The exhibition “Mapping Asia” is a unique response to one of the most frequently posed questions at Hong Kong’s Asia Art Archive: How is “Asia” defined? “Mapping Asia” takes up the conundrum from diverse vantage points, from artworks, performances, and talks, as well as materials from the archive.
Boundaries are fluid, culturally and physically. A newspaper clipping from November 14, 2013—“The World’s Newest Island” from the South China Morning Post—reports on the creation of a new landmass off the coast of Pakistan. The troubled legacy of partition, meanwhile, is referenced in Naeem Mohaiemen’s Kazi in Nomansland, 2009, which comprises stacks of postage stamps issued by India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh depicting poet and activist Kazi Narul Islam, each country competing to claim him as its own.
A display of Han through Yuan dynasty ceramics bearing Islamic and Roman stylistic influences complement Francisco Camacho’s film A Parallel Narrative, 2014, which examines early links between China and pre–Hispanic America. Predating even the celebrated voyages of adventurer Zheng He, the film postulates the location of Fousang, first visited by the monk Hui Shen in the seventh century.
In deft shorthand for the persistent debates surrounding Orientalism, the exhibition includes the song “Getting to Know You” in a scene from The King and I (1956). While the clip ends with a clumsy exchange between Anna Leonowens and the King of Siam over slavery and Abraham Lincoln, Anna’s primly catchy song reminds us that, after all, Asia is a continent we’re still “getting to know.”
Sex is messy. Establishing a correlation between high population density and a diversity of carnal urges, “Ten Million Rooms of Yearning. Sex in Hong Kong” is a five-venue show spread across town that addresses an arguably decreasing local libido, through the aesthetics of the crowded and the homoerotic. More generally, it open-mindedly speaks to the nonmainstream practices of BDSM, Internet sex, and paid sex. Works by thirty-nine artists in media including painting, drawing, photography, digital animation, video, sculpture, print, and installation—mostly overtly phallic—give the exhibition a messy, overcrowded thrift-store feel.
Weaving together political concerns, those of sexual identity in particular, there are, for instance, the paintings of Agung Kurniawan and mimeographs of Hou Chun-ming in the Sheung Wan Civic Center. Addressing the tensions inherent to colonial history, as well as issues of national identity, the works employ allegorical, ingenuous graphics to depict fornication between virile, sometimes dismembered bodies. Over in Connecting Spaces, in Roee Rosen’s film Tse, 2010, political extremism is exorcised through willful pleasure: Two members of the Israeli BDSM community engage in flogging, ultimately prompting the sub to spit out quotes by extreme-right-wing politician Avigdor Lieberman. More personal pursuits are also explored. Hito Steyerl’s Lovely Andrea, 2007, a video documenting its subject’s quest in Japan to find a twenty-year-old bondage photo in which she modeled, emphasizes the erotic value of limitations and life’s randomness. Ultimately, the show encourages individuality. In the cheerful video excerpts from The Trilogy of Sinai: Sex Love and Hope, 2013, Dr. Petula Ho Sik-ying interviews Hong Kongers in public spaces: for example, a wife who hopes to dissuade her husband from having sex with her by charging him for it; a recently postoperative transsexual giggling over her new vagina; and a churchgoing man acknowledging the importance of sex for a successful Christian marriage.
Avoiding sensuality, courtship, and sexiness in favor of themes of loneliness, passive violence, mismatched relationships, politics, and freedom of choice, this emancipated exhibition acts as a release, thanks to the liberation only full disclosure can bring.
In one photograph from the “Workers” series by Sebastião Salgado, a woman raises a shovel above her head (Worker on the canal construction site of Rajasthan, India, 1990). A scarf with light shining through it is draped over her head and across her body; she wears metallic cuffs with tassels on her arms and more jewelry on her neck, fingers, and nose. Salgado has captured her mid-effort: The scarf billows, and the tassels lift with her movement. The woman’s face is full of strength and story.
Salgado’s photographs are uplifting and grand, evidence of the compassion and wonder with which he treats his subjects and of his readiness to view the ordinary as heroic (in this case, the laborer as goddess). His focus on black-and-white photography adds to the epic feel of his works. By leaving the color of various objects in his compositions ambiguous, Salgado allows for a degree of interpretation on the part of the viewer. So a vibrant scene of a crowd on a platform in Church Gate Station, Bombay, India, 1995, might take on a different significance when the subjects appear to all be wearing white, the color of mourning.
Fifty-three gelatin silver prints are on display at Sundaram Tagore Gallery, spanning twenty years of Salgado’s career, with selections from his latest series “Genesis” alongside older collections such as “Migrations,” “Workers,” and “Other Americas.” The exhibition coincides with a large-scale presentation of 245 photographs from “Genesis” at the National Museum of Singapore. This series is the outcome of an eight-year expedition during which Salgado travelled to some of the most remote regions on Earth to document the impact of globalization on landscapes, human tribes, and wildlife. It is a majestic and soulful paean to the planet.
