Art for Mondays: Ecology of Creation at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (1/2)

Solely because it won’t be a Monday when I post, this becomes the first of a two-part piece on the exhibition Ecology of Creation.

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Ecology of Creation opened last 18 February 2017 at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, fondly referred locally as Ajibi. The group exhibition is addition to the museum’s Crossing Vision series where works that do not typically fall under fine arts categories are shown. Crossing Vision exhibitions are characterised by a mix of genres. The series date back to 2001 with “Where are We Going?” and had until 2005, four shows that focused on video, anime and graphic design. Ecology of Creation is the fifth exhibition of the series.

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Works by Taiwanese Huang Po-Chih, Korean Beak Jungki, Fukuoka based design house monocircus, HongKong new media art group XCEED, Indonesian Julian Abraham Togar and Indian graphic designer  Ishan Khosla are on view together with two pieces by video art pioneer Nam June Paik from the Fukuoka Art Museum collection. All pieces are multidimensional in materiality and process, most are site responsive, and to varying degrees, all are interactive. The cafe lounge was transformed into an exhibition space with the addition of movable panels. While I half expected the exhibitionary intervention to be more adventurous (in the sense of altering space in a more integrative manner as panels readily signal an exhibition), the works themselves serve to change the cafe atmosphere, primarily through the subtle intrusion of sound into space. There is the soothing lullaby of women singing as backdrop to Kosla’s piece, the rhythmic pounding that comes with preparing homeopathic remedies in Beak’s video work, and the pulsing beat of television news coverage of Togar’s body building contest. One approaches the inner area of the exhibition and is drawn to the whirr and hum of XCEED’s rotating pieces and the screened images of Nam June Paik’s Plutonian.

The exhibition title suggests the entwined elements that make the act of creation – the imagination, the environment where it thrives, and the circumstances that shape choices made by maker and artist. The latter may be a situation or event either tragic or fortuitous, the exploration of new technologies of making (and that does not preclude traditional ones), or attempts at fusing fields often perceived unrelated. The most interesting works in Ecology of Creation are outcomes of off-site interactions that mark continuities between the exhibition and the outside world. They thus, construct a field or a prism to connect time and space. These are the lemon orchard and dreams of a future liquor factory, a subway station arson and the confines of a laboratory in London or the polluted waters of a river in Seoul, a clay factory of muscled workers in Jatiwangi, the provinces of India and their traditions of craft, the grafted spaces of esoteric practice and high technology, or the manufacture of designed objects through modern machines.

Intimating the breadth of the real lemon orchard planted by Po-Chih, the exhibition space is marked by documentation through poetry, video and photographs of his Five Hundred Lemon Trees project. Factory: A proposal for museums takes it further afield as it hopes to source another 500 donors for a liquor factory. The lemon orchard itself came to fruition with donations from 500 donors in 2013. Distilled lemon liquor will be shared to donors in the next two years. Po-Chih served the same together with chicken soup prepared at the local community centre during the exhibition reception. What makes this project special is that it is outcome of a conversation between the artist and his mother (who joined us for the reception in Fukuoka), and that this singular exchange of ideas led to other conversations: discussions and taste tests across various locations – all weaving a web of support buoyed by social ties forged through mundane acts of eating and drinking together.

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Chicken soup laced with lemon liquor on a placement with infographic on the origin of a few of its ingredients

My favourite piece is Beak Jungki’s Materia Medica: Cinis. It grows on you. I am always drawn to works that invite curiosity and practices that thrive on longevity – what I mean by the latter is an arc that connects one artistic project to another with quite diverse outcomes. The pieces on display are part of a larger undertaking to do with Jungki’s interest in healing, both on a personal level and at a social scale. We see three groupings of objects – a burnt remnant from a train coach inside a glass vitrine, photographs of investigators examining remains of the site displayed like laundry hang out to dry, and a video of laboratory procedures above a small shelf of homeophatic medicine implements.

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A grouping of objects, remnants from the 2003 arson attack for Beak Jungki’s Materia Medica: Cinis

The work recalls the 2003 arson at Daegu station in South Korea, which killed 192  and left scores injured or missing. The station was restored barely a year after but for Jungki, an invisible wound remains. Cinis is the homeopathic remedy he formulated to heal this trauma of remembering a tragic event. The rhythmic pounding the artist’s hand makes on a saddle-like tool may perhaps allude to this manner of healing, one that combines recollection and contestation; a flushing out, a healing of like with like.

My experience of fire and the purges that result from having objects or sites erased from life renders Materia Medica: Cinis poignant. During his talk, Jungki recounts the childhood fire that resulted to his and his father’s injuries. Yet this personal story is not the only fulcrum around which his practice rests — he tinkers relentlessly, building machines that test the boundaries between nature and high technology, endlessly drawing from nature itself and integrating its forces into his so-called experiments; not a few of them playful, introspective, and wondrous. Consider for example, the altar like incubator where he placed chicken eggs to hatch. Heat and power were provided by numerous candles, whose lights flicker and burn inside a dimly lit room; for what are we to witness here but the singular miracle of life? That or the plotter from which pictures were printed from the ink of autumn leaves the artist gathered soon after he photographed them. We find in Jungki’s practice a derivative kind of replication, endless experimentation, a persistent tinkering (he builds these so-called ‘machines’ himself); cumulatively driven and fuelled by wonder.

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A view of homeopathic preparations as recorded on video alongside implements

Julian Abraham Togar’s 2015 Experience Earth is a series of art projects in Jatiwangi in Java. The town has several roof tile factories. The tiles are manufactured from clay which Togar later fashioned into cookies and aroma, both on display. The most engaging of the art projects however, was the body building contest organised among factory workers. They carried the roof tiles like leaden weights, mimicking body builders and posing for their own calendar pages which are displayed in the museum. Togar’s piece is humorous and playful yet keenly reflects on how it is to be one (literally and metaphorically) with the earth, as Jatiwangi’s tile factory workers’ bodies are hewn by their livelihood. Togar asks about memory’s construction alongside the mundane rhythms that pervade everyday life. He however punctures the everyday with an event, the body building competition that can be construed as spectacular, like festivals that cast commemoration, or it can be just a playful exercise to revel in the body, around which daily routines of town life revolve.

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Togar’s Experience Earth project in Jatiwangi
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