The group show “South by Southeast” is overwhelming—not just for its array of works from Serbia to Romania and Sri Lanka to Hong Kong but also for the intriguing multicultural dialogue on “southeasternness” that arises from pieces by twenty-nine artists. Curated by Patrick D. Flores and Anca Verona Mihulet, the exhibition seamlessly addresses sociopolitical issues past, present, and future.
Of the four videos displayed in black-box rooms, Taiwanese artist Yao Jui-Chung’s Wan Wansui (Long Long Live), 2012, and Thai artist Jakrawal Nilthamrong’s Hangman, 2011-12, are both haunting for their allusions to the horrors of war and political struggle. The installations are also worthy: In Memandang Aalam, 2015, Indonesia’s Herra Pahlasari appropriates images of three woman from a painting by Seabad S. Sudjojono, displaying reproductions of their dresses. The concept of southeasternness is articulated most clearly in another installation, centering on the interactive website frombandungtoberlin.com, for which a collective of artists and researchers (Amanda Lee Koe, Brigitta Isabella, Chang Yuchen, Muhammad Al-Fayyadl, Renan Laru-an, and Tan Zi Hao) built “a shared immaterial platform to invent new passages in history.” The work culminates in questions printed on postcards: “What if the Berlin Wall had not fallen?,” “What if Southeast Asia had a different grouping?” “Would we inhabit a different world now?” In many ways, those worlds are explored throughout “South by Southeast.” Hong Kong has not been forgotten either, as the focus of the show and a world that is poised for change, given the recent political climate. Last year’s Umbrella Revolution is strongly referenced in a site-specific wall drawing featuring icons of umbrellas by Romania’s Dan Perjovschi.
You can almost feel a swish of wind in the gentle, at times almost imperceptible, grooves throughout Alwar Balasubramaniam’s fiberglass-and-acrylic piece Wind Waves, 2012. This, among other richly textured surfaces across the artist’s works here, serves as a testimony to the play of unseen natural forces around us.
The mixed-media work Filings in the Field, 2012, for instance, created by combining rust, chalk, glue, and acrylic on canvas, references how energy fields shape the material world. The circular arrangement of rusted material mimics magnetic field lines while also evoking memories of childhood physics experiments demonstrating the wondrous effects of magnets. Elsewhere, the dark-chocolate-colored In-conversation, 2014, resembles stratified rocks and makes us conscious of the gnawing nature of time. The artist’s refined sensibility also shines through in Here and There, 2015, for which he has drilled through the surface of a plywood gallery wall, bringing to light hidden recesses, sedimentary layers of acrylic, and accretions of memories.
Balasubramaniam transforms materials with ease, sculpting granite as if it were putty and sandstone as if it were a mere lump of dough to be kneaded and shaped at will. In Fragmented Conversation, 2015, he imbues plaster of paris with the feel of terra cotta, bringing with it echoes of ancient civilizations while the cast- aluminum Spill, 2013, is transformed by magic into a splash of silver-gray floating ethereally in midair. These works heighten the senses, so much so that I suddenly wonder if it wasn’t the effect of my breath on Dunes, 2012, that caused its chalky sands to shift ever so slightly.
Rigorously researched, this retrospective celebrating the late artist Genpei Akasegawa offers an unexpected breadth of material beyond his renowned works. A leading artist of the Japanese postwar avant-garde, Akasegawa was a founding member of both the Neo-Dadaism Organizers collective (in 1960) and the Fluxus-informed group Hi-Red Center (in 1963). His more than fifty-year career pursued a diverse array of artistic languages beyond the 1960s experimentation that brought him early success. As documented in the show, this includes his political cartoons in publications such as Sakura gaho (from 1970 to ’71), for which he gained a cultlike following, as well as his photographic works that explore the psychogeography of cities through focus on architecturally redundant structures. Additionally, the exhibition brings to light his designs for experimental theatre and dance (including his collaboration with butoh choreographer Tatsumi Hijikata among others) and his lifelong engagement with graphic design as a blurred zone between artistic practice and commerce.
Importantly, the show also chronicles Akasegawa’s development as a writer—an activity that earned him considerable mainstream success and several prestigious awards. This is perhaps where the exhibition excels. As the art audience learns of his activities as a cartoonist and a writer hitherto unknown to them, fans of his literary works discover his artworks that are lesser known among the general public. With this, the show achieves surprisingly popular appeal without compromising its art-historical integrity or the complexity of Akasegawa’s practice.
For her first Korean exhibition in five years, Haegue Yang chose a title inspired by George Orwell’s essay “Shooting an Elephant” and Romain Gary’s novel The Roots of Heaven (1958), which both feature elephants as a metaphor for nature’s dignity and its relation to human civilization. Yang’s recent concerns about the tension between them unfold collectively in her latest series, “The Intermediates.”
