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Asia Triennial

Rob Haynes finds the Asia Triennial in the city beguiling

Published on April 14th 2008.


Asia Triennial

Liverpool’s City of Culture year may absorbing much of the publicity, but Manchester quietly continues to excel, notably with this prestigious assemblage of Asian artists, stylistically and geographically sprawling across five city centre venues.

The sleek, torpedo-like ‘male’ gently ripples its gleaming scales, producing a fluttering response from the facing ‘female’, who over a period of minutes opens her glowing fronds.

There’s no central display, but the highpoint has to be the two mechanical sculptures of Korea ’s Choe U-Ram in Manchester Art Gallery ’s glass atrium. Suspended on either side of the first floor footbridge, they engage in a slow mating ritual. The sleek, torpedo-like ‘male’ gently ripples its gleaming scales, producing a fluttering response from the facing ‘female’, who over a period of minutes opens her glowing fronds until she hangs in space like an expansively filigreed version of the Liberator spaceship from Blake’s Seven. It’s a gorgeous, mesmerising installation, although at times one almost feels embarrassed to watch.

In the entrance hall, two of Gwon Osang’s statues – one a self-portrait, one of 808 State’s Graham Massey - look down from the either side of the stairs, imitating the classical statuary more usually found in these positions. The sculptures are carved from foam and layered with hundreds of photographs, the results being an odd but effective collision of disciplines.

Over at the Chinese Arts centre, the art of ink and wash technique is celebrated (although describing it as a ‘unique art form’ seems stretching things a little). The centrepoint is Qu Anxiong’s impressive New Book of the Mountains and Oceans, an ambitious animation which takes up an entire wall and comes across like Studio Ghibli in a bad mood – tortoises roll up on wheels to be refilled at petrol pumps, scorpions transmit radio signals on their tails to fish / submarine hybrids, elephant tanks sweep across a plain – it’s a belligerent vision of an animal kingdom made as petty and mindlessly destructive as our own.

Cornerhouse is heavy on new media, featuring the work of four female Indian artists under the banner What Do You Want? These iinclude Shaina Anand filming people watching their own CCTV surveillance tapes in the Arndale Centre and Tejal Shah, who uses a series of films and photographs to document hijras – male-to-female transgender individuals, and consequently societal outcasts.

Unlike many of the pieces dotted across the city, these can at least be seen in the context of the Triennial’s stated theme of ‘protest’, but although you get the sense of the artists trying to be provocative, it really provokes little other than curiosity, sitting as much of it does at an inconclusive mid-point between art and documentary.

Castlefield Gallery wrestles with heady notions of property and locality via the work of two collectives, Taiwan ’s Channel-A and Singapore ’s p-10. Meanwhile, The International 3 chronicles Han Bing’s ongoing global pursuit of, erm, cabbage walking. This turned out to be a total success on the first weekend…if a little odd. Bing’s ‘performative intervention project’ has been going since 2000, so any parallels with the current Olympic Torch controversy are coincidence.

Collectively, like any group showing, the Triennial is likely to leave you impressed, nonplussed and most points between. The attempt at the ‘protest’ theme seems to have yielded nebulous results, and surely wasn’t necessary, the event being bold and interesting enough in itself. Summarising is heroically futile – the exhibition has already compacted over half of the planet’s population into a dozen or so representative artists, but, as partial as it is, the Triennial gives an intoxicating flavour of an artistically underrepresented part of the world.

The Asia Triennial runs until 1 June 2008 - www.asiatriennialmanchester.com

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