TEAMLABEver Blossoming Life Waterfall – Deep in the Mountains of Shikoku, 2016–17, digitalized natural area in Shikoku with sound by Hideaki Takahashi. Image courtesy the artists.

Site Specificities

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There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that far-flung parts of the world are becoming more superficially similar as commerce and tourism have homogenized localities around the globe. Yet, when looked at closely, micro-histories of specific places remain full of fascinating details and rich stories. ArtAsiaPacific’s September/October issue looks at artists who examine, in one way or another, stories of their respective countries and their environs. Some of the artists featured touch upon how their communities respond to seismic events, while others research cultural traditions to dream up new futuristic virtual worlds.

For our cover Feature, AAP reviews editor Brady Ng delves into the high-tech creative wizardry of Japan’s teamLab. The around-400-member collective—comprising artists, programmers, engineers, computer-graphics animators, mathematicians, architects, web and graphic designers—has dazzled audiences around the world who enter their immersive installations, which utilize cutting-edge technology and are often inspired by nature and premodern Japanese art. The work that initially mesmerized Ng was a large, six-screen digital video depicting Japan’s famously preserved Tashibunosho agricultural area. TeamLab’s homage, at first glance, resembles a traditional screen painting of a farming town that has remained unchanged for a millennium. But theirs is actually a digital doppelgänger, and the images of farmers planting, sowing and harvesting their crops as the seasons change will slowly unfold in real time over the course of the next 1,000 years—positing that life, and nature, will continue as it has before, or, at least, in digital form.

Capturing viewers in similarly vivid ways, yet using more analog techniques, is Mumbai-based artist Nalini Malani, revered for her experimental drawings, films, photographs, performances and video-shadow plays that often explore the cultural legacies of a partitioned India. Before her major retrospective at Centre Pompidou in Paris in October and Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea in March, Daniel Kurjaković, curator of programs at Kunstmuseum Basel, sat down with Malani to discuss some of the lesser-known experiences and influences on her works. Among the places that impacted Malani’s works were the slum community near her former studio in Bandra that was leveled by the city government, and her past residence in the working-class neighborhood of Lohar Chawl.

Also trying to understand why places are the way they are today is Lebanese interdisciplinary artist Lamia Joreige. AAP editor-at-large HG Masters leads us through Joreige’s many artistic explorations of her home city Beirut, from her ongoing video project Objects of War, initiated in 2000, in which she asked acquaintances to talk about an object that was important to them during the country’s wars (1975–90), to her more recent 2013 book Objects Missing from the National Museum of Beirut. As Masters explains, “The city as a palimpsest—a surface that has been written on and erased many times—is a metaphor that Joreige likes.”

Looking at a difficult national history through the lens of trauma and the positive implications of artistic practice in scrutinizing these events, AAP contributing editor Jyoti Dhar introduces the work of Sri Lanka’s Jagath Weerasinghe. For more than 25 years, the artist, teacher and archaeologist has actively responded to the country’s recent decades of civil conflict through his expressive figure paintings, performances and installations.

Finally, in our special column, Inside Burger Collection, Bharti Lalwani discusses ideas of home and inclusion within South-Asian-American immigrant creative communities, through the framework of the recent group exhibition “Lucid Dreams and Distant Visions: South Asian Art in the Diaspora” at the Asia Society Museum in New York, and the three-day convention titled “Fatal Love: Where Are We Now?” at the Asia Society Museum and Queens Museum, which took place amid concerns about the xenophobic immigration policies of US president Donald J. Trump.

This issue’s Profiles look at four enterprising and energetic artists. We hear about the virtual adventures of Japanese-British, MIT Media Lab artist Sputniko!, known for her idiosyncratic projects such as the wearable Menstruation Machine – Takashi’s Take (2010); New York-based Iranian abstract painter Ali Banisadr, whose paintings often reference growing up during the 1978–79 Islamic Revolution; London-based Faiza Butt, who taps into Pakistani artistic traditions while creating work that questions gender and sexuality; and Australian artist Robert Andrew, whose kinetic machines explore his Indigenous heritage. 

Elsewhere in the issue, regular contributor Joe Zhu files a Dispatch from Hong Kong’s mainland Chinese neighbor, Shenzhen—now a community buzzing with artistic camaraderie, studios and new exhibition spaces, developed seemingly overnight. In One on One, Cambodian artist Khvay Samnang explains his admiration for Zhang Huan’s use of his body, time and space to narrate the politics of society and its environment. And in The Point, Stephen Cheng of Hong Kong’s Empty Gallery, an unconventional space—not only for Hong Kong but the entire region—which embraces sound and other experimental art forms, argues that the current models of patronage tend to perpetuate the closed system of the art market. Cheng asks future art patrons to “support what only you can, what only you will, what only you see, and don’t be afraid to let the beauty and the chaos in. Art should by nature make a mess.” 

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