Growing up in California during the 1950s (his parents were among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans interned during the Second World War), Bruce Yonemoto experienced the barrage of seductive iconography relating to self-image, sexuality and ethnicity that pumped out of American tv and cinema screens of the era. Yonemoto’s film-based works, created, up until the end of the 1990s, in collaboration with his older brother, Norman (their debut being Garage Sale, 1976), went on to probe the uncomfortable spaces between the human experience as depicted in mass media and that of messy reality. Always probing for the unseen or overlooked, Yonemoto triangulates the particularities of people, place and process, colliding apparently unrelated phenomena – Argentina as the last site in the world both of a growing glacier and a growing Lacanian psychoanalytic practice; or, for North South East West (2007), Asian-American soldiers in the Civil War, Walter Benjamin’s concept of aura and D.W. Griffith’s Ku Klux Klan-rousing film, Birth of a Nation (1915) – to create multiperspectival works of unsettling power. The description of An Asian Survey as Yonemoto’s first solo show in Asia is bittersweet, following, as it does, the death of his brother in 2014.
For this, its second edition, the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award has broadened its scope beyond Greater China (the geographical limit for entrants to the first award) to achieve a shortlist that also includes early-career artists from across Southeast Asia: Guan Xiao (China), Huang Po-Chih (Taiwan), Moe Satt (Myanmar), Maria Taniguchi (Philippines), Vandy Rattana (Cambodia) and Yang Xinguang (China). It’s a little bit more genuinely ‘Asian’ in makeup then, but still has some way to go before it has a shortlist that in any way reflects the scope projected by its title. The exhibition of specially commissioned works from the six finalists will form the basis for the jury’s selection of an overall winner in November. No pressure, then.
A second edition, too, for the West Bund Art & Design Fair – and unusually for such events, it’s run by an artist, Zhou Tiehai – which returns with 30 exhibiting galleries (from all over the world) and forms part of a citywide art takeover that extends to the Photo Shanghai fair and Art in the City Festival. ArtReview Asia will be weighing in with sharp insights and fearless wit during the fair’s talks programme – check artreview.com for details and catch us if you can.
Blockbusting artertainments now seem to tour the globe like boybands (or perhaps fastfood franchises?). Random International’s Rain Room rocks up to Shanghai’s Yuz Museum in a 150sqm site-specific version that gives it more capacity than either the London (2012) or New York (2013) versions. If you want to make like Moses and watch the waters part around you, book ahead: in Shanghai the queues on the day will be for viewing-only tickets, not full interactive access.
Also rolling into town in a supersize version is 15 Rooms, a beefed-up big brother to the 11 Rooms performance-art-assculpture concept debuted in Manchester in 2013 by artworld kings of Instagram Klaus Biesenbach and Hans Ulrich Obrist, and which has grown by a room with each new staging (which makes this, for those of you who can count, the concept’s fourth iteration, the most recent having coincided with last year’s Art Basel). No details of the participating artists as yet (hey – the drama is part of the project), but expect a starchitect collaborator for the rooms themselves, notable inclusions from the Chinese art scene and Marina Abramović (maybe).
Yang Fudong, at Yuz Museum, Shanghai, 1 September – 15 November; Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, 26 September – 25 January
A busy autumn for Yang Fudong: the Shanghai-based artist’s oneiric, melancholic moving-image works (which were part of the launch issue of ArtReview Asia back in May 2013) will be the subject of major survey shows in both Shanghai and Auckland. The Yuz Museum show will pay tribute, in particular, to Fudong’s nonlinear approach to filmmaking, following sensibility, mood and happenstance rather than a script or fixed image in works exploring the resonance of China’s artistic, philosophical and cinematic heritage on the lives of a new generation. Both exhibitions will include an installation of the recent five-channel The Coloured Sky: New Women II (2014), the artist’s first foray into digital video, shot on an artificial beach – complete with beautiful (1940s-style) bikini-clad women and stuffed deer (an ongoing reference to early Chinese fable) – flooded with crepuscular light filtered through large sheets of tinted acrylic. Look for a visually stunning show in which the past and the present meet.
