work is a good answer to the Biennale’s titular question ‘Why Not Ask Again?’ This body has many versions linked to the facts of ethnic types and the fictions of costume and stereotype. The Shanghai Biennale is intent on posing conundrums and leading the visitor to ponder on the future from a perspective that regards the past as open-ended, malleable and in restless flux.

Andrew Stooke

1448

Related Topics: Chinese artists, biennales, videoinstallation, events in Shanghai

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“Phantom Punch”: contemporary art from Saudi Arabia at Bates College, Lewiston

“Phantom Punch” presents contemporary art from Saudi Arabia as part of a a larger ongoing project of four coordinated group exhibitions of Saudi art in the United States.

Running from 28 October 2016 to 18 March 2017 at Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine, the exhibition engages the community in critical dialogue around Saudi-US relations.

Hisham Fageeh, 'No Woman No Drive', 2014, video, 4m:14s. Image courtesy Telfaz11, Saudi Arabia.

Hisham Fageeh, ‘No Woman No Drive’, 2014, video, 4m:14s. Image courtesy Telfaz11, Saudi Arabia.

In May 1965, Neil Leifer captured what would be the most iconic photo of his career: Muhammad Ali, face contorted, standing above a supine Sonny Liston whom he had just knocked out in the first round with a resounding ‘phantom’ punch. The decisive blow, named for its unforeseen and swift impact, took place in St. Dominic’s Arena in the sleepy town of Lewiston, Maine, mostly known for its mills and as the home of Bates College. Just over half a decade later, Bates College hangs onto this historical moment, which is relevant not only as a rhetorical analogy but also due to the significance of Ali’s relationship to Islam, to present an exhibition of contemporary Saudi art at the Bates College Museum: a “cultural phantom punch” that resounds loudly in a contemporary political climate that is colored largely by the same issues, accompanied by new complexities, of race, religion, and cultural exchange.

The exhibition “Phantom Punch: Contemporary Art from Saudi Arabia in Lewiston” at Bates College Museum of Art is part of a larger ongoing project of four coordinated group exhibitions of Saudi art in the United States, which includes the exhibitions “Parallel Kingdoms” in Houston, “Gonzo Arabia” in Aspen, and “Genera#ion” in San Francisco.

Ahmed Mater, 'Leaves Fall in all Seasons', 2013, video, 35m:20s. Image courtesy the artist and Pharan Studio, Jeddah.

Ahmed Mater, ‘Leaves Fall in all Seasons’, 2013, video, 35m:20s. Image courtesy the artist and Pharan Studio, Jeddah.

However, “Phantom Punch” is the first ever exhibition of Saudi artists in New England and in an effort to commemorate this historic moment, and to engage the community in critical dialogue around Saudi-US relations, a series of ongoing community programming events, produced by CULTURUNNERS, was initiated for the week following the show’s opening as well as for early February 2017. Dan Mills, the curator of the exhibition along with Loring Danforth, speaks of the origins of the exhibition and its initial planning and partnership stages:

​We began discussion about curating an exhibition focusing on Saudi art in mid-2013, and began researching individually then meeting periodically to compare what we had learned. Many of the most compelling artists seemed to be connected in some way to Edge of Arabia, a London-based organization. We thought it would be worth approaching them and seeing if we might collaborate somehow. By mid-2014 we had written and Skyped with one of the principles, Stephen Stapleton, and met him and other staff at MIT fall 2014.

Eventually, we partnered with CULTURUNNERS, an associated organization headed up by Stapleton but one that focus on the programmatic and performance, story-telling, visiting artists and other creative platforms that connect artists with audiences and other audiences, who produced the exhibition. Stapleton and team had known many of the artists for years, has an amazing track record for producing adventuresome and prescient creative projects abroad and more recently in the US. They have been terrific to work with and have been a vital part of the project.

Sarah Abu Abdullah, 'Saudi Automobile', 2012', video, 10 minutes. Image courtesy the artist.

Sarah Abu Abdullah, ‘Saudi Automobile’, 2012′, video, 10 minutes. Image courtesy the artist.

Though the exhibition has gained much traction for its historical significance as the first exhibition of Saudi art in New England, it must also be commended for its breadth, both in terms of thematic material and medium. Artists in the show explore and shed light on the economic impacts of the oil industry on Saudi Arabia, freedoms and restrictions on artistic expression, urbanisation and land usage, and terrorism and conflict across various media including but not limited to sculpture, photography, calligraphy, performance and video.

The expansive nature of the works allows for a nuanced and faceted approach to an exhibition that would otherwise run the risk of essentialism. Any exhibition premised on geopolitical identity must contend with the potential for national, or even cultural, essentialism, no matter how well-intentioned its aims. Positing Saudi Arabia as a site of difference between that of the United States would play into the divisive rhetoric that has thus largely defined electoral politics this year; however, the exhibition provides a platform for a multitude of voices, particularly young Saudi voices, to generate discourse centred on similarities.

The expansive nature of the works allows for a nuanced and faceted approach to an exhibition that would otherwise run the risk of essentialism; any exhibition premised on geopolitical identity must contend with the potential for national, or even cultural, essentialism, no matter how well-intentioned its aims. Positing Saudi Arabia as a site of difference between that of the United States would play into the divisive rhetoric that has thus largely defined electoral politics this year; however, the exhibition provides a platform for a multitude of voices, particularly young Saudi voices, to generate discourse centred on similarities.

Click here to watch ‘No Woman, No Drive’ (2014) by Hisham Fageeh on YouTube

Throughout the exhibition, contemporary sociopolitical issues in Saudi Arabia are explored critically through satire and parody. Hisham Fageeh’s 2014 video No Woman, No Drive tackles the ban on female driving in Saudi Arabia as a parody of the 1979 Bob Marley classic. The availability of the full video on YouTube positions it within the wider genre of musical parody that has become a hallmark of amateur videography, yet the political commentary – and its inclusion in an exhibition – complicates its reception as ‘art’.

