Contemporary Asian Photograph is an exhibition series that takes a close look at contemporary culture and art practice from Asian artists’ perspectives. The exhibitions concentrate on specific pieces of history and life experiences, but also attempt to construct or discover relationships between historical contexts from varied perspectives. Specifically, they make observations either from different geographical locations synchronously, or from the same location at different times. The personal experiences and collective consciousness are linked with multiple historical trajectories charted by the vicissitudinal political and social forces.
In “Crisis of Now” of this series we invited artists to present their contemporary photography through multi-cultural observations. Each of these projects demonstrates the persistent authority that photographers have always relied on—that a camera allows you to step into situations and take a look and also to step back, reflect and comment. The title of the exhibition is direct reference to the historical background, the turbulent political and social landscape of Asia in this timeframe. In recent years, Asia has not only arisen as an urgent geopolitical issue thanks to the wrestling among these historical driving forces, but has also become the gasoline and electricity by which the engine of capitalist market is powered for the process of neoliberal globalization. It has also served as a wrestling ring for different forces in international politics, which is by no means a result of historical contingency but a product in response to times of crisis. With this project, each artist proposed his/her own though to define quality and the way he/she would like to present it. Each artist's work materialized in different media is engaged in critical historiographies of colonialism, contemporary capitalism, and related social imaginaries.
In the post-industrial techno city we are surrounded by light, whether emanating from traffic lights, flashing neon signs or the infinite screens of gadgets and communications devises which generate light but suck inwards our psychic energies into an infinite but concealed matrix of ones and zeros.
Light is everywhere. It is so omnipresent that we can scarcely register natural sources of light, as they are no longer natural to us. A case in point: in 1994, when an earthquake knocked out a power grid in Los Angeles, city residents called 911 to report “a giant silvery cloud” hovering overhead – ie. The Milky Way.
The light of the cosmos has been usurped by the manufactured desire machinery of capitalism, which trades, these days, in subjectivities which can be obtained via a set of distinct consumer purchases. The heavy mysticism of the cosmos is replaced by a cheap and tawdry enticement into economic exchange.
Light, the light, a light, etc. are not neutral. In Hollywood light is used to produce a sense of continuity and a hierarchical set of contained individuals. It is illusionistic in the sense of order it presents to us in an unpredictable and unstable world; a thin plastic coating protecting us from the void. In painting light was used in the service of perspective, fixing the viewer's lines of sight, also in the production of the individual psyche as the prism through which to view the world.
But light is the most malleable of materials and we needn’t be passive in the face of it and its territorializing effects, merely one-way receptors in the face of urban hyper-productivity. While light can be used to regulate and structure society and social roles through the carving out of these discrete subjectivities, it can also be used to obliterate the senses, to blur boundaries and lead us into a trance. There is a power of intensity within light that can lead us to a myriad of altered states.
Light has often come to symbolise a perfect plane of being, an idealized form in a metaphysical space to which we attempt to lay claim. But there are other conceptions of light as violent, excessive and ecstatic, such as the writing of Georges Bataille and, in particular, his surrealistic essay / set of aphorisms “Solar Anus”, in which he presents the sun as an anal eye , a sphinchter guarding the entry to darkness. Here we have a light which is all generating but blinds us if we try and confront it directly. It is a light that will lead us into total blackness through too intimate an embrace. It is a sources of energy, Bataille said, that creates a surplus.
Bataille wrote in “Solar Anus”: “Vegetation is uniformly directed towards the sun; human beings, on the other hand, even though phalloid like trees, in opposition to other animals, necessarily avert their eyes. Human eyes tolerate neither sun, coitus, cadavers, nor obscurity, but with different reactions.”
While Bataille – someone avowedly comfortable with the concept of his annihilation – would perhaps easily lead us to and into the void of his black hole sun, the artists role, it could be argued, is to strike up a connection and navigate a path for this frenzied matter into the the thin crust of surface reality, as magma forces its way through rock.
And so light is everywhere, whether in its role of implementing utiliarian function or inciting ecstatic revelries. Our reality is characterised by the rapid propulsion of devices which generate and exploit light; our schedules have liberated from the earth's rhythms. But it is this context that an artist can be an agent, an instigator who rewires, reworks and re-imagines a landscape of light, fusing this material with their inner-visions. “Light Interdiction” proposes the artist as an instigator of this very nature.