“Secretly, Greatly” presents artworks by the three finalists of the reality-TV competition Art Star Korea, which premiered in late March. The show gave fifteen artists the opportunity to compete for substantial rewards: a cash prize of $93,000 and a solo exhibition at a prestigious gallery in Seoul. The show also set no restrictions on the contestant’s age, education, or occupation, which resulted in over four hundred applicants. The final three—Hyeyoung Ku, Jae-hyun Shin, and Byung-seo Yoo—survived the ten episodes, in which they underwent art-school style criticisms by five judges after each weekly “mission.”
The current exhibition at the Seoul Museum of Art was the site for the concluding episode and features the final three works. Wearing a blood-red chiffon gown and a silver wig, Ku enacted Sincereness of the Tilted Stage (all works 2014) a spectacular performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor. Yet the tilted stage and the muffled sound revealed that she was not actually acting as conductor, only imitating one. Alongside four kinetic installations that addressed both personal and political issues, Yoo offered Artist’s How Are You?, in which he set up a desk and two chairs to discuss the meaning of art in contemporary society with visitors. For Shin’s Trailing: Drawing Performance in Fifty Days, which comprised video, installation, and live performance, he additionally prompted visitors to consider solutions to a nuclear disaster. Hailing from Yangsan, a town near the Gori nuclear power plant in Korea, Shin examined how this decrepit facility represents an immediate source of acute anxiety. On a screenlike piece of canvas, he wrote the names of residents living within an approximately twenty-mile radius of Gori. Yet soon after, the names disappeared as the ink dried out. The work stands as a countermemorial, and, in the end, Shin won the competition.
Ku will perform the piece every Saturday afternoon until the end of the show. Yoo is determined to be present at the desk every day, and Shin intends to keep writing the names onsite while the museum is open and until this exhibition ends.
The Hebrew title of this exhibition (“צעדים בוני אמון”) translates into English as “Confidence-Building Measures,” a term to which the world of international relations refers as CBMs. Developed during the Cold War, CBMs are strategies designed to increase trust between hostile parties through the establishment of common ground. A similar drive to reduce tension between warring factions—with others, with the environment, or within the self—is the basis for this ambitious show. Including thirteen artists and choreographers working from the early twentieth century to the present, “Set in Motion” surveys work that deals with the body as social agent and dance as social action.
The exhibition’s centerpiece is a new commission by Israeli choreographer Yasmeen Godder, CLIMAX, 2014. The three-hour tour-de-force—the only live performance in the exhibition—includes seven dancers enacting a tension-filled, stripped-down group tango that incorporates props from Godder’s previous performances. From this center, the exhibition expands figuratively and literally into other galleries, incorporating a wide, almost unwieldy range of leitmotifs from the metaphysical to the political.
A glimpse into the history of modern dance is provided through video documentation of German Expressionist dancer Mary Wigman, as well as a digital screening of Babette Mangolte’s photographs of performances by Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, and Steve Paxton. Homage takes a twist with Mike Kelley’s Test Room Containing Multiple Stimuli Known to Elicit Curiosity and Manipulatory Responses, 1999, a videotaped dance based on primate psychological experiments choreographed in the manner of Martha Graham. The convergence between amateur dance and popular culture is explored in Dan Graham’s Rock My Religion, 1983–84 and Tracey Emin’s Why I Never Became a Dancer, 1995, as well as in a brief excerpt from the first season of HBO’s Girls, in which Lena Dunham’s character Hannah rocks out in her bedroom. Israeli artist Nevet Yitzhak’s shrine-like installation explores the similarities between the traditional Ivory Coast dance Mapouka and today’s twerking trend, while Alona Harpaz films the continuation of Israeli folk dance tradition in Kfar Saba’s sports arena. Actions in Israeli-Palestinian border zones are encapsulated in Arkadi Zaides’s Capture Practice, 2014. Zaides isolates and reperforms actions filmed by Palestinians of Israeli soldiers in the Occupied Territories. By detaching these movements from their everyday exchanges, he reveals their inherent violence.
Nelly Agassi presents a series of ink-jet prints, identical in their dimensions and display. The arrangement of the abstracted geometric shapes in each composition echoes both blueprints for unidentified architectural surroundings and humanly configurations, namely, female reproductive organs.
These ambiguous floor plans are driven by harmonious gestures that cannot be fully interpreted or materialized. The grid-like compositions repeat a constructive logic, as seen in Drawing No. 3 (all works cited, 2014) in which a circular shape functions as the center of an abstract structure, to which all else responds. A central form also anchors Drawing No. 1; abstract objects organize around it, perhaps creating an arena or a stage as seen from a bird’s-eye view. The form, positioned at the lower edge of the composition, might indicate a hypothetical audience’s location. Rendered as a pendulous appendage, its ambiguous presence marks an emptied space.
Since her emergence in the Israeli art scene in late 1990s, Agassi has used textiles and her own body in intimate video and performance works to confront feminine physicality, painful emotional moments, and societal models of behavior. This exhibition, however, marks a turning point in her practice and technique, commensurate with the transformations she has experienced in recent years, including becoming a mother, relocating with her family from Tel Aviv to Chicago, and establishing the new studio in which she has redefined her practice. The visceral directness of her past work is now replaced by seemingly opaque shapes that remain remote, yet equally captivating.