What’s the collective noun for a group of biennials? A drove? A troop? A plague? A swarm? Who knows? However, there are many who would argue that the fact such a question even pops up these days is cause for concern. Bring back the days when it was Venice, São Paulo or staying at home and watching an episode of The Lone Ranger. Those of you not living in the 1950s, however, might well be planning to visit the busyness of biennials opening across Asia over the next three months. ArtReview Asia knows that its travel agent is rubbing his hands in anticipation. Maybe he’ll even go on holiday himself.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to get excited about, though. And it all starts in South Korea…
While its title, NERIRI KIRURU HARARA, derives from a Martian language (dreamed up by Japanese poet Shuntaro Tanikawa in his 1952 work ‘Two Billion Light Years of Solitude’ – who, btw, when he wasn’t projecting himself onto other planets, used to translate the Peanuts comic strip into Japanese and wrote the lyrics to the theme song of the 2004 animated classic Howl’s Moving Castle), the themes tackled by this year’s ninth SeMA Biennale are less exotic than they are prevalent (read on for more about that): how to deal with the sometimes alien baggage of history while simultaneously preparing a language of the future. Curated by Beck Jee-sook, former director of ARKO Art Center, the biennial includes works by 61 artists, including Pierre Huyghe, Carolee Schneemann, Christine Sun Kim, Zanele Muholi and Oliver Laric, and will run across all three sites of the Seoul Museum of Art. In addition, the event will encompass two ‘summer camps’: The Village, a temporary village run by a community of visual art educators and artists, organised by artist Yang Ah Ham; and Taeyoon Choi’s Uncertainty School, which promises to explore the development of languages without certainties (and if that floats your boat, you biennial-trotters will certainly want to check out this year’s Bienal de São Paulo, titled Live Uncertainty, for more of the same).
Of course, you shouldn’t immediately join the stampede from Korea to Brazil. It’s not like you’re part of a mindless herd of biennial chasers. You’ve still got time to catch this autumn’s big biennial in Gwangju. Assembled under the artistic direction of (ArtReview columnist) Maria Lind, this event doesn’t shy away from the big question: what does art do? ArtReview Asia remembers its careers adviser being very clear about the answer to that one as it left school: nothing. Presumably Lind and her team of curators are pursuing an alternative take on that conclusion. The biennale’s full title is The Eighth Climate (What does art do?) with the ‘Eighth Climate’ business being a concept borrowed from twelfth-century Persian mystic and illuminist philosopher Sohrawardi, concerning the role and existence of a realm of ‘imaginative knowledge’ in addition to the seven earthly climates. Presumably that’s the realm to which art aspires, and 101 artists and collectives have been assembled to make sense of it all (ArtReview Asia will be looking out for works by New York-based Tyler Coburn, New Delhi’s Raqs Media Collective – who’ll be curating their own biennial in Shanghai this November – Bangkok-based Pratchaya Phinthong and Berlin-based Hito Steyerl). Expect art’s potential to generate future projections to be on show here too. Given that Lind is going to explain the whole thing in her own words in a few pages’ time, ArtReview Asia will leave it at that for now.
But don’t go jumping off to the LATAM website just yet. It’s not time for you to leave Korea. You don’t want to miss this year’s Busan Biennale, Hybridizing Earth, Discussing Multitude. This one is under the artistic direction of Yun Cheagab (he’s director of the How Art Museum in Shanghai) and consolidates what were once three separate events – the Busan Youth Biennale, the Sea Art Festival and the Busan International Outdoor Sculpture Symposium – into one. The biennial retains a tripartite structure (two exhibitions and a seminar) and features 320 artworks by 121 artists or collectives (although it’s not about numbers or competition). The biennial aims at ‘discussing multitude where artists and scholars of diverse religions, ethnicities and nationalities gather to discuss the issues of humanity’s past, present and future’: sound familiar? ArtReview Asia’s not saying nothing. But do look out for the show at the Busan Museum, which focuses on avant-gardes in China, Korea and Japan, many of which are currently enjoying an international commercial renaissance.
