KWAN SHEUNG CHI, Kwan Sheung Chi (56 Times) Just After Andy Warhol, 2002, inkjet print on vinyl, two panels: 142.2 × 127 cm each. Courtesy the artist. 

Vital Encounters

Also available in:  Chinese  Arabic

In East Asia, the September season arrives with a gauntlet of festivals. Mega-exhibitions in Gwangju, Fukuoka, Seoul, Busan, Taipei and Shanghai are all on the docket—not to mention the Yokohama Triennale, which is already up and running. In these days of biennial excess (not to mention the regular surfeit of art fairs, exhibitions openings and auctions), it is worth remembering that many of these international exhibitions were born of a genuine desire to address issues of importance in the cities that host them. Events such as Documenta, the Gwangju Biennale and Prospect New Orleans have each, over the years and in specific ways, demonstrated how cultural interventions can have a beneficial impact on their surroundings. As we approach this round of intense engagements, the September/October issue of ArtAsiaPacific concentrates on artists who create projects directly informed by local conditions. 

We begin with the interdisciplinary practice of Akram Zaatari, whose work encompasses filmmaking, research, photography and curating. AAP editor at large HG Masters ruminates on some of the Beirut-based artist’s earliest photography as a teenager during the Lebanese Civil War and his co-founding of the Arab Image Foundation, as well as his acclaimed projects exploring personal narratives embedded within Lebanese history, including the Israeli invasion of 1982. On Zaatari’s two-decade-long career, Masters writes, “His voyages have been ones of the intellect, yet equally of the heart: for love and desire—lost amid, or surviving despite, warfare—is Zaatari’s greater theme.” 

From Delhi, contributing editor Jyoti Dhar revisits the work of the late Rummana Hussain (1952–99). Trained as a painter, Hussain’s attention shifted to performance and installation as a response to the right-wing religious fundamentalism of the 1990s. Dhar discusses Hussain’s legacy, the political climate of the period in which she worked, and the influence she has had on the generation of artists and curators working on the Subcontinent today.

In a similar vein, independent curator Susan Gibb delves into the work of another artist challenging accepted ideologies born of nationalist sentiment, Seoul-based Minouk Lim. Like Hussain, Lim studied painting, but encountered limitations in the medium and sought alternative forms of art-making—often participatory in nature—to engage with the historical and economic realities of South Korea. In September, Lim will debut Navigation ID, perhaps her most ambitious project, which will involve transporting a shipping container holding the skeletal remains of civilian victims from little-known massacres during the Korean War to the Gwangju Biennale. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, managing editor John Jervis sits down with offbeat conceptualist Kwan Sheung Chi, who explains his interest in pursuing collective, community-focused endeavors, and his experience of working in an atmosphere burdened with its own particular set of socioeconomic barriers. Kwan’s participatory work To Defend the Core Values Is the Core of the Core Values, made with his wife Wong Wai Yin, for M+ museum’s “Mobile M+: Yau Ma Tei” exhibition in 2012, graces our cover. 

Rounding out the Features, our special column Inside Burger Collection explores performative practices, real-time activities and script works as artistic methods through the work of Titus Kaphar, Wong Wai Yim, Lau Ching Ping, Choi Yan-Chi, Florian Germann, Vittorio Santoro and Fiona Banner. 

Our Profiles include a visit to the home of Sydney’s Andrew and Cathy Cameron, known for their unwavering support of Australian artists and institutions, and a survey of the itinerant career of Adelaide-based artist Hossein Valamanesh, lauded for his sparse sculptural installations. We also meet the peripatetic Qatari-American artist Sophia al-Maria, who first achieved renown for her idiosyncratic project The Gaze of Sci-Fi Wahabi, and, from Beijing, “post-happy” artist Chen Zhou—both are currently embarking, or trying to embark, on feature-length films.

In Essays, contributing editor Michael Young considers whether Australia’s commercial galleries are experiencing a crisis, and if this is indicative of systemic failings in its art market, while Taipei desk editor David Frazier reassesses the career of Xu Bing, grappling with his ability to be many things to many people, both at home in China and abroad.  

For Where I Work, we visit the psychedelic studio of Zürich-based Tibetan artist Kesang Lamdark, known for his neo-tantric forms, often composed of plastics or aluminum cans. In One on One, Aboriginal artist Tony Albert reminisces about the late Gordon Bennett, whose paintings addressed the cycle of racism in Australia, and explains the impact Bennett’s work had on his own worldview as a young artist. Jenny F. So—scholar and director of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s art museum—argues in The Point that budding art historians pursuing PhDs still face bleak career options, despite Hong Kong’s ambition to be Asia’s cultural entrepôt. Guest contributor Stefan Tarnowski files his Dispatch from Beirut, offering insights into the almost miraculous tenacity of the city’s art scene, which established itself from the ground up following 15 years of civil war, and questioning the effect the recent influx of Syrian artists might have on this tight-knit community. 

This inevitable tension, between residents and recent arrivals, between the embedded and the wandering, lies at the heart of the global art world and the phenomenon of the international biennial. The numerous interactions—constructive and critical—that result are why these exhibitions remain crucial for artists as opportunities to make and share works that consider our society, past and present, and what it might be like tomorrow.