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Melissa Chiu Benjamin Genocchio

ASIAN ART NOW

The Monacelli Press


Melissa Chiu Benjamin Genocchio

ASIAN ART NOW

The Monacelli Press


contents

6 introduction

32 chapter 1
rethinking tradition
74 chapter 2
Copyright © 2010 Melissa Chiu and Benjamin Genocchio
politics, society and the state
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by
The Monacelli Press, a division of Random House, Inc.,
New York. 118 chapter 3
Published simultaneously in the United Kingdom as
Contemporary Asian Art by Thames & Hudson, Ltd.,
asian pop, consumerism and stereotypes
London. NOTE TO THE READER

The Monacelli Press and the M design are registered


160 chapter 4
In many Asian countries, family names commonly
trademarks of Random House, Inc. precede given names. Some individuals, however,
have chosen to adopt Western order – given name,
urban nature
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data followed by family name. This book respects the
Chiu, Melissa. preferred name order of each individual.
[Contemporary Asian art] 204 epilogue
Asian art now / Melissa Chiu, Benjamin Genocchio. – 1st ed. For consistency, and in order to aid the general reader,
p. cm. the use of diacritical markings in specific regional
a glimpse into the future
Originally published: Contemporary Asian art. London : languages has also been avoided.
Thames & Hudson, 2010.
Includes bibliographical references and index. Dimensions supplied in illustration captions cite
ISBN 978-1-58093-298-1 (hardcover) height, followed by width, followed by depth, as 209 artist biographies
1. Art, Asian – 20th century. 2. Art, Asian – 21st century. appropriate.
I. Genocchio, Benjamin. II. Title.
N7260.C53 2010
709.5'09049 – dc22 Half-title page Cao Fei Hungry Dog (Rabid Dogs Series) 241 notes
2002 Digital C-print, 60 x 90 cm (23 1/2 x 35 1/2 in.)
2010005079 245 bibliography
Printed and bound in Singapore Frontispiece Yan Pei-Ming Mao Rouge 2006 247 list of museums and galleries
Oil on canvas, 350 x 350 cm (137 3/4 x 137 3/4 in.)
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 248 list of illustrations
First American Edition pp. 4–5 Alexander Ugay, in collaboration with Roman
Maskalev Paradise Landscape 2004 (detail) 252 acknowledgments
Digital print on canvas, 80 x 400 cm (31 1/2 x 157 1/2 in.)
www.monacellipress.com 253 index
contents

6 introduction

32 chapter 1
rethinking tradition
74 chapter 2
Copyright © 2010 Melissa Chiu and Benjamin Genocchio
politics, society and the state
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by
The Monacelli Press, a division of Random House, Inc.,
New York. 118 chapter 3
Published simultaneously in the United Kingdom as
Contemporary Asian Art by Thames & Hudson, Ltd.,
asian pop, consumerism and stereotypes
London. NOTE TO THE READER

The Monacelli Press and the M design are registered


160 chapter 4
In many Asian countries, family names commonly
trademarks of Random House, Inc. precede given names. Some individuals, however,
have chosen to adopt Western order – given name,
urban nature
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data followed by family name. This book respects the
Chiu, Melissa. preferred name order of each individual.
[Contemporary Asian art] 204 epilogue
Asian art now / Melissa Chiu, Benjamin Genocchio. – 1st ed. For consistency, and in order to aid the general reader,
p. cm. the use of diacritical markings in specific regional
a glimpse into the future
Originally published: Contemporary Asian art. London : languages has also been avoided.
Thames & Hudson, 2010.
Includes bibliographical references and index. Dimensions supplied in illustration captions cite
ISBN 978-1-58093-298-1 (hardcover) height, followed by width, followed by depth, as 209 artist biographies
1. Art, Asian – 20th century. 2. Art, Asian – 21st century. appropriate.
I. Genocchio, Benjamin. II. Title.
N7260.C53 2010
709.5'09049 – dc22 Half-title page Cao Fei Hungry Dog (Rabid Dogs Series) 241 notes
2002 Digital C-print, 60 x 90 cm (23 1/2 x 35 1/2 in.)
2010005079 245 bibliography
Printed and bound in Singapore Frontispiece Yan Pei-Ming Mao Rouge 2006 247 list of museums and galleries
Oil on canvas, 350 x 350 cm (137 3/4 x 137 3/4 in.)
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 248 list of illustrations
First American Edition pp. 4–5 Alexander Ugay, in collaboration with Roman
Maskalev Paradise Landscape 2004 (detail) 252 acknowledgments
Digital print on canvas, 80 x 400 cm (31 1/2 x 157 1/2 in.)
www.monacellipress.com 253 index
36 RETHINKING TRADITION INK AND BRUSH 37

ephemeral, confrontational, contemporary practices such


as video, performance, installation and mixed media: for
example, Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri’s (b. 1963) experimen-
tal calligraphy Eshgh (Love) (2007), in which Swarovski
crystals and glitter are used to write the Persian word for
love; or Indonesian artist Arahmaiani’s (b. 1961) fusion of
classical dance and Balinese costumes with Coca-Cola bottles,
condoms and pornography in her provocative installation/
lthough modern industrialization in Asia has had performance Nation for Sale (1996); or, more broadly, the

