“2 or 3 Tigers” is a group exhibition about colonialism, media and modernity in East Asia. Curated by Anselm Franke and Hyunjin Kim the exhibition is on display at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin until 3 July 2017.
“2 or 3 Tigers” explores modernity as a colonial pattern inscribed in the history of nation states, militarisation and financialisation as well as an ontological revolution that fundamentally orders the social realm, national narratives and cosmologies, and whose effects have led to a profound crisis of consciousness as well as myriad and multiple local forms of resistance. In this context, the figure of the tiger is proposed as a medium through which mythological, colonial and modern histories are evoked and folded into the present. As the curatorial text highlights,
Wherever humans have lived in a shared habitat with the tiger, mythology reflects the animal’s status as a liminal figure, closely related to the community, and yet marking its beyond. As a creature of mountains and borderlands, the tiger occupies a transitory zone separating civilization from wilderness, the living from the ancestor-spirit world.
The exhibition includes the work of Ho Tzu Nyen, Park Chan-kyong, Jane Jin KAISEN and Guston Sondin-Kung, Yuichiro Tamura, Im Heung-soon, James T. Hong, Lieko Shiga, Chia-Wei Hsu and Minouk Lim. Art Radar takes a look at a few of the works in the exhibition.
The main piece, from which the exhibition derives its title, is by Singaporean artist, film and theatremaker Ho Tzu Nyen. Ho’s installation One or Several Tigers (2017) explores the reoccurring use of the tiger in distinct moments in the development of national discourses in Malaysia and Singapore. For Ho, the tiger is a medium that channels otherwise silenced histories, which have been occluded by ideologies of modernisation and rendered unspeakable by the dominant logic of national identities.
The film work explores multiple histories of the tiger, from the shape-shifting “weretigers” (beings who communicated with the world of the ancestors and spirits) of Malaysian cosmology to the near-extinction of the tiger in Malaysia as a result of British colonialism, or the story of the Japanese defeat of the British in 1942 led by General Tomoyuki Yamashita known as the “Tiger of Malaya”. Also exploring the tiger as a symbol for communism, the work provides a sprawling genealogy of the shifting narratives that have used the tiger as a vessel for communication. It is Ho’s focus on the tiger as “medium”, deployed for multiple communicative purposes in diverse contexts, that is behind the curator’s decision to anchor the exhibition with this piece.
In a work that extends the genealogy of the tiger to the histories of military occupation in the East Asia region, Yuichiro Tamura’s installation Hey Daddy, Hey Brother (2017) fixes the tiger as a pervasive popular culture pastiche, often embroidered on clothing. The work consists of a clothes railing filled with a series of “Sukajan” jackets – a style of bomber or baseball jacket, embroidered with images such as the tiger, which is said to have been a popular souvenir amoung the US military stations in postwar Japan during the Korean War (1950–1953). The jackets on display belong to the artist, who has been collecting sukajan jackets for many years as artefacts and evidence of the linkages between supposedly distinct cultural and historical forces: US military intervention and tourism, subcultures and globalisation, youthful rebellion and national identity.
Chia-Wei Hsu is a Taiwan-born artist who lives in Taipei. Like Tamura, his work also uncovers the cultural ubiquities of Cold War conflict and globalisation in the region, making links between new media theories and tactics and post-colonial and decolonial critiques of modernity. His installation Spirit Writing (2016) is the second in a series of works dedicated to a frog deity worshipped in a temple in Jiangxi, China, for over 2000 years. The temple was however destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. As a result, the deity, named Marshal Tie Jia, was forced to “migrate” and eventually settled on an island in the Taiwan Strait.
The work, which explores both the myth of Marshal Tie Jia and the story of the myth’s geographic displacement, consists of a fictional interrogation of the deity in which the artist asks the deity what the original temple-home looked like. The temple was then reconstructed using 3D computer simulation and projected into a green room, where the audio plays.
The “green screen” is a generic technique used in film, creating a homogeneous background for a scene that can then be replaced with a different image in the editing room. It is thus a technique of dissociating figure from ground, to place it in whatever the desired context. It might therefore be referred to as a paradigmatic modern image-technology, mirroring modernity’s powers of displacement.
Several other works in the exhibition reflect on recent transformations to mass-media infrastructures, exploring and critiquing the universalising tendencies of digital technolgies in the age of computer-generated imagery and ubiquitous animation. S.O.S.-Adoptive Dissensus (2009) by Minouk Lim, for example, is a video of a site-specific performance installed on three-channel screens. The performance reconstructs an urban cruise on the Han River as a melancholic epic and mesmerising theatrical experience. The original performance is structured by flashbacks between the past and the present and projections of real and imported scenery, against a backdrop of “Seoul by night”.
The original performance was set on a ferry and travelled for 99 minutes during which three different signals and calls interrupt the journey, appearing and disappearing along the dark concrete banks of the river: the lonely midnight demonstration of unemployed youth who carry mirrors that reflect the light; lovers, lost, who are restless and free to do a midnight run to the small isolated island in the river; prevailing surveillance system. The work, which is the filmic document of the original performance, explores the fragmentation of contemporary narratives of urban life, populated by the soundscapes of construction sites and tales of gentrification and surveillance.
Various other sculptural objects by Minouk Lim have also been installed in the exhibition space: in Black Hole (2015), L’homme à la caméra (2015), One Becoming Two (2015), On Air (2015), Green Ray (2015) and A Fulami rhyme from West Africa (2015), the primitive (or analogue) and modern media technology are merged in unconventional and even grotesque ways. These objects (a broadcast camera, LED lights and steel stands) have been made from a disparate combination of materials such as feathers, plywood, branches, paraffin, fishnet and media. Her uncanny hybrid objects function as media assemblages, designed to send and receive messages between past and present histories and materials.
Peruvian writer Anibal Quijano’s seminal work Coloniality and modernity/rationality (1991) explores colonialism as past conquest and epistemological project that reaches far into the present. In a similar way, by focusing on artist projects that depart from new media perspectives such as Chia-Wei Hsu’s Spirit Writing and Minouk Lim’s sculptural media assemblages, “2 or 3 Tigers” makes a potentially innovative contribution to post-colonial and decolonial theories and practices in the East Asia region.
※ This article was originally published in Art Radar(http://artradarjournal.com/) and reprinted by their kind permission.
copyrightⓒ 2017 All rights reserved by the author and Art Radar.
Rebecca Close is a writer, editor and translator. She worked as an assistant at the Chinese Arts Center in Manchester (UK) during her degree in Philosophy and was awarded a British Council scholarship to complete research in art history at the University of the Hong Kong and carry out a fellowship at Asia Art Archive. She has been a desk editor for ArtAsiaPacific Magazine 2009-2012. Rebecca joined the Art Radar team as Part-time Staff Writer in September 2016.