The Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) Foundation Signature Art Prize 2018 is a strong indicator of art trends in the Asia Pacific and Central Asia region. After three years of exhibitions, with one hundred and thirteen artworks nominated from forty-six countries, this year the triennial event’s jury—Mami Kataoka, Bose Krishnamachari, Joyce Toh, Gerard Vaughan, and Wong Hoy Cheong—narrowed those nominations down to 15 finalists. The selected works are “materially innovative, embracing a broad sweep of media ranging from painting to video to installation.”
The artworks are by artists even more broadly spread than the jury panel themselves. As the APB Foundation Signature Art Prize now covers Central Asia for the first time an artist from Kazakhstan—Yerbossyn Meldibekov—is in the final fifteen with “a typically ironic and politically-loaded work” called “Brand.” But the two best-represented countries are Japan and Vietnam with two finalists each.
The winners will be announced on 29th June. Before that, we spoke to curators, organizers, and artists to identify five regional trends in contemporary art that emerged at the APB Foundation Signature Art Prize 2018.
#1 The APB Foundation Signature Art Prize 2018 shows Vietnamese art is getting regional recognition
Vietnamese art, like much of its cultural output, has suffered from a lack of attention—in part through an absence of English-language media coverage. With two pieces in the APB Foundation Signature Art Prize 2018 that may be changing.
The two Vietnamese entries are representative of the “new” Vietnam—a country that is increasingly investigative about its own identity, represented by Phan Thao Nguyen and her work “Tropical Siesta”, but that is being driven by the brasher influx of Viet Kieu and expats, represented by The Propeller Group, a collective which consisted of Tuan Andrew Nguyen, Phunam Thuc Ha, and Matt Lucero, and their work “AK-47 vs. M16.”
“Walking past the two pieces, “Tropical Siesta” and “AK-47 vs. M16,” you wouldn’t automatically connect them to the same country,” Singapore Art Museum’s Andrea Fam says. The assistant curator oversees the Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam portfolios for the contemporary art museum. The Propeller Group’s “AK-47 vs. M16” captures, in FBI forensics gel, the moment two bullets collide—one from each gun. “It has a high-gloss Hollywood sheen typical of the group,” Andrea adds. “Whereas Phan Thao Nguyen’s pastoral tale of Vietnamese life is told through a dreamlike two-channel video and six oil paintings.”
“It’s becoming hard to track new developments in Vietnamese art as it is evolving so quickly. Aside from this APB Foundation Signature Art Prize 2018, Bui Cong Khanh has started his own thing—his Go Fish Studio, a gallery dedicated to supporting the Hoi An art community,” Andrea adds. “Artists are working on five-to-ten year research projects. People like Nguyen Phuong Linh and Tuan Mami are developing ideas that will grow and grow.”
#2 The global archive art trend is strong in the region
The art world is in love with archives. And so is the Signature Art Prize’s jury. Archives, “things that are no longer current but that have been retained,” are not new in art, but they figure heavily in the APB Foundation Signature Art Prize 2018 with three finalists who work in this field. “Archival art has been around for a while, but archives as a medium and subject matter are definitely an emerging trend. And these ideas run through the Signature Art Prize,” Singapore Art Museum curator, and the Prize’s exhibition curator, Louis Ho, tells us.
Take Hong Kong artists Leung Chi Wo and Sara Wong whose works “He was lost yesterday and we found him today” and “Museum of the lost” appear in the Signature Art Prize 2018’s exhibition. The husband and wife duo use archives—collections of newspapers, brochures, and other printed material—as jumping off points for their artworks.
The artists isolate anonymous figures portrayed in the media: a woman with an umbrella, a child hurling a chair, and re-enact the minor characters using themselves as models. The works raise questions around whether the figures remain bit players now they have become the source for the artists’ series of almost life-size 150 x 100 cm photographic inkjet prints. There’s also a fun game played here trying to find the figures re-enacted by the artists in the source newspapers and other material presented in display cases.
Singaporean Shubigi Rao’s entry, the interactive installation “Pulp: A Short Biography Of The Banished Book. Vol.1: Written in the Margins (2014-2016)”, explores the phenomena of the destruction of books and libraries. And Malaysian artist, Au Sow Yee’s work uses field and archival research to investigate the “golden era of the Sinophonic film industry, which flourished in the 1950s and ‘60s across Southeast Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.” Au Sow Yee’s “The Kris Project” is a cinematic “project series in progress.” Not surprisingly, Au Sow Yee told CoBo Social last year that: “When I was in high school, we had to write articles about what our ambitions were. I wrote that I wanted to be an historian.”
