Visual art exhibitions at OzAsia Festival 2017

Australia hosts its own premier international arts festival with a focus on Asia.

Working with some of the region’s best cultural institutions, OzAsia Festival presents exhibitions with artists such as Donna Ong, Doris Wong Wai Yin and John Young.

Kawayan DE GUIA, 'Bomba' (detail), 2011, installation comprising of eighteen mirror bombs, Sputnik sound sculpture, dimensions variable. Singapore Art Museum Collection. Image courtesy Kawayan de Guia.

Kawayan De Guia, ‘Bomba’ (detail), 2011, installation comprising of eighteen mirror bombs, Sputnik sound sculpture, dimensions variable. Singapore Art Museum Collection. Image courtesy the artist.

From 21 September until 9 October 2017, Adelaide is host to the OzAsia Festival, an international arts festival that has its focus on Asia. Bringing together a line-up of dance, drama, music and other performances from different parts of Asia, OzAsia Festival is an annual programme that aims to feature the finest that Asia has in the arts. Under the leadership of Festival Director Joseph Mitchell, the festival has brought this mandate to fruition: the current edition boasts a sprawling programme that showcases Asia’s best talents, including those in the visual arts.

OzAsia Festival is also home to four contemporary art exhibitions: “After Utopia”, “Shifting Permanence”, “A Place Never Been Seen is Not a Place” and “Macau Days”. Art Radar takes a look at these four visual arts projects.

“After Utopia: Revisiting the Ideal in Asian Contemporary Art”

On view at the Samstag Museum of Art, the exhibition is curated by Singapore Art Museum’s two senior curators, Siuli Tan and Louis Ho. With loan works from Singapore Art Museum’s own permanent collection, which is one of the largest collections of contemporary Southeast Asian art in the world, this exhibition marks the premier of the exhibition on Australian soil. The initial edition of “After Utopia” was held at the Singapore Art Museum two years ago.

The exhibition explores the notion of the “ideal”, our own yearnings and desires, and the consequential feelings of dissatisfaction and disappointment that come along with it. Co-curator of the show Siuli Tan remarked that while

a lot of the artworks were created in response to quite specific contexts, they do also have a universal resonance, as does the theme of the exhibition […]. I’m seeing new connections that can be made between the artworks and emerging global issues.

Donna Ong, The Forest Speaks Back (I), 2014, single channel video with sound, with Letters from the Forest (II), 2015, 19th century antique desk with chair, two LED dioramas from cut illustrations and accompanying paraphernalia. Image courtesy OzAsia Festival.

Donna Ong, ‘The Forest Speaks Back (I)’, 2014, single channel video with sound, with ‘Letters from the Forest (II)’, 2015, 19th century antique desk with chair, two LED dioramas from cut illustrations and accompanying paraphernalia. Image courtesy OzAsia Festival.

With a dual aim of introducing Southeast Asian art to Australia, as well as probing the meanings of the questions raised by the exhibition, the show features some of the best names in contemporary Southeast Asian art today.

Donna Ong explores her long-standing interest in landscapes and gardens in her works Letters from the Forest (II) (2015) and The Forest Speaks Back (I) (2014).. Engaging with narratives of exploration and conquest by former colonial rulers, Ong meditates on the question of how our understanding of tropical landscapes have also been shaped by colonial legacies. Letters from the Forest (II) reminds the audience of a gentleman’s study desk, with paper cut-outs of landscape dioramas evocative of William Farquhar’s (one of Singapore’s British colonial founding figures), natural history drawings and Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius’s Book of Palms. The installation, which includes the video The Forest Speaks Back (I), reflects Ong’s desire to converse with these colonial histories and how they have affected the ways we understand the nature that surrounds us.

Another outstanding work includes Agus Suwage and Davy Linggar‘s Pinkswing Park (2005), which was conceived of as a fairytale-esque installation amidst the busy, frantic pace of urban life. Painted pink, the garden swing is a symbol of the imagination of a sanctuary that one can retreat to. Important both as an artefact of Indonesian art history and for its own subject matter, the artwork is also known for its controversial nature. First exhibited at the CP Biennale in Jakarta in 2005 against walls plastered with two Indonesian celebrities in the nude, the work attracted protests from fundamentalist groups, resultng in the artwork being withdrawn, and the Biennale being closed down.

