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23 Nov 2017 / by Ellen Oredsson

Ten Works From South and Southeast Asia in the M+ Collection

Porcelain pot with a white background and a pattern of dots that reveals a colourful image.

Hans Tan (Singaporean, born 1980), Spotted Nyonya—Kamcheng, 2011, sandblasted porcelain. M+, Hong Kong. © Hans Tan

Did you know that M+ has a large, and constantly growing, collection of artists, architects, and designers from South and Southeast Asia? Chances are, you didn’t—but you’re about to.

From the beginning, the M+ Collection has always included works from South and Southeast Asia, but so far, the regions haven’t featured prominently as part of the museum’s public programme. That’s all about to change with the upcoming REORIENT: Conversations on South and Southeast Asia.

With REORIENT, M+ will ‘reorient’ attention southward with a series of one-on-one conversations, short presentations, and panel discussions during a three-day event. Designed to inform Hong Kong audiences about the important work being done by individuals and institutions in the region, REORIENT will also examine similarities and intersections between cultural practices in Hong Kong and the global south.

To give you an idea of what kind of works from South and Southeast Asia exist in the M+ Collection, we’ve put together a short list showcasing ten examples below. Read on to learn more about why these pieces are such important examples of contemporary visual culture.

Rasheed Araeen

Boats: Towards Abstraction, 1962

Gouache and ink painting of multiple triangles combined in sailboat-like shapes on top of a messily painted brown and yellow background.

Rasheed Araeen (British, born Pakistan, 1935), Boats: Towards Abstraction, 1962, gouache and black ink on paper. M+, Hong Kong. © Rasheed Araeen.

Rasheed Araeen is widely credited with being one of the founding voices of Minimalism in Britain. The Boats: Towards Abstraction series in the M+ Collection, an example of which is seen above, shows Araeen’s progression towards abstract representation in the 1960s. His body of work consists of semi-abstract paintings, drawings, geometrical sculptures, and occasional performative actions. The drawing series will be included in the artist’s upcoming retrospective at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

Araeen has often taken on an activist role through his writing and curating, championing the work of non-western artists residing in Britain. He is the founding editor of the influential journal Third Text, which has become a seminal outlet for writings on post-colonialism and artistic identity in the cultural sphere.

Rirkrit Tiravanija

Untitled 2001 (the magnificent seven, spaghetti western), 2001

Large steel plates lie on the floor of a large room. On top of the steel plates are numerous small white bowls. A number of propane cookers, metal plates, wooden cutting boards, and cutlery are spread out amongst the bowls.

Rirkrit Tiravanija (Thai, born Argentina,1961), Untitled 2001 (the magnificent seven, spaghetti western), 2001, steel floor plates, propane cookers, cast steel pots, Arcopal bowls, metal forks, trays, wooden cutting boards, and 1 tom yam gai recipe. M+, Hong Kong. © 2014 Rirkrit Tiravanija.

Rirkrit Tiravanija is most famous for his role in ‘relational aesthetics’, the tendency of participatory artmaking, in which artists act as catalysts for social interaction. His artworks are often presented as rooms or spaces for socialising, such as sharing meals, cooking, reading, or playing music. The act of feeding and eating in particular, as a form of social art, has become his trademark.

Rirkrit Tiravanija: A Condition for Experience
Rirkrit Tiravanija: A Condition for Experience

Tiravanija discusses the ideas behind his works, including Untitled 2001 (the magnificent seven, spaghetti western), in which he cooks a Thai soup for the visitors.

Video Transcript

RIRKRIT TIRAVANIJA: Art is integrated into everything. When it comes to spaghetti western, in a sense, there would be seven stations where [we’re] cooking tom kha gai, which is a coconut chicken soup. I was quite interested in there being a kind of evidence of activity. I was trying to kind of retrieve this condition that was actually around the objects. The fact that people would come later and see a situation that had happened, and then they would have to, kind of, in their own mind try to see the picture of what had happened.

It is about playing with that condition that they are misunderstanding, or misreading, or not reading enough, because they make assumptions. And that's always been part of the battle, is to fight the assumptions. And assumptions are made because they believe they have the knowledge to assume.

