Initiated by Artspace and the Sydney Festival 52 ARTISTS 52 ACTIONS is a year-long international curatorial project highlighting artistic practices across the 33 countries regarded as part of the Asia-Pacific region, including South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, West Asia and the Pacific. As the name indicates, this innovative project invites 52 artists and collectives to stage ‘actions’ and create new works in unique, physical locations and share them to an international audience via instagram and through their websites. These actions are defined as “anything and everything that artists use to communicate and build awareness around important concerns.” Every week a new artist/collective is invited to materialise their ‘action’ through the internet. Launched in September 2017 and curated by Talia Linz with Artspace and Fabio Ongarato Design, 52 ARTISTS 52 ACTIONS has thus far proven to be an experimental and avant-garde platform - the first project of its kind in this region.
From images of actual artworks and installations, to community events, shared meals, to personal memories, an eclectic catalogue unfolds as artists are given full and complete control for the week. What remains is an archive that stands as testament to the power of art that comments on socio-political issues.
The first action occurred in Sydney, at Artspace, by artist-activist Richard Bell which highlighted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s refusal to acknowledge the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) after they won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize (becoming Australia’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner). ICAN had successfully secured the backing of 122 countries to establish a United Nations Treaty for banning nuclear weapons. Bell’s action investigated the Australian government’s stance on nuclear weapons as he examined graphic political posters from the 1980’s. These posters responded to the violence of the Cold War and the horrors of Maralinga in South Australia where the British conducted a series of nuclear tests between 1956 and 1963. By looking to the past, Bell’s project galvanises action and suggests that the current Australian Government should continue to be held both accountable and responsible.
The second action was conducted by Hera Büyüktaşçıyan in Istanbul, Turkey. According to her statement, Büyüktaşçıyan’s action was based around “the notion of repetition and cyclic movements of history through space and architecture by voyaging between different geographies and timelines that share similar memories of invisibility and loss.” From images of her own watercolour paintings, to photographs of mosaics in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin and a tin-glazed earthenware plate in the Wellcome Collection in London, Büyüktaşcıyan presents a poetic meditation on history and its artefacts. In her own words, each architectural element served to “narrate particles of memories that carries the notion of silence witnessing and a sense of tidal movement as an aquatic quality of time.” By piecing together such disparate images, Büyüktaşçıyan manipulates spatiality and temporality, reflecting instagram’s own ability to overcome geographical barriers and time differences.
The third action involved South Korean collective YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES which consisted entirely of their distinctive graphic text. According to their statement, the words recount “a Joycean tale from the perspective of an unknown and hapless narrator. Blending so-called reality with fantasy and danger with desire, a new chapter will unfold each day.” Indeed, their bold animated words were absurd and surreal, with sentences such as “I GOT WHACKED IN THE FACE WITH A BASEBALL BAT (AND WHEN I CAME TO SAW LEONARDO’S LAST SUPPER ON A VELVET PAINTING HUNG OVER AN OLD SOFA)” appearing on followers’ feeds.
In contrast with YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES, many other artists have commented more directly on their local circumstances by exploring the issues that affect the communities that they are part of, bringing the local to the global. For example, Pio Abad, an artist based between the UK and the Philippines, uses the platform to discuss political issues affecting the Philippines. In particular Abad comments on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s act of giving a secret funeral to military dictator Ferdinand Marcos at the National Hero’s Cemetery as a political favour granted to the Marcos family. Abad has created an inventory of political signs from anti-revisionist protests from the past two years and the signs written in bold red “Apologies not apologists”, “we will not be slaves again” and “history has its eyes on you” are striking and impossible to ignore.
Similarly, Jakarta-based artists Tita Salina and Irwan Ahmett also display collected stories from marginalised communities as they used the instagram account to document their 10 day journey along the coastline of North Jakarta in their project Pilgrim to the North (Ziarah Utara). With the threat of rising sea-levels the artists talked to traditional fishermen and villages that face eviction or have been evicted, bringing these issues facing small communities to a global audience.
Nepalese artist Hit Man Gurung comments on the struggles of Nepalese migrant workers and the issues around class and exploitation through a series of performative photography works. Considering the unprecedented mass movement of people in the 21st Century it seems only apt that Hit Man Gurung uses such global platforms such as instagram to create discourse.
Issues around diaspora and dislocation have also been explored by artists like Anida Yoeu Ali, an artist based between Cambodia and the US, through a series of public performances. Anida Yoeu Ali wears a red Chador in public, commenting on identity, loss and remembrance in a world of rising Islamophobia. Meanwhile, Shivanjani Lal, a twice removed Fijian Indian Australian artist has created a series of poetic and lyrical videos in which she uses the formal gesture of Pranama “respectful salutation or bowing” before something, or someone within Hinduism, dedicated to her aaji, her grandmother. One also notes the works of Chinese artist Echo Morgan in which she paints herself as a Chinese ceramic vase, provoking questions around identity and race. By giving the artists total control of instagram, their personal stories, narratives and journeys are prioritised.
Now in July 2018, up to 28 artists have been involved:
Richard Bell (Australia)
Hera Büyüktaşçıyan (Turkey)
YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES (South Korea)
Hasan Hujiari (Bahrain)
Kyungah Ham (South Korea)
Pio Abad (Philippines)
Hit Man Gurung (Nepal)
Deborah Kelly (Australia)
Heman Chong (Singapore)
Yuk King Tan (Hong Kong)
Shivanjani Lal (India)
Reetu Sattar (Dhaka, Bangladesh)
Nasim Nasr (Iran)
Sawangwonse Yawnghwe (Myanmar)
Rasel Chowdhury (Dhaka, Bangladesh)
Bhenji Ra (Sydney, Australia)
Rushdi Anwar (Kurdistan)
Enkhjargal Ganbat (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia)
The Mulka Project (Yirrkala, Northeast Arnhem Land, Australia)
Charles Lim (Singapore)
Echo Morgan (China)
Amin Taasha (Bamiyan, Afghanistan)
Shiraz Bayjoo (Mauritius)
Anida Yoeu Ali (Cambodia)
Tita Salina & Irwan Ahmett (Indonesia)
Fazal Rizvi (Pakistan)
Each action thus far has been unique, individual and powerful, exemplifying the fractured, polyphonic and poly-vocal world we live in today. Artspace Director Alexie Glass-Kantor elaborated that 52 ARTISTS 52 ACTIONS is “a democratic means of sharing, connecting and engaging artists and audiences with critical contemporary issues.” Indeed through Instagram these artists have been able to share information, stories and narratives with ease, access and instaneity, nurturing greater understanding and providing a fascinating snapshot into the global concerns of 2018. At the conclusion of this project, a publication will be produced by Thames and Hudson and the instagram account will exist as an archive. 52 ARTISTS 52 ACTIONS demonstrates the exciting possibility of employing alternative curatorial models and platforms as we become more global, digitised and connected than ever.
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