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SHU LEA CHEANGFLUIDØ, 2017, film: 1 hour 39 min. Still photo by J. Jackie Baier. 

Renewed Contact

Also available in:  Chinese

In his 1954 book The Nature of Prejudice, psychologist Gordon Allport proposed that individuals’ inherent bias against people of different genders, races or classes could be overcome through increased contact under positive conditions. He was particularly concerned about the aftereffects of World War II, and how contact theory might help overcome racial and ethnic prejudices. As the world today continues to divide along these and other lines—national, political, religious—how can we embrace differences and establish new forms of communication? In the May/June issue of ArtAsiaPacific, we highlight artists who have imaginatively forged new links between themselves and others. 

Critic, curator and artist Banyi Huang studies the practice of net-art, bio-art and new-media pioneer Shu Lea Cheang, whose new work appears on the cover. Cheang, who is exhibiting at the 58th Venice Biennale in the Taiwan Pavilion collateral exhibition, will present the multi-chamber installation 3×3×6, which studies the surveillance, control and incarceration of the contemporary body. The new installation, as Huang notes, picks up where Brandon (1998–99), one of Cheang’s seminal works made in response to a 1993 murder of a young transgender man, left off. Originally commissioned by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Brandon contains offline and online media “safe spaces” where queer and trans people could reinvent their identities. For Venice, however, Cheang has created an environment in which the viewer can also study the surveillance system. As Huang suggests, “The body . . . through the deconstructed misuse of technologies . . . can also be hacked, remixed and re-projected as a resistant tool for solidarity and affirmation.” 

Shirley Tse, who will represent Hong Kong at Venice, has fashioned a visual diary of everyday objects in 3D-printed joints and hand-turned wooden forms in a diaristic, “rhizome-like” installation, Negotiated Differences (2019), which will occupy the pavilion. Linked together, these objects—a badminton racket and a bowling pin, for example—are a continuation of her interests in ideas of plasticity and the molecular structures of polymers, and their connection to global patterns of migration and trade, as Tse explains in an interview with Julee Woo Jin Chung. 

For her new three-channel video installation that will premiere at the Australia Pavilion, Angelica Mesiti filmed various performers and musicians within the stately halls of the ancient Senate in Rome and the Australian Senate in Canberra. In a conversation with Museum of Contemporary Art Australia chief curator Rachel Kent, Mesiti discusses the social and political nature of human communication, which she often explores using antiquated forms of technology as well as nonlinguistic methods in her highly choreographed works. 

Elsewhere in the Features, for Inside Burger Collection, curator Carlos Basualdo looks at the socially engaged art practice of Mohamed Bourouissa, whose installation Pas le temps pour les regrets (2018) is based on the psychiatric hospital in Blida, Algeria, where Frantz Fanon worked between 1953 and 1956, and one of his former patients who took up gardening as a form of therapy. For In Depth, AAP’s editors examine four new works in detail. Chloe Chu reviews a distressed, earthy figurine and flora-based installations by Candice Lin; Ophelia Lai considers Christopher Kulendran Thomas and Annika Kuhlmann’s display-room-like installations that double as prototypes for a new subscription housing service; Ysabelle Cheung examines algorithmic structure and political afterimages present in Ho Tzu Nyen’s ongoing project The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia (2012– ); and finally, HG Masters spotlights Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s new four-channel video installation about the Vietnamese-Senegalese community in Dakar, produced for Sharjah Biennial 14. 

In our Essays section, Tai Kwun Contemporary’s head of arts Tobias Berger reminisces about Nam June Paik’s Electronic Super Highway installation at the 1993 Germany Pavilion, in which the late godfather of video art predicted today’s technology-driven hyper-connectivity. Berger further contextualizes Paik’s works in relation to the anti-nationalist critique of Hans Haacke’s presentation as part of the pavilion that same year. 

Rounding out our spotlight on the Venice Biennale, the Profiles section spotlights the practices of three Venice pavilion artists—Song Ming-Ang, siren eun young jung and Mark Justiniani—representing Singapore, South Korea and the Philippines, respectively. For Where I Work, contributing editor Michael Young visits Indigenous artist Richard Bell, who will mount his provocative Embassy (2013– ) project as an unofficial installation in Venice. The tent, inspired by the 1972 Aboriginal Tent Embassy as a protest for the political rights of Aboriginal Australians, focuses on resistance in the face of increasing xenophobia and nationalism. 

Increased intergroup contact can lead to positive integration and visibility, as artist and academic Laura Kina clarifies in her Dispatch from Chicago, where an intermixing of people—queer, colored, differently abled—has created new artistic communities despite the problems of gentrification. And in The Point, Matthias Arndt of A3 – Arndt Art Agency argues for a more open-network approach to the art market. 

Some journeys are not possible alone. In One on One, artist Anida Yoeu Ali pens a moving tribute to the late Lee Wen (1957–2019). Ali explains how Lee, known for iconic “Yellow Man” performances that critiqued stereotypes of Asian identity, inspired generations of artists in Southeast Asia to carve out their own paths. In March, another giant figure in contemporary art, curator, art historian and poet Okwui Enwezor, passed away. As globalization gained traction in the 1990s, Enwezor shifted the art world away from its traditional North American-European axis and gave perspectives on non-Western geographies with his seminal documenta 11, which examined the brutal legacies of colonial histories. His grand, sweeping exhibition, “All the World’s Futures” for the 2015 edition of the Venice Biennale, highlighted human-made horrors and showed us how art can take both a political and aesthetic stand, for the voice of others as well as ourselves.

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