Recalling the exhibitions one has experienced throughout a year can be like running your fingers along an uneven wall in the dark: part remembered, part imagined, much reinterpreted. I spent a peripatetic 2016 in Asia, covering many outstanding commercial events, some of which will probably prove to be milestones for still nascent infrastructures. But the ones I’ll choose to highlight here are for their graceful gestures that slipped between the cracks yet left me feeling satiated.
Both a milestone and a crack-filler, this year saw the publication of Ruang MES 56’s anniversary book: Stories of A Space / Living Expectation: Understanding Indonesian Contemporary Photography Through Ruang MES 56 Practices. An artist-run not-for-profit, established in 2002 in Yogyakarta in Indonesia, Ruang MES 56 has proved a pivotal organization in the liberation of contemporary photography in the country. With various essays (Brigitta Isabella’s is a particularly factual recollection of the events leading up to artists updating their photography practice in the late ’90s), this candid volume retraces the collective’s history and the medium’s contemporary steps in Indonesia. I caught the book’s blueprints being exhibited at MES 56 on my way to see the tale end of the Jakarta Biennale 2015 earlier this year (a savant low budget tour de force curated by Charles Esche with a local curatorial team) and a visit to the newly built Wot Batu, an exquisite spiritual garden-tableau made of stones and water created by artist Sunaryo atop a hill in Bandung.
More industrial yet just as intimate was Yogesh Barve’s occupation/residency of not-for-profit Things That Can Happen’s exiguous apartment space in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong, in October. Using stickers, found objects and photography, stretching strings on a wall, and aligning small electronic components on the floor next to video works, Barve’s bricolage knitted pieces of information together from his immediate surroundings and his own interpretation of the city: Hong Kong as a port, a symbol of wealth and capital with the discarded souls that live on its fringes, and the territory as a multicultural former British colony (as is Barve’s natal Bombay). Things … wasn’t the only new space to delve into Hong Kong’s social fabric in 2016. In March, Mill6 presented an invigorating show curated by David Elliott which saw German artist Mariana Hahn and Hong Kong artist Kwan Sheung Chi’s responding to the local socio-political environment: cultural snippets that included textile, Hong Kong flag pins, and even a panic room.
In Taipei, Chen Ching-Yuan had an extensive solo show, ‘What am I? If I can’t be yours’, of his classically rendered oils with twisted subjects at TKG+ (the younger space of Tina Keng Gallery). His varnished imagined myths constructed from elements of Taiwanese politics, gay issues, cultural exchange (epitomized by Persian carpets adorning Qin dynasty vases) and personal introspection through chiaroscuros arrested through their mix of mastery and aberration – rich combination to live by.
To welcome 2017, those who missed ‘The Serenity of Madness’, a major retrospective of works by genre-bending artist and filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul – curated by Gridthiya Gaweewong at the newly built MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and later again at Para Site in Hong Kong – can catch the show at MCAD Manila, Phillipines, in mid-February. Third time will be a charm for me.
Something else to look forward to from an Asian perspective will be in Italy. I couldn’t be more pleased by the upcoming Taiwanese exhibition as part or the Venice Biennale’s parallel programme (not an official pavilion: the island isn’t recognized as a country internationally, as China’s reaction to US president-elect Donald Trump’s phone conversation with Taiwanese head of state Tsai Ing-wen, recently reminded us). The organizers have promised fulsome renditions of artist Tehching Hsieh year-long performances, as well as previously unseen early works. Now, that’s some good news.
Main image: Chen Ching-Yuan, Just Cover It, 2016, oil on canvas, 22 x 27 cm. Courtesy: TKG+, Taipei