EDUARDO KAC, Natural History of the Enigma (Edunia), 2003/08, transgenic work, a ‘plantimal’ with the artist’s DNA, expressed only in the red veins of the flower. Courtesy the artist.

Let 100 Flowers Boom!

In the lead-up to major cultural events including the Shanghai Expo and the Biennale of Sydney, ArtAsiaPacific adopts an optimistic view of the future in our May/June issue. Inspired by the mission of the World’s Fair to promote cross-cultural gatherings not as contests but as opportunities for human advancement through the exchange of ideas, we explore how artists pursue aesthetics and politics in the hope of seeing their way through a world that is both dizzy with change and mired in old fears and assumptions. 

Features include managing editor William Pym’s rumination on the 17th edition of the Biennale of Sydney, which opens on May 12. Through a series of conversations with artistic director David Elliott, Pym weighs the show’s ambitious curatorial theme, “The Beauty of Distance: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age.” Elliott touches on the ways that contemporary art finds beauty in our differences, and how artists’ uses of irony, illusion and distance can shed light on societal inequalities. Also in Australia, features editor Ashley Rawlings navigates the practice of Melbourne-based artist Brook Andrew, a participant in the Biennale, whose prints and vibrant installations rework archival ethnographic imagery to attest to the abuse of power and the displacement of Indigenous peoples in the 19th century. Editor-at-large HG Masters celebrates the 50-plus-year practice of Iranian artist Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, whose intricate mirror works unite hard-edged 20th-century abstraction with traditional Persian craftsmanship and the legacy of decorative and symbolic Islamic geometry. 

In New York, James Trainor mines the work of Jerusalem-born, Berlin-based video artist Omer Fast, recently revered for his investigations into the mediated experiences of film, television and narrative storytelling, and their effect on both individual and collective memory. Also examining fearsome realities of the modern age, though employing more extreme tactics, are Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, a Beijing-based artist duo whose work will also be on view at the Biennale of Sydney. Contributing editor Olivier Krischer follows the team’s controversial career, notable for its use of unconventional materials such as human cadavers and live animals. 

For Essays, independent curator Eliza Tan reads between the lines of Ming Wong’s new video installation, Life and Death in Venice, and finds the young artist, recently awarded a Special Mention for his work in the Singapore Pavilion at the 2009 Venice Biennale, discreetly reflecting on the challenges of international recognition. Contributor Joseph Newland considers a 1960s reprint of a 15th-century Japanese scroll, and proposes how a publication might function, reborn, as a contemporary artwork. In Profiles, Irina Makarova speaks to Kazakhstan’s Erbossyn Meldibekov about the themes of Central Asia’s post-Soviet “collapse of culture” in his performative work, while Beijing-based Meg Maggio interviews Wang Qingsong about his elaborate working methods and sources for creative inspiration as the Chinese photographer and video artist prepares to debut three new works around the world. Shanay Jhaveri introduces the work of Filipino filmmaker Raya Martin, whose Independencia was selected for the Un Certain Regard section of last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Jhaveri observes that the 26-year-old Martin’s films, which delve into the history of the Philippines, represent “an attempt to re-create lost archives” of his country’s tumultuous history of colonialization and its struggle for liberation. 

Our Reviews include Alexander Keefe’s culturally contextualized read of “Hanging Fire,” a landmark group exhibition of contemporary art from Pakistan at Asia Society in New York; contributing editor Murtaza Vali’s close look at the intricate installation work of Danh Vo in Basel; and reviews of significant historical shows and festivals in Baku, Darwin, Tel Aviv and Shanghai. In Books, senior editor Don J. Cohn compares and assesses two compendiums of interviews with Chinese artists, architects and filmmakers by roving European curators Hans Ulrich Obrist and Jérôme Sans. 

In this issue’s commissioned projects, Wish You Were Here brings us a candid postcard from Massimiliano Gioni, director of special exhibitions at the New Museum in New York and the artistic director of the forthcoming Gwangju Biennial, during one of his many research trips to South Korea. For Ideas on a Napkin, Cary Kwok considers the finer elements of style while sitting in a London coffee shop. And in My Eight, Raqib Shaw reminds us to take time and smell the flowers in our dogged search for peace and progress.