June Yap
Hyunjin Kim
Manuel Ocampo
Carol Lu
Naiza Khan
Akira Tatehata
David Elliott
Gao Shiming
Youngchul Lee

Mon 4/23/2012 11:03 PM
June Yap, curator and critic based in Singapore

I am not sure if three years since Hal Foster’s questionnaire elicited its numerous thought-provoking responses I might have something "contemporary" enough to contribute, other than having typed this out in the present (that rapidly is moving into the past). Foster’s lengthy question frames the discussion that ensued then, with the oppositional pairs of imagined or real, local or global, crisis or celebration, making juicy topics for the word-smithing that contemporary art has become increasingly fond of, and sometimes reliant on, myself included. Thus, I write my response somewhat tongue-in-cheek, self-conscious of what these little marks, brought upon the imagined community that reads small type about art, may do. And as a caveat, the ambiguity of the term, as it is variously employed in relation to artistic practice and artwork, is no less flagrant within this response. At the core of the original questionnaire and its responses is the apparent contradiction of contemporaneity, and art historicism as legitimating critical judgement par excellence—where the art historical grand narrative breathes heavily down contemporary’s neck while standing awkwardly in the white cube trying to look contemporarily "interactive" and connected. That the "contemporary" is also assigned the task of breaking from its modern past, complicates the matter further. Yet contemporaneity, perhaps as much as postmodernism, does not function without recalling that from which it emerged. And given that this discussion and my response refers back to, and calls for, the revisiting of Foster’s questionnaire and its responses, speaks of a general inability to break with historical forebears.

In the midst of this rather uncomfortable moment (time being essentially the crux of the problem) what may possibly be suggested, is that the appearance of an art-historical turn to the contemporary is perhaps a result of art’s response to art historicism, in a dissolution of historical mooring or at least a complicating of historicism—as in the Marxian sense, “all that is solid melts into air”—that in turn impels a "contemporary art history" that is constantly in flux. The historicisation of Asian modernities, that has contributed to the fragmentation of the historical narrative, is amongst other things, a political project, though it may be a case of the exception proving the rule. Likewise the complicating of what contemporary art may refer to in Asia, alternately aligned with, and as distinct from, other regions, has its political (and economic) purpose, even if it may be said to be a necessary one, and even if attempts at synthesizing this limited and uneven terrain is largely in vain, and too easily mired in its own contradictions, in as much as it expands the horizon of the visible. However, this failure is welcomed and exalted for its ‘contemporaneity’ in its recognition of a “constant revolution in production” (Marx).

As Miwon Kwon responded then, the “contemporaneity of histories . . . must be confronted simultaneously as a disjunctive yet continuous intellectual horizon.” This contiguity of correspondence and equivalence, with its opposite, is arguably contemporaneity’s character, that of “antagonisms” (Alexander Alberro via Chantal Mouffe) or “antinomies . . . characteristic of these times” (Terry Smith). And it is in Kwon’s end pronouncement, to “(destroy) the category of contemporary art history as it is becoming consolidated,” where the nub rubs. Contemporaneity in this sense is located in the act of response that Grant Kester hints at in his reply to Foster, writing on the possibility of observing reception to art as it is produced today, something that art history idealised as the distant regard did not have the privilege of. But this thesis on contemporary historicity, as marked by immediate and overlapping retort, would only make sense if considered in relation to the nature of the practice of "contemporary art" today. The form (as old habits die hard) of "contemporary art" suggested here, lies not merely in its artwork (in its formal or ephemeral guise). Rather art that becomes "contemporary" in the public sense (even for a public of two), does so in an operation that involves and is entangled with the act of exhibiting, the texts of curators and art historians, negotiations with galleries, institutions and corporations, the fancies of the art market, the circulation of ever increasing biennales and other national and international platforms of presentation (and promotion), the pronouncements of art media, the reactions of an expanding geographically and technologically mobile art audience, as well as practices of discursiveness—of which this is an instance. In short, the condition that makes "contemporary art," and in turn "contemporary art history," is not simply the artwork, at least in this argument, but a network of relations, complicit and otherwise, and a site of contestation of what "the contemporary" might mean. A condition that while ubiquitous across art practice and developments, is felt with a certain urgency in Southeast Asia and other regions that have lesser influence in central discourses and exchange. Yet this condition of agreeable disputation nevertheless harbours a lingering belief in the possibility of the efficacy of art in its meaning to life and the world (even a world of one), and a belief that this contemporaneous condition has critical historical place (and not merely aesthetic experience), that ironically ushers the return of the not-so-contemporaneous repressed Hegelian in its wake.

I am not sure I am saying anything new here, as this response turns demonstrative instead of remonstrative or instructive, even if it is "contemporary." But the ambiguity that dogs the contemporary (art and art history) delights in uncertainty. Might there be a way out? The contradiction is perhaps more acute for art historians, but the outcome of this contention has farther-reaching implications. We can only hope that years from today, some future historians will be able to come up with a better term for this period (if periodisation survives this) besides "The Contemporary Contradiction." Undoubtedly at least for the present, there is value in the "contemporary’s" refusal to be defined decisively, and it is possible that its indeterminism functions as does the "untitled" artwork. In one grand sweep, the "contemporary" encompasses heterogeneity, and simultaneously generates a series of relations ready for dispute having implied continuity and consensus. These contradictions are hard to resist. And privately they remain a guilty pleasure that if nothing else, satisfies the desire to observe and speak of art today.


Tue 4/24/2012 6:18 AM
Hyunjin Kim, curator and critic based in Seoul

The Contemporary

Our passage from the present to the future always stems from what remains of the past. History is not a closed book. It is an open text, which can always be reinterpreted or approached again in terms of how it is related to the present. Questions about the past propel the present forward, and contemporariness will reveal itself.

What is the contemporary? This question is much like “What is art?,” which would be an essentially contested question. Answers differ among those who constitute the contemporary, according to their varying goals and orientations. The ambiguity, uncertainty and inconsistency surrounding the concept of “the contemporary” are mostly witnessed today in a variety of competing practices that take place in the name of Contemporary Art. Indeed, today’s art scene is reminiscent of the Era of Warring States of ancient China (c. 426–221 BC), an era dominated not by a single unified power, but rather by dozens of relatively equal but competing small countries. What we witness is not simply the coexistence of various perspectives and artistic modes of practices and choices, we find that the past is altered and re-composed and that significant contemporary tendencies come from them; and we find an interesting splicing of what seems to be different time development of different regions in the present.