Stimulated by a sense of ‘social and political urgency’ in Hong Kong following last year’s protests, artist Lee Kit and curator Chantal Wong will this September launch Things That Can Happen, a nonprofit art space aimed at reflecting and nurturing the sense of cultural awakening in the city to which both have strong ties. Located in a residential building in the old, market-lined district of Sham Shui Po (whose Golden Shopping Centre is still considered one of the cheapest places to buy or build a computer) in Kowloon, the apartmentlike space is conceived as a site of dialogue as much as display. For the official opening, TTCH will present work by Wong Ping that investigates the local sex industry, as part of which the artist will re-outfit the gallery to resemble the rooms used by sex workers in the neighbourhood.
Taking its cues from an infamous 1968 speech by late Singaporean premier Lee Kuan Yew – the ‘luxury we cannot afford’ in that case being the creative arts at a time when the newly formed city-state urgently needed to industrialise and nation-build – Para Site will examine Singapore’s cultural history over the past 50 years, and the nuanced language and ideology that has evolved around the concept of the necessary and the ‘luxurious’. Works range from social-realist pieces from the 1950s through direct responses to historical events – such as Lim Yew Kuan’s woodblock print After the Fire (1966) – to the work of contemporary artists including Heman Chong, Nguan and Green Zeng.
Speaking of Singapore’s 50th birthday celebrations, the crowning moment for its art scene arrives this November, when the country’s National Gallery opens its doors for the first time. Located in 64,000sqm of what was once Singapore’s City Hall and Supreme Court, the new institution aims at being the authority on Singaporean and Southeast Asian art from the nineteenth century to the present. We can only presume that the question of where and what Southeast Asia is will be one of the topics raised by the initial displays.
Photo Bangkok 2015 International, Photography Festival, at BACC and various venues, Bangkok, through 4 October; PAUSE, at BACC, Bangkok, through 1 November
Running during and beyond the PhotoBangkok 2015 International Photography Festival, BACC’s Pause is a rush-averse exhibition of works by camera-wielding practitioners from different core disciplines and regions across Southeast Asia. Guest curator Ark Fongsmut recomplicates the question of photography’s status in the artworld, arguing that the specificity of place and context brings with it varied textures of light and ‘thingness’ that disrupt Western art-historical distinctions between documentation and personal expression in photography. A dedicated international survey, the show includes artists from Yogyakarta’s Mes56 artist space, as well as artists from Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Spreading beyond the doors of BACC across multiple venues, the inaugural edition of PhotoBangkok offers talks, events and exhibitions around the Thai capital aimed at fostering creative devel opment in the city and celebrating forgotten and overlooked photographic masterworks from earlier generations.
Tokyo Art Meeting VI, 7 November – 14 February; Yoko Ono: From My Window, 8 November – 14 February, at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.
Looking forward, and with a firm sense of urgency, Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art takes stock of the city’s identity in advance of the 2020 Olympic Games, and in the wake of cultural precarity generated by the Tōhoku earthquake of 2011. Navigating a route between the ‘hot magma-like culture of the 1980s’ and the glacial, refined cultural face that Tokyo has presented in the digital era, the Art Meeting brings together six cultural luminaries operating from the city in diverse fields – including techno-pop legends the Yellow Magic Orchestra, online art practitioners EBM(T) and playwright/founder of the Chelfitsch theatre company Toshiki Okada – each of which will curate a themed section of the show (neoteny, post-Internet sensibilities, splendour and fragility…). A second section will exhibit new commissions addressing aspects of contemporary Tokyo by artists from Japan and beyond, including [Mé], Lin Ke and Saâdane Afif. Running concurrently, a survey show of works by Yoko Ono will foreground the Tokyo-born artist’s projects as they relate to Japan and her roots in the city.
Following a first round of judging in Venice earlier this year, seven finalists have been selected for the second biennial Nissan Art Award. The winner of the last edition was Aiko Miyanaga, and though passing allusion is made to the ‘potential of young artists’, the selection tends strongly towards midcareer artists – such as photographer Tomoko Yoneda – as well as supporting younger artists such as animistically inclined installationist Tsuyoshi Hisakado. And where would ArtReview Asia put its money? Probably on Yuko Mohri, whose installations, which often make visible invisible forces such as sound and electricity, featured prominently in last year’s Yokohama Triennial and Sapporo International Art Festival.
