On the Threshold of the Senses: New Art from Southeast Asia

On the Threshold of the Senses

Tally Beck Contemporary presented On the Threshold of the Senses: New Art from Southeast Asia, an exhibition of works from Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, The Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. It opened at Tally Beck Contemporary, 42 Rivington St., New York, NY 10002, on Wednesday, March 21, 2012, and ran through April 29, 2012. The exhibition was curated by the Bangkok-based art critic and curator Brian Curtin, Ph.D.

On Wednesday, March 28, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at the gallery, Dr. Curtin answered questions and gave some background on the art and artists in the show.

Some of the Featured Artwork

Images from the opening reception.

Essay by Curator Brian Curtin

On the Threshold of the Senses: New Art from Southeast AsiaAn Introduction

Brian Curtin, Ph.D.

On the Threshold of the Senses is an exhibition of visual art from a diverse region that takes the visceral, sensational and rousing as guiding principles, occasionally punctuated by the contemplative. The reason for this is to stay true to the fact of diversity while also acknowledging that the use of critical discourses to contextualize contemporary art in this region is mostly nascent and wildly uneven. My use of the above broad principles reflects the terms of much of the artworks’ production and reception, locally.

For example, when Khvay Samnang first exhibited his photographs—of performances in response to land privatization in Cambodia—in Phnom Penh, his curator chose to represent his actions with a prose poem. In the absence of conventional art criticism, written descriptions of Khvay’s concerns with the displacement of communities could, or would, be appropriated as partisan or political, compromising the succinct metaphor that was his performance[s]. Ohm Phanphiroj’s series of lush photographs of teenage male streetwalkers created great controversy when first exhibited in Bangkok during 2011. The controversy insisted that the works are some form of misguided ethnography and exploitative rather than, as insights from photographic theory and history might have encouraged discussion about, autonomous objects that map certain problems rather than generate them. However, at the heart of Phanphiroj’s works is a provocation that brings us into a direct relationship with his subject, and demands that we reflect on what this relationship might mean.

Experience can provide knowledge that escapes definitive description. Be Takerng Pattanopas and Tada Hengsapkul draw on Buddhist practices and an animist sensibility respectively. Pattanopas’s detailed, meditative, works on paper evoke a sense of physical impermanence and change, the tangible and intangible and the epic and the intimate; and Hengsapkul’s photographs capture a the aura of spirit-filled and mythic landscape. Kriangkrai Khongkhanun’s prints are rooted in descriptions of Buddhist hell but to disarming affect; and Maitree Siriboon challenges us with his visceral embrace of sexual objectification. Christina Dy moves outwards from the possibility of culturally specific references with paeans to wonder and fascination, and the state of imagining.

Imhathai Suwattanasilp and Taring Padi suggest how certain traditions in art history can be reinvigorated. Suwattanasilp’s delicate drawings and weaves, in the context of references to the female body, point to earlier practices in feminist art. And Taring Padi employs the graphic aggression of agitprop. Here we can be reminded of the continued potency of the states they affirm; corporeal fragility and the rousing, all the more so when separated from a traditional context.

Michael Lee’s print is one of a series of the ‘divine’ destruction of models of famous architecture, offering a wry but powerful metaphor for issues around culture and globalization. Artists in Southeast Asia work within the push and pull of tradition and influence, and ever-contested notions of the contemporary. On the Threshold of the Senses essentially seeks to challenge disinterested understandings of new art from this region not by offering measured accounts but by encouraging felt engagement; again, somehow truer to the origins of the artworks’ production.

Brian Curtin is an Irish-born art critic and curator based in Bangkok for over a decade. He holds a Ph.D. (fine art) from the University of Bristol, UK, and publishes internationally with magazines such as Frieze, Flash Art and Artforum.com. Brian teaches at Bangkok University and has worked extensively with Asian artists. He currently programs for H Gallery Bangkok and was the curator of the Southeast Asian section of the Chongqing Youth Biennale 2011, China.

Press release.