However, we can also find one possible problem with the democratisation of contemporary art, whereby contemporary art is simply a receptacle that contains whatever happens in the art world of the current time. In the name of contemporary art, the current always swings between progress and regression. The following scenes were witnessed during my research trips in 2008. I met with an owner of one of the leading galleries in Tokyo who proudly showed me Van Gogh-style landscape paintings by a Japanese artist while making no distinction whatsoever between this painting and other serious contemporary art practices. In the main building of the National Gallery of Art in Caracas, Venezuela, one of the exhibition halls was dedicated to showing the leisure-time drawings of the exhibition guards working at the Gallery; what I saw in the gallery was not the guards’ hobby paintings, but the result of a populist project pursued by the dictatorial Chavez government. Back in Seoul 2011, while working to set a new curatorial workshop program for a new private institution founded by a heavy-industry corporation, the director of that institution warned me not to use the term “laboratory” because, politically, it sounds Left-oriented. These are the kinds of eccentricities that one frequently experiences, and they bring to mind again that living in the same calendar time is not the same as living in the same contemporariness.

Another known disturbing scene is to be found inside the recently heated art world in say China or India, a scene propelled by the neo-liberal topography of art markets that have grown explosively in the past decade. I would say that it is a scene that baffles our belief in the genuinely progressive as well as the critical nature of art. In Beijing, works of art are often produced entirely as labour-intensive commodities, with monumental or symbolic gestures, and art studios become veritable busy art factories, in which we face the return of the ghost of Orientalism. What I saw in that phenomenon was the submersion of the resistance of the past 20 to 30 years of artists who have been refraining from turning their art into other’s craft, namely postcolonial products. This scene, run by a newly emerging market, is also affected to the extent of repressing the previous achievement in some parts of the Asian region where artists’ practices are strongly engaged in undoing monumental one-liner craft spectacles and where the politics of form derives from artists’ hesitation and distancing of themselves from a domineering situation.

It should be common sense that contemporary does not mean simply living in the same time frame. While we live in the same calendar time, each individual neither lives through the same time nor experiences its light and darkness in the same way. Certain phenomena found in the expansion of contemporary art should be a call that they have to embrace and adopt; for some of us, however, this is clearly seen as outright regression of history that abuses the term “contemporary.” Where is the veritable essence of contemporaneity placed? What did we miss in our blind celebration of contemporary art?  

Contemporariness is, then, a singular relationship with one’s own time, which adheres to it and, at the same time, keeps a distance from it. More precisely, it is that relationship with time that adheres to it through a disjunction and an anachronism. Those who coincide too well with the epoch, those who are perfectly tied to it in every respect, are not contemporaries, precisely because they do not manage to see it; they are not able to firmly hold their gaze on it.1

[. . .] the contemporary is the person who perceives the darkness of his time as something that concerns him, as something that never ceases to engage him. Darkness is something that—more than any light—turns directly and singularly toward him. The contemporary is the one whose eyes are struck by the beam of darkness that comes from his own time . . . This urgency is the untimelineness, the anachronism that permits us to grasp our time in the form of a “too soon” that is also a “too late”; of an “already” that is also a “not yet” . . .2

According to Agamben, contemporaneity is ultimately defined by the person who is living the contemporary, the person who is not passive, the person who does not “coincide too well with the epoch.” The contemporary person is someone who fully and actively traverses their time by choosing to exercise their sovereign rights. Agamben further explains that the contemporary person is not someone who bakes in the glorious sunshine of their time, but rather someone who is more sensitive to its shadows and darkness, and someone who tries to recognise light and bring it into the darkness. These two characteristics of the contemporary, as defined by Agamben, are also applicable to the pioneering—and therefore untimely—achievements made in the persistent progress of veritable human history, which is born with the pains of dislocated and broken spines in each time.

The landscape of today’s globalism, in a positive sense, arises out of the regional networks that connect the evolutionary phenomenon of mutually different cultures. In the last few years, China and India have attracted the attention of the art world with their economic prowess, while more recently the Middle East and North Africa have drawn attention because of the political changes taking place there. Since the 1990s, globalisation has dismantled the First World hegemony of the 20th century, and it has opened up a new democratic and pluralistic horizon of visual culture. This is an encouraging change. However, where such attention is caused by an economic impact of geo-political importance, there is a possible problem: art becomes a tool for “cultural marketing” and abandons its duty to the true meaning of the contemporary; there is a discord with the general trend of the era.

In this situation, the different forms of anachronism seen today have also become more complex than ever. What is considered an artistic phenomenon that is too late in one region is considered too soon in another. Given this situation, an artistic practice, in historical development as well as in critical language, that is "too late" should be criticised as such in any locality. However, to take such a position is to risk being called a cultural supremacist, or someone who does not recognise cultural relativity; from the perspective of the advocates of multiculturalism or cultural diversity, this is certainly not a politically correct position to adopt. Thus, in the name of multiculturalism, double or triple standards are applied to evaluating artistic practices in different localities, without speculation over whether the works of art or visual languages found within a new fashion are estimated to be literal anachronisms or ideal anachronisms in terms of the contemporary. This can be seen as the shady side of global multiculturalism. It insulates the local in national bland, and it even creates a new form of possible segregation, that is culturally doubling the other. I think this is another aspect of the abuse of the term “contemporary” and our exhaustion with this term. The essential time found in any local must be transcendently contemporary, and then it is not limited to local anymore. It is an anachronism to come, where considerable resistance and artistic discretion are placed.

Annual Report, the title of the 2008 Gwangju Biennale (Okwui Enwezor, Artistic Director), for which I was the co-curator with Ranjit Hoskote, was a research project on contemporary art scenes that are at “the threshold of indeterminacy between an excess and a deficiency.”3 In other words, the art world is busy today, but one can no longer find any direction or focus for artistic progress. This aspect of the art world was particularly highlighted in the section of the 2008 Biennale entitled “On the Road.” Reminiscent of Jack Kerouac’s novel of the same name, this section involved researching and selecting various art exhibitions and cultural events that took place for a period of one year prior to the opening of the Biennale in 2008. The exhibitions and events we researched were then invited, in whole or in part, to participate in the Biennale. The section “On the Road” in Annual Report was an exhibition of exhibitions, and as such it did not have a single-focus theme or issue. Our aim was to present an opportunity to examine what the present is made of. In other words, the exhibition was a tenacious work, meant to be a temporary archive of the “now”, an archeological excavation into “our time”, what we are standing on top of. As Ranjit Hoskote has said, this was “a wild journey of self-discovery, but also a workman-like survey of development”. Although we did not make any prior assumptions for the research, it resulted in selected invitations disclosing a “politics of form,” which is "concerned with how artists manage the aesthetic demands of their artistic principles and social necessity of discovering new terms of production,"4 as well as with a certain resistance to hyper-production or formal conformity driven by today’s generalisation of contemporary art.

