asia pacific artist initiatives project
Centre for Contemporary Photography and 200 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, Melboume
4 - 28 October 2000

A recurring objective on the local contemporary art scene in recent years has been an attempt to bring together Asia Pacific artists through cultural exchange initiatives. USEby, a recent exhibition held in two of Melbourne's public art spaces, continued this theme while also adding a novel and thought-provoking perspective. Divided between the Centre for Contemporary Photography and 200 Gertrude Street, USEby presented the striking work of a number of emerging contemporary artists involved with artist-run galleries and co-operatives in the Asia-Pacific region. Curated by Tessa Dwyer and Sarah Tutton, the exhibition was conceived as a response to the proliferation of artist-run spaces and initiatives throughout the region, and was intended not only as a means for exploring the work of new artists but also as an opportunity for collaboration and inter-cultural exchange. The word 'useby' calls to mind expiration dates, short existences and impermanence. In the context of this exhibition, the clever title alludes to the generally short life of artist-run spaces and initiatives (which are mostly dependent on self-funding and/or cheap rental spaces to secure their otherwise fragile existence) but also refers to the often temporal nature of the art produced within such spaces. As a whole, the exhibition successfully brought together an exciting display of new art being produced in the region. But it did leave some nagging questions. In particular, what was it about the work of these specific artists and groups that made them so representative of the collectives they had been taken to represent? Evidence suggesting collaboration between the artists and groups represented was also wanting. In essence, the exhibition presented an array of individual works from various artists and collectives in the Asia-Pacific. Singaporean artist Ye Shufang 's Chocolate as Painting had quite literally reached its use-by date by the end of its showing. For this site-specific work, Shufang painted white chocolate directly onto the walls of the Gertrude Street gallery. Over the course of the exhibition, the once sweet-smelling chocolate decayed, gradually emitting a repulsive odour. Like Ye, Sydney-based artist Tim Silver is concerned with the temporal and ephemeral in his work. In Untitled {What if I Drive?), Silver presented an installation of cars made from Crayola wax attached to the gallery wall. The coloured skid marks of the cars traced their separate journeys on the wall , but at the same time signified the object's disintegration: as the cars kept moving erosion from the wall rendered them formless. Continuing the themes of time and temporality, Mira Gojak's Until Then, a witty collection of wire sculptures outlining various shapes of human legs with shoes on, turned upside-down, conveyed a sense of the differences between human beings as well as the shared frailty of human existence; Ringo Bunoan's series of photographs it's Morning, Where are You?, taken by the artist upon waking up, offered a glimpse into moments of the artist's personal life, memorialised in the photographic medium. The Thai artists represented in the exhibition, including Kala Sangkhae and collaborative groups Namdee Publishing and Nuts Society, offered the most socially and politically engaged works. Worthy of special note was Thai video-artist Michael Shaowanasai's work Exotic 101, which provides an instructional lesson in how to be exotic. The work presents the artist himself as teacher, with a compliant assistant at his side to demonstrate the simple steps involved in becoming exotic. What follows is a highly sexualised dance routine consisting of sensual hip swaying and pole-handling. The work is an ironic comment on the sexualised stereotypes of Asian people, which are still dominant in much mainstream Western culture. Certainly, USEby recognised the importance of developing exchange networks between independent art organisations throughout the Asia-Pacific as a means of support for emerging artists in the region. In this sense, the exhibition provided a refreshing dimension to Asia-Pacific cultural exchange projects, which have often been engaged with more established artists and concerned more with upholding official cultural policies than with the artists themselves. However, the unclear relationships between the artists involved left the viewer guessing as to what associations and exchanges, if any, were realised between the artists and collectives by the end of this otherwise intriguing showing.