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Major contemporary Asian exhibitions such as the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale, the Queensland Art Gallery"s Asia Pacific Triennials, Gwangju Biennale, Taiwan Biennal and country specific and country collective exhibitions organized by the Asia Society, the Japan Foundation and Singapore Art Museum have without doubt changed the way the world now views contemporary Asian art. Of course, such shifts can"t be seen in isolation from other historical and economic processes that dominated the period in which they occurred. International exhibitions during the 1990s can be seen as a response to the simulation and pressure of global culture and art networking, a part of the larger globalization process.
However, the previous conventional articulation by the dominant voice essentially one through Euro-American paradigms did significantly change largely through such institutional events as they exemplified the complexity and distinctiveness of these multiple trajectories. This shift is evident in the media writings of the time. Using the response to the APT as the example.. When the First APT was shown in 1993 it was described by many as a radical project, reportage of the Second APT noted that the exhibition led to debates and explorations which would have been inconceivable a decade ago, while the 3rd APT in 1999 and the 4th in 2002 were described as being part of its city"s cultural life and a prominent voice in contemporary art discourse. The APTs have also become the signature exhibition in the repertoire of the Queensland Art Gallery, and have contributed in a major way to the international perception of Australia as a site for cross-cultural interaction and enlightened attitude towards contemporary art from the non-western world.
So yes it Is true that these initiatives by large institutions have indeed highlighted and in fact have played a demonstrable role to redraw the global art map. But do the se institutions, as they are still few, have too much power?
What are their selection criteria? Can we figure out a platform to discuss these selections? these means to open up and broaden their selection, like, what means are there to open and continue these individual countries" and collective discourses, particularly from the Southeast Asian region?
With regard to the power of these large institutions Flaudette Datuin writing from within the Philippines context states.
From their positions of power, these newly emerging culture centers, are able to map the contemporary art scene, and thus put forward their own privileged representations of individual and collective identities. The question is, what kind of story is this map telling? Why, how and in whose interest are these maps being construed? What kind of words is being constructed? Which spaces are foregrounded, and which spaces fall off?
Datuin raises several interesting observations, particularly her questioning of who. "Who is constructing these identities" and who is responsible for these selections? It does have to be recognized that even though a number of these projects have been based on collaborative co-curatorship, the crucial decisions regarding inclusions and exclusions have to date rested primarily with the power bases of Others, with countries like Australia and Japan. Yes, there have been a growing number of recent initiatives, like the Japan Foundation"s Under Construction which have enabled intraregional dialogue, selection and exhibition, but the recurring large-scale international exhibitions showcasing Southeast Asian contemporary, have to date occurred outside this region. In doing so, the question to naturally ask is Who is the audience? Will the selection for such exhibitions be influenced by the curators" notion of audience? It seems inevitable that this must be the case, given that the curator is working as an intermediary between artists and their creative context, and institutions with their concerns about viewership statistics, public access, pedagogical and political values, and so on. What stones and whose stories are being told? Does there still remain a high currency of including the Other, the exotic and Nesses", this being Indonesia-ness, Philippine-ness etc? Have these exhibitions" audiences reached such a mid-ground where they relate to these works as part of contemporary global art discourse? If not does this propagate a trend among artists in their quest for international inclusion; to try to fit the formula? And does it also compromise the aesthetic and ideological integrity of artists from this region who are already on this global circuit as it is their Otherness, their Indonesia-ness, that they know is their edge?
We have also seen over the past decade how inclusion in these prominent regionally focused exhibitions have created further inclusions. This of course is a worldwide phenomenon but is particularly prevalent for the selection of artists from the Southeast Asian region. We have witnessed a select number of artists repeatedly "picked up" for other global biennials and triennials. This curating through catalogues has primarily occurred due to the inadequate, or in some cases nonexistent, field work and hence an inadequate knowledge base of these countries" contemporary art practices and discourses by curators for these international exhibitions which purport to be globally curated.
With regard to the selection processes for these large-scale regionally focused exhibitions, curatorial premises are cited. We have seen these exhibitions shift over the decades from survey shows to more focused curatorially themed projects. The Queensland Art Gallery"s first 3 Asia Pacific Triennal projects, with the acknowledgement that their internal expertise was inadequate, did not involve multiple curatorship and the exhibitions were premised with very open selection guidelines. This is highlighted in the 1999 curatorial brief "Artists must be engaged in some way with contemporary visual art practice and discourse. "From the late 90s onwards we have seen institutional exhibitions selected through various themes, but in near all cases they have still exclusively include the already globally acknowledgement artists in their selection.
Other considerations with regard to including and excluding works in large scale multi-artist exhibition are logistical concerns. Size and fragility of the artwork with regard to transportation and display as well as the individual country"s health and safety, censorship and quarantine issues can all play major roles.
So with all this said, can one figure out some kind of platform for a discussion of acts of inclusion or exclusion in the selection of art from the Southeast Asian region in these major institutional exhibitions ?Can this region have more control of its own art discourse portrayed within these global contexts? And how does one create a "third space", an interactive global in-between-ness, where spaces don"t fall off in international selections? I believe this can and to an extent has been achieved through local curators, artists" run initiatives and publications reshaping the critical reception of and dialogue about current global trajectories. One is aware of the power and influence these institutional regionally-focused initiatives currently direct , but they remain committed to seeing, reading, listening to and being informed by their local colleagues.
So if this to be truly achieved, what are the mechanisms to ensure local contemporary art discourse will dominate the selection of artists and works in future international exhibitions? Active artists, assertive curators, strong networks and serious publications. There should also be the realization that the structure of the Western institution does not have to be replicated, and it is of paramount importance to establish a system of contemporary art particular to this region. As there currently doesn"t exist systems in many Southeast Asian countries for governmentally funded and endorsed institutions alternates need to fill these spaces. Initiatives in Indonesian including Ruang Rupa, Cemeti Art House and Foundation and the emerging CP Biennale and foundation have and will carry influence and have a voice in the international presentation and promotion in Indonesian artists" works and the local discourses and debates including the dominant themes prevalent at that current time.
It is also of great importance that an increasing number of networks is developed on every level from intra-state, intra-regional and global levels. In 1993 whilst working on the APT I was astounded to realize that artists, curators and writers from neighboring countries had to travel to Brisbane, a city completely outside the regional context to meet, in many instances for the first time, to discuss their commonalities an differences within their contemporary practices. A decade after this it can certainly be said we have moved on with numerous projects, forums and artists exchanges being initiated at varying levels. But, through discussions with colleagues, both artists and curators, it is evident there is still a considerable amount of building that needs to be done.
As we are now living increasingly in a rapidly globalizing world, it
is far easier to maintain connections at varying levels, forming workable
networks irrespective of economic or infrastructural might. The ability
to gain knowledge ultimately facilitates power and control. Yes, it is
true that we are yet to see the existence of a truly globalised world
with a truly globalised art discourse. But through conventional but also
alternate ways of initiating discourse and debate from this region a certain
degree of control can be achieved in the representation of the local and
global, and through these means helping to ensure that essential spaces
don"t drop off.
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