Unfortunately, our efforts for Annual Report were least appreciated here in South Korea, the host country of the Biennale. The press and the art community took little interest, since Annual Report did not have an epoch-making theme; it did not suggest something completely new; and it showed works that had already been shown in various other parts of the world. Some went so far as to complain that what we did amounted to insulting them, in that the exhibition was a regurgitation of other exhibitions. In contrast to the close readings of the curatorial direction and the support we received from overseas media, South Korean reviewers saw our efforts as completely anachronistic; according to the Korean reviews, nothing in our exhibition was anchored in reality. My point here is not to suggest that the positive evaluations of Annual Report from the international art community automatically make it a successful experimental model. The point is that the contemporary significance of this attempt, an archeological look at the present, was passed over entirely in South Korea and that the meaning of contemporary was once again fixed to the notion that it must suggest something new, and to what is artificially considered “future-oriented.”

Here I would like to turn to the third aspect of the contemporary that Agamben discusses:

Contemporariness inscribes itself in the present by marking it above all as archaic. Only he who perceives the indices and signature of the archaic in the most modern and recent can be contemporary. “Archaic” means close to the arkhē, that is to say, the origin. But origin is not only situated in chronological past: it is contemporary with historical becoming and does not cease to operate within it . . . an archeology that does not, however, regress to a historical past, but returns to that part within the present that we are absolutely incapable of living. What remains unlived therefore is incessantly sucked back toward the origin, without ever being able to reach it. The present is nothing other than this unlived element in everything that is lived. . . . The attention to this “unlived” is the life of the contemporary. And to be contemporary means in this sense to return to a present where we have never been.5

It is this insight, the third aspect of the contemporary, that Agamben discusses, that frames the understanding not only of the archeology of the present pursued in Annual Report, but also the many archive and research projects that have become important among artists and curators today, as well as the phenomena in reinterpreting and revisiting various historical references in today’s artistic practices. Contemporariness, in terms of the archaic, or its relationship to the archetype, does not refer simply to a physical age, or to works or research that deal directly with the classical or the archaic. Furthermore, for Agamben, delving into the archaic does not necessarily mean tracking back to a far distant past. The archaic is the present that we cannot experience in the present; thus to explore the archaic is to construct a new present through the un-experienced remains of the present. Agamben states that “the contemporary put to work a special relationship between the different times,”6 by interpolating “the present into the inert homogeneity of linear time.”7

A work of art begins with a question hanging over the present like a shadow, or with a sliver of a clue captured in the middle of the nebulousness surrounding the present; it approaches history in an unprecedented way and thereby inscribes different possibilities for the present. When the present and the past are interpolated in this manner in an artist’s work, according to “a necessity from an exigency”8 to which he must respond, we can then say that we are approaching the contemporary self that is true and responsible to one’s time. In this context, the urgency of scrutiny into our recent past is as exigent as the necessity to respond to one’s time, as well as to the obscurity of contemporaneity. The movement of time may not be visible, but neither has it disappeared. The proximity of the contemporary is prepared not only in our revisiting a sustainable past, but also in our constant engagement with the neglected present.   

1. Giorgio Agamben, David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella, What Is an Apparatus?: And Other Essays (Stanford University Press, 2009), 41.
2. Ibid., 45.
3. Giorgio Agamben, “Democracy and War,” a lecture delivered on January 30, 2005, at the Uninomade symposium, Padova, Italy. For discussion of and excerpts from the lecture, see: http://www.long-sunday.net/long_sunday/2006/07/the_politics_of.html. [16 April 2012]. See also, Hyunjin Kim, “Annual Report: Tenacious Work for the Potentiality of the Present,” in The 7th Gwangju Biennale: Annual Report, the Biennale catalogue, 59, Footnote 4. 
4. Okwui Enwezor, “The Politics of Spectacle,” The 7th Gwangju Biennale: Annual Report, the Biennale catalogue, 21.
5. Agamben, trans. Kishik, Pedatella, What Is an Apparatus?, 50.
6. Ibid., 52.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid., 53.


Wed 4/25/2012 5:07 PM
Manuel Ocampo, artist based in Manila

What role has the institution played in defining contemporary art? And where does individual practice locate itself in relation to institutional practice?

In Manila, there is very little, or rather, barely non-existent kind of support for contemporary art by the institution. To look at it differently, contemporary art in Manila can be very much put into question. If contemporary art refers to works that tend to encapsulate the conditions lived in the present, to picture it, conditions that are nigh invisible to those wrapped closely around them, ineptly providing insights capable of unveiling illusions more so perpetuating them, with the works displaying features having no potency now, relinquishing by default the shock of the new into sanitised well-groomed tchotchkes in a museum, only proves that art effective of the present is nowhere to be found here. This brings to question where Manila is in terms of the contemporaneous, and how institutions can be mediums of such conditions. Contemporary art in Manila thrives in the commercial galleries, where even in this situation the idea of “contemporary art” is suspicious. These are loaded statements of course, meaning to say that they are arguable. Of course institutions would say in their defense that they indeed support contemporary art by giving them space to display such works.  But do the works define contemporary art? Or are they mere shells of a contemporary art style, of a look so to say? In fact harboring such a “look” has been the constant criticism on most Asian contemporary art, that it parrots a western definition of the contemporary, that of being mostly conceptual and theoretically based. Perhaps the word institution doesn’t refer to museums or academies but more so on received ideas that perpetuate the norm, which very much thrives in Manila. And so individual practice, since there is lack of institutional support, almost an enemy, becomes a counter-movement that invalidates the definition of the institution as the house of culture by creating its own standards of acceptability and audience through works that are unacceptable from the common norm, as bastardised representation.

How does the discourse on contemporary art reside within the greater paradigm of visual culture, in the context of the region?

Art fixed within certain standards of general culture, region, history, and the various bonds of visual culture including its ideological strap make art tame, lame, predictable, and circumscribed. Following such conventions make art cozy and clean which loses its power as a commentator of life, of something mysterious and beyond us, that makes us stop to live. The idea of the contemporary, art for that matter, as being of the moment is a misnomer, residing instead outside of time and place, where the greater paradigm of visual culture doesn’t have a clue. Because the contemporary is always an amalgamation of past and present material propelling itself into the future like incantations wishing for things to be. The contemporary is always never here but its presence can be felt, like nocturnal emissions made during sleep.

