2002 program: contemporary art centre of south australia

The Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia's (CACSA) exhibition program for 2002 was focussed closely on Asian and Asian-Australian artists. The season commenced with Beijing artist Wang Gongxin (21 February - 28 March), and included Liu Xiao Xian (Sydney) and Justina Gardiner (Adelaide) 12 April-12 May; Kale Beynon (Melbourne) 24 May - 30 June; Matthew Ngui (Singapore & Perth) 12 July - 11 August; Emil Goh (Sydney) and Yoko Kajio (Adelaide) 22 August- 22 September; and Simryn Gill (Malaysia & Sydney) 4 October- 3 November.

This has been a marvellous cross-section of significant art in what is an elongated mini-festival. The program is being completed by Gloss, co-curated by Larissa Hjorth (Melbourne) and Eri Otomo and lratu Hirano (Tokyo). Previously, CACSA programming has included a high proportion of local artists.

There are potential dangers in programming from a particular cultural perspective. As an example, the exhibition 'Magiciens de la Terre' (Paris 1989), was both lauded for providing exposure to non-European cultures and criticised for being patronising and imperialist. But the CACSA's program, which was partly intended to bring to Adelaide artists who might not otherwise be able to show here, reveals our changing culture. The artists are judged on their art, which in many cases carries no specific cultural references. Lee Weng Choy's lecture, Authenticity, Reflexivity, Spectacle or The Rise of New Asia is Not The End of The World, which was included to complement the program, observed the revolution in Asian culture and the grow1h of the destructive capitalism that is invading the region. 1

Wang Gongxin's videos included the meditative 'Play Thing', a close-up of a hand rolling Baoding balls, the chrome surfaces of which reflect the view behind the camera. In 'Fly', the artist slaps at annoying flies; we then see this image pixilated, the pixels turning out to be flies. 'Kara Oke' shows a close-up of a mouth, with karaoke singers projected onto the teeth. In Wang's subtle works, the very large is revealed by the very small.

Liu Xiao Xian's My Other Lives (2002) is a series of stereographic portrait photos. But one figure is western and the other eastern - Liu himself, adopting the 'identity' of the original Victorian figure. Liu thus plays with his own identity, with western perceptions of the Oriental other, and with the veracity of the photographic record. His larger photos – of himself, Mao and Buddha -are composed of thousands of tiny images of another figure, for example Mao is made of Buddha pixels. Each image is an ironic metaphor for the constitution of society by thousands of tiny characters differentiated by their shades of grey.

Kale Beynon's exhibition was a survey of her work from 1994 to 2002 - paintings, ink drawings, chenille stick calligraphic symbols, a video, and an installation of tiny shoes recalling foot binding. Her paintings blend cartooning, graffiti and traditional Chinese illustration. Her recurring character, Li Ji, Warrior Girl, is Beynon's alter ego, who fights Beynon's battles on her behalf. Beynon's stated aim is ' .. . to present an image of positive and empowering hybridity'.2 In Between Us, Justina Gardiner, an Adelaide artist of Filipino background, reassembles her family, and thus her origins, through photographs. Matthew Ngui's installation showed our inability to see wood for trees. On the floor and wall of the gallery are what appear to be random bits of wood that, if viewed from a certain viewpoint, appear as a chair. There is a forest of PVC pipes whose strange markings, if observed via a camera mounted at the 'correct' viewpoint, coalesce into a text written on what seems a continuous surface. Such trompe l'oeil scenes recall MC Escher, for example, but allegorise the contingency of perception, including political and social perception. Joanna Lee points out that 'Ngui sees the everyday habits of being we take for granted as the major constituencies of culture'.3 A slight shift in view and a group of people becomes a community.

Emil Goh's short videos, for example 'Escalator', 'Fruit', 'Street', 'Cell ', 'Restaurant' and 'Till' appear banal in the extreme - observing shoppers on the mall escalator, a fruit dessert being prepared, a cash register. A man carries stacks of discarded Styrofoam packing they way he might once have carried water. In his longer piece, 'Between', Goh's camera pans 180 degrees around a room and then 180 degrees through the room's window, returning to a new room, in an endless cycle of interiors and city-scapes in Europe and Asia, establishing a continuum of human existence.

Simryn Gill's photo series a Small Town at the Turn of the Century, included in the 2002 Sydney Biennale, shows individuals with their faces masked by tropical fruit. We have only the wearer's clothes, body and the environment in which they pose from which to construct an identity. We are invited to project ourselves into her spaces. These artists are both products and observers of the cultural hybridisation, and the alienation of the individual, endemic to contemporary society. Of course, cultural hybridization is not new- the modern English language is a hybrid of French and Old English that evolved after the Norman Conquest and still evolves. But it is the image that is the vehicle of new art. In his essay on Yoko Kajio, Jim Moss suggests, video is a hybrid of cinema, television and art .. . the hybrid text .. . On the one hand, the medium is the message. On the other hand video will speak in any cause and from multiple points of view. Hermetically encased in its ubiquitous technology, video offers us exquisite fragments ad infinitum.4

This summation applies to much of the work in this program. Except that these 'exquisite fragments' are rich in narrative potential and cultural loading and cannot be taken lightly. Wang's wry observations and Goh's brief moments offer enlightenment. CACSA Director Alan Cruickshank has taken a significant and constructive step with this season.

notes: 

I. Lee Weng Choy, Authenticity, Re~exivity, Spectacle or The Rise of New Asia is Not The End of The World, 25 July, Nexus Cabaret, reproduced in the CACSA's Broadsheet, vol. 31, no. 3.

2. Kate Beynon, 'Refiections on a Hybrid Life', catalogue essay, CACSA, 2002

3. Joanna Lee, 'Matthew Ngui, a bit of cooking, a bit of eating; in all some communication', Broadsheet, vol. 3 I, no. 2, p.l6.

4. Jim Moss, 'Yoko Kaijo: Studio Felix', Broadsheet, vol. 3 1, no. 3, p. 19.