Talking of those kinds of cultural ties, Yongwoo Lee was the founding director of the Gwangju Biennale and president of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation from 2008 to 2014, when he resigned following a censorship-related controversy involving a painting due to have been exhibited in an exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the biennial. Now he is director of the Shanghai Himalayas Museum and, with Hans Ulrich Obrist, codirector of the newly inaugurated Shanghai Project, a 100-day series of events and exhibitions taking place throughout the city. It’s titled Envision 2116, and its lead sponsor is Envision Energy, ‘the world’s leader in smart wind turbine and offshore wind power technology’, but, like ArtReview Asia said to the bank manager, money isn’t everything. And while we’re at it, you shouldn’t read too much into the fact that the Shanghai Project opens around the same time as Gwangju either. With that out of the way, it has to be said that the Shanghai Project is an incredibly ambitious event, involving partnerships with almost every major museum in town, as well as its primary art fairs, and drawing together practitioners from a variety of disciplines, among them art, science, technology, medicine and ecology. You’ll have gathered, of course, that the theme is all about imagining the future of mankind 100 years from now. The project launches in two phases, the first in September and the second in April. Part one centres around a 670sqm Sou Fujimoto-designed pavilion that will feature a multi-sensory Cildo Meireles installation (you see? You never needed to go to Brazil), an investigation into humankind’s relations to the land led by Otobong Nkanga, neon signs by writer and artist Douglas Coupland and an online game designed by Zhang Haimeng, principal and managing partner of McKinsey Shanghai. Naturally, the latest iteration of Obrist and Simon Castets’s 89plus project will be on view elsewhere, alongside a series of conferences and discussions (ArtReview Asia is most intrigued by a roundtable featuring Kim Dae-shik, professor of laboratory for brain reverse-engineering and imaging at KAIST) and much more besides.
Reverse up to northeast China and there’s another new biennial opening this September. The Museum of Contemporary Art Yinchuan’s venture is headed by artist Bose Krishnamachari (cofounder of India’s increasingly influential Kochi-Muziris Biennale back in 2010), meaning that in a triumph of sometimes fraught Sino-Indian relations (which China has claimed will be the most important bilateral partnership of the coming century), both of China’s biennials (the other of which will take place in Shanghai this November) will be helmed by Indian artists. Given all that, Krishnamachari’s theme, For an Image, Faster Than Light, with its aim of ‘spiritual and social consciousness, an examination of political narratives and critical global engagement and an acknowledgment of a collective responsibility therein’, seems particularly appropriate. Setting out positions on acknowledging and overcoming global conflict will be around 74 artists ranging from Ai Weiwei and Heman Chong to Liu Wei and Abigail Reynolds.
Back in the Chinese capital, this June, much to the consternation of many in the Chinese art scene, it was announced that Beijing’s Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) was up for sale. In some ways, then, it’s appropriate that this September UCCA is hosting Parcours, the largest solo show to date of work by one of China’s most expensive living artists, Zeng Fanzhi. His painting Last Supper (2001) sold at auction for US$23,269,070 in 2013, and it’s presumably people who can afford works like that who UCCA founder Guy Ullens currently wants to meet. Still, as ArtReview Asia likes to tell its bank manager, it’s not all about money. The Beijing-based artist fuses Chinese and Western influences and techniques in such a way as to make his work feel completely at home in either painting tradition, but never-the-less unique in and of itself. And that has made him one of his country’s leading practitioners in the medium. And be sure to look beyond his celebrated ‘masks’ series at his Pollocklike landscapes too.
Also worth poking your nose into while you’re there is Hong Kong installation-artist Nadim Abbas’s first solo exhibition in mainland China. The show comprises a single large work, The Last Vehicle, which divides UCCA’s Long Gallery into an alien landscape and a domestic living environment, collectively explored by a remote rover fitted with a prosthetic eye and wireless transmitter that sends images from the explorer to a viewer seated in an armchair. Like the artist’s previous Apocalypse Postponed Absolut Art Bar created for Art Basel Hong Kong two years ago, the new work nods to the work of French theorist Paul Virilio, while also address-ing issues surrounding how we construct our environments and the experiential relationship between image and reality in contemporary life. Does the image precede the reality these days? And is that up to armchair critics to decide? And, yes, it does sound like a project that could have been part of the SeMA Biennial – what did ArtReview Asia tell you? Prevalent!
