Kabul Art Projects: 6 Afghan artists to know now

Art Radar profiles six exciting artists from Afghanistan.

Based in Germany, Kabul Art Projects supports and promotes Afghan contemporary artists on the international stage. Art Radar selected 6 among the most innovative artists in their roster.

Malina Suliman, 'Girl in the Ice Box ', series of 5 pieces, 2013, oil color on broken glass, mixed media, 46 x 46 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Malina Suliman, ‘Girl in the Ice Box ‘, series of 5 pieces, 2013, oil color on broken glass, mixed media, 46 x 46cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Afghanistan’s contemporary art scene started to see a resurgence after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, an event that ushered in the possibility for more freedom of expression. Since 2009, international funding for arts and culture has started to reach the country from the United States and Europe. As Kabul-based artist Aman Mojadidi, curator of dOCUMENTA13 in Kabul, stated in an interview with Qantara, these investments came as

a way of creating a sense that Afghanistan is apparently in a much better state than it was before, paving the way for the planned military withdrawal.

Afghanistan has various art schools around the country, and its main art spaces are the National Museum of Afghanistan, the National Gallery of Afghanistan and the National Archives of Afghanistan in Kabul. The Centre for Contemporary Art Afghanistan (CCAA) is a small art centre in Kabul dedicated to the promotion and development of the art scene and local artists through workshops, exhibitions and other educational programmes.

Kabul Art Project, based in Germany, was founded in January 2013 to support and promote contemporary Afghan artists in exhibitions around the world and online, and has become the most present and active platform for connecting Afghani contemporary art to the global stage. Kabul Art Project is starting a crowdfounding campaign with a flexible goal of up to EUR25,000 in order to start publishing a regular series of artist books, shoot a documentary movie portraying their artists, organise exhibitions in Europe and open an online store.

Art Radar selected six outstanding young artists from the Kabul Art Project’s roster.

Shamsia Hassani, Untitled, commissional work for swiss art collector, 2014, aerosol on Canvas, 270 x 154 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Shamsia Hassani, Untitled, commissional work for swiss art collector, 2014, aerosol on Canvas, 270 x 154cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Shamsia Hassani

Shamsia Hassani (b. 1988, Tehran, Iran – based in Kabul) has become renowned for being one of the pioneering and the first female graffiti artist from Afghanistan. She has travelled to various countries, leaving her ‘traces’ along the way, in her trademark mural style. Hassani’s work speaks of the beauty of her country and her people and sends a message of hope and peace for the future. Her desire is to prove that “art is stronger than war”. Many of her murals portray stylised women in burqas appearing taller, stronger and more powerful as a way to talk about their life, “remove them from darkness, to open their mind and bring about some change”.

Shamsia Hassani, Untitled, Work at Sound Central Festival, Kabul, 2013, aerosol on Canvas, 250 x 150 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Shamsia Hassani, Untitled, Work at Sound Central Festival, Kabul, 2013, aerosol on Canvas, 250 x 150cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

The difficulty of painting real life graffiti in the streets has inspired Hassani to create a new digital style: she takes photographs of sites in the city, buildings and walls, and paints the graffiti on the prints with acrylic. In 2009, she was among the top ten Afghan artists in a list by Turquoise Mountain (TMF), four of whom – Hassani, Nabila Horakhsh, Qasem Foushanji, Asad Bromand – went on to establish the artist collective Berang Arts. Hassani says about her relationship to art:

Art is such a part of my life that I don’t know what would happen if was not able to continue. It would be like having a piece cut out of me.

Malina Suliman, 'Girl in the Ice Box ', series of 5 pieces, 2013, oil color on broken glass, mixed media, 46 x 46 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Malina Suliman, ‘Girl in the Ice Box ‘, series of 5 pieces, 2013, oil color on broken glass, mixed media, 46 x 46cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Malina Suliman

Malina Suliman (b. 1990, Kandahar – based in Kandahar and Kabul) is a painter, sculptor and graffiti artist and holds a BA in Fine Arts from Art Council Karachi, Pakistan (2010). She trained in graffiti art at Berang Arts and then went on to found her own local art group, the Kandahar Fine Arts Association (KFAA).

Suliman made international headlines in 2013 when she found refuge in Mumbai, India after receiving threats from the Taliban for the ‘crime’ of painting the walls of Kandahar. The graffiti portrayed a skeleton in a burqa (a self-portrait) and an ordinary Afghan entangled between an American tie knotted to a turban worn by the Taliban.

Malina Suliman, 'Girl in the Ice Box ', series of 5 pieces, 2013, oil color on broken glass, mixed media, 46 x 46 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Malina Suliman, ‘Girl in the Ice Box ‘, series of 5 pieces, 2013, oil color on broken glass, mixed media, 46 x 46 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

For Suliman, graffiti is an act of defiance against the Taliban and the closed-mindedness of her own family. A recurrent symbol in her work is the key, of which she says: “[a key] opens the doors to success as well as the mental block of people.” Suliman depicts the vices of Afghan society and the struggles of her generation, as well as advocates real equality and coexistence of genders. She is now safe in the Netherlands, doing a Master’s programme at the Fine Art Faculty in Eindhoven.

Akram Ati, 'Mazar-i-Sharif', 2013, mud & Stones on cardboard, 75 x 50 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Akram Ati, ‘Mazar-i-Sharif’, 2013, mud and stones on cardboard, 75 x 50cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Akram Ati

Akram Ati (b. 1985, Ghazni – based in Herat) is a painter who works with natural materials to produce his own paints. Ati scours his neighbourhood for materials such as dust, mud, stones and brick, which he then grinds down and mixes together with homemade glue.

By painting with these natural materials, Ati told the BBC he hopes “to better capture the essence of his country’s character and its struggles”. He also maintains that natural paints are far more durable and less dull than artificial ones. Ati started to paint when he was studying at the Fine Arts Faculty in Heart and developed his unique techniques and materials.

Akram Ati, 'Buzkashi', 2012, mud & Stones on cardboard, 70 x 50 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Akram Ati, ‘Buzkashi’, 2012, mud and stones on cardboard, 70 x 50cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

The subject matter of Ati’s work is traditional and portrays scenes of everyday life, sceneries of Afghan villages and the countryside, the national game Buzkashi (a game in which horse-mounted players attempt to drag a goat carcass toward a goal) or the Dervishes’ rotating dance. Ati’s work was supported by the United States embassy where he was able to sell quite a few pieces – the most expensive one at over USD1000, a price that could mean a small fortune and a bright future to a young Afghan artist.

Nabila Horakhsh, 'Love', 2009, oil on paper, 50 x 70 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Nabila Horakhsh, ‘Love’, 2009, oil on paper, 50 x 70cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Nabila Horakhsh

Nabila Horakhsh (b. 1989, Kabul – based in Kabul) is a painter, photographer and freelance culture journalist and is the head of Berang Arts Organisation. She was a project assistant during dOCUMENTA13 workshops in Afghanistan and has exhibited widely both at home and abroad, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Iran. Horakhsh says about painting:

Painting for me is the best way to express my feelings and to share the stories that are in my heart.

