Diving into Parallel Realities: Notes on The 3rd Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale

The curatorial concepts of the 3rd Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale 2005 (hereafter, FT3) developed differently from past two Triennales  FT 1 (1999) & FT2 (2002). This does not mean the basic system of research, selection of artists, and decision on the theme was changed; rather, these were almost the same as before: curatorial teams of Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (FAAM) researched emerging artists in Asian cities based on proposals by local curators and other information gathered through museum activities. For artists in several countries where we could not afford to undertake research, we asked curators to work as "commissioned researchers", responsible for providing materials on artists as FT3 candidates. Then FAAM curators made shortlists, and the selection committee, consisting of 5 members, discussed the shortlists and chose artists (1). The only, but quite important, change in FT3 is that in the research and selection processes we intended not to be preoccupied with thematic focuses developed from the past logic of FAAM's mission, such as "communication"or "exchange".

This change resulted from both the "internal" and "external" situation around FAAM. The "internal"matter is our long process to re-examine the established programs and systems of the FAAM, the world's only art museum for Asian modern/contemporary art. During our six year practice of exhibiting Asian modern and contemporary art and our exchange programs through artist-in-residence and invitations to artists for the Fukuoka Triennale, we gradually recognized how difficult it was to attract the attention of local people showing Asian artists- guests from another world and totally unknown to them- and to produce familiar and lively communication and collaboration between foreign artists and local people. The "external" situation is, above all, what everybody in the world knows: the post- 9.11 situation, the Iraq war, where strong politics pretending to be justice takes place against "The Other", anti-American terrorism, followed by terrorism in U.K. two months before FT3. And other incidents seemingly "external" to FAAM have been no less influential in the conception of FT3's theme: in the Asian context, the lasting tragedy of Hindi-Muslim confrontation seen in the Gujarat riot in India in 2002; the enactment on Takeshima Island as Japanese territory by Shimane Prefecture Council, against Korean opinion insisting Dokto (Korean name of Takeshima Island) belongs to them; and a series of anti-Japan demonstrations in Chinese cities in April 2005. The biggest tragedy in the pan-Asia region was the Sumatra Earthquake in December 2004, and the tsunami that caused more than 200,000 deaths in Indonesia and other Asian countries. Then, with these events, how can we expect happy"communication"between such opposing and egocentric parties, or between the victims and the news receivers of natural and man-made disasters? In short, it seems absolutely impossible to bridge, reconcile, coordinate HERE and THERE ¡V in PARALLEL REALITIES?

I will go back to the curatorial process of FT3. As mentioned, the selection committee decided not to discuss a theme for selection, but they tried to choose "fresh" artists to present a new but unfamiliar aspect of Asian visual culture, instead of choosing artists according to any preconceived thematic focus. This meant two things: first, we wanted to get away from FAAM's own mindset since FT1 to explore "exchange"through artists' works or projects/workshops; second, we tried to choose artists whose works would present different images of Asian society and visual culture, or non-Asian, anti-Asian aspects in works by artists living and working in Asian cities. Actually, I noticed some of the participating artists in FT3 consciously oppose this strategy to present "Asian contemporary art". Instead of using local materials and dealing with political issues in Asian cities, they prefer the use of "pop" media and elements in their work, which do not seem to belong to their indigenous culture, but to the "nowhere" culture of fashion, design, manga, anime, the internet, etc., free from the identity politics which used to be a weapon and armour for Asian artists.

With this "pop" media these artists can move from a reality to other realities. Examples of this "new generation" (because of their work, rather than age) are Thaweesak Srithongdee (Thailand), Kill Your Television (Singapore), Tiffany Chung (Vietnam), Tiarma Dame Ruth Sirait (Indonesia), and YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES (Korea), among others. To borrow a title of a work by Tiarma, who has been working as fashion designer and artist, what is common to these artists may be the idea of "synthetic love" - a love for the artificial, the superficial, the digital, the hybrid, and for the media; all characteristics of contemporary popular culture - which appeals to the general public, often with humour and sexual concern. The increase in video works (20 artists among 50 somehow use projected moving images) in FT3 is not surprising, considering the intentional exclusion of video works in FT2 and the many "black cubes" for video installation found in most international exhibitions. However, as the usage of moving images is so diverse, these works should be seen as artists' natural response to everyday life, thereby presenting sensitivities and lifestyles of a new generation which might appear "alien¡" to those who are expecting "Asian-ness" from these artists.

An example of the "Parallel Realities" conveyed by such "pop" media is Cosplayers, an installation with video images by Cao Fei, a Guangzhou-based artist. In Japan and other East Asian cities, playing with the costumes of popular characters in anime, manga, and computer games (kosupure, in Japanese) has become undercurrent fashion, but in Cao's works, the gap between "the real", commonplace urban life with their family of middle class, and their fantasy of playing strong and/or cute characters in youngsters' circle, is ironically emphasized. Similarly, in an installation by Ito Ryusuke, known for his experimental films, the co-existence of a pair of cheap and small sets and the enlarged video projection of the sets show doubled, double reality - life and media; the real and fantasy.

The new generation of artists - however innocently optimistic they may seem - does not turn away from the still-harsh realities in our local environment or in the globalizing world. The artist whose work gave a hint in developing the concept of "Parallel Realities"is Rashid Rana, a Pakistani artist based in Lahore. He was creating paintings by combining images from Pakistani films and western culture, but his recent works are extremely elaborate combinations of small digital images. Artists in Lahore often use tricks to keep the viewer's attention in small paintings, in order to have them notice the gap between the first sight and that of patient reading, and Rashid's strategy is alike; to catch eyes of viewers with seemingly beautiful (sometimes "exotic") images, which actually consist of tiny numberless digital images from billboards in Lahore or of soldiers in battle. It is understandable that artists from Muslim countries are keenly aware of this kind of "double reality"; the large distance between what the mass media provides and what it does not, its bias of the common life of Muslims as it responds to the global preoccupation with the Muslim community and the view of this community as dens for terrorists.

We should be aware of the illusion of popular culture, even if it is an available means for us to travel to other realities. The illusion is another carefree misunderstanding that pop cultures can easily transgress national or cultural borders, based on rapidly expanding markets of music, TV drama, films, anime & manga, and computer games in East Asia, because it ignores the fact that only small parts of cultures deprived of social and political complicacy can be circulated and mass-consumed, thereby seeming to be exchangeable beyond "borders", just like Hollywood films. Even from metropolitan cities like Taipei, Wu Mali has now started to research the forgotten culture of fishermen, both to focus locality and missing link along the Kuroshio tide across national borders. However, as Wu uses video documentation to present this reality parallel to that of city dwellers, it is absurd to choose to give up media technology highly developed in popular culture.

In the painting/video installation by Ho Tzu Nyen from another metropolis - Singapore - the artist re-produces, re-acts, and re-creates to uncover the history of the Malay king, Utama, in a style of Western historical paintings, but the style is also reminiscent of educational TV programs performed by popular actors! A similar structure can be also seen in the projection of still images by Jo Seub from Korea, in terms of his combining the setting and exaggerated action of TV comedy with an acute criticism towards the internalized fascism prevailing in Korean society through violence, machoism, and military values. These works by younger generation artists may represent the big potential of popular culture which is already mature enough to deal with social issues as seen in recent Japanese manga culture.

Editorial disclaimer - The opinions and views expressed in the Perspectives column do not necessarily reflect those of the Asia Art Archive, staff, sponsors and partners.



Raiji KURODA, 黒田雷児

Mon, 1 Aug 2005

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