When we were invited to run a talk and workshop on the idea of “Situated Knowledge,” we drew from our experiences and personal connections to the cities of both Hong Kong and London. Chloe moved to London to study and now works at Afterall, whereas Bo has recently moved back to Hong Kong after many years in London. Although still the same autonomous person, the displacements and shifting contexts affect the way we understand ourselves and how we are understood in the respective worlds. Much like when an artwork reaches the public, its meaning and effects in the world are also determined by the socio-political-historical contexts of the time and place.
For the workshop, we invited participants to consider the socio-historical, geo-political, and cultural situation of their current home and how the context offers meaning to artworks produced and exhibited. Working with a piece of art of their choosing, they were to replace it in a different environment, considering both time and place. We wanted to question and reimagine the curatorial framework and how artworks can take new roots and make new meaning.
We led by sharing our own reimagination.
The Other Story was an exhibition that opened at the Hayward Gallery in 1989. Curated by artist Rasheed Araeen, it united the art of “Asian, African and Caribbean artists in post war Britain,” and was a response to the “racism, inequality, and ignorance of other cultures” at the time in late-1980s Britain. Kumiko Shimizu’s work, Project for the Hayward Gallery, was an interesting piece in the exhibition that embodied positional perspectives in its material form and display.
Shimizu’s sculptures were part of the artist’s ongoing investigation of hardware scavenged around London—pots, pans, small industrial tools—repainted with bright, carnivalesque colours resembling candy wrappers. These objects, when installed on the exterior of buildings, disrupted the urban vernacular as well as the public buildings itself. The work was previously installed in the streets of Brixton, outside of a church, a derelict building, a renovating house, and an art gallery. Installing the work outside of the Hayward Gallery, a Brutalist building and a London landmark, it was suggested as an “anti-imperial thrust” by Lucy Steeds, as it injected familiar found objects with humble origins and perhaps personal narratives onto a monumental building of historical value.
Situating the work of Kumiko Shimizu in Hong Kong at present has a unique resonance to us. As buildings carry historical stories, we loved the idea of reinstalling a version of the artwork for Tai Kwun. Tai Kwun is a heritage site, and was the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison of Hong Kong. It is situated in Old Bailey Street, in Central. Central is the central business district of Hong Kong, and a cultural and shopping destination, where the value of real estate is prime; however, it’s also the site of a number of major political protests. Had Shimizu been in Hong Kong to install the work in Tai Kwun, she would probably be scavenging used hardware tools and household items in more local and poorer areas in Hong Kong such as from the night street hawkers in Sham Shui Po. The tools and hardware items would hark back to the times when Hong Kong was a hub for light industries in the ‘60s and ‘70s, producing textiles, electronics, and plastic household objects. Although the objects found could most certainly have been made in China now, the connections it will create from the overlapping historical and shifting social contexts will no doubt endow the work with new meaning. Would it be seen as a deviant gesture with an anti-imperial, anti-colonial attitude? Or would it be a critique on class divisions and materialist culture? One thing we are certain of, is once an artwork has been displaced and replaced in a new world, its story can be reinvented over and over again.
Our participants also created their own reimaginations of artworks. Researcher and producer Ashley Wong explored the work of artist Lu Yang, who challenges the concept of static identities and that is made complicated with the prominence of online exhibitions and digital artworks.
And through a painted mural in Tehran in Iran, Anahita Razmi highlighted the complexity and possibilities of recontexualising and translocating propaganda.
Ashley Lee Wong
To imagine an artwork exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in London and conversely at Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts in Hong Kong is to also imagine the audiences of these respective places. It also suggests how these audiences might interpret a work given a city’s historical and cultural consciousness. Such an imagining is a political act as suggested in Wang Hui’s book, The Politics of Imagining Asia (2011). It implies a politics of imagining Britain or Hong Kong and China, which are often grounded in certain conceptions of the nation state and world history.