Nabila Horakhsh, 'Moon's Yell', 2009, oil on paper, 30 x 21 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Nabila Horakhsh, ‘Moon’s Yell’, 2009, oil on paper, 30 x 21cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Her haunting abstract paintings often feature the colour red, a happy colour and the symbol of love – a love that, she says, she always strongly feels for everything. Dark blue is another recurrent shade, the colour of the night. Horakhsh admits that there is a heightened negativity and feeling of fear in her own mind which might be reflected in her work due to the increasing violence and conflicts that are raging around the world, as if society were losing its humanity.

Moshtari Hilal, 'Afghan Man with Headscarf', wall painting at "The Venue" in Kabul, 2012. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Moshtari Hilal, ‘Afghan Man with Headscarf’, wall painting at “The Venue” in Kabul, 2012. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Moshtari Hilal

Moshtari Hilal (b. 1993, Kabul – based in Hamburg, Germany) is an autodidact artist principally working with drawing. She has been living in Germany since she was two years-old and is now studying Islam and Political Science at the University of Hamburg.

In 2010, Hilal travelled to Kabul to explore the contemporary art scene and meet other Afghan artists. She painted murals at Afghanistan’s first rock festival where she staged a live painting performance with artist and musician Abul Qasem Foushanji aka Dark Artery, who participated in dOCUMENTA13 with a multimedia installation.

Moshtari Hilal, 'Dancing Afghans', 2013, Scriptol on paper, 24 x 32 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Moshtari Hilal, ‘Dancing Afghans’, 2013, Scriptol on paper, 24 x 32cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Hilal has exhibited in “Friends and Lovers Underground”, a touring underground exhibition in Europe, and contributed a live-sculpture at Lange Nacht der Museen in Hamburg and a video installation at the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, among others. Her drawings and murals are inspired by her Afghan heritage and often refer to politics and society in her home country.

In “Art Amongst War: Visual Culture in Afghanistan”, a 2014 exhibition at the College of New Jersey, she contributed a work entitled Antique Mujahideen. It featured an Afghan in pain and in decay with a rat in his eye and blood gushing out, as a statement on how the man has become a victim of the chaos surrounding him.

Mohsen Hoassaini, 'Without Men', oil on Paper, 30 x 50 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Mohsen Hoassaini, ‘Without Men’, oil on paper, 30 x 50cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Mohsen Hossaini

Mohsen Hossaini (b. 1976, Kabul – based in Kabul) is an animator, director and painter. He states that three elements played a major role in defining his artistic practice:

First, homelessness, a man without a country. Second, the bullet that gets fired from a gun. Third, streets of Kabul.

Hossaini’s work is visceral and powerful, and it is inspired by his experiences of life, which are then filtered and recreated through his imagination. His paintings depict street life in his hometown, Kabul, focusing on the alienation of the individual in modern society. In stark blood red and various shades of black, grey and dark green, Hossaini paints the solitude of the prison of the self: even in the crowd, people are alone, there is no communication.

Mohsen Hossaini, 'Offence', oil on Paper, 100 x 70 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

Mohsen Hossaini, ‘Offence’, oil on Paper, 100 x 70 cm. Image courtesy Kabul Art Project.

A powerful symbol of this solitude and lack of relationships is the burqa, a physical and mental boundary between an individual and society. Some of his works communicate a sense of pain, struggle, torture, mental alienation and loss. Hossaini’s paper animation Shelter was selected at Hiroshima, Leipzig, Bosnia and Kabul’s international shorts and film festivals.

Hossaini comments on life in modern Kabul, to explain his bleak outlook:

Modern day life in Kabul is very different for different people. For normal people, it’s hard and the same goes for artists. For most politicians, it can get very lucrative.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related Topics: Afghan artists, abstract art, installation, site-specific art, public art, animation, video art, drawing, painting, graffiti, street art, identity art, political art, social art, nonprofit spaces, profiles

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Jason Lim’s performance art: From socio-political commentary to poetic meditation – interview

Singaporean artist Jason Lim talks about his artistic practice in light of his retrospective at Gajah Gallery.

Gajah Gallery in Singapore is holding a retrospective of Jason Lim’s performance art. Art Radar caught up with the artist to learn more about the origins of his practice, his attraction to ceramics and his exploration and development of performance art.

Jason Lim, 'Duet with Light', 2012, Beijing. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Jason Lim, ‘Duet with Light’, 2012, Beijing. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Tempus Fugit“, Jason Lim’s performance art retrospective, is on view at Singapore’s Gajah Gallery from 22 August until 5 September 2014. The exhibition, curated by artist and independent curator Daniela Beltrani, outlines Lim’s performance practice from its beginnings until the present day.

The show is divided into two sections:

  • ‘Timeline’, with a purely art historical, non-commercial approach presenting Lim’s practice from 1994 to the present, and
  • ‘Fine Art Photography’, featuring a selection of photographs as “unintentional, distilled and sublimated moments” from the artist’s latest, more mature performances.

In the catalogue essay entitled “The power of the image from performance to photography” (PDF download), Beltrani quotes Lim about performance art:

The strength of performance comes from the visual imagery it presents. It is a visual art form. In every performance, the artist is concerned with the image created. The body used in the imagery adds to the power of the artist’s presence. To me, I am creating three-dimensional images in my performances.

Art Radar spoke with Jason Lim about his approach to art, his attraction to the ceramic medium, his chance encounter with performance art and the inevitably rich development of his performance practice.

Jason Lim, 'Last Drop', 2010, Bern. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Jason Lim, ‘Last Drop’, 2010, Bern. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Approaching art as life

In the catalogue essay outlining the history of Lim’s performance art, Beltrani quotes the artist about what art is for him:

Art has to possess a spiritual value, something that opens certain states of consciousness, because we are losing ourselves too quickly.

How did you decide to be an artist? When did you know that you were going to be an artist and why? Was there any defining moment in your life that inspired you or made you want to express yourself through art?

I think when I was young, I knew that I am good with my hands and that I can do something with my hands, and I’m good working with materials. I’m talking about when I was around eleven or twelve years old. I felt that I could just use a pair of scissors and cut things up and make things up from there. Something like creating from materials that are two-dimensional, and then I was able to paste them up and make them into something that is a three-dimensional form. I enjoyed that kind of process and enjoyed the way that it was a very direct contact between hand and the material and what I think is directly transmitted or translated into the material that I am using.

So from then on, I thought that I had an interest to be on the creative side of things. But, of course, I wasn’t thinking straight away of becoming an artist. I was only aware that I was able to make things with my hands.

Did you start with ceramics or with performance first, or both at the same time?

With ceramics first. Actually, it was quite straightforward. When I was doing art as a subject in school, the classroom syllabus was really boring for me because every lesson seemed to be more [about] graphic design kind of projects. And I realised that I cannot be tidy, I cannot keep a white piece of paper clean…when you do design work it needs to be clean and tidy. One day, I came across the material of clay, which is muddy, soft, and there is a form to it. I became more curious. This other material was much more interesting for me.

So, apart from the tidiness aspect, what is the three-dimensional, more tangible element of the ceramic medium that drew you to it?

Clay is something that is worked directly with the hand. In the traditional way of making paintings, the hand is still separated from the canvas by the paintbrush. I’m also fascinated by clay being more alive, an organic and live material because it changes in the various stages of making. From the making part is always soft and organic, and when the form is finished it dries up, it hardens and it becomes a little bit more permanent, and the form is totally fixed after the firing and that will last for a very long time to come. The transformation was interesting for me.

When did you take up performance art?