Click here to watch ‘Saudi Automobile’ by Sarah Abdullah on YouTube

Similarly, Sarah Abdullah, an artist who also works with film and has exhibited at the 55th Venice Biennale and Copenhagen’s Louisiana Museum of Art, reconfigures the ban on female driving as a performative project in her 2012 video Saudi Automobile. Abdallah treats a wrecked vehicle meant for transport and utility as a decorative object, painting it in a shade of pale pink throughout the duration of her ten-minute performance. In doing so, she transmits to the viewer a sense of impotence, both of the vehicle’s non-utility,and the impossibility of her own desire for agency and mobility.

Similar thematic issues of gender equality within Saudi society are addressed in Ahaad Almoudi‘s My Saudi Couple, a pair of his and her detergent bottles printed with male (white) and female (black) stickers. Here, as in other elements of the exhibition, the commentary is tongue-in-cheek rather than explosive; it is less of an attempt to make the Saudi world more digestible to a Western audience than it is a subtle reminder of how experiences of inequity are bounded to experiences of global commercialism and thus shared rather than idiosyncratically tied to cultural norms.

Ahaad Alamoudi, 'My Saudi Couple', 2016, prints on plastic bottles. Image courtesy the artist.

Ahaad Alamoudi, ‘My Saudi Couple’, 2016, prints on plastic bottles. Image courtesy the artist.

Such a lesson is particularly resonant in a university setting, where students are presented with opportunities to challenge their perceptions of difference. Says Loring Danforth:

As a professor of anthropology, I feel that one of the most important functions of a college or university art museum in the United States is to provide a place where students can experience art from different cultures around the world […]. Many American students have never met someone from Saudi Arabia, and they almost certainly have never met a Saudi artist. The artists we brought to the opening included a 21-year-old woman who was fully involved in the on-line world as well as older more conservative male artists. The fact that these artists expressed a range of perspectives on Saudi culture and on Islam will make it impossible for students to speak in sweeping generalizations about Saudis. Students will also realize that Saudi artists are critical of many of the same aspects of their society that Americans are critical of and that there are many other aspects of Saudi society that Americans are completely ignorant of.

Click here to watch ‘Leaves Fall in All Seasons’ (2013) by Ahmed Mater on YouTube

Providing space for contemporary critical perspectives on Saudi culture is at the heart of the exhibition, and it is where these perspectives expand to critiques of global phenomena that the exhibition’s significance expands its bounds.

Ahmed Mater’s 2013 film Leaves Fall in All Seasons is a prime example of how the local and the global intersect. Composed of various shots filmed on mobile phones from anonymous contributors, the film shows immigrant workers during the construction of the Royal Hotel Clock Tower in Mecca. The split screen video offers two frames of viewing: that of the collective mass of workers, and that of an individual labourer in a precarious position on the crescent sculpture that adorns the tower.

Mater’s video combines a perspective into the reality of economic growth within the Arab region by showing the impact of globalisation on the lives of the many migrant labourers who must bear the costs of globalisation.

Huda Beydoun, 'Tagged and Documented 4', 2013, digital print. Image courtesy the aritst and Ayyam Gallery, Dubai.

Huda Beydoun, ‘Tagged and Documented 4’, 2013, digital print. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery, Dubai.

Huda Beydoun’s Tagged and Documented, from the series “Documenting the Documented”, attempts to bring such people to life through digitally manipulated photography. Silhouettes of Mickey and Minnie Mouse obscure the faces of undocumented immigrants, juxtaposing the whimsical with the harsh reality of her subjects’ struggle.

Mater and Beydoun’s work, like the larger body of work exhibited in the show, speak to a conscious effort to neither sanitise the Saudi world nor paint an exclusively bleak portrait of how its inhabitants live. What’s more, the aim of the exhibition is not to presume that contemporary Saudi art takes on a particular tendency toward something like “Westernisation” nor does it appear to tokenise its artists. For instance, Abdulnasser Gharem’s Ricochet, composed of rubber stamps and lacquer paint, offers a kaleidoscopic, panoramic perspective of traditional Islamic architecture against figures of industrial weapons – commentary that is topical without being trite.

Abdulnasser Gharem, 'Ricochet', 2015, rubber stamps and industrial lacquer paint on plywood, 94 1/2 x 141 5/8 in. Private Collection. Image courtesy the artist.

Abdulnasser Gharem, ‘Ricochet’, 2015, rubber stamps and industrial lacquer paint on plywood, 94 1/2 x 141 5/8 in. Private Collection. Image courtesy the artist.

Between the breadth of the exhibition and its adjacent programming, “Phantom Punch” establishes a model for presenting the work of Middle Eastern artists in the West in a way that is both comprehensive and replicable. Following the exhibition’s closing will be the publication of a catalogue that includes the exhibited work, documentation of the adjacent programming, as well as a catalogue essay by Danforth. Says Dan Mills:

Exhibitions are by nature ephemeral. So much work is put into an large and ambitious exhibition. That is the nature of the beast. But they are so worth it; one learns so much from a well-conceived and implemented exhibition–including the curators. There are some ideas, associations, and dialogues that only occur between works when they share a space. But alas then they’re over. But that’s when a fine catalogue, in some way, helps extend the life of the exhibition and expand upon it in its form.

Contentious political climates that favour broad generalisation give rise to punditry and essentialism; establishing platforms for multiple subjectivities and voices, and emphasising nuance and critical perspective allows us to combat such forces of generalisation.

Tausif Noor

1452

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6 Middle Eastern, African and Asian artists from La Biennale de Montréal 2016

The 2016 edition of La Biennale de Montréal includes works by 55 artists and collectives from 23 countries.

Art Radar takes a look at a few of the highlights from this year’s edition.

Shannon Bool and Luis Jacob. Image courtesy BNLMTL. Photo by Alison Slattery.

Biennale artists Shannon Bool and Luis Jacob. Photo: Alison Slattery. Image courtesy BNLMTL.

