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A Look At The Asian Artists At Art Basel’s ‘Unlimited’


A Look At The Asian Artists At Art Basel’s ‘Unlimited’
Image courtesy of Untitled Mag

The biggest international art fair, Art Basel, is upon us. From 13 to 16 June, 290 leading galleries from 34 countries selected for this year’s edition will swarm the city of Basel, presenting works ranging from the Modern period of the early 20th century to the most contemporary artists. Aside from its main Galleries sector, Art Basel plays host to a multiplicity of presentations that highlight a wide range of cultures, generations, and artistic approaches.

This year, Art Basel presents ‘Unlimited'. Curated by New York-based curator Gianni Jetzer, 'Unlimited' is Art Basel’s pioneering exhibition platform for projects that transcend the classical art-show stand, including massive sculpture and paintings, video projections, large-scale installations, and live performances. The works in ‘Unlimited’ have been proposed by Art Basel’s exhibiting galleries, and have been drawn into coherence by its curator using tools ranging from urbanism and architecture to visual and intellectual juxtapositions. For this showcase, Jetzer has “sought to bring in younger voices and those from the art world’s periphery.”, says Marc Spiegler, Global Director of Art Basel. 

‘Unlimited’ includes 75 works by international artists, including 10 who hail from Asia. Take a look at these remarkable works that will be showcased at this year’s Art Basel alongside contemporaries such as Kerry James Marshall, Sarah Lucas, Antony Gormley, and Felix Gonzales-Torres: 


Guy Ben Ner

Image courtesy of the artist and Sommer Contemporary Art 

Work: Soundtrack, 2013 One-channel video with sound; 11’50” 
Represented by: Sommer Contemporary Art

Ben Ner, one of Israel’s foremost video artists, makes low-tech films that star his family in absurdist settings carved out of their everyday surroundings. The inception of his film Soundtrack came from an 11-minute audio track of Steven Spielberg’s 2005 film War of the Worlds, based on the classic novel by H.G. Wells, which recounts the Martian invasion of planet earth. 

Ben Ner’s film uses the original soundtrack as a readymade, unaltered and paired with footage shot in the artist’s kitchen in Tel Aviv. A fire breaks out, cupboard doors fly open, dishes smash, electric appliances go wild. Smashing plates and combusting appliances replace Spielberg’s high-budget alien apocalypse. The documentary filmmaker Avi Mograbi emerges from the refrigerator at one point, while video of recent Israeli conflicts appears on a nearby laptop screen. 

Ben Ner names this audio-stealing technique ‘budding,’ in contrast to dubbing. The 50-year old artist wrote, directed, filmed, edited, and produced the work himself. ‘The film took seven months to make. You film, then you have to edit and make sure the filmed images fit the sound, and then go back and shoot it again. It’s more like a painting ...’ 


Huma Bhabha 

Image courtesy of the artist and The Met; Salon 94

Work: We Come In Peace, 2018, Painted and patinated bronze 
Represented by: Salon 94

Huma Bhabha’s work addresses themes of colonialism, war, displacement, and memories of place. Using found materials and the detritus of everyday life, she creates haunting human figures that hover between abstraction and figuration, monumentality and entropy. While her formal vocabulary is distinctly her own, Bhabha embraces postmodern hybridity that spans centuries of geographic, art-historical, and cultural associations. Her work includes references to ancient Greek kouroi, Gandhara Buddhas, African sculpture, and Egyptian pharaohs. At the same time, it remains insistently modern, looking to Giacometti, Picasso, and Dubuffet for inspiration, as well as the artwork of A.R. Penck, Anselm Kiefer, and David Hammons. Television, sci-fi, horror movies, current events, and popular novels similarly find their way into her narratives 


Chen Chieh-jen 

Image courtesy of the artist and Long march Space

Work: A Field of Non-Field, 2017, Single-channel, Blu-ray disc, color and black-and-white, sound; 61’7”, continuous loop
Represented by: Long March Space

Since financial capitalism and technology joined together to create the financial-technological capitalist system, new forms of administrative technology have developed with unprecedented power. This has made it possible for the ‘corporatocracy’ to manipulate contemporary society. 