Those different ways of kind of organising or kind of setting up a condition for experience is important. So I think in a certain way it's kind of trying to understand how people move through things. How people move through experiences.

Untitled 2001 (the magnificent seven, spaghetti western) (2001) in the M+ Collection is an example of this type of works. It consists of propane cookers, steel pots, plates, forks, trays, cutting boards, and a Thai soup recipe; an entire kitchen assortment enough to prepare food for 800 people!

Shilpa Gupta

Speaking Wall, 2009–2010

A person stands on the beginning of a row of bricks that goes up to a wall as part of an installation artwork. The person is wearing headphones that are connected to the wall and looking at a small LED screen in the wall.

Shilpa Gupta (Indian, born 1976), Speaking Wall, 2009–2010, bricks, LCD screen, and headphones. M+, Hong Kong. © Shilpa Gupta.

Shilpa Gupta makes deeply poetic, political installations and sculptures. Her works use technological media to comment on globalisation, religion, gender politics, environmental issues, identity, and political injustice.

In Speaking Wall (2009–2010) from the M+ Collection, the viewer, wearing headphones, listens to a voice directing them to move along a row of bricks. A motion sensor recognises where the viewer is standing, inviting them to move closer. The viewer is told a story through a tiny LCD screen on the wall, revolving around a border drawn in the dirt that was exposed to the wind and rain, shifting a few centimeters. The viewer’s body becomes directly involved in a conversation about the arbitrariness of borders and identity.

Sopheap Pich

Compound, 2011

Sculpture consisting of multiple woven bamboo and rattan shapes, combined to create a castle-like structure.

Sopheap Pich (Cambodian, born 1971), Compound, 2011, bamboo, rattan, plywood, and metal wire. M+, Hong Kong. © Sopheap Pich.

Sopheap Pich has a recognisable signature style: working with thin strips of rattan and bamboo to create sculptural forms. He also uses other locally sourced materials, such as burlap from rice bags, beeswax, and earth pigments.

Sopheap Pich: Material as Identification
Sopheap Pich: Material as Identification

Artist Sopheap Pich discusses his practice of working with bamboo and rattan, and the story behind his work Compound in M+ Collections.

Video Transcript

SOPHEAP PICH: I feel it’s the material that gives me a voice. Material is kind of a necessity, as an identification.

I grew up as a young kid on a farm. My parents have always been farmers. Actually, I’m the only one with a college degree. I’m used to just it being around, and I used to make these things with my father, you know; fish traps, and catching frogs and snakes, and stuff like that. I think I’m a realist. My art is real. I’m making real objects. There’s nothing abstract about it.

The old rule of thumb in a Cambodian art school is, ‘Think before you do’. I say, ‘Well, do before you think’. In art you can actually do before you think. And that’s the intuitive part, like playing.

When I made Compound, it was the poorest time in my life, also. My studio was on the lake. Then we got the news that, you have to move out. They buried the lake with sand and then they built a new city inside of it. That was when I started to think about, oh, you know, nothing is secure here; you can get kicked out. So it was some feeling about destroying something in order to build something, and I kind of like the idea that an artwork can be transformed already after you make it. That piece is called Compound, so it’s kind of free to be whatever it is.

The environment affects the way I work and the way I think. I live here. I don't live anywhere else. I like to think slowly, I like to do things slowly. Because that’s our way. This is how Cambodia works.

Pich’s work engages with the recent traumatic history as well as enduring culture of Cambodia, despite the almost complete destruction by the Khmer Rouge. He does this by using traditional materials and forms, having stated, ‘Everything is expressed in the lines. … Work leads to acceptance. Work leads to resistance.’

Heman Chong

Calendars 2020–2096, 2004–2010

Installation artwork consisting of numerous rows of photos on the walls of a room, going from floor to ceiling.

Heman Chong (Singaporean, born Malaysia, 1977), Calendars 2020–2096, 2004–2010, offset prints on paper. M+, Hong Kong. © Copyright the artist.

Heman Chong has a varied artistic practice—of objects, images, installations, situations, and texts—and his works in the M+ Collection are striking and epic in scope. He is known for his conceptually charged investigations into how individuals and communities imagine the future.