Studio, Qiao Space, Shanghai, 8 Sep – 21 Oct
Talking of which, Zeng is also a part of Studio, a group exhibition featuring 12 of China’s most prominent contemporary artists that takes place at collector Qiao Zhibing’s project space in Shanghai’s up-and-coming West Bund development. The majority of Qiao’s collection of Chinese and international contemporary art (which features work by Antony Gormley, Olafur Eliasson, Sterling Ruby, Thomas Houseago and Theaster Gates) is spread across the nightclubs he owns in Shanghai and Beijing: if you are in Shanghai, then a trip to Shanghai Night (Qiao’s four-storey karaoke bar) is certainly worth making (maybe brush up on some Faye Wong numbers first). In 2017 he’ll open a vast new cultural centre in five former oil tanks in West Bund. For now, though, his project space offers a relatively intimate experience, which is in many ways the theme of the Studio exhibition. It aims at offering a glimpse into the working conditions of each of the artists’ studios (besides Zeng’s, those of Ding Yi, Jia Aili, Liu Jianhua, Liu Wei, Liu Xiaodong, Mao Yan, Xu Zhen, Yang Fudong, Yan Pei-Ming, Zhang Enli and Zhang Xiaogang) that will bring viewers the kind of intimate insights that have inspired Qiao’s collecting in recent times.
And so, back to the chattering of art consumers on the biennial trail, and this time to Southeast Asia, where this year’s Singapore Biennale opens in October. Focusing on art from Southeast, South and East Asia, the theme set by the biennial’s creative director, Susie Lingham (who is working with a team of curators both from the Singapore Art Museum and the region), looks to voyages of external and internal discovery and how these are mapped and represented and constantly reimagined: An Atlas of Mirrors aims at offering multiple perspectives, then, on how we see the world and ourselves. Curiously, Singapore’s biennial is one that eschews those bits of the traditional format that involve it taking place every two years (the last was in 2013), but as Singapore stakes its claim to be the artistic centre of what’s arguably one of the more diverse and interesting regions (Southeast Asia) for contemporary art production, there’s every chance that it might provide unconventionality in more ways than that. Look for projects by Thai multidisciplinary artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook, Martha Atienza from the Philippines (and the Netherlands) and Vietnam’s Nguyen Phuong Linh.
This October Simon Starling’s At Twilight transfers from the Common Guild in Glasgow to the Japan Society in New York, where it will be the British artist’s first solo institutional exhibition in New York. Of course, that last bit is just the kind of weird trivia that most press machines use to generate excitement and most curators use to embellish their CVs. What you want to know about is what Starling is going to be doing in this US debut. At Twilight revolves around a W.B. Yeats play At the Hawk’s Well, which was written and performed in April 1916. At the time Yeats was working with the poet Ezra Pound and inspired by traditional Japanese noh theatre. Japanese dancer Michio Ito played the Hawk in the 1916 production, which came at a time when noh seemed to offer new possibilities to Western avant-gardes. Starling himself describes the play as ‘an odd cross-cultural mash-up in an English garden, at a traumatic moment in European history’, and at the Japan Society he will up the mashing of the traditional and the modern with the contemporary in a display that focuses on the circumstances and key protagonists in Yeats’s production. A new series of noh masks made by Yasuo Miichi, a new choreography by Javier de Frutos and three noh ‘stages’ featuring the masks and the dancing, and additionally evoking the circumstances of the First World War and the modernist tradition in art.
MMCA Hyundai Motor Series 2016: Kimsooja, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, Seoul, through 5 Feb
While setting up a personal website, Korean artist Kimsooja came up with the idea of changing her name into one word in order to deny its signification as to gender, marital status and ancestry. The act was then commemorated in an artwork titled One-Word Name Is An Anarchist’s Name (2003). Needless to say, the artist, who exhibited in the first Gwangju Biennale in 1995, and began her career as a painter before moving into video, installation and performance, places questions of identity at the heart of her output, often perusing that interest through an investigation of textiles. This year she follows Lee Bul (2014) and Ahn Kyu-chul (2015) as the featured artist in Hyundai’s annual Motor Series display at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea, where Kimsooja will focus on recent developments in her work, presenting a new film in her ongoing Thread Routes (2010–) series, an outdoor sculpture and Archive of Mind (2016), a new performative installation in which viewers roll a lump of clay into spherical forms on an elliptical wooden table, a process that evolves from Kimsooja’s longstanding interest in bottari (Korean for bundle, used by the artist to designate the process of saving or wrapping-up by travellers).
Over in London, it’s Koo Jeong A who’s being celebrated as the Korean Cultural Centre UK’s artist of the year. The artist focuses on reinventing spaces, a process that has previously encompassed moving walls, scents and visual and audio works that often bring out the uncanny properties of a space. Last year she created Evertro, a glow-in-the-dark skatepark in Liverpool; in London she’s inviting fellow artists to join in the fun by responding to her 2005 line-drawing A Civilizing Process, which features a flying eagle gripping a naked human in order to create a series of alternate narratives for the work and deconstruct the essence of a solo exhibition.
