Exhibition view of Haroon Mirza’s “\|\|\|\| \|\|\” at Kunst Halle Sankt Gallen, St. Gallen, 2012. Photography by Gunnar Meier.

Around the World in 60 Days

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As most of the art world in the northern hemisphere returns from their summer holidays, a new season unfolds with a calendar brimming with 12 large-scale festival exhibitions. In Asia alone, eight biennials open this autumn, notably South Korea’s triumvirate—Gwangju, Busan and Media City Seoul—as well as the Taipei Biennial and the Shanghai Biennale. New and young regional shows include the Beijing Biennale, Riwaq Biennale in Palestine and the inaugural Tbilisi Triennial in Georgia. Further afield is São Paolo—the second oldest art biennial after Venice—along with Liverpool’s in the United Kingdom, Zero1 in California and Mediations Biennale in Poznan, Poland. The September/October issue of ArtAsiaPacific celebrates these extravaganzas that encourage risk-taking artists who embrace collaboration, experimentation and a re-examination of significant historical moments.

For our cover feature, AAP’s London desk editor John Jervis visits the studio of composer Haroon Mirza, winner of the Silver Lion for promising young artist at last year’s Venice Biennale, who will exhibit a new work at Gwangju in September. Jervis investigates the 35-year-old’s London-based practice—which includes piecing together vintage furniture, junk TVs and audio equipment as well as digital music players and LED lights. As Jervis listens to the range of sounds that Mirza’s objects create, he writes, “To embrace this spark of chaos might more closely reflect the experience of the internet, and result in a more humanistic tone in [the artist’s] re-imaginings of sensory possibilities.”

Also participating in Gwangju is Korean-American artist Michael Joo. Reviews editor Hanae Ko mines Joo’s career, exploring his often impenetrable works, which encompass science, spirituality and the environment. Ko begins with Joo’s 1992 sculpture The Saltiness of Greatness, comprised of four massive compressed salt cubes soaked in synthetic sweat, representing the lifetime energy consumption of Asian historical figures Genghis Khan, Tokyo Rose, Bruce Lee and Mao Zedong, and leads us to his residency fellowship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC, later this year, where Joo, a scientist-turned-artist, will study advanced 3D scanning and printing technologies.

Rachel Kent, senior curator at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, examines the collaborative nature of the work of Taipei- and New York-based Lee Mingwei, fresh from his Mending Project at this year’s Biennale of Sydney. Kent explains that Lee’s practice, much favored by biennial curators, deals with “seemingly ordinary activities, such as walking, dining, sleeping, writing or playing music,” that become “meaningful opportunities for connection and intimacy.” Rounding out Features, editor-at-large HG Masters discusses the anthropological and documentary-infused work of Esra Ersen, who examines the cultural behaviors—language, educational background, religious beliefs and politics—that influence the individual and society. 

Our Profiles include an interview with Neama A. Alsudairy, a young philanthropist and co-founder of Riyadh’s first contemporary art center, Alãan Artspace, which opens in September. Guest contributor Lee Ambrozy takes a close look at Shi Qing’s installations on the eve of his participation at the Shanghai Biennale, while Dubai desk editor Isabella E. Hughes meets Lebanese sound artist Tarek Atoui and discusses his most recent commission for MinRasy Projects, titled Unplified (2012), inspired by Ghassan Kanafani’s 1963 book Men in the Sun, for Kuwait City’s Museum of Modern Art.

In Essays, we continue the second part of a treatise by art historian and critic Terry Smith on biennials and how they have increasingly been co-opted by the museum establishment over the past decade. In Tokyo, James Jack conducts a series of conversations with three artists involved in the Mono-ha movement, recording their reactions to the recent interest in the United States in this loose affiliation of artists active in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For Case Study, contributing editor Chin-Chin Yap takes on the conceptual designs of Beta Tank and explores how a work’s transformation—say, from a chair to an art object—can be subjected to arbitrary duties imposed by clueless customs officials.

For The Point, independent curator Hou Hanru contemplates institutional organizations—particularly public museums—that fall victim to the art market and to the interests of their patrons. Hou proposes a new model that will nurture intellectual cultural criticism independent of private and governmental agendas. AAP Taiwan desk editor David Frazier files a Dispatch from Taipei with an insider’s view of the tight-knit art community there and its great hopes for Taipei Fine Arts Museum’s new director Huang Hai-ming, who is neither a politician nor a technocrat, but rather an art scholar—a novelty for that institution. Indonesian artist Jompet Kuswidananto, who will participate in this year’s Taipei Biennial, answers our Questionnaire and admits that, after Yogyakarta, he would happily live and work in Taipei. And for our new column, Fine Print, art lawyer Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento explains how, similar to the biennial format, legal issues such as intellectual property and copyright are informed by “the diversity and independence of cultural, ethnic, linguistic, historical and art historical factors.” We hope that a universal law for art is far from the sights of legislators, and that the art world will remain respectful of the unique specificities that artists and biennial curators continue to embrace.