Recently staff were treated to an exclusive tour of Phantoms of Asia led by Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Allison Harding. While Allison can’t personally escort every visitor around the galleries, we wanted to share the experience. We’ll be presenting a series of posts based on the tour, with Allison’s insights into the works and the artists who created them.
As you leave Hambrecht gallery you encounter a video installation by Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook. In this provocative piece, Araya lectures a group of cadavers on death and the afterlife. Her work explores how we react to death, and is very much tied up with her own Buddhist faith. The reactions to her work bring home the different attitudes to death across cultures. In many cultures the body is brought into the home for ritual and preparation. Araya’s work in some ways reflects these traditions, while also being irreverent–she is, after all, using dead bodies as props. This caused her some problems when she performed a similar piece in Italy, where corpses cannot be used for any purpose. In the end, denied access to the Italian dead, it is rumored Araya had cadavers flown over from New York. For me, these stories add to the experience of the work itself, prompting me to think about how different cultures think about death.
Outside the gallery is an alcove charmingly named Vinson Nook, currently housing an installation by Indonesian artist Jompet. Works from this series have been shown around the world and made a huge splash at the Venice Biennale last year. Jompet’s work delves into the history and syncretic culture of Java. This piece depicts bodiless soldiers, the symbolic protectors of a blended past. The guards’ costumes incorporate Dutch and Javanese elements, the music references street parades, and the whole is contained within the frame of a traditional Javanese house. The installation weaves these elements together to physically depict the story of modern Java.
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