After I finished my studies overseas [in London], I came back to Singapore. That was in 1992. I didn’t have the financial capability to start the studio to continue my ceramics practice, so I was trying to find different ways of expression, different art forms to make and continue my practice. I started making installation work because I felt that that kind of work was more site-specific and once the exhibition is finished, I don’t really get to keep the artwork per se and that saved me a lot of the problems with storage or studio space.

But after making some installation works, there was one chance to make an installation using clay as the material. In that particular artwork, I used three tons of clay and I started to make performance in that installation, in a way to activate the installation to the performance. After the performance, traces of my bodies were still present in the installation, and it gave it a sort of energy and something that’s left behind when the audience comes to visit: they know something has happened in that space. So from then on, I started doing a bit more performance work, and I realised that it can be a very direct medium, more direct then working with clay. The message that I put across can be received in a more immediate manner. So that’s how [my practice] evolved from doing ceramics to installation and on to making performance art.

You still do make ceramics, don’t you?

Yes, I do. It depends on the idea. If it is more suitable for that medium, I will still do it. I’ve done other work, like sound work and video work, but these days I am more focused on ceramics and performance. It just depends on the idea and concept – which is the better medium to use?

Do you still combine both media, like in your first installation/performance, to create performance works using ceramics?

Not so much these days, but I guess in the way I use clay these days, there is a performance element [to it], especially in a series of work that’s entitled Still/Life. They are works that are made in clay – they are not fired, they are put into a glass vitrine, and on the opening day of the event I introduce water into the glass tank and then the unfired clay would start to break down and dissolve. So there is a kind of movement or change in the clay work through my intervention in the beginning part. And there is this absence of me in the installation work with the clay. It’s all done by gravity and physics and time.

Jason Lim, 'Last Drop', 2011, Seoul. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Jason Lim, ‘Last Drop’, 2011, Seoul. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Exploring performance art

Apart from your installation performance you mentioned before, when did you hold your first actual performance and what was it?

I would say that it was something that was done as a commentary on how people judge somebody by their looks. It’s a performance titled Posing Threat and Threatening Pose. In the performance, I take different postures – for example, crossing my arm in front of my chest and saying the phrase “Threatening pose” and then at the same time I would do the same posture but the word is “Posing threat”. So it’s about the kind of reading, how somebody reads the way you pose yourself; even when smiling I would say “posing threat” but is that a kind of threatening pose? That was the time when I was more interested in playing with words and also those words that I articulate and the different postures that I take. That was in 1994 or 1995.

How did the ban on performance art in 1994 in Singapore affect your practice? How did you get around it to continue performing?

That’s interesting, because I was also teaching at an art school, and the space in the art school provided me with a kind of sanctuary to continue or to experiment with my practice. It was a kind of platform where I was able to do performance without having to go through the whole thing about licensing and so on. I would also say that the 1990s were more of a formative period for me, as a performance artist, so I was able to try out different things, try different ideas and different approaches to performance work. Some audiences are more interested in a certain type of work, some like more solo work where I try to put the message across to the audience to understand. So there were different ways for me to experiment.

In the 1990s, I wouldn’t say [the restriction] was really a big issue for me to continue my practice, because I had the school ground. But because of the ban on performance art, more performance artists got invited to go overseas to do their work. And so a lot of us would continue to practice performance art in the nineties and got somehow invited to perform outside [of the country]. So in a way not many people have seen our work [in Singapore] during the nineties until 2004 [when the ban was lifted], because we didn’t have that many opportunities to perform. Sometimes you do perform without announcing it; we just performed during exhibition openings or in smaller private groupings and situations.

I was particularly curious about one of your earlier series of works that you presented abroad during the ban period, Foreign Talents. Could you tell us more about the concepts and the development of this work? And how was it received by audiences internationally?

The Foreign Talents series started from the 1990s up to basically the whole ban period of performance art. What I was trying to do in that performance was also a kind of social commentary on the situation of Singapore where what is being done by foreigners in Singapore is accepted while what is done by locals has always been rejected or deemed to be less superior. That was basically the message that I was trying to put across. In that social situation in Singapore, a lot of things or decisions were made by – well, not a lot, but sometimes – decisions were made by foreigners who would take a higher position and would give instructions or orders. And not knowing the local cultural and social context too well, they can mess things up. They create a kind of chaos or a bad situation. So in the end, those who clean up this mess are the local people who have to resolve the situation.

It just so happens that during the ban period I travelled a lot for my performance work, so I became the foreign talent in other countries. My performance was always messing [things up], very messy, messing up the audience, and then in the end many things had to be dealt with or cleaned up by the local people or the organiser. So in a way, I was trying to parody what was happening in Singapore, overseas. There was a sort of organised chaos in the way I approached it and the way I did it, but also through the many kinds [versions] I have done, it has become a sort of set way of doing things.

Towards the end of 2004, I decided I had had enough of this piece of work and in the end, ironically, I did my last piece when I was in Singapore for the first time, after the many times I had done it overseas.

Jason Lim, 'Last Drop', 2011, Seoul. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Jason Lim, ‘Last Drop’, 2011, Seoul. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

A transitional period

What happened during your transitional period? How did that affect the following period of your performance practice?

After the Foreign Talents period was finished, there were things that I was doing, but I was also researching and refining the ideas. It was also when I was quite close to a few people who were making performances, and we were always getting together and discussing ideas. I decided to do a bit more collaborative work with these people. On the one hand, it was a trial of how to work with other people. On the other hand, I was trying to resolve a few other things that I had been thinking about as solo works. So in that transitional period, there were quite a few collaborative performances with other artists.

And among those collaborative works, is there a specific one that is particularly important to mention?

There were a few different collaborations and different ideas. There is one that I did with Vincent Leong. We weren’t called Jason Lim and Vincent Leong, we were called Party And Party; the acronym is PAP, which is the ruling party [People Action Party] in the government in Singapore. We dressed ourselves the same way these PAP members dressed up, in white short sleeved shirts and long white trousers and a black belt, and that’s how we appeared as a kind of a duo making performance.

One of these was when we were invited to do a performance for the opening of a gallery in a teaching institute at the National Education Institute, which is a place where they teach teachers. We arrived as if we were the guests of honour, like ministers, and we were standing at the back of a truck. The driver of the truck was, ironically, Joseph Ng, who had made the performance and therefore created the ten years ban on performance art. So there is this irony that Joseph Ng is driving these two ministers into an institution where teachers are being trained.

As we came off the truck, we were waving to people, smiling, shaking hands, and also throwing confetti on ourselves. It was a kind of egoistic portrayal of who we are and walking towards the gallery space, so that’s why we reached the door, the entrance to the gallery, and the performance finished, and we just disappeared. It’s like a big ‘woo haa!’, but actually nothing happens. That was quite memorable for me, because there is this irony of who drove us there and the parody we played on the political party.

Jason Lim, 'Duet with Light', 2012, Venice, Italy. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Jason Lim, ‘Duet with Light’, 2012, Venice, Italy. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Performance as meditation

In the catalogue, the curator quotes Lim for The 5th Asian Performance Art Series + Shinshu Summer Seminar 2000, answering the question “What is performance art for you?”:

…an immediate medium for me to provoke temporary changes in basic human behaviour and consciousness. This provocation intends to open long closed windows and forgotten doors hidden at the back of our head. The immediacy and direct approach of the performance medium allows audience and artist to communicate, respond, exchange in all positive and negative ways.

