Artists in the Asia Pacific region were quick to embrace the possibilities of video art as it first began to emerge, and the region is home to some of the world’s leading moving image artists. With techniques that range from the most basic use of a handheld video camera to elaborate, theatrical productions, video continues to enable artists in the Asia Pacific to explore and communicate their social conditions, cultures and ideas on ever-evolving screen-based platforms.
In the 1960s and 70s, pioneering Japanese new media artist Takahiko Iimura performed and made experimental films, his first experiments prompted by his introduction to Korean-born media artist Nam June Paik. His practice later developed into installations in which he further experimented with screen media as the emerging medium of video enabled new possibility. Originally shown as part of a six-monitor video installation, Performance: AIUEONN Six Features 1994 explores the incoherent relationship between the vowel sounds and characters of the Japanese alphabet and English. The artist grotesquely distorts the screen-image self-portrait, as he enunciates to camera the vowel sounds of English and Japanese. Iimura’s work captures an artist negotiating new possibilities that video enables in a performance, while providing a playful insight into cultural difference, and yet meanwhile his work is imbued with more conventional aspects of abstract art as it transitions between colour and shape.
Video plays only one part of a broader ouvre for Taiwanese artist Joyce Ho, but one in which performative actions can be fastidiously controlled. Ho has been strongly influenced by avant-garde theatre, and in particular has been fascinated with the theatrical device of the prelude — an opening scene that produces a sense of anticipation — and a desire to extend that suspense infinitely. In Ho’s work, there is always another layer to the everyday, and always other ways of seeing the familiar. Shot against a lemon-yellow wall, Overexposed memory 2015 features an actor slowly squeezing and biting into several different pieces of fruit, lingering on their surfaces until they collapse into pulpy mush. To emphasize the effect, Ho subjected the fruit to prolonged boiling, before painting the surfaces in their original colours to create the illusion of ripeness, so that as they break apart, pigment mingles unnaturally with their juices.
The theatrical capacity enabled by time-based media like video are also employed in the public sphere, through which interventions into public spaces are executed to create layered messages about social contexts while revealing idiosyncrasies of daily ritual. Tsui Kuang-Yu relies on a spontaneous approach to creating public interventions, relying on the reaction of people and surroundings to examine aspects of urban life and human behaviour in regulated contemporary city environments. A recurrent feature in Tsui’s work is a sophisticated critique of public life, its social groups and urban systems Shot in London and Taipei, Shortcut to the Systematic Life 2002–05 presents a series of intentional misunderstandings of urban architecture and ritual — specifically, that which prescribes where and when to walk, work, exercise or play and how to dress. With a slapstick sense of humour, Tsui’s ideos reflect on the changing city and what it means to live there.
A gradual unfolding shapes narrative steeped in symbolism for Neha Choksi’s Leaf fall 2008. It documents an action carried out by a group of rurally based Indian actors who pick the leaves from a large Bodhi tree by hand, leaving behind a single leaf. In a video of the performance, members of the group move around a wooden scaffold and offer comments on their actions, speculating on how the process will change the environment around the tree. The tree becomes a symbol of decay and renewal, part of a collective ritual; the solitary leaf will soon be lost among the tree’s new growth. Throughout the work, the actors offer poetic comment on their action, speculatively at times, self-critically at others. Will the tree’s boughs enjoy the warm sunlight to which they will be exposed? Will birds continue to roost here or will they travel elsewhere? What dark force drives such undertakings? The varying camera angles and astute editing provide a propulsive and poetic viewing experience as the group goes about its curious task.
Since its introduction as an artform, video has brought forth a new set of formal and technical devices for artists to test and manipulate, and the field remains one of the most quickly changing forms of artistic production as new technologies of recording and modes of display continue to evolve. Junebum Park experiments with the camera’s view, how the experience can change with angles, depth and scale, and how the factor of time can be manipulated with looping, repetition and layering. Park uses studio production to construct miniature stages and optical tricks in which daily human actions are humorously emphasised as repetitive and banal, such as the comical distortion of urban life referenced in The advertisement 2004. In this work a commercial district is bombarded with the mania of advertising billboards and logos, placed and replaced on the buildings by the giant hands of the artist. Influenced by mime performance and traditional Japanese Bunraku puppet theatre, Park begs the viewer to reconsider the relationship between his performing hands and the miniature objects he appears to be moving.
Nathan Pohio is similarly an artist whose formal artistic experiments with video have been recognised internationally. Pohio draws on various photographic and cinematic practices producing images that reveal his playfulness with techniques and materials in creating a unique viewing experience. Rather than depicting a specific place and time, Nathan Pohio experiments with the possibilities of constructing a screen-based experience to elicit a certain feeling, one that encourages viewers to imagine another time and encounter. Landfall of a spectre 2007 is based on a lenticular print of a colonial ship, artfully made to pitch and roll by filming across the reflective and alternating surfaces of the photographic image. The result is a bit like a hologram. The sepia image sets the scene of action in another time and place, bringing to mind journeys of discovery that early colonial vessels undertook to find Terra Australis and the Northwest Passage linking the north Atlantic to the Pacific. With its references to older technologies of travel and moving image, Pohio reminds us of what seems to have been lost, but which is still hauntingly there; the fictional and constructed nature of any travel or moving image.
By performing for the camera, recording collective actions and experimenting with technologies and theatrical scenarios, the artists in this exhibition deliver a range of critical, humorous and magical insights into their own artistic motivations and the contexts in which they live and work. Through a wide-ranging series of encounters that manifest across the screen, they capture how the medium has become such a valuable form expression for many of the region’s artists, defining new platforms where their voices and visions can come alive.
Tarun Nagesh is Curatorial Manager, Asian and Pacific Art, QAGOMA
‘Asia Pacific Video’ coincides with the ‘The 10th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’, the tenth edition of QAGOMA’s flagship exhibition series in Brisbane from 4 December to 26 April 2022, as well as the regional tour of ‘Asia Pacific Contemporary’ and ‘APT10 Kids on Tour’.
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Featured image detail: Junebum Park The advertisement (still) 2004