The inaugural triennial of the Asian Society “We don’t dream alonePresents dreamlike conversations of Asian artists from the region and the diaspora between oneself and the world. The exhibition packs a punch. The works of 40 artists representing 20 countries cling to a spectrum of soothing aspiration and delirious comfort; they come to life under the pious sign of conviviality in a period of deep social isolation and polarization.
Divided into two parts and taking place at multiple venues in New York and Hong Kong (through June 27), “We Do Not Dream Alone” connects cultures and aims to foster greater understanding in the fight against the rise of anti-Asian hatred everywhere, and especially in the United States.
A recurring theme among the various installations is a quest to define what are the multiple embodiments of the house, what constitutes familiarity, displacement and dispossession – inside and out.
In this inner search first of all, we encounter the intimate geography, reconstituted, in trompe l’oeil of Abir Karmakar. The Indian artist has painted life-size interpretations of everyday interiors, panels that explore memory and loss like slices of personal archives or flashbacks. One expects to see children running around, the sound of an old radio or television, the presence of elders in the family, yet the space – filled with knick-knacks and objects of all kinds – remains desperately empty of human souls. Maybe they are dead. Perhaps it is the space as an echo more than the endangered people themselves.
Iranian artist Reza Aramesh juxtaposes sensuality and horror in a memorable work, Study of the vase as fragmented bodies. It expresses the impossible: pain, humiliation and a call for dignity. Inspired by the vases and techniques of archaic to classical Greek pottery painting, Aramesh displays haunting silhouettes that vividly expose the anonymity and conditions of political prisoners in often tortured positions.
Communicating both with the world and with oneself, the Chinese artist Xu Zhen © connects cultural and intimate identities. Eternity – Male figure, Statue of Venus Genetrix shows the replica of a (male) statue from the Angkor era crashing into the replica of a Roman Venus from the 2nd century. Venus is the basis of Rome. It is linked to the city’s mythical ancestry; Julius Caesar had claimed his lineage from the goddess. Eternity is both feminine and masculine, that is, it is neither. But the statues brought together also tell the story of a sophisticated Khmer artifact interrupting the majesty of Venus as an enduring symbol of Western arrogance and its jealous appropriation of what constitutes “civilization.” Khmer art bursts in from above, almost incidentally, and Xu Zhen © finds here an ingenious way of denouncing Westernized narratives, illicit trade and pleading for the preservation of Asian heritage. A set of three statues was made by the artist – two can be seen at the Asia Society Museum and a third is outside, across from Park Avenue.
While most of the artwork is apparently detached from any specific time stamps, the Hong Kong-based company Cheuk Wing Nam captures the weirdness of the COVID-19 era in a song-length video that highlights disorientation, alienation and loneliness. With the animation of Lu Yang’s Doku avatar projected onto a large screen from floor to ceiling, these two artists explore a paradoxical experience of the world that is both hyper-connected and deeply asocial, although for Lu Yang their avatar seeks to transcend their human form.
Borrowing a Yoko Ono replica from the 1960s (“A dream you dream alone may be a dream, but a dream two people dream together is a reality”), “We Do Not Dream Alone” finds its best embodiment in the works. multimedia Mina Cheon. The Korean artist, who divides time between Seoul and the United States, wonders if art can really unite, and in this case, the two sides of the 38th parallel and the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the North from South Korea. Mina Cheon actively supports artistic and cultural dialogue between North and South, East and West. She created playful ‘polipop’ style videos of art history lessons, smuggled into North Korea by defectors, to promote reconciliation. Against a wall, Dreaming of unification: Oori (우리) Demonstration for peace (painted under his alter-ego name “Kim-Il Soon”) shows a duplicated depiction of a unified Korean peninsula, with the word “oori” meaning “we / our / us” sprayed in the middle as if vandalized or an act of protest. Opposite, a painting by an anonymous North Korean collective reproduces the work of Da Vinci The last supper. Kyungah ham also featured embroidery from North Korean craftsmen in his latest works. In the same desire to transcend national divisions, Kimsooja‘s Breathe – Flags broadcast a single-channel video where 246 flags scramble and merge into one another in kinetic motion during the first part of the Triennale. People may be politically separated, but a deeper fabric ultimately binds them to a common destiny, than the Syrian artist Kevork Mourad transmits in See through Babel, a creation speaking of religious tolerance.
Artists dream of a possible future and revisit the past. First generation Vietnamese refugeese Dinh Q. Lê who co-founded and chairs the board of directors of San Art in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where he works in addition to Los Angeles, takes us back to September 11. As the 20th commemoration of the event approaches later this year, Four moments creates an expressionistic halo of the New York skyline, before the attack, when the attack occurred, when the towers collapsed and ultimately conveys the color palette of the reconstruction. The four-channel video stretches the colors in horizontal streaks that denote a movement of rise and fall. Four moments creates a loop of four phases that represent the seasons and cyclical patterns of birth, growth, decay and death.
There is much more to this Triennale, the cinematic world of Vibha Galhotra and a space for acceptance of gender and sexual expressions with Hamra Abbas to name a few others, thanks to co-curators Michelle Yun Mapplethorpe, recently appointed vice president of global art programs at the Asia Society and director of the Asia Society Museum, and Boon Hui Tan, her predecessor in these roles (2015-2020) and former director of the Singapore Art Museum.
In a time of ignorance and division, the Triennale could not be more timely. Yet hovering above this kaleidoscopic dive is also a silence. There is no direct artistic calculation with the brutal repression in Myanmar, the student protests in Thailand, and a myriad Human rights abuse which continue to plague the region. afghan artists were not represented when their country is at a historic crossroads, grappling with the decision to withdraw American troops and its ramifications. I also wondered where geographic Asia began and where did it end and whether works by artists from the Pacific should have been included in this set, especially for the message they could convey to us about the devouring effects of a largely ignored climate emergency. What is “the role of the artist” and to what extent is the Triennale anchored in the present? We often dream of escaping reality.