Daniela [the curator] calls your last period of performance, which is the current one, the meditative phase. How can you explain that? Why is it meditative, with respect to the previous periods? Could you explain a bit about your Duet and Last Drop Series and the ideas behind them?

Just before this period [the meditative phase], there was a stretch of time where I was working on a series of work called Last Drop. After Foreign Talents, there was this transitional period, and then I went into this Last Drop series of performances. In the Last Drop performance, I have used various materials like glasses, water, candles, and almost similar [to] the Foreign Talents. After a while, I wanted to stop making this Last Drop performance. So the meditative period, which is kind of like the last four or five years of works I’ve been doing, is to extract certain materials from the Last Drop performances. Meaning… I had used, for example, candles before in the Last Drop, so in these meditative performances, which I now title under Duet, I will just make longer, durational performances with just one material. And it’s usually durational for at least two hours, [it] will be [about] a given time and how I use a space and how I use the material in that particular time.

So in this Duet series of works, I use candles as one kind of material. And I’ve used threads, paper as another selected material, and working on my conversation or relationship with that particular material that I choose. It’s really giving myself the time to explore this material that I have. In different spaces and on different occasions I will select the material that is appropriate for that particular space. And through doing that kind of durational works, I try to create a certain kind of image that, when audiences look at this particular image, they can form a certain kind of meaning for themselves. So I might have an idea, an image in my head, but in the performance it’s like, “How do I arrive at this particular image that I have in my head?” and it’s in that period that I have to experiment or explore the material to arrive at that image.

But of course, sometimes it doesn’t really work, because there is the so-called ‘failure’, or problems during the performance. But those [problems] for me are not exactly a kind of failure per se, but [rather] it [failure] gives an opportunity for a sort of variation for the performance to happen. It would be boring if I knew how to use the material every time to arrive at the same [image/outcome], at that certain thing that I wanted, it would become so scripted and for me, when it is too scripted or rehearsed, it’s no longer a performance.

So sometimes, when there is a problem that happens or an accident that happens, to me that is a real trigger for a real performance to happen, because I will be able to respond to it, and improvise in that kind of situation.

Jason Lim, 'Duet with Thread', 2010, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Jason Lim, ‘Duet with Thread’, 2010, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Body, action and materials

Would you say that the use of materials and what the materials signify in your performances has changed over time ? It seems like it is more important now that it used to be in your earlier performance work.

Yes, the materials that I use in my works, they might look generic or very common, but it’s also how [and] what this material can be represented/ing or what the image that I create represents as well. So for example, maybe you have seen some pictures of those candles that I use to put on my fingers. In some of the performances there are lots of candles on each of the fingers, and they almost look like a kind of candelabra. For some people, it looks almost like a kind of meditation that you do when you are looking into a flame, as a one kind of a performance. And also by me moving in a dark space with these candles, it illuminates something in that space. When I do the performance with the candle, I tend to choose a period of time of the day when there is a transitional period from daytime to night time. So it’s really about the lighting, about the lights in my hands, the light in that space and also of the day.

The candle is a measurement of time, and when the daytime changes into twilight and then night time, there is a sense of changing time of day as well, so there is a connection between time very strongly linked to the candle. Previously, I only used birthday cake candles, and it has a certain kind of meaning if I use that kind of birthday cake candle. But these days I am using candles that are more for Buddhist rituals, they are those small yellow candles, which I feel have a kind of symbol, a reduced symbolism to it. Because there is also this aesthetic I am looking towards, or working towards, which is a bit more of a minimalistic kind of aesthetic.

Then in the other series, for example, I’m using thread. I’ve used black thread, red, white, and green, it’s also depending on the space. Usually the thread pieces are done outdoors, so the colour of the thread provides a kind of contrast to the space I am working in. Plus the performance is about unspooling that ball of thread and usually this ball of thread I have, I realised that it takes me about two hours to unspool everything. At the end, for example, a red ball of thread by the time after two hours I’ve unspooled everything it becomes a red patch on the ground. From afar it looks almost like red paint or something like that. The colour brings attention or a kind of focus for the audience to focus on, to see myself next to this red patch of colour and framing the image that I create with the surrounding and, from there, they create a certain kind of imagery of meaning that we choose to see.

Usually the threads, after unspooling, somehow kind of weave themselves together, and I am able to pick them up almost like a piece of fabric. So at the end of the performance, I usually take this unspooled threads and put them in my hand, almost like fabric, and then I put them over my head. For me, personally, when I am unspooling the thread, there is this expense of energy onto the thread. After the performance, I collect all this energy and put it back onto my head. But of course, I know that when I put the thread over my head, I become also anonymous, the material becomes part of my body, and what the audience sees is this human figure with a shade of colour red, green or black on my head. I become in a way, anonymous because people can’t see my face anymore. So there is more just like this figure, a body in a particular space at a particular time.

Would you say that the materials and your body and actions in your performances hold a balanced equation, a balanced importance? Are they on the same level?

I think what upsets these three things that you mention is the psychological state. It depends on how I am mentally. If I am happy or feeling more calm or that certain state of mind, it seems like the work will be more stable or the action portrays that state of mind. Maybe if I have something that’s worrying me for a long time, perhaps that comes out in that performance. For example, last year I did a performance and before the performance day I had three days in the city of Vancouver. I was living in this hotel where in the main street just outside the hotel I saw many shocking things that I have never seen before in Singapore. The whole street was just full of drug addicts, prostitutes, people prostituting themselves to get money to buy drugs, people on wheelchairs who lost their legs because of drugs, you know, it’s all this … such a hard situation, so hard that when it comes to the day of making this performance with the candle, in my state of mind, I wanted to make a piece of work that is paying a tribute to these people or talking about these people in the street.

So that performance was supposed to be a long one-hour piece, but in the end I was telling the organiser I can’t make such a long piece, because I can’t handle this performance with all these images of these street people in my head the whole time. So the performance was shorter, like half an hour, but in that half an hour I was so tense, so many emotional things going through my head about these people that in the end, I started crying, in the last part of my performance tears just started to come out. I couldn’t control it, because I was almost meditating or doing a very slow kind of movement, with just one single candle on my finger and so many things in my head because of this space that I’ve seen. It depends on the country that I go to, different environment, it’s not a standardised kind of reaction or outcome that I also expect from myself.

So these latest works are more concentrated on your personal or inner feelings and energy, rather than society or political criticism or commentary?

Yes, that is why Daniela kind of labelled or categorised them as more meditative.

Well, it’s in constant mutation…

Yes, I think the interesting thing to me about making works in a series, even though it might just look like it’s a repetition of one idea, is that each time I do something I learn something new.

Jason Lim, 'Duet with Light', 2012, Venice. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Jason Lim, ‘Duet with Light’, 2012, Venice. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

The outsider’s perception

What do you expect of the audience when seeing your performances? 

It’s difficult to say. I mean, the reason why I stopped making performances that have social or political commentary is because no matter what I do, people still have to ask me “what do you mean?” So from that kind of performance, I realised that whatever message I was telling the audience, it didn’t get across. I stopped complaining in that sense about using art to make commentary about society, but using this performance art more to review my own state of mind, and when the audience see something that they can recognise in these later works, it’s good because then they get something out of what I was making. But I am not worried if they don’t see it exactly the way I want them to look at it. Because I guess it is the same with a painting, someone paints an apple and people still see it as an orange, you cannot control it!