Are we trapped in a trope of "the contemporary"?

Yes to the point like sitcom reruns. You know what’s coming but find yourself still laughing.

Are temporality and historicity prescribed based on territoriality?

Yes because territoriality is also based upon taste, upon group consensus, as culture developed over time.

How do folk and traditional practices inform or translate into contemporary practices?

Folk and traditional practices don’t have to inform or translate into contemporary practices, because this is akin to the exploitation of resources and leaving the shell after its plunder.

Can the rise of institutions and the growth of the art industry within Asia endanger, rather than benefit, politically engaged art, an expression of individual agency that has emerged in the region out of necessity?

This sounds like art in the service of a powerful group, whether economic, intellectual, spiritual, or military, that would use art to gain its ends.  Politically engaged art tends to become a partner of the culture industry as catalyst not so much for individual freedom, but rather, as another market fodder in the quest for the authentic product, as perpetual youth, as continuing a vague tradition out of the necessity to be.  In the end why does art need to jump all over these hoops to be “engaged”? Who knows the difference between politics and entertainment, of criticism and awareness? 


Sat 4/28/2012 12:21 AM
Carol Lu, curator and critic based in Beijing

What role has the institution played in defining contemporary art? And where does individual practice locate itself in relation to institutional practice?

Generally speaking, institutions are a public platform for art and the choices that institutions make tend to be taken as a token for quality. For a very long time, art institutions in China haven’t lived up to the role of being such a benchmark for thinking and practice in art. Most institutions lack in-house curatorial staff and are unable to accommodate or generate any research-based projects or projects that would require in-depth intellectual engagement. There is almost no capacity for knowledge production in most of the art institutions all over China. Museums and art institutions tend to comply with the same value system that the art market operates on. Instead of creating independent value judgments, they end up reaffirming the same choices and perspectives on art. On one hand, art institutions still exert a lot of influence among the majority of the art circle and are held as an authoritative role in the art system. People try and buy their ways into the museums and art institutions. In the meantime, there is also a general distrust and disillusion about art institutions simply because they have nothing to offer apart from their physical buildings.

Slowly things have changed. Over the last few years, a few institutions have made headways by developing curatorial programmes of their own, initiating discursive projects, research-based exhibitions, publication projects, collection strategies as well as regular exhibitions that involve international curators and practitioners. Most of these changes have happened in South China but already caught great attention and interest all over China. More and more institutions would be created in the upcoming years and people have only started to awaken to the fact that art institutions need their own artistic content and conceptual productions. We are witnessing a new museum/art institution movement in China. Competition is tough and professionals are called for.

The scarcity of museum professionals and curatorial staff also drives the museums and institutions to open their doors to independent practitioners. It’s possible to foresee connections and engagements individual practitioners can establish with institutions and the exchanges the two could initiate from each other.

How does the discourse on contemporary art reside within the greater paradigm of visual culture, in the context of the region?

As a form of knowledge production, the discourse on contemporary art is relatively underdeveloped and very removed from practice. The general perception of discourse on art tends to be that it resides in a higher position in the hierarchy of art. But such a lack of equality between art criticism and art practice results in the isolation of art discourse, which becomes an obstacle to the development of art discourse itself. It lacks dynamism, creativity, energy and vision. It’s almost impossible to find an art magazine with consistent quality writing in the region.

Are we trapped in a trope of "the contemporary"?

We are trapped in the perception of “the contemporary” as a time-specific notion. It’s important to acquire the ability to perceive “the contemporary” in the past, the present and the future. It’s a quality and a mindset, an adjective, an ongoing process of rediscovery and renewed perception.

How are folk and traditional practices to be understood in relation to contemporary practices?

In China, contemporary practices emerged from folk arts, crafts and fine arts. Reading through the Fine Arts magazine (Meishu) from the late 80s, it became apparent that contemporary practices were born amidst what are generally perceived as fold and traditional practices. For practitioners and makers of art, such divisions and categorisation don’t really exist or matter. They are just certain art forms one can project contemporary ideas and thinking onto. 

Can the rise of institutions and the growth of the art industry within Asia endanger, rather than benefit, politically engaged art, an expression of individual agency that has emerged in the region out of necessity?

During our research for the 7th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, we interviewed Qian Weikang, a Shanghai-based artist who made a conscious decision to withdraw himself entirely from the art world in the mid 1990s. We have chosen one of his works, made in 1995, as the main visual for the biennale. This was a work entitled Ventilating the Site, in which he tied a curtain to a window with four handheld scales at the four corners. This is a highly symbolic piece for us, which suggested to us, no matter what the conditions are, art is always around us. For most artists who are seriously engaged in political art, the institutions are only a platform for expression but not a necessity or the ultimate factor that would affect the shape and intensity of the artist’s practice.


Mon 4/30/2012 12:57 AM
Naiza Khan, artist and curator based in Karachi

Adaptive Practices Towards the Contemporary

In Asia, there is a vast and differing level of economic and social growth; as a result, the institutions and frameworks for understanding art practice are at varied stages of development. Three years after Hal Foster sent his "Questionnaire on 'The Contemporary'" we are perhaps not any closer to answering that question, despite the engaged dialogues that have emerged in Asia. 

In Pakistan, comparatively speaking, the contemporary or postmodern, has a different value and historical development to its Western trajectory. If we look at the contemporary in art historical terms, in the West, there was a break from history, a reaction to traditional aesthetics. We have not experienced such a break from art history in Pakistan; in fact, we are continuously building on top of history. Our transitions have been more fluid and overlapping. So the notion of the contemporary has a different value for us as it is constructed on different terms.

The growth of the art industry in Pakistan is still at a nascent stage, whereas, the growth of art practice is continuing at a dynamic pace despite the lack of a critical apparatus of engaged voices from within. Local Institutions have not developed local knowledge around the idea of contemporary art. Our artists are building theory themselves, in the absence of infrastructure and critical discourse. Artists are using industrial and digital processes as well as traditional forms such as the miniature process in their work. It is quite an enigma that even though Pakistan is on the verge of economic default, somehow art production is moving at its own speed as if it is driven by another compass. I feel this phenomenon is not only due to the interest in Pakistani art from international art markets. The situation in Pakistan is such that artists feel the need to express themselves and find ways of working that are reinventing old frameworks and responding to the dynamics of societal change. Just as during the decade-long military regime of General Zia ul Haq, where repression became a productive force for many creative voices. So currently, we face the challenges of transformative forces that operate in different habitats. Artists sense the multiplicity of these changes, and are able to draw upon them.