On view from 19 October to 5 January 2017, this edition of La Biennale de Montréal (BNLMTL), entitled “Le Grand Balcon”, draws loosely on Jean Genet’s play Le Balcon. The contested space of the balcony in the play oscillates between revolution and counter-revolution, reality and illusion. In other instances the balcony is a place for lovers to meet yet maintain a certain distance. As detailed in the curatorial statement,

As an exhibition, Le Grand Balcon aims to open up a mental space to rethink some of our most pressing matters and their interconnectedness—our culture of waste and excess, the accelerating dematerialisation of the economy and the global evolution towards a clash of prophesying communities.

Michael Blum, 2016, 'The Swap' (still), video. Image courtesy the artist. Photo by Roberto Gianstefani.

Michael Blum, ‘The Swap’ (still), 2016, video. Photo: Roberto Gianstefani. Image courtesy the artist.

The Biennale delves into the pursuit of sensual pleasures, investigating the role of pleasure in everyday life and political decision-making. It calls for a materialist and sensualist approach, to mobilise both the brain and the body’s capacities to their fullest.

“Le Grand Balcon” consists of a multi-site exhibition, publications and a series of performances, concerts, film screenings, talks, tours, conferences, encounters and experiences over a total of 22 venues. With 35 new works and ten international co-productions, the 2016 edition is a full programme.

Art Radar takes a look at some of the highlights from Asia, Africa and the Middle East in this edition of La Biennale de Montréal.

Haig Aivazian, 'Not Everyday Is Spring', 2016, film with sound, 46 minutes. Image courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamborg, Germany and Beirut.

Haig Aivazian, ‘Not Everyday Is Spring’, 2016, film with sound, 46:00 min. Image courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamborg, Germany and Beirut.

1. Haig Aivazian

Haig Aivazian is an artist, curator and writer who was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1980, where he is currently based. He uses performance, video, drawing, installation and sculpture in his practice. His work takes historical events as points of departure to build narratives about systems of power and their far-reaching influence.

Haig Aivazian, 'Not Everyday Is Spring', 2016, film with sound, 46 minutes. Image courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamborg, Germany and Beirut.

Haig Aivazian, ‘Not Everyday Is Spring’, 2016, film with sound, 46:00 min. Image courtesy the artist and Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Hamborg, Germany and Beirut.

At La Biennale de Montréal, Aivazian presents the new film Not Everyday is Spring (2016), which is a journey through the sites of music production and dissemination in Istanbul. It is part of a bigger project that began in 2014, Hastayim Yasiyorum (I am Sick but I am Alive), which delves into the history of classical and modern Turkish music and touches upon Turkish-Armenian oud master Udi Hrant Kenkulian (1901-1978). This new film connects the present-day city with the movement of people and music, through encounters with an unusual cast of musical characters.

Hassan Khan, 2015, 'The Slapper and the Cap of Invisibility', video 9:11 minutes, commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation – SB 12 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.

Hassan Khan, 2015, ‘The Slapper and the Cap of Invisibility’, video, 9:11 min. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation – SB 12 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.

2. Hassan Khan

Hassan Khan was born in 1975 and lives and works in Cairo, Egypt. His works engage with cultural artifacts (music, film, text or objects) in order to explore the continuous shift between, on the one hand the personal and private and on the other hand, national history and popular culture. He has an interdisciplinary practice that is hard to define, ranging from writing, music and performance to moving image and installation.

Hassan Khan, 2015, 'The Slapper and the Cap of Invisibility', video 9:11 minutes, commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation – SB 12 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.

Hassan Khan, 2015, ‘The Slapper and the Cap of Invisibility’, video, 9:11 min. Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation – SB 12 2015. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris.

Khan is presenting The Slapper and the Cap of Invisibility (2015) at La Biennale de Montréal, a recent film that takes Egyptian comedy and its use of language as its starting point. The film features performances by iconic actors Ismail Yassin, a 1950s comedy superstar, and Tewfiq El Deqn. Khan works with their repertoire of gestures, nervous tics, physical contortions and voices in order to investigate a language of compulsion and fears that can be found in Egyptian comedy.

Dineo Seshee Bopape, 'Sa kosa ke lerole'. Image courtesy BNLMTL.

Dineo Seshee Bopape, ‘Sa Kosa Ke Lerole’. Image courtesy BNLMTL.

3. Dineo Seshee Bopape

Dineo Seshee Bopape, born in 1981, is a South African artist based in Johannesburg. She originally studied painting and sculpture and has since established a multimedia practice that involves experimental video montages, sound, found objects, photographs and installations. Her work engages with themes such as memory, narration and representation and includes addressing the legacy of apartheid in South Africa.

Bopape’s work can be politically active, such as her work in the 2016 Marrakech Biennale that addressed
 topics of gender,
 sexuality, politics and
 race by creating elaborate ad playful assemblages. Her work has also been described as surreal, and in an interview with Art Africa she commented that “life itself is quite ‘kaleidoscopic’ and surreal”.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 2015, 'Cassava Garden', acrylique, transferts, crayon de couleur, fusain et tissu commémoratif sur papier, acrylic, transfers, coloured pencils, charcoal and commemorative fabric on paper, 182.88 cm x 152.40 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London. Photo by Robert Glowacki.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, ‘Cassava Garden’, 2015, acrylic, transfers, coloured pencils, charcoal and commemorative fabric on paper, 182,88 cm x 152,40 cm. Photo: Robert Glowacki. Image courtesy the artist and Victoria Miro, London.

4. Njideka Akunyili Crosby

United States-based artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby was born in Nigeria and moved to the USA in 1999 when she was a teenager. Her work combines a number of techniques including drawing, painting and collage on paper, as well as a variety of styles. Her dense compositions often portray interior spaces and everyday scenes such as eating, drinking and watching TV. The intimate moments are left open to interpretation, yet draw the viewer into the bright spaces.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, 2015, 'Thread', acrylic, charcoal, pastel, coloured pencils and transfers on paper, 131.98 cm x 131.98 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro, London. Photo by Max Yawney,

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, ‘Thread’, 2015, acrylic, charcoal, pastel, coloured pencils and transfers on paper, 131,98 cm x 131,98 cm. Photo: Max Yawney. Image courtesy of the artist and Victoria Miro, London.

