AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 729

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Session 729: Modern Asian Art

Curatorial Strategies and Art Writings in Malaysia
Sarena Abdullah, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Malaysia

This paper will discuss the art curatorial practice and art writings in Malaysian art. Though Malaysian artists have moved into contemporary art practices, the exhibition strategies adopted by private galleries and even the national gallery has not changed significantly since the last 50 years. The curatorial practices or the importance of curatorial practice has been regarded as not important resulting in repetitive and limited ways of presenting art works to the public. As a result, art exhibitions tended to be a cluster of work assembled in a gallery premise, usually connected by a very loose theme. This curatorial strategy also influences art essays that are usually published in conjunction with the exhibition. Since research papers on contemporary art are still limited, the essays or writings that are published in these exhibition catalogues consequently become a definitive and important source of reference on Malaysian art. These essays however, mostly employ formalistic and descriptive analysis approach. Hence, the public is informed with limited understanding of art. This paper will discuss the problems and challenges in Malaysian art scene by focusing on the curatorial practice and art writings, and the complex relationship in the art industry (the role played by the curator, galleries, artists and writers) and how this complex relationship can influence the public’s understanding of art practices in Malaysia.

A Language for Experience: Chinese Photography and the Ways of Knowing Trauma
Ronald Janssen, Hofstra University, USA

This paper uses examples from modern Chinese photography and recent discussions in trauma theory by such writers as Cathy Caruth, Marianne Hirsch, Marita Sturken, and Ulrich Baer to explore modes of humanistic inquiry in an age replete with the traumas of war, natural disaster, and disease. The talk will categorize Chinese photographic practice into three broad ways of seeing – the documentary, the expressive, and the experimental – and examine how, taken together, they offer viewers a shifting and cumulative foundation for interrogating the main categories of public and private traumas in recent times. Photographers Li Zhensheng, Hai Bo, and Zhao Shaoruo will serve as the chief witnesses, especially for their treatment of themes related to the Cultural Revolution. Additional but less detailed reference will be made to work by other photographers concerned with natural disasters and disease epidemics. Consideration will be given to the art, technology, and politics of photographic practice in modern Chinese photography.

Silences and the Staging of Cambodian History
Toni Shapiro-Phim, Independent Scholar, USA

For three decades, through songs and theatrical productions, Cambodia’s performing artists have been offering laments about the suffering of individuals and communities during the almost-four years (1975-1979) when Cambodia was run by the Khmer Rouge (KR), and about the societal ills and crisis of leadership that followed that period of revolution and genocide. In 2009 Breaking the Silence, a play about the KR years, premiered in Phnom Penh. Directed by Annemarie Prins of the Netherlands and performed in Khmer, the production features actors who take on the personas of both victims and perpetrators, providing glimpses of regret, guilt, confusion, anger and forgiveness. The world press lavished attention on the play, often representing it as the first-ever opportunity for Cambodians to publicly confront aspects of their painful history as experienced under the KR. Neither those reporters nor the play’s director mentioned the folk operas, popular songs, modern dramas and classical and contemporary dances dealing with KR-era trauma and its lingering impact that Cambodians, under their own initiative, have created and performed over the course of the past thirty years. This paper aims to both correct the record by bringing attention to a decades-old phenomenon and to situate select works in their political and socio-cultural contexts, including Breaking the Silence and other contemporary pieces, given the dramatic shifts in political leadership and in the positioning of the arts in Cambodia over the years.

The Ubiquity of Chinese Characters (hanzi) in Contemporary Chinese Visual Art: A Linguistic Analysis
Yu Li, , USA

Since the phenomenal success of Xu Bing’s 天书 Book from the Sky, Chinese characters have remained a strong and constant component in Chinese visual art in the past quarter century. Influential follow-ups include works by Gu Wenda, Wu Shanzhuan, and Jiao Yingqi, Most recently, the use of Chinese characters in art-making is prominently marked by exhibitions such as the two Hanzi Biennales in 2006 and 2008 (and the 2010 exhibition is in planning) in Beijing, and by the “spatial hanzi movement” associated with these exhibitions. What has made Chinese characters such a vibrant component in contemporary Chinese visual art? In answering this question, this paper offers a linguistic perspective. By analyzing how the representative works in the hanzi art repertoire have distorted, deconstructed, and reconstructed Chinese written symbols in phonological, semantic, and graphical manners, and contrasting it with artworks that involve alphabetical writing systems, it argues that the linguistic characteristics of the Chinese writing system are fundamentally attributive to the ubiquity of Chinese characters in contemporary Chinese visual art.

Yellow Shirt, Red Shirt: A Deforming Thai Democracy
Pandit Chanrochanakit, Ramkhamhaeng University, Thailand

This paper focuses on the reading of four contemporary art pieces: Porntaweesak Rimsakul’s RGB’s War (2006), Navin Rawanchaikul’s Lost in the City (Long Krung) (2007), Araya Rasdjarmreansook’s Manet's Luncheon on the Grass and Thai Villagers (2009), and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Primitive Project (2010). The interpretation of these artworks highlights a problematic modernity in contemporary Thai society. Rimsakul’s wireless control helmets were fighting to render colors of red, blue, and green on wooden board. The project was highly appreciated by Thai middle class. It represents a reception of military intervention in Thai politics after May massacre 1992. After a coup in September 2006, democratic movements in Thai society have been divided into yellow shirt (People’s Alliance for Democracy: PAD) and red shirt democratic movements (The National Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship: UDD). The rupture can be examined in Rawanchaikul’s Lost in the City, the ways in which he brings out complexity of contemporary Thai society through a fictitious coming back of Jim Thompson who has disappeared since 1967. Rasdjarmrearnsook’s artwork poses a question of aesthetics and a possibility to elevate Thai aesthetic to a new quality. It also envisions different paths and ends to deforming Thai democracy. Lastly, the paper explores Weerasethakul’s Primitive project, which he withdraws his experience from rural area where a deforming Thai democracy could be seen.