Solo Booth - Kawita Vatanajyankur
Presented by Nova Contemporary
Nova Contemporary is pleased to announce a solo presentation of works by Kawita Vatanajyankur at the Discoveries sector of Art Basel Hong Kong 2023. Presenting a room of incendiary red, Vatanajyankur reconfigures her studio in the booth space, creating a combinational agricultural field and experimental laboratory. The artist situates visitors in an alternative bionic reality, investigating the exploitations of the modern agriculture industry.
As part of her Field Work series, Vatanajyankur conducted extensive travel research throughout India and Thailand. She spent four weeks in India living with cotton farmers and experiencing their economic, technological, and psychological struggles first hand, then continued to observe the experimental testing of rice farmers, biologists, and various specialists throughout the outskirts of Bangkok. Vatanajyankur synthesises this rigorous ethnographic examination in her performance videos, envisioning a future where industrialised humans become merged with parts of machinery. Testing her physical and psychological endurance, she manipulates her own body through arduous positions and repetitive actions. Vatanajyankur embodies the machine, remodelling herself into a cyborg-like being.
Sprouting from a pool of soil, the central screen depicts the artist as a scale, extending into the redcarpeted floor. Adjacent is a domino sequence of five elevated screens, germinating across the sidewall as the artist pendulates and passes rice from one to another. The artist formulates a visual language of contemporary consumption and desire, revealing tensions between the mechanised human and the humanised machine. With this ambitious set of works, Vatanajyankur poignantly explores today’s age of technology, also forming a determined quest for self-knowledge. Transcending the mechanised body, she challenges corporeal limitations, revealing the intrinsic human capacity for complete metamorphosis. The artist dynamically confronts the impositions of capitalist technology, investigating broader notions of power and transformation.
ART BASEL CONVERSATIONS
Fri, Mar 24, 2023, 4:30pm - 6pm (Hong Kong)
Kresiah Mukwazhi, artist, Jan Kaps; Kawita Vatanajyankur, artist, Nova Contemporary and Jaffa Lam, artist, Axel Vervoordt
Moderated by Mia Yu, Curator, The Anthropocene North Collective, Beijing, and Azar Mahmoudian, Independent curator and educator
CONFRONTING LAND POLITICS
AT ART BASEL HONG KONG
MANKUN LIU, ART BASEL, 24 FEBRUARY 2023
At Art Basel Hong Kong this year, a shared attentiveness to the politics of land – and, by extension, an engagement with the landscape as a sphere of relational aesthetics – is evident among multiple, research-led projects. Across Asia, artists are engaging with nature to comment on issues ranging from environmental justice, sectarianism, and spirituality, to infrastructure and agrarian labor, all while diversifying the notion of Asian indigeneity by articulating folk traditions and traumas of the region.
Joydeb Roaja’s ink drawings and performances centering the relationship between body and land enact a reversal of the power dynamics between the Jumma people – 11 ethnic groups indigenous to Roaja’s homeland in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh – and the country’s Bengali majority. Extending his research on the militarization of Chittagong, Roaja’s ink-on-board series ‘Submerged Dream’(2022), for example, explores cross-generational struggles surrounding land justice and political ecology by diving into the history of flooding on Jumma territory caused by the construction of Kaptai Dam, which was completed in 1962. Presented by Jhaveri Contemporary in the Discoveries sector, Roaja’s images portray Jumma men and women standing at the center of pictorial planes, their bodies half submerged by the man-made lake created for the Kaptai Dam, which submerged, among other community landmarks, the Chakma Royal Palace. Figures are seen lifting their arms to raise the palace and other items above the water. Among the objects they carry is a woven basket, which cradles the next generations who will continue the struggle for recognition and rights within the state infrastructure of Bangladesh, represented here by silhouettes of surveyors, troops, and divers in miniature. But while the lack of state recognition continuously inflicts the Jumma people, the notion of indigeneity is sometimes mobilized to exclude minority immigrants in the state narratives of multi-ethnic countries. This is examined in Jakkai Siributr’s mix-media and video installation The Outlaw’s Flag (2017), presented by Flowers Gallery in the Insights sector, which focuses on the Rohingya refugee crisis. Recomposing the national flags of Myanmar, Thailand, and Bangladesh into emblems of an imaginary nation, Siributr’s handmade tapestry envisions a homeland for the Muslim minority population of Rohingyas unwanted by the four countries. The hanging textile compositions are woven out of fishnet, plastic beads, and cowrie shells – materials reminiscent of the beach of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State in Myanmar, which the artist visited in 2015 following the outbreak of a new round of violence against the Rohingya. From the coastal town, the refugees fled the Buddhist country for Ranong Province on the west coast of Thailand, only to find themselves pushed back by local authorities and the Thai Navy into the sea upon their arrival. Juxtaposing the local landscapes of Sittwe and Ranong, Siributr’s two-channel video captures the social turbulence that often goes unspoken amid local communities. In Sittwe, we see Buddhist monks playing football on the beach, their temple standing by the ruins of a mosque. On the other shore, the wind brushes through a stretch of grassland without any trace of refugees. The absence of the Rohingya