Following early-stage exhibitions at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and at Documenta 13 (both in 2012), Amar Kanwar’s The Sovereign Forest (2012–) has evolved and expanded with each exposure (it’s been to Yorkshire and Vienna since) and, fresh from an outing at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, will be shown in its latest incarnation in Mumbai this autumn. Examining the validity of artistic, poetic evidence when held against political or criminal malfeasance, through film, photographs, texts, objects and events, Kanwar’s expanding work circles around the disappearing landscape of Odisha (formerly Orissa), considering the aggressive acquisition and development of the state’s natural landscapes to have rendered it a crime scene. If humanity’s relationship to the land is one of the most pressing issues of our times, then this project is one of the most intricate, expansive and in many ways epic documents about why that should be the case.
Reena Saini-Kallat, at Vancouver Art Gallery, through 12 October & Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai, from 11 September
Bureaucracy’s power of erasure and the traces left by human movement form twin axes in the work of Mumbai-based Reena Saini-Kallat, who’s current Vancouver Art Gallery show features Woven Chronicle (2015), a vast map of global migration routes woven from electrical wire and circuitry parts that seeks to connect the effects of migration and social transformation on an urban scale to its impact in a global context and, conversely, look at how the former might deal with pressures asserted on it by the latter. In Hyphenated Lives, her first solo show at Chemould for seven years, woven wires splice banyan and deodar trees, a stag and a tiger, an oak and a palm: hybrid forms that speak of interdependence between nations and shared resources.
Related to that, Dhaka-based photographic artist Shumon Ahmed’s projects turn around the less-seen or overlooked – a Guantánamo Bay detainee returned to Bangladesh after five year’s incarceration; the artist’s complex feelings towards his ‘mad’ mother. In Metal Graves (2009–11, shown last year at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale) he meditates on the materiality, and the human and environmental impact of the ‘dead’ containerships beached in Chittagong in the Bay of Bengal waiting to be broken up for steel, the tools of global trade now ripped apart to be traded themselves; and their links back to the ships of colony and Europe’s Age of Discovery.
Antihierarchy, community spirit and collective creativity infuse the biennial Kaleidoskop residency and exhibition coordinated by three of Yogyakarta’s artist-run spaces: Kedai Kebun Forum, Ace House Collective and Mes56. This exhibition of work by a dozen young artists follows a month of workshops, training and the exchange of critical discourse inspired by Walter Gropius’s idea of a workshop formed of ‘like-minded artists’. Taking the commitment to a productive economy one step further, the residency is part-funded by Kaleidoskop merchandising linked to locally produced goods including coffee, bamboo-cotton T-shirts and sunflower seeds, maintaining a link between the production and distribution of art, and the production and distribution of food and apparel.
Riffing off the themes of alienation and longing in Carson McCuller’s 1940 novel The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, the YARAT Contemporary Art Centre’s group show, cocurated by the institution’s curatorial director, Suad Garayeva, and Rhizome’s artistic director, Michael Connor, features a broad range of work by artists such as Neïl Beloufa, Parker Ito, Camille Henrot and Lu Yang. Central to the display is the trajectory from emptiness to a form of selfawareness as documented in Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno’s No Ghost, Just a Shell (1999–2002), which centres on the ‘life’ of a shop-bought anime character, AnnLee, as it is ‘filled-in’ by various other artists who use her. On show in Baku will be two of Huyghe’s videoworks featuring the character, hopefully passing on the curators’ stated aim of projecting the message that ‘fictive characters have real-world effects and affects’.
Talking of fictive characters, it’s time to polish up those metal claws: Zhang Ding is transforming the theatre of London’s ICA this autumn with an immersive mirror and light installation inspired by the reflecting-maze fight scene in Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon (1973). Instead of battling martial artists, the space will be animated by performances by musicians, dancers, sound artists and poets selected in association with London’s Dalston-based independent music station NTS. Despite the setting’s bellicose inspiration, the plan, apparently, is to encourage ad hoc collaboration between randomly programmed performers in the space. In the spirit of fruitful collaboration, perhaps it would be wise for the more typically fractious elements of London’s music scene to bear in mind the great Lee’s immortal words: ‘The word “I” does not exist.’
This article was first published in the Autumn & Winter 2015 of ArtReview Asia