MELATI SURYODARMO, Der Sekundentraum, 1998documentation of performance at Kunstverein Hannover, 2008. Copyright and courtesy the artist.

Multiple Realities

Also available in:  Chinese

In the November/December issue of ArtAsiaPacific, we look at how artists transform the spaces around us, making visible the hidden and overlooked, while rearranging the boundaries of what we think we know as a way to overcome presumed social dichotomies and to provide greater access to our shared histories.

We begin with the cover Feature on Melati Suryodarmo, who is redefining performance art in Southeast Asia and connecting it with personal and collective histories. Independent curator Eva McGovern-Basa explores the various stages of the artist’s career, from her early practice in Germany under the tutelage of Japanese Butoh dancer and choreographer Anzu Furukawa (1952–2001) to her infamous performance on 20 bricks of soft butter, first performed in 2000. Twenty years later, Suryodarmo’s recent works have become staunchly feminist, addressing gender issues that have preoccupied her since her return to Indonesia in 2013. In that time, the performance artist has become a mentor and educator to the Indonesian artistic community, and in November, Suryodarmo will unveil the 17th edition of the Jakarta Biennale, which she has overseen as its first female artistic director. 

Within the realm of sculpture, Chung Seoyoung is expanding the potential of the medium with her practice, which dates back to the independent, experimental art scene of the 1990s and 2000s in South Korea. From a veiny, pointed ear made of latex foam stuck to the wall of a gallery, to a large, rough-hewn white-foam sculpture meant to emulate petals of a flower, Chung’s works mediate what she calls the “third form”—an unknown territory derived from collisions among objects and everyday encounters, infused with subtle social criticism. After seeing a number of exhibitions featuring the sculptor’s mysterious constructions, AAP editor at large HG Masters reflects: “Chung’s sculptures become more than just physical pieces. They exist in a kind of proto-augmented reality. As you look at them in person, you are simultaneously processing the experience on multiple cognitive levels, layering linguistic elements and visual references onto the object before you.” 

In Lahore, artist and teacher Rashid Rana offers similar studies in distortions of spatial recognition. Rana is well-known for his photomosaics—aggregations of imagery from one cultural nexus to form a picture of another—such as his massive collage that is a facsimile of an ornate red Persian carpet, made from countless miniature photos of a slaughterhouse. AAP London desk editor Ned Carter Miles lays out a chronological analysis of Rana’s search for a universal visual language that transcends geographical and historical distances, starting with the artist’s monochromatic paintings concerned with two-dimensionality, to his printed, three-dimensional sculpture-installations at the 56th Venice Biennale. Miles notes that, “ultimately, [Rana’s] practice is concerned with distances and dimensions—flattening them, stretching them, negating and redefining them, all with an eye to pointing out that our ways of delineating the world may not be as solid as we believe.” 

In our Special Feature, Inside Burger Collection, art historian Karin Zitzewitz considers the work of Mumbai’s Jitish Kallat after visiting his midcareer survey at the National Gallery of Modern Art earlier this year, curated by Catherine David. From Kallat’s photographs of carefully torn roti bread that resemble various stages of the moon, as a metaphor to chart his father’s lifespan according to the lunar calendar, to his more recent work exposing sheets of paper to the wind and the rain, Zitzewitz zeros in on Kallat’s 20-year-long exploration of time and life’s transience—consistent themes that appear in the artist’s creations made many years apart from each other.

In Profiles, we look at artists and collectors whose concerns with boundaries are manifest in one way or another. Hong Kong-based artist João Vasco Paiva excavates experiences from his adopted city and the environments around him, impressing what he calls “sensors of reality”—detritus commonly found in alleyways, along the shore and other obscure spaces within the urban density of Hong Kong—to explore what these things can tell us about humankind. Sri Lanka-born, Sydney-based Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, on the other hand, has come onto the scene with his raw, visually discordant totem sculptures, which flirt dangerously with blasphemy, given their references to religion, sexual politics and cultural idolatry. Capping off the section, we spotlight Singaporean collectors John Chia and Cheryl Loh, a low-key couple whose focused, 300-plus artwork collection includes pieces by artists who express a “Singapore-ness in art.” The pair is especially enthusiastic when it comes to creatives who can subtly articulate the tensions and contradictions that exist within society.

For the Essays section, Mimi Wong examines a new generation of mainland Chinese diaspora artists and curators in New York who are tracing the footsteps of their forebears—such as the Asian American Arts Center, Godzilla Asian American Art Network and Sleepcenter—by opening their own spaces to tackle the cultural limitations of institutional support.  

Elsewhere, in One on One, Indonesian conceptual artist FX Harsono explains his admiration for Timoteus Anggawan Kusno and his fictional historical narratives set in the Dutch East Indies. For Where I Work, we travel to Yangon to visit the studio of husband-and-wife duo Tun Win Aung and Wah Nu, whose practice involves delving into archival material and repeatedly layering paint as a means of erasing the country’s past injustices.

In the Point, Dame Jenny Gibbs, respected for her early efforts in spearheading private giving to the arts in New Zealand, lists the many motivations behind arts patronage. She concludes: “The greatest benefit is the simple joy of knowing you have made a contribution to your society, enabled an activity that would not otherwise have happened, and made the world a better place.” No doubt many of the artists featured in this issue have relied on spaces, organizations or even individuals such as Dame Jenny Gibbs, whose radical modes of support are paramount to progression, helping to break boundaries along the way.  

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