For this workshop, I proposed to analyse the work of Lu Yang, with whom we have been working with as a studio called MetaObjects facilitating digital production with artists and cultural institutions. As an artist, Lu Yang resists being identified by gender or by ethnic or cultural origin and resists media specificity. While often curated into group exhibitions of Chinese artists, such as the exhibition, Micro Era: Media Art from China (2020) at
Kulturforum, Berlin, Lu Yang raises the question: why don’t we have exhibitions about “white male artist from Europe”? Lu Yang would prefer to be simply recognised as an “artist” on equal terms as any other artist in the contemporary art world, without being distinguished as a “Chinese” artist. In a global contemporary art world, one would assume the audience is also globalised. Regional-specific exhibitions suggest a centre and periphery relation; it has the effect of “othering,” as a fetishisation of difference. Lu Yang’s work, while drawing from diverse cultural references such as Japanese manga, games, neurology, Chinese medicine, Buddhism, and Hinduism, brings together contemporary and traditional knowledge systems. The works form an amalgamation of cultural references, where origins are less important than their conceptual whole. It suggests how culture is infinitely diverse and complex in our globalised networked society. While the Euro-American countries face the recurring issue of identity and representation, Lu Yang presents a post-identity politics, one which demonstrates equality not through culturally curated exhibitions, but through treatment on par with artists in general, brought together through common interests and aesthetics rather than necessarily a shared cultural heritage. Lu Yang’s work also suggests we live in a post-medium condition as technology has become fully integrated into our daily lives, where the work is recognised more generally as contemporary art.
Lu Yang works across video, 3D animation, games, and motion capture that are often the subject of techno and Asian fetishism, as suggested in the term Sinofuturism. In November 2020, we worked with the artist to transform a motion capture performance into a live- streamed event from Chronus Art Centre in Shanghai, presented by ACMI, Arts Centre Melbourne, Asia TOPA, and The Exhibitionist. The event was the result of a cancelled performance earlier in the year due to the pandemic. Through this project, we recognised the challenges of presenting work online and the issues of regionalised funding for online projects. Online spaces also present an opportunity to re-imagine the self, where Lu Yang has created DOKU, a gender-less digital reincarnation of the artist used in a later performance at the Garage, Moscow, in 2021. While the event was streamed from Shanghai, it was primarily promoted to Australian audiences, where public funding is normally intended to benefit local audiences. However, as a free online performance, audiences could view the work from anywhere in the world. In this way, online programmes could be supported through international institutional collaborations. In a virtual environment, which is not necessarily geographically located, how can we curate within such a non-situated space? Biennials attempt to create these global transnational spaces, however continuing to identify artists by countries of origins. In virtual spaces, one can re-imagine one’s identity, where space is located everywhere and nowhere.
Lu Yang’s work challenges us to question our habits in curating and imagining regionalised identities to embrace the complexities of global culture beyond conceptions of the nation state and fixed identities. The work simultaneously reflects on the technological condition not as novelty, but as something inherent to our everyday experience.
 Hui Wang, The Politics of Imagining Asia, ed. Theodore Huters (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).
 For more on Lu Yang’s work, see Gary Zhexi Zhang, “Lu Yang’s Final Fantasy,” Frieze, 25 February 2019, https://www.frieze.com/article/lu-yangs-final-fantas.
 See www.metaobjects.org.
 See https://www.smb.museum/en/exhibitions/detail/micro-era/.
 See Wang Xin, “Asian Futurism and the Non-Other,” e-flux 81 (April 2017), https://www.e-flux.com/journal/81/126662/asian-futurism-and-the-non-other/.
 Rosalind Krauss, A Voyage on Art in the Age of the North Sea: Post-Medium Condition (New York: Thames & Hudson, 1999).
The workshop's approach of facilitating a virtual space for reimagination and its linking questions concerning situated knowledges immanently relate to my own work as an artist.
Instead of framing these questions under a hypothetical curatorial pretext in London or Hong Kong, I looked anew at a rejected project proposal of mine for this—a draft from 2018—which aimed to explicitly test out the limits of a method that my work often deploys: recombining and recontextualising chosen objects and images between the Islamic Republic of Iran and “a West.”
