TEPPEI KANEUJI, Games, Dance and the Constructions (Singapore) #10-C, 2013, screen print, archival ink jet print, plexiglas and cotton rag paper, 94.5 × 94.5 × 4.5 cm. Courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney. 

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For months, a stream of unsettling events has flooded the world as the deleterious effects of rapid globalization and the nationalist backlash it has prompted shake the foundations of nation states. How is it possible to remain optimistic in what seems to be a downward spiral of grim tragedies and barbaric politics? In the November/December issue of ArtAsiaPacific, we look at artists who in spite of, or because of, all the dire news, have reimagined different possibilities for art’s relationship to the world.

We begin with Etel Adnan, the Lebanese-American writer, essayist, filmmaker, poet and artist whose family sought refuge in Beirut following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire roughly a century ago; she then left her home city at the outset of the country’s sectarian civil war. Independent curator Daniel Kurjaković sat down with Adnan in her Paris home to discuss a range of topics, including how writing, history, conflict, her love for the physical world, and notions of transcendence have informed her abstract paintings—oftentimes suggestive of landscapes—a path she first embarked upon more than 50 years ago. In this affecting interview, the nonagenarian explains to Kurjaković, “I don’t know what I would have done if I were not a painter. The fact that I am able to express the beauty of the world certainly helped me overcome my family’s perpetual tragedy . . . Sometimes people ask, ‘What is art when there is so much unhappiness? How can somebody be painting when the world is burning?’ . . . It is not because one is unhappy that happiness does not exist and should not continue.”

Employing a more direct, provocative visual approach to politics is the Chilean-Australian painter Juan Davila. Australia desk editor Tim Walsh explores Davila’s four decades of work, focused on pointed critiques of Australia’s colonialist legacy and identity politics, along with his recent departure from highly referential works to a more gestural style derived from psychoanalysis. In describing the new direction in the artist’s canvases, Walsh writes: “Empathy toward the oppressed or the peripheral remains an ongoing concern for Davila, but this journey seems determined to comprehend more clearly the psychological underpinnings of society’s motives.”

Challenging our perceptions of social order by liberating quotidian objects from the monotony of daily life is Kyoto-born sculptor Teppei Kaneuji, whose work appears on this issue’s cover. AAP reviews editor Hanae Ko takes us through Kaneuji’s surreal installations of ordinary items—from toy figurines to construction tools and other household goods—which he transforms with a shambolic sensibility. Ko sheds light on what some might consider juvenile antics, writing: “The idea of artistic anarchy is . . . less about open defiance and more about embracing the irregularities and confusions that exist in everyday life.”

From artists we can also learn survival tactics. This issue’s edition of the special feature Inside Burger Collection looks at the work of Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov, who is known for his humorous oeuvre that addresses living under a socialist dictatorship. Iara Boubnova, the founding director of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Sofia, talks with Solakov about his way of looking at the absurdities of life through his drawings, paintings and installations, which at times act as a form of personal “exorcism,” purging from his consciousness the mess that he witnesses in society. 

In Essays, two contributors look at the potential and the pitfalls of activist artwork. In Hong Kong, artist, curator and City University assistant professor Man Ching-Ying Phoebe considers the recent controversy surrounding the removal, by the show’s curator and the arts-funding body, of the public artwork Countdown Machine, by Jason Lam and Sampson Wong, a light installation flickering on the facade of Hong Kong’s tallest skyscraper. The second Essay, by South Asian art scholar Cleo Roberts, ruminates on how Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s form of Hindu-majoritarian politics has prompted a critical artistic response, particularly through an examination of Sajan Mani’s performances that challenge the growing trend of right-wing nationalism.

In Profiles, we turn our attention to three midcareer artists whose steady practices have, so far, remained outside of the limelight: New Delhi-based multimedia practitioner Aditya Pande, Beijing’s quiet abstractionist Wang Guangle and the enthusiastic Le Brothers, a Vietnamese sibling partnership that invites artists from around the world to their hometown of Hue.

Also in this issue we welcome our new managing editor Ysabelle Cheung. For this installment of Where I Work, she heads over to the legendary Mong Kok flower market to meet up with artist Trevor Yeung—an ardent enthusiast of botany and horticulture. For One on One, Amsterdam-based Bengali artist Praneet Soi shares his admiration of French Nouvelle Vague filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin, while nonprofit artspace Ilham Gallery’s creative director Valentine Willie files a Dispatch on the buzzing cultural life in Kuala Lumpur. And in The Point, Hong Kong artist Wong Wai Yin reveals her anxieties about making art in today’s troubled climate. She wonders aloud: “Does the joy I derive from art-making mean I am turning a blind eye to the unfortunate state of our world? This nagging guilt is, quite frankly, not helpful—possibly even detrimental—for creativity as well as for life.” But Wong concludes, “Since I do not agree with that conclusion and because I want to uncover hope, I gather myself, search for renewed confidence, put my trust in the potential of art—and hurry back to work.” Like Etel Adnan, Wong Wai Yin and the other tenacious artists included in this issue demonstrate that what can move us forward in these strange, worrying times are strategies for dreaming up new, hopeful directions.