Organised by the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in Malaysia and produced by INXO Arts & Culture (L) Foundation, Tea Philo is a series of sharing sessions revolving around the discussion of philosophies and humanities. Luminaries from Taiwan are invited to share their experiences and engage with the Malaysian audience to encourage cultural exchange. The latest Tea Philo E-Talk session titled “Phantasmapolis: Toward Asian Arts Futurism” featured guest speaker Takamori Nobuo, co-curator of “Phantasmapolis – 2021 Asian Art Biennial”. The talk was held in English and was moderated by Malaysian artist and curator Yap Sau Bin, who is also a member of Rumah Air Panas (RAP), an artist’s initiative based in Kuala Lumpur. The E-talk was broadcast via Zoom Meeting and Facebook Live on June 11th, 2022 and will be available for rewatch in the future on Tea Philo Facebook Page.
“Phantasmapolis – 2021 Asian Art Biennial” ran from October 30th, 2021 to March 6th, 2022 at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (NTMoFA). It was the 8th edition of the Asian Art Biennial, which was first organised by the NTMoFA in 2007. The mission of the Asian Art Biennial is to explore how a multiplicity of perspectives have come to inform our contemporary reality, and how such reality, characterised by high degrees of equivocality, has in turn enriched the cultural perspectives of Asia. Against all odds and the global pandemic, instead of being conservative or downsizing the exhibition, 2021 Asian Art Biennial hasn’t stopped to continue to challenge itself as a platform and supporter of the contemporary art scene in Asia. Taiwanese independent curator Nobuo Takamori was named to convene a multi-national, interdisciplinary curatorial team with curators from various countries, including Taiwanese curator Yu-Kuan Ho, Filipino curator Tessa Maria Guazon, Indian curator Anushka Rajendran, and Thai curator and art historian Thanavi Chotpradit. One of the objectives of the 2021 biennial was to contemplate possibilities of cross-border connections and collaborations at a time when global mobility is heavily restricted. The biennial featured 38 participating artists/artist groups from 15 different countries.
The 2021 Asian Art Biennial is themed “Phantasmapolis,” a newly coined word inspired by Taiwanese architect Da-Hong Wang’s English sci-fi novel, Phantasmagoria (“Phantasmagoria”: a building constructed of spectral, illusory light). “Phatasmapolis” comprises “phantasma” and “polis,” which respectively mean “apparition or spectre” and “city-state” in Greek. The theme “Phatasmapolis” aims to investigate the idea of “Asian Futurism” as well as the historical, cultural, and social contexts of how sci-fi and futuristic topics and materials have been utilised and represented in Asian modern and contemporary art.
Takamori Nobuo is a Taiwanese independent curator of Japanese descent. He is currently based in Taipei, Taiwan, and is an Assistant Professor at Taipei National University of the Arts. Being in the art scene for more than a decade, Takamori’s curatorial works and research projects aim to evoke the hidden linkage between Taiwan and Southeast Asia. He is especially interested in creating practical collaborative projects that encourage exchange and interaction between contemporary artists from different areas. Some of Takamori’s important curatorial projects include “Post-Actitud” (2011, Ex Teresa Arte Actual, Mexico DF), “South country, South of Country” (2012, Zero Station, Ho Chi Minh City & Howl Space, Tainan), Taiwan International Video Art Exhibition 2014 “The Return of Ghosts” (Hong Gah Museum, Taipei), “Blue Bird in the Labyrinth: A Walk from Japanese Modern Art to Asia Contemporary Art Scene” (2016, Galerie Nichido, Taipei), “Tabaco, Carpet, Lunch Box, Textile Machinery and Cave Men: the narratives of craftsmanship and technologies in contemporary art” (2017, Hong Gah Museum, Taipei), and “The Secret South: from Cold War Perspective to Global South in Museum Collection” (2020, Taipei Fine Arts Museum, Taipei).
During the E-talk, Takamori discussed how participating artists from Southeast Asia respond to the theme of “Phantasmapolis” with their works, and what “future” really means and looks like to Southeast Asian societies and cultures. “Asia, especially Southeast Asia, is not often directly associated with the idea of ‘future’. Global discourse and media, especially western narratives, tend to still view and represent most Asian regions as traditional and ancient, even though there has always been abundance of fiction from Asia that deals with imaginative and futuristic concepts, like the genres of folklore and mythology. The difference between mythology and sci-fi then, is that sci-fi, especially those put forward by western perspectives, is typically based on the progressive narratives of techno-modernisation. In other words, it is a kind of belief that as time progresses, technology, environment, and quality of life will be improved accordingly,” Takamori pointed out. “Until the early 20th century, Asia had been defined exceptionally as the receiver instead of the inventor or initiator of techno-modernisation. Since the 1970s, however, this narrative became paradoxical when economic booms as well as high-tech cultures and societies started developing rapidly in Asia. To deal with this worldview paradox, techno-orientalism has been introduced to Hollywood, and Asian cities became backdrops for western cyberpunk media while Asian peoples and bodies were orientalised and othered in imaginary techno worlds.” Takamori emphasised that it is thus important to investigate and show how Asian artists could offer different alternatives of imagination and narratives, rooted in their own histories and experiences.
Takamori explained that “Phantasmapolis” covered six major topics: “Asian Sci-Fi and Cosmos”, “Expo ‘70 Osaka”, “Asian Mega Cities”, “Pandemic and Apocalypse”, “Technical Ruins”, and “Queer Sci-Fi”, although these topics were not introduced as fixed categories or distinctly separated exhibition rooms to which participating artworks were assigned. “In fact, we purposefully tried to create a mix of narratives in the exhibition space. Since there was no clear indication of theme or topic, the audience were encouraged to construct their own narratives based on their experiences and feelings,” he described.
A wide variety of multidisciplinary works ranging from contemporary visual artworks, installations, photography, video projects, the NTMoFA collections, archive studies, publications, to architectural works were showcased alongside each other in the “Phantasmapolis”, producing not only a unique visual experience, but an organic platform where Asian artists can exchange ideas and methodology and open up to new discussions.