Wed, Oct 10, 2018 - Page 13 News List

What can an Asian biennial do?

The Kuandu Biennial asks questions about Asia and the potential of its contemporary art

By David Frazier  /  Contributing reporter

The Kuandu Biennial uses a unique and heavily academic format, with every curator paired directly with one or two artists, making for a lot of discourse and discussion. In the current edition, installations tend to be full of documents, texts, photos, videos and other elements of historical narratives. There is not much of poetics or aesthetic beauty.

Yet the ideas are interesting. Curators and works address a multiplicity of “Asias,” the impossible unity of a continent named by the West and encompassing diverse cultures of the Mediterranean “Middle East,” the Indian “subcontinent,” “East Asia” and “Southeast Asia,” the difficulty of finding common history across the region, and vastly different experiences of “Asian” modernity.

The art itself uncovers quirky histories. In the photographic installation International Friendship: The Gifts from Africa, South Korean artist Che One-joon, working with Dutch curator Slager, explores the bizarre history of gifts traded between the governments of North Korea and various African nations during the cold war. The exchange has left numerous monolithic social realist statues of African leaders dotted across the African continent, and an equally bizarre collection of African tchotchkes in the collection of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung.

Taiwanese artist Chen Fei-hao (陳飛豪), working with curator Sandy Lo, looks at the history of Beitou as a hot springs brothel town during the Japanese colonial period, both through historical documents such as postcards and a guidebook listing the prices of prostitutes, as well as a video work called Love Suicide at Snow Melting Train. The video is based on the true story, from around 1900, of the forbidden love affair between a Japanese prostitute and a Japanese clerk at the Chamber of Commerce in Taipei. The couple committed suicide together in Taipei’s Dadaocheng area and were buried in a hiyokuzuka, or “lovers’ grave,” in a cemetery in San Banqiao near Tamsui. The story was adapted to the theater in Japan and became a popular tragic love story of that time. We now revisit this tale through Chen’s installation and 10-minute film.

Other historical or geographical examinations in the exhibition include Christoph Draeger and Heidrun Holzfeind’s installation on Auroville, a still existing utopian commune of 50,000 set up by Europeans in India in 1968, Taiwan’s Orchid Island, and Fiona Tan’s look at representations of Asia by the West, from Marco Polo’s memoirs to modern film and video clips.


The most delightfully irreverent work in the exhibition is Frenchman Rene Vienet’s 1973 film, Can Dialectics Break Bricks? (La dialectique peut-elle casser des briques), which overdubs a Hong Kong kungfu movie with the rhetoric of France’s 1960s radical politics.

It was one of the first films produced by the French Situationists, a group of avant-garde artists and social revolutionaries in the 1960s who sought to reveal the newly forming “society of the spectacle” through jarring juxtapositions. Vienet, a close associate of philosopher Guy Debord, also claims it was the first film produced by completely overdubbing an already existing film with new dialogue.

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