“Sunshower: Southeast Asian art 1980s to Now” at National Art Centre and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo

The National Art Centre and the Mori Art Museum are jointly staging an exhibition that explores contemporary Southeast Asian art. 

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), this ambitious exhibition showcases the contemporary art of the region through multiple media.

Lee Wen, ‘Strange Fruit’, 2003, C-Print, 42 x 59.4cm. Image courtesy Mori Art Museum.

Lee Wen, ‘Strange Fruit’, 2003, C-Print, 42 x 59.4 cm. Image courtesy Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.

A first for both galleries in terms of presenting a joint exhibition across the two Roppongi sites in Tokyo, the exhibition “SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now” tracks the development of contemporary Southeast Asian art since 1980, with its many artists highlighting the social, economic and political character of the various regions they originate and work from.

Navin Rawanchaikul, 'A Tale of Two Homes', 2015, installation, 387 x 794 x 267 cm. Image courtesy Navin Production, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Navin Rawanchaikul, ‘A Tale of Two Homes’, 2015, installation, 387 x 794 x 267 cm. Image courtesy Navin Production, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Creating an exhibition as broad and expansive as this one, in both geographical scope and the range of issues explored, is no mean feat. The two museums – Mori Art Museum and National Art Centre in Tokyo – set up a 14-person strong curatorial team, and after a two-and-a-half-year period of field research, the team chose around 190 artworks by 86 artists, from 10 different countries. Critical for the curators was featuring a cross-section of the work being produced across Southeast Asia in the last forty years, leading to such a vast display. As Naoki Yoneda, curator from The National Art Centre, Tokyo, explains,

Though Japan is geopolitically quite familiar with Southeast Asia, we have had only a few opportunities so far to see the artistic activities in this region. I hope this huge scale survey show could draw the attention of the Japanese audience not only to the art history but also to the subject-matters that artists have been attacking.

FX Harsono, 'Voice Without a Voice / Sign, 1993-1995, silkscreen on canvas, wood stool, and stamp. Canvas: 143.5 x 95.5 cm. Wood stool: 23 x 38 x 32 cm. From the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum. Image courtesy Mori Art Museum.

FX Harsono, ‘Voice Without a Voice / Sign, 1993-1995, silkscreen on canvas, wood stool and stamp. Canvas: 143.5 x 95.5 cm. Wood stool: 23 x 38 x 32 cm. From the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum. Image courtesy The National Art Centre, Tokyo.

These subject matters are certainly far-reaching and the exhibition is split into eight sections across the two galleries to help compartmentalise the different and overlapping themes on display. The exhibition technically starts at The National Art Centre, Tokyo (NACT), with themes including “Fluid World”, “Passion and Revolution”, “Archiving”, “Diverse Identities” and “Day by Day”; offerings at the Mori Art Museum revolve around themes of “Growth and Loss”, “What is Art?”, “Medium as Meditation” and “Dialogue with History”.

Jompet Kuswidananto, 'Words and Possible Movement’, 2013, motorbikes without machine, fabric flags. Image Courtesy Mori Art Museum.

Jompet Kuswidananto, ‘Words and Possible Movement’, 2013, motorbikes without machine, fabric flags. Image courtesy Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.

What this breadth of exploration allows, alongside the varied individual artists, artist groups and media on display, is a “festival-like atmosphere”, as noted in the exhibition’s press release. This relaxed atmosphere is emphasised by the extended opening hours of the National Art Centre during the exhibition, allowing visitors to explore the work into the evening.

Anggun Priambodo, 'Necessity Shop’, 2010/17. In "SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now,” 2017, The National Art Center, Tokyo / Mori Art Museum. Image courtesy Ueno Norihiro and The National Art Center, Tokyo.

Anggun Priambodo, ‘Necessity Shop’, 2010/17. In “SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now,” 2017, The National Art Center, Tokyo / Mori Art Museum. Image courtesy Ueno Norihiro and The National Art Center, Tokyo.

This sprawling exhibition undoubtedly deals with many complex and sometimes difficult themes; in particular, some of the Vietnamese works in the “Dialogue with History” section tackle difficult issues surrounding cultural heritage and loss following the Vietnam War. However, there is also a playfulness and lightheartedness intrinsic to this show that the two venues and the range of work lend themselves too. The ‘festival atmosphere’ is further felt through the bright colours and audio works on display. One particular artwork, which rings through the Mori Art Museum, is Felix Bacolor’s Stormy Weather, made up of over 1,000 wind chimes that jangle continuously, swaying in the wind from two fans. As the Mori Art Museum comments,

These colourful plastic decorations speak of both the festive nature of Southeast Asia and a global economy supported by mass production, as they deliver a palpable vibration from which we sense signs of change.

Felix Bacolor, 'Stormy Weather, 2009. Installation. Image courtesy Mori Art Museum.

Felix Bacolor, ‘Stormy Weather, 2009, installation. Image courtesy Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.

Spanning four generations, the exhibition includes work from influential artists such as Montien Boonma from Thailand and Roberto Chabet from the Philippines, as well as a younger generation born in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Ho Rui An (Singapore) and Korakrit Arunanondchai (Thailand).

