THU VAN TRANPenetrable – Rainforest #1, 2019, rubber on canvas, wooden frame, pigment, 180 × 150 cm. Copyright the artist. Photo by Rebecca Fanuele. Courtesy the artist and Almine Rech, Brussels / Paris / London / New York / Shanghai.

Practices of Realignment

Also available in:  Chinese

Recognizing our interdependence with our environments and earth’s diverse organisms is becoming increasingly critical as the planet’s ice caps melt at rates beyond scientists’ expectations, wildfires ravage lands from California to Siberia, and droughts and floods threaten the food security of millions. In ArtAsiaPacific’s November/December 2020 issue, we survey the practices of artists who have sought to pay deeper attention to the ecologies that we are a part of and uncover the impacts that our actions have on the collective biome. 

In our cover Feature, Paris-based Thu Van Tran, in conversation with AAP managing editor Chloe Chu, traces the aftermath of colonialism and modern warfare in Vietnam through the residues that have been left behind in the local environment and culture. Her studies of these histories are embedded in delicately manipulated materials, including detailed bronze casts of leaves gathered from tropical trees still housed in Paris’s colonial-era greenhouses. In the series From Green to Orange (2014– ), seen on the cover, she effaces photographs of Vietnam’s jungles and creates layers with alcohol, ink, and rust. The resulting images speak to the haunting aftereffects of the chemical defoliants and weapons deployed during the Vietnam War.

Concerned about the environmental damage human activities are causing to the world’s oceans and seas, Hong Kong-based MAP Office, comprising Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix, have spent the last decade focused on the sustainable growth of human communities living in close proximity with water. With backgrounds in architecture, art, and urbanism, the transdisciplinary duo pursue their research topics through publications, videos, and installations. As they explain to AAP deputy editor and deputy publisher, HG Masters, they have now embarked on their most ambitious project: to create a self-sustaining workshop space on the island of Ishigaki where shared bodies of knowledge can be translated into a real-world coastal ecosystem. 

For Up Close, the AAP editors examine Prabhakar Pachpute’s drawings about the fight of Indian farmers against the erosion of their livelihoods and rights, as well as Su Yu Hsin’s and Truong Cong Tung’s explorations of the intertwined transformations of human beliefs and the environment. Rounding out the Features section, art historian Martina Corgnati delineates the life of surrealist Meret Oppenheim, in Inside Burger Collection. 

In Essays, AAP looks at the multivalent practice of Yukihisa Isobe, from his timeless design for the first Earth Day poster in 1970 to his air-activated sculptures and environmental installations marking the changes to the landscape in the Echigo-Tsumari region in Japan.

The Profiles section spotlights open-source activist, technologist, and artist Irene Agrivina, who looks to nature for solutions to Indonesia’s societal problems, as independent curator Chabib Duta Hapsoro details. Similarly working with organic materials, specifically agricultural waste, is architectural scientist Mae-ling Lokko, whose innovations, including upcycled mycelium-based tiles, are outlined by AAP news and web editor Lauren Long. Meanwhile, AAP associate editor Ophelia Lai writes about Australian photographer Tamara Dean, who centers the inextricable relationship between humankind and nature in her images. 

For the Point, the Forest Curriculum, led by curators Abhijan Toto and Pujita Guha, propose Zomia, the forested belt that connects South and Southeast Asia, as a model for rethinking what constitutes “knowledge” and how knowledge itself is organized. Elsewhere in the issue, for Dispatch, AAP’s Madrid desk editor, Rebecca Close, files a report about how discussions on colonialism and race are shaping the Spanish capital’s cultural life. For One on One, Dubai-based multimedia artist Raja’a Khalid pays homage to writer Kurt Vonnegut, whose use of humor and “tireless advocacy for kindness and empathy” inspired her own practice as a “hopeful cynic.” In the Tribute, Olga Viso, a museum advisor and former executive director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, honors artist-architect Siah Armajani (1939–2020), who “deplored all forms of injustice and spoke out boldly” throughout his career.

Lastly, for Where I Work, regular contributor Danielle Shang visited the Los Angeles studio of Kelly Akashi, whose sculptures are inspired by organic forms, including the spirals found in shells, ferns, and DNA, in which she finds “a vocabulary for the universe and for the faculties of harmony, strength, agility, growth, and mobility.” Like Akashi, the many artists and creators featured in this issue are exploring new interpersonal relationships and inventing strategies of survivance as we are compelled to readapt our behaviors to conditions on a rapidly changing planet.      

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