A a tremendous impact on art, as on everything else,


deep-seated cultural traditions remain. Even today,
within Southeast Asian nations, the significance of religious
co-opting of vernacular materials such as bamboo, volcanic
ash, rocks and found objects in contemporary Filipino art,
notably in installations and assemblages by the late Roberto

y
l

l
Villanueva (1947–1995) and Santiago Bose (1949–2002).

on
art, for instance, cannot be overstated. In South Asia, minia-

on
ture painting is devoted to the retelling and reinterpretation If, at times, this juxtaposition of traditional Asian

ce

ce
of national myths and stories. Many artists in China, Korea elements and modern techniques and forms seems incongru-

en

en
and Japan continue to specialize in ink and brush painting, ous, it is worth recalling that cultural interaction is hardly a contemporary phenomenon. Across Asia, an adapting of

er

er
with masters such as Chinese ink painter Wu Guanzhong traditions and Western influences was an integral part of art

ef

ef
(b. 1919), Korean ink painter Suh Se-ok (b. 1929) and Japanese and life for most of the twentieth century. In those places

r
nihonga painter Ikuo Hirayama (b. 1930) widely revered and where there was a longstanding colonial presence, such as

or

or
popular, even though their art may be little known outside the Philippines and Indonesia, the process has arguably been

f
al

al
their own countries. going on even longer. Moreover, as post-colonial theorists
i

i
Traditions are often presumed to be singular, timeless and such as Edward Said have shown, dynamic cultures constantly
er

er
unalterable, and therefore at odds with contemporary life. But borrow from one another: ‘Every domain is linked to every
at

at
in the past couple of decades contemporary artists across Asia other one, and … nothing that goes on in our world has ever
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have been increasingly willing to experiment with traditional been isolated and pure of any outside influence.’1
artistic techniques, forms and values, sometimes out of
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gh
INK AND BRUSH
i

nostalgia for the past, sometimes in a self-reflexive, post-

i
r

r
modern critique of identity, at other times to revel in the
py

In East Asia, experimentation had at least one specific area

py
commodification of difference in the new global art market. of focus, an effort to transform practices of ink and brush
co

co
Whatever the motive, these artists feel free to approach tradi- painting and calligraphy, once associated with a literati
tion as a starting point, and as an inspiration to be used and tradition of gentleman-scholars. Many of the artists who con-
combined with more contemporary practices – altered, nego- tributed to this new emerging sensibility were self-trained,
tiated with and even deconstructed in any way they see fit. or were not a product of the usual apprentice systems in
They sometimes ignore expectations of what traditional art the traditional arts, and consequently their work bears little
should look like and, equally, its longstanding commemora- resemblance to traditional imagery associated with this art.
tive, nationalistic, political or ideological uses. The sum of their activities was also frequently viewed as
Many new and hybrid modes of expression have emerged, a challenge or slight to tradition by artists whose primary
frequently integrating local traditional art forms such as concern was the continuity of traditional art forms. And there
ink painting, calligraphy, ceramics, dance and textiles with is perhaps some truth in the complaint, for underlying this

Wu Guanzhong Rising Sun on Mt. Hua n.d. Suh Se-ok Person 1992 Farhad Moshiri Eshgh (Love) 2007
Ink and colour on paper, 179 x 95 cm (70 1/2 x 37 3/8 in.) Ink on mulberry paper, 38 x 28 cm (15 x 11 in.) Crystals and glitter on canvas with acrylic mounted
on board, 155 x 176 cm (61 x 691/4 in.)
36 RETHINKING TRADITION INK AND BRUSH 37

ephemeral, confrontational, contemporary practices such


as video, performance, installation and mixed media: for
example, Iranian artist Farhad Moshiri’s (b. 1963) experimen-
tal calligraphy Eshgh (Love) (2007), in which Swarovski
crystals and glitter are used to write the Persian word for
love; or Indonesian artist Arahmaiani’s (b. 1961) fusion of
classical dance and Balinese costumes with Coca-Cola bottles,
condoms and pornography in her provocative installation/
lthough modern industrialization in Asia has had performance Nation for Sale (1996); or, more broadly, the

A a tremendous impact on art, as on everything else,


deep-seated cultural traditions remain. Even today,
within Southeast Asian nations, the significance of religious
co-opting of vernacular materials such as bamboo, volcanic
ash, rocks and found objects in contemporary Filipino art,
notably in installations and assemblages by the late Roberto

y
l

l
Villanueva (1947–1995) and Santiago Bose (1949–2002).

