MANUEL SALVISBERG, Fragments of History, 2012, one of three gelatin silver prints, each 100 × 70 cm. Courtesy the artist.

See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

Anticipating the season’s many festivals that will draw artists, curators and collectors from all over the world to far-flung locations, ArtAsiaPacific 78 considers the work of artists participating in the Biennale of Sydney in Australia, the inaugural Kyiv International Biennale in Ukraine and this year’s quinquennial Documenta 13—the exhibition established in Kassel, Germany 57 years ago, originally to showcase the sort of avant-garde art that was considered “degenerate” by the vanquished Nazi regime. Inspired by these founding principles, the May/June issue of AAP underscores art’s ability to confront and challenge historical, social and political assumptions.

For our cover feature, managing editor Olivier Krischer traces the development of Australian painter Gordon Bennett on the eve of his solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Aboriginal Art in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and his participation at Documenta in June. Drawing on his English and Aboriginal heritage, Bennett has, since the late 1980s, produced a formidable oeuvre that revisits historical images that have been assimilated as part of Australia’s national identity, while exposing the colonial origins that veneer the continent’s Indigenous heritage.

Also participating in Documenta this summer is Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz. Reviews editor Hanae Ko takes a detailed look at the Chicago-based artist’s ambitious projects, which tackle social and cultural beliefs about his home country with wit and pathos. Whether in the artist’s recent collaborative work with a fashionable New York restaurant, where they served roast venison with a sauce of Iraqi date syrup and tahini on plates once used in Saddam Hussein’s palaces, to his explorations of the striking similarities between the former Iraqi dictatorship’s self-image and the Hollywood sci-fi classic Star Wars, Rakowitz manages to bring a human perspective to the recent tragedies that have befallen Iraq during the 20th and 21st centuries.

Editor-at-large HG Masters also takes a meditative look at the visual politics of West Asia through the films, videos and photographs of Iraqi-born, UK-based Jananne al-Ani, who participates in the Biennale of Sydney in June. Masters sat down with al-Ani after her January lecture at the nonprofit art center Salt in Istanbul to discuss how her practice challenges ideas of representation—from the Orientalist fixation about the veil, to the manipulated images of war transmitted in the media that result in an ethical detachment from the real human suffering such conflict brings. Rounding out the Features, from Seoul, Han Keum Hyun discusses the conceptual practice of Kim Beom, whose playful works challenge the socially ingrained expectations of what one sees. Kim’s quixotic projects include trying to convince rocks that they are birds and should therefore be able to fly, as well as providing hard lessons to household objects that indeed they are nothing but tools.

In Essays, guest contributor Joe Martin Lin-Hill begins by looking into the annals of Documenta to see just how international this event has been since its inception in 1955. As countries in Asia invest more in soft power through art, assistant editor Kathy Zhang considers what long-term effects top-down cultural strategies, such as those practiced in Japan, Australia and, more recently, China, might have on artistic creativity in Asia. For Case Study, Chin-Chin Yap considers questions of moral rights in the complicated case in which the creation of one artist’s work involves the alteration, or destruction, of another’s—a contemporary riddle that will surprise artists and collectors alike.

In Profiles, contributing editor Michael Young offers a candid introduction to Melbourne-based Stuart Ringholt’s brand of “art therapy,” which has included anger management workshops and naked art tours at venues including the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, and more recently in Sydney during the Museum of Contemporary Art’s grand reopening in April. Just days before his solo exhibition at the Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, in Seoul, Jayoon Choi spoke with artist Do-Ho Suh about his re-creations of architectural spaces as sites of history and memory.

Following the news that online social networking companies such as Twitter have made concessions to governments to censor messages on request, for the Point we invited artist and microblogger Ai Weiwei to explain what this means in China, particularly for those, like himself, who really have something to say. For One on One, Turkish artist Ahmet Öğüt honors his conceptual colleague and peer, Tunç Ali Çam, whose ephemeral actions have entered into the realm of local legend. For Dispatch, M+ curator Tobias Berger looks at the tight-knit art scene in Hong Kong, as the city prepares for the region’s most international art fair, Art HK, which opens in mid-May. And in between working, Mumbai’s Nalini Malani takes time to fill out our Questionnaire, in which she admits that the one thing she can’t live without is, “My daily dose of quirky Bataillean daydreams.”

In addition to reviews from Melbourne, Taipei, New Delhi, Beirut, Istanbul, Berlin, Milan, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, this issue also takes us to Sri Lanka, for our long-form review of the second Colombo Art Biennale, where the theme “Becoming” offers artists an opportunity to move beyond the weight of more than 25 years of civil war and violence. In Beijing, Iona Whittaker assesses Today Art Museum’s large-scale sculpture exhibition “Starting,” while John Jervis heads to London’s Whitechapel Gallery to inspect a survey of Zarina Bhimji’s 27-year-long career. For our Book Review, senior editor Don J. Cohn compares Tate Modern’s retrospective monograph of Japanese national treasure, Yayoi Kusama, with the dotty grande dame’s own colorful version of events detailed in her autobiography, Infinity Net, reminding readers that to get the full picture sometimes you have to imagine what’s been left out.