Other artists featured in this exhibition include Vietnamese-American collective The Propeller Group, installation artist Chris Chong Chan Fui and Indonesian artist Maryanto.

Tong Wenmin, 'Play with the Wind', 2016, digital video. Image courtesy Blue Roof Museum of Chengdu

Tong Wenmin, ‘Play With the Wind’, 2016, digital video. Image courtesy Blue Roof Museum of Chengdu

“Shifting Permanence”

In collaboration with China’s Chengdu Blue Roof Museum, a leading contemporary arts centre in China, this exhibition at Artspace Gallery puts the lived experience in China in focus. Examining the rapid pace of change and how it has affected the lives of so many inhabitants all over the country, Shifting Permanence weaves together a narrative of anxiety and loss through the changing landscape in China. Through performance art, photography and video, the five artists – Tong Wenmin, Zhou Bin, Wang Yanxin, He Liping and Zhang Kechun – explore the theme of shifting permanence together.

Works to see include Tong Wenmin’s Play with the Wind (2016), a video installation that documents the performance artist atop the sandy, arid cliffside, tossing her long hair back and forth in the wind. Zhou Bin, similarly a performance artist, presents his work Diary (1986 -2015), which saw him pulp 30 years worth of diaries, and recycle them into blank notebooks. Zhang Kecun‘s photographic image The Temple on Mountain Top (Shanxi Province) (2014) continues with his practice of making meditative images that contemplate the artist’s surrounding landscape.

Doris Wong Wai Yin, "A place never been seen is not a place", 2017, installation view. Image courtesy: Kwan Sheung Chi

Doris Wong Wai Yin, ‘A Place Never Seen is Not a Place’, 2017, installation view. Image courtesy Kwan Sheung Chi.

“A Place Never Seen Before is not a Place”

Known for her painting, photographic and video work, Doris Wong Wai Yin‘s practice has touched on issues ranging from political to personal. In this solo exhibition at Nexus Arts, Wong creates a dreamlike, almost surrealist experience. Wong’s installation builds out an entirely new landscape almost reminiscent of a dim London sidewalk, complete with lamp and telephone booth. Using the book Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe by scientist Robert Lanza and astronomer Bob Berman, Wong explores the idea that all our understanding of reality stems from our consciousness. Space and time, to Lanza and Berman, do not exist in actuality, but are instead tools to help us shape and make sense of our reality.

Meditating on how we perceive our reality, and our experiences of living through varied consciousness and perceptions, Wong’s exhibition is a space for imagination and contemplation, forming something akin to a dreamscape. Melding visual art, installation and performance, the exhibition is one to see.

John Young, 'Marienbad', 2012 (detail).Image courtesy of Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong.

John Young, ‘Marienbad’ (detail), 2012. Image courtesy Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong.

“Macau Days”

Featuring the Hong Kong-born Australian artist John Young, award-winning writer Brian Castro and composer/media artist Luke Harrald, the exhibition takes a look at Macau and its legacies of cultural exchange. Known as one of the oldest European settlements in Asia, the exhibition contemplates the history of the settlement, examining historical and mythical figures that make up the threads of this region’s history. Held at the Migration Museum, the exhibition parses the ideas and stories about Macau, focusing on how it became a melting pot of music, literature and food in the past.

The exhibition features images from John Young, accompanied by writings from Castro, as well as a soundscape designed by Harrald. With both Young and Castro having been born in Hong Kong, the artists reflect on their own unique connections to Macau. Young’s images reveal the ways through which he sees Macau, whilst Castro’s fictional stories are peppered with recipes from Macanese cuisine. Young and Castro have also previously collaborated on an exhibition, “Passages”held at the Tarrawarra Museum of Art, Victoria, exploring themes relevant to Asian diaspora.

Junni Chen


Related topics: Asian artistsevents in Australiapromoting art, connecting Asia to itself, Oceanian artists

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