Exhibition as Cartographic Articulation


Joan Kee, Assistant Professor, History of Art, University of Michigan

"If one regards exhibitions as cartographies, a key issue concerns scale and limits. What is the unit by which we measure the world and what is the justification behind its selection? By choosing particular scales – nation, city, locality, region – do we foreground certain themes and accordingly preclude others? The question resonates with particular urgency given the increasing pressure on curators and artists to both uphold and separate themselves from worldviews calibrated according to geopolitical divisions. On the one hand, the rise of theories such as relational aesthetics and network theory have foregrounded the necessity of thinking about the interconnectivity of things as itself a sustained refusal of Cold War or imperialist models of the world premised on the reification of divisions that run counter to how artists and artworks actually circulate and correspond with one another. On the other hand, these models continue to reverberate through the ways in which  exhibitions and their participants are funded – public and private funders alike, particularly in Asia, often remain fervently attached to the artists and artworks from their own place of origin. Even in 2013, the nation remains an astoundingly powerful locus around which exhibitions certainly, but also histories, educational curricula, and institutions continue to be organised. Hence thinking about exhibitions as metaphorical cartographies extends far beyond the art world and instead demands a broad consideration of how thinkers in other disciplines wrestle with comparable questions of representation; e.g., what is 'world history,' 'world cinema,' or 'world literature'? It also touches directly on the  question of method: in choosing to address a certain part of the geopolitical world, how does this limit/open up the assumptions around which we consider the idea of a 'world' in the first place? As a species of information display addressed to a lay public whose raison d'etre lies in its instructive capacity, the exhibition has considerable power to shape the expectations that might then affect how this public might subsequently consider the world elsewhere."

Paper 1
Pamela N. Corey, PhD Candidate, History of Art, Cornell University
Metaphor as Method: Curating Regionalism in Mainland Southeast Asia

"Building on the question of how, and for whom, a metaphor endures, this paper situates the roles of curatorship and exhibitions in figuratively siting particular contemporary Southeast Asian artists and networks within alternative micro-regions or communities. Historically, the use of geographic metaphors to impose regional identities in mainland Southeast Asia can be dated to early 20th century colonialism, with 'Indochine' and its regime of visual circulation via print media, craft commodities, and colonial expositions. Toward the end of the 20th century, ASEAN exhibitions held as state-sponsored forms of cultural exchange facilitated growing recognition of a regional contemporary art world. In the 2000s, curators began to employ geographic metaphors to posit alternative schema to what they perceived as the exhausted categories of 'Southeast Asia' and its nation-states. With exhibitions such as the 'Mekong Platform' at the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial (2009) and the 'Long March Project: Ho Chi Minh Trail' (2 10), metaphors have been used to shape transnational communities and to claim a presence for certain Southeast Asian artists, utilising representational frameworks derived from strategically contextualised geo-histories. However, whether funded by the patron-state or alternative sources of global capital, a primary critique has been levelled at rhetorical symbolism overshadowing tangible discursive commitment, particularly in the case of the socially engaged project model which characterised the bases for many of these exhibitions. The paper concludes with a discussion of the exhibition 'No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia,' as an example of the ambiguities evoked by a regional framework that is at the same time a disavowal."

Paper 2
Simon Soon, PhD Candidate, Art History and Film Studies, University of Sydney
Converging Extremes: Exhibitions building new sightlines in 1990s Malaysia

"In 1993, an exhibition titled 'What About Converging Extremes?' attempted to lay the groundwork for a 'new art, and new voice.' The exhibition was, in many ways, a consolidation of ideas that have begun to take shape chiefly through the writings of artist, pedagogue and curator Wong Hoy Cheong as well as exhibitions undertaken by recent graduates of Malaysian Art Institute, and the Institut Teknologi MARA since the late 1980s. This paper takes the concept of 'Converging Extremes' to examine a number of exhibitions that took place in Malaysia in the 1990s as an attempt to work through a double bind. On the one hand, it captures the historicising tendencies that sought to engender a new ground for Malaysian art, which balances angst with social agency, and to engender a new public as it recovers a sensibility rooted in revolt and revolution that has not been factored into the narrative of Malaysia's modern art history. At the same time, it seeks to figure the contemporary as rooted in multidisciplinary collaboration and invent a history of radical art that was absent from the mainstream history of Malaysian art. In the process, it seeks to contextualise these practices within the post-cold war political horizons of Malaysia and Southeast Asia by examining the exhibitionary impulse that sought to foreground the tensions and contradictions of modern life."