In A Field of Non-Field, a woman describes in a voice-over how her brother has disappeared without a trace after escaping from a hospital where he had been confined several days after attempting suicide. She says, according to what her mother keeps telling her, ‘My brother just went somewhere far away, beyond the west.’ In a later part of the film, she says that her mother changes her response to ‘Your brother is just on his way back.’ In other sequences of the film, a group of actors performs the role of her brother and other people who are ‘traveling away’ and then ‘coming back.’ 

In Mādhyamaka Buddhist philosophy, through a narrative of neither going nor returning, we can discover a possible crevice within what we originally considered to be an all-pervasive control technology, impossible to escape. This crevice can be transformed and re-transformed because no system is absolute or unbreakable. 


Abdulnasser Gharem 

Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie Nagel Draxler

Work: The Safe, 2019, Insulated quilted synthetic leather walls and door, stainless steel basin, plastic awning, stamps
Represented by: Galerie Nagel Draxler

A soundproof padded cell, similar to those in psychiatric clinics or prisons for violent inmates, stands isolated in the room. The walls inside are insulated and rubberized. This corresponds to Gharem’s artistic method, where rubber stamps are the subjects of and material he employs for his art, one brimming with hidden messages, read backward. The stamp challenges our idea of formal bureaucratic approval, of certification, and of the power implied within and to what end that object is used. In reversed form and very subtly hinted at, the Saudi Arabian flag can also be seen in the padded cell. Inside the cell, classical music can be heard. Visitors, ushered in by guards in roughly 40-second intervals, can reach into the stainless steel basin for the stamps provided there and leave their ‘imprint’ on the wall or write a statement, by hand. The stamps
bear phrases originating from politics and historic epics of violence. 


Suki Seokyeong Kang 

Image courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery / Tina Kim Gallery

Work: Black Mat Oriole, 2017, Mixed-media installation: painted steel, plastic wheel, steel bolt, thread; 3-channel video with sound; 8’46
Represented by: Kukje Gallery / Tina Kim Gallery

Black Mat Oriole (2017) is a multi-media installation based on 5 years of research. The work comprises sculpture, painting, video, and performance intended to engage the viewer through the power and politics of movement within physical space. 

Suki Seokyeong Kang grounds her practice in an analysis of contemporary society through the lens of classical Korean poetry, craft, and dance, specifically chunaengmu, a solo dance on a square mat traditionally performed for the Korean aristocracy. The dance requires adherence to a strict code of court etiquette that reflects social strata through physical space. Grounding the work in the present, Black Mat Oriole uses diverse mediums to call attention to the invisible social parameters through which we carefully navigate in our daily lives.

This notion of a gridded interactive social nexus refers also to a dominant theme of Kang’s previous works: jeongganbo, a traditional Korean music notation system that can be broken down into squares denoting a complex combination of tone, duration, lyrics, and movement. In previous works, Kang has used the jeongganbo system to present a layered exploration and expansion of the methodology of painting. In Black Mat Oriole, this same exploration is expanded to include cultural and social strata. 


Do Ho Suh

Image courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin / Victoria Miro

Work: Hub, 260-7 Sungbook-Dong, Sungbook-Ku, Seoul, Korea, 2017 Installation; polyester fabric and stainless steel
Represented by: Lehmann Maupin / Victoria Miro

Throughout his career, Do Ho Suh has reflected on themes that evolve from his personal experiences and family history, growing up in South Korea, immigrating to the United States, and later to the United Kingdom. He has particularly focused on questions of home, physical space, displacement, memory, individuality, and collectivity. Much of Suh’s work examines conceptions of space and how the body relates to, inhabits, and interacts with that space. This can be one’s personal, physical space or the relationship between an individual and the collective; one’s private domestic space; and finally the influence of geography – and its specific culture – upon individuals.

The idea of home is something that Suh comes back to time and again. He is particularly interested in the way ‘home’ can be articulated through architecture with a specific location, form, and history, and how it is also a psychological territory that holds memories, personal experience, and a sense of security regardless of geographic location 


Fiona Tan 

Image courtesy of the artist and Peter Freeman, Inc. / Frith Street Gallery

Work: Elsewhere, 2018, HD installation, color, stereo; 16’10”
Represented by: Peter Freeman, Inc. / Frith Street Gallery

Elsewhere begins with a new dawn enveloped in mist.