As a visual artist working and teaching in Pakistan for the last 21 years, I find that my understanding of the contemporary is based on how my work is being interpreted and who is receiving it. In order to locate the contemporary, I can speak more about how and what my work is in synergy with and how I have been trying to reconfigure the physical encounters between artwork and viewer. 

My interest in interventions into public and urban space in Pakistan has led me to a long-term investigation of Manora Island, just off the coast of Karachi. This research has also informed the broader project where I am looking at the notion of disrupted geographies across other terrains. Karachi, its urban sprawl, its history and the decaying machinery of colonialism, the assault on urban and architectural materiality as a symbol of geopolitical strife, has been part of multiple concerns in the work. As a visual artist, my esearch has been about observation; of the appearance and apparent facts of a place, and about reflecting off these facts. An artwork is internally and conceptually located, but the process by which facts are absorbed determines the synergetic value of the work.

This accumulative process of mapping has evolved in an intuitive manner, in which I have gathered information through informal means; random conversations, drawings of sites, folklore, and the linkages that are unscripted and unresolved between all these points. The process of creating imagery through this body of research has shifted the engagement with what I would produce within the confines of the studio. I am accumulating knowledge and creating knowledge through an experiential process. There are unusual yet strong links between different approaches; the small drawing / watercolors hold a sense of space that relates to memory; the linear drawings are almost like a grid mapping the psychological terrain, the performative work on the island that involved painting the furniture in the school yard, became a way to directly mark the land/ terrain, albeit temporarily.

The idea of creating terrain and its importance to materiality has been an impetus to research and accumulate images, texts, conversations and objects. This project of building terrain is akin to building knowledge within the wider discursive field of urbanity in the region.

My desire and need to locate my art practice in relation to locale has allowed me to move away from informed structures of learning and the art establishment into informal structures to find meaning in the work. I am looking at differentials of knowledge; interdisciplinary sources of reading / the knowledge that my welder brings / conversations with infringed communities / urban theory / craft knowledge. The terrestrial is inclusive of the spectral, as it includes the embedded histories of communities. This meditation on the nature of the informal exists in terms of both intellectual resource and aesthetic practice. The formation of my work is thus multi-sourced and in this there is a mutability of meaning.

I have been using the structure of writing as a tool to look at my practice, as a cultural devise to integrate these informal sources. Can these processes be articulated as practice, as a way to interrogate the contemporary? 

I am trying to find alternative ways to locate the contemporary- to interpret art practice through an interdisciplinary lens: where readings of the contemporary come from multiple sources of understanding urbanity, culture, belief and politics at large. In this way, the contemporary is not a fixed point, but a site of radical potential. We need to develop interpretive methodologies to look at contemporary art practice in Pakistan, in relation to historical and critical discourse. This fluid space enables practitioners like myself to find ways of understanding art being produced in our midst through a diverse lens.  

The word "contemporary," generates multiple relays and nodes of interaction, some which are located in history, others in locale and materiality. The production of art within Pakistan is stretched across a varied and uneven terrain; this complexity, if stretched across the terrain of Asia, is an even more complex scenario to negotiate. So it is more pertinent to ask what contemporary Pakistani practice is in synergy with and what is being synergised.  From this point it is possible to interrogate the impetus for its production; where an idea or image begins and what it reveals about the producer, his/her relationship to the context and the receiver. 

There are inherent possibilities of the informal sector that inform contemporary practice, which have hitherto not been elaborated. My experience of art education / the art institution has been wide-ranging. Stepping out of this framework has created an awareness of how working within the institution can lead to formalism which denies the inclusion of other sources of knowledge building. The contemporary, as I experience it, is not about formalism but about an adaptive use of practice and knowledge.


Sun 5/6/2012 11:23 AM
Akira Tatehata, Professor at Tama Art University in Tokyo

What role has the institution played in defining contemporary art? And where does individual practice locate itself in relation to institutional practice?

Contemporary art does not refer to all the art being produced today. Although there is no strict definition, for better or worse, museums, galleries, organisers of biennials and triennials, and other professionals including critics, journalists, and collectors globally share a standard that has a certain level of universality. This does not mean that cultural heritage and locality are excluded, or rather, valuing a cultural plurality is one of a valuation basis for contemporary art.

One dimensional contexts had maintained prominence until the 1970s when the activities of so-called Museums of Modern Art such as MoMA in NY were located in the center of this standard. After the 1990s, however, many international exhibitions were newly established in Asia and multiculturalism became a central context of contemporary art. In this sense, the development of institutions in Asia and the definition of contemporary art are closely related.

Institutional practice tends to reflect or even lead a context that shapes a main stream of each period such as formalism in the past and recently postcolonialism and multiculturalism. Individual practice, for example the activity of non-profit organisations, would contribute to securing a tolerant culture by sharing an ism as opposed to a context of a period or a movement that does not belong to a mainstream.

How does the discourse on contemporary art reside within the greater paradigm of visual culture, in the context of the region?

In a good way, the discourse on contemporary art functions as an idea to raise multiculturalism from a global point of view. However, if multiculturalism in a regional context is carried as a fundamentalism, it could lead to a dangerous situation that connects with ethnically, spiritually, and culturally intolerant ideologies.

Are we trapped in a trope of "the contemporary"?

I believe the word contemporary should be understood with Baudelaire's concept of modernité. It should be understood without a progressive view of history. Contemporary is important because it is the time in which we put ourselves and it should not be connected with a notion of progression.

How are temporality and historicity prescribed based on territoriality? Or how is territoriality prescribed by temporality and historicity?

Each region's present and past should be comprehended with regional multiplicity and uniqueness. In a negative way, the view of globalism could be a fair name to cover up unilateralism.

How are folk and traditional practices to be understood in relation to contemporary practices?

They should not be practiced with a reactional manner in a fundamentalist way. Fundamentalism is not the recurrence of the origin that once existed. In most cases, it was generated globally as opposed to unilateralism after the collapse of the Cold War structure. Valuing an ethnic identity should not exclude a possibility of a contemporary communication with other cultures.

Can the rise of institutions and the growth of the art industry within Asia endanger, rather than benefit, politically engaged art, an expression of individual agency that has emerged in the region out of necessity?

There is a possible danger.  Following the rise of biennials and triennials in Asia, large-scale museums have recently been founded and art fairs are held frequently throughout the region. I am apprehensive about the situation that an alterity in art and a critical function for a society become less important by such tendency. In this sense, the revitalisation of a non-profit organisation's activity is required.