Polemical position
Sophie Ernst, artist, Bussum
Idealised Enclosures: Three spatial possibilities to look at the idea of exhibition

"Delving into art history, ancient Zoroastrian myths, etymology, and imagery of war, Sophie Ernst's talk presents a speculative yet probing take on the nature of the exhibition space. Her presentation is based on an assumption: before imagining to what use we can put the space of an exhibition, we must try to solve the puzzle of what an exhibition is."

Hammad Nasar, Head of Research and Programmes, Asia Art Archive



Joan Kee is Assistant Professor in the History of Art at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. A specialist in modern and contemporary East and Southeast Asian art, she was previously affiliated with the International Center for Advanced Study at New York University, the University of Hong Kong and the National University of Singapore. Her writings have appeared in Artforum, Art Bulletin, Art History, Oxford Art Journal, Third Text, and the Journal for Law, Culture and the Humanities. Her book, Contemporary Korean Art: Tansaekhwa and the Urgency of Method, was published by the University of Minnesota Press this summer.

Pamela N. Corey is a doctoral candidate in the department of the History of Art at Cornell University, and is completing a dissertation titled ‘Cities Compared: Contemporary Art and Artistic Subjects in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Phnom Penh, Cambodia’. Recent publications include essays in Art Journal and in ‘Phnom Penh: Rescue Archeology/Contemporary Art and Urban Change in Cambodia’ (ifa Berlin/Stuttgart, 2013). She is currently working as guest co-editor with Ashley Thompson on an issue of Udaya, Journal of Khmer Studies featuring essays from the symposium ‘Contemporary Art in Cambodia: A Historical Inquiry’, held in April 2013.

Simon Soon is currently completing his PhD in Southeast Asian art history in Sydney, Australia. He has written for periodicals and contributed essays to a number of arts publications including Realism in Asia (The National Art Gallery of Singapore), Raja’ah: Sulaiman Esa Retrospective (National Art Gallery of Malaysia), and Narratives in Malaysian Art Vol. 2 (RogueArt). He was a co-founder of the arts blog, ArteriMalaysia.com (http://arteri.search-art.asia/), which operated from 2009-2011. In 2012, Soon worked as a project officer for the Getty Foundation and Power Institute’s ‘Connecting Art Histories: The Histories of Modern and Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia’ Planning Meeting.

Sophie Ernst was trained as an industrial mechanic before graduating from the Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. In her work, Ernst follows the idea of projection in relation to time, space, architecture, culture, history, and identity. She collects personal and social memories about intimate and desired spaces, about objects related to personal histories and disruptive events. She has expressed her practice in the form of dialogic performances, collaborations, edited books, sculptural projections and short films. She is currently working on a research-based doctorate, on the transformation in technology of projection in Europe, from Leiden University, the Netherlands. Ernst’s works have appeared in numerous international exhibitions, including ZKM, Karlsruhe (2013); Nasher Museum, Duke University (2013); Johnson Museum, Cornell University (2012); Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, United Kingdom (2012); Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden (2011); Cartwright Hall, Bradford (2009); 9th Sharjah Biennial, Sharjah (2009); Royal Geographical Society, London (2008); Bodhi Art Gallery, New York (2008); National Art Gallery, Islamabad (2007); Apeejay Media Gallery, New Delhi (2004); and Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork (2002).

Hammad Nasar is Head of Research and Programmes at Asia Art Archive, and moved to Hong Kong to take up this post in September 2012. Earlier, he co-founded, and was Curatorial Director of, the London-based arts organisation Green Cardamom. He was a Fellow of the Clore Leadership Programme, Research Fellow at Goldsmiths College, London and Arts Director for the Festival of Muslim Cultures in the United Kingdom (2006-2007). Selected projects he has curated/co-curated include: 'Karkhana: A Contemporary Collaboration' at Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, Connecticut and the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco (2005-2007); 'Safavids Revisited' at the British Museum, London (2009); 'Where Three Dreams Cross: 150 Years of Photography from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh' at the Whitechapel Gallery, London (2010); 'Beyond the Page: Miniature as Attitude in Contemporary Art from Pakistan' at the Pacific Asia Museum, Pasadena, California (2010); and 'Lines of Control: Partition as a Productive Space' at the Johnson Museum at Cornell University (2012), and the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University (2013). Prior to entering the art world, Nasar worked as a management consultant and banker.

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