BANI ABIDI, The Ghost of Mohammad bin Qasim, 2006, archival inkjet print, 18.5 × 28 cm. Courtesy the artist and Green Cardamom, London.

Objects in The Mirror are Closer Than They Appear

With the advent of Google, Wikipedia, reality television and the global embrace of an easy-share, watered-down aesthetic in everything from architecture to graphic design, so-called innovations that attempt to connect the world and make it seem smaller also raise the question of what constitutes “collective memory.” Artists are often early barometers of change, and an interest in archiving and reclaiming one’s own history has recently been particularly prominent in many parts of Asia. As the Asia Art Archive celebrates its tenth anniversary in Hong Kong this year and the Sharjah Art Museum holds its third annual March Meeting for artists, curators and nonprofit directors, both highlight the urgent collective desire to create repositories for their own and others’ cultural histories, which are now at risk of being forgotten. Just as the idea of the archive—a physical cache of historical and aesthetic information—looms large over contemporary art discourse, ArtAsiaPacific is making its own contribution to the archives of the future in its July/August issue. By unearthing previously overlooked themes in the art of the Asia-Pacific region, AAP 69 takes stock of what is most worth keeping.

This issue’s cover features the enigmatic and rarely discussed work of Lee Seung-taek. Features editor Ashley Rawlings explores Lee’s 50-year career, during which he has made huge, experimental “non-sculptures” in the Korean landscape, often with nobody there to witness them. Similarly, contributing editor Murtaza Vali examines the quiet practice of Siah Armajani, an Iranian sculptor with political, poetic and formalist concerns who has lived in the United States since the early 1960s and who recently began creating art in response to periods of social upheaval in his native country, albeit from a distance. Christina Yu discusses how Beijing’s Qiu Zhijie takes cues from history in his zongti yishu, or “total art.” Comparing Qiu’s practice to 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner, whose operas “integrate performing arts, literature and visual arts,” Yu considers how Qiu’s recent work encompasses “not only different art forms…but also sociology, anthropology, philosophy, psychology and other branches of the humanities” as a means of interpreting the world. 

Other features include managing editor William Pym’s reappraisal of the controversial Indigenous Australian painter and video artist Richard Bell and his alter ego, “Richie,” after the artist’s nine-month residency in New York and on the eve of a touring exhibition organized by the American Federation of the Arts. Editor-at-large HG Masters gets together with Tel Aviv’s Sigalit Landau, just prior to the announcement that she will represent Israel at the 2011 Venice Biennale. Masters considers Landau’s predilection for the “morbid, masochistic and postapocalpytic,” and anticipates the shape her work might take with the unfortunate likelihood of a second Gaza War.

In Essays, Daniel Fuller unreels meaning behind a short film by Chris Chong Chan Fui, in which the artist zooms in on the minutiae of daily life in his apartment block in Kuala Lumpur. Andrew Berardini explores the hazy origins of the American West Coast’s postwar love affair with the Americanized repackaging of Polynesian culture through a discussion of Jeffrey Vallance, an overlooked Californian conceptualist whose 1980s performative works involved the offering of gifts to the king of Tonga. In Profiles, we interview leading Chinese painter Fang Lijun, who discusses the difficulty of achieving an objective understanding of art, and assistant editor Hanae Ko talks on the phone with Tran Luong in Hanoi, who reflects on creating a community of new-media artists in Vietnam during the 1990s. Sophie Richard looks at a two-decade contemporary art project that aims to revive remote island economies in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, Nadim Abbas considers Shahzia Sikander’s radical departures from the Indo-Persian miniatures for which she is revered, and in New Delhi, Hemant Sareen studies the work of Indian graphic novelist and artist Sarnath Banerjee, who is much beloved by bibliophiles.

Among our commissioned projects, Rina Banerjee enumerates her eight favorite source materials for her ethnographic-fantasy inspired installations, while performance artist Noor Effendy Ibrahim, the newly appointed artistic director of Singapore’s Substation, jots us a postcard from home. On a similar scale, Tokyo’s Akira Yamaguchi sketches out an idea for a neo-nihonga painting on a napkin, and for Where I Work, Emily Cormack visits the studio of Melbourne’s Sally Smart, known for her “Exquisite Pirate” series of high-seas heroines. And Brisbane’s Eugene Carchesio, who grew to prominence through his delicate watercolors and small sculptures made out of matchboxes, takes time to answer our Questionnaire, where he admits that he uses the internet to explore “tangents.”

In our long-form review, Malcolm Cossons takes a look at “When Three Dreams Cross,” a sweeping photographic survey spanning 150 years at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, and senior editor Don J. Cohn covers two new publications on film and visual design in India and Pakistan, as well as a surprising artist’s book by Aisha Khalid that is at once delightfully blank and full of persuasive, subliminal narrative.