Curator June Yap discusses the Perspectives blog

7:23 | Published on April 18, 2013 | 16 Views

June Yap, curator of No Country, recounts some of her exhibition’s themes, and highlights a few of the discussions sparked by contributors to the MAP project Perspectives blog—writers, curators, and lecturers including Zoe Butt, Hammad Nasar, Gridthiya Gaweewong, and Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez. Yap summarizes these experts’ concerns as having to do with ideas of reflexivity and territorialization, art as inquiry, and mutable relations within and beyond the region.

For more information, visit the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative.

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Part of the first stage of the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative is the curated exhibition No Country: Contemporary Art for South and Southeast Asia, which presents critical artworks and practices from the region, and is intended as a dialogic, rather than representative, platform, with the artworks being the starting point for reflection and dialogue about the region—not just for an audience here in New York, but also for us back in Asia.

So for the purpose of extending the dialogue beyond the exhibition No Country, we have invited more than twenty artists, writers, curators, filmmakers and critics to share their perspectives on the region with us. These have been developed in the form of articles on events and histories—even fictions—and videos, that are on the MAP website. The idea is to present the region as a project that is not merely of the region, but for the region. These contributions supplement the artworks in the exhibition and collection, and were solicited but lightly framed.  I’d like to highlight a few interesting directions they took, in regarding the nation and region.

To start things off is the contribution titled, “Dinh Q. Lê, in conversation with Zoe Butt”. Zoe Butt is Executive Director and Curator of Sàn Art in Ho Chi Minh City, and Dinh Q. Lê is an artist based in the city. In this conversation about Dinh Q Le’s interest in history and the narratives of history, Zoe notes that in the process of  “amassing of stories, memories, and memorabilia, and the reframing of conversations around them” is a “conscious remaking of memory and knowledge [that] is . . . reflected in your [referring to Lê], co-founding of Sàn Art.” What I would like to point out here is the acknowledgement of a conscious reflexivity, as well as the development from reflexivity to a manifestation of reflexivity, that is demonstrated through interpretative, programmatic, or exhibitionary forms. The question then is, how reflexive representation can be, if there are limits (and surely there are) to this reflexivity, and what sorts of narratives can be produced in such instances?

The second contribution I’d like to highlight is “Karachi Pop: Vernacular Visualities in 1990s Karachi” by Hammad Nasar, who is the Head of Research and Programmes at the Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong. Hammad’s text is written in relation to works produced by Durriya Kazi, David Alesworth, Iftikhar Dadi, and Elizabeth Dadi in the 1990s. Speaking on the second of three challenges to what he calls, “Pakistan’s entrenched art world,” he says, “The . . . challenge was a rethinking of sites and modes of display that treated art as a mode of inquiry, and the city as a kind of museum,” where these artworks that Hammad focused on incorporated the street, its aesthetics, design and production into their process and presentation. From this contribution, extrapolating then to the rest of the region and its representation, is the subject of how far can art be a mode of inquiry as opposed to the solution to that inquiry, and what is the nature of the experience of such art, that is, art that might question nation or region.

Transitioning then to the subject of the expansion of sites, is the contribution by Gridthiya Gaweewong titled, “Decentralizing the Bangkok-centric Art Scene.” Gridthiya is the artistic director of the Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok. Observing the practicalities of art production, Gridthiya speaks of a decentralization that is physical—that is, in terms of relocation. She writes, “Overpopulated and expensive, Bangkok is a problematic location for artists, and many move away, often to North and Northeast Thailand.” And she relates this move to an overall shift as well, to alternative sustainable forms of art production. While Gridthiya’s contribution refers to a geographical decentering in the context of Thailand, what I’d like to highlight here, then, is the subject of movement, and of shifts of centers, both physical and conceptual, where ‘center’ refers to a locale of gravitation, that then also becomes challenged for its introspective tendencies.  Such shifts recalibrate the nature of relationships between centers and their surrounds. They highlight the asymmetry of relations, and more importantly, the contestation embedded in their constitution, and thus inevitable undoing.  So, relations (like divisions and borders) have a tendency to shift, either by intention or consequence.

Finally, the contribution “Parts and (W)holes,” by Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez, who is a critic, curator, and lecturer based in the Philippines. In her article, she speaks on the subject of territorialization, and mentions the necessity for the consideration of reterritorialization within the region. She asks, “Where, for example, do countries begin and end, given the present tumult over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands jointly claimed by China and Japan? And nearer my own backyard, what about the Paracels, and the Spratlys, loci of territorial claims by at least six countries (the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei)?  Then, too, there is the ongoing violent tussle between Malaysia and the forces of the Sultan of Sulu.” Continuing, she says “If your blood is a cocktail of Austronesian, Malay, Iberian, and Northern American DNA, you run with it. Yet there is nothing like travel to impolitely shatter your illusions about how you stand—or think you stand—in relation to where you’re at.” She then poses the question given the problematics of regional definition, of the similarly problematic likelihood, or lack, of launching “ventures risky enough to stir the pot ...[that may target] ... generational and art-historical blind spots.” She concludes with some resignation though, that “In the end, we might just end up carving out our own self-interested spaces, but perhaps some collateral pleasure could come out of opening up to more than just tokenistic multiplicity and requisite pleasantries.” From Eileen’s text, territorialization is construed as process rather than goal, and perhaps her disappointment in an entropic reality is inevitable. However, we may take a leaf in the necessity of ‘running with it’, or at least trying to keep up with it.

So, to recap these preliminary detouring signposts, in regarding the region as an exploration of desire for, absence of, and problematics of borders, definitions and representation: firstly, the question of reflexivity in narrative and interpretation; secondly, the experience of art as a mode of inquiry; thirdly, relative shifts in weights or relations, within and beyond the region; and then finally, the question of territorialization, if optimism, or its opposite, may be warranted.