Vienna: Ho Rui An
By Brian Haman
Ho Rui An: “The Ends of a Long Boom”
Kunsthalle Wien Karlsplatz, Vienna
There was a certain layered irony to Ho Rui An’s first solo European show, “The Ends of a Long Boom,” being held in Vienna, the intellectual birthplace of economist Friedrich Hayek, the Austrian School, and the all-pervading ideological malady of neoliberalism. Across five installations at Kunsthalle Wien Karlsplatz’s glass pavilion, Ho took aim at the neoliberal cycle of social and economic crises in Asia of the past two decades.
Ho’s starting point is the 1997 essay “The Long Boom: A History of the Future, 1980– 2020” by American Futurists Peter Schwartz and Peter Leyden, who enthused: “An unprecedented alignment of an ascendent Asia, a revitalized America, and a reintegrated greater Europe—including a recovered Russia—together will create an economic juggernaut that pulls along most other regions of the planet. These two metatrends—fundamental technological change and a new ethos of openness—will transform our world into the beginnings of a global civilization, a new civilization of civilizations, that will blossom through the coming century.”
Almost 25 years later, the disjunct between such ideas—which were espoused just before the Asian financial crisis—and our fractured reality seems risible, particularly in light of boom-and-bust periods that continue to define future-oriented disaster capitalism. In his The Long Boom (2021), Ho reproduces the essay as a floor installation across which visitors can walk, grounding the authors’ lofty, almost pathological optimism under the weight of the present. This critical gesture stands as an ideological revanche of sorts, one that reintroduces the agency and autonomy of the corporeal body as a counterweight to neoliberalism’s psychological programming.
Beginning with the individual and collective body as both image and metaphor in the video Student Bodies (2019), Ho examines the insidious manner in which Western policies extend their dominion and authority over Asian countries through educational inculcation. From the young Japanese scholars who were sent to England in the 1860s to learn the ways of Western liberalism only to take up positions in the newly centralized Meiji government, to the so-called Berkeley Mafia of United States-trained Indonesian economists, Ho traces a genealogy of neoliberalism as the student body morphs into a neoliberal body politic across East and Southeast Asia.
Many of Ho’s works explore the profound temporal anxieties arising from neoliberal capitalism’s emphasis on accelerated speed, which empties the future while eroding our hold on the present. “In looking at Asia, are we looking at the future or the past?” he asks in the video lecture-performance Asia the Unmiraculous (2018–20). At one point in the video, he recalls being struck by a “strange mix of classical antiquity and neoliberal catastrophe” when visiting Greece’s Port of Piraeus, which was privatized in the wake of the country’s debt crisis and is now majority-owned by a Chinese conglomerate—an unforeseen paradigm of Schwartz and Leyden’s “global civilization.” The video is complemented by 14 posters hung along an adjacent wall. In one image, for example, we read of Songdo, the largest private real-estate development in history. Heralded as South Korea’s “Tomorrow City,” it stands largely empty, resembling more China’s dystopian ghost cities. As Ho writes, “one is not sure if tomorrow has already arrived.” In his looping 3D video simulation ULTIMATE COIN TEST CHINA HIGH-SPEED RAIL (2018), Ho extends his gaze to the inherent complexities and contradictions of the Chinese socialist market economy, which has embraced many of the tenets of capitalism while emerging comparatively unscathed from its recent crises. Amazed by the smoothness of China’s high- speed trains, foreign tourists began posting videos of Euro coins balancing on the trains’ window ledges—an unintended metaphor for China’s stabilizing influence on unsteady “free market” European economies, which Ho ironically reproduces.
Throughout Ho’s many historically astute and subversively humorous works is an underlying sense of uncertainty regarding the dialectical relationship between neoliberal capitalism and state interventionism. However, he remains clear about the urgent need to act. “What we can do in the present, right now,” he said in conversation with curator Anne Faucheret, “is to give time to projects that enlarge our understanding of the world and our horizons of what is imaginable as our collective future.”