YEE I-LANN, Tikar-A-Gagah (detail), 2019, pandanus weave and commercial chemical dye (split bamboo weave, black natural dye, and stitched bamboo weave on the reverse side), created with assistance from Keningau and Pulau Omadal weavers, 2.5 m × 15 m. Courtesy the National Gallery Singapore. 

On the Other Side of Fear

Also available in:  Chinese

Often we don’t appreciate something until it’s gone. In the first two months of 2020, this cliché unfortunately rang true. With governments across Asia imposing quarantines and travel restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19, and art organizations canceling events and postponing exhibitions in line with the mandates of health authorities, free movement diminished along with the usual art-world assemblies, at fairs, auctions, and exhibition openings. Now, the questions of how else we might commune and what it means to share space with others are all the more pertinent. 

Our cover artist Yee I-Lann has long been engaged with these issues. Since the beginning of her career, she has examined how power shapes geographies and, in turn, how people relate to each other within a place. In late 2016, these concerns led her from Kuala Lumpur (KL) back to her birthplace in Sabah, where, through failed attempts to find the plant that her grandmother used to weave with, she rediscovered the importance of tikar (mats). In an interview with ArtAsiaPacific KL desk editor, Beverly Yong, Yee explains that mats “demarcate a space that invites communal gathering, where everyone sits together on the same level.” True to form, she has been creating tikar with weavers from around the Sabah region, bringing together the cultures of seafaring and inland communities. Through these collaborations, she adopted the principle of mansau ansau, or “to keep journeying without knowing where you’re headed.” 

Embracing uncertainty as a fact of life was likewise central to the practice of the late Huang Yong Ping. In remembrance of the seminal artist, who died in October 2019, in our second Feature, curator Hou Hanru traces Huang’s belief that “changing is the rule” through the artist’s recurring use of serpentine forms, and the motif’s many varying significances, from metamorphosis to unpredictability, within his practice. Focusing on Empires (2016), a roughly 300-meter-long snake skeleton that wove its way among 300 shipping containers in Paris’s Grand Palais for the 2016 Monumenta exhibition, Hou writes: “The serpent’s continuous travel and transformation led to an ultimately spectacular representation of the contradictory forces of globalization and its impacts, by exploring and uncovering its historical roots and routes . . . Huang’s serpent becomes a wake-up call for us to trace the very destiny of the world that we have created.”

The works of the three artists featured in the Up Close section echo this call to probe human ideologies and constructs. AAP associate editor Ophelia Lai examines Li Ran’s two-channel video Persona Swap (2017–19), which muses on what constitutes an individual’s identity. Ho Rui An’s video-essay Student Bodies (2019) traces the roles of students as “the engine and antagonists of capitalist modernization in Asia—as well as the agents of imperialism and their fierce opposition,” in the words of AAP deputy editor HG Masters. And in Jen Liu’s video Pink Slime Caesar Shift (2018), highlighted by AAP managing editor Chloe Chu, the artist tackles the exploitation of people, on the back of which civilization is seemingly built. Elsewhere in Features, for Inside Burger Collection, curator David Ho Yeung Chan interviews Hong Kong-born artist Tsang Kin-Wah on his text-based installations and videos, which convey the artist’s pessimism about “humankind and their self-destructive behavior.”

For Profiles, AAP news and web editor Lauren Long spoke to Chloe Suen, co-founder of Hong Kong’s Sun Museum, which advocates for the study of Chinese arts and culture. In the section’s other article, Haryanto Adikoesoemo, founder of Jakarta’s Museum MACAN, explains the motivations behind his collection of modern and contemporary works by Indonesian and international artists, and the objectives of his museum. 

In One on One, Tuan Andrew Nguyen writes about how artist Daniel Joseph Martinez, one of his first mentors, changed the way he thought about collectivity and political agency, and eventually led him to establish, with other artists, the Propeller Group and Ho Chi Minh City’s nonprofit space Sàn Art. Elsewhere in the magazine, AAP Berlin desk editor Clara Tang files a Dispatch from the German capital, looking at the way its institutions have gradually included non-Western perspectives in their programs, allowing for the city to become a veritable global art hub. For the Point, artist and entrepreneur Sean Raspet highlights the contradictions faced by an increasing number of art initiatives on the subject of climate change—the entanglement of the creation of art in broader production systems that contribute to the crisis, and the material costs of realizing such initiatives. Finally, for Where I Work, Lauren Long visited Zhang Peili in one of his Hangzhou studios, where the multimedia artist explained his curiosity about feelings universal to all of humanity, including futility and anxiety, encapsulated in his earliest video, 30 × 30 (1988); 1980s paintings of medical gloves; and more recent interactive installations in which visitors can become trapped. Despite his use of cultural references specific to China, Zhang’s works suggest we all share agency in our responsibilities to process the shifting conditions of our world.

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ACAW Opera Gallery David Zwirner