I think I believe in every individual; the way they form meaning for an artwork depends on that individual’s life experience, and they relate to what they see and try to understand.

Regarding photography and performance… performance is ephemeral, it’s there at a particular time and space and then it’s gone, while photography documents it and remains. How important is the photographic documentation of your work? Is the aesthetic as well as the technical aspect of photography important to you?

Usually, I do not give instructions. In fact, I’ve never given instructions to anybody on how to document my performances. Documentation is documentation, when you look at that documentation it is not viewing the performance. That for me is very clear. Even looking at a video documentation, it’s still not the performance. It’s an image that is portraying a performance because that one photo is less than one second of a much longer thing.

Sometimes, when I finish the performance, one or two days later, sometimes a week later, I start to receive [photos] from people who have been there taking pictures. And some pictures tend to look better in a sense, due to where the photographer is standing, how they frame the picture with their own mind, with their own experience, with what they actually choose to see in a performance. In this exhibition, the pictures that were selected are from the documentation. I’m interested in making performance just for photos, not for a performance – it could be another area that I can explore in the future.

So you don’t have a professional photographer who has the job of documenting your performances?

No, I don’t have a professional photographer, but I do have a very good one who knows me well enough to know how to take good pictures – and that’s Daniela [the curator]. She has a good eye, and she is also a performance artist, so she knows what she’s looking at. It’s from her point of view, of course. And when we make a selection from the pictures, we do commonly agree if that’s the right picture to show or what to select.

Jason Lim, 'Duet with Light', 2012, Venice. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

Jason Lim, ‘Duet with Light’, 2012, Venice. Image courtesy the artist and Gajah Gallery.

An evolving practice

Do you have any future projects in store that you’d like to share with us?

Recently, Daniela and I have been exploring a kind of duo performance and we have been invited so far to do performances for two different events, so we are looking forward to that. One is actually more of a video piece, where the documentation becomes the artwork, and we are working on a kind of time lapse video where we are basically looking at each other but we don’t move. It’s more like everything in the background and the foreground is moving, so when we do the fast forward we are still and things around us are moving. And that’s something that we are looking forward to doing.

Another project that I will be doing with her is in November 2014, when we are invited to do a one-week residency in Patagonia… That’s at the end of the world! We don’t have any plans on what we will be doing, but we want to be inspired by the space there, and then we decide on how we can collaborate on something.

I am always fascinated by artist duos; sometimes I feel like they always bring so much more, emotionally, an even more complete perspective somehow.

Yes, I guess there is a sense of synergy between two persons, because they are connected in a way – maybe two persons give off a bigger aura than one person. They provide a stronger presence. Things can just be communicated without speaking, sometimes just being there [is enough].

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related Topics: Singaporean artists, art events in Singapore, performance art, interviews, ceramics, gallery shows

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Melbourne Art Fair 2014 makes comeback with new talent and steady sales

The 25th edition of the Melbourne Art Fair bubbled with fresh new energy, delivering impressive attendance and satisfactory sales. 

After a disappointing 2012 edition of the biennial fair, Melbourne Art Fair 2014 reinvented itself to make a solid, promising comeback.

Valerie Sparks & Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, 'Outland' (installation view), 2014, photographic collage and hand-carved sculpture, variable dimensions. Image courtesy the artists and Melbourne Art Fair.

Valerie Sparks & Abdul-Rahman Abdullah, ‘Outland’ (installation view), 2014, photographic collage and hand-carved sculpture, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artists and Melbourne Art Fair.

The Melbourne Art Fair 2014 closed on 17 August 2014 after a week-long programme of events. Over 75 galleries participated, displaying works by more than 300 established and emerging artists at Carlton Gardens’ Royal Exhibition Building.

A fresh face for the fair

New director Barry Keldoulis was responsible for the fair’s renewed energy. He revamped the floor plan and opened up the ground floor to introduce more space for visitors and collectors. Adelaide gallerist Paul Greenaway, who counts the art fair as the seventieth of his career, told Artnet that the new pathways through the booths were a particular success.

A former dealer, Keldoulis directed the inaugural Sydney Contemporary art fair in 2013 and is active in developing exhibition proposals by first-timer galleries like New Zealand’s Paulnache.

As The Sydney Morning Herald reports, lively events and festivities kept up the buzz at this year’s Melbourne Art Fair – including a speed-dating event, the spectacular presence of performance artist Luke Roberts and identical male models starring in a Michael Zavros installation, complete with a shiny new Rolls Royce.

Youth and diversity

As Vogue reported, the 2014 fair’s noticeably more adventurous programming included:

a greater diversity of media [...] a stronger acknowledgement of emerging talent [...]

Michael Zavros, 'Homework', 2014, C-type photograph, 112 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Starkwhite and Melbourne Art Fair.

Michael Zavros, ‘Homework’, 2014, C-type photograph, 112 x 150 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Starkwhite and Melbourne Art Fair.

This was achieved through an impressive range of works spanning paintings, photography, sculpture, new media, installation work and live performance pieces. In addition, The Guardian reported that:

Melbourne Art Fair offered curated exhibitions of video art and exhibition booths to artist-run galleries. This altruistic gesture created a nice sense of community and offered new potential for conservative collectors [...]

Coinciding with the wave of emerging talent on show, Artnet observed that “big pieces were thin on the ground”. Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery and Pearl Lam Galleries were among those who held the fort.

Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore-based Pearl Lam Galleries, a first-time participant at the fair, showcased works by Ben Quilty, Zhu Jinshi, Joana Vasconcelos, Qin Yufen and Gonkar Gyatso. Roslyn Oxley9 featured major large-scale pieces by Isaac Julien, James Angus, David Noonan and Nyapanyapa Yunupingu.

Meanwhile, a host of other galleries showcased new artists, including:

  • Lucienne Rickard at Beaver Galleries
  • Zoe Croggon at Diane Singer
  • Sam Smith at Ryan Renshaw
  • Abdul Rahman-Abdullah at This is No Fantasy
  • Lucas Grogan at Gallerysmith
  • Sam Leach at Sullivan+Strumpf
  • Karl Wiebke at Liverpool Street Gallery

According to Artnet, these adventurous galleries:

used the fair to introduce younger artists [...] brought some of the fun back.

Sam Leach, 'Rhinos with evolution of colour terms', 2014, oil and resin on wood, 76 x 132 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Sullivan + Strumpf and Melbourne Art Fair.

Sam Leach, ‘Rhinos with evolution of colour terms’, 2014, oil and resin on wood, 76 x 132 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Sullivan + Strumpf and Melbourne Art Fair.

Affordable art and steady sales

Artnet observed that most dealers

kept their presentations within more affordable price ranges and the strategy appeared to pay off. Early in the vernissage, the magic price appeared to be AUD10,000.

Soon, however, higher prices came through. Large paintings by Sam Leach sold for just under AUD50,000, with smaller pieces at AUD20,000-30,000. Sydney dealer Joanna Strumph of Sullivan+Strumpf told Artnet after the first day of sales that:

Quite a lot happened in the first half hour and then it was just steady after that. We were thrilled with last night.