from Siributr’s imageries echoes the group’s nonexistence in the discourses of ethnicity, indigeneity, and statehood – notions that are maneuvered to solidify state and religious borders across Southeast Asia. Beyond politics, Asian indigeneity is also expressed in works that explore human-spirit relationships, like Ngoc Nau’s video installation Ritual object 1 (2022), presented by Vin Gallery in the Discoveries sector. Enlivening footage of the industrial landscape of Thai Nguyen are vivid scenes of a folk spiritual tradition known as Đạo Mẫu, the worship of the Mother Goddess of the Three Realms, a practice that prevails in current-day Vietnam. As the custodian of the heavens, waters, and forests, the goddess is often deemed a syncretist of natural forces rooted in indigenous animism. While this affinity with nature is hardly traceable in the rituals captured by Nau, the triumph of femininity and celebration of daily happiness remain present in Ritual object 1. The artist configures a 3D-animated female deity who dances to a shaman’s chanting across the bulldozed landscape of Thai Nyguen, before the avatar lands on a floating plan of a factory complex. There, she spawns incarnations that join a workers’ riot near the largest Samsung factory in Southeast Asia, located at the Yen Binh Industrial Park. Tampering with the original found footage, the artist replaces the stones thrown at security guards during the protest with computer generated gold rice grains. Projected through a screen made of ritual remains, Nau’s video speaks of the perseverance – albeit in moderated, modernized form – of folk spiritual practices, and speculates on the political agency of spirits, portrayed as a cluster of light beams that traverse domestic and capitalist time space. A long-term subject of fascination for Nau, light is also used in her photography series ‘Silent nights’ (2021), in which found photographs presented in lightboxes are used to retell the artist’s family stories of forced relocation to Thai Nyguen during the Vietnam War.
Grounding the experience of war within the landscape resonates with Kawita Vatanajyankur’s series ‘Field Work’ (2020–ongoing), which topologizes the future condition of human labor as universal. Presented by Nova Contemporary, The Scale of Injustice (2021) and The Pendulum (2023), a new piece from the series, are being shown in the Discoveries sector. In the former video, the artist’s body simultaneously serves as both the fulcrum and plates of a massive set of scales positioned on earthy ground. Symbolizing Indian cotton farmers’ struggles for seed sovereignty and fair income, the scales never rest in equilibrium. Cotton seeds drop into the baskets at either end, while the artist, carrying the weight, smashes onto the ground and spills the seeds.
From the cotton fields of India to the farmlands of Ayutthaya in Thailand, Vatanajyankur searches for local strategies that can counter the environmental disasters – such as pesticide abuse, seed commercialization, and poverty – that come with agrotechnology. Her studio functions as an incubator for crops and bodily experiments that incorporate research into how machine intelligence might displace human labor and identity. The laboratory, which forms the virtual background to her performance-based moving images, is also an allegorical space of physical and psychological vacuity and exhaustion, anticipated on a global scale.
Ranging from local realities to planetary futures, Vatanajyankur’s project exemplifies what Elizabeth Deloughrey describes as scalar telescoping. Scalar telescoping is an act that foregrounds or counters the disjuncture between experience and knowledge – between the world as it is and the discourses of politics or science – that is characteristic of the current epoch of ecological meltdown and technological acceleration. A comparable interest in scalar play is seen in Alice Wang’s research into the imperceptible dimensions of reality, which led to the development of her new project ‘Quantum Dream Machine’ (2023), presented by Capsule in the Discoveries sector, with coming presentations at Kling & Bang in Reykjavík and UCCA Dune in Beijing.
The origin of Wang’s project – a picture of a quantum computer resembling a chandelier from some extra-terrestrial civilization – triggered the artist’s vision of a quantum computer as a crystal ball. This vision effectively became the prototype for the sculptural objects that constitute her latest work, Untitled (2023). Cast from 3D-printed models of the basic geometrical components of different atomic orbitals – the probability distribution of electrons around the nucleus – the sculptures composing the work are made in pairs. With one element ultra-matte black and the other reflective stainless steel, each duo animates the surrounding space by doubling the viewer’s sensorial experience.
Wang’s sculptural pairs materialize the poetic phenomenology of quantum computing by offering an analogy between subatomic and celestial bodies. Together, they cultivate an interscalar landscape that perhaps resides only in the dreams of the quantum machine itself. A series of images of quantum computing technologies rendered on glass sheets through the wet-plate collodion process extend these dream-like landscapes. Framed as transparent sandboxes, they give a glimpse into superimposed spaces and times. These superimpositions of time and space resonate with the way contemporary artists in Asia are exploring landscape as a material, political, and technological arena of redistribution and realignment, rather than ideological and political abstraction. Accommodating a more-than-human sociality as they move from representations of reality to sociohistorical analyses and mappings of metaphysical realms, their artworks locate the category of relational aesthetics within the land itself.
Originally published in Art Basel Hong Kong