HEMAN CHONG, Foreign Affairs #10, 2018, UV print on unprimed canvas, 200 x 130 × 5 cm. Courtesy the artist. 

Dragons, Hydra and the 21st Century

Also available in:  Chinese

Back in 1993, when ArtAsiaPacific published its first print edition, the Internet had just broken out of its shell as the World Wide Web and was still a duckling learning to swim in the waters of global communication. Today, the Internet and its denizens, its billions of social-media users, resemble—excuse the mixed metaphor—a giant, cyborg squid with writhing tentacles and a predilection for dispensing fake news, encouraging abuse and exploitation, and enabling bad habits such as phishing, trolling and spamming while spawning addiction and insomnia.

It takes a lot of skill and talent, not to mention the resources of time and attention, to control and synthesize this undisciplined beast and put it between the covers of a print magazine. Ever since AAP went online in 2003, we have attempted to keep up with the relentless pace and capriciousness of the Internet—without the publishing equivalents of artificial hormones, steroids, cortisone or antidepressants—to reach a wider, younger audience for whom an art magazine may seem like an artifact from the past, a fossilized dinosaur. In 2018, the technological Hydra of the 21st century are more varied, alive and vital than ever before.

Over the past 25 years, the Jurassic Park of contemporary art, bred in tandem with the virtual worlds of the Internet, has become cross-border, cross-cultural, cross-gendered and cross-class, if you will. The art market, always a smart octopus in its own right, has become bigger, richer, more complex, globalized and, perhaps most importantly, more transparent in the reach of its tentacles around contemporary culture. We are moving at an evolutionary pace so fast and increasingly dangerous, exciting, confrontational and political, that more than ever before we must confront the matter of artists and their audiences, and of cross-generational relationships.

Given the poly-perspectivity of our multi-generational contributors and readers, this special 25th anniversary edition focuses on the future—our expectations of it and what we can learn from how we operate today. It is part science-fiction, part historiography and part pragmatic stock-taking of current realities. The following pages contain content by game-changing artists, curators, gallerists and other cultural figures, who resist face-value analyses of what seems imminent. This begins with our cover image by Singaporean artist Heman Chong. What at first appears to be a checkerboard grid of futuristic doorways or thresholds to the unknown is in fact a duplicated photograph of the back entrance to a foreign embassy—which for legal reasons must remain anonymous—taken in 2018. The future offers many potentials, albeit bounded by the regimes of the nation-state, historical cultures and the security apparatuses of here and now.

In three anniversary-exclusive Features, we look toward the year 2050 from all angles. In Future Institutions, Rhana Devenport, the newly appointed director of the Art Gallery of South Australia, argues for transparent funding models for private, public and hybrid museums in “defensive, populist, transient, hyperconnected, nationally competitive and post-truth times.” Lee Yongwoo, artistic director of the Shanghai International Art City Research Institute, advocates for the institution as an ecological platform that he explains by way of metaphor: “We build a house, but the house shapes us.” M+ curator-at-large Aric Chen, École Polytechnique F.d.rale de Lausanne professor Sarah Kenderdine, and Casco Art Institute: Working for the Common’s director and curator Binna Choi, examine, respectively, architectural practices, acts of digital archiving that art spaces are tasked with, and the politics of the commons. For Future Cities, we invited artists Ahmed Mater, Heman Chong, Tallur LN, Liu Chuang and Zian Chen, and art critic Kang Sumi, to speculate on what cultural life might look like from various points on (and sometimes above) Planet Earth, with resulting texts including the problems of master-planning new urbanities; a dispatch from a postapocalyptic Singapore; a proposal to relocate the population of Bangalore to the moon; a report on the revival of forgotten indigenous Chinese dialects by means of technological advances; and the idea of the present in a futuristic Asian megalopolis. For Future Markets, we asked 25 gallerists from around the world to send in a sketch or a few words predicting how selling, acquiring and trading art will morph in the next few decades.

The theme of what lies ahead extends to Essays, where curators Yung Ma of Centre Pompidou and Clara Kim of Tate Modern discuss current curatorial practices and how they can be radicalized. Indonesian collector Wiyu Wahono contrasts the historical significance of Western art and culture with that of his home country, urging present and future collectors to challenge their perspectives on artworks in a world that is constantly relocating its centers.

Our regular columns and articles are similarly concerned with new forms of storytelling in an era of hyperinflated change and transition. In this issue’s Young and Emerging feature, we study the new narratives emerging from a post-Internet generation through the works of Part-time Suite, Morehshin Allahyari, Soda_Jerk, Pannaphan Yodmanee and Özgür Kar. We haven’t forsaken the past entirely, as our feature Then and Now revisits seminal archival texts in the previous 109 issues of AAP, such as independent curator Kim Yu-yeon’s essay on diaspora Korean artists and their practices, first published in 1996. In Inside Burger Collection, curator Gianni Jetzer explores the exhibition “How to See [What Isn’t There],” on view at Langen Foundation, Düsseldorf, which calls for a re-examination of the immaterial aspects of our lives that shape our realities.

Elsewhere in the magazine, lawyer Ryan Su warns of acquiring artworks with questionable provenance at auction houses, and lays out the best routes to ensure smooth sales unencumbered by lawsuits and confiscations. In One on One, Hong Kong-based artist-duo MAP Office pay tribute to Japanese-Vietnamese artist Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba, whose underwater films parallel their own studies of archipelagos and ocean culture. In The Point, Hong Kong artist Samson Young pens a semi-fictional column discussing depictions of gay Asian men in film and subversions of gaze in a futuristic, VR adult-film industry. In Where I Work, AAP heads to the technicolored Chiang Mai studio of Mit Jai Inn, who is equally entranced with the raw materiality of paint as well as the practices of a new generation of young artists who herald Thailand’s cultural future.

In 1993, no one could have predicted, or even imagined, what contemporary art would be like in the second decade of the 21st century. Across so many cities on the move, from Istanbul to Beirut, Shanghai to Seoul, and Yogyakarta to Manila, there is a wealth of images, news and social-media posts about the future—as it appears today. But day in and out, month by month, year to year, to wrap your head around this multi-headed dragon, or cephalopod-cyborg that is our wondrous future, you can confidently turn to the digital and printed pages of ArtAsiaPacific.

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