by Rahul KumarApr 11, 2022
The eighth edition of Asian Art Biennial launched earlier in 2021 invited 38 artists from 15 countries to respond to the ideas of multi possibility of the future. And instead of downsizing the event or taking it online owing to the prevailing global pandemic, the organisers worked in a unique way of decentralised curatorial team. The curatorial team of this edition of the biennial comprises five co-curators from different countries and backgrounds to think about the possibility of cross-border curation at a time when global mobility is difficult.
The international curatorial team of Asian Art Biennial 2021 comprises Nobuo Takamori (Taiwan), Ho Yu-Kuan (Taiwan), Tessa Maria Guazon (The Philippines), Anushka Rajendran (India), and Thanavi Chotpradit (Thailand). With ‘Asian Futurism’ and ‘Asian sci-fi culture’ as the main themes, the participating artists re-examine the past and the present of Asia through sci-fi perspectives. Each curator was mandated to lead specific sections.
STIR speaks with Nobuo Takamori, the lead curator, on the thematic framework, decentralised format, and partnerships to put the biennial together.
Rahul Kumar (RK): Please elaborate the significance of the title Phantasmapolis for the biennial, and how will the event reflect on “multi possibility of future”? How did you arrive at this curatorial vision?
Nobuo Takamori (NT): For more than a decade, the Asian contemporary art spent most of their energy to discuss the historical context of Asia. Especially in Southeast Asia, the diaspora, immigrants, post-colonialism, hidden historic narratives, the political paradox, and the difficulties of modernity are the common themes of contemporary art.
However, after decades of searching back to the past, I am also thinking what if Asian contemporary art looks forward to the future, what kind of future could be imagined? Of course, the artists from different traditions will use their different methodologies to search the possibility of future. The first thing I could guarantee is, our futures will be represented by very different and diverse formats. The second is that the future depicted by Asian contemporary artists will obviously be different from the “techno-orientalism” perspectives of Hollywood features.
RK: Are there works that you are specifically excited to see from the 38 installations? How is the aspect of 'futurism and sci fi culture' woven within the overall framework?
NT: At the Surisol Underwater Lab by Korean artist Kim Ayoung has depicted the post-apocalypse scene which the world witnessed after COVID-19 pandemic. The surviving minorities of population lived under the sea to generate a new kind of energy system. DOTS is a new commissioned work made by Taiwanese artist Joyce Ho. After the pandemic, the public spaces in Taiwan, including museums, started to place health check-points to check the temperature, travel histories and actual ID with contact method for visitors. These check points use a temporary format to build as the pandemic came as a surprise and we expected it will end very soon. However, that was not true. So, the concept of DOTS is trying to transform these facilities into a permanent version. Meanwhile, we adapt to the system of passport/custom checking at international port at the lobby of the museum. Our daily normal had already been changed.
An Elegy for Ecology, a series of photography by Indian artist Sharbendu De, who is based in Delhi, is another perfect example of the concept. Sharbendu uses cinematic perspective to create the photographic scene, which shows how the middle-class habitant may live in the near future dystopia, one that lacks the resources on the planet like fresh air and water. As I mentioned, the futurism in fact is based on the reality of Asia. The artists developed their versions of future, and at the same time the curatorial team also researched the version of future from the past. For example, A Day after a Hundred Year is a 1933 Japanese animation by Ogino Shigeji. This animation depicted how the artist himself travelled to year 2032, and met his grandson there, after the artist died in the great war.
RK: How did the curatorial team go about making the selection for the biennial? Was each member focussed on their respective country/region?
NT: Each curator selected and invited artists from their country/region to complete the puzzle of the art scene of Asia. However, after considering the difficulties of coworking during the pandemic time, our framework divided the works by different missions. I and another Taiwanese curator, Ho Yu Kuan, took charge of installing the physical exhibition itself. Filipino curator, Tessa Maria Guazon, worked on Filipinos artists and the archival project. Indian curator Anushka Rajendran curated a video art project within 2021 AAB. She was also in charge of the online platform which incorporated the Indian and German online artists group Pad.ma (CAMP x 0X2620). Thai curator Thanavi Chotpradit mainly worked to organise our international forum and edit.
With this kind of framework we tried to experiment during this pandemic time, which helped us reach a balance between the quality of exhibition and also the problematic reality of travelling with restrictions.
RK: Could you tell us about the key partnerships, specifically how has the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts contributed beyond providing for the venue?
NT: The NTMoFA (National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts) is a public museum under Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture. It started organising Asian Art Biennial in 2007, and this year is the eighth edition of AAB. The Ministry of Culture and NTMoFA are the main sponsors of AAB. However, if we consider the scale and what we want to achieve, we cannot solely rely on public funding. Therefore, the curatorial team has also worked hard on fundraising, especially to find sponsors for some special projects which were not existing under the original plan of AAB. Several local public and private foundations and institutions also came aboard. The Cultural Taiwan Foundation is the sponsor for our queer archival project and the online stream project. Winsing Arts Foundation covered the publication. Digital Art Center Taipei and several galleries, such as A+ Works of Arts (Kuala Lumpur) took care of several installation works at the event. We appreciate the support from these institutions.
The NTMoFA is also the professional base for the modern and contemporary art in Taiwan. Not only because it has the largest exhibition spaces on the island, but also the professionals and passionate team that runs this museum. From my personal perspective, NTMoFA has played an important role for public education and art promotion, therefore, they are highly valued for the imparting of educational programs during the biennial. The NTMoFA itself is not located at our capital, Taipei, but at Taichung, the central part of the island, which could attract more audiences from other regions outside of Taipei to spend time at the art museum. One of the best things is that the museum is free for public access. It is one of the proofs that shows how NTMoFA and the Ministry support the arts here.
RK: How has exhibition making itself changed in the (post) pandemic era? What are your key learnings?
NT: In Taiwan’s art circle, we were always criticised, the preparation time for a biennial is not sufficient as compared to other important biennials in Asia and the West. The ideal preparation time for a biennial should be two to three years, including the pre-curation research. The principal work frame here is one year, and most of the times it’s less than one year.
However, this negative management culture accidently transforms into one’s advantage. The 2021 AAB might be the first biennial in Asia which could fully respond to the situation of pandemic, and fully adapt to the condition of pandemic within its entire working circle. I was appointed as the curator of 2021 AAB in December 2020, which means the entire team already knew of the situation of pandemic since the very beginning of the work. So, to be honest, I can’t clearly describe how it changed our work. But we already worked in a situation of pandemic, and considered this new future as our normal condition since very beginning.
The eighth edition of the Asian Art Biennial runs till March 6, 2022, at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (NTMoFA).