Detail from RIRKRIT TIRAVANIJA’s interactive installation at  “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Green” at 100 Tonson Gallery, Bangkok, 2010. Courtesy 100 Tonson Gallery.

The Upside of Social Networking

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

As protests against rising food costs, unemployment and autocratic rule spread rapidly across the Arab world, one might wonder how this sudden political change came about. First in Tunisia and then through Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Yemen, antigovernment demonstrations have been organized largely through online networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Another web-based organization, the renegade antisecrecy group WikiLeaks, has also been instrumental in sparking change, releasing waves of classified documents that have exposed the hidden truths of global diplomacy. Among hundreds of thousands of classified cables, one from the United States Embassy in Tunisia in 2008 summed up the decades-long political deadlock that has now been broken: “With those at the top believed to be the worst offenders, and likely to remain in power, there are no checks in the system.” Reacting to public pressure, once-inscrutable Arab leaders are offering concessions to appoint new cabinets and to clean up corruption. What shape these new governments will take, and whether these changes will usher in more social and political freedoms, remains unknown. Meanwhile, US government attempts to halt this pace of change by cutting off funding to WikiLeaks have provoked retaliation in the form of cyber attacks by an anonymous and loosely defined community of hacker-activists. The balance of power between states and their citizens is shifting dramatically. Issues of privacy, secrecy, surveillance and ethical and legal accountability in society are becoming more urgent by the day. 

In ArtAsiaPacific’s March/April issue, we consider how artists both cultivate and critique the communities they operate in, be they local, regional or international, in real life or online. Features editor Ashley Rawlings examines the work of new-media and performance artist Wafaa Bilal, who recently had a small camera surgically implanted into the back of his head, where it will remain for one year, taking a photograph each minute and uploading it to the web. An assistant arts professor at New York University, Bilal has been asked by the photography department to keep the camera covered while on university premises. In his article, Rawlings looks at how Bilal has frequently placed his own body in physically grueling circumstances to raise awareness of the catastrophic predicament of civilians in post-invasion Iraq—only to be confronted with censorship in the United States.

Meanwhile, managing editor William Pym takes a renewed look at the community-based practice, and critical reception, of Rirkrit Tiravanija. The artist’s 1990s group cooking and eating sessions grew to embody the themes of Relational Aesthetics, a theory of performative art wherein viewers and their connections to each other become components of the work itself. Pym offers an updated analysis of the artist’s strategic spice box—in painting, sculpture, curation and artist-run organizations, from his native Thailand to New York—beyond the confines of his iconic early years. From the Netherlands, editor-at-large HG Masters sits down with Turkish conceptualist Ahmet Öğüt during his recent exhibition in Eindhoven to discuss how Öğüt communicates with local and international audiences alike in an age of global travel. Masters describes Öğüt as a “post-studio” artist and explains a strategy in which “references to traditional ethnic or religious culture are absent, though microevents in political history and personal experience remain important sources of ideas.” Also exploring other worlds—above all in cyberspace—is Beijing-based Cao Fei, who is celebrated for her work that exists exclusively in the online gaming universe, Second Life. Assistant editor Hanae Ko examines the subcultures that Cao seeks to support, as well as her recent meditations on the banality and comfort of everyday life. 

In Essays, AAP’s New Delhi-based contributing editor Hemant Sareen articulates the cultural traditions that underlie the presence of the everyday object in Indian contemporary art, revealing a parallel non-Western 20th-century history of the readymade. In Profiles, Rachel Kent, senior curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, reflects on Hiroshi Sugimoto’s recent series of large-scale photographs that capture surges of electricity, and independent curator Shinya Watanabe interviews Armenian video and installation artist Azat Sargsyan about his direction of the Gyumri Biennial and its role in decentralizing the art scene from the capital Yerevan. AAP contributing editor Andrew Cohen talks to Sichuan painter Mao Xuhui about the 1990s Chinese art scene on the eve of his retrospective at the Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai. In Reviews, contributing editor Sara Raza offers an early ground-level critique of the inaugural shows at Mathaf, the Arab Museum of Modern Art, in Doha. And senior editor Don J. Cohn carefully dissects all 1,288 pages of art historian Lü Peng’s A History of Art in 20th-Century China.

With this issue we have revamped the front of the magazine to create a new Reports section, which builds on our existing current-affairs departments—the news round-up, auction and art fair reports, and The Point—to offer our readers a broader range of opinions. One on One invites an artist to write about the work of another who has particularly moved them. In this issue New Zealand’s Peter Robinson rediscovers Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a work whose quiet power did not reach him until he saw it in person. Dispatch asks a regional player to comment on the circumstances that shape their immediate art scene. Looking to the future, New Currents spotlights young artists whose work shows particular promise. 

At a moment when we are witnessing more clearly than ever the expanded possibilities offered by the internet and its social-networking platforms, we are proud to announce the relaunch of www.artasiapacific.com. In addition to extracts from current and past issues, the site features web-only supplements and Arabic and Chinese translations of articles from the print edition. Exclusive multimedia interviews accompanying the launch include Singaporean artist Ming Wong discussing his favorite works at Art Basel Miami Beach, Andrew Cohen speaking with influential Beijing-based critic and curator Li Xianting about his work during the 1980s and New York art critic Charlie Finch chatting with Tibetan artists Nortse and Tsering Nyandak during their residencies in Santa Monica, California. artasiapacific.com also offers exhibition reviews, news reports, photo essays, artist projects and an editors’ blog. Whether online or on the printed page, ArtAsiaPacific remains committed to art, to the region and to freedom of expression. Technology, as Tunisia and its neighbors illustrate, is another crucial means of making a difference. 

Massimo de Carlo SOTHEBY'S RossiRossi 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art E-flux