Korakrit Arunanondchai, 'Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3’, 2015, video. Image courtesy Carlos/Ishikawa, London; Clearing, Brussels/New York.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, ‘Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3’, 2015, video. Image courtesy Carlos/Ishikawa, London; Clearing, Brussels/New York.

The dizzying video work of the latter artist proves a highlight of a visit. Shown in its own blue-lit room off the main gallery with incredible views of the Roppongi area (the Mori Art Museum is on the 53rd floor), Arunanondchai’s 24-minute film is interlaced with the artist’s own hip-hop music. As the museum explains,

Portraying an autobiographical theme that interweaves contemporary Thai society and Arunanondchai’s own family, the work is edited as a series of fragmented  images incorporating various cultural phenomenon such as folklore, television show scandals, movies and Manchester United, a hugely popular team in Thailand. Suggesting a mythology that takes place in an information capitalism-based society, here the high-rise buildings of Bangkok become temples, and floating drones are the eyes of God, who looks down over a completely syncretic world interconnected by the Internet. It could be said that Arunanonchai, by creating a mythological tale, is trying to express the invisible form of contemporary society.

Masterfully edited, this mesmerising piece highlights the interplay between tradition and modernity, weaving historic myths with contemporary realities, characteristic of the exhibition as a whole and often explored through the context of the urban metropolis.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, 'Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3’, 2015, video. Image courtesy Carlos/Ishikawa, London; Clearing, Brussels/New York. In "SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now,” 2017, The National Art Center, Tokyo / Mori Art Museum. Image courtesy Kioku Keizo and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.

Korakrit Arunanondchai, ‘Painting with history in a room filled with people with funny names 3’, 2015, video. Image courtesy Carlos/Ishikawa, London; Clearing, Brussels/New York. In “SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now,” 2017, The National Art Center, Tokyo / Mori Art Museum. Image courtesy Kioku Keizo and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.

Jakarta Wasted Artists, Graphic Exchange, 2015, Signboard and video. Image courtesy Mori Art Museum.

Jakarta Wasted Artists, ‘Graphic Exchange’, 2015, signboard and video. Image courtesy Mori Art Museum, Tokyo.

Another highlight is the work of Indonesian collective JWA, or Jakarta Wasted Artists. Their intriguing Graphic Exchange displays a collection of signs bartered from small and big businesses in the Jakarta area. In exchange for the signs, JWA offered to design and produce new, more modern signage. The result is an installation of the existing signs that now serves as a visual archive of the urban economy and issues facing Javanese businesses, reinforced by a film which documents the exchange process of the signage and interviews business-owners, contributing to the visual histories of the area that the signs provide.

Yee I-Lann, 'Fluid World' (from the series “Orang Besar”), 2010, direct digital Mimaki inkjet print, acid dye, batik crackle Japanese indigo dye, 100% silk twill, 140.5 x 298 cm. Image courtesy: Silverlens Galleries, Makati, The Philippines.

Yee I-Lann, ‘Fluid World’ (from the series “Orang Besar”), 2010, direct digital Mimaki inkjet print, acid dye, batik crackle Japanese indigo dye, 100% silk twill, 140.5 x 298 cm. Image courtesy Silverlens Galleries, Makati, The Philippines.

Yee I-Lann‘s Fluid World is a particularly intriguing piece in The National Art Centre’s show, taken from the Malaysian artist’s “Orang Besar” series from 2010 and as part of a larger section that considers map-themed works, reflecting complex societies and histories from a range of perspectives.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul + Chai Siris, 'Sunshower', 2017. Image Courtesy Kick the Machine Films.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul + Chai Siris, ‘Drawing for Sunshower’, 2017. Image courtesy Kick the Machine Films.

A key underlying aspect of many of the works on display is their participatory nature, with many demanding interaction to complete the art work. Anggun Priambodo’s Toko Kerpeluan (Necessity Shop) allows visitors to enter the shop and purchase goods inside. Similarly, internationally acclaimed Thai artist Surasi Kusolwong‘s installation includes five tons of yarn and threads, within which nine gold necklaces are hidden.

Surasi Kusolwong, 'Golden Ghost (Why I'm Not Where You Are), 2017, 9 gold necklaces with golden ghost symbol, 5 tons of threadwaste, mirrors, wall piece, archival inkjet prints, photograph and drawing. In "SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now," The National Art Center, Tokyo / Mori Art Museum, 2017. Image courtesy Ueno Norihiro and The National Art Center, Tokyo.

Surasi Kusolwong, ‘Golden Ghost (Why I’m Not Where You Are), 2017, 9 gold necklaces with golden ghost symbol, 5 tons of threadwaste, mirrors, wall piece, archival inkjet prints, photograph and drawing. In “SUNSHOWER: Contemporary Art from Southeast Asia 1980s to Now,” The National Art Center, Tokyo / Mori Art Museum, 2017. Image courtesy Ueno Norihiro and The National Art Center, Tokyo.

Employing metaphors on contemporary consumerism and culture, the artist intends for visitors to search through her installation for the necklaces, and allows them to remove them from the gallery if they wish. Visitor participation in this sense creates a performance piece, as new visitors arriving to view the piece will become disorientated, unsure whether the individuals are part of the work as a whole.

Anna Jamieson

1796

Related topics: Southeast Asian contemporary artcuratorial practiceemerging artistsconceptual artevents in Tokyoinstallationemerging artists

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