Akunyili Crosby draws on diverse art historical, political and personal references, merging the African and western influences that form her experiences. The collages reference Nigerian pop culture and politics, ranging from models and celebrities, to lawyers and military dictators. Some are personal images and photos from magazines, while others are sourced from the Internet. The works tell a multilayered story of diverse memories and cultural history. Thread (2012) and Cassava Garden (2015), the two works on display at the Biennale, combine suggestions of Renaissance paintings with the compositional structure and iconography of African artists like Malinese Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé and Nontsikelelo Veleko.

Portrait of Liao Guohe. Image courtesy of La Biennale de Montréal.

Portrait of Liao Guohe. Image courtesy of La Biennale de Montréal.

5. Liao Guohe

Liao Guohe, based in Changsha, China, is a painter who uses dry whit and language to comment on political and social customs of today’s China. His painted drawings use simple imagery with sentences or words in Chinese characters, creating work that seems buoyant, silly and perverse and yet eerily perceptive. The work does not fall into cynicism, rather his style opens his commentaries to the sympathy of the viewer.

There are a number of his works on display at the Biennale, principally from 2014 and 2015. Although his work is reminiscent of graffiti or cartoons, Liao Guohe prefers to refer to historical antecedents of classical Chinese painters who incorporated poems in their works. Like the 13th century artist-poet Zhao Mengfu, Liao Guohe writes the title of the work directly on the canvas. With this rough aesthetic, he is challenging a society that could be seen as amoral, smutty and unbalanced.

Haegue Yang, 2016, 'The Intermediate – Dragon Conglomerate', artificial straw, steel stand, powder coating, casters plastic twine, 180 x 115 x 114.9 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York. Photograph by Elisabeth Bernstein.

Haegue Yang, ‘The Intermediate – Dragon Conglomerate’, 2016, artificial straw, steel stand, powder coating, casters plastic twine, 180 x 115 x 114.9 cm. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein. Image courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York.

6. Haegue Yang

Born in Seoul in 1971 and now based between her hometown and Berlin, Haegue Yang uses everyday household objects, decontextualising them in order to apply new meaning to the objects. For example, she has used Venetian blinds, such as in her site-specific installation at the Centre Pompidou in Paris this year, which used a grid-like structure to create a sparse installation piece.

Haegue Yang, 2015, 'Sonic Sphere – Horizontally-striped Brass and Nickel', steel stand, metal grid, powder coating, casters, nickel plated bells, brass plated bells, metal rings, 99 x 83 x 83 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York. Photograph by Elisabeth Bernstein.

Haegue Yang, ‘Sonic Sphere – Horizontally-striped Brass and Nickel’, 2015, steel stand, metal grid, powder coating, casters, nickel plated bells, brass plated bells, metal rings, 99 x 83 x 83 cm. Photo: Elisabeth Bernstein. Image courtesy the artist and Greene Naftali, New York.

At La Biennale de Montréal, Yang presents six sculptures from 2011 to 2016 that draw on materials associated with ancient, forgotten or ceremonial traditions. One of the works, Can Cosies Pyramid – Tulip 340 g Silver, consists of cans encased in knitted cosies and displayed as a pyramid. By choosing this particular domestic object, Haegue Yang is drawing upon concepts of comfort and domesticity, transferring the hard tins into objects that are more comforting. The Intermediate series of sculptures, also presented at the Biennale, consists of artificial straws woven into shapes that recall the human body, further exploring concepts of materiality in the world around us.

Claire Wilson

1447

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Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar’s “Castles Built from Sand Will Fall” at Ayyam Gallery, Dubai

Solo exhibition “Castles Built from Sand Will Fall” explores the dissident, critical and therapeutic art practice of Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar.

“Castles Built From Sand Will Fall” is a solo show of Khaled Jarrar’s work, open until 7 January 2017 at Ayyam Gallery in Dubai. Art Radar takes a look at the exhibition and talks to Jarrar about the intersection of the personal and the political in his art practice.

Installation view, Khaled Jarrar ‘Castles Built from Sand will Fall’, Ayyam Gallery Dubai (12, Alserkal Avenue), 2016. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Khaled Jarrar, ‘Castles Built from Sand will Fall’, 2016, installation view at Ayyam Gallery Dubai (12, Alserkal Avenue). Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery.

Khaled Jarrar worked as a member of the Palestinian Presidential Guard before studying photography and film in the early 2000s. Over the last ten years, Jarrar has developed a practice that has included creating sculptures of everyday objects made out of reconstituted concrete chipped from the West Bank barrier, documentary film, installation, public art interventions and photography that often explore the psychological and physical realities of living in the shadow of the wall. The restrictions imposed on him and his fellow citizens internationally and at home have become the catalyst and subject of his occasionally satirical artistic output.

Khaled Jarrar, 'Castles Built from Sand Will Fall' (2016). Wood, Styrofoam. 261 x 120 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Khaled Jarrar, ‘Castles Built from Sand Will Fall’, 2016, wood, styrofoam, 261 x 120 x 120 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

The title of the current exhibition at Ayyam Gallery entitled “Castles Built from Sand Will Fall” seeks to highlight the way in which Jarrar’s practice has consistently intervened into the rigidity of nationalisms in acts of artistic disobedience that reveal politically imposed borders to be essentially impermanent. The exhibition’s title, for example, appears engraved onto what looks like a heavy concrete tombstone and is in fact Styrofoam. The exhibition shows a number of new installations such as Khaled’s Ladder (2016) and Finnish Bread (2016).

Khaled Jarrar, 'Khaled's Ladder', 2016. Dimensions Variable Steel. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery and the artist.

Khaled Jarrar, ‘Khaled’s Ladder’, 2016. Dimensions Variable Steel. Image courtesy Ayyam Gallery and the artist.

