The 7th edition of the Asian Art Biennial, organized by the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts and co-curated by artists Hsu Chia-Wei from Taiwan and Ho Tzu-Nyen from Singapore, will open on October 5th. The exhibition will feature a wide selection of artworks, including paintings, installations, video works, performances, and workshops by 30 artists and collectives from 16 countries.
Breaking Boundaries and Frameworks Through the ‘Stranger’ Perspective
Titled “The Strangers from Beyond the Mountain and the Sea”, the 2019 edition of the Asian Art Biennial will focus not only on the encounters between insiders and strangers, but also explore complex human entanglements through non-human elements. By “strangers”, the curators refer not only to travellers from distant lands, but also spirits, gods, shamans, foreign merchants, immigrants, minorities, colonists, smugglers, partisans, spies and traitors. To them, strangers are mediums, through which other worlds may be communicated. As such, “strangers” have the potential to propel and transform the very foundations of our cultures. Through the perspectives of “strangers”, this exhibition seeks to spark the imagination and curiosity of viewers by expanding the limits of our existing knowledge systems, as well as extending the frameworks by which reality is understood.
The curatorial concept is further explained by curator Hsu Chia-Wei: “We are living in the Age of the Anthropocene, a geologic time period proposed in recent years to refer to the dominant influence of human activities on the climate and environment. This has led to critical reflections on anthropocentrism – the point of view that humans are the only, or primary, holders of moral standing”. This has in turn led to three observable trajectories in contemporary art practice: First, a re-evaluation of diverse pre-modern “tribal” societies as a critique of a monolithic concept of modernity; second, a re-thinking of how the human race can coexist with the environment in an ecologically sustainable manner; and third, a re-examination of our philosophical systems, and a review of our assumptions about technology which has spun out of control since the Industrial Revolution. These are some of the issues that both Hsu and Ho have focused on extensively in this edition of the Asian Art Biennial. Their attempts to present possible links and overlapping conditions between the aforementioned three trends give rise to connections and correlations to this concept in the showcased artworks, be it on their own or in relation to each other.
Issues in Asia Reinterpreted by 30 Artists from 16 Countries
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).
Amongst the list, young emerging artists, Korakrit Arunanondchai from Thailand and Timur Si-Qin from Germany, have garnered much international attention of late. Recently featured in the central exhibition of this year’s Venice Biennale, Arunanondchai is a visual artist, filmmaker, and storyteller who employs his versatile practice to tell stories deeply embedded in cultural hybridity. On view at this exhibition is his latest work co-created with Alex Gvojic and inspired by the 2018 rescue of 12 schoolboys and their football coach from the Tham Luang Cave in Thailand. The artwork embodies, in its unique and energetic way, the intricate mesh between environment, technology, politics, and culture. As for the works by Timur Si-Qin, an artist of German and Mongolian descent who was featured in the 2016 Berlin Biennale, are often characterized by the poetic re-imagining of the relationship between human history and the natural world through the use of technology as a lens.
Singaporean artist Charles Lim, who represented his country at the 2015 edition of the Venice Biennale, will present 2 works from his ongoing series SEA STATE, in which videographic means are utilized to explore maritime environments and histories, as well as to examine the political and biophysical contours of nation states. Meanwhile, renowned Korean artist Lee Ufan – an iconic figure and theorist of the Japanese movement “Mono-ha” – uses materials in their raw states to create works which are energetic activations of spaces rich with implications of Eastern philosophies. The curators have strategically placed his three artworks in different locations as a kind of musical refrain through the exhibition, and to allow Lee’s well-known practice to generate unexpected resonances with a younger generation of contemporary art practitioners.
Exploring the Unknown with 9 New Commissioned Projects
For curator Ho Tzu-Nyen, the function of the biennial lies not only in the re-framing of existing artworks but also the creation of new ones. As such, nine new projects have been commissioned for this year’s exhibition, the greatest number in the history of the Asian Art Biennial. “Both Hsu Chia-Wei and I believe that the purpose of a biennial is not just about showcasing artworks, but more importantly, taking risks alongside the artists by facilitating new creations and exploring the unknown with them,” says Ho.
Each of the nine commissioned projects is intricately connected to the overarching theme of the exhibition, and many of them are characterized by experimental uses of complex techniques and in-depth research. For example, Taiwanese artist Chiang Kai-Chun uses chemical processes for the “growing” of jade, overlaid with traces of personal experiences, in Fengtian Jade Garden. Thai interdisciplinary artist duo JIANDYIN’s Friction Current: Magic Mountain Project, meanwhile, examines the complex tug-of-war relationships between the stateless highlands of Zomia and the surrounding nation-states through a poetic and forceful choreography of urine, jade and drugs, offering us a new perspective on the intertwining of underground economies, myths and political control.
Taiwanese artist Wang Hong-Kai continues to use sound as a conceptual approach in examining social relations. Her new work, This is No Country Music, traces the musical legacy of Taiwanese composer Koh Bunya, whose personal trajectory traverses Taiwan, Japan and China in the troubled years of the Second World War. Through a series of workshops leading up to the exhibition, Wang weaves together a complex constellation of geology, catastrophe, body, society, and history through her usage of seismic data and oral records taken from the devastating 1935 earthquake that struck Taichung, Taiwan. Another artwork, Virgin Land, is an installation incorporating theatrical, video, and audio elements in an immersive setting by Ting Chaong-Wen. It draws inspiration from the history of quinine, a medicinal cure developed by colonizers through the exploitation of the local customs and natural resources of their colonies. The invention of quinine in turn enabled the colonizers to venture into tropical forests and islands, thereby transforming the cure into a weapon for bolstering their imperial rule.
2019 Asian Art Biennial will be presented at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts from October 5th until February 9th, 2020. A series of events and seminars will also be held throughout the exhibition