on
art, for instance, cannot be overstated. In South Asia, minia-

on
ture painting is devoted to the retelling and reinterpretation If, at times, this juxtaposition of traditional Asian

ce

ce
of national myths and stories. Many artists in China, Korea elements and modern techniques and forms seems incongru-

en

en
and Japan continue to specialize in ink and brush painting, ous, it is worth recalling that cultural interaction is hardly a contemporary phenomenon. Across Asia, an adapting of

er

er
with masters such as Chinese ink painter Wu Guanzhong traditions and Western influences was an integral part of art

ef

ef
(b. 1919), Korean ink painter Suh Se-ok (b. 1929) and Japanese and life for most of the twentieth century. In those places

r
nihonga painter Ikuo Hirayama (b. 1930) widely revered and where there was a longstanding colonial presence, such as

or

or
popular, even though their art may be little known outside the Philippines and Indonesia, the process has arguably been

f
al

al
their own countries. going on even longer. Moreover, as post-colonial theorists
i

i
Traditions are often presumed to be singular, timeless and such as Edward Said have shown, dynamic cultures constantly
er

er
unalterable, and therefore at odds with contemporary life. But borrow from one another: ‘Every domain is linked to every
at

at
in the past couple of decades contemporary artists across Asia other one, and … nothing that goes on in our world has ever
tm

tm
have been increasingly willing to experiment with traditional been isolated and pure of any outside influence.’1
artistic techniques, forms and values, sometimes out of
gh

gh
INK AND BRUSH
i

nostalgia for the past, sometimes in a self-reflexive, post-

i
r

r
modern critique of identity, at other times to revel in the
py

In East Asia, experimentation had at least one specific area

py
commodification of difference in the new global art market. of focus, an effort to transform practices of ink and brush
co

co
Whatever the motive, these artists feel free to approach tradi- painting and calligraphy, once associated with a literati
tion as a starting point, and as an inspiration to be used and tradition of gentleman-scholars. Many of the artists who con-
combined with more contemporary practices – altered, nego- tributed to this new emerging sensibility were self-trained,
tiated with and even deconstructed in any way they see fit. or were not a product of the usual apprentice systems in
They sometimes ignore expectations of what traditional art the traditional arts, and consequently their work bears little
should look like and, equally, its longstanding commemora- resemblance to traditional imagery associated with this art.
tive, nationalistic, political or ideological uses. The sum of their activities was also frequently viewed as
Many new and hybrid modes of expression have emerged, a challenge or slight to tradition by artists whose primary
frequently integrating local traditional art forms such as concern was the continuity of traditional art forms. And there
ink painting, calligraphy, ceramics, dance and textiles with is perhaps some truth in the complaint, for underlying this

Wu Guanzhong Rising Sun on Mt. Hua n.d. Suh Se-ok Person 1992 Farhad Moshiri Eshgh (Love) 2007
Ink and colour on paper, 179 x 95 cm (70 1/2 x 37 3/8 in.) Ink on mulberry paper, 38 x 28 cm (15 x 11 in.) Crystals and glitter on canvas with acrylic mounted
on board, 155 x 176 cm (61 x 691/4 in.)
38 RETHINKING TRADITION INK AND BRUSH 39

as a provocative unsettling of the usual relationship between


language and meaning:
I have created many text-based works. On looking at
them people generally feel both a sense of familiarity
and estrangement, or estrangement yet familiarity.
But what is happening on the surface and internally
are different. They function like a computer virus.
Their action within people’s minds causes a confu-
sion about original concepts, customs and modes of
cognition impeding normal thought processes. What
they do is create a new free space and reclaim the
origin of the thought process and thereby allow re-

y
l

l
appraisal of one’s own culture.2

on

on
The prestige enjoyed by Xu’s New English Calligraphy

ce

ce
has to some degree obscured the recognition of other Chinese

en

en
experimental artists who took a keen interest in traditional

er

er
calligraphy. Before emigrating to the United States in 1987,

ef

ef
with Western conceptual, video and installation art. Much, Wenda Gu (b. 1955) had been making experimental paintings

r
if not all, of Xu’s work focuses on the relationship between combining invented calligraphy and landscape imagery: he,

or

or
art and language, as epitomized by a 1994 performance in along with Xu Bing and others, was part of the ’85 New Wave

f
Beijing called A Case Study of Transference, in which a pig movement, a group of young Chinese artists who, embold-

al

al
i

i
whose body had been painted with English nonsense words ened by the economic liberalization in China during the
er

er
was mated with a pig covered with Chinese nonsense charac- 1980s, began to experiment with art media and subject
at

at
ters in a symbolic effort to bridge the cultural and linguistic matter.3 Gu’s Pseudo Characters series of paintings (1984–86),
tm

tm
divide. The characters Xu used were drawn from Book from the an early and controversial work in China, consisted of giant
Sky (1987–91), an earlier installation and today, still, one of his sheets of rice paper splashed with inverted or incorrectly
gh

gh
most important works with invented language. written characters in ink and acrylic, often massively drawn
i