Khaled’s Ladder and the found object

One of the highlights of the exhibition is a replication of parts of a work originally installed as a public art piece in Juarez, Mexico in 2015. The artist created a ladder from pieces of the US-Mexico separation with the intention of offering a pragmatic and metaphoric way to build bridges between communities. The work was produced in the context of the anti-immigration and racist rhetoric of the campaign of the then US president candidate Donald Trump, whose proposals to build a wall along the US-Mexico border were among the most publicised and controversial of his campaign. With Trump winning the elections, Khaled’s Ladder, as it was christened by local residents, seems all the more important.

Talking to Art Radar about the process of developing the work, Khaled Jarrar explained:

Khaled’s Ladder is a response to the discussions about the need to build bridges and is an act of resistance to the ugly wall. I took a metal piece – what is effectively a “found object” – from the wall between Tijuana and San Diego using my physical strength to remove it (the object is around 6 meter tall and more than 40kg in weight). The wall even goes under the sea, dividing two people in a very aggressive way.

Installation view, Khaled Jarrar ‘Castles Built from Sand will Fall’, Ayyam Gallery Dubai (12, Alserkal Avenue), 2016.

Khaled Jarrar, ‘Castles Built from Sand will Fall’, 2016, installation view at Ayyam Gallery Dubai (12, Alserkal Avenue).

Talking about the work, Jarrar commented to Art Radar:

This metal object is used to separate people from each other and I wanted change the functional use of it in order to make something positive: I made a ladder to bring people together. I was interested in how the same object can be used to do different things. Rather than building walls and wasting all this metal, we could be using it to build services and useful facilities such as hospitals, schools, bridges or more of useful things for humanity.

Khaled Jarrar 'Khaled's Ladder', 2016. Video 8 minutes 18 seconds. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Khaled Jarrar, ‘Khaled’s Ladder’, 2016, video, 8:18 min. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

At Ayyam Gallery the work consists of a copy of the ladder (or bridge) and a short video documentary. Asked about the relationship between the original public intervention and the video on display, Jarrar commented:

CultureRunners [a US based public art foundation] organized a workshop for me at the New Mexico State University, where I was able to talk about the idea of objects and how I use found objects that represent power state, racism and oppression and make them more poetic, raising questions about these sculptures and the spaces where they come from. It was about changing the functional use of the found object in order to create the ladder that is installed now as a permanent sculpture in a public space in front of the wall in Juarez. For me the work is also “the process” and this includes the ladder, the workshop, the people who helped me in this, the journey and the video work too.

Khaled Jarrar 'Finnish Rye Bread', 2016. Bronze Edition of 8 + 4 A.P. 19 x 19 x 3.3 cm. 3.6kg. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Khaled Jarrar, ‘Finnish Rye Bread’, 2016, bronze edition of 8 + 4 A.P. 19 x 19 x 3,3 cm, 3,6 kg. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Another work that recontextualises an object associated with suffering is Jarrar’s recent work Finnish Rye Bread (2016). It is an installation of bronze loaves of bread that are models of real bread originally used in an intervention in Finland in 2015, which dealt with the social and class borders the artist experienced in the city of Helsinki while on a visit. Talking to Art Radar about the genesis of the project, Jarrar explained:

In Helsinki I was shocked to see endless queues of homeless people standing in lines of 2 to 3 km in the freezing cold weather in order to receive some bread to survive.  These homeless people were invisible in many parts of the city, especially the luxurious sectors. When I saw this scene, I decided to bring their story to the other parts of the city, with the intention of raising awareness of the existing poverty around us by making the different social classes visible. I ended up building a wall of 386 pieces of bread – the same kind of bread that the homeless people are queuing up for. I build it in the heart of the city, right in the city center. There I cut the bread from the wall and gave it to the people around us and sent the remaining bread to the homeless shelter to avoid any waste.

nstallation view, Khaled Jarrar ‘Castles Built from Sand will Fall’, Ayyam Gallery Dubai (12, Alserkal Avenue), 2016.

Khaled Jarrar, ‘Castles Built from Sand will Fall’, 2016, installation view at Ayyam Gallery Dubai (12, Alserkal Avenue).

Passport control and parody

In July 2014, Jarrar was due to attend the opening of the group show “Here and Elsewhere” at the New Museum in New York, but was stopped by Israeli authorities at the crossing into Jordan and told he would not permitted to travel for “security reasons”. He later took part in a panel discussion at the Museum via Skype.

It is his experience as a minority citizen and artist, expected to perform spectacular feats at international symposia and exhibitions while subjected to increasingly rigid migration controls, that motivates Jarrar to construct performances and actions that visibilise and ridicule the policing of borders. In 2011 Jarrar coordinated an action in which he replicated the conditions of state border passport control at a bus stop in Ramallah, offering passers-by his own custom-designed stamp that reads “State of Palestine” in English and Arabic.

Khaled Jarrar, 'Stamp of Palestine', 2011–ongoing. Performance and stamp. Image courtesy the artist.

Khaled Jarrar, ‘Stamp of Palestine’, 2011–ongoing, performance and stamp. Image courtesy the artist.

The action was part of ongoing project entitled Live and Work – a series of works that protest the refusal of countries to recognise Palestine as a formal nation. The message of the work is a deeply serious critique of the daily strain on Palestinians as they bear the weight of a violent state apparatus that does not recognise them as equal citizens. Yet the tactics are comic: with his stamp and performance, Jarrar embodies an entire passport office – the artist as a one-man-state. The use of parody is important to the success of his work and his need to move beyond the pain of the situation towards critique and happiness.

Art and trauma, the personal and the political

Khaled Jarrar has often contested the use of the term ‘political’ in reference to his work. He sees himself as an artist working through essentially personal issues. Jarrar is open about how the various traumatic experiences accumulated during his time serving as a member of President Yasser Arafat’s security guard motivated him to turn to art as a means of working through pain, visibilise oppression and critique it.