Sydney’s Watters Gallery sold Ken Whisson’s Two Aeroplanes and One or Two Birds (1975) for AUD55,000, while the largest of four Cressida Campbell pieces also fetched AUD55,000, sold by Melbourne’s Sophie Gannon.

At the more affordable end of the spectrum, Melbourne’s Mora Galleries sold seven of Brian Martin’s Methexical Countryscapes – large-scale charcoal tree drawings – for just under AUD11,000 each. A Juz Kitson installation was sold by Adelaide’s Greenaway Art Gallery to a new collector for AUD11,000.

Baden Pailthorpe, 'MQ-9 Reaper' (video still), 2014, digital video, colour, sound, 4 mins 39 sec ed.5 + 2 AP, variable dimensions. Image courtesy the artist, Martin Browne Contemporary and Melbourne Art Fair.

Baden Pailthorpe, ‘MQ-9 Reaper’ (video still), 2014, digital video, colour, sound, 4 min. 39 sec., ed. 5 + 2 AP, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist, Martin Browne Contemporary and Melbourne Art Fair.

Recent Archibald prize winner Fiona Lowry sold two large canvases, one for AUD28,000. Meanwhile, Baden Pailthorpe sold a double-channel video work for AUD18,000, three times the asking price for his work two or three years ago.

Promising trends 

According to Artnet, exhibitors consider this year’s Melbourne Art Fair a “commercial success” and dealers are “jubilant” about sales achieved. In particular, Marita Smith of Gallerysmith was quoted in saying:

It was the best vernissage in 10 years.

The success of the fair also represented a promising outlook for emerging artists and, correspondingly, the future of contemporary Australian art. Audience and buyer enthusiasm together demonstrate a rebound of the art market from the pressures of the financial downturn:

Given the climate and the budgets of many collectors at this year’s fair, artists at early stages of their careers did remarkably well [...] they show a growing audience for art in Australia and a continuing relevance for this event.

Culture versus commerce

In terms of style, the Sydney Morning Herald noted that

works with a deeper historical resonance stand out and suffer no fatigue.

Ben Quilty, 'Jug (Nose)', 2014, ceramic, 23 x 23 x 23 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries and Melbourne Art Fair.

Ben Quilty, ‘Jug (Nose)’, 2014, ceramic, 23 x 23 x 23 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Tolarno Galleries and Melbourne Art Fair.

Citing the example of Ben Quilty’s ceramics, the Sydney Morning Herald also claimed a receding dominance of painting in favour of less commercial media, which nevertheless stand out with cultural significance:

Now that the dominance of painting is receding, the promise of greater receptiveness to other media is a consoling thought.

Andrew Frost from The Guardian, however, has opposite views:

[...] no matter how much publicity new media might get, or how relevant performance art or relational practices might be, in the commercial scene painting still reigns supreme.

Ultimately, art at an art fair needs to be commercial. Artists who still wish to be subversive, such as Kristin McIver at James Makin, might ask, as McIver does through a sign:

Is selling my art the same as selling my soul?

Michele Chan


Related Topics: Australian contemporary artart fairs, market watch, business of art, events in Melbourne

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Splintering boundaries: Ram Shergill’s kaleidoscopic photography – in pictures

British fashion photographer Ram Shergill returns to his Indian roots to weave stunning visual narratives.

In the exhibition “Ram Shergill – Kaleidoscope”, the acclaimed British fashion photographer blurs the lines between commercial photography and contemporary art.

Ram Shergill, 'Mirror Me, Gardens of Kent'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Mirror Me, Gardens of Kent’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Vacheron Constantin and Mumbai’s Tasveer gallery present “Ram Shergill – Kaleidoscope” from 12 to 25 August 2014 at StoryLTD / Saffronart Prabhadevi. The exhibition will go on to tour Tasveer galleries in Delhi, Bangalore, Kolkata and Ahmedabad in 2014 and 2015.

Fashionable beginnings

While studying visual communications at Wolverhampton University, Ram Shergill reached out to milliner Philip Treacy for a photography project on hats. The meeting turned out to be an entry ticket into the fashion world: Treacy and the late Isabella Blow quickly recognised Shergill’s talents and propelled him in all the right directions.

Ram Shergill, 'Fluid Fantasy, Nevada USA'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Fluid Fantasy, Nevada USA’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Soon after, Shergill was working with notable fashion designers who loved his work, including Alexander McQueen. He has since worked on high profile editorial and advertising commissions for VogueHarper’s BazaarTatleri-DPOPDazed & Confused and W magazine, among others. The internationally acclaimed photographer has photographed eminent subjects, including Amy Winehouse, Diane Kruger, Naomi Campbell, Dame Judi Dench and Amitabh Bachchan.

Ram Shergill, 'Gateway to Heaven, Rajasthan'. Image courtesy Ram Shergill and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Gateway to Heaven, Rajasthan’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

A painterly touch

As the exhibition’s press release states (PDF download), Shergill

[amalgamates] technical skill with imaginative compositions and a painterly eye.

His photographs are extravagant tableaux, never excessive, always gracefully and meticulously composed. Using an aesthetics of vivid colour and hyperbolic geometrics, Shergill combines seemingly unrelated elements into fanciful juxtapositions.

Ram Shergill, 'Crystallized Eklingji, Rajasthan'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Crystallized Eklingji, Rajasthan’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Citing the work of Cecil Beaton, Horst P. Horst, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn as his core inspirations, Shergill says his work is strongly influenced by art history.

Photography as performance

Shergill once said in an interview:

[...] my photography is a kind of performance [...] in our performance we always want to show our best side, and I strive to attain this in my portraits of people, or in my fashion work [...] to show [my subjects'] best side.

Ram Shergill, 'SuperNOVA, Rajasthan'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘SuperNOVA, Rajasthan’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

According to the exhibition press release, Shergill often gives his subjects a part to play, because this “allows them to access and expose overlooked, unexplored aspects of their character, and psyche.” In 2008, Shergill founded Drama Magazine, a publication dedicated to fashion and performance.

Ram Shergill, 'Everlasting Sister, Rajasthan'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Everlasting Sister, Rajasthan’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

An Indian homecoming

In “Kaleidoscope”, the focus shifts away from mainstream fashion towards the documentation of Bollywood and Indian fashion. According to the Tasveer, Shergill worked with designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla and

revitalised and animated their opulent, heavily embroidered collections, focusing on the extravagant texture of the garments and capturing them in unusual, discordant environments.

Ram Shergill, 'Queen of the Jungle'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Queen of the Jungle’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Whether monochrome or in colour, Shergill’s photographs capture the richness of Indian culture in full texture. According to The Economic Times, Shergill named the exhibition “Kaleidoscope” as “a tribute to the drama and colourfulness associated with all things Indian.

Ram Shergill, 'Kaleidoscopic Kiss'. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Ram Shergill, ‘Kaleidoscopic Kiss’. Image courtesy the artist and Tasveer gallery.

Instead of photographing merely items of fashion, Shergill successfully documents, brings to life and reinvents Bollywood and Indian culture. His pictures evoke a strong and unique visual language that prompts a restatement of fashion photography. As Monocle.com puts it, Shergill is

blurring the lines between commercial photography and fine art.