On view are three architectural structures, modeled after an ancient Mayan pyramid, Borobudur Temple in Indonesia, and Lala Tulpan (a Russian Islamic mosque), respectively—all handcrafted with straw, the artist’s newest material of choice. Employed by virtually every culture, straw, for Yang, evokes the universal. To produce the works, she sought out a straw-weaving teacher and learned traditional macramé techniques—while also studying the history of the material. And while evidence of time-consuming labor adds to the monuments’ sense of authenticity, the fact that the straw Yang used is actually made from artificial fibers calls into question the relevance of the dichotomies—between the genuine and the synthetic, the ancient and the modern—that “The Intermediates” seems to pose.
Cittadella, composed of 186 Venetian blinds plus moving spotlights and scent emitters (all signature materials in Yang’s oeuvre) further questions conventional oppositions. Certainly, the window covers literally blind one to their other sides, but a slight adjustment of the slats renders the divisions porous. Attempts to construct consistent narratives out of the folkloric origins of “The Intermediates” and the industrial devices of Cittadella will be frustrated. In fact, Yang favors frustration over complacency.
When the young New Zealand artist Barrie Bates bleached his hair and eyebrows in 1962, he became a living brand: Billy Apple®. Encompassing more than five decades of Apple’s interdisciplinary practice, this show features documentation of his reinvention, alongside more than 150 works in which the boundaries of art and life, subject and object, are constantly tested. Particularly outstanding are Apple’s actions from the 1960s and ’70s, created in London and New York, where he was a key figure in the Pop and Conceptual art scenes. Through subtle or radical strategies, the works of this period claim quotidian acts and materials as art: from Art Declared Found Activity, 1960, a photo depicting a man getting a shave, to the censored Body Activities, 1974, a collection of tissues with body fluids. Also compelling are his “Art Transactions,” 1981–, in which traditional media such as painting and text question art’s role as a commodity or currency.
A consistent aspect of Apple’s brand over time is an interest in technology and the collaboration with specialists to create artistic products related to alpha waves, laser rays, and even apple cider. The latest is The Inmortalisation of Billy Apple®, 2009–, for which the artist’s cells have been stored in deposits, a cult to the individual that continues the objectification of the subject. Overall, the work of Billy Apple®, contradicting “The Artist Has to Live Like Everybody Else” (the tidying survey’s title), ironically projects an unconventional individual—arguably one of New Zealand’s most significant artists—who has never sought to live like everyone else.
Alexandre da Cunha’s latest exhibition, “Real,” further develops the artist’s focus on process. Even though many of the works on view here are primarily made with unaltered everyday objects, their look is carefully constructed. For example, the canvases in the wall-based series “Mandala” (all works 2015), which are at the heart of the show, are not just mere supports for brushstrokes. The decisive factor in these pieces are cleaning mops stretched with string to create circular compositions. The mops in these “paintings” take on a second skin—or a new life. A delicateness and subtle eroticism is at play in these and other works, which stem from cheap, hackneyed materials.
Similarly, the sculptures in the “Real” series—tires covered with concrete or bronze—incorporate the banal, taking it into the sphere of art to make us doubt what we see. Here, da Cunha walks a fine line, hinting at the gravity of the “real” life of an object that once belonged to the street, while also modifying that object in order to show us that what is “real” is a lot less certain than we suppose. Indeed, realness is a construction.
Translated from Portuguese from Wendy Gosselin.
“Imagine Brazil” evokes a country long construed (and misread) via the superficial perspectives of other nations. But scholar Benedict Anderson’s notion of imagined communities as permanent social constructions is very relevant, too, as is anthropologist Arjun Appadurai’s view of imagination as a “a key component of the new global order.” Featuring fourteen emerging artists, the show, curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Gunnar B. Kvaran, and Thierry Raspail, also includes works from more established names that have been chosen by each young artist as an attempt to contextualize their production in a historical perspective.
The conflict between public and private spaces is a pertinent topic throughout, and informs the first work viewers encounter: Berimbau Turnstile, 2014, by Rodrigo Matheus. Combining the berimbau (a Brazilian percussion instrument) with a turnstile, a common element in a country where space has always been constrained by private interests, the piece appears alongside four other works by Matheus, most of whose materials reference construction and architecture. But the work that best captures the spirit of the exhibition is Jonathas de Andrade’s Nostalgia, a Class Sentiment, 2012. The text-and-image installation is reminiscent of the mosaic tiling found in a tropical modernist house. Its writing seems to be some sort of manifesto, but is ultimately almost unreadable; in place of the sentences’ key words are thick geometric fiberglass shapes affixed to the wall. Addressing notions of memory and gaps in history that compromise an understanding of the present, de Andrade’s work—via hidden words and interrupted discourse—also suggests an interesting association between images and the imaginary.