There have been fervent discussions – at least concerning the creation and presentation of art – coming from Sharjah since the 2014 March Meeting. If ideas raised in that annual thinkathon are anything to go by, the Eungie Joo-curated Sharjah Biennial will invite visitors to question the authority of the archive, redraw their relationship to history and contemplate the responsibility of the art institution to the wider world. Following curatorial stints at the New Museum in New York and Inhotim in Brumadinho, Brazil, Joo’s biennial will gather 50 artists and cultural practitioners from 25 countries to present works (the majority new or commissioned) on the theme of The Past, the Present, the Possible. It sounds like the kind of pragmatic, measured approach to futurity that we might have expected from this contemplative fixture.
Thoughts of actual revolution abound in Afterwards, Shirin Neshat’s solo outing at Mathaf – her first in a Middle East institution – though here they are the bitter, heartbroken traces of revolutions past or failed. Three major suites of photographs are separated by two large video installations, all addressing questions of mass visibility and the role of creativity in the face of oppressive systems. For her most recent series, Our House Is on Fire (2013), Neshat spent weeks in Cairo exchanging stories with the parents and grandparents of those who had died young for the revolution – wracked by loss, their faces are shown beneath a fine veil of calligraphy, alongside photographs of the feet of the dead. See our features section for more information.
Religion, totalitarianism and power: all key concerns of Rainbow in the Dark, a Polish/Turkish coproduction that shows works anchored in each region since the 1980s, examining the creative response to mission creep between the personal, political and religious. Kicked oµ by excerpts from Zofia Rydet’s Sociological Record series (1978–97) – documentation of the traces of religious cults visible in Polish homes, here shown for the first time in an art context – the exhibition extends through links between informal religious movements and the avant-garde of the 1980s and 90s, and investigations of current censorial practices in the Middle East, to conclude with an installation by Walid Raad that draws explicit parallels between the rituals and totems of organised religion and the reverent cultural behaviours surrounding contemporary art institutions.
Rippling beneath the harmonious surface of Kishio Suga’s simple structures is the latent hint of destruction. Earlier large-scale installations such as Shachi Jokyo (Left-Behind Situation, 1972/2013), in which stones and fragments of wood balance delicately on a fine web of wire ropes, or Tabunritsu (Law of Multitude, 1975/2012), for which rocks perch on a sheet of transparent plastic raised oµ the floor on breezeblocks, feel like room-size booby traps – one enthusiastic sneeze and the carefully balanced melange of organic and artificial materials would tumble down. This Tokyo exhibition draws threads between Suga’s time as a leading light of the Mono-ha group, which revolutionised the Japanese artworld during the late 1960s and through the 1970s and has enjoyed a new(ly commercial) lease of life over the last few years, and his more recent output, focusing on the relationship between space and objects.
Precarity of a different flavour permeates Crossover: The Unveiled Collection: namely what becomes of art history when there is no framework in place for the collection, preservation and recording of artworks. Drawing on 18 significant private holdings of Thai art, the exhibition looks at the role of the collector in shaping and providing for art-historical assessment. Crossover draws a distinct line between the judgements of the academic world and the criteria employed by private individuals and institutions that purchase art, foregrounding collectors’ status as a key component in the artworld. Perhaps for the first time, modern and contemporary Thai artworks held in private hands will be shown both in their wider art-historical context and as evidence of individual strategies in collecting.
It is a hard to believe that the infinitely delicate paper boat sailing through the air at artist-initiated nonprofit Sàn Art was cut by the hands of the axeman fronting Indonesian metal band Sangkakala, but Rudy ‘Atjeh’ D is a rocker with a quiet side, here tracing underlying cultural links along ancient trade routes between Vietnam’s Champa Kingdom and his home region of Aceh. It is one of three projects on show produced during six-month residencies at the centre by artists from Vietnam and South Asia; the other two, by Pham Dinh Tien and Nguyen Tran Nam, both contemplate aspects of mortality. Tien with a fleet of mirrored airplanes, a reflection on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 last March; Nam with a military decoration shaped as a guillotine – the execution tool of choice during the 1955–63 regime of South Vietnam president Ngo Dinh Diem.
In Haegue Yang’s hands, the hard-edged ephemera of modern domesticity – laundry racks, jalousie blinds, tin cans and electric fans – are anthropomorphised with loving craft. The rich colours, knitted cosies, stitched covers and strings of bells that might once have adorned a treasured animal here bedeck the bland and humble objects with which we share home space. With the occasional addition of castors, such mundane frameworks become dancing objects infused with personality. In the Sonic Figures series (2013) – which will be shown at Leeum alongside new works – bell-clad characters built around rigid suspended or wheeled frames take the stiff Bauhaus designs for Triadic Ballet (1922) to their ultimate conclusion, performing dancing figures in the space within the limits of their rigid mechanics.
There are aesthetic upsets in the home space too in the installations of Wang Gongxin – the Chinese video pioneer’s famous Dinner Table (2006) shows the settings of a lavish meal sliding, cloth and all, off a tilted dinner table upwards against the force of gravity, accompanied, finally, by the sound of smashing porcelain. In Relating – It’s About Ya (2010), forceful vibrations – perhaps seismic, perhaps industrial – interfere with the performance of everyday actions, rippling through stacks of exploding lightbulbs and a flabby stomach filmed fibrillating in literally navel-gazing closeup. For this, the first solo exhibition of Wang’s work in mainland China, OCAT will present a major new series alongside a retrospective of works from the last two decades.
Things likewise get pretty tippy – and indeed trippy – in the work of Liu Wei. The uncompromising Beijing-based artist, who once submitted Looks Like a Landscape (2004) – a five-panel mountain range composed of naked bottoms (some proffering impressive reverse-view pubic tufts) – rather than modify his proposed submission to the 2004 Shanghai Biennale, will treat UCCA to his thoughts on the often uncomfortable interplay between humanity and the urban, machinic systems to which it has forced itself to adapt. Expect large-format paintings created in collaboration with computer software, and complex architectural sculptures composed of urban debris.
The nine-day festival of the visual that is Singapore Art Week promises ‘quality art experiences’ including talks, walks and nocturnal shows for nighthawks. Timed to coincide with the city-state’s Art Stage fair, the festivities extend across venues including the Gillman Barracks, Singapore Art Museum (showing works by the 15 finalists of the APB Foundation Signature Art Prize) and the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, which is presenting the Prudential Singapore Eye – an exhibition and award that honours emerging contemporary artists, as well as the roles played by institutions and critics across Asia.
This article was first published in the Spring 2015 issue of ArtReview Asia.