The photographer’s first international exhibition is also a fitting homecoming. He says to The Economic Times:

I honestly feel like I’m reconnecting with my roots with this showing and it’s a great feeling to have.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: Indian artists, photography, art and fashion, gallery shows, touring exhibitions, picture feasts, events in Mumbai

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What is … Japanese “Micropop”? Art Radar explains

As part of our “What is…?” series, Art Radar introduces the basics of the Japanese “Micropop” movement.

Art Radar unpacks the phenomenon of Micropop: a philosophy, form of expression and aesthetic movement in the younger Japanese postwar generation.

Makiko Kudo, 'Might Fly At Night', 2007, oil on canvas, 117 x 117 cm. Image courtesy the artist, The Japan Foundation and Tomio Koyama Gallery.

Makiko Kudo, ‘Might Fly At Night’, 2007, oil on canvas, 117 x 117 cm. Image courtesy the artist, The Japan Foundation and Tomio Koyama Gallery.

What is Micropop?

Micropop represents a playful, often child-like style of art which masks a deeper philosophy of the inventive power of the banal and the forgotten. The term was coined by independent art critic and curator Midori Matsui in 2007. While some comment that the philosophy behind the movement was elusive and difficult to understand (PDF download), it can be summarised simply as an art practice that:

reinvent[s] everyday life to give new meanings to commonplace things.

The above description was used by Australia’s M16 Art Space, who recently hosted the travelling exhibition “Winter Garden: The Exploration of the Micropop Imagination in Contemporary Japanese Art”. Curated by Midori Matsui, the show was co-presented by the Japan Foundation and the Embassy of Japan in Canberra.

The philosophy

As Japan’s Art Tower Mito Gallery states, Matsui began tracking the emergence of Micropop expressions in the Japanese art scene as early as 1995. Employing literary analytical methods, Matsui gathered together a selection of young artists who came onto the scene during the latter half of the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s. These were artists whom Matsui believed embodied her concept of Micropop and who would be responsible for the further development of the genre.

Masanori Handa, 'Turnoff Paradise sense-surfing part 1 & 2', 2007, oil, felt-tip pen on tile, mounted on two wood panels, 148 x 148 cm. Image courtesy the artist, The Japan Foundation and Ota Fine Arts.

Masanori Handa, ‘Turnoff Paradise sense-surfing part 1 & 2′, 2007, oil, felt-tip pen on tile, mounted on two wood panels, 148 x 148 cm. Image courtesy the artist, The Japan Foundation and Ota Fine Arts.

Whether using drawings, paintings or video works, the artists’ diversified expressions harbour a common philosophy:

“a small-scale, avant-garde” approach or attitude that attempts to create a new aesthetic consciousness and norms of behaviour through the combination of fragments of information gleaned through one’s own experience.

A lucid, illuminating essay by Matsui rephrases it in simpler terms:

The term “Micropop” describe[s] the attitude or approach to life that creates a unique and original path of living or aesthetics by combining fragments gathered from various places, without relying on institutional morals or major ideologies. It refers to the stance taken by people who have been relegated to a “minor” position vis-a-vis the major culture that surrounds them, in the same manner as immigrants and children do.


Such a focus on the minor comes from French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s concept of “minor literature”, which originally referred to modernist novels by Kafka, Joyce and Beckett. With Kafka, for example, Diacritic writes that:

[he] was all about making a quietly subversive niche for oneself in between all sorts of major power blocs - the German and Czech languages, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Jewish and Gentile worlds, the major capitals of Europe and the provinces, capital and labour [...]

Masaya Chiba, 'Crying face', 2008, oil on canvas, wood, 160 x 93.3 x 30.7 cm. Image courtesy the artist, The Japan Foundation and ShugoArts.

Masaya Chiba, ‘Crying face’, 2008, oil on canvas, wood, 160 x 93.3 x 30.7 cm. Image courtesy the artist, The Japan Foundation and ShugoArts.

As such, Micropop focuses on everyday, forgotten things or places in the city and inserts or appropriates them playfully within a new chain of relationships, and in doing so evokes a hidden meaning and a new consciousness of community.

Often, inexpensive and expendable materials and techniques are used in Micropop works. Where technological devices are employed, they are accessible even to amateurs. The Asia Pacific Reader also states that a playful, childlike perspective pervades the works, accompanied by the use of “banal commodities, outmoded fashions, obscure or defunct places as resources for unique productions and performances.”

Taro Izumi, 'Curos Cave' (still from DVD), 2005, DVD 8 min 37 s. Image courtesy the artist and The Japan Foundation.

Taro Izumi, ‘Curos Cave’ (still from DVD), 2005, DVD 8 min. 37 sec. Image courtesy the artist and The Japan Foundation.

According to Matsui, the term “pop” was also used by Deleuze to demonstrate the stance of “minor” creations – it is “pop” with a small “p”, in contrast to the “Pop” in American Pop Art. “Minor-pop” encourages the emergence of non-mainstream forms of culture which in turn initiate new forms of social and political awareness.

The artists

The “Winter Garden” exhibition featured the following artists:

GMA News Online describes these Micropop artists as belonging to a generation:

whose collective memories of divine rule and racial superiority has slowly eroded, whose faith in society was shaken by the natural and manmade catastrophes of the late 20th century: economic recession, the homogenisation of lifestyles, and the disappearance of community cultures.

Makiko Kudo, 'Sky-flying Fish', 2006, oil on canvas. Image courtesy the artist, Tomio Koyama Gallery and M16 Art Space.

Makiko Kudo, ‘Sky-flying Fish’, 2006, oil on canvas. Image courtesy the artist, Tomio Koyama Gallery and M16 Art Space.

Born into this age, the Micropop artists attempt in their own way to make sense of, express and interpret life in an increasingly globalised and homogenised world. As Art Tower Mito observes, what the Micropop artists are doing can be seen as a “small-scale attempt at survival” that:

aims to acquire a solid sense of being “alive” in the turbulent global era of today, in which people, information and things move around the world at an unprecedented speed and scale, and where faraway events can impact the basic foundations of one’s own lifestyle, forcing each person to form the basis for his or her own judgment in response to a situation that is always changing fluidly.


The Micropop movement has not been without its criticisms. The first concerns the overwhelming breadth of styles, practices and forms encompassed by the concept of Micropop. As The Tokyo Art Beat writes, although Micropop is characterised “more as an attitude than a set of practices“, the visual diversity dilutes the concept’s explanatory power.

A second criticism, put forth by David Balzer (PDF download), asserts that the banal and the expendable are not new focus points in contemporary art, nor is it exclusive to Japan. Balzer argues that the “primitive” techniques and concepts are only saved by the minor literature theory Matsuri draws from Deleuze.

Hiroshi Sugito, 'Starry Night', 1992, acrylic, pigment, paper on panel, 182 x 242 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Tomio Koyama Gallery and M16 Art Space.

Hiroshi Sugito, ‘Starry Night’, 1992, acrylic, pigment, paper on panel, 182 x 242 cm. Image courtesy the artist, Tomio Koyama Gallery and M16 Art Space.

Thirdly, The Tokyo Art Beat ponders upon the ironic phenomenon whereby “marginality is becoming universal.” Although Matsui describes Micropop artists as “cultural immigrants” within Japan, they are being exhibited in an extended international touring exhibition funded by the Japan Foundation. To a certain extent, this seems to contradict the idea of these artists as marginalised subjects occupying a non-institutional position.


“Winter Garden: The Exploration of the Micropop Imagination in Contemporary Japanese Art” has toured for an impressive six years from 2009 to 2014, covering Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Hungary, Russia, Egypt, Finland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Vietnam, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia.