Calendars 2020-2096, for example, encompasses 1,001 photos collected from 2004 to 2010, hung in a grid-like arrangement along the gallery walls. The photos, all taken in Singapore, show accessible public spaces, but only while they are empty and devoid of human presence. It took him seven years of wandering in his home city to capture these spaces while empty. Given the rapid pace of urban renewal, Calendars 2020-2096 offers a constant reminder that your surroundings do not stay constant for very long.

Satyendra Pakhalé

RCCC/Roll Carbon Ceramic Chair, designed 2001; fabricated 2008

Chair with a shiny blue surface. The seat consists of a big hollow roll and the back consists of three separate vertical shapes.

Satyendra Pakhalé (Indian, born 1967), RCCC/Roll Carbon Ceramic Chair, designed 2001; fabricated 2008, earthenware and carbon fibre. M+, Hong Kong. © Satyendra Pakhalé

Satyendra Pakhalé is an industrial designer and architect. He’s known for his versatile work driven by social, cultural and technological research across furniture, industrial, transportation, architecture, and interior design.

RCCC/Roll Carbon Ceramic Chair in the M+ Collection is an unexpected combination of ‘high tech’ (carbon fibre) and ‘low tech’ (ceramic) materials. The chair was made using ceramic and then covered in blue carbon fibre. It was intended to challenge preconceived notions of materials—in the artist’s words, ‘the intent [...] was pure provocation’.

Hans Tan

Spotted Nyonya—Platter Dish, 2011

Porcelain platter dish with a white background and a pattern of dots that reveals a colourful image.

Hans Tan (Singaporean, born 1980), Spotted Nyonya—Platter Dish, 2011, sandblasted porcelain. M+, Hong Kong. © Hans Tan

Hans Tan is an emerging Singaporean designer whose work focuses on design as a way to explore values, rituals, and materiality. His Spotted Nyonya series in the M+ Collection is a reinterpretation of Nyonya porcelain vessels. These are traditional domestic wares native to Peranakan Chinese (descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago between the 15th and 17th centuries) in Southeast Asia.

His contemporary, industrial take on the traditional objects transforms the original multicoloured surface into a graphic pattern. The porcelain surfaces were masked with dots, then sandblasted, preserving the protected areas while erasing the original glaze sections from exposed areas, revealing the white porcelain that lies beneath.

Malayan Architects Co-partnership/Architects Team 3

Singapore Conference Hall

Sepia-toned photograph of an aerial view of a city, with multiple buildings and roads spread out.

Aerial shot of Singapore's Central Business District featuring Singapore Conference Hall and Trade Union House and Singapore Airlines Building (formerly Malaysia-Singapore Airlines Building) designed by Malayan Architects Co-partnership (succeeded by Architects Team 3), Singapore (circa 1967), photographic print. Collection of M+, Hong Kong. Gift of Architects Team 3. © Architects Team 3 Pte Ltd, Singapore

Architects Team 3 (AT3) was an architectural firm founded in Singapore in 1967, in succession to Malayan Architects Co-partnership (MAC), a firm with the same co-founder, Mr. Lim Chong Keat, which was actively building some of Singapore’s and Malaysia’s most significant civic and institutional buildings, representing what historians have dubbed the ‘heroic age’ of architecture in post-colonial British Malaya.

Lim Chong Keat: Building Singapore and Malaysia
Lim Chong Keat: Building Singapore and Malaysia

Lim discusses the stories behind some of the most important projects designed by Architects Team 3.

Video Transcript

LIM CHONG KEAT: I think actually I belong to the whole generation from this country that went overseas to become professionally competent, so as to be useful at home. Although we were British subjects, we were part of the world to be relevant in our own country.

So working on residences was actually a very important total experience. We were able to practice our own ideas about architectonic building, where structure, form, function, and the use of materials were very clear.

The conference hall competition was the first major truly open competition. It was very obvious that everybody had to go for it. We actually deviated from being just a conference hall to really becoming a concert hall. The public spaces, exhibition spaces, the whole parade of visiting a building, were part of the inspiration.

