However, Rena Masuyama (who is herself an artist and activist) has succeeded in gathering both the socially engaged and aesthetically driven expressions of these artists with surprising coherency, and the curation of exhibition sheds light on the interrelating differences between the regions represented without falling into the aforementioned traps.
Looking at Chiharu Nishizawa’s installation, which consists of uniform rows of clay model businessmen facing cardboard buildings, the cynical symbolism is rather straightforward, if not simplistic. In his painting, in which small walled gardens overlay the map of an uninhabited Tokyo, one can feel an intriguing tension between his use of the Nihonga compositions, and its portrayal of the bleakness of a city that has lost all signs of its vernacular identity. As a response to the vanity of globalization, this scenery can be read as a premonition of the future of the Korean or Chinese megalopolis.
Cao Fei’s photographic series Un-Cosplayers presents a curious landscape in which American and Japanese pop-culture icons are directly inserted into the streets of China. By combining the physicality of human bodies and the environment with the cultural symbolism of the anime/comic costumes, Cao Fei interrelates local reality with the ubiquitous pervasion of the global media. The artist’s dexterity makes the intention of the work too obvious. However, it is amusing and intriguing to see an old Chinese man wearing a Dragon Ball costume in a construction site.
Sun Furong’s Encroachment is a more vigorous presentation of the same pervasion. 100 items of clothing, which the artist has ripped and torn from within, stand in silence empty of the faces and bodies that wear them; they seem decry the disaster of the liberal economy that expulses human existence and its ‘encroachment’ into the region. Liu Wei’s documentary The Day of Memory reveals local people’s thought about the oppression of freedom of speech through their memory of the Tian’anmen Square incident, portraying this same contradiction that Chinese people are facing today with more intensity than the people of neighboring countries.
Zin Ki Jong’s installation On Air series is hilarious in its completely cheap and yet sharply ironical reconfiguration of the mass media. The artist reconstructs a variety of televisual broadcasting content – the Discovery Channel and its well-known controversy over the authenticity of the American moon-landing; National Geographic with wild fish in an aquarium; and CNN with a Boeing 707 flying over a fake explosion. The media may be under the control of large corporations, but at the same time it is reconfigurable by individuals – a rather common, if not banal, awareness shared by today’s YouTubers.
Nancy Lang mixes up diverse cultural icons to give life to a sort of Lolita cyborg that the she herself declares to be the ironical face of the so-called democracies we live in. According to her, this character Yogini points to an existence between angel and devil: it is, in a way, a contemporary version of the allegorical drawings of the Middle Ages, full of the alchemic symbolism of the Christian West. This stylish recombinant model highlights our social status, with its respective symbolisms that represent modern technology and the media: the anatomical graphics suggest our vulnerability as living creatures, the robot armor reflects our powerful addiction to machinery – all covered by a veil of luxury icons in the form of sports equipment.
It is quite interesting to see a sort of synchronic similarity in this presentation of the ‘monstrous’ even among the other Korean artists in this show. Lee Hai Min Sun’s work Gwang-ju Biennale merges a robotic figure with room layouts of modern buildings; Sonyon’s sculpture Sanga-Robot (Arcade Robot)’ mimics a commercial package of a robot with architectural parts; Lee Seung Ae’s painting Archoo~ Yurimon, Started Productive Cough at Last shows the disintegration of recombinant organic forms; and Son Dong Hyon’s painting Coca-Cola re-appropriates the world’s most famous logo by injecting it with traditional Korean icons.
In Baby Insadong (2004), Tadasu Takamine, former dumbtype performer and forerunner of today’s socially engaged expression in Japanese contemporary art, makes poetic use of the story of his wedding ceremony with his Zainichi Korean wife to address the problem of segregation of the ‘Korean’ minority of Japan (who are permanent residents of Japan, with the second and third generation having been born here, and would in most other countries be considered native Japanese). The work takes the form of a scroll through which viewers can experience the thoughts, confessions and perspective of the artist in relation to his wife and their newborn child, as though it were an ancient mythical saga.
This exhibition is rightly entitled ‘LAN’, although the curator has reinterpreted the acronym as ‘Love & Art Network’, which is an unfortunate detraction from the greater relevance of its original meaning ‘Local Area Network’. Viewed as a visual network, this discreet yet condensed compilation of artwork can definitely give you better idea of East Asia’s ‘sharable’ realities than many other high-profile art fairs or biennales.