Presented by Adelaide Festival Centre
Reviewed 29 Sept 2017
When considering After Utopia overall, it seems to express how we, as humans, possess this perpetual strive for perfection. We yearn for something that is not, and perhaps never will be, achievable.
The way it explores this concept is through a collection of moving image, installation, painting and sculpture pieces across two separate floors of the gallery.
To appreciate the significance of this exhibit, it becomes necessary to understand its origin. Most of the artworks have been produced in South-East Asia. For many of us, this region is widely considered to be an embodiment of perfection, as (for the most part) it’s recognised as being an economical and cultural dreamland. This is especially the case with Singapore, where this exhibition had debuted.
Therefore, we can assume that it presents ‘utopia’ as though it has been woven into reality. As a result, the artists are informing us of the outcome of a utopian society by suggesting that what we already have, simply isn’t enough. The effect of this may, in fact, result in a backwards effect: a dystopia.
Although many of us may become overwhelmed with such a topic, curators Tan Siuli and Louis Ho have simplified the experience by dividing the exhibit into sections relating to: nature, urbanism, political idealism and the withdrawal into the Self. While the original placement of the artworks seems a bit more disjointed and do not carry the same significance as they did in comparison to its initial showing at the Singapore Art Museum, it’s manageable nonetheless.
A clear standout in the collection is Pandora’s Box (2017), which is a room-sized mural of a landscape ravaged by machinery. The artist, Maryanto, conveys humanity as being avaricious and how its blinded by an insistence to industrialise without consideration for the harm it does. The dark shading technique makes this mural an engaging work of art, but does not seem to be as thought-provoking in comparison to some of the other pieces in the collection. This is because a basic understanding of its intent can be untangled rather quickly.
An extension of this idea is echoed in Miti Ruangkritya’s Dream Property: Rooms/Excerpts from Bangkok Real Estate Advertising (2016). It examines the outcome of unnecessary property development in the city of Bangkok, by showcasing a series of photographs depicting empty apartment buildings. Beside this, are excerpts that were taken from advertisements used to promote them. This text has been taken out of its original context and rendered onto a white background to highlight the absurd statements used to make these luxury apartment buildings seem more appealing. Expressions such as ‘the monument to success’ and ‘a good life everyday’ are among the words we are shown. It is assumed these units are unsuitable for the average residents of Bangkok, due to their high cost. Ruangkritya’s minimalistic approach is direct and not overshadowed or distracted by excessiveness. Viewers engage with the piece automatically and become intrigued by its simplicity.
Another striking piece in the exhibit is Shannon Lee Castleman’s video work, Jurong West Street 81 (2008), which portrays residents of an apartment block living and going about their domestic tasks while being filmed. Spontaneous and unscripted, this piece is both a nod to the constant surveillance cameras that inhabit our cities, but also alludes to the natural divide between those who live so closely together. As a result, Castleman is attempting to break down an invisible barrier between the residents, to give them an opportunity to view and be viewed. Despite their awareness of the cameras, the residents act freely. Perhaps part of Castleman’s intent is to suggest how we should be more accessible, to allow people to witness our authentic selves without fear of judgement. Both the intent and execution of this piece is exceptional and speaks volumes that go beyond the thirteen-minute run time.
A rather emotive piece in the collection, entitled Bomba (2011), shows a series of glittering mirror bombs suspended from the roof of the gallery. The artist, Kawayan De Guia, evokes the aftermath of Manila during the Second World War. This area was among the worst cities to be bombed when America used this violent tactic to ‘liberate’ the colony. The title roughly translates to ‘exposed’ or ‘naked,’ expressing how the work is intended to reveal what hides beneath the surface. It suggests how individuals (particularly Westerners) tend to turn a blind eye to the destructive nature of our past and present. By hanging above the audience, it aims to arouse discomfort.
Outside the gallery, audiences are left to ponder about the dangers of a utopian society. What has been revealed in this exhibition is that perfection will inevitably lead to destruction and dissatisfaction. We will always have a desire for more.
Of course, this is only just a glimpse into the magnificent exhibition at the Samstag Museum. You can see all the wondrous artworks until 1 December 2017.
Reviewed by Tanner Muller
Venue: Samstag Museum, Hawke Building, City West campus University of South Australia, 55 North Terrace, Adelaide
Dates: 22 September – 1 December 2017