#3 Japanese artists continue to successfully wrestle with their identity
Japanese artists continue to successfully wrestle with their identity with two very different armies connecting their work in the Signature Art Prize 2018’s final fifteen: the writer Yukio Mishima’s militia, and the American army who are based in Okinawa.
Yuichiro Tamura, known for his road movie “Nightless” that’s entirely made up of images from Google Street View, is represented at the Signature Art Prize 2018 by his “Milky Bay.” It’s a sprawling investigative exploration of the body and Yukio Mishima’s work, a Japanese writer whose biography is more compelling than most works of fiction.
The artwork includes video, concrete sculptures, three silkscreened billiard tables—set up in the installation’s “Semen’s Club”—and found objects. It explores the writer’s obsession with his physique, and military might. The bodybuilder founded the right-wing Tatenokai militia in 1968. The group’s failed coup in 1970 led Mishima to commit ritual suicide, a stunning final act of body modification that Yuichiro Tamura work touches upon repeatedly.
Chikako Yamashiro’s sense of Okinawan identity manifests in the “provocative, haunting” piece “Mud man.” The artist, who works in photography, performance, and film, “dramatizes the lesser-known aspects of Okinawa’s contemporary reality.” This video work was partly inspired by a peaceful protest in her native Okinawa against the American army’s continued presence there.
#4 Not all APB Foundation Signature Art Prize 2018 finalists’ work needs to be polished
South Korean artist Bae Young-whan’s work “Abstract verb—can you remember?” has the polish of an immersive music video—while also recalling the Korean horror movie The Wailing. Taiwanese artist Fang Wen-wei, on the other hand, has all his tools and materials scattered around his installation, “Republic of Rubber Tape.”
“This artwork is like a country…one that’s inside me,” Fang Wen-wei tells us. His “Republic of Rubber Tape” is ramshackle and transitory—not unlike our memories. “Memory is strange. It’s not just about past experience. It’s how we remember it,” the artist adds.
“If you talk to people about the same event, they always retell it from a different side,” Fang Wen-wei continues. His “Republic of Rubber Tape” is like that—a retelling of the memories of his childhood spent in Brunei that touches on themes of nationality, migration, and mobility.
“Republic of Rubber Tape” is a country that doesn’t connect with the outside—there’s a line that separates the inside and outside. If Brunei is in there, it’s when I start building the structure. Afterward, it’s much more about the materials and the lines. It’s a very visual art piece,” the artist adds.
In and around Fang Wen-wei’s “Republic of Rubber Tape” are those tools in plastic containers and roll after roll of tape hanging or laid where the borders it was used to make meet. Each time he remakes the work for another show it’s slightly different. “Each time, it’s getting bigger and larger, and longer,” he laughs.
The Chiang Mai-based Thai artist Thasnai Sethaseree also contributes a wildly colorful piece, “Untitled (Hua Lamphong).” The vibrant collage, which overlays colored streamers onto monks’ robes against a backdrop of Thai architecture and texts of the new Thai constitution alludes to the country’s recent history.
#5 The Signature Art Prize 2018 shows there’s strength in numbers
An interplay of personalities can help creative projects. The Signature Art Prize 2018 is a reminder of that. Four out of the 15 finalists are couples or collectives. Besides The Propeller Group and Leung Chi Wo and Sara Wong, there are Club Ate, and the Mata Aho Collective.
Club Ate are two Filipino-Australian artists—Bhenji Ra and Justin Shoulder. Their single-channel video work, “Ex Nilalang,” is in fact, a video trilogy starring a crooning succubus—played by Filipino performer Jai Jai—a story about mermaids, one of whom is Bhenji Ra, and a wandering “ancestral jeepney spirit” that’s part Godzilla, part Wall-E.
The Mata Aho Collective from New Zealand contribute a “sweeping, dramatic” piece called “Kaokao #1.” The group of four Maori women—Erena Baker, Sarah Hudson, Bridget Reweti, and Terri Te Tau—produce large-scale works, like “Kaokao #1,” that comment “on the complexity of Maori lives.” The work, that is layered like a bird’s wing and contains motifs that reference both the military and childbirth, is made from hi-visibility industrial material. It was first shown at Wellington’s Toi Poneke Arts Centre in 2014.