Breaking Existing Knowledge Frameworks
Through the ‘Stranger’ Perspective to Spark Imagination and Discussion
The 2019 Asian Art Biennial (hereinafter referred to as the AAB) just opend its doors to visitors on October 5th at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (hereinafter referred to as the NTMoFA). Organized by the NTMoFA, the AAB is entering its seventh edition since its inauguration in 2007. In addition to showcasing the vast arrays of culture in Asia, it is also an opportunity for exploring the variabilities in Asian society, as well as the outcomes arising from the interactions between Asia and globalization, under the themes proposed by the curators. It is the confluence where the currents of Northeast and Southeast Asian contemporary art converge.
The Strangers from beyond the Mountain and the Sea
Taiwanese and Singaporean artists Hsu Chia-Wei and Ho Tzu-Nyen have been invited to co-curate this year’s exhibition. The pair’s “Artist-Curator” identity has resulted in a selection of works which puts greater emphasis on the processes involved in the creation of art, as well as a more flexible operating model which promotes a curatorial practice enabling research at various levels and cross-disciplinary collaboration. They have also imparted the showcase with a more comprehensive perspective, through which the cultural issues surrounding the unique complexities and multi-faceted nature observed in the creation of Asian art can be explored in depth. “Curating from the perspective of an artist has enabled us to establish a dialogue with the exhibitors from the very beginning of their creative process. We’re more like colleagues or partners,” explains Hsu.
This edition of the AAB is titled “The Strangers from Beyond the Mountain and the Sea”, whereby the term “strangers” refers not only to travelers from distant lands, but also spirits and gods, as well as those who serve as the connection between two extremes, such as shamans, spies and foreign merchants. The curators have developed two sets of perpendicularly intersecting relationships to create a quadrilateral which offers a glimpse into the concept of the exhibition. The first set comprises the “mountain” and the “sea”, respectively represented by Zomia and Sulu Sea. This delineation of boundaries without reference to ethnicity can be further interpreted as places which are foreign to lowland societies, or even otherworldly realms. The other set, consisting of “clouds” and “minerals”, spans from the troposphere to the depths of the Earth and depicts the complex relationships between people, objects and technology through a concept of time and space which stretches beyond the human scale. The curators hope to leverage on this edition of the AAB to address the various discourses and interactions in the contemporary art world, taking the opportunity to reexamine Asia’s decolonization projects which are yet to be realized. In addition, the exhibition seeks to expand the limits of our existing knowledge systems through non-human and geological perspectives, thereby allowing ideologies to collide and sparking the imagination and curiosity of viewers.
30 artists and collectives from 16 countries
The 2019 AAB will feature a wide selection of artworks, including paintings, installations, video works, performances, and workshops by 30 artists and collectives from 16 countries. Among them are nine new commissioned pieces which are closely tied to the curatorial premise. Bitcoin Mining and Field Recordings of Ethnic Minorities by Chinese artist LIU Chuang is one of the works which illustrate the complex relationship human history has with the mountains, sea, clouds, and minerals. The film investigates the fields belonging to ethnic minorities in a mountainous region of Southeast Asia, where the abundant seasonal rainfall has enabled a hydropower plant to supply the vast quantities of electricity required for bitcoin mining. It is a work in which various subjects, such as ethnography, ecology and technology, are interwoven. Meanwhile, Korakrit Arunanondchai from Thailand and artist Alex Gvojic will be presenting their latest co-creation, No History in a Room Filled with People with Funny Names 5. Inspired by the rescue of 12 schoolboys and their football coach who were trapped in a cave, the piece reflects on the relations between traditional “Thai” modes of thought, the natural environment, technological development, politics and culture.
Japanese artist Yuichiro TAMURA has combined installation and performance art in Milky Bay, a work which reveals how the US military’s presence in Yokohama during World War II brought about the indirect introduction of bodybuilding to Japan through the narration by a fictional storyteller reminiscent of Yukio Mishima. Tcheu SIONG from Laos has responded to the curatorial theme by telling the story of the Hmong, an ethnic minority group which has come to be known as “foreigners from the mountains” due to their constant displacement since time immemorial. She has adhered to her creative method of documenting dreams with embroidery in Three Hmong Protectors 3, a tale about the land, people and non-human entities composed of spiritual images which have manifested from the interpretation of the artist’s visions by her shaman husband.
