G.5 Complicated Politics in Contexts: Participation in Art in Asia

Sat Oct 23 / 9:00 – 10:30 PDT
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  • Ji Eun (Camille) Sung, University of British Columbia

Art historians and performance art scholars have discussed participation as a radical method of generating political power in art, particularly against capitalism, the institutionalization of art, and patriarchy. While this discourse grew primarily from Euro-North American contexts, artworks in Asia, from the East to the South, show different conceptions and materializations of participation within the experiences of colonialism and decolonization and the disparate processes of modernization, economic development, and sometimes democratization. Participation in these examples, thus, takes various subjects — artist, audience, or art —, diverse forms — painting, theatre, popular culture, and theory — and contrasting ends — art's social engagement, the advanced avant-garde art, and the material and intellectual development of the nation.

This panel aims to complicate the concept or method of participation that has been ardently used in art since the 1990s by focusing on various contemporary cases from India, Korea, and Southeast Asia. The cases did not appear or aim at the locals, but all acknowledge the world intimately connected by transnational neo-liberalism and even expand the scope of their work to collaborate with other parts in this connected world. As the presentations reveal, the neo-liberalism sweeping Asia and the incorporation and materialization of participation in art have a complex relationship, where one can find resistance and sometimes support. By doing so, the panel will problematize the Eurocentric discussion on participation in art and provide different understandings of the concept manifested in the discussed cases. By providing analyses of variegated kinds of participation in different parts of Asia, the panel will expand the geographical and discursive topography of the pre-existing discourse of participation.

Ji Eun (Camille) Sung is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory at the University of British Columbia. She investigates action- and object-based artworks and their interaction between artists, audiences, and society, with a particular focus on postwar Korean art within a network between Korea, Japan, France, and the US. Her broader research interest includes the relationship between history and theory, practice and theory, global modernisms, and queer and feminist art practice and activism. Sung has presented her work in numerous conferences and symposiums throughout Asia and North America, including the conference of the International Association of Aesthetics, the World Congress of Art History, and the College Art Association. She has also worked as a curator and art critic in Seoul, organizing exhibitions and festivals, including READ MY LIPS and Research on Feminist Art Now.

G.5.1 Public Art Intervention and the Politics of Participation in the City of Bengaluru

Shramona Maiti, Jawaharlal Nehru University

With the rise of participatory strategies of art-making seen across the globe since the 1990s, social engagement often surfaces as a leitmotif. While it has been lauded for its reconciliatory promise at a time of rising economic inequality, such gestures have also been characterized by their apparent distance from commercialization and, by extension, the institutionalization of art. This paper, however, complicates the idea of participation by discussing three cases from the south Indian city of Bengaluru, seeing how neoliberal appropriations of the concept of participation occasions a dialectic in the ecology of such practice in the global South. Starting with the practice of artist Suresh G. Reddy, and focussing on his role as an art educator working on expressions of "public art intervention," these instances will be read as interruptions in the city's idiom of development; the paper locates in them an agonistic stance towards the rapid urbanization of the city. The next two cases look at: one, urban art projects by Jaaga, an interdisciplinary art space, collaborating with the city's urban planning departments; and two, the Rangoli Art Centre project at the M.G. Road Metro station, pioneered by the government's Namma Metro in conjunction with artist Surekha serving as the curator. Thus, the paper locates a dialectic of participation, where it illustrates how, on the one hand, the first instance bears an oppositional relation with public policies of urbanization in the city, while on the other, urbanization strategies aimed at the city's 'beautification' have also effectuated a partnership between the state and certain artists. It, therefore, does not read participation solely through the lens of its relation to anti-institutional capacities, but takes into account participatory strategies of urban governance that are continually reconstructing the subjectivity of the "citizen" and, in turn, that of the "artist-activist."

Shramona Maiti is a PhD candidate in Visual Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her research is supported by the Junior Research Fellowship grant from the University Grants Commission, India. Her MPhil dissertation titled The Shaping of Participatory Art in Bengaluru: Dialogue, Dissensus and the City is an inquiry on artist-led spaces in Bengaluru/Bangalore and the ensuing turn towards public engagement in the art praxis of the city. She has worked on several gallery and museum-based projects and is keen on exploring the implications of pedagogy in shaping artistic desire towards alternative modes of institution building.

