With works by Yoeri Guépin, Ho Tzu Nyen, Chia Wei Hsu, siren eun young jung, Jane Jin Kaisen, Alexander Keefe in collaboration with Ashoke Chatterjee and Liz Phillips, Tomoko Kikuchi, Ayoung Kim, Hwayeon Nam, Ko Sakai and Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Lieko Shiga, Simon Soon in collaboration with Stella and Roger Nelson, Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez, Erika Tan, Fiona Tan, Evelyn Taocheng Wang, Ming Wong, Yo Daham, and Zheng Guogu
The exhibition explores the turbulence of imperialism, colonialism, and nation-state building and its impact on tradition, and how it continues to manifest in our lives today. Tradition is still a part of people’s daily lives in Asia, connecting generations, transmitting the values of the community, and serving as a living archive of the future emergence of cultures. On the other hand, it is also estranged by perceptions as a source of patriarchy, authoritarianism, and outdated customs. Departing from an understanding of tradition as a contested space where one can critically reflect on Asian modernization, the exhibition provides a liminal space to expand our knowledge of regional modernization.
The works in the exhibition are weaved and intricated with what is derived from unraveling the comprehensive notion of tradition, such as the art of narrating and reenacting the old; old and ancestral symbols that bring a sense of belonging and spirituality; cultural things that sustain and stimulate the community’s belief system; all related on-going cultural reproductions, and the substantive nature of tradition in vulnerability and transformation. While these would be the common understanding of tradition, it has been further refracted and complicated in Asia through other prisms of pan-Asianism, Orientalism, the Cold War ideology, and nationalism.
Westernization has always been synonymous with East Asia’s modernization, as seen in the late 19th century. Asia itself has absurdly propelled (and promoted) the discursive cultivation of “Asia.” In the aftermath of Asia’s encounter with the ambivalent images of the West as exploiter and of progress, one criticizes Western Orientalism as originating from the vein of Western self-centrism, and Asia has strived to be an antipode generated by the figure of the West. Japanese intellectuals sought to emulate the West following the Meiji Restoration and strove to construct “Asianness” as a counter-image of the “West.” Non-modern primitive nature, associated with sublime images of high mountains or a waterfall, were often instrumentalized for Asian spiritual tradition under Japan’s Pan-Asian ambition, which later colluded with the Pacific War through Japanese militant nationalism.
These contexts are tangent with Fiona Tan’s breathtaking film Ascent (2016) presenting the visual studies around Mount Fuji, and the absorbing narratives in Ho Tzu Nyen’s Hotel Aporia (2020) which provide a glimpse into the historical characters such as Kyoto School scholars in their philosophical arguments over the notion of void and members of the Kamikaze unit during the Pacific War. Hwayeon Nam’s Dancer from the Peninsula (2019) explores the controversial Asian diva’s unruly aspiration for East Asian Dance amidst the 20th imperial, colonial, and ideological turbulence. In Shanta Rao: A Memory (2020) by Ashoke Chatterjee in collaboration with Alexander Keefe, we trace the dramatic shifts of classical Indian dance by the defied figure of Shanta Rao and her artistic engagement going beyond her representation with urban, educated, high-caste cosmopolitans. Chia Wei Hsu’s Stones and Elephants (2019) and Erika Tan’s The ‘Forgotten’ Weaver (2017-2019) revisit the history of colonial objectification in the colonial possession of craft, fauna, and flora.
Tradition in Asia can also be understood as an apparatus under competitive nationalism and modernization projects. In South Korea, as the nation initiated and accelerated industrial modernization, a military dictatorship in the 1960s and 70s oppressed and launched a movement to eradicate age-old religious forms such as Shamanism on the basis that they were “unscientific” or “irrational.” Reflecting abandonment, separation, the migration of brutal Asian andro-modernity, and its border making adaptations, Jane Jin Kaisen’s Community of Parting (2019) employs the aesthetics and ethics of memory across time and space of a female Korean shaman and Bari (South Korean mythological princess).
