The immediacy of performing with one’s own body allow artists to make ambitious breaks with the past as well as confront taboo subjects. In the 1950s, artist-composer John Cage began creating silent sound works inspired by Eastern philosophy and chance, while in the heights of the American women’s libration movement in the 1970s Carolee Schneemann stood naked on a table and read a handwritten manifesto extracted from her vagina. As “live art” experiments, or “Happenings,” were taking place in 1950s Europe and the United States, the Gutai group of artists in Japan wrestled with pools of mud and leaped through giant sheets of paper in bold attempts to embrace materiality itself and forge a new form of expression following the country’s emotional and physical devastation of World War II. In the 1990s, members of the Beijing East Village artist colony adopted a similar pioneering approach, staging confrontational public performances as a way of rejecting the academic realism promoted during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and as an expression of their revulsion over the Tiananmen Square incident and government crackdowns that followed in 1989. More than half a century since its guerrilla-style beginnings, performance is now one of the leading art forms practiced around the world.
Whether performance artists operate in the placid white cubes of exhibition spaces or the bustle of city streets, and whether they continue to voice political discontent, encourage intellectual debate or revel in absurdist humor, their works engage with audiences in ways that surpass the limitations of the traditional art object. ArtAsiaPacific’s November/December issue delves into the visceral, comical, morbid, staged and transient character of performative works by a diverse range of artists.
Some of the most influential events in the development of contemporary art in China took place in Beijing’s East Village. AAP contributor Angie Baecker surveys the remarkable career of Zhang Huan—one of the community’s founders—whose provocative acts of social discontent included suspending himself from the ceiling and inserting a tube into his veins that allowed his blood to drip and burn on a hot-plate below. Features editor Ashley Rawlings introduces the significantly less violent but no less intriguing work of Aki Sasamoto, who trained in dance and mathematics, and now performs durational meditations on anxieties that underlie quotidian life.
Almanac editor HG Masters considers themes of solitude and familial discord in the work of Guy Ben-Ner, who explores the gap between live performance and video documentation. In suggesting that filming oneself is a survival tactic, Masters draws parallels between Ben-Ner’s video pieces and reality television. While Ben-Ner stages his performances for the camera in a humorous blend of fiction and family life, Chang Mai-based Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook uses video to document her poetry readings and lectures on the subject of death to a “class” of human cadavers. AAP contributor Brian Curtin examines how the artist questions Thailand’s social attitudes about mortality and those outside the social “norm,” such as patients in psychiatric institutions and single working mothers.
Tino Sehgal is an artist whose “constructed situations” reject documentation and, more broadly, all forms of object-making, including photography, video and press releases. Although his creations are ephemeral moments conjured into being by the artist himself or his designated “interpreters,” who he personally trains, Sehgal’s intangible art is very much for sale. On the eve of Sehgal’s major solo exhibition at New York’s Guggenheim Museum early next year, contributing editor Chin-Chin Yap discusses what it means to exhibit and collect a Sehgal work, what she describes as, “the most rarefied examples of contemporary consumption to date.”
In this issue, we also welcome AAP’s new managing editor, William Pym, who has contributed to numerous art publications and exhibition catalogs, and who teaches an MFA course on aesthetics and criticism at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. For this issue, Pym reflects on one of the narrative videos of Omer Fast and his revelations of truth and falsity in a highly mediated world. And delving into new books on time-based media,senior editor Don J. Cohn reviews three monographs on performance artists Mike Parr, Zhang Huan and Tehching Hsieh.
In Profiles, AAP examines the 50-year-old career of veteran Filipino conceptualist Roberto Chabet. Back in New York, assistant editor Hanae Ko sits down with RoseLee Goldberg, the founding director of Performa, the biennial dedicated to performance art, and discusses some of the works commissioned for the event, including a theatrical video work by Seoul’s Yeondoo Jung. In our new photo- essay section, On Site, we feature Beijing multimedia artist Song Dong’s Waste Not installation at New York’s Museum of Modern Art—an orderly yet emotionally charged display of thousands of objects collected obsessively by the artist’s mother, who passed away early this year. Contributing editor Olivier Krischer interviews Song about the mother-son duo’s process of turning domestic life into art.
Kabul-based video artist Lida Abdul tells AAP about creating art in her native country of Afghanistan, which continues to struggle for peace and national unity, in Questionnaire. For Where I Work, Gregory Galligan visits the Brooklyn studio of Thai painter Richard Tsao, where the 110-degree temperature ensures that the thick accumulations of water-based pigment on his canvases are carefully cultivated into solid masses of color.
Rounding out the issue, independent curator and scholar Reiko Tomii assesses the current international interest in Japan’s Gutai Art Association. In The Point, Catherine Wilson contemplates the United Kingdom’s recently instituted immigration policy for artists, which is damaging the country’s reputation as a haven for free expression, and essayist Fatima Bhutto, from Karachi, examines how the art practices of three of her peers comment on the dangerous act of simply being a woman artist in Pakistan today.