The 11th Sharjah Art Biennial,
Re Emerge – Toward a New Cultural Cartography
Venue : The 11th Sharjah Art Biennial
Organization : Sharjah Art Foundation
Co-curator : John Cage, Florian Hecker, Ryoji Ikeda, Seigen Ono + Ryuichi Sakamoto + Shiro Takatani, Otomo Yoshihide limited ensembles, Michi Tanaka / Jiro Takamatsu, Wassily Kandinsky, Carsten Nicolai,Céleste Boursier-Mougenot,Manon de Boer,Paul Klee, Udomsak Krisanamis, Keita Onishi, Christine Ödlund, The SINE WAVE ORCHESTRA, Toru Takemitsu, Bartholomäus Traubeck, Stephen Vitiello, Lyota Yagi
Housed in Sharjah's Centre for Gulf Studies is Sultan Al Qasimi's collection of maps. Viewing this collection enables one to trace how the Arabian Peninsula has been mapped through history. Arabia has in fact been represented in a great variety of shapes; one for example, shows the Peninsula connected to the tip of the southern end of India, almost entirely enclosing the Arabian Sea. The changing face of Arabia, marked by subjectively drawn maps where geographical shapes are determined by the relation nature between countries, is the very reflection of how the history of this area has been shaped. Who drew these maps? And how do we define “cultures”?
One of the missions of my curatorial practice has been to delineate a cultural map of our time from a non-Eurocentric standpoint through the discussion of contemporary art. For an individual based in the Far East, the East-West dichotomy is a common tendency to fall into and remains a subject for self-critical analysis. This dichotomy perceiving “Eastern things” as derivatives of “Western things” has always left discussions saddled with a heap of prototypical comparative concepts such as spatiality-temporality, masculinity-femininity, order/logos-chaos, body-mind, knowledge-spirit, existence-non-existence. To add, cultural studies have contributed to the reclaiming of music, craft, oral culture, decorative arts, souvenir forms, etc., overlooked by Western modernism, as supplementary art forms. The underlying structure of these discussions, however, has always been the cultural chasm between East and West; processes of rediscovering the East (in cultural studies, the term would be non-Western or marginal) were made possible through Western values and disciplines. The representative set of values that traversed the East and West during the 20th century was Marxism and popular culture. In Asia from the 1980s and onwards in particular, we saw a significant number of exhibitions and individual artworks framed within these two contexts.
The area that has always been in a sort of vacuum, an air-pocket so to say, in this framework of understanding is West Asia. This area west of India is of course, also referred to the Middle East, a unique area in flux that is neither Asia, Africa nor Europe. In terms of linguistic and religious connections, the area can also be broadly identified with the term Arab.
In conceptualizing the curatorial theme of the Sharjah Biennial, I positioned myself in Sharjah and came to reaffirm the significance of the city's geopolitical position as well as its economic position as a crossroad of trade. By obtaining a macroscopic overview of Sharjah's history and present from inside Sharjah, I began to see the network of relationships that cross over a vast area stretching horizontally from east to west, from the neighboring Arab countries, to North Africa and the eastern coasts of Africa, Russia, the Iberian Peninsula, Central Asia, then further from India to the Philippines and finally, China. Consequently, I have come to see the cross-sectoral relationship between the past and present of the Global South, as well as the dynamic cultural knowledge that has continually been generated through processes of mixing and exchange. These are not chasms but continuous movements that can be understood cyclically like models of reproduction.
This continuous macroscopic view is influenced by Andre Gunder Frank's argument in Re-ORIENT Global Economy in the Asian Age (1998). In it, Frank challenges Immanuel Wallerstein's notion of the “modern world system” that was formed in and around Europe after 1500. He even criticizes Janet L. Abu-Lughod who pointed to the existence of an international trade network in the Islamic world of the 13th and 14th centuries, prior to Europe, saying that her argumentation is based on too rigid a model. Instead he advocated that world systems be understood in the context of a general and continuous flow from a macroscopic and all-encompassing viewpoint by building up parameters (facts) on a microscopic level. He contends that lacking in the analysis of traditional world system theories are ecological and economic parameters. For example, speaking of the years between 1500 and 1800, he cites the silver standard that was adopted in and around China, and the tributary system of China as examples of the latter. Frank also suggests that the exploration of continuity is made possible by tracing commonalities and not differences.
What are the effective parameters and elements then, if we are to employ this continuous and integral viewpoint in drawing a new cultural map?
"Re-emerge – for a new cultural cartography -" Yuko Hasegawa (Excerpt from the catalog