Talking to Art Radar about the relationship between his art practice and trauma, Khaled Jarrar commented:

I came to art from the military system where I got trained and served as soldier. In order to live the imagined identity of the soldier you need to be strong with big passion to your nation so it was so easy to brain wash me with the illusion of nationalism, resulting in the creation of new boundaries for my new identity as a soldier. When I intervene in socio-political zones I find my strength using my past to illuminate my horizons. Art provokes particular memory structures and helps me ease the tensions between the identity conflict and overcome trauma, this is why I like irony, and humorous forms of cultural and artistic intervention in conflict zones.

Khaled Jarrar, 'People Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Stones', 2016. Glass. 80 x 80 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Khaled Jarrar, ‘People Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn’t Throw Stones’, 2016, glass, 80 x 80 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Ayyam Gallery.

Jarrar’s work requires a kind of criticism that is capable of alternative frames of understanding the role of the personal in political artworks without recourse to pathologising the artist or dismissing the artwork as fetish. A useful tool in this respect is Media Farzin’s article The Imaginary Elsewhere and How Not To Think About Diasporic Art, in which the critic recovers the creative and critical force of the “fetish”, commenting:

Of course, “fetishism” is usually taken to be pejorative. And yet a fetish is also one of the most powerful examples of a social object, a material occasion for an individual to relate to the values of a collective Imaginary in a deeply personal way. Historian William Pietz gives an inventory of such occasions: “a flag, monument, or landmark; a talisman, medicine-bundle, or sacramental object; an earring, tattoo, or cockade; a city, village, or nation; a shoe, lock of hair, or phallus; a Giacometti sculpture or Duchamp’s Large Glass.” Our diaspora artist is in good company. Her fetish objects use personal disavowals as tools to create figures of collective history out of chaos and contingency. While there is some sleight of hand in what she does, in the best tradition of the historic fetish object — the Portuguese word feitiçio meant “magical practice” or “witchcraft” — there is also a great deal of personal truth.

The exhibition “Castles Made of Sand Will Fall” includes just such a set of “fetish objects”: the bronze bread, the metal ladder, the reconstituted fragment of a wall. It is in this way that Jarrar’s works “use personal disavowals as tools to create figures of collective history out of chaos and contingency”.

Rebecca Close

1459

Related Topics: Palestinian artists, sculpture, video, site-specific installation, events in Dubai

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Indonesian artist Mangu Putra: “Between History and the Quotidian” in Singapore – in conversation

Mangu Putra’s latest solo exhibition draws on archival footage of Dutch colonisation.

Art Radar took the time to have a quiet chat with Mangu Putra about his new show at Singapore’s Gajah Gallery.

Mangu Putra, 'Eksekusi Letda Reta', 2014, oil on canvas, 190 x 290 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Mangu Putra, ‘Eksekusi Letda Reta’, 2014, oil on canvas, 190 x 290 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Indonesian artist Mangu Putra has a series of recent paintings on display at Gajah Gallery in Singapore from 25 November to 11 December 2016. Entitled “Mangu Putra – Between History and Quotidian”, the exhibition examines archival footage of Dutch colonisation in Bali in the early to mid 1900s. Putra uses colonial photographs published by Dutch institutions in order to re-imagine scenes by placing Balinese people at their centre.

“Mangu Putra – Between History and the Quotidian” installation at Singapore’s Gajah Gallery. Image courtesy Gajah Gallery.

“Mangu Putra – Between History and the Quotidian”, 25 November – 11 December 2016, installation at Singapore’s Gajah Gallery. Image courtesy Gajah Gallery.

Putra was born in 1963 in Sangeh in Central Bali, Indonesia. He studied at Institute Seni Indonesia where he majored in Design and Visual Communications. He worked as a graphic designer until 1997, after which he turned to a career in the fine arts.

Mangu Putra, '1949', 2013 oil on linen,150x200 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Mangu Putra, ‘1949’, 2013 oil on linen, 150 x 200 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Even though Yogyakarta, Bandung and Jakarta have developed into significant creative hubs in Indonesia, Putra has chosen to remain in Bali, where he investigates Balinese history and the experiences of his own family.

Through the 1990s and 2000s Putra developed work that explored concerns regarding the environment. In one example, the exhibition “Spiritual Landscapes”, volcano wastelands were filled with worshiping Balinese figures. He expanded this theme to other contexts, depicting Denpasar as an alienated urban space and a series on Tibet. The works investigated the tension between rituals and spirituality on the one hand and the decaying landscape on the other.

Mangu Putra, 'Exploitation 1', 2000, acrylic on canvas, 150x250cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Mangu Putra, ‘Exploitation 1’, 2000, acrylic on canvas, 150 x 250 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

In the last ten years Putra has turned his attention to the untold stories of Indonesian veterans, particularly the surviving fighters of the Balinese Puputan War and the fight for independence.

Professor Adrian Vickers, Director of Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Sydney and also author of the catalogue essay, writes:

Mangu Putra shifts his attention towards the degradation of the natural world and the neglect of those who made Indonesia, as part of a search for spiritual meaning. He brings a dark perspective to this quest for meaning, one that is critical not just of the wider nature of Indonesian politics, but also of those who contribute to the neglect of the environment and of history.

Mangu Putra, 'Transit', 2016, oil on canvas, 390x190 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Mangu Putra, ‘Transit’, 2016, oil on canvas, 390 x 190 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

In the exhibition “Between History and the Quotidian” there are 11 works, each drawing on Putra’s masterful painting technique, his great attention to detail and his interest in photography to create hyperrealist pieces.

Art Radar took the time to have a quick chat with Mangu Putra about his work and influences.

Mangu Putra, 'Puputan Badung (The Fall of Badung Kingdom) 1906', 2015,, oil on canvas, 190x390 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Mangu Putra, ‘Puputan Badung (The Fall of Badung Kingdom) 1906’, 2015, oil on canvas, 190 x 390 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

You started off as a graphic designer. What inspired you to move into visual art and how has your background in graphic design informed your creative practice?

Visual arts gave me the freedom to express myself, while with graphic design I needed to follow a set of ‘rules’ or design principles. Technically a big part of my work is still influenced by design. Distorted prints, rough ‘noise’, and dots resulted from the process of photocopy, blurred photographs – they all in a way inspire me.