During the Cold War, tradition in Asia was often called into being through complex tensions with neighboring countries and as a result, simultaneously named and characterized. Through immediate interventions or the ripple effects of the grand Cold War discourse–such as the reverse-mirroring cultural policies over Confucianism between Taiwan and mainland China, South Korea and North Korea in the 60s and 70s–tradition was discarded, devastated, and forced as part of the national and ideological narrative. The related phenomena such as the reproduction of traditional culture are explored in Ming Wong’s Tales from the Bamboo Spaceship (2019), which traces the history of Cantonese opera’s transition from stage to screen. In The Heart’s Desire (2020) by Simon Soon in collaboration with Stella and Roger Nelson, alternative histories of Southeast Asia’s performing arts are unearthed as animated GIFs. Further examining the transgressive potential of the performing arts, the exhibition brings attention to the temporal particularities of traditional dance and music that transcended oppression by modernity’s grand narratives.
The works invoked by long traditional methods present an intriguing medium of practice today: the bodily experience led by knitting forces and recognition of natural cycles found in Yo Daham’s work Incense Burner (2020) where craftsmanship is implicated, and Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s Eight View of Oud-Charlois (2019) series presents her quotidian stories living in a humble neighborhood in Rotterdam in a sentiment of Classic Chinese poetry and a style of the Song dynasty’s Xiaoxiang ink painting. Zheng Guogu’s Liao Garden (2016) and Ayoung Kim’s Petrogenesis, Petra Genetrix (2019) speak for the traditional spirituality towards land or ancient animism that reveals the equivalence between primeval objects and the futuristic memory sphere. The ruins observed in Yoeri Guépin’s Garden of Perfect Brightness (2019) and Lieko Shiga’s Rasen Kaigan (2012) lingers between enchanted and haunted, invoking an emotionally and psychologically complex reality that sways between the modern and the non-modern.
Lastly, we see how the ebb and flow of tradition is not reliant on certain official authorities, through the portraits of unruly women by the names of Shanta Rao, Choi Seunghee, and Bari; with the oral transmission of elderly people in Storyteller (2013) by Ko Sakai and Ryusuke Hamaguchi rendering an empowering moment for the ravaged community; with the delightful scenes in Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez’s Manakamana (2013) where a machine does not destroy but carries and sustains the pilgrimages of different communities in South East Asia; and with tradition entangled with the genderqueer community in Tomoko Kukuchi’s Funerals under Neon Light (2014), in which the vital role that transgender communities take on in the ritual of funerals in rural China is visible. siren eun young jung’s immersive video installation A Performing by Flash, Afterimage, Velocity, and Noise (2019) imagines the possible genealogy of queer performance of aged actors of Korean female traditional theater, Yeoseong Gukgeuk and further explore the politics and aesthetics of queering with the anomalous bodies and its performing.
The works in Frequencies of Tradition weave together multiple nodes and trajectories through the compelling aesthetics of time-based mediums like video, film, and performance. Through fascinating collective memories, spirituality, archival imagination, different technological engagements, and empowerment, the exhibition reveals a mode of the ungovernable. While asking how the development, modernization, the violence of conventions, nationalism, and the norms of such histories continue to manifest and materialize today, the exhibition uncovers an enthralling space found in and through tradition, where one can encounter the vernacular plural state of Asian modernization.
Co-organized by Guangdong Times Museum (Guangzhou, China) and KADIST, Frequencies of Tradition is the culmination of a three-year series of programs entitled Frequency of Tradition, comprising exhibitions, and seminars taking place across Asia, curated by Hyunjin Kim, Lead Regional Curator for Asia and initiated by KADIST.
The Guangdong Times Museum celebrates the social values of culture and embrace our communities at home and abroad, attempting to indigenize the language of contemporary art, while also supporting artists to present their critical ideas and to produce ambitious works. By creating a network of thinkers, artists, and initiatives across regions and cultures, Guangdong Times Museum is making Guangzhou a great place for art goers and cultural producers. After a decade of robust programming, Guangdong Times Museum has become a cultural landmark of the city where people can discover art, connect with each other, feel inspired by unexpected learning and worldly experiences.
Guangdong Times Museum
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