Ho Rui An’s Look East Gone West: Revisiting a Decade of Eastern Miracle From the Standpoint of the Future

Ho Rui An, Asia the Unmiraculous, 2018– , lecture and video installation with digital prints on backlit Im mounted on LED-illuminated acrylic, wallpaper, books and magnetically levitated hand model. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.
Ho Rui An, Asia the Unmiraculous, 2018– , lecture and video installation with digital prints on backlit Im mounted on LED-illuminated acrylic, wallpaper, books and magnetically levitated hand model. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.
Ho Rui An, TIME FOR FUTURE, 2018– , digital prints on backlit Im mounted on LED-illuminated acrylic, 67 x 50 cm each. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.
Ho Rui An, Student Bodies (still), 2019– , HD video 26’ 30”. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.
Ho Rui An, Student Bodies (still), 2019– , HD video 26’ 30”. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.
TOP
645
32
0
 
9
Nov
9
Nov
CoBo Social Market News Reports

In his first solo exhibition in Southeast Asia, artist Ho Rui An interrogates the East and West dichotomy by investigating the “East Asian Miracle” of the late 20th century against shifts in global capitalism.

 

TEXT: Layla Duckett
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist and A+ Gallery

Once upon a time in the ‘80s—the decade of MTV and the moonwalk, among many other things—it was a really big deal to be on the cover of TIME magazine. In 1981, Japan fronted the esteemed periodical as part of a story on emerging Asian markets. And how, you might ask, was the country represented? By a samurai. However, unlike the traditional warrior of the bygone days, this samurai did not grip at an elegant katana, but rather, he had a gold Casio watch strapped to his wrist, all the while juggling a Canon camera, a Casio calculator, a wagasa (traditional Japanese umbrella) and a briefcase. With what looks like some effort, he craned his neck to the left, and with steely conviction, set his eyes on his target—the Western consumer market.

This confused hybrid fashioned out of Japan’s pre-capitalist past and its hyper-capitalist present conveyed the West’s curiosities and anxieties about an unpredictable East. The image suggests a peripheral player now gunning for a position at the centre of history and global capitalism by way of its competitive export economy.

 

Ho Rui An, Asia the Unmiraculous, 2018– , lecture and video installation with digital prints on backlit Im mounted on LED-illuminated acrylic, wallpaper, books and magnetically levitated hand model. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.

 

Images like this TIME magazine cover provide the inspiration and source material for “Look East Gone West,” Ho Rui An’s first solo exhibition in Southeast Asia, presented at A+ Works of Art in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Stepping into the space of the exhibition, one is met with an unnerving feel of a misplaced corporate lounge, furnished with two deep-set leather chairs facing two screens and a coffee table topped with a myriad of books. Decorating the walls are 14 back-lit posters, which, from a distance, look like real-estate listings. The space is pregnant with an unsettling stillness, despite the progression of images on the television screens. Almost in a haste to break the tension, one moves to examine the posters on the wall, which prove to be an entry point in the exhibition’s provocative re-mapping of “East” and “West.”

Singapore-based Ho is an artist and writer who references contemporary art, popular culture, cinema and theory in his artistic practice. He takes a research-based approach to art, and his projects often explore how images operate in the context of two preoccupations: globalisation and governance. In “Look East, Gone West”—a reference to a remark the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher made to former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Bin Mohamad—Ho interrogates the racialised imaginaries of Asia through two works, the lecture and video installation, Asia the Unmiraculous (2018– ), and the film, Student Bodies (2019).

 

Ho Rui An, Asia the Unmiraculous, 2018– , lecture and video installation with digital prints on backlit Im mounted on LED-illuminated acrylic, wallpaper, books and magnetically levitated hand model. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.
Ho Rui An, TIME FOR FUTURE, 2018– , digital prints on backlit Im mounted on LED-illuminated acrylic, 67 x 50 cm each. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.

 

Asia the Unmiraculous uses the 1997 Asian financial crisis as a backdrop to unpack the contestation between ideologies such as neoliberalism and developmentalism. Ho employs and deploys a series of images, like the aforementioned TIME magazine cover, to both visualise and ground a complex analysis of recent socio-political, economic and cultural history. He explores the significance of these images, inquiring upon their production, dissemination and eventual disappearance within the context global capitalism of the last few decades. Watching Ho’s lecture, one might get caught up in his verbal virtuosity and discourse; thus, it’s important to emphasise that these images are not simply an accessory to the content of his speech, ideas and the accompanying writings in the catalogue. Rather, the images are the very source where these words, spoken or written, continue to return.