Mangu Putra, 'Puputan Badung (The Fall of Badung Kingdom) #3', 2015 , oil on linen, 200 x 154 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Mangu Putra, ‘Puputan Badung (The Fall of Badung Kingdom) #3’, 2015, oil on linen, 200 x 154 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Could you explain a bit about the exhibition “Between History and the Quotidian” and what themes you were exploring?

“Between history and the quotidian” is a result of my findings and explorations about my country’s history in fighting colonialism. This is only a small part of my long process in my own fight for my country.

Mangu Putra, 'Adu Jago 1947', 2016, oil on linen, 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Mangu Putra, ‘Adu Jago 1947’, 2016, oil on linen, 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

What drew you to working with historic archival photographs and what process do you go through when you reimagine them?

I chose to utilise archival photographs because these visuals gave me a deeper source of inspiration. While observing photographs of these historical events, I reimagined those events and translated my observations on my canvas.

Mangu Putra, 'Dalam Pengawasan Kolonial', 2016, oil on linen, 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Mangu Putra, ‘Dalam Pengawasan Kolonial’, 2016, oil on linen, 200 x 200 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Why is it important for you to go back to archival documents in the context of Indonesia?

I am interested in digging through historical archives because they document important national struggles against colonialism. These archival photographs I have never seen before, they inspire me so much and I find them aesthetically pleasing.

Mangu Putra, 'Menjelang Merdeka', 2016, acrylic on linen, 70x80cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Mangu Putra, ‘Menjelang Merdeka’, 2016, acrylic on linen, 70 x 80cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

What role does the concept of memory (individual, collective, national or institutional memory) play in your work?

The works I produce from historical explorations do not depict actual histories. They depict a dialogue between my thoughts and feelings towards what I have read and observed during my research. So my works reflect my personal perception of what happened in history.

Mangu Putra, 'Puputan Badung (The Fall of Badung Kingdom) #2', 2016, oil on canvas, 370 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Mangu Putra, ‘Puputan Badung (The Fall of Badung Kingdom) #2’, 2016, oil on canvas, 370 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

An essay by Professor Adrian Vickers mentions your attention towards the natural world and themes of neglect of the environment. Could you explain your interest in this topic and why it is particularly relevant in the Indonesian context?

Nature is an endless source of inspiration for me, in whatever condition it may be. In its most beautiful state, or in its broken, polluted state. I contemplated many things through these natural phenomena lately. Paintings of decaying nature like the ones in the ‘pollution series’ are an expression of how I feel about what I see. I am aware that I myself contribute to the decay of nature through my daily use of motor vehicles, chemical substances to paint, detergent, etc. My paintings are not to inform, but rather to share my feelings and thoughts through art. It is not my way of dictating the relevance of these issues.

Claire Wilson

1445

Related topics: Indonesian art, Indonesian artist, Singapore art events, photography, interview, political, war

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“The world precedes the eye” at Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore

“The world precedes the eye” at Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore explores notions of time, space and history.

Running from 27 October 2016 to 1 February 2017, this exhibition features nine emerging and mid-career artists from the Asia-Pacific region whose work spans sculpture, installation, painting, moving image and sound.

"The world precedes the eye", 27 October 2016 - 27 February 2017, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts. Photo: Geraldine Kang.

“The world precedes the eye”, 27 October 2016 – 27 February 2017, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts. Photo: Geraldine Kang.

Whereas the title “An Atlas of Mirrors” might bring to mind some sort of sleight of hand, the Singapore Biennale 2016 affiliate project “The world precedes the eye” at ICA Singapore seems, straightforwardly, to put forth the commonsensical notion that what we perceive is prior to our perceptions, having an existence which precedes our biases and beliefs. In this, the exhibition’s curators evoke a connection to new materialist tendencies in the study of the humanities – tendencies which, ironically, serve as a bulwark against unbridled anthropocentrism.

While research along these avenues delves deeply into fundamental areas of philosophical enquiry, it may well suffice to use an abbreviated sense of these new materialisms, as the show’s own exhibition guide appears to suggest: matter matters, with material experience being placed ahead of representation. The world is seen as something not made in our image, to be subdued and utilised.

"The world precedes the eye", 27 October 2016 - 27 February 2017, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts. Photo: Weizhong Dong.

“The world precedes the eye”, 27 October 2016 – 27 February 2017, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts. Photo: Weizhong Dong.

"The world precedes the eye", 27 October 2016 - 27 February 2017, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts. Photo: Geraldine Kang.

“The world precedes the eye”, 27 October 2016 – 27 February 2017, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts. Photo: Geraldine Kang.

It is then curious, in some senses, to encounter Pratchaya Pinthong’s A proposal to set CH45.75H20 on fire (work in progress) (2016) as the first (or last, or somewhere in between) artwork in the exhibition, considering the work’s roots in ongoing efforts by the Siberian Limnological Institute to exploit methane hydrate (or clathrate) as a source of energy. Complicating the issue, interestingly, is the substance’s role in the so-called ‘clathrate gun hypothesis’, in which rising temperatures prompt the release of methane gas from clathrate deposits, which increases temperatures, and so on.

Pratchaya Pinthong, 'A proposal to set CH45.75H2O on fire (work in progress), 2016. Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

Pratchaya Pinthong, ‘A proposal to set CH45.75H2O on fire (work in progress), 2016. Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

The key, perhaps, lies in sidestepping these textual expositions, turning instead to the material experience of the installation. Within an almost pitch-black, temporary plywood structure, a short, grainy video of a substance crackling with a flame is placed on a loop. Mute as the film might be, its anachronistic projector more than makes up for it – clattering audibly, with its radiant heat only adding to its sense of presence. Put together, there is something of a sense of a self-enclosed loop, centred on that very explicit experience of watching a film being projected – of the light of the flames impressing itself onto the 16 mm film, and then re-animated with the projector’s bulb.