Over at Blain/Southern Berlin, Chiharu Shiota is taking a more traditional approach to the idea of a solo show with Uncertain Journey (she’s even plugged into that uncertainty theme). There, the Berlin-based Japanese artist (who, biennial lovers, represented Japan at the 2015 Venice Biennale) will produce a new monumental installation. The key elements (ArtReview Asia isn’t going to bother excusing the pun, because until you read on you won’t realise its full horror) of the Venice installation, The Key in the Hand, were some old boats topped by an explosion of red threads (connecting threads being something of a signature in her work) from which dangled a positive skulk of keys – as if some sort of neural or circulatory network connected to the boats was floating there, waiting to be unlocked. A similar sort of voyage, connecting the invisible to the quotidian, is promised in Berlin.
Although the seven panels and seven videos recording, with a characteristic mix of documentary and poetry, the lives of immigrants in Istanbul, Paris and New York that make up her Temporary Dwellings (1974–7) have recently popped up on display in Tate Modern’s new extension, there’s no doubt that Nil Yalter remains one of the more underrated artists of her generation. So you’ll be extremely excited to hear that a survey of work from the 1970s and 80s by the Paris-based Turkish artist is going to be on show at Arter, Istanbul, this October. While even ArtReview Asia hesitates to speculate about how her work, which fuses sociological, ethnic and class studies relating to marginalised communities, will chime with Turkey’s current political situation, there’s no doubt that her focus on memory and immigration will strike some chords. Although there aren’t any actual chords in her work.
Staying with the 1970s, but going back to Seoul, Gallery Hyundai hosts an exhibition of restaged works from that decade by pioneering Korean performance-artist Lee Kun-Yong. In Logic of Place (1975), Lee uses a nail to draw a circle into the ground, announces ‘There’ to the audience, stands inside the circle and shouts ‘Here’ while pointing to the floor and then steps outside the circle, points back at it over his shoulder and shouts ‘Over there’. He repeats the actions and then walks around the circle shouting ‘Where’ three times. At the heart of the performance, Lee later told art-historian Joan Key, was a need to establish truth: ‘[Yushin Korea] was a society of lies,’ he stated. ‘Trying to figure out what in fact was true became the most important priority.’ Given the authoritarian nature of the current Korean regime, it will be curious to see how, if at all, the relevance of such works has changed.
In a similarly reflective vein, Connect 1 is the first in a series of exhibitions tracing the history of Art Sonje Center. This presentation traces shows put on between 1998 and 2004 (when the institution had a temporary hiatus for restorations), in the form of three parallel solo exhibitions (which in turn reflects Art Sonje’s own practice of commissioning new works through solo exhibitions). Sora Kim reinterprets her 2004 work Library, first shown at Art Sonje that year; Chung Seoyoung’s three works Lookout (1999), Flower (1999) and Gatehouse (2000) were first presented in 2000; while Lee Bull’s Cyborg (1998) series was the institution’s first exhibition and is on show alongside a rearranged version of the same artist’s Majestic Splendor (1991–7). Three more big hitters of the Korean art scene, then, and another opportunity to reevaluate the signs of the times.
But enough of the navel-gazing – what’s better than a biennial? A triennial! And luckily for you there’s a new one – Okayama Art Summit 2016 – launching in Japan this October. Titled Development and directed by artist Liam Gillick, the inaugural focuses on artists – among them Shimabuku, Peter Fischli David Weiss, Trisha Baga, Tatsuo Majima, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Anton Vidokle, Lawrence Weiner and Anicka Yi – who frame or play with encounters with the structures and rhythms (change, renovation and rebuilding) of the city. As director, Gillick is also interested in ‘development’ as an aspect of pre- and postproduction – ‘in cinema, developed capitalism and strategic planning’ – and in artists’ use of time outside of time-based media. In keeping with this, and an ongoing interest in works that reflect on the conditions of their production and their reception, Gillick will propose two ways of viewing the triennial: the first as a camera, ‘seeing the city and the artworks from specific points of view’; the second as a subject, ‘a camera may pass a group and a group may pass a camera’. The only way you’ll find out how that works is by going yourself.
