“Radiation” features artists exploring queer identity in two Southeast Asian capitals.
The exhibition “RADIATION” at The Art Center, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, presents the work of 25 international artists reflecting on queer identity in Bangkok and Manila. The show is one in a growing number of creative projects exploring gay identity in Asia.
“RADIATION: Art and Queer Ideas from Bangkok and Manila, Un-compared” (MS Word download) opens on 14 February 2014 at The Art Center, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok and will run until 5 April 2014. The exhibition is curated by Ireland’s Brian Curtin, an art critic, curator and lecturer at Bangkok University, who also programmes and curates for contemporary art space H Gallery Bangkok.
Initially conceived in collaboration with and mounted at the Department of Avant-Garde Clichés (DAGC) in Manila in 2012, RADIATION’s Bangkok edition has been extended to feature 25 artists, with a special artist guest list including Richard Hawkins, Việt Lê and Ho Tam.
The exhibition does not propose a genre of ‘queer art’ nor does it make any statement on the relationship between queerness and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) issues. The show considers the often ignored questions that contemporary art, says the curator, is beginning to try to answer: “Who are we? Where are we? Where are we going?”
The artworks explore ambiguities, internal contradictions and biases in the world’s official rules and conventions. As the curator states,
The artists play with complex notions of the masculine and feminine – rhetorical, provocative, subversive – across themes that include the dynamics of eroticised space, corporeal fascination and repulsion, and the embrace of alienated forms, methods and images.
What is ‘queer’?
The exhibition “explores ideas, and possibilities, of ‘queer’ as they can echo and translate across national boundaries, be it in derogatory or affirmative ways,” states the “RADIATION” press release. But what exactly is ‘queer’ and how can we define it through visual art?
Brian Curtin, in his curatorial essay for the exhibition, “That Wrenching Sense of Re-Contextualization: On the Art of Addressing Nothing in Particular and Therefore Everything”, explains:
… queer is the productive failure of strict notions of sexuality and gender; and an opposition to practices that seek to regulate gender and sexual identities. Queer is not a type of sexual practice or fixed mode of desiring but an exploratory space that can accommodate differences and polarities.
‘Queer’, says Curtin, is not a fixed identity nor a fixed practice. It is more of a method of thinking, doing, understanding, analysing and producing. It contains the possibilities for its transformation and renewal, and can be used to critique various aspects of contemporary life. The artists appropriate existing forms, presenting the familiar in new ways and playing with the distinction between ‘original’ and ‘copy’, creating parallel and alternative understandings of the ‘official’ definitions of ‘queer’. Discovering differences is the very essence of ‘queer’.
From Bangkok to Manila
The exhibition acknowledges “overlapping histories, contextual antagonisms and potential futures” between the two Southeast Asian capitals. The title also speaks of a movement from one source to another, exploring the stereotypes that connect the two cities and their “sleazy reputation” by providing correspondences and clashes within the possible meanings of ‘queer’.
The connections between artists from both cities suggest what the curator calls “a continuum beyond the local, contingent or socio-culturally specific and, therefore, offer a far-reaching sense of the correspondences of queer, not necessarily universal but not entirely localised either.”
The artists in the exhibition are:
- Dennis Balk
- Patrick Cruz
- Jon Cuyson
- Tada Hengsapkul
- Amornthep Jaidee
- Robert Langenegger
- Dave Lock
- Lui Medina
- Jet Melencio
- Piyarat Piyapongwiwat
- Nigel Power
- Julius Redillas
- Michael Shaowanasai
- Maitree Siriboon
- Jakkai Siributr
- Henry Tan
- Jason Tecson
- Joseph Tecson
- TRASHER BANGKOK
- Trek Valdizno
- Costantino Zicarelli
The special guests
Ho Tam’s photographs of young Thai monks, from his Posing series, capture the boys’ androgyny, emphasising the contemporary problematics around constructs of masculinity and femininity. The ambiguity between genders, which offers a degree of eroticism, also works as a meditation on the relationships between the spiritual and the physical realms.
Việt Lê’s love bang! is a “sexperimental” art music video, according to the artist. The music is based on an original trilingual hip pop song (Vietnamese, Khmer and English) – “hip pop” is a fictitious cross between pop and hip hop. The disjointed video features a queer, star-crossed, time-travelling war-time love triangle. The characters in the video are all impersonated by fantasy cross-dressed males.
The work explores the legacies of historical trauma, collective memory, and the rapid modernisation in Cambodia and Vietnam, two societies in transition, linked historically and regionally through traumatic events and cultural and economic interactions. Lê’s project deals with the tensions and contradictions these rapid changes bring about.
Richard Hawkins’s works portray, through painting and collage, the objects of sensual desire: images of handsome statuesque male models and actors, exuding an obsession with the male body and its sexuality.
In collaboration with Jayd Ramos, Hawkins produced a series of work called Byukunero, in which black and white photos of Thai sex workers are placed amidst a carnival-coloured go-go bar made of acrylic paint. These figures, contrasting with his usual fashion magazine cut models, are imperfect, representing what the curator calls the “reality of desire.” “When you go to go-go bars in Bangkok, this (the imperfect body) is what you’ll see,” he explains.
Exploring ‘queer’ identity
Curator Brian Curtin, in an interview with BusinessWorld Online, said that, “It seems like theorizing gay identities is starting to emerge in Asia. So it would be interesting to contribute to that discussion through visual art.” In fact, many contemporary artists are exploring ideas of ‘queer’ and gay identity in Asia. Last year, Vietnamese artist Maika Elan (Nguyen Thanh Hai) won the World Press Photo 2013 award for her series “The Pink Choice”, which featured intimate portraits in the everyday lives of gay couples around Vietnam.
Pakistani Anwar Saeed plays with gay imagery and eroticism, love and pleasure, such as in his series of erotic drawings of men on the pages of the memoir book I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual in Asia Society’s 2009 exhibition “Hanging Fire”. Singaporean Zihan Loo creates videos and performances about gay identity and the trauma related to its experiences in a strict society such as Singapore. In 2012, he re-enacted the infamous 1993 performance Brother Cane by Josef Ng. Ng snipped his pubic hair in public as a silent protest against the press’ sensationalism and demonisation of homosexuality, resulting in a 10-year ban on performance art in Singapore.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
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