i
r

r
Xu’s interest in the relationship between language and so as to dwarf background landscape imagery in a deliberate
py

py
meaning converged once again in a series of installations, inversion of the standard tropes of Chinese ink painting.
co

co
begun in 1994, which simulate a classroom environment The series caused immediate offence: ‘pornographic, vulgar,
with desks, calligraphy copybooks, brushes and ink. Viewers obscene and superstitious’ is how one Chinese Communist
were invited to sit and practise the artist’s ‘New English Party official described the paintings.4
Calligraphy’, while watching an instructional video demon- More recently, younger Chinese artists have sought to
challenge was a proposition that is second nature to contem- Nowhere is this more apparent than in the work of the strating the writing technique. Of course, this was no ordinary subvert as well as to reinterpret China’s exalted calligraphic
porary artists in the West but not necessarily familiar to Chinese artist Xu Bing (b. 1955). Born in Chongqing, Xu grew calligraphy. ‘New English Calligraphy’ consisted of written tradition. Qiu Zhijie (b. 1969) and Song Dong (b. 1966)
traditional artists in traditional cultures – that the value of an up in Beijing, where he attended the Central Academy of Fine English-language words rearranged into squares to simulate mimic traditional methods of calligraphy instruction in
artwork need not necessarily lie with its craftsmanship or with Arts, China’s premier art school, before relocating in 1990 to written Chinese characters, which when decoded could still which students make copies of the work of masters until
strict adherence to established forms and techniques, but New York. There he built a successful international career by be read as English (the letters are read from left to right and top they are able to develop their own style. Documentation of
might rightfully arise out of a concept or idea. blending elements of Chinese ink painting and calligraphy to bottom). Xu saw his interactive, experimental calligraphy Qiu’s performance Writing the ‘Orchid Pavilion Preface’ One

Xu Bing Book from the Sky (Tianshu) 1987–91 Xu Bing Square Words – New English Calligraphy 1994–96
Installation view: Elvehjem Museum of Art, Installation view: Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
University of Wisconsin, Madison Desks, chairs, copy and tracing books, ink, brushes, video
Hand-printed books and scrolls
38 RETHINKING TRADITION INK AND BRUSH 39

as a provocative unsettling of the usual relationship between


language and meaning:
I have created many text-based works. On looking at
them people generally feel both a sense of familiarity
and estrangement, or estrangement yet familiarity.
But what is happening on the surface and internally
are different. They function like a computer virus.
Their action within people’s minds causes a confu-
sion about original concepts, customs and modes of
cognition impeding normal thought processes. What
they do is create a new free space and reclaim the
origin of the thought process and thereby allow re-

y
l

l
appraisal of one’s own culture.2

on

on
The prestige enjoyed by Xu’s New English Calligraphy

ce

ce
has to some degree obscured the recognition of other Chinese

en

en
experimental artists who took a keen interest in traditional

er

er
calligraphy. Before emigrating to the United States in 1987,

ef

ef
with Western conceptual, video and installation art. Much, Wenda Gu (b. 1955) had been making experimental paintings

r
if not all, of Xu’s work focuses on the relationship between combining invented calligraphy and landscape imagery: he,

or

or
art and language, as epitomized by a 1994 performance in along with Xu Bing and others, was part of the ’85 New Wave

f
Beijing called A Case Study of Transference, in which a pig movement, a group of young Chinese artists who, embold-

al

al
i

i
whose body had been painted with English nonsense words ened by the economic liberalization in China during the
er

er
was mated with a pig covered with Chinese nonsense charac- 1980s, began to experiment with art media and subject
at

at
ters in a symbolic effort to bridge the cultural and linguistic matter.3 Gu’s Pseudo Characters series of paintings (1984–86),
tm

tm
divide. The characters Xu used were drawn from Book from the an early and controversial work in China, consisted of giant
Sky (1987–91), an earlier installation and today, still, one of his sheets of rice paper splashed with inverted or incorrectly
gh

gh
most important works with invented language. written characters in ink and acrylic, often massively drawn
i

i
r

r
Xu’s interest in the relationship between language and so as to dwarf background landscape imagery in a deliberate
py

py
meaning converged once again in a series of installations, inversion of the standard tropes of Chinese ink painting.
co

