Saturday, October 27, 2007

The United States of Identity

I live in Taiwan, a place that considers itself a country, and yes, I can vouch, by personal experience, it does function as an independent country as it has its own currency, banks, elected officials, laws. I pay my taxes, have health insurance, residency, and have public education available, etc. Now many other countries do not consider Taiwan as an independent country, but rather a “renegade province of China.”

So this got me to thinking about statehood and what constitutes a country. Artists have been questioning this idea for decades. An early example is Ono-Lennon’s Nutopia. Then there is Ladonia by Swedish artist Lars Vilks, AVL Ville by Atelier van Lieshout and Peter Coffin’s display of micronations which summed up the current situation of autonomous states at the Palais de Tokyo last March. Check for a current list of micronations; the list seems to be expanding. (I want to secede from my current state … of mind).

And check out , a website sponsored by Taiwan’s Council of Culture Affairs. I write an Opinion column for it. You’ll see that there’s a lotta kulchur comin’ out of this (non) country.

What do you think?

The Istanbul Biennial 2007: Optimism in the Age of Global War

Art biennials seem to be everywhere these days as they are becoming deeply rooted in the global art arena. Before this phenomenon began, however, there were just three key biennials: Venice (founded 1895), Sao Paulo (1951) and Istanbul (1973).

This year’s Istanbul Biennial that ends November 4, 2007 is organized by the internationally acclaimed curator Hou Hanru, who is the current Director of Exhibitions and Public Programs at the San Francisco Art Institute.

In this dismal age of Bush, war is on everyone’s minds. Hou’s timely theme for the biennial is: Not only possible, but also necessary: Optimism in the Age of Global War which takes a look at how globalization is changing modernity and features artists who work in developing areas of the world.

The selection of artists show that creative types no longer need to live in Western art centers like New York or Paris, as truly exciting and provocative art is being made in many parts of the world.

Artists include: Kutluğ Ataman, Atom Egoyan, Cao Fei, Renée Green, Huang Yong Ping, Rem Koolhaas / AMO, Raqs Media Collective and Young Hae Chang Heavy Industries. Check out the latter’s cool website for their Flash text animations set to evocative jazz tracks:

Taiwanese artist Peng Hung-Chih is exhibiting his videos (see photo): 10 Commandments and Islamic Exegesis which features his dog licking an empty wall to reveal religious texts that are violent in message, thus showing both religions’ shared violence and misogyny. As the dog licks the blank white wall, dark-colored words suddenly materialize. In his videos, Peng looks at the complicated world of society, religion and politics from a dog’s perspective. As we know, dog spelled backwards is god.

For further info: the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Western Arrogance Alive and Well in the Artworld

Is it just me? Or is it totally obnoxious to have a top 100 list of the movers and shakers in the artworld that is predominately filled with white men. I felt soiled after reading the ArtReview’s Power 100. I felt like mukamuka (Japanese word for feeling so angry you want to puke).

In these post-colonial, post-Saidean days, how can there be such a Anglo-testosterone-laden list? Only one person of African descent and a meager 27 percent of women were included. It boggles the mind. But then I live in Asia, so I don’t have the narrow mind-frame of such blatant western (and sexist) arrogance. (Thank God!)

What do you think?

Here's the link to London's ArtReview Power 100:

Taipei's Dream Community Parade

Taiwan's Medici

Last year I interviewed Gordon Tsai, a real estate developer in Taipei’s suburbs who claims he wants to be Taiwan's Medici, for Art AsiaPacific issue 52.

Gordon has 4 acres of land set up as the Dream Community which includes a bakery whose loaves are filled with the goat’s milk from the goats he raises, a restaurant whose dishes are inspired by the ethnicity of its multiethnic staff, and the ongoing construction of a residential building. His pet project is his annual papier-mâché floats/Samba parade.

He’s pictured here from last year’s parade all diapered up. He’s keen to give back to his community and spends wads of his own money to sponsor international celebration artists to come and create floats and teach stilt-walking to the local school children. Inspired by Seattle’s Fremont Solstice and Nevada’s Burning Man festivals, he longingly craves to create the biggest parade in Asia, something along the scale of Rio’s Carnivale.