The proposal wanted to recreate and resituate an existing Iranian public artwork—a painted mural in the Iranian capital, Tehran—by placing it into a different geographical context.
The mural, located on Karaj Special Freeway in Mehrabad, Tehran, portrays the former supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, and its current supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, set in-between an image of blossoming roses. A sentence in Farsi in the upper part of the mural translates to “Social welfare is a necessity of our time.” The mural is hand-painted by an unnamed artist and commissioned through the city of Tehran; it is immanently embedded into the complex political history and societal context of the country. It is one example of a vast number of similar murals across Iranian cities, often using powerful illustrative and symbolic imagery linked to Iran's political history and leaders, religion, martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war, anti-imperialism. Their iconographies mark an example of the constant ideogrammatic performance of power in the Iranian public space, put in place by a dictatorial regime.
What would a geographical translocation of this context-specific Iranian propaganda do, as it is evident that without its “original” embedding, it cannot simply reproduce its formerly intended meaning? Can the translocation of propaganda instead create some sort of Debordian "détournement" and subversion by turning the expressions of a political system and its media culture against itself?
Jonas Staal's research on “propagandas” is interesting to consider concerning these questions, as is Neïl Beloufa's exhibition L'ennemi de mon ennemi at Palais de Tokyo in 2018, in which he deployed a linking strategy: assembling existing objects of various contested meanings, including a “bomb simulator” exported from the highly propagandistic "Holy Defense Museum" in Tehran.
The public space in Iran is often acutely regulated; its expressions are defined by restrictions, dress codes, and behavioural codes. How do these specifics compare and relate to a different public space, for example, the exhibition context in London proposed in the workshop?
If we were to replicate the mural on the Brutalist concrete walls of the Hayward Gallery in London, what reactions and readings could we imagine? Opposition, ignorance, support? By what circumstances and audiences? Can we imagine a vernissage in front of the mural? Members of the Iranian diaspora opposing it as “representational of the Iranian state”? Supporting it as “cultural diplomacy”? Alterations of the mural through slogans or graffiti? Something else—beyond any of these limited predictions? What would the mural, which makes no effort to integrate itself into its new context, mean to casual passers-by?
Whatever I imagine, the work would at all times fall flat. But this moment of failure is precisely a moment I am interested in: the image’s loss of its originally intended meaning, its failure to speak its language and to have unchallenged power. The impossibility of reading it as a representational, illustrative image is a moment that instead could bring about an attentiveness towards the complexities of image production and circulation as ongoing re-production, re-reading, renewal.
Probably, the work would fail in this aim again, with its conceptual approach coming across as polemic, detached, careless. Yet, if we think about what open-ended, careful modes of image production and reception we want to work towards instead, and how we might get there, perhaps these multi-layered, ambivalent moments of failure could, after all, be a productive sphere for new imaginations and negotiations.
Bo Choy is an artist and lecturer. She works across film and performance. She uses fiction, sound, writing, and costumes as artistic devices to navigate through the socio-political, merging the everyday with the fantastical, the mythological and the absurd. She previously worked as an Assistant Editor for Afterall’s Exhibition Histories and currently lectures at Chelsea College of Art.
Anahita Razmi is a visual artist and lecturer in BA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins, London. Working with installation, moving image, photography, and performance, and often using her own German-Iranian heritage as a reference, her practice explores contextual, geographical, and ideological shifts – producing testing grounds for possibilities of import/export, hybrid identities, and the constructions and ambiguities of cultural representation.
Chloe Ting works as Associate Director at Afterall and has also worked in the art, design, and publishing fields in London and Hong Kong. Chloe creates multi-strand art projects exploring concepts of cohabitation, and questioning shared values, knowledge, and the construction of identity.
Ashley L. Wong, PhD, is a curator and researcher based in Hong Kong. She is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the studio MetaObjects facilitating digital projects with artists and cultural institutions. She is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong.