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What’s in store at Venice: our pick of the Asian pavilions

Video installations dominate the offerings at this year’s Biennale

Tsang is known for his immersive practice—an innovative blend of text and words with computer technology

With the Venice Biennale fast approaching, Asian artists and curators are busy working on the projects for their national pavilions. Videos appear to be the medium of choice, with South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines all presenting work in that format.Macau will pay homage to Mio Pang Fei, one of its most prolific artists, with a retrospective that aims to bring him further international attention. Meanwhile, Hong Kong and Japan will present site-specific installations, the former with Tsang Kin-wah and the latter with Chiharu Shiota, perhaps the best-known artist in this group.

The artists representing South Korea—Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho—are due to take part in a Salon talk with Sook-Kyung Lee, the pavilion’s curator, on Sunday 15 March (4pm-5pm). The 56th Venice Biennale runs from 9 May until 22 November. Information about China’s pavilion and Thailand’s participation was unavailable as we went to press.

Hong Kong: Tsang Kin-wah

Tsang Kin-wah was born in China’s Guangdong province. He studied book arts at Camberwell College of Arts, London, and now lives and works in Hong Kong. Known for his immersive practice—an innovative blend of text and words with computer technology—Tsang’s work has been exhibited around the world, including a solo show at Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum in 2011. He was selected to represent Hong Kong in Venice by Hong Kong’s M+ museum, which renews its collaboration with the Hong Kong Arts Development Council this year, after the institution’s presentation of an installation by Lee Kit at the 2013 edition of the Biennale. Tsang is preparing another immersive installation, this time based on video projections, “which will be the ambitious and natural next step for his work”, says Doryun Chong, the curator of the pavilion and the chief curator at M+. Of Tsang’s selection, Chong says: “What is most important is that the artist has a confident, mature practice. His work is also impactful and engrossing, both perceptually and conceptually. It’s not often that an artist’s work is effective in both these registers. In that sense, we believe that his work is perfectly suited to the challenging environment of the Biennale, where too subtle or low-key works can easily get lost and [where works] have to have enough depth to hold people’s attention.”

Macau: Mio Pang Fei

The painter Mio Pang Fei, who was born in Shanghai in 1936 and has lived in Macau since 1982, was unanimously selected as the country’s representative from a pool of nearly 40 candidates. The show is essentially a retrospective of his work over six decades. During his long career, the artist has held teaching posts at the Visual Arts Academy of Macau, Nanjing Arts University and Shanghai’s College of Fine Arts, and has had more than 60 exhibitions around the world. But his beginnings were precarious, to say the least. He began to paint during the Cultural Revolution, and his secret experimentation with Western aesthetics and his deconstructed “post-calligraphy” paintings placed him in “grave personal danger” in the face of the “dominant Maoist ideology”, says Rie Yamanaka, the pavilion’s curator. “In those difficult times, given the constraints, artists had to devote more time to thinking rather than practising, and Mio Pang Fei pondered the future of Oriental painting and his own artistic direction, which gradually morphed into Neo-Orientalism. His creativity flourished after he moved to Macau,” Yamanaka says.

Taiwan: Wu Tien-Chang

Hosted by the Palazzo delle Prigioni, a former Venetian prison, Taiwan’s pavilion will address, perhaps fittingly, notions of separation and of saying goodbye. “Over the past century, due to changes in political power in Taiwan, people came and went with the incoming and outgoing regimes—so ‘saying goodbye’ became something that people constantly had to contend with,” a statement says. The artist Wu Tien-Chang was selected to represent Taiwan by the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, which is organising the pavilion under the direction of Fang Mei-Ching, its chief curator. Wu has been active for just over 40 years, and his works have been shown at biennials in Taipei (1994, 1996, 1998) and in Venice (1997), and at the Asia-Pacific Triennial in 1996 and 1999. The artist’s work has evolved from painting to photography to video, the chosen medium for this presentation, titled Farewell, Spring and Autumn Pavilions, 2015. His work often draws on Taiwan’s kitsch culture, which grew out of Taiwanese imitation of luxury goods imported into the country by foreigners, including members of the US armed forces during the Cold War era.

South Korea: Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho

Seoul-based Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho, who have been collaborating since 2009, presented work at the Singapore Biennale in 2013 and at the Fukuoka Triennale in 2014; their film installation News from Nowhere was first shown at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, in 2012. The artists are creating a new multi-channel video installation for Venice, The Ways of Folding Space & Flying, which is described as “an archaeological quest into human civilisation that interweaves history with visions of the future, as told through a future-retrospective narrative”. The pavilion’s organiser, Sook-Kyung Lee, is the Asia-Pacific research curator at the Tate Research Centre in London and the curator of the museum’s Asia-Pacific acquisitions committee. “Moon and Jeon’s approach is an antidote to singular authorship. By involving practitioners from different fields, such as architecture, design, film, science and literature, they try to blur the boundaries between different disciplines. I think Moon and Jeon can raise thought-provoking questions,” she says.

Japan: Chiharu Shiota

Chiharu Shiota’s installation at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC (until 7 June) has been widely praised for its visual and emotional impact, and forms the basis of her project for Japan’s pavilion. “Both exhibitions are about collecting people’s memories,” Shiota says. She filled the Sackler with 350 unpaired shoes that she had collected from friends and via social media; each was tied to a red string and a handwritten note about its owner. The pavilion will host her site-specific work The Key in the Hand, 2015, an installation of more than 50,000 keys. It will also include photographs, videos and two wooden boats. “In our daily lives, keys protect valuable things… and are handed down to others whom we trust to look after the things that are important to us,” says Hitoshi Nakano, the pavilion’s curator and the curator of the Kanagawa Arts Foundation. Shiota’s work, which includes In Silence, 2002-12, an installation that was shown at Art Basel in 2013, is known for placing visitors at its centre, something she has termed a “philosophy of the instant”. Her work for the pavilion “will be the very embodiment of this philosophy and will make the most of the exhibition space to emotionally rouse the viewers”, Nakano says. Berlin-based Shiota has worked in the German artist Rebecca Horn’s studio, and her work has been shown in Moscow’s Manege (2013), the Museum of Art in Kochi (2013) and Paris’s La Maison Rouge (2012).

Singapore: Charles Lim

The Singapore pavilion aims to explore the concept of geopolitical borders and history, as viewed through the sea, rather than dry land—a fitting show to present in a city that has seen its history shaped by the sea. The artist Charles Lim, known for his participation in the Venice Film Festival in 2011 and in Documenta 11 in 2002, is presenting an ongoing body of work called Sea State. The project began in 2005 with still images and has now developed into film. It was shown at Manifesta 7 in 2008. A former competitive sailor who represented Singapore in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, Lim is also a graduate of Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, London, and his work often focuses on the sea. Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, the pavilion’s curator and a curator at Singapore’s National Gallery, calls Sea State “an indictment of our times” and hopes that it will generate international discussion. “The challenge of working at events like the Venice Biennale is that… the fatigue sets in soon after the vernissage, and conversations are not sustained. Charles and I hope to keep the momentum going long after the pavilion opens,” he says.

Philippines: Jose Tence Ruiz and Mariano Montelibano

After a 51-year gap, the Philippines is making a return to the Venice Biennale, represented by two artists: Jose Tence Ruiz and Mariano Montelibano. The exhibition aims to “introduce to Venice a post-colonial art history from the Philippines”, says Patrick Flores, the pavilion’s curator, who is a professor in the department of art studies at the University of the Philippines and the curator of the institution’s Vargas Museum. The show takes as its point of departure the film “Genghis Khan”, which was made in 1950 by the celebrated Filipino actor and director Manuel Conde and was shown at the Venice Film Festival in 1952. “The film is the pivot around which the pavilion turns,” Flores says, and its notions of borders and conquest will find a contemporary echo in the artists’ works. Montelibano’s multi-channel video A Dashed State, 2015, is about the West Philippines Sea, part of the disputed South China Sea; Ruiz’s installation Shoal, 2015, refers to the Sierra Madre, a vessel used in the Vietnam War that was deliberately run aground on a reef by the Philippines government in 1999. Flores describes Ruiz and Montelibano as “homegrown artists” whose practice is informed by their engagement with social issues.

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