Matt Hinkley, 'Untitled', 2016. Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

Matt Hinkley, ‘Untitled’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

Matt Hinkley’s untitled mixed media installation occupies one of the most unobtrusive corners of the gallery, concealed from much of the gallery by the “opened out” exhibition architecture, which reveals the hidden faces of the usual false walls and partitions. The addition of a measure of concealment (offset by the standard gallery spotlight) has some resonance with the form of the work: it resembles a collection of miscellaneous debris, as if a number of artists were told to turn out their pockets. This ‘debris,’ however, is in truth a facsimile thereof, rendered in resin, seeming both abject and rarefied at the same time.

 Nabilah Nordin, 'Peak Performance Plan (figure ensemble)', 2016. Installation view. Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.


Nabilah Nordin, ‘Peak Performance Plan (figure ensemble)’, 2016. Installation view. Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

The other artworks in the exhibition inhabit a large, open space around the corner from Hinkley’s miniature sculptures, a space delineated by the aforementioned open-backed false walls, and anchored in one corner by projections of Shimura Nobuhiro’s Japanese cattle (2015). One unusual feature here, however, are the seams and a measure of reflectiveness in these false walls. The latter appear to be made of some laminated panelling, rising to the surface of one’s attention rather than receding, and offering some amount of competition to Firenze Lai’s drawings and paintings hung on them. While dissonant, perhaps such dissonance is appropriate in a show which lays materiality bare.

"The world precedes the eye", 27 October 2016 - 27 February 2017, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts. View of Shimura Nobuhiro, 'Japanese Cattle', 2015. Photo: Geraldine Kang.

“The world precedes the eye”, 27 October 2016 – 27 February 2017, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts. View of Shimura Nobuhiro, ‘Japanese Cattle’, 2015. Photo: Geraldine Kang.

Nobuhiro’s video is also projected in a manner which draws some attention to the fact of its projection: simultaneously on both sides of a single screen as if to suggest some sort of mirroring. The video itself discusses the threatened status of the Mishima cow, much of the traditional role of which has been rendered obsolete by mechanisation. Their continued existence is the work of a local preservation society, who relate this history (and other cow-related anecdotes) conversationally over footage of the cows themselves.

The footage, as a Super-8 transfer, retains considerable grain and shakiness, suggesting not just a documentary but a conscious and sustained effort to simulate one. Mellowing out such peculiarities are a number of silent shots of the cows, which range from merely beautiful to dream-like and surreal.

Ang Song Ming, 'Something old, something new', 2015, installation view. Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

Ang Song Ming, ‘Something old, something new’, 2015, installation view. Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

One of the highlights of the exhibition is Ang Song Ming‘s Something old, something new (2015), which presents both his replication (in glass) of a double-sided 19th-century wooden music stand and the documentation and process thereof. In something of an homage to Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs, this latter portion takes the form of a photograph of the original stand, in situ, a tracing of its delicate patterns, and a video of the artist making those same tracings with great delicacy.

The care he takes rises to the point of performative exaggeration, coupled with an understated sense of the filmic in the short video’s cinematography. The glass replica itself possesses a surreal intensity, as if more real than real, or the platonic form of its wooden instantiation – a small crack in the original, for instance, is remedied in the glass copy.

Ang Song Ming, 'Something old, something new', 2015, installation view. Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

Ang Song Ming, ‘Something old, something new’, 2015, installation view. Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

Zou Zhao, 'Ritual for an aopology (for Singaporeans)', 2016. Installation view. Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

Zou Zhao, ‘Ritual for an aopology (for Singaporeans)’, 2016. Installation view. Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

A constant companion throughout the exhibition is the voice of Zou Zhao, with her strident interjections and bursts of song repeating a handful of times over the hour or two it takes to absorb the exhibition. These snippets of sound, while dispersed throughout the gallery, find themselves anchored in an audiovisual installation by the gallery’s other entrance: a video in which the artist performs, and a smattering of audio equipment, score included, for interested parties to have a go themselves.

Somewhat fascinatingly, visitors are invited to edit the score, possibly for the artist to perform at a later date. With the studied informality of its cabling, something of the experience of the recording studio appears to be suggested, and while the content meanders a little, there appears to be some link between variable truth values and the anxieties of identity in the geographically itinerant.

Zeyno Pekünlü, 'Minima Akademika', 2015 - 2016, installation view (detail). Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

Zeyno Pekünlü, ‘Minima Akademika’, 2015 – 2016, installation view (detail). Image courtesy the artist and ICA Singapore.

One work standout work is Zeyno Pekünlü’s Minima Akademika (2015 – 2016), a small archive of cheat sheets – illicit memory aids smuggled into examinations. Magnifying glasses are helpfully provided to decipher the tiny, crabbed handwriting (as well as a number of printed examples). Despite the majority of the texts being in languages other than English – the series began in the artist’s native Turkey – their commonality of purpose evokes both familiarity and empathy, and perhaps a measure of respect for the effort poured into gaming the educational system.

Though the exhibition guide remarks that an educational setting is hinted at by forming the display stands as old-fashioned school desks, this reference is likely to be lost on Singaporeans and others whose memories of school desks are rather different. Read from a material point of view, especially, these desks seem rather phantasmal in their flimsiness.

"The world precedes the eye", 27 October 2016 - 27 February 2017, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts. Installation view with Zeyno Pekünlü, 'Minima Akademika', 2015 - 2016. Photo: Geraldine Kang.

“The world precedes the eye”, 27 October 2016 – 27 February 2017, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LASALLE College of the Arts. Installation view with Zeyno Pekünlü, ‘Minima Akademika’, 2015 – 2016. Photo: Geraldine Kang.

Although the exhibition appears somewhat mixed-bag, the standout works are worth seeing on their own. Exhibitions taking materiality as their reason for being are quite engaging, with a number of intriguing correspondences with the other Singapore Biennale affiliate, Boedi Widjaja’s Black Hut, and the Biennale proper.

Bruce Quek

1437

Related Topics: Biennales, globalisation, installation, museum shows, Singapore

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