JEMMA HAN, Life is On Air, 2006, stage installation, 1200 × 200 × 400 cm. Installation view at the Sea Art Festival, Busan Biennale, 2006. Courtesy Busan Biennale.

The Society of the Spectacle

All eyes were on China this August for the grandiose spectacle of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Some four billion television viewers—more than half the people on the globe—were said to have tuned in. In early September, less than two weeks after the Olympics conclude, a series of mega-exhibitions will open across the Asia-Pacific region. Beginning with the Biennale of Sydney’s closing celebration and leaping to Gwangju, Busan, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Singapore and on to Taipei and Yokohama, with a final pit stop in Bishkek, art audiences will be whisked about on a grand tour twice as long as Europe’s—comprised of the Venice Biennale, documenta12 and Skulptur Projekte Münster—in June 2007.

By the time the air miles are tallied and the carbon footprints are offset, worldwide attention will shift to the media-frenzy around the US presidential election in November. ArtAsiaPacific No. 60 keeps pace with both the self-seeking contemporary art world and the seismic, real-world affairs that impact it, examining how artists participate in and critique these cultural spectacles.

In this issue, AAP previews the biennials proliferating in Asian cities eager to boost their cultural credentials and tourism. We highlight each event’s curatorial premise, artists to watch and curators behind the scenes, offering an inside look at the year’s biggest events.

As artists become crucial players in cultural initiatives around the globe, few embrace the contemporary spectacle as well as Anish Kapoor, whose impressive sculptural forms never cease to astonish. Sandhini Poddar, an assistant curator at the Guggenheim Museum, goes beneath the surface of Kapoor’s work, looking at his “proto-objects,” which as Poddar explains, “come into being before language, before aesthetics, before thought and before conditioning.”

Reminding us that many artists are deeply skeptical of the major changes taking place in the world, New York desk editor Paul Laster examines the satirical work of Hong Kong-born Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung, who creates ribald political satires in his colorful, collage-like sculptures and videos. In a more muted hue, AAP managing editor HG Masters looks at Vietnam-born An-My Lê, whose large-format photographs deconstruct the military’s self-mythologization. And Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces’ director Alexie Glass and AAP Features editor Andrew Maerkle zero in on globe-trotting conceptualist Heman Chong’s experiments with images, objects and science fiction.

Other artists showing this September in Asia are profiled, including Tokyo-based Shinji Ohmaki, tapped for the Yokohama Triennale and Brooklyn’s Byron Kim, participating in the Gwangju Biennale, who is wonderfully captured in his studio by photographer Lois Conner for Where I Work. Meanwhile, Paris desk editor Deepak Ananth interviews NS Harsha, a favorite among biennial curators and the winner of the third Artes Mundi prize in April. For The Point, Michael Young considers the perils of self-censorship in response to the recent Bill Henson controversy in Australia, as authorities sniffed out potentially offensive art at the Biennale of Sydney opening in June.

And as the September season begins, so do the art fairs. From the boutique start-up, Showcase Singapore, to the well-established Korea International Art Fair (KIAF) in Seoul, Art Taipei and Art Singapore, there will be plenty of flavors for every taste. Also in the wings is ShContemporary in Shanghai, among the most international and cutting-edge in the region, only in its second year; Ian Driscoll meets the fair’s director, Lorenzo Rudolf, previously director of Art Basel, to discuss what it takes to mount an ambitious art fair. New Delhi desk editor Deeksha Nath writes on Sumedh Rajendran, debuting in ShContemporary’s curated “Best of Discovery” section. If you are in Shanghai, be sure to visit ArtAsiaPacific’s lounge at ShContemporary to see Wim Delvoye’s latest controversial project TIM (2006- ) the subject of this issue’s State of the Art by Chin-Chin Yap. In her analysis, Yap considers “the pandora’s box of legal conundrums” surrounding this particular object of desire.

The season ahead will deliver a heavy dose of spectacles. But as Situationist International’s Guy Debord wrote in his 1967 book, The Society of the Spectacle, “The spectacle is a concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the nonliving.” Let’s hope that today’s spectacles will challenge our thoughts and perceptions of the world around us, and indeed cause us to move.