co
begun in 1994, which simulate a classroom environment The series caused immediate offence: ‘pornographic, vulgar,
with desks, calligraphy copybooks, brushes and ink. Viewers obscene and superstitious’ is how one Chinese Communist
were invited to sit and practise the artist’s ‘New English Party official described the paintings.4
Calligraphy’, while watching an instructional video demon- More recently, younger Chinese artists have sought to
challenge was a proposition that is second nature to contem- Nowhere is this more apparent than in the work of the strating the writing technique. Of course, this was no ordinary subvert as well as to reinterpret China’s exalted calligraphic
porary artists in the West but not necessarily familiar to Chinese artist Xu Bing (b. 1955). Born in Chongqing, Xu grew calligraphy. ‘New English Calligraphy’ consisted of written tradition. Qiu Zhijie (b. 1969) and Song Dong (b. 1966)
traditional artists in traditional cultures – that the value of an up in Beijing, where he attended the Central Academy of Fine English-language words rearranged into squares to simulate mimic traditional methods of calligraphy instruction in
artwork need not necessarily lie with its craftsmanship or with Arts, China’s premier art school, before relocating in 1990 to written Chinese characters, which when decoded could still which students make copies of the work of masters until
strict adherence to established forms and techniques, but New York. There he built a successful international career by be read as English (the letters are read from left to right and top they are able to develop their own style. Documentation of
might rightfully arise out of a concept or idea. blending elements of Chinese ink painting and calligraphy to bottom). Xu saw his interactive, experimental calligraphy Qiu’s performance Writing the ‘Orchid Pavilion Preface’ One

Xu Bing Book from the Sky (Tianshu) 1987–91 Xu Bing Square Words – New English Calligraphy 1994–96
Installation view: Elvehjem Museum of Art, Installation view: Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
University of Wisconsin, Madison Desks, chairs, copy and tracing books, ink, brushes, video
Hand-printed books and scrolls
y

y
l

l
on

on
ce

ce
en

en
er

er
ef

ef
r

r
80 PARTICIPATORY PRACTICES

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84 SOCIA L CONSCIOUSNESS
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97 POLITICAL HISTORIES
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108 GENDERED AGENDAS
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80 PARTICIPATORY PRACTICES

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84 SOCIA L CONSCIOUSNESS
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97 POLITICAL HISTORIES
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108 GENDERED AGENDAS
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88 POLITICS, SOCIETY AND THE STATE SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS 89

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on

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or

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issues. ‘Cindy [Sherman] and I are like brother and sister,’ he quite correct. It’s not as easy for me as it is for today’s
7
has said. His large-scale self-portraits depict him in scenes young people, for whom morphing into something
gh

gh
i

reinterpreting or parodying Western art masterpieces, with else is a continuation of everyday existence. In my day

i
r

r
the artist costumed, elaborately made-up and taking the place ‘transforming’ oneself was a far greater hurdle than it
py

py
of the original figures. In other artworks he takes off famous is now, and my attempts were in part intended to over-
co

co
photographs of pop icons and celebrities such as Marilyn come that very hurdle.8
Monroe, Madonna and Michael Jackson, as in Self-Portrait – Like Morimura, New York-based Korean Nikki S. Lee (b.
After Marilyn Monroe (1996). Morimura’s work is often associ- 1970) uses self-portraiture: rather than assuming the identity
ated by critics with a tendency of the late 1980s known as of popular culture icons, however, she insinuates herself into
appropriation art – a visual strategy celebrating the re-use of different ethnic and sub-culture communities (including drag
recognizable cultural imagery – but it also seems directed at queens, punks, Latinos, skateboarders, hip-hop musicians
consumerism along with a desire for personal transforma- and fans) and documents herself in snapshots dressed up in
tion. As the artist has said: imitation of her hosts. Satirical/subversive self-portraits are
… people sometimes view me as a typical example of also the basis of paintings by Chatchai Puipia (b. 1964) which
the current lust for transformation, but that’s not reflect on aspects of Thai society. Siamese Smile (1995) is a

Morimura Yasumasa Portrait (Futago) 1988–90 Morimura Yasumasa Self-Portrait (B/W) – After Marilyn Monroe 1996
Colour photograph, transparent medium, Gelatin silver print, 45.09 x 35.56 cm (173/4 x 14 in.)
240.03 x 342.9 cm (941/2 x 135 in.)
88 POLITICS, SOCIETY AND THE STATE SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS 89

y
l

l
on

on
ce

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en

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er

er
ef

ef
r

r
or

or
f

f
al

al
i

i
er

er
at

at
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issues. ‘Cindy [Sherman] and I are like brother and sister,’ he quite correct. It’s not as easy for me as it is for today’s
7
has said. His large-scale self-portraits depict him in scenes young people, for whom morphing into something
gh

gh
i

reinterpreting or parodying Western art masterpieces, with else is a continuation of everyday existence. In my day

i
r

r
the artist costumed, elaborately made-up and taking the place ‘transforming’ oneself was a far greater hurdle than it
py

py
of the original figures. In other artworks he takes off famous is now, and my attempts were in part intended to over-
co

co
photographs of pop icons and celebrities such as Marilyn come that very hurdle.8
Monroe, Madonna and Michael Jackson, as in Self-Portrait – Like Morimura, New York-based Korean Nikki S. Lee (b.
After Marilyn Monroe (1996). Morimura’s work is often associ- 1970) uses self-portraiture: rather than assuming the identity
ated by critics with a tendency of the late 1980s known as of popular culture icons, however, she insinuates herself into
appropriation art – a visual strategy celebrating the re-use of different ethnic and sub-culture communities (including drag
recognizable cultural imagery – but it also seems directed at queens, punks, Latinos, skateboarders, hip-hop musicians
consumerism along with a desire for personal transforma- and fans) and documents herself in snapshots dressed up in
tion. As the artist has said: imitation of her hosts. Satirical/subversive self-portraits are
… people sometimes view me as a typical example of also the basis of paintings by Chatchai Puipia (b. 1964) which
the current lust for transformation, but that’s not reflect on aspects of Thai society. Siamese Smile (1995) is a