A reflection on both the production and reception of artworks and cultural artefacts certainly lies at the bottom of Muga Miyahara’s photographic works. For his first show at Taka Ishii he’ll be showing his Renaissance series, made up of his own prints, torn and collaged into new forms, in a process that plays with both their two- and three-dimensional aspects, and with their subjects. Having worked in (Western-style) commercial and editorial photography, around 25 years ago, Miyahara began taking snapshots of daily life in Japan, leading to a parallel practice that explores the sensibilities of Japanese culture (a book of the snapshots, published in 2014, is titled Shinken-shirahadori, Japanese for the technique of stopping a blade between two bare hands). The fragmented, reassembled multiple images on show here will perhaps provide a glimpse into the artist’s own psyche.
From the essence of Japan to the social and political architecture of Hong Kong: the ongoing subject of Leung Chi Wo’s second exhibition at London’s Rokeby. An iconic figure in the Hong Kong art scene, Leung is certainly part of its architecture, having cofounded the influential Para/Site nonprofit and having been selected to be the first artist to represent the autonomous territory at the Venice Biennale back in 2001. The central work of the artist’s upcoming exhibition is a new installation titled Silent Music Plane 1967, which features a paper aeroplane made from the cover of a Life magazine from that year flying through the gallery in time to two songs: Long Life Chairman Mao, released by Central Ensemble of Songs and Dances in 1966, and the Beatles’s Yesterday (1965). Back in 1967, a year after the start of the Cultural Revolution in China, Hong Kong was the scene of anticolonial rioting. While music was broadcast from the Bank of China building by the protesters, the Hong Kong government installed military loudspeakers on the nearby Government Information Services building and played jazz and popular Western music. All in all, the work promises to be a timely (for British, Chinese and Hong Kong audiences) reminder of how the seemingly innocent can be ideological, how ideology can be expressed in insubstantial ways and how the very fabric of our cities can been instrumentalised to fight ideological battles.
Hong Kong’s representative in the 2017 Venice biennale will be artist and musician Samson Young, whose work, in the form of works on paper, videos and a durational performance, is currently on show at Experimenter in Kolkata. While the title of the exhibition, Mastery of Language Affords Remarkable Power, evokes the work of psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, the works on paper – manuscripts of the artist’s own musical compositions created between 2005 and 2015, drawn, stamped, printed and collaged over to the point of various degrees of illegibility – are explicitly dedicated to the philosopher and his work on the role of spoken language in cultural domination and its resistance. The themes introduced by the drawings are then played out through two videoworks from Young’s Muted Situation series (2014), in which a lion-dancing troupe and a violin quartet perform with the sound suppressed.
Completing a trinity of Hong Kong-based artists is Trevor Yeung, whose work often deploys biological systems as metaphors for human relationships. At The Sunset of Last Summer, his forthcoming show at Blindspot, this will be coming in the form of an installation comprising, plants, specimen shells, a fishtank and a mock Chinese garden. All of it preceded by a photographic installation evoking the memory of a past love affair. But this artist’s endgame is far from gloomy: ‘memories are always beautiful’, apparently. This will be your chance to find out how much truth there is in that.
Beautiful or not, everyone knows that memories are all old people have left once they reach a certain age. Unless, that is, they’re part of 1a Space’s As the Leaves Fall (subtitled Teeth Falling Out, Story Begins), an exhibition curated by Grey and Green Ping Pong, and featuring seven artists paired with seven older people. The process starts with the artists showing the oldies their favourite spots or leisure activities (karaoke, hiking, treasure hunts), with the process then reversed (practising tai chi in the park, gardening, having a yum cha gathering and weaving at home). Finally, on show at the gallery, will be a collaborative artwork made by the two parties. ArtReview Asia cannot wait. Incidentally, when it first got wind of this show, it thought that the teeth-falling-out business was purely another metaphor for decay. It’s not, as the gallery makes clear: ‘The prevalence of tooth loss in seniors severely affects their daily lives. According to the Oral Health Survey (OHS) 2011 published by the Department of Health, there are 5.6 % of non-institutionalized seniors with no teeth. With a base of 450,800, there are 25,245 toothless seniors in Hong Kong excluding those in the age above 75. Meanwhile, the tooth loss conditions of seniors of the Social Welfare Department long-term care services were even worse. About 20% to 30% of them had no teeth at all. Each had 9.4 remaining teeth on average. The unaffordable dentistry is the main cause of this situation.’
This article was first published in the Autumn 2016 issue of ArtReview Asia.