It was very unusual that a mosque was part of an open competition. The fact that it was actually awarded openly to, in this case, architects who were not Muslims. It was becoming for the early days of the nation. It began like that, with a very open society.

The MSA building on Robinson Road, it was really our first major urban project after the conference hall. It was there that we began to innovate about the urban form, the idea of the podium, the roof garden, and solar shading consideration for tropicality in the design.

When we designed bank buildings, like the UOB and DBS, it was very definitely in an urban context, where you had to take part in the urbanism and the controls. The context was very well studied and hopefully provides a lesson of that era.

The competition for Jurong was a target project for almost all the firms in Singapore. The first thing about the shape was actually two blocks which formed a shape with a hole in between. The essential feature mentioned, about a clock tower, become almost like, I suppose, the periscope of a ship or submarine, and it had to be high enough to be seen from everywhere.

Bucky [Buckminster Fuller] is more than a futurist, he's a humanist. By chance we met. In fact, I can say that I was one of his closest friends in the last decade of his life. The relationship with Bucky of course taught me a lot of things. The philosophy was actually the most important impact. The idea of the world for you and me, an integrative world, sharing the world. His geodesics of course was another area of synergetics that we shared, and I went about recreating some of them in the dome form. The most significant one was the bamboo tensegrity dome in Bali, which we built for his birthday in, was it ’77? But I think the exposure, the empathy, the actual livingry of people, his experience with us, was very meaningful to him.

The key thing about being a Malayan or Malaysian architect is not so much what you did, but your integrity. The quality of your work, not the style, not the stylism. Your architecture has to have an integrity and hopefully an originality. But my inspirations were universal because I had an international background and I saw its relevance, but without being derivative, without being stylistic, following fashions and so on.

Buildings by MAC/AT3 were inventively designed in response to the region’s socio-political and climatic conditions. Their design of Singapore Conference Hall, visible in the above photo (right beside the building on the bottom left), represents the government’s bid for modernity and socialism, as seen in its rhetoric of openness and public accessibility, but it is also a contextually-specific building with its climate-responsive sun shading and lofty spaces for ventilation.

The M+ collection has a large amount of varied materials from AT3 in the collection, including over 100 photographs, drawings, floor plans, booklets, and slides.

Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi

Cabinet from Mill Owners' Association Building, model LC-AH-08-A, Ahmedabad, India, 1953–1954

Wooden cabinet with nine cupboard doors that are either square or rectangular.

Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi (Indian, born 1927), Cabinet from Mill Owners' Association Building, model LC-AH-08-A, Ahmedabad, India, 1953–1954, teak, birch-veneered wood, and ebonised wood. M+, Hong Kong. © Foundation Le Corbusier

Balkrishna Vithaldas (B. V.) Doshi is one of India's most influential architects, and founder of the country's first progressive architecture school, the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology. He is closely associated with Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. Between 1951–1954, he worked with Le Corbusier in Paris, and later returned to Ahmedabad, India, to supervise Le Corbusier’s projects.

The cabinet by Doshi in the M+ collection was built for the Mill Owners’ Association Building in Ahmedabad. This building was one of Le Corbusier’s four built projects in the city. The design of the cabinet reflects the building facade's rectilinear grid, in contrast to the more curvilinear interior.

Raj Rewal

Model, Parliament Library (1989–2003), New Delhi, India, 1989

Wooden model of a building surrounded by parkland. The building has a courtyard and several rounded parts.

Raj Rewal (Indian, born 1934), Model, Parliament Library (1989–2003), New Delhi, India, 1989, wood. M+, Hong Kong. © Raj Rewal

Raj Rewal is a leading architect whose work has included many of the most significant projects of post-independence India. His designs draw on both international modernism, and traditional Indian—especially Mughal—architecture.

Like both MAC/AT3 and B. V. Doshi, Rewal has consistently sought to merge innovative ideas and building technologies with the realities of the local climate and social conditions. His model for the New Delhi Parliament Library, for example, has a roof garden that provides a gathering space in the winter, and a thermal barrier in the summer. It also draws on and reinvents previous Indian architecture to embody a message of cultural identity and vigour.

This article was originally published on M+ Stories.

Ellen Oredsson is Editor, Web Content at M+.

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