Morimura Yasumasa Portrait (Futago) 1988–90 Morimura Yasumasa Self-Portrait (B/W) – After Marilyn Monroe 1996
Colour photograph, transparent medium, Gelatin silver print, 45.09 x 35.56 cm (173/4 x 14 in.)
240.03 x 342.9 cm (941/2 x 135 in.)
164 URBAN NATURE

T oday Asia is home to some of the largest metropolises landscapes, attesting to different stages of social and eco-
on earth, with four of the world’s ten most populous nomic development across the region as well as differing
cities – Tokyo, Mumbai, Shanghai and Calcutta – along views on the changes. Some artists, moulded by the events of
with other major urban centres such as Karachi, Delhi, Seoul the recent past, focus their attention on the phenomenal

y
l

l
on
and Beijing. According to United Nations estimates, there urban growth and transformation in their immediate envi-

on
are over 1.6 billion people living in Asia’s urban areas. ronment, while others juxtapose the signs and symbols of

ce

ce
Consequently, innumerable works by Asian artists are invig- contemporary Asian cities in the attempt to make sense of the

en

en
orated by the energy of high-density – and, more specifically, changes in their societies; still others lament the loss of nature

er

er
high-rise – city living. These works are also liable to convey and local architectural heritage. In any case, much of this work

ef

ef
some of the many paradoxes that continue to characterize is unsettling, posing questions about the environment and

r
life throughout the region, with gleaming post-modern and the impact of industrialization and new technology on every-

or

or
progressive urban developments and shopping malls often day life. One example: Pakistani artist Huma Mulji’s (b. 1970)

f
al

al
coexisting with farmland, shanty towns, traffic chaos and object sculpture Heavenly Heights (2009), consisting of a taxi-
i

i
toxic pollution. dermy buffalo entangled in the scaffolding of an electricity
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‘Cities on the Move’ was the title given to one of the earli- tower as an emblem for uneven development.
at

at
est and largest pan-Asian contemporary art exhibitions – Although many Asian artists are reacting to changes
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and with good reason. Presented in Vienna, Bordeaux, wrought by rapidly evolving societies, the art in this chapter
Copenhagen, London, New York and Bangkok from 1997 to need not be read only from a viewpoint informed by the events
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of the last few decades. One can also take a historical reading
i

1999, it included works by over one hundred artists, archi-

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tects, designers, urban planners and film-makers, examining of the works as indicative of the way in which modern and con-
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the explosive urbanization, high-speed reconstruction and temporary art in Asia is largely synonymous with the urban
co

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ongoing mutation of Asian cities during the 1990s. It mapped experience. Jim Supangkat has identified modernism in
the contours of social change, the legacy of colonialism, new Indonesia (and by extension, we would argue, the rest of Asia)
economic imperatives and population explosion. Looking as being almost exclusively a ‘metropolitan phenomenon’,
back, the show’s curators Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hou Hanru since it occurred only in major metropolitan centres.1 In India,
seem prescient, capturing a theme that is not only regionally contemporary art is often referred to as ‘urban/modern’ to dis-
but globally significant, as the work discussed in this chapter tinguish it from tribal or folk art (adivasi), which still thrives
reveals. in rural areas. Each artist, whether directly or indirectly, is a
By and large, this art reflects conflicted rather than product of these circumstances rather than simply delving
wholeheartedly positive responses to these changing urban into autonomous concerns.

Huma Mulji Heavenly Heights 2009


Installation view: Zahoor Ul Akhlaq Gallery, National College of Arts,
Lahore. Taxidermic buffalo, powder-coated pylon, cotton, wool,
ceramic part and steel cable, 434.3 x 188 x 300 cm (171 x 74 x 118 in.)
164 URBAN NATURE

T oday Asia is home to some of the largest metropolises landscapes, attesting to different stages of social and eco-
on earth, with four of the world’s ten most populous nomic development across the region as well as differing
cities – Tokyo, Mumbai, Shanghai and Calcutta – along views on the changes. Some artists, moulded by the events of
with other major urban centres such as Karachi, Delhi, Seoul the recent past, focus their attention on the phenomenal

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and Beijing. According to United Nations estimates, there urban growth and transformation in their immediate envi-

on
are over 1.6 billion people living in Asia’s urban areas. ronment, while others juxtapose the signs and symbols of

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Consequently, innumerable works by Asian artists are invig- contemporary Asian cities in the attempt to make sense of the