Mon 5/7/2012 1:23 AM
David Elliott, curator and art historian based in Berlin

What role has the institution played in defining contemporary art? And where does individual practice locate itself in relation to institutional practice?

When Museums of Contemporary, as opposed to Modern Art started to be built (probably at some time in the 1980s) they obviously had to come up with some kind of definition about their collecting policy. This was nearly always chronological but as there was no norm they all came up with different periods. Some stretched it back to the end of the 1950s with Pop Art and Minimalism, others, more convincingly, to the huge political and cultural changes at the end of the 1980s and now, like in Kanazawa or Rome, there are museums of twenty-first century art. Few of these institutions though have really questioned the qualitative change between modern and contemporary, regarding it more as a matter of timing. Art worlds tend to perpetuate themselves and the western art world—with all its liberalism—is no exception. No real structural re-think has taken place, particularly in the large "Anglo-Saxon" museums like Tate or MoMA. They manage to acknowledge tokens of change—but as for change itself "no thanks." As a result these institutions are becoming even more provincial than they were before not that there is anything necessarily bad in being provincial—we all are to a greater or lesser extent—but not to acknowledge this is rather pretentious.

How does the discourse on contemporary art reside within the greater paradigm of visual culture, in the context of the region? 

The modern is hierarchical, market orientated and essentially colonial. It still continues and I would describe Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst as essentially "modern" artists. The contemporary is purely descriptive of time—it's something that is made now and can include a whole range of objects that were previously excluded—including so-called ethnographical art and of course that vast category of non-western art. The question within contemporary art is one that modernity long excluded: is a particular work any "good" or not, and what does this mean? And the field of cultures and aesthetic traditions that need to be considered when asking this question is infinitely wider so comparative skills of a much greater kind are needed by curators, writers, and critics. An interesting issue for now is whether this idea of this contemporary can be operated retrospectively on art that was excluded simply because it did not fit in with the western paradigm. This suggests a very different approach to the revisionism of western art history.

Are we trapped in a trope of "the contemporary"?

Why should we be? There is the possibility of being much freer within it—if we grasp it.

How are temporality and historicity prescribed based on territoriality? Or how is territoriality proscribed by temporality and historicity?

When the age of western domination and progress was around the link between these ideas was virtually an unconscious reflex. They are so ingrained they have to be actively unlearnt. Yet many people are scared of this because they don't know what to put in its place. It is almost as if they afraid that they will lose some kind of status, but that status, if it ever really existed, disappeared years ago and has been kept alive by governments, media, and institutions as a way of ingratiating themselves with a skittish and nervous public.

How are folk and traditional practices to be understood in relation to contemporary practices?


Can the rise of institutions and the growth of the art industry within Asia endanger, rather than benefit, politically engaged art, an expression of individual agency that has emerged in the region out of necessity?

Politically engaged art, unless it is past its sell-by date or dressed up as something else, is never terribly popular in the art market or in the institutions that have such a lack of imagination that they are more or less governed by the market. Yet all art, if it is any good, is political in some sense in that it touches on questions of representation and power but it need not necessarily be activist. Activist art is a relatively small but important part of contemporary art. But it needs to be nourished by the individual integrity of a much larger body of artists who refuse to take instructions from anyone.


Fri 5/10/2012 10:34 AM
Gao Shiming, Executive Director of Centre of Visual Culture at The China Academy of Art, Hangzhou

The so-called “artist” is a position; we must occupy it. “Contemporary” means living/working “in the present era.”

I. Before we begin our discussion on “contemporary art,” let’s first take a moment to reflect on the issue of “art now” (art in the present).

As an “event,” the creative work of artists is an exchange, either tangible or intangible, between the artists and their traditions, peers, unseen public, and unforeseeable future audience. This process of continuous exchange has consequently given rise to this interwoven mess of “art now.” The so-called “artwork” is put into this interwoven mess in order for it to be circulated.

Within such a tangled mess and sizable ecology of art history, museums, mass media, and the art market, what is the position of art’s “meaning”? How is “artistic value” derived? Where and when do the “work” and the “creation” of art begin and end? Why and in what sense are art activities called “productions” and “practices”? How do they resist becoming part of the media spectacle? How do they create sensory value that cannot be replaced by spectacle informed by capitalism, and yet still remain in conversation with them?

Perhaps there is no such a thing as a pre-existing or a ready-made “artist”; perhaps artists are themselves also just an incident or an event. There is no artist, only an artistic state. An artistic state is when the dynamics between art and politics are initiated, when an accustomed situation suddenly caves in and when the rug is pulled out from under one’s feet, when one’s self emerges from the persistently entangled world that one lives in, when the depth and enchantment of the world is illuminated time and again.

Departing from the illusion of a linear narrative, history is a vast ocean and the so-called “contemporary” is just its surface. While the ocean surface is merely the “surface” layer that the eye can see, it is in fact inseparable from the ocean. This vast ocean, volatile and turbulent with crashing waves, goes back and forth in and out of our bodies.

Thus, the so-called “contemporary” is nothing but simultaneous presence of various generations. Consequently, everyone has their own contemporary; we are all in everyone else’s “contemporary.”

For those of us who are constantly creating and producing, “contemporary” means “in the present era.” To reflect on history is to look back ourselves with sincerity. In “the present era,” we must first face the shamble mess created by the history. “In the present era” means nothing is conclusive since there is no finish line in real history; there is still a possibility to reverse everything. For me, such a reversal does not have to be a messianic arrival; rather, it is a process of re-connecting and re-telling. To construct our “contemporary,” let us salvage all the meaningful debris in this vast ocean of history—ancient and modern, Eastern and Western—as well as those effectual emotions and knowledge at the present time.

II. The much relished and detested “contemporary” in today’s art and intellectual world is nothing but a construction of the contemporary spectacle. “Contemporary art” defined and presented by such a constellation and construction of “contemporary” is merely a lesion of the contemporary spectacle system. A key issue in the “contemporary” debate is spectacle capitalism. In the era of spectacle capitalism every reality has become a spectacle and ready-made. We are assigned as “individuals” with various identities. Whether we are Asian, Chinese, or “non-Western,” whether we are artists, curators, or spectators, we are all placed into this process of ready-made identity assignment; we are only prescribed “freedom or democracy” as authorised by the system. We are subservient citizens within spectacle installations and life management because every bit of our internal drives, as well as our motivations to self-create, self-renew, and self-envision, have been taken away from us. In an era of spectacle capitalism, the exploitation of relations of production has transformed into biopolitics’ “deprivation” of people’s drives and potentialities.