G.5.2 Collaborators, Allies, and Accomplices: Mixrice and Post-Minjung in Korean Art

Vicki Sung-yeon Kwon, University of Alberta

In 2002, the South Korean artist collective Mixrice began to work closely with migrant workers from Southeast Asian nations who live in Korea as (in)visible minorities and as the subaltern in post-IMF South Korea. By participating in the migrant workers’ human rights and labour activism and collaborating with them, Mixrice practised community art that addressed South Korean bias against migrant workers. After their return to their hometown, Mixrice visited their collaborators in Butwal, Nepal, the hometown of many migrant workers, and turned their encounter into the multimedia travelogue Return (2006), which was displayed at the Gwangju Biennale. Drawing on Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s critique on European scholars speaking for the subaltern and Anna Tsing’s discussion on subaltern desire and friction generated at heterogeneous and unequal encounters, I examine how Mixrice (re)presented the migrant workers and the Butwal residents and how the artists collaborated with the migrant workers. To situate Mixrice in the South Korean history of socially engaged art, I outline the two main movements of socially engaged art practices in Korea, namely Minjung art in the 1980s and post-Minjung art after the mid-1990s. In addressing the question of how post-Minjung overcomes the problem of Minjung art’s othering of minjung, I argue that the asymmetrical power relationship between the artists and participants appears in Return through the tensions between and contradictory desires of the artists and the migrant workers.

Vicki Sung-yeon Kwon is a PhD candidate in the History of Art, Design, and Visual Culture at the University of Alberta, where she also teaches art as social practice and twentieth-century art in East Asia in relation to alternative modernisms, global contemporaneity, and transnationalism. Kwon's doctoral research explores socially engaged art in transnational contact zones facilitated by artists from East Asia, focusing on the representation of the subaltern, historical justice, and post-disaster communities. Her work has been published in journals including Korean Studies, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Asian Studies Review, and Imaginations. As a curator, coordinator, and researcher, she has participated in exhibitions held in Canada, Norway, South Korea, and Switzerland.

G.5.3 Tintin Wulia and the Neoliberal Gaze

Chari Larsson, Griffith University

This paper will consider Indonesian-born Tintin Wulia's interactive and participatory practice with a particular focus on her interrogation of the neoliberal gaze. In projects such as Trade/Trace/Transit (2014–16), Wulia has investigated the cardboard waste route in Hong Kong, highlighting the plight of Hong Kong's precarious Filipino migrant communities. I will argue that Wulia's solicitation of the neoliberal gaze complicates Eurocentric and northern hemisphere discourses of participatory and socially engaged art. These have traditionally tended to promote active over passive modes of spectatorship, where the audience is reconsidered as a coproducer or participant in the work's meaning. Commentators have observed that participatory art was co-opted by a neoliberal agenda in countries such as the UK as a form of soft social engineering (Bishop). Participatory art was viewed as a form of social inclusion by New Labour's cultural policies. This social inclusion agenda, however, does not necessarily extend to contemporary artistic practices in Asia.

Visuality has long been understood as a force of power: it permits who and what may be seen. With genealogical links reaching back to Michel Foucault's formulation of biopower, the neoliberal gaze, however, remains an undertheorized mode of spectatorship. This paper will make a series of proposals as to what a neoliberal gaze might be. Neoliberalism has created conditions of spectatorship that have led to a series of aporetic blind spots. Extending Thomas Nail's theorization of the border as a process of social division, this paper will argue the neoliberal gaze simultaneously blinds and homogenizes. It is this dual condition of spectatorship that Wulia's practice interrogates, in what can best be described as amounting to a crisis in representation.

Dr. Chari Larsson is a Lecturer at Griffith University's Queensland College of Art in Australia, where she lectures in modern and contemporary art. Chari completed her PhD in Art History at the University of Queensland. Her research focuses on theories of images and representation, specifically in the areas of French intellectual history and art historiography. Chari's book Didi-Huberman and the Image was published by Manchester University Press in 2020.