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orated by the energy of high-density – and, more specifically, changes in their societies; still others lament the loss of nature

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high-rise – city living. These works are also liable to convey and local architectural heritage. In any case, much of this work

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some of the many paradoxes that continue to characterize is unsettling, posing questions about the environment and

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life throughout the region, with gleaming post-modern and the impact of industrialization and new technology on every-

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progressive urban developments and shopping malls often day life. One example: Pakistani artist Huma Mulji’s (b. 1970)

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coexisting with farmland, shanty towns, traffic chaos and object sculpture Heavenly Heights (2009), consisting of a taxi-
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toxic pollution. dermy buffalo entangled in the scaffolding of an electricity
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‘Cities on the Move’ was the title given to one of the earli- tower as an emblem for uneven development.
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est and largest pan-Asian contemporary art exhibitions – Although many Asian artists are reacting to changes
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and with good reason. Presented in Vienna, Bordeaux, wrought by rapidly evolving societies, the art in this chapter
Copenhagen, London, New York and Bangkok from 1997 to need not be read only from a viewpoint informed by the events
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of the last few decades. One can also take a historical reading
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1999, it included works by over one hundred artists, archi-

i
r

r
tects, designers, urban planners and film-makers, examining of the works as indicative of the way in which modern and con-
py

py
the explosive urbanization, high-speed reconstruction and temporary art in Asia is largely synonymous with the urban
co

co
ongoing mutation of Asian cities during the 1990s. It mapped experience. Jim Supangkat has identified modernism in
the contours of social change, the legacy of colonialism, new Indonesia (and by extension, we would argue, the rest of Asia)
economic imperatives and population explosion. Looking as being almost exclusively a ‘metropolitan phenomenon’,
back, the show’s curators Hans Ulrich Obrist and Hou Hanru since it occurred only in major metropolitan centres.1 In India,
seem prescient, capturing a theme that is not only regionally contemporary art is often referred to as ‘urban/modern’ to dis-
but globally significant, as the work discussed in this chapter tinguish it from tribal or folk art (adivasi), which still thrives
reveals. in rural areas. Each artist, whether directly or indirectly, is a
By and large, this art reflects conflicted rather than product of these circumstances rather than simply delving
wholeheartedly positive responses to these changing urban into autonomous concerns.

Huma Mulji Heavenly Heights 2009


Installation view: Zahoor Ul Akhlaq Gallery, National College of Arts,
Lahore. Taxidermic buffalo, powder-coated pylon, cotton, wool,
ceramic part and steel cable, 434.3 x 188 x 300 cm (171 x 74 x 118 in.)
178 URBAN NATURE CORPORATE CULTURE 179

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debased figure, equivalent to an android, and expendable, among them Zhu Fadong (b. 1960), who in 1994 moved from
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much like the race of bumbling, identical creatures that his home in Yunan Province to Beijing, where he wandered
inhabit PiNMeN (1999–2001), Ikeda’s comic, animated the city streets dressed in a Mao-style suit with a sign on his
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commentary on hyper-conformism in Japanese society. In back saying, ‘This man is for sale, please discuss the price in
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one episode these are depicted as bowling pins waiting for a person’. It was about the transformation of people into com-
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ball to strike them down. modities in the new capitalist economy.
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In 1994, a dilapidated Orthodox church in central The arrival of capitalism in China has brought opportuni-
Shanghai was unexpectedly renovated. People were confused: ties but, as the works of some younger artists indicate, it is also
was Christianity on the rise in China? The building was, fraught with danger. Cao Fei’s (b. 1978) video and photo-
however, to become the Shanghai stock market – ‘an ironic graphic series Rabid Dogs (2002) pokes fun at the prosperous
example’, curator and writer Hou Hanru has written, ‘of the urban yuppies who greeted corporate culture, in her estima-
replacement of traditional religious spirituality with the new tion, with the enthusiasm of puppy dogs. For this series, she
religion of monetary fetishism which became pervasive in dressed young people in Burberry designer clothes, had their
8
China in the 1990s’. Chinese artists have sought to explore faces painted to resemble dogs, and then instructed them to
the shifts in mentality and morality consequent upon grow- crawl around an office mimicking the playful exuberance of
ing commercialization, consumerism and corporatization, puppies. In a similar vein, Shi Jinsong’s (b. 1969) sculptural

Momoyo Torimitsu Miyata Jiro 1995 Cao Fei Dog Days (Rabid Dogs Series) 2002
Performance: Wall Street, New York, 1997 Digital C-print, 90 x 60 cm (353/8 x 235/8 in.)
Battery-operated polyester resin figure with acrylic paint
178 URBAN NATURE CORPORATE CULTURE 179