Some of the exhibits deal with the topics of war, oppression and dominion, with a focus on those who have transcended beyond their existing identities as the result of being subject to non-human influences. Co-Prosperity #4 by Indonesian artist Antariksai is an installation created from the biographies of Japanese intellectuals who participated in the design of propaganda or the documenting of battlefield happenings during wartime. It challenges the conventional language of hard historical evidence used by academics, and is a rethinking of the ways in which the public can participate and intervene with history. In Student Bodies, a work of pedagogical horror, HO Rui An from Singapore takes images of exchange students caught in the midst of warfare to review the fraught history of capitalist modernity and radical culture in East Asia. The basis of Zuleikha CHAUDHARI’s Rehearsing Azaad Hind Radio is formed from the recordings of Subhas Chandra Bose, an Indian nationalist, at a German-funded radio station in the early 1940s. Taiwanese artist WANG Hong-Kai continues to use sound as a conceptual means to explore social relations in This is no country music, which traces the musical trajectory of Taiwan-born composer Koh Bunya. A series of pre-exhibition workshops attempts to take viewers on a journey traversing geology, catastrophe, corporeality, society and history. The project scours the archive not only for the historical seismic data and oral records before and after the 1935 Hsinchu-Taichung Earthquake, but also modern paradigms of seismic monitoring and colonial governance technologies. Meanwhile, in Song of the Ground, two stones collected by Indian artist Shilpa GUPTA around where the Teesta River flows between India and Bangladesh can be heard clashing against each other. The installation is a calm observation of the fragility of the so-called “boundary”, and also calls forth the vitality of nature.
The relationship between people and objects can sometimes lead to deformation and transformation. Salvation Mountain by Taiwanese artist LIU Yu uses the American gold rush to explain how humans came to shape their world and ideologies from the mining of minerals. From digging “minerals” to producing “waste” in the process of virtual currency creation, the human faith in objects has resulted in our contemporary world of chaos and insanity. The workshop by Gilad RATMAN, a video artist from Israel, depicts a fictional documentation of a group of people sculpting their self-portraits underground the Israeli Pavilion in Venice. The sounds they make weave into a melody, one which becomes increasingly frenzied to the point of complete breakdown.
Footnotes as part of the curation and exhibition design
Collaborative researcher, Lin Yi-Hsiu, has especially been invited to create “footnotes” for each exhibition area. The provision of additional background information on the artists and their works will enable visitors to better understand the contexts behind their creations. “What we must take into account is that many of the artists’ works deal with intricate notions and concepts, sometimes within specific contexts. This is why we have developed footnotes.” Ho expressed that the medium scale of the AAB is conducive to innovative experiments, not only in the exploration of the theme, but also how an exhibition is designed. The conception of the footnotes is also the result of such experimentation.
The artists participating in the 2019 Asian Art Biennial are as follows: Korakrit ARUNANONDCHAI & Alex GVOJIC (with boychild) (Thailand/ USA), Antariksa (Indonesia), Zuleikha CHAUDHARI (India), Charles LIM (Singapore), Shilpa GUPTA (India), Roslisham ISMAIL/a.k.a ISE (Malaysia), Guo Fengyi (China), CHIANG Kai-Chun (Taiwan), CHIU Chen-Hung (Taiwan), HO Rui An (Singapore), Snow HUANG/Against Again Troupe (Taiwan), JIANDYIN(Jiradej MEEMALAI and Pornpilai MEEMALAI ) (Thailand), Hiwa K (Iraq), LEE Ufan (Korea), LIU Chuang (China), LIU Yu (Taiwan), Open Contemporary Art Center (Taiwan)＋Lifepatch (Indonesia), PARK Chan-Kyong (Korea), Timur SI-QIN (Germany), Gilad RATMAN (Israel), Tcheu SIONG (Laos), Wukir SURVADI/Senyawa (Indonesia), TING Chaong- Wen (Taiwan), Ming WONG (Singapore), Maya WATANABE (Netherlands/Peru), WANG Si-Shun (China), Yuichiro TAMURA (Japan), WANG Hong-Kai (Taiwan), YEE I-Lann (Malaysia), and Sawangwongse YAWNGHWE (Burma).