SAMSON YOUNG, Liquid Borders (detail), 2012–14, graphical notation, sound composition and annotated cartography, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong. 

In from the Cold

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

In the lead-up to this year’s Venice Biennale and Documenta, I was reading a 1979 edition of the art journal Black Phoenix. Discussed within the pages of this dense, 31-page issue was the question of barriers raised by the art world establishment at the time against both experimental art and artists from non-European or American geographies. “Marginal” was the word commonly applied to artists who were engaged in practices including performance, participatory and kinetic art, and those hailing from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. Fast-forward 38 years. Christine Macel, the director of the 57th Venice Biennale, intends to upend the current status quo—in which exhibition-making has become politicized, commercialized or driven by certain dominant personalities—through a simple but elegant gesture: to give prominence to artists and the transnational spirit of the creative process. In the May/June issue of ArtAsiaPacific, the editors spotlight many no-longer-marginal artists from around the world who will show their art—often not fit for the marketplace—at one of the two prestigious, and now truly international, exhibitions.

This issue’s cover features the work of rising star Samson Young, Hong Kong’s representative at Venice this year. AAP managing editor Ysabelle Cheung examines the classically trained composer’s 13-year career, during which he has investigated the cultural and historical associations of specific sounds, from buzzing, hissing and humming along the “Frontier Closed Area” of the Hong Kong–China border zone to the more hypnotic tones struck from bells around the world. Young also discusses the story behind his ambitious new work—inspired by pop music, online myths, cultural imperialism and the fetishization of developing countries by industrial nations—which he will debut at the Hong Kong Pavilion in May.

Also exploring family legends, geopolitical borders and imbalances in today’s globalized world is Bali-born, Brisbane-based artist Tintin Wulia. Independent curator Eva McGovern-Basa sits down with Wulia to discuss notions of migration and the “next frontier” in her project for the Indonesia Pavilion, “1001 Martian Homes.” In their conversation, Wulia reflects: “It’s interesting to hear people comment that my works on the border are so relevant now. Haven’t these issues been relevant since Plato’s Laws (300 BCE)? In that book, a section discusses how strangers, or foreigners, could disrupt an ideal city-state by suggesting unusual ideals, and therefore, their access to and interactions with locals need to be restricted.”

From Manila, AAP contributor Dominic Zinampan revisits the work of enfant terrible Manuel Ocampo, who along with Lani Maestro will present work in the Philippines Pavilion at Venice. Ocampo is known for his sardonic paintings that take aim at religion, corruption, politics and neoliberal attitudes, and Zinampan explains the artist’s legacy on the Philippines’ art scene: “He retains a deep affinity with, and has strong reactions to, the ever-shifting circumstances arising from within his native country. To shock or hurt is not his intention, nor is he being nihilistic. Instead, Ocampo’s message is that we must arm ourselves with humor in order to transcend the traumas of history.”

Similarly targeting social conformity in an increasingly materialistic world is Lee Wan. The 38-year-old artist from Seoul, closely watched since he won the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art’s prestigious Artspectrum Award in 2014, will represent South Korea in Venice, along with Cody Choi. Guest contributor Yujin Min walks us through the up-and-coming artist’s work, from his unusual sculptures and assemblages—including hyperrealistic baseballs made of dried, ground chicken meat—to his most recent “Made In” video series that looks at Asian products, from his breakfast food to his clothes, and the political implications of capitalism and urbanization in the region.

Capping our Features section is our special column Inside Burger Collection. London-based curators Nicolas de Oliveira and Nicola Oxley focus on Belgian artist Hans Op de Beeck, whose work has appeared in previous editions of the Venice Biennale as well as in museums across Asia. Employing a diverse practice that incorporates sculpture, painting, installation and the moving image, Op de Beeck creates immersive experiences that allude to memory, storytelling and fictional realities.

In Profiles, AAP looks at three artists pushing age-old media in new directions. AAP reviews editor Brady Ng goes backstage with Syrian-German “sound scientist” Rashad Becker on the eve of his performance for Documenta 14’s radio program, which kicked off in Athens in April. In Los Angeles, Vietnam desk editor Ruben Luong meets up with filmmaker and artist Tuan Andrew Nguyen to discuss his new film The Island (2017), which debuted in March at the Whitney Biennial in New York. In Beijing, Olivia Wang interviews ink artist Li Jin, who has captivated audiences with his humorously sensual imagery of lovers, food and other prosaic aspects of life in the revered, classical Chinese medium.

Elsewhere in the issue, in Essays, Thomas Mouna escorts readers through the historic, yet quickly vanishing hutong lanes and alleys of Beijing, where many modest, yet unconventional creative clusters are mounting engaging, community-driven art projects. From Kazakhstan, regular contributor Lesley Ann Gray considers sustainable art initiatives for post-oil economies. For the Point, Manu Park, curator and director of Platform-L Contemporary Art Center in Seoul, reflects on how nonprofit and commercial art ventures are increasingly blurred—especially in Asia. Park reminds us, “Arts patronage is not an act of commerce, but an activity within the public sphere of art.” Rounding out the issue, in Where I Work, UAE desk editor Kevin Jones travels to the studio of Sahand Hesamiyan in Tehran, where he views the artist’s large-scale geometric sculptures, some of which are public commissions for his hometown. Hesamiyan readily admits, “It’s satisfying to engage both the space and the public with a work.” No doubt, this was the same desire that motivated so many of the artists engaged in international avant-garde movements of the 1960s and ’70s around the world, reminding us how far the art world has come.

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