LEAP Forum is an initiative of Modern Art, Modern Media Group’s art platform. It is a virtually distributed conference in which speakers and guests meet not at a certain point in space and time but rather in the liminal spaces between media and across borders. LEAP Forum’s inaugural Venice 2015 edition looks at the theme of New Pavilions for a Global Asia, bringing together artists, curators, and other participants in projects across Venice—from the international exhibition to the national pavilions and collateral shows—to discuss and explore the rapidly changing state of Asian visual culture in the world today.
Read the full transcript of interviews here.
NATIONAL IDENTITIES AND REPRESENTATIONS
QIU ZHIJIE Even when I joined the exhibitions at the Chinese pavilion in the past, I didn’t feel that there was so much responsibility to represent China. Representing culture should be left to the Chinese pavilion at the World Expo, not the Chinese pavilion at Venice Biennale. Here, it is to show the ways we make art.
CAO FEI Actually, it is a very contradictory feeling. When people look at my work, those who know me may recognize it, but perhaps forget my citizenship. However, general audiences often need to find a connection between an artist’s identity and their work. In the context of international exhibitions, the identity tag will always follow you, triggering mixed feelings.
ZHENG GUOGU We are not participating in a national pavilion but a collateral exhibition. What is the presence of a collateral exhibition for? Art produced by the Biennale is already a kind of triumph. Works under this mode are neither innovative, nor guiding us in a novel direction of the twenty-first century. We need something external, marginal, and exploratory. The known is no longer within the scope of our exploration. Art should neither be an aggressive desire, nor a killer trick in order to win awards. We want to get out of the Biennale mode for free expression.
LU YANG I don’t think an individual can represent much, because everyone’s work is unique. I would hope that I’m a unique author in the world, rather than representing something larger.
MOON KYUNGWON & JEON JOONHO The exhibition at the Korean pavilion does not represent the artistic tendency of the country. We felt some responsibility as Korean artists when we started here. But we never thought about where we stood among so many works and artists, or how we should distinguish ourselves as Korean artists. Diversity is key to art, isn’t it?
SIMON DENNY I’ve really enjoyed the honor of representing a country and using that as a frame off of which to bounce material. I think that a national viewing format in today’s society feels a little out of date, but also very current. I tried to work with an officially allocated voice of a nation in the way I presented materials.
TSANG KIN WAH I’m not sure what Hong Kong or Hong Kong identities really mean. It’s tricky to make a claim or a definition. So I just did whatever I wanted and showed the things that I’ve been into for a while.
CHARLES LIM I think my art is more representative of an idea. Art representing the sea usually has the same tropes: the sublime sea, the unconquerable sea, and the heroic person that goes out to sea. I find it disturbing that the military and corporations are using the same aesthetics to represent their cause. In a sense in the art world we have become complicit with these tropes.
VINCENT HUANG [In terms of representing Tuvalu,] there is another connection in that I come from Taiwan, which in a way is an island isolated by international politics. I try to use my art practice to get more attention to help the tiny island nation of Tuvalu.
DORYUN CHONG There is this talk of the Venice Biennale almost as an art Olympics, with all the nations participating in a very twentieth-century model. But I still think it’s a very effective model for showing a wide range of art from different parts of the world. Perhaps after a couple of decades of being critical of this model of national representation, there isn’t a very satisfactory alternative. At the same time, all of us collectively are owning up to the fact that globalization has not created a homogenous situation—that differences are persisting and differences are something that we need to celebrate and take more seriously. But, having said that, I think certain forms of nationalism are changing. General erosion of nation-specific ways of doing things is perhaps going to increase.
THOMAS BERGHUIS We’ve seen generational shifts in the past. Personally, it was seeing Huang Yong Ping representing the French Pavilion, as he was not yet a citizen of France. I recall that there was a lot of discussion in the French press about whether a Chinese artist—even though he lived in Paris—could represent the French pavilion. I think we’re now far away from that kind of direct discussion.
ASIAN PRESENCE IN VENICE
ADRIAN CHENG We’re seeing more participation from Asian artists, especially young ones. I think that’s a very good sign that there is a cross fertilization and a cross dialogue between western and eastern worlds, with everything coming together, converging into one.
UTE META BAUER I think the Biennale is much more global than, say, 20 years ago. What we really have to do is to increase the conversation within. What do these presences of Asian art really mean, where do they stand in terms of local art history, but also as a contemporary practice.
ALAN LO With Venice it’s always about what’s very much of the moment, at least with Chinese artists or Chinese art. I think it will be interesting to bring about something that speaks to the art historical side of things, where it’s not just about what’s hot today, but all the different things that lead to this very moment.
MARTINA KOEPPEL-YANG I think the presence of Asian artists has changed a lot since the official Chinese pavilion. The official pavilion gains maybe more importance than the presence of individual Chinese artists, which I find a shame. There is a shift towards safer positions among the artists with the presence of the official pavilion. I think the official Chinese pavilion has to change, really completely.
NATASHA GINWALA As a curator, I’m interested to explore how one could possibly engage the region at large through a methodology or a program. After working in Europe for a number of years, I actually am trying to think about how to gather artists and curators from our generation to work much more intricately within the region, but not splinter it further.
LEE WENG CHOY I do feel that Europe as a whole has had a very clear and intensifying interest in Asia, and southeast Asia seems to be figuring much more. That’s why I think there is a sense that sometimes curators from the region are getting sick of “southeast Asia” as a term because it’s actually beginning to get currency. … I’ve been thinking about geography as contingent and lateral situations, a place as a lens that can mediate, and distort our ways of seeing each place. A region should be something that has to be continually negotiated, rather than a typical geopolitical frame that creates categories like ASEAN and so forth.
SHABBIR HUSSAIN MUSTAFA Exhibitions of southeast Asian art in Europe and North America are often in group show formats, which allow curatorial ideas to unfold, and certain art historical gestures to unravel. But the solo exhibitions at the Venice national pavilions grant access or insights into a very rigorous series of works, for a diverse audience.
DEFNE AYAS Group exhibitions are really hard to pull off in the context of Venice. It’s probably a bit more convenient to communicate your message through single artist statements for the pavilions. And that’s something that the Chinese pavilion, for example, has been suffering from. … There is quite an erosion of culture taking place globally because of various shapes of forms of populism. But then artists are the only ones who persevere through their vision, and that’s something I admire a lot. So the question is how much can we share, and make artists equal contributors to society beyond pure aesthetic pleasure and consumption.