We are deprived of our sense of history. History has become an experts’ handbook; it has become ready-made knowledge, operating target of ideologies, an accumulation of latest news, old news, and anecdotes, as well as something that has nothing to do with an individual’s life. As a result, we have to repeatedly question the relationship between public and private histories, as well as probe and retain oral histories and collective memories. In addition, mass media, a powerful weapon of spectacle politics, have deftly turned all major events into “hot topics” and “gossip.” Mass media is an open space; events such as the revolutions in the Middle East and the Occupy Wall Street movement have all been reported, discussed, and quickly forgotten after they become yesterday’s news. In an era of real-time media with the world constantly evolving and events incessantly renewing, who cares about outdated and over-the-hill news! Moreover, online social media’s “live” and “participatory” nature has become too easy and thus too cheap as well. We cheer for the fact that “we are taking part in history” today, but such “history” turns into gossip tomorrow.

History stems from change; it may also exist only in the moment of change. History may first and foremost be “in each case mine” (Jemeinigkeit), a minute history measured through the existence of each individual and a harmony comprised of the echoes and noises from countless minute histories. Furthermore, history is not only a flow of transpiring and evolving events, but also a flashback narrative structure that starts from within; it consists of activities that are perpetually constructing, self-reflecting, and self-clarifying.

We are deprived of our sense of totality. An important characteristic of spectacle management is its tendency to compartmentalise and trivialise human existence. In the soap opera of global capitalism, we are all Locals; we are all “locally situated” but have no “roots.” This is because in this global mishmash, the massive number of Locals is nothing but smaller heterogeneous units. They do not have common concerns; the various local narratives are merely a display of fragmented, non-productive differences. The objectives of common concerns is not to achieve some kind of cosmopolitanism or the so-called "One World One Dream"; rather, it means to first clarify and critique an assigned “locality” by using authentic local experiences and then, most importantly, to build a connection and uniting. The historical topography formed during the process of the Cold War is disintegrating and the different voices and understandings that have emerged during this disintegration process prompt us to be connected together. These connections should not only exist within the Third World or non-Western world, they should also exist between the non-Western and the so-called Western worlds.

The stories of modernity emerging from various fragmented local narratives and stories of contemporary art and politics should be connected together; Taiwan and Mainland China, the two Koreas, North and South Vietnam, or India and Pakistan . . . these historical aftermaths thwarted by nationalistic narratives and histories of the these areas’ struggles and failures should be connected together. The modern and contemporary histories of mainland China-Taiwan-Japan-Ryukyu Islands, as well as the two Koreas, should truly be connected together. The histories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Vietnam War, and the 1968 movement in the West should be connected together . . . At this moment in time, we should break away from the assembly line of Western left-wing theories and shoulder the spiritual and historical burdens brought about by the two sides of Cold War.

To be connected together is not to attain universality but to expand perspectives and world views. Such connections are not an assemblage of static Locals; they are on a blade’s Edge, constantly moving back and forth between an inside and an outside edge. What results from these connections is an ideological experience inherent in historical conditions. This ideological experience has been moving back and forth in entanglements that are at once internal and external, has been continuously re-historicising itself through real-life movements. It has been developing our collective social imaginations through repeated self-clarification self-empowerment and self-innovation; it has been transforming the fate of community from a civil society-based politics to a people-based politics of multitudes.

We are deprived of our initiative. The “multitude” of global links mobilised by online networks has, perhaps, only created a “useless majority” in the “frozen public domain.” The spectacle is not an enemy who besieges us externally, nor is it just a “Big brother” who monitors us constantly. It is not only something which we are inside of but also something which is inside of us; it is not only something which is both ubiquitous and ever-prominent, but also something which is both latent and invisible. We are part of the spectacle while the spectacle installations settle inside our bodies. This is the reality of biopolitics; to struggle against this spectacle is to wage a war against ourselves.

Criticising the spectacle is a form of self-confession and self-rehabilitation; through this process of confession and rehabilitation, we regain our ability to envision ourselves and our society. This requires us to constantly return to our “intangible, vulnerable, and unsettled center,” as well as to re-invent our language. This “center,” according to Antonin Artaud, is life. As stated by a friend of mine, it is “to live life in depth, to live life with sincerity and authenticity, as well as to live life where one’s self is” (Chen Jiaying).

“Creativity can never exist all by itself” (Huang Yongping). Most genuinely creative works and writings are all informed by life’s complex feelings and emotions, as well as indescribable anguish and despair. As we “return” to the “center,” it is not to grow used to life, but to “reconstruct.” Such a “return” is aimed to extricate ourselves from an automatic assembly line of artistic and academic production; to open an energy exchange channel between art and life—these two fragmented and compartmentalised realms—so that they can mutually support and critique each other; and to help those countless people and individuals who are co-opted and absorbed into the global capitalist system, who are used up by the production (all the producers are produced) and consumption (all the consumers are consumed) of contemporary life, as well as those who are crushed and defeated by the small frivolous details of daily life so that they can rediscover for themselves their emotions and intelligence, their internal drive and critical/active energies, as well as their power to express and renew themselves. In short, it is to re-activate our own internal drive, a drive that instead of homing in on the art of politics or the politics of art, focuses rather on the politics in politics and the art in art.

An artist’s creation represents a construction process that takes months and years rather than a program and its materialisation. We live, care, love, and hate without any templates or programs; we act while we think, experience, and assess concomitantly, learning how to live by living and how to love by loving until we regain our Vita Activa (active life).


Wed 5/16/2012 11:01 AM
Youngchul Lee, Professor at Kaywon School of Art and Design, Gyeonggi-do

What role has the institution played in defining contemporary art?