He was adamant during our interview that he didn’t want any political influence, that his interest is solely in the arts and that he thinks art can help change society. But this year’s parade on October 20 was not in the suburbs like usual, but on Jenai Road, in Taipei, just blocks away from the Presidential Office. Hmm, do I smell political aspirations?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Christoph Büchel vs. MassMOCA

The Artist vs. The Institution

Art and law really seem like oil and vinegar; they don’t mix well. Many of us think art is for nourishing our spirits, while law functions in the domain of unpleasant necessities, so it is strikingly newsworthy when art and law confront each other as in the malicious case of the artist: Christoph Büchel vs. the institution: MassMOCA.

Click here for a recent photo essay:

I experienced Büchel’s meaty installation Shelter II at the O.K.Centrum in Linz, Austria (their photo) in the summer of 2002 . One first had to enter a sausage stand on the sidewalk and climb into the building, passing through rooms literally and figuratively frozen in entropy. Feeling like a disembodied Alice in a dysfunctional wonderland, I was so moved by how Büchel could convey anxiety to me, the viewer, that I quickly wrote an essay about this work and sent it to him.

The moral of the story is that the relationship between an artist and an institution is a lot like a marriage: some work out well, while others really require a pre-nup agreement.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

In today’s art writing, we read about an artist’s practice. Doesn’t “practice” imply attempts to reach perfection, and therefore seems an ill-fitting noun? Or is “practice” used in the sense of a doctor’s practice?

Of course, practice means the habitual and repeated action of carrying out something such as practicing the violin daily to improve one’s skills. So how does this relate to what an artist does, as an artist is not actually repeating an action?

We may have to look at early philosophy and at Plato who talked about how practice is the step leading from objects to ideas, that we go from the material world to the world of abstraction.

But practice is doing rather than a theory, isn’t it?

Raymond Williams’ writings on cultural materialism influence many of today’s art writers. He discussed how art making is a part of capitalist production, and that art making becomes a part of social practice. It is here that art as practice, not only deals with the medium of the art materials such as viscous paint, but includes the whole world: culture, society, politics, the economy, etc. So when artists make art as practice, then they need to develop strategies that deal with theory and big ideas such as science, psychology, linguistics to name a few.

Paradoxically, it sounds that art as practice would then make art accessible to the average person, but does it?

For further reading check:

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Art of Poetry

The Art of Poetry

To gaze at a river made of time and water

And remember Time is another river.

To know we stray like a river

and our faces vanish like water.

To feel that waking is another dream

that dreams of not dreaming and that the death

we fear in our bones is the death

that every night we call a dream.

To see in every day and year a symbol

of all the days of man and his years,

and convert the outrage of the years

into a music, a sound, and a symbol.

To see in death a dream, in the sunset

a golden sadness--such is poetry,

humble and immortal, poetry,

returning, like dawn and the sunset.

Sometimes at evening there's a face

that sees us from the deeps of a mirror.

Art must be that sort of mirror,

disclosing to each of us his face.

They say Ulysses, wearied of wonders,

wept with love on seeing Ithaca,

humble and green. Art is that Ithaca,

a green eternity, not wonders.

Art is endless like a river flowing,

passing, yet remaining, a mirror to the same

inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same

and yet another, like the river flowing.

--Jorge Luis Borges

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

everything is dangerous: love/hate

This is my recent art project titled "everything is dangerous: Love/Hate." Works that hint at fashion rather than being fashion have the ulterior motive to link two people together; it is their complicity that the works will help improve their relationship with each other. Two hats sewn together and two pairs of boxing gloves that are also sewn together allow two people to interact and negotiate with each other.

The boxing gloves allows two people to duke it out. However, unlike a real match, the two will discover that rather than being opposing forces, their two bodies will move smoothly together as in the Tai Chi practice of “pushing hands.” The work invites cooperation and collaboration, rather than antagonistic individualism.

Lately the news has stories of Siamese twins attached by their heads, two separate individuals permanently linked together. In a playful way, two knitted hats join a couple together to experience couple-hood. Is it a happy experience? How do two people negotiate: body language, conversation? If the couple walks through a space together, have they gained better insight of each other? Did they have a meaningful experience together?

Paradoxically, the joined hats are more antagonistic to the wearer than the boxing gloves. In today’s world, individuality wins. Overall, this is not work to be looked at to appreciate its aesthetic qualities, but rather work that must be worn with another person to create a unique experience that is both physical and psychological.

So, can art be an experience? Can art be used to improve relationships?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Are the arts necessary for us to live?

In a word, yes.

My new blog "everything is dangerous" will discuss the importance of art and why we should give a damn.

Please stay tuned.