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LOS ANGELES — After spending a year living in different parts of Asia, I’ve been asked by many people for my thoughts on the art scene there: Does China really live up to the hype? How does Korea fit into the picture? And what about Southeast Asia? Unfortunately, I can’t answer all of these questions, especially because after a year there I felt I was just beginning to scratch the surface.
But I was fortunate to meet some incredible artists in my travels. In China, Korea and the Philippines, I came across very challenging and interesting work, which sprung up out of very different traditions and sociocultural contexts. But which artists stood out? Whose work am I most looking forward to in the coming year? Rather than write a 2011 summary, I thought I’d write a 2012 “head’s up”, a list of artists whose work continues to stick in my head and who I hope to see more from in the coming year. This list is neither scientific nor exhaustive, but I’ve at least arranged it by the four cities in which I spent the most of my time in 2011.
Beijing, China — Forget Art
With news of Zhang Daqian toppling Picasso as top auction earner, it can be easy to lose sight of Chinese artists working largely outside the commercial sphere. Founded by Ma Yongfeng, whose goldfish video at MoMA PS1 provoked outcries from animal rights activists, Forget Art is one of Beijing’s most active art collectives, with a focus on microinterventions around the city, from an old Taoist temple to a bath house frequented by rural migrants. Forget Art’s one booth art fair at Linda Gallery made a splash on June 4 for its wry humor and subterfuge (some attendees received a VIP pass), and their cover photo essay in LEAP magazine featured guerilla art interventions like a leaf spiked through a twig in a park near 798.
Forget Art has grown increasingly active in the Beijing art scene, with a recent installation at Za Jia, an art space, bar and formal Taoist temple in Beijing’s Drum and Bell Temple area. Dubbed Not Only a Taoist Troublemaker, works included “Suspending Rock,” a performance and installation by Wu Yuren, who stood under a 100 kg hanging rock for two hours, and a propaganda-style poster by Alessandro Rolandi declaring “May Your Matters Be Safe.” I never saw their installation at Caochangdi’s Dragon Fountain Bathhouse, but residents in the village were talking about it for months afterward, and the documentation video certainly reveals its charm.
Manila, Philippines — Kiri Lluch Dalena
I wrote about Kiri Lluch Dalena’s haunting installation at the University of the Philippines recently, in which she responded to and documented the aftermath of the horrific Maguindanao Massacre, the worst massacre of journalists since the Committee to Protect Journalists began keeping record. Since then, I’ve come to learn more about Dalena’s work, which shifts comfortably from challenging video documentaries examining social and political issues in the Philippines, to more lighthearted works.
Recently at Now Gallery in Makati, Manila, she exhibited a half dozen condom sculptures, each shaped and colored differently. The colors were inspired by actual flavored condom colors available in the country.
Part of what makes Dalena’s work so impactful is the way she relies on the Filipino community to help her document much of her subject matter. To prepare for Time and Place of Incident, she used social networks like Facebook and blogs to develop contacts. And for certain hard-to-reach areas, she relied on volunteers to film for her. The sense of play and gravity come together in her Erased Slogans, in which she Photoshopped out the political slogans at famous protests in recent history. The images are darkly humorous, and the slogans reappear as actual gravestones in a later installation.
Shanghai, China — Xiao Ke
I first met Xiao Ke during her stunning “Silent Acappella” at Welcome to Enter, a curatorial initiative by Anita Hawkins in which I also took part.
In her performance, Xiao Ke performed inside the cube set up by Hawkins, while her dance was projected on the outside for the audience. The mixture of kinetic movements and wall banging with her surreal, hypnotic movements on two faces of the cube hooked us all in, and I wanted to see more. Her Shanghai-based dance studio has collaborated internationally, and she’s now stepping into more conceptual dance explorations.
Seoul, Korea — Dirk Fleischmann
You might think that Dirk Fleischmann doesn’t sound very Korean, and you’d certainly be right. German-born Fleischmann lives and works in Seoul, and his autobiographical myconceptstore, which premiered at the 2011 Gwangju Design Biennale, was a hit attraction. The store featured a number of conceptual products from his art career, including a series of watches all set to 00:10, or 10 seconds. Without looking at the watches, Fleischmann used trial and error to set a perfect 00:10. The amount of time it took for him to set 10 seconds determined the price.
Other products included an organic egg from Gwangju, which I purchased, Snickers bars he used to sell in his studio as an art student, beer from North Korea and even a line of clothing made in the communist Korea.
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I wish I could write more about the art in Asia, and I have and will be doing so in this blog. These artists’ works have lingered in my mind a little longer than most, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they produce in 2012.