Prior to “Winter Garden”, the exhibition “The Door into Summer” showed at the Art Tower Mito Gallery in 2007. Matsuri’s book The Age of Micropop: The Door into Summer was published at the same time.

Michele Chan


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Naziha Mestaoui: Between spiritualism, environment and technology – artist profile

Art Radar profiles multimedia artist Naziha Mestaoui.

Naziha Mestaoui creates multimedia works that weave together space, light, sound and video to produce synesthetic installations. In its series of artist profiles, Art Radar finds out more about her inspiration, influences and artistic practice.

Naziha Mestaoui, 'Corps en Résonance', 2013, interactive visual and sound installation, at Dak'Art 2014. © Biennale d'Art Africain Contemporain de Dakar, Dak'Art. Image courtesy the artist and Dak'Art Biennale.

Naziha Mestaoui, ‘Corps en Résonance’, 2013, interactive visual and sound installation, at Dak’Art 2014. © Biennale d’Art Africain Contemporain de Dakar, Dak’Art. Image courtesy the artist and Dak’Art Biennale.

Paris-based, Belgian-Tunisian Naziha Mestaoui (b. 1975) is a professionally trained architect who engages with a multimedia art practice. Her synesthetic and interactive light, sound and video installations have appeared in institutions and renowned art events worldwide.

Mestaoui bridges her experience in contemporary art and architecture to create interactive, sensory and immersive multimedia installations that merge space, image, sound and digital technology. In addition to working solo, she collaborates with Yacine Aït Kaci under the name of Electronic Shadow, a duo that they together founded in 2000. The artist duo is a recognised pioneer in the art of the digital age and inventor of Video Mapping at the intersection of space and image. Electronic Shadow has appeared in exhibitions across the world, including the MoMA in New York, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Museum of Photography in Tokyo, the Contemporary Art Biennale in Sevilla, Sao Paulo’s Servico Social da Industria (SESI), Shanghai’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) and in 2011, a large-scale solo exhibition at the Beaux Arts Museum in Aix en Provence, visited by more than 35000 visitors.

Watch Corps en Résonance by Naziha Mestaoui on youtube.com

“Matter is energy”

Mestaoui’s inspiration for her work comes from multiple sources, ranging from tribal traditions and shamanistic rituals to scientific knowledge and technological innovation. Among the sources that inspire her, her artwork statement she cites a luminary of science, Nikola Tesla, who said:

If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.

This year, Mestaoui presented a work at Dak’Art 2014 entitled Corps en Résonance (Body Resonance) (2013), an interactive visual and sound installation that generates sound and light reflections based on visitors’ movements and explains her admiration for Tesla’s belief.

Comprising a row of aligned crystal bowls filled with water and a digital device, the installation responds to the presence of visitors who, according to how they move within the space, will influence and determine the vibration of the bowls, which in turn will produce sounds that can be heard and felt. In her artwork statement, Mestaoui says:

The harmonic frequencies thus generated create multiple geometric shapes at the surface of water in each bowl. These undulations reflect on the surface. As 80% of our body is made of water, the different waves made visible are the reflection of the effect these sounds and energies have on our body.

The bowls used in this installation are inspired by shamanic Tibetan techniques, which produce the singing bowls that are known for their virtues. The specific tones produced by the bowls communicate with what the artist calls “the crystalline material of our body”: bones, tissues and water we are made of. She expands:

As cymatics, our cellular resonance draws a path for vibration, realigning our internal energy. Sound in-forms, it carries information. At the intersection of science and art, these explorations provide the keys to another consciousness of man and his environment, an encounter between our modern society, becoming a society of the intangible, and ancestral cultures seeing the world as both visible and invisible.

In the statement for this installation, Mestaoui cites another scientific genius of our times, Albert Einstein, who said:

What we have called matter is energy, whose vibration has been so lowered as to be perceptible to the senses. There is no matter.

The artist practically parallels her work with Einstein’s vision, as she says that Body Resonance “proposes to make the invisible visible, deploying in space the different types of vibrations that compose our reality.”

Watch One Beat One Tree by Naziha Mestaoui on youtube.com

Environment and regeneration

In her installation One Beat One Tree, initiated within the context of the Rio+20 conference in 2012, Mestaoui created a three-dimensional forest of light. The interactive work invited individuals from the public to plant a grain of light that would slowly grow with their heartbeat to finally give birth to a unique luminous tree. The creation of a virtual tree would be paralleled with the planting of a real, physical tree in a reforestation project in the Amazon. Visitors then had the opportunity to follow the evolution of their own small contribution to the reforestation project.

Mestaoui is inspired by ecology, attached to spiritual values that enhance the inevitable interdependency between man and nature:

With regard to all the services given, a tree is an ally, a regulator, an opportunity for balance and regeneration for the ecosystem. Knowing how to benefit from a tree’s ecosystemic service offers multiple gains and advantages for agriculture, local populations, industry and the planet.

Through this installation, each citizen can take part in the shaping of our collective future through a poetic symbolic act. More than 6,000 trees have already been planted through this artwork.

The work has been shown at the LH Forum, Bombay, Techfest and the United Nations Earth Summit, Rio+20 in 2012.

Naziha Mestaoui. Image courtesy the artist and Dak'Art 2014.

Naziha Mestaoui. Image courtesy the artist and Dak’Art 2014.

Immersing the city in green

Continuing from the One Beat One Tree installation, Mestaoui has created a larger, monumental scale project entitled One Heart One Tree, with a plan to project it on the monuments of Paris during the United Nations 21st Climate Conference in December 2015.

Bridging technology and nature and the visible with the invisible, the installation involves the projection of virtual forests on the city’s ancient buildings, in which individual trees grow on the monuments with the heartbeat of their creators measured by a smartphone app. Each virtual tree will be reflected in the planting of a real tree in a reforestation project which each creator will be able to track.

The project is extremely ecological, using projections that are powered by zero-carbon emission devices whereby citizens will be producers of energy. Projections include tiles equipped with micro sensors that translate kinetic energy into electrical energy, bikes that produce energy by pedalling and wind turbines facing the monuments.

 Watch Sounds of Light by Electronic Shadow on youtube.com

Tribal inspiration

For her latest works, Mestaoui has increasingly drawn inspiration from ancient ritualistic practices and beliefs alive in tribal populations around the world. One Beat One Tree/One Heart One Tree took root in her time spent with the Huni Kui and Ashaninka tribes of the Acre, west of the Amazon in South America, where the artist experienced the reality of “Samauma”, the tree of life. In her artwork statement she explains:

Shunu (Samauma in Portuguese) is a sacred tree, the pillar tree around which the Huni Kui or the Ashaninka organise their ceremonies. It is for them like a library to which they connect to find knowledge [...] And, as the largest tree in the forest, Samauma is recognised as the leader of the vegetal world, which means that it is with ‘her’ that we have to negotiate.

Mestaoui’s work reconnects humanity to the tree and its mystical elements. In a similar guise, in Electronic Shadow’s Sounds of Light, the Amazonian tribe’s chants are reconnected to water through the interaction of a man-made, digital world.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related Topics: sound art, video art, installation, electronic art, new media, interactive art, collaborative art, art and the environment, artist profiles, Tunisian artists, European artists

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