Our annual printed publication – the CoBo Supplement strives to increase awareness by serving as a platform to develop conversations pertaining to contemporary art. This year’s edition, released to coincide with Art Basel Hong Kong 2019, features the opinions and viewpoints of over fifty influential, global art leaders on eleven dynamic topics addressing significant ongoing discourses in the art world. To kickstart on our conversation on Art & Politics we bring to you the musings of Raqs Media Collective, Kacey Wong, Dinh Q. Lê, Huang Rui, and Alfredo Jaar.
Text: Raqs Media Collective, Kacey Wong, Dinh Q. Lê, Huang Rui, and Alfredo Jaar.
Images: Courtesy of Contributors
Raqs Media Collective, Artists
To Ask When Empty, To Pour When Full: On Aestheticizing Politics
Patterns and designs which impose impressive, spectacular and heart-stopping visual discipline on the unruly surfaces and structures of life lie at the heart of the aestheticization of every place and every situation. These are the images and structures of feeling that tell us what to feel, when to be loyal, and how to act.
Rather than staying within this pre-ordained pathway, it always remains possible to embody a different set of imperatives, that mark both practical, as well as normative, departures from aestheticized order — the decor and ornament of the way things are. Simply put, rather than being content with the route well-trodden:
It is to ask when empty, and to pour when full.
It is to disobey when told, and to doubt when asked. To eat when hungry, and to feed when asked.
To praise when needed and to play when asked.
Thus we can imagine making and reforming the world along a different axis. Considered in this way, the place art makes in the world does not have to be a palace, a prison or a promenade. It may be a culvert, a conduit, a detour off the highway. Off the highway where speed reigns, where the grand procession marches on the spot, very fast, forever, not really going anywhere. It can be that vestibule, that short-cut, or secret passage, that turn in the labyrinth that gets us from here, wherever “here” is, to “there” – that tantalizing lighthouse on the horizon.
The place that art makes in the world can take us to the future as easily as it can take us to the past, or sideways into other worlds, concurrent, here, now, inside or outside, but unknown to our own.
The place that art makes in the world will then be found by a shift to an altitude where close companions may become welcome strangers, where strangers may become familiar. It is a mountain peak on the range called uncertainty. The place that art makes in the world is the natural habitat of the third man: that strange, delightful companion, the one you find when you hallucinate on a long, hard climb. Not you, not me, but someone else rendering it unnecessary to ask whether it is you or me.
The place that art makes in the world will then have the taste of solitude and the texture of solidarity. It has then the porosity of intimacy, and may live and breathe like a crowd. That place that art makes in the world is not a destination, not a way-station, not a terminus, not a junction, not a spot on a time-table. No trams, trains, aeroplanes or motor boats can get you there. You walk to reach that place, not by foot, but on the limbs of your questions and desires. It is not far. It is not close at hand.
Kacey Wong, Artist
The Invisible Flag
An invisible flag was hoisted in the air, and the war on culture began. The flag will teach you whom to hate and to love, whom to fear and to obey. There will be no safe place to hide, not even on the dance floor. If you should become victorious in this war, the prize will be modest: you will be able to keep your language and history. But if you are defeated, your punishment will be spending time at the camps; you might live or you might not. The invisible flag is all seeing; all seeing is powerful, and power is beauty.
Dinh Q. Lê, Artist
The Artist as Activist
Post-war Vietnam used to be a place with no tolerance for anything political – before expressing an opinion, one needed to lower one’s voice to a whisper, check the windows and make sure no one else was listening to the conversation. After the Doi Moi policy, the subsequent economic reform in the late 1980s, and the legalization of the internet in 1997, information became more accessible. As such, the generation that came of age in the 1990s and 2000s started to enjoy some degree of freedom. Nevertheless, the media and education system are still under tight government control to this day.
So much has been censored and hidden from public knowledge in the course of history. However, today we are finally given a chance to examine, learn, and decide for ourselves the story that the government, through education and the media, has been putting forward. We have for so long held questions about the traumas of the past – now we can re-examine that past and find our own answers. This is what I do as an artist my art is a reflection of my own environment.
Huang Rui, Artist
Where Art and Politics Merge
This is the most politically violent era. I am astonished to see it unfold before my eyes. If you do not think that art can cause political offence, I don’t presume to analyze your identity or situation, but at the very least, you are outside of art or have not reached the horizon of free creation. At the horizon of free artistic expression, a clear sky of human wisdom, you see no shadow of politics; but to say that art and politics are not connected is like saying there’s no connection between air and air pollution.
Alfredo Jaar, Artist
Artists Create Models of Thinking the World
We live in dark times. I survived the military dictatorship of General Pinochet’s Chile. I witnessed the Rwandan genocide in the face of the criminal indifference of the so-called “world community” that tolerated the slaughter of a million people under daylight in less than one hundred days. I am now witnessing the monstrosity of the Trump administration’s acts that brutally separates babies from their defenceless refugee mothers and detains them in cages. Brazil just elected a fascist retired military as its president. Europe is being swept by neo-fascists governments and parties. As I write, thousands are fleeing their homes in search of a safe place. According to UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are today 65 million refugees around the world.
How do we make art when the world is in such a state? How do we make art out of information that most of us would rather ignore? The great Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe wrote that art is our constant effort to change the order of reality that was given to us. But how do we change this order of reality?
Our first step as artists and cultural producers is to create new models of thinking the world. But most importantly, we should make the effort not to replicate so perfectly the injustices and imbalances of the current models. Artists must create new models of resistance. And must resist with culture, with cultural programs, with cultural projects. Because culture can affect change. Culture is today our most precious capital. Culture is capital. The spaces of culture are the last remaining spaces of freedom. We must transform these spaces of freedom into spaces of hope.