Contemporary art has been an arena for experiments to escape from the familiar codes of "modern" and "contemporary," as well as from the stereotyped clichés of their forms. It has run and run since the mid-1990s. In this period of the darkness of art criticism in which the collapse of the grand narrative and universal aesthetics has dispersed the focus of criticism, the medium of exhibition has achieved rapid self-evolution and contemporary art has repeated the experiment with reorganising the mechanism of the institution in which exhibitions are constantly held. The Olafur Eliasson retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, a few years ago, showed an attempt to re-use, re-contextualise, and re-define the institution. By making efforts to reorient its own role, not by putting limits on it, the institution tries to open conceptual, expressive, political, and performative possibilities. In the past twenty years of my career as a curator, my primary concern has been always to maintain this experimental attitude in the field. In the exhibitions such as “DIY” (2003) and “You Are My Sunshine” (2004) at Total Art Museum, Pyeongchang-dong, Seoul, I intended to show how to re-use the physical, cultural, and historical contexts of the art museum as a way of reading Korean contemporary art from a new perspective. In particular, “You Are My Sunshine,” which reorganised the forty years of the history of Korean contemporary art in terms of historical contexts and artistic events, attempted to re-articulate the space inside the museum so that the visitors could experience as if it were as a biological organ undergoing segmentation movements. This unique method of exhibition broke down the visual stereotype of the museum, that is, the cave-like space, and then made it anew as a textured space that produced dynamic contraction and expansion. As a result, here, contemporary art became a new cognitive space in which past, present, and future were all gathering to the cutting-edge "that’s-it-ness" of the present-ness. For the inaugural festival of the NJP Art Center in 2008, I also planned a new type of exhibition that was to be shown for the first time in Korea: a combination of art exhibition and performance by twenty-four contemporary dance companies from Europe and Asia. The intervention of the performances of such artists as Romeo Castellucci, Jan Fabre, and Ryoji Ikeda transformed the archive-like exhibition into a theatrical, situational space. As the purpose of the young Nam June Paik’s performance since the late 1950s was to liberate the sound of the cosmos and everyday life from the code of music and composition, now we come to generally try a choreographic exhibition of "writing in body" as part of the process of looking for the way to make art escape more actively from the dictatorship of eyes and head.

How does the discourse on contemporary art reside within the greater paradigm of visual culture, in the context of the region?

The self-critical formalism that tends to define art only within the frame of art itself is the product of the long tradition of Western modern thought and knowledge. This seems to have come out of the settlers’ obsession with building civilisation. However, a new mode that is catching on in this age of nomadic culture is against the psychological and intellectual obsession with post-modernism. It is much more fascinating to be absorbed in creating a time or a place for playfulness and fun in an "a-modern" state. The Nam June Paik’s epigram to “creep into the vagina of a living whale” is not a skirt-chasers’ slogan but a warning on the importance of "temporal feedback." I do not much like the word "visual culture" that was coined as a means for self-preservation by the academic world based on the educational system. It poses no problem in Asia to expand the realm of art into that of visual culture and makes it interdisciplinary. Breaking up the dictatorial art history fabricated by a bunch of quacks, each Asian country is beginning to stammer and re-describe a new art history of science fiction in its own tradition. It is only in this that a new invention will appear. So, actively forget such names as Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys! The point is that you should forget them and erase them.

Are we trapped in a trope of "the contemporary"?

Yes. I think we need to steadily develop the ability to reject the attitude to distinguish "the contemporary" as a way of being tempted by Western ideology and intellectual tradition. It is only by constantly denying and resisting defining the meaning of "the contemporary" that we would be able to get out of the linear way of thinking. To what extent is it possible to live with the politics of going against the determination of meaning by such activities as the Indian way of naming, talking with things, etc.?

How are temporality and historicity prescribed based on territoriality?

A housewife’s act of listening to music while washing the dishes is a kind of territorial behavior to achieve a good distance between herself and those around her. A psychological culture code is running at this moment to protect her open back by creating a defensive distance. The origin of art is based on territoriality, which is again rooted in instincts and desires such as attack-defense, reproduction, murder-fear, etc. Duchamp’s gesture of signing his name to a readymade as an industrial product is a zoo-ecological branding with no profound cultural meaning. I think Duchamp’s first readymade piece Bicycle Wheel represented the erect glans, and Fountain presented to the public four years later the vagina at the moment of orgasmic ejaculation. Likewise, the combination of the two offered a thermodynamic interpretation of a story of a bride violated by seven blue-colored bachelors—an adult-version of the tale of Snow White and the seven dwarves. India invented the wheel. The wheel, as an instrument of the production-oriented industrial revolution, is a sign of territoriality consisting of an axis, distance, and a boundary. It captured a bundle of temporalities and historicities into its center. The elaborate movements of tiny wheels formed the peak of modernity.

Or how is territoriality proscribed by temporality and historicity?

Now times have changed. From the wheel-centered to the circuit-centered. The age of the free connection with weightless information means the age of decentralisation that is marked by the diffusion and divergence into individual historicities and temporalities occurring in every moment in the open circuit. The "History" under compulsion by the wheel has been liberated into temporality and historicity. The term "contemporary" signifies not the state in which we are all linked with one another both temporally and spatially, but the awareness of the very fact. He who understands that the time of the dead and the time of living alternate, and that being there and being here is being together here, is a shaman. A shaman is a man who recognises. Although zooming in to see something far away is now done by the TV, it was originally required of a shaman, or a spiritual medium, and a prophet. He is a man who always sees the outside. And he is also a man who is liberated from territoriality in that he is always connected with the outside.

How are folk and traditional practices to be understood in relation to contemporary practices?

"Being contemporary" is to understand the aesthetics of not being, but becoming. Duchamp’s Étant Donnés showed the landscape of an event before the threshold of the world dominated by the circuit. The event as the final end result of the bachelor-machine is an image of a dead woman. Viewed from the present tense, Étant Donnés is something that belongs to folk customs and traditional practices. A plaster sculpture of a female dead body finished with sperm. What does the gas lamp in her hand suggest? In the medieval ages before electricity, it was the role of a spiritual medium to build a bridge between light and darkness. Nowadays, this role has been handed over to technology. We are now waiting for the artist as a techno-shaman. Then, it might be necessary to think how to combine folk and traditional practices with the notion of techno-shaman. Who and how can we transform the faint, yet burgeoning light arising from Duchamp’s Étant Donnés to that of a new civilisation? At the present time when the white cube is being replaced by the black box, this may be ultimately a matter of how to create a light that blends biology and information art.

Can the rise of institutions and the growth of the art industry within Asia endanger, rather than benefit, politically engaged art, an expression of individual agency that has emerged in the region out of necessity?

The increase in modern institutions and the rapid growth of the art industry will encourage the belated introduction of Western systems as well as postcolonial cultural phenomena that will produce aftereffects. While in the West, the tradition of the May 1968 protest that had directly criticised social institutions ended early, it still continues in Asia, and furthermore, we have already entered the global age with the help of the development of communication media and satellites. I think this is why it is so important not only to struggle to rediscover Asian values from the viewpoint of what Gayatri Spivak calls “critical regionalism,” but also to thoroughly translate democratic values and human right issues within the region to artistic expressions.


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