Detail of ZADIE XA’s Moon Poetics 4 Courageous Earth Critters and Dangerous Day Dreamers, 2020, oil on linen and denim, 200 × 480 cm. Photo by Stuart Whipps. Courtesy the artist. 

Listening to the Past

Also available in:  Chinese

How can we communicate, and commune, with our ancestors whose lives and cultures are long lost to time and geography? And what can we learn from the way they survived, and thrived, as communities? At a moment when the Earth and its peoples are facing fiery catastrophes brought on by the climate crisis, mass extinctions of different species, and waves of displacement, the contemporary world is endeavoring to unlock knowledge of our past more than ever before. 

In our cover feature, artist Zadie Xa peels back the leaves on her creative ventures in which she stages quasi-mythical rituals and environments populated by shamans and creatures of the natural world, from seagulls to orcas, octopuses, and sea urchins. As Xa explains to managing editor Chloe Chu in their conversation, she draws on her diasporic upbringing, the 1990s street culture of the Canadian west coast, and the shape-shifting practices of shamans, who she finds intriguing for “their ability to cross between worlds and act as mediators between the living and the dead.”

In our second feature, London-based contributor Cleo Roberts-Komireddi caught up with Gala Porras-Kim following the Los Angeles-based artist’s residency at Delfina Foundation. The two of them spoke about Porras-Kim’s long-running engagements with cultural artifacts and the institutions in which they are kept and displayed. While in London, Porras-Kim had scrutinized the collection of the British Museum amid debates about the colonial institution’s repatriation of art objects and historical relics from around the world. As the artist explains to Roberts-Komireddi, she takes on a mediator role in order to help museums talk about the problems they are facing today, motivated by her love of institutions and desire to “make them better.” 

Rounding out the Features is Up Close, where AAP’s editors shine a spotlight on the satirical, ultra-saccharine manga paintings of Liu Yin; Shuruq Harb’s ruminative video on bodily movement in a Palestinian context, The Jump (2020); and Pınar Öğrenci’s video installation A New Year’s Eve (2021), which is based on the artist’s arrest by Turkish anti-terrorism police during protests in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyabakır. Inside Burger Collection focuses on the legendary artist Lee Ufan, who, curator Jean-Marie Gallais fondly recollects, gave his guest an energetic tour around his adopted home in Kamakura, Japan. Lee Ufan also shared excerpts from his new reflections on time and existence in the pandemic era.

The trio of artists portrayed in this issue’s Profiles work in a range of styles, from the delicately crafted meditations on Asian and queer identity in the works of Kang Seung Lee, who reprises and transforms past artists’ works, to the enigmatic sculptures of Nabuqi, whose installations play with our perceptions and sense of physicality. Operating at the opposite end of the aesthetic spectrum is the Hong Kong experimental noise musician and artist known as Xper.Xr. His recent exhibition at Hong Kong’s Empty Gallery surveyed his many activities, which have consistently ground against the societal grain since the 1980s. 

This issue’s Essay is penned by Susan Htoo, the winner of the 2021 Young Writers Contest, and looks at the virtual exhibitions and social-media activities of artists from Myanmar speculating about the future and responding to the February 1 military coup d’état. The survival of these efforts evident in these artworks in online spaces testifies to the endurance of a resistant spirit emanating from a country once again under heavy repression. 

Elsewhere in the magazine, we hear from contributors on the post-pandemic world. In The Point, Yi Cao, the director of curatorial administration for the Arts of Asia collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, discusses the ways in which museums need to make themselves relevant to their communities in the wake of social-justice movements. In Dispatch, Seattle-based artist and educator Robert Rhee reflects on the Pacific northwest city’s stuttering efforts to get back to “normal” and how institutions have realigned themselves for the future. 

In Fine Print, art lawyers Yayoi Shionoiri and Ryan Su discuss the practical legal issues that NFT creators face, and offer a sample contract for artists and collectors to use. Looking back at a formative moment in his life, Mark Salvatus, in One on One, describes how installation artists Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan inspired his future practice.

Finally, for Where I Work, associate editor Ophelia Lai visited the studio of Hong Kong artist Leelee Chan, who imbues found materials with biomorphic qualities. As Lai explains, the artist operates like a scavenger, gathering components such as sea glass, pebbles, and shells from beaches; pieces of an old tennis court; and plastic shipping pallets that she turned into an installation at Art Basel
Hong Kong in May. In a world that produces more and more objects every day, often with the goal of increasing efficiency, Chan seeks out moments of material beauty in discarded remnants. Like Xa, Porras-Kim, and many others, Chan offers a model for learning to adapt to the conditions of our new world, just as our ancestors did before us. 

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