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debased figure, equivalent to an android, and expendable, among them Zhu Fadong (b. 1960), who in 1994 moved from
tm

tm
much like the race of bumbling, identical creatures that his home in Yunan Province to Beijing, where he wandered
inhabit PiNMeN (1999–2001), Ikeda’s comic, animated the city streets dressed in a Mao-style suit with a sign on his
gh

gh
commentary on hyper-conformism in Japanese society. In back saying, ‘This man is for sale, please discuss the price in
i

i
r

r
one episode these are depicted as bowling pins waiting for a person’. It was about the transformation of people into com-
py

py
ball to strike them down. modities in the new capitalist economy.
co

co
In 1994, a dilapidated Orthodox church in central The arrival of capitalism in China has brought opportuni-
Shanghai was unexpectedly renovated. People were confused: ties but, as the works of some younger artists indicate, it is also
was Christianity on the rise in China? The building was, fraught with danger. Cao Fei’s (b. 1978) video and photo-
however, to become the Shanghai stock market – ‘an ironic graphic series Rabid Dogs (2002) pokes fun at the prosperous
example’, curator and writer Hou Hanru has written, ‘of the urban yuppies who greeted corporate culture, in her estima-
replacement of traditional religious spirituality with the new tion, with the enthusiasm of puppy dogs. For this series, she
religion of monetary fetishism which became pervasive in dressed young people in Burberry designer clothes, had their
8
China in the 1990s’. Chinese artists have sought to explore faces painted to resemble dogs, and then instructed them to
the shifts in mentality and morality consequent upon grow- crawl around an office mimicking the playful exuberance of
ing commercialization, consumerism and corporatization, puppies. In a similar vein, Shi Jinsong’s (b. 1969) sculptural

Momoyo Torimitsu Miyata Jiro 1995 Cao Fei Dog Days (Rabid Dogs Series) 2002
Performance: Wall Street, New York, 1997 Digital C-print, 90 x 60 cm (353/8 x 235/8 in.)
Battery-operated polyester resin figure with acrylic paint
198 URBAN NATURE IMAGINARY CITIES 199

the background. Neither referential nor evidential, these pho- composed in such a way as to imitate traditional landscape
tographs embody a kind of spatial fantasy in which imaging paintings, with objects arranged sequentially to fill the fore,
and imagining are tightly entwined. The spectator is asked to middle and background. This makes for disorienting juxta-
deconstruct the visual logic associated with an increasingly positions, such as the sight of New York’s Empire State
artificial urban environment. Building looming over Osaka Castle. For the artist, the images
Distinctions between the real and artificial are similarly are about urban spectacle, distraction and consumption,
obscured – and to some extent more palpably realized – in serving as a metaphor for South Korea’s desire to play a part
Real World I #01 (2004), by Back Seung-Woo (b. 1973), one of a in global cosmopolitanism.
series of colour photographs made in a popular South Korean National ideals and aspirations underlie the work of
‘global’ theme park, Aiinsworld, featuring miniatures of Alexander Ugay (b. 1978), a photographer from Kazakhstan
world-famous architectural structures such as St Basil’s who reflects on the way in which this vast oil-rich Central
Cathedral, Brooklyn Bridge and the Arc de Triomphe, all Asian country is getting a twenty-first-century makeover

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visible against the skyline of Seoul. The photographs are following its political independence from the Soviet Union

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Yeondoo Jung Location #4 2005 Back Seung-Woo Real World I #01 2004
C-print, 122 x 153 cm (48 x 601/4 in.) Digital print, 127 x 169 cm (50 x 661/2 in.)
198 URBAN NATURE IMAGINARY CITIES 199

the background. Neither referential nor evidential, these pho- composed in such a way as to imitate traditional landscape
tographs embody a kind of spatial fantasy in which imaging paintings, with objects arranged sequentially to fill the fore,
and imagining are tightly entwined. The spectator is asked to middle and background. This makes for disorienting juxta-
deconstruct the visual logic associated with an increasingly positions, such as the sight of New York’s Empire State
artificial urban environment. Building looming over Osaka Castle. For the artist, the images
Distinctions between the real and artificial are similarly are about urban spectacle, distraction and consumption,
obscured – and to some extent more palpably realized – in serving as a metaphor for South Korea’s desire to play a part
Real World I #01 (2004), by Back Seung-Woo (b. 1973), one of a in global cosmopolitanism.
series of colour photographs made in a popular South Korean National ideals and aspirations underlie the work of
‘global’ theme park, Aiinsworld, featuring miniatures of Alexander Ugay (b. 1978), a photographer from Kazakhstan
world-famous architectural structures such as St Basil’s who reflects on the way in which this vast oil-rich Central
Cathedral, Brooklyn Bridge and the Arc de Triomphe, all Asian country is getting a twenty-first-century makeover

y
l

l
visible against the skyline of Seoul. The photographs are following its political independence from the Soviet Union

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on
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Yeondoo Jung Location #4 2005 Back Seung-Woo Real World I #01 2004
C-print, 122 x 153 cm (48 x 601/4 in.) Digital print, 127 x 169 cm (50 x 661/2 in.)
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