Fukuoka City

4th Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale

Fukuoka Asian Art Museum

Invoking community but largely devoid of the “community-oriented” art that has lately become ubiquitous, i.e., interactive and relational art, this fourth installment of the Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale instead sought to explore the notions of kyosei, coexistence/symbiosis, and saisei, revival/reconstruction—expressed in English with the telling title “Live and Let Live: Creators of Tomorrow.” Much of the work highlighted a subjective autonomy and self-expression that is often perceived as being at odds with ideas of community, perhaps closer in spirit to Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau’s celebrated notion of a “radical and plural democracy.” Yet even within the particularities of individual expression, there was frequently a direct and often eloquent display of social conscience and a pointed critique of power.

Higa Toyomitsu’s Akai-Goya (The Red Bitter Gourd), 1970–72, powerful black-and-white photographs from his hometown of Okinawa—images of protests against the American military presence, off-duty soldiers in Ray-Bans, Japanese prostitutes, and the ramshackle towns on the island—conveys an unabashed sense of indignity and anger that’s still palpable today. In a more guarded vein, Shahzia Sikander’s video Bending the Barrels, 2008, features footage of a Pakistani military marching band, often decked out in full regalia and playing with evident gusto. Sikander’s images slyly reveal—even without the help of the heavy-handed text placed over them—the threadbare symbolism of the military spectacle.

Perhaps the finest work along these lines is Dinh Q. Lê’s six-and-a-half-minute, digitally created video South China Sea Pishkun, 2009, depicting helicopters plummeting one by one into the ocean. Referencing the account of how the American military was forced to ditch its own helicopters as it fled South Vietnam at the end of the war, Lê both excavates a little-known drama and creates some hauntingly beautiful imagery.

The inverse side of production, and as necessary to the continued functioning of capitalism, destruction was also the subject of a formidable video installation by Bangladeshi artists Yasmine Kabir and Ronni Ahmmed. Shot in the otherworldly ship-breaking yards of Chittagong, The Last Rites, 2008, depicts teams of humans, tiny against the hulking metal carcasses of oil tankers and cargo ships that they painstakingly tear apart. Literally working themselves to death as they breathe in asbestos and other toxins while earning barely enough to buy food, the workers are, like the machinery, victims of planned obsolescence. The horrific antihumanism of the global economy lays itself bare.

The inclusion of Cai Guo-Qiang seemed surprising—can one think of a more state-sanctioned or spectacle-devoted artist?—but his work, particularly the video documentation of his Beijing Olympics opening fireworks (notoriously revealed as digitally enhanced for TV audiences) offered an exemplary counterpoint to Korean Kim Seongyoun’s Fireworks, 2005. Her video, which overlays footage of a fireworks display in Pusan with images shot in the slums across the river, effectively collapses the distance between the spectacular image of national celebration and the abject reality it attempts to obscure.

Two works, both utilizing the strategy of the derive, attempted to chart possible “escape paths” from within the urban matrix. Yet whereas Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba’s Breathing Is Free: 12,756.3, 2007–, three monitors showing the artist jogging in various patterns (carefully plotted on a GPS) in various cities (he formed a water hyacinth in Ho Chi Minh City), ultimately goes nowhere, Atul Bhalla’s Yamuna Walk, 2007, with its 161 photographs documenting a five-day journey through Delhi following the course of the Yamuna River, has a buoyancy, simplicity, and poetry that speak of another idea of community: one in which subjects are self-determining.

Charles LaBelle