Over lingering panoramic shots of a cityscape, an ambient soundscape creates an abstract rather than physical reality. As the sun rises and color gradually seeps in, the voice of an unseen traveler gives an account of a place remote in time and space. The sense of dislocation is emphasized by the installation’s floating projection screen as if the viewer is hovering god-like above a metropolis. Initially, voice and image blend seamlessly; full of admiration the narrator sketches the outlines of a utopian society. But increasingly audio and image pull apart, and a rift becomes apparent between the spoken virtues of this (non)place and the polluted urban environment surveyed by the camera. 

Clouds float past and distant jet planes glide across the screen as day turns to night in the city of Los Angeles. Elsewhere is a meditation on time and memory, human needs and desires. The imperfect landscape, with its smog and endless traffic combined with the report of a chillingly ideal world, seem at odds with, yet entirely pertinent, to our current situation. 

Thu Van Tran

Image courtesy of the artist and Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, In collaboration with Meessen De Clercq

Work: Penetrable, 2019, Painted walls: rubber and pigment
Represented by: Galerie Rüdiger Schöttle, In collaboration with Meessen De Clercq

Thu Van Tran gets her inspiration mainly from her complex cultural background: Born in Vietnam and raised in Paris, she unites two cultures that could not be more different. In her works, she uses forms and materials culled from literature, history, architecture, and nature. 

Here, Tran draws on the history of the late 19th century and visualizes it in a language of poetic symbolism. In the 1840s, there was a huge demand for latex rubber, with more
and more steam locomotives relying on rubber gaskets, submarine hubs being constructed with a rubber sheathing, and the general surge of the production of rubber hoses, both durable and flexible. Prices exploded as people risked their lives to get the milky latex from rubber trees. The installation Penetrable consists of a unique piece that can only be created on-site by the artist. The result consists of a special blend of rubber and chemical pigments that, like a second skin, covers and permeates the immaculate surface of a white wall. This site-specific painting can be perceived as a means of transforming our fate on the basis of history. With subtlety and poetry, it portrays the deficiencies and irrationality of human nature. 



Image courtesy of the artist and Perrotin

Work: Nirvana, 2019 Installation, performance; sand, wood, acrylic, mixed material 
Represented by: Perrotin

The artwork consists of several baccarat and roulette tables set on a casino carpet. During the fair, two to three performers will be at each table, constructing the game pattern in the manner of a sand mandala, a ritual symbol of colored sand used by Tibetan Buddhist monks to depict processes of creation and destruction. With tables requisite for the game of gambling, XU ZHEN® denotes it as an activity that is at once as old as mankind and, at the same time, a symbol of capitalistic greed and productivity. Switching out traditional mandala patterns for the designs of table games, XU ZHEN® connects the two juxtaposed practices, exploring similarities in their rules, ceremonies, and the passage from existence to nonexistence. The playful coalescing liberates gambling and religious rituals from their usual semantics, introducing a new interpretative framework that transcends the normative values assigned to them. 


Akram Zaatari 

Image courtesy of the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery / Sfeir-Semler Gallery 

Work: The End of Love, 2013, 150 black-and-white inkjet prints;
Represented by: Thomas Dane Gallery / Sfeir-Semler Gallery 

Akram Zaatari conducts interdisciplinary research on the history of photography against the backdrop of the development of the industry and the practice itself. 

In 1997, Zaatari co-founded the Beirut-based Arab Image Foundation (AIF) which collects, researches, preserves, interprets, and exhibits photography from the Arab region. The foundation has developed a large collection thanks to the research practices of artists like Zaatari. He produced an expansive body of work based on the archive of photographer Hashem El Madani, owner of Studio Sheherazade, a studio in Saida, Lebanon, which was operational between 1953 and 2017. Zaatari’s project takes into consideration the complex notions of authorship and ownership of photographs and their use in different formats. Zaatari’s project furthers Madani’s practice by working it into new configurations: films, installations, and publications. 

The End of Love consists of 150 black-and-white photographs found in a box labeled ‘weddings’ at Madani’s studio. Pictured are not only wedding couples but also a number of individuals alone, whose presence remains enigmatic. The work presents the whole set as a found object. 


For more information on the 2019 edition of Art Basel, click here


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