The experiential immediacy of performance art often forces the viewer to confront pressing societal issues.
Performance art has been a staple in the contemporary artist’s pantry ever since the rise of postmodernism in the 1960s and 70s. Below Art Radar has put together five of our best posts that explore performance art in Asia and look at how Asian contemporary artists have elaborated and expanded on the global discourse of performance art.
Yayoi Kusama was arguably one of the earliest adopters of the medium, staging nude “happenings” all around New York City. Asian contemporary artists have carried on the tradition, often incorporating interdisciplinary elements such as photography, installation, video and sculpture into their performance pieces.
Indian artist Nikhil Chopra’s performance work premieres in Australia
In September 2012, Sydney-based contemporary art space, Carriageworks, commissioned Indian performance artist Nikhil Chopra to create a site-specific work in response to the local industrial history and architecture. For the piece, titled Blackening III: Bay 19, Chopra assumed the identity of Yog Raj Chitrakar, a Victorian-era draughtsman named after the artist’s grandfather.
The artist spent three days living and working in Carriagework’s warehouse-like space. The highlight of the performance was the second night, when Chopra dressed up like a European noblewoman and prepared a dinner for eighteen guests. Art Radar had a journalist on hand to interview the artist and record the performance on video.
The art of history: Singaporean artist Choy Ka Fai rediscovers lost republic
For his Singapore Arts Festival project Lan Fang Chronicles 2012, Singaporean artist Choy Ka Fai explored the history of what might have been Southeast Asia’s first democratic republic. The artist followed up on a tale he heard of an early civilization in the region, conducting extensive research into what he discovered was the Lan Fang Republic. Founded in West Borneo in 1777 by Hakka Chinese Luo Fang Bo, the multicultural nation had ten presidents during its 107-year history.
In addition to documentary photography and sculptural recreation of Lan Fang artefacts, the artist also incorporated performance into his installations, often in ways that deliberately mimicked traditional practices of historical exhibition. For the performance The Archivist’s Room, a man played the role of the collections archivist in a room full of photographs, injecting his own impressions and storytelling into the historical narrative. In Epic Poems of the Kongsi War, pictured above, a performer recited a traditional Malay war poem about the decline of the republic.
Chin Chih Yang’s roving projections challenge Art Taipei 2011 audience: video and interview
Taiwan-born artist Chin Chih Yang presented his artwork Broken Mind at Art Taipei 2011. The multidisciplinary artwork was one of two artworks the International Chinese Fine Arts Council (ICFAC) chose to showcase at the fair. For the interactive piece, the artist dressed in a suit of electrical lighting and waste products. He walked around the fair projecting images of man-made and natural disasters.
Chin does not like to think of himself as a performance artist; instead, he considers himself a multidisciplinary artist who incorporates performance into his work. In an interview with Art Radar, the artist stressed that confronting the viewer with distressing images of contemporary society was central to his practice. During Broken Mind, the artist would even project onto the viewers themselves. He hoped to explore the relationship between individuals and society, in which the viewer must face a myriad problems and yet is largely powerless to effect change.
Mella Jaarsma in rare Manila performance art residency
Southeast Asian gallery Manila Contemporary made the bold choice of dedicating its artist-in-residence programme, one of the few in the region, entirely to the cultivation of performance art. Four artists participated in the inaugural residency, which ran from 4 May to 5 June 2011. The exhibition, titled “Absence”, included a piece by Dutch-born and Yogyakarta-based artist Mella Jaarsma, whose work Art Radar profiled.
For her piece Animals Have No Religion, Jaarsma created two pairs of costumes: one out of of satellite dishes, radio antennae and a type of coral traditionally used by fishermen in the region to ward off evil spirits, and a second consisting of red leather robes whose sleeves contained wooden legs, as can be seen in the image above.
During opening night, performers wearing her costumes interacted with the artist, who among other things consumed pieces of dried mango shaped like animals. Art Radar was able to snag an interview with exhibition curator Eva McGovern, who discussed why Manila Contemporary chose to focus their inaugural residency on performance art.
Work of 3 Chinese artists gets first time MoMA showing in performance photography exhibit – curator interview
Performance art by definition is ephemeral, only reproducible through repetition. Chinese contemporary artists Ai Weiwei, Rong Rong and Huang Yan, however, take a different approach to the format, staging performances to be documented through video and photography in multidisciplinary artworks. This confluence of mediums in early Chinese contemporary art is the subject of MoMA’s 2011 exhibition “Staging Action: Performance in Photography since 1960″.
MoMA assistant curator of photography Eva Respini tells Art Radar that photography and video offer a way to preserve performance in a way that does not detract from the artwork. “This endeavour is ephemeral and time-based, and these photographs capture a moment and extend that moment,” she says. She goes on to talk about the element of time in both photography and performance, as well as the particularities of Chinese contemporary art practice.
Want to look through our archives yourself? Click here to take a look at what else we have written on performance art in Asia.
- “DEEP S.E.A”: Why concept determines medium for Burmese artist Aung Ko – January 2013 – the artist talks about his performance and multimedia project, H.u.m.m.m…
- Indian art collective WALA wins FICA Public Art Grant 2011 with performance art – February 2012 – part performance art, part social project wins prestigious award
- Sand-covered Cambodian artist Khvay Samnang’s Phnom Penh lake performance – August 2011 – Samnang questions urban development through the medium of performance
- Interventions explore art industry relationships in curator Meenakshi Thirukode’s Guild Art Gallery show: interview – June 2010 – the curator of South Asian contemporary art talks performance art-like curatorial practice
- Indian artist Anish Kapoor’s solo at Royal Academy – what did the critics call it? Performance art and Turkish toilet – January 2010 – a controversial performance work from the famed Indian artist
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