What Ho has effectively built through Asia the Unmiraculous, is a constellation of 14 mise-en-scenes that provide the viewer with a methodology through which to look at the intricate relationships between visual cultural history, current events and persistent racial and cultural stereotypes. I would argue that this creation of a constellation is crucial, because a constellation implies not a random cluster of stars or objects, but the identification of a pattern. Thus, like the stars that sailors used to navigate, these 14 mise-en-scenes—from a magazine cover, to a Hollywood movie still, photos of Mahathir touring Malaysian industries, or an image of the Eastern sea from Greece—guide the viewer and create juxtapositions, inviting the viewer to rethink the dividing lines of our different selves. Ho’s use of the image embedded in discourse is thus neither dogmatic or didactic, but offers a space for looking and listening.

These images flow from the West’s idea of Asia as the land across the sea, shrouded in mystery and potential, to the anxiety of Asia as the ideal capitalist student turned industrial monopolist and global competitor. The first few posters advertise the fantasy of the East generated by the West, exposing the assumptions of the Eurocentric perspective that the West is on the “good” side of history, and is the “good capitalist.” In one later poster, the phrase “capitalism with Asian values” becomes especially revealing by comparison—as if capitalism with Western values was just plain capitalism.

 

Ho Rui An, Student Bodies (still), 2019– , HD video 26’ 30”. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.
Ho Rui An, Student Bodies (still), 2019– , HD video 26’ 30”. Image courtesy of the artist and A+ Works of Art.

 

In contrast to the corporate setting of Asia the Unmiraculous is the dark and bare room next to it, where through a curtain, one finds the film, Student Bodies, which traces the history of modernity in Asia through the literal figure of the student body. Taking as a point of departure the “Miracle Student” poster in Asia the Unmiraculous—where the West denigrated the over-achieving Asian student as one who only copies but is never truly creative—Ho fleshes out the theme of Asia as the ideal pupil of capitalism. A docu-horror film of sorts, the audio of Student Bodies is distorted and eerie. What makes the work comprehensible is its subtitles, which present quotes from various figures, such as Thatcher and Mathatir, from Asia the Unmiraculous. Images taken from popular culture take precedent in Student Bodies, as we see how Asia is praised for its emulation of Western systems, or is portrayed as submissive and passive to its Western teacher. And whereas Ho is the orator of Asia the Unmiraculous, clarifying both image and word, in Student Bodies there is no orator, only an assemblage of citations, speeches, and images from popular culture, cinema and history.

In closing, I would like to mention two more images from the exhibition, and return to Asia the Unmiraculous. On the coffee table, floating above the array of books on the economic rise of Asia, is a disembodied, large 3D-printed hand that levitates a few centimetres above a white square, and like magic, the hand slowly rotates. Palm up or palm down, a hand has two sides—perhaps a metaphor for the visible hand of good governance or the invisible hand of the free market. The 3D hand is a reference to the poster which depicts a photo of former IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus as he stands arms folded looking down at Indonesia’s late President Suharto, as the latter signs a loan agreement during the height of the Asian financial crisis. Many Indonesians were outraged by the image, which they saw as a national humiliation. Camdessus himself was apologetic about his posture and years later, before retirement, claimed he didn’t know where to put his hands, and didn’t mean to come across as arrogant and condescending.

Finally, there is the poster of a €2 coin perfectly balanced on the ledge of a window in a Chinese high-speed train. There are numerous YouTube videos that show passengers, often tourists, trying to balance coins on high-speed trains. Apparently, all the other trains, whether Japanese or German, rattle too much; only the Chinese trains move so smoothly that you can balance a coin while moving at over 300km/h. The horizon presented to us through the window is not one of mystery or ambiguity but one of a strong sense of identity. The power of the image is embedded in its presentation of a speed that destabilises and subverts the historical Western trope of a static Asia always trapped in the past.

 

“Look East Gone West”
26 September – 15 November 2020
A+ Works of Art, Kuala Lumpur

 

 

 
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply