KELVIN KYUNG KUN PARK, Army: 600,000 Portraits, 2016, Still from two-channel video installation with color and sound: 17 min 30 sec. Courtesy the artist.

Negotiating the Future

Sixth Asian Art Biennial

Also available in:  Chinese

In the sixth Asian Art Biennial, titled “Negotiating the Future” and organized at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in Taichung, Japanese artist group Chim Pom’s site-specific installation Street (2017) is an asphalt road that runs from the museum’s foyer through the main entrance to the street outside. This elevated roadway also served as a stage for sound artist Cheng Yi-Ping, also known as Betty Apple, during a block party. Street invokes the Sunflower Movement of 2014, when student and civic groups occupied the thoroughfares that surrounded the Legislative Yuan of Taiwan, and has become a channel that connects the art institution to the outside world.

Unlike previous editions, where the curation was spearheaded by a single individual, “Negotiating the Future” was assembled by four curators—Wassan al-Khudhairi, who is of Iraqi descent; Indonesia’s Ade Darmawan; Japan’s Kenji Kubota and Taiwan’s Lin Hsiao-Yu. Their programming for the biennial explored artistic practice as a social gesture and negotiation tool in power dynamics, and critical issues across Asia were addressed in fascinating ways.

The videos and documentation materials of Hong Kong artist-duo Sampson Wong and Jason Lam’s projects indicate an anxiety over the fate of their home city. Add Oil Machine (2014) involved projections of supportive messages from around the world during the 2014 Umbrella Movement, when pro-democracy protesters camped on public roads for a long-haul demonstration. Countdown Machine (2016–17), an animation that includes a timer showing how long until Hong Kong loses self-governance, was controversial when it was first shown, on the side of the tallest building in the city. 

Taking cues from temporary shelters for refugees seen during her travels, Lo Yi-Chun used dried banana peels to form boat hulls, a crown, a trunk and other objects in the sculptural installation series “Voyage to the Homeland” (2015). The Taiwanese artist realized that her own movement across the globe and that of those displaced overlapped but ran in opposite directions. In “Voyage,” five chapters about the challenges faced by refugees were compiled using actual news stories, ruminating on the proximate causes of international commerce, migration and geopolitical ambitions.

Japanese and Korean artists reflected on the collective anxieties in Asian societies. In Kota Takeuchi’s Pointing at Fukuichi Live Cam (2011), a video lifted from the live feed on the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s website in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of March 2011, we see someone—possibly the artist, though Takeuchi calls himself the “agent” of this individual—who becomes known as the “Finger Pointing Worker,” breathing heavily and rapidly in hazmat gear, and remaining in-frame with his index finger aimed at the camera for nearly 20 minutes. By presenting this video, Takeuchi interrogates both the characterization of the post-disaster clean-up workers as heroes and their working conditions.

Meiro Koizumi’s three-channel video installation Rite for a Dream (Today My Empire Sings) (2016) takes the actions of nationalists and anti-imperial protesters and casts them in confrontational dreamscapes, linking up with the trauma brought on by the militarism of yesteryear’s Japan. Similarly tapping into the combative rites of passage within his country, Kelvin Kyung Kun Park looks at the compulsory military duty undergone by men in his native South Korea, as well as the consequent sexual tension and the value attached to the male body, in his two-channel-video Army: 600,000 Portraits (2016). These are all ideas that are familiar to a Taiwanese audience.

One of the most notable works from Southeast Asia was by Indonesia’s Jatiwangi Art Factory, whose performance and mixed-media installation Supranatural Farming Investment Package (2017) appropriates the taglines of “reward investment” strategies used by governmental and multinational corporate organizations to plunder and seize land, placing them in glyph-like arrangements. During a performance that was framed as a meeting to call for investors, residents from the Jatiwangi District’s Wates village brought organic produce that was grown on land claimed by the Indonesian Air Force, and gave visitors the chance to contribute to the growth of their cultural program—the villagers’ only recourse under supposedly beneficial developmental governance. The way forward—for all of us—is to renegotiate our actions as we head into the future.

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