2015.11.02 Mon, by
“We all just need to relax”—sound bites from ACAW

This week is the 10th edition of Asian Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) in New York, an initiative of the San Francisco-based Asia Contemporary Art Consortium (ACAC), financed by the New York Foundation for the Arts. The week features talks, exhibition openings and other events in an effort to convene different facets of what is a mixed and widely spread field in the US (“Asian” being a blanket term), and encourage exchange.

A Field Meeting on October 31st and November 1st at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Hunter College, respectively, involved lectres and discussions with keynote speakers, including artists. randian 燃点 pulled some quotes from the 2 days, of which the theme this year was “Thinking Performance.”


Day 1:

Holland Cotter on pronouncements that an artist from one region has reached greatness, overshadowing others: “Let’s have no more triumphs. Triumphs are over. No more look at this but not that. It’s time for Asian Art to sit at the table with everyone else”

Defne Ayas on what she learned from working in Shanghai: “I was lured by the eternal sense of possibility there—which you later learn doesn’t always materialize”…And on why performance art is so important: “The opportunity to witness the intellectual muscles of the artist via the live medium”

Slovenian Artist Ištvan Išt Huzjan on the vigilance of artists, especially those like himself who move through different cultures and histories: “We must keep asking ourselves, where are our traces leading us?”

From a brief discussion session:

Defne Ayas on dismantling the exhibition structure during the Moscow Biennale: “The most delicious part of an exhibition is the preparation…it’s where you see the performing of the mind of the artist. The white cube doesn’t want that. The white cube just says ‘feed me, feed me, feed me’.”

Ming Wong, asked why he used a female astronaut figure: “A male figure is too obvious…A female space explorer is a place for people to project their own desires”.

To Holland Cotter from an audience member who described his humble and uplifting comments on Asian Art as “heartwarming” but then asked “Do you not think we need tougher criticism of non-Western artists?”

Cotter responded: “If it’s a show that I don’t think is good or worthy, I tend to just step aside…a lot hinges on an artist furthering a movement, and if they aren’t doing that, it’s probably best just to leave it be.”

Defne Ayas replied: “Actually, there are more and more non-New York artists flooding spaces…some people are even saying now that there are not enough New York artists.”

Another audience question: “At least two, maybe three of you mentioned ‘ethics in art’. Can you describe the ethics? Can you articulate what those ethics are?”

Anthony Lee: “Let me just take this out of the way. I think there would only be sincerity…that’s it.”

Holland Cotter: “A lot of really beautiful art has been created for terrible reasons. It’s ethically complicated. I try to look at that and how might you think about it, beyond the pleasure.”

Ištvan Išt Huzjan: “I did not use the word [ethics], but my friend once said, ‘Art without ethics is cosmetics’.”

On ‘the third space’ and its actual potential:

Defne Ayas: “There is a copying of Western museum models in China, including copying the mistakes. But even if one collapses, ten more will pop up in it’s place. It’s a copy and paste situation.”

Leeza Ahmady (Director and Curator of ACAW): “The third space? It’s history…incorporating images and history without shame or guilt.”

An audience member then commented: “A third space is where contemporary power structures are dismantled.”

Defne Ayas: “It’s not like people aren’t interested in the grand paradigms, but they are also interested in quick transmissions, and that is where the third space is.”

Holland Cotter: “On a panel at MoMA they brought a curator from Lagos who managed a museum with a collection but no home. The sense was that he should be learning from MoMA how to survive—but of course, MoMA should be going to Lagos. And that will happen, when MoMA decides it can happen.”

Leeza Ahmady on the first Documenta in Kassel: “There was paranoia about how it would be received…there is always this fear when you go into a place…we all just need to relax.”

Day 2:

Presenters and speakers: Lee Mingwei in conversation with HG Masters, Nora Taylor, Qasim Riza Shaheen, Zeynep Kayan, Vibha Galhorta, Christopher Ho, Arash Fayes, Leeza Ahmady, Double Fly Art Center and Fu Xiaodong, Liu Ding, Tang Dixin, Xiaoyu Weng, Yan Xing, Robin Peckham, Nadim Abbas, Korakrit Arunanondchai, Iftikhar Dadi.
During the afternoon discussion session, an audience member asked the panel, “Can you imagine a Chinese language of the future? 500 years from now?”
Liu Ding answered: “I hope so, but not now. Language in China now is so limited that some nuances are impossible to communicate.”
Another guest asked Tang Dixin, “How do you translate all the noise and chatter in your head into performance?”, to which he responded: “There is always a series of images, of imaginations and physical properties in there. Sweat, the weight of the book…this becomes the process of resistance and empathy.”
Nadim Abbas on dealing with the nature of images in his work: “This cup that I am drinking from it, we cease to notice it because of how ordinary that act is. The image of things disappears with their daily use. I want to recover them. Reverse engineer a live situation.”
Then, on how his interest in physical theater is informing his work: “I want to construct an environment in which performers are moving, but then those animate beings—humans—become objects. What’s an inanimate gesture? What’s the gesture of an object?”
Korakrit Arunanondcha on opposing visual themes in his work: “Buddhism is the consciousness of Thailand and the sex industry there is the unconsciousness.”
Some closing remarks provided by Iftikhar Dadi:
“There is something important about performance, because it is not captured by any other medium. It has it’s own present-ness and temporality.”
“The term “Asian” is problematic now because Asia contains the majority of the world’s population. Perhaps that category is not useful anymore?”
“Tradition is in various states of crisis and transformation.”
Finally, by way of a closing activity, Leeza Ahmady asked the entire room stand up individually and provide one word which reflected on the weekend of Field Meetings. Some of these were: convergence, galaxy, messiness, empathy, observation, camaraderie, acceptance, negotiation, translation, and hesitation.