KUNIÉ SUGIURANamu (2), 1994, unique toned gelatin silver print,
102 × 77 cm. Copyright Kunié Sugiura, courtesy Leslie Tonkonow
Artworks + Projects, New York.

Slow Down, Look Closer

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

As the hectic art calendar decelerates north of the equator, the July/August issue of ArtAsiaPacific spotlights artists who methodically capture the more subtle aspects of time and place that constitute both personal and collective memory.

We begin with a cover Feature on conceptual photographer Kunié Sugiura. AAP editor-at-large HG Masters walks us through Sugiura’s career beginning in the early 1960s when she left Japan for the United States. After studying at the Art Institute of Chicago and then moving to New York, she began photographing everyday life—primarily the streets, buildings, parks, pets and friends surrounding her—although many details are unidentifiable. She combined these images using sculptural and painterly techniques, such as printing her images on canvas covered in photo emulsion or placing monochrome painted canvases next to her photographic imagery. In her Chinatown studio in New York, Sugiura—who is drawn to the natural world and the ephemeral aspects of life—explained to Masters, “I think my works are very challenging to define because I come from Japanese society, where women have more pressure to behave a certain way . . . Here it really doesn’t matter . . . I felt I could do whatever I wanted and nobody cared, so I felt much freer.”

London-based Rana Begum also finds inspiration and transience in the urban environment. AAP’s London desk editor Ned Carter Miles spoke to Begum in her studio about her vibrantly hued paintings, sculptures and public installations. While evocative of fleeting moments in the city, most of Begum’s work also references her childhood in Bangladesh—where the light, form and color she recalls conjure up her youth. Miles reflects, “In a broader sense, rather than developing an artistic language that is specific to any one history or identity, Begum conveys a kind of shared experience.”

In Guangzhou, Centre Pompidou’s curator of the contemporary and prospective creation department Yung Ma sat down with video artist Zhou Tao to discuss his elusively meditative practice. At first glance, the 41-year-old artist’s more recent work, including The Worldly Cave (Fan Dong) (2017), which debuted at this year’s Venice Biennale, appears as video documentation of ordinary life captured during Zhou’s many international artist residencies or exhibitions around the world—from Arizona to Bangkok and various places in China. He then stitches the footage together to create a seamless, familiar yet otherworldly atmosphere, where all discernable specificities have been erased. Ma compares this leveling of detail to traditional Chinese ink painting. “In this culturally specific art form of the past, sceneries were stripped of concrete form and reimagined as silhouettes and impressions . . .  these points of study, along with Zhou’s witnessing of the rapid urbanization of Guangzhou and its surroundings, have undoubtedly had an impact on his art.”

Similarly in our special feature Inside Burger Collection, Isa Cossement interviews Belgian conceptual artist Kris Martin, who makes indistinct modifications to found objects, exploring universal issues of the human condition. Martin is particularly challenged by the notion of time. For instance, in his 2005 work Vase, the artist smashes a massive Chinese porcelain vessel and pieces it back together each time the work is exhibited, illustrating the infinite cycle of destruction and renewal. As he reveals, “It is the most problematic dimension of all. In visual art, time is always frozen; the challenge is to reveal the notion of time while making an image.”

For Essays, AAP contributing editor Antony Dapiran ponders the fate of Hong Kong as the city marks the 20th anniversary of the British-Chinese handover. Reflecting on an influential essay published in 1997 by academic Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance, Dapiran argues that the last two decades of debates and actions centered primarily on identity and collective memory have been a boon for the city’s creative class, serving as a catalyst for artistic endeavors.

This issue’s Profiles include Brisbane-based kinetic sound artist Ross Manning and rising Filipino star Cian Dayrit, who delves into fictional and historic narratives about his home country. We also introduce Ian Holliday, Hong Kong University’s vice president and pro-vice-chancellor, who is slowly amassing a major collection of Burmese contemporary art, currently more than 1,000 paintings.

In One on One, the minimalist artist and public intellectual Rasheed Araeen—whose work can be seen at this year’s Documenta 14 in Kassel and Athens as well as the Venice Biennale—reflects on the exhilarating experience of discovering an unknown work by British modernist Anthony Caro in the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1985. For The Point, Shireen Atassi, director of the Atassi Foundation for Arts and Culture in the United Arab Emirates, articulates her family’s vision as patrons of art and culture. From the vantage point of Syria and West Asia, she writes: “The Foundation became our weapon to resist the pain and destruction that our country has faced. By creating the Foundation, we were no longer passive, but active initiators in maintaining the collective memory of artistic production in Syria.”

And in Where I Work, AAP managing editor Ysabelle Cheung heads to Hong Kong’s New Territories to visit the studio of painter Firenze Lai on the eve of dispatching her melancholic, dreamlike figure paintings to Venice’s Central Pavilion in the Giardini. A variety of chairs—some for sitting up straight on, others for lounging comfortably—were strewn across her workplace. Lai reflected, “I’m not painting figures; I’m trying to depict how people adapt to their environment and how that environment shapes them mentally and physically.” Like the work of other artists featured in this issue, the spare simplicity of Lai’s anonymous portraits is stripped of details revealing who we are. Instead, through artists we see that it is these indistinct nuances of our immediate environment that help us understand our own place in the world.

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