Asian art exhibitions in London (Feb 2017)

Transcending Boundaries by teamlab  Transcending Boundaries by teamlab

Transcending Boundaries by teamlab

Transcending Boundaries by teamlab  Transcending Boundaries by teamlab

Transcending Boundaries by teamlab


Is contemporary Asian art gaining more recognition in the West today? Apparently so. Interestingly, three prominent contemporary art galleries in London held exhibitions on three very different Asian artists/collective around the same period, and one of the most talked about exhibition must have been the immersive “Transcending Boundaries” at Pace Gallery by Japanese interdisciplinary collective, teamlab.

Established in 2001, the collective merges art, anime, technology, design and the natural world to create immersive installations that transcend the physical and conceptual boundaries for visitors. I was unaware that I had to prebook a time slot to visit the free exhibition, and was told that tickets were all sold out upon arrival. Luckily, the kind gallery staff let me and other non-ticket holders in after a brief wait.

In the three dark rooms, visitors were encouraged to interact with the digital installations. Visitors could manipulate the flow of the waterfall; enabled flowers to spread and grow on them; and watched butterflies flap around them. It took me some time to be absorbed by my surroundings, but once I did, I was quite mesmorisized by the interactive experiences.

Back in Japan, the Teamlab staged the largest digital art exhibition “DMM.Planets” last year, and the queues lasted for hours daily. Many trend forecasters and journalists believe that digital, interactive and virtual reality technologies will change and disrupt the art world in the years to come, so it will be interesting to see how the technologies evolve over time.


Pak Seo-Bo

Pak Seo-Bo  Pak Seo-Bo

Pak Seo-Bo

Pak Seo-Bo’s ZIGZAG: Ecriture 1983-1992 at White Cube Mason’s Yard


At the nearby White Cube, the second solo exhibition of Korean artists Pak Seo-Bo couldn’t have been more disparate in form and style. The 86-year old is a leading figure in contemporary Korean art, and is famous for his Ecriture series which began in the 1970s. He is an artists associated with the Dansaekhwa (monochrome painting) aesthetics in post-war Korea, which redefined modern Korean art.

The exhibition featured his ‘zigzag’ paintings from the Ecriture series made between 1983-1992. Inspired by Western abstraction in painting, Korean calligraphy, as well as Taoist and Buddhist philosophy, Park’s abstract paintings undoubtedly resemble paintings by American abstract minimalists Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman.

Park said that the repetitive gestures and monochromatic environments of these works are a way of emptying the painting of the self, and achieving a unity with the nothingness in nature. His Zen-like paintings appear to be similar and repetitive from a distance, but up close, it is hard not to be engrossed by the textures and extraordinary subtle tones. Meditative and calming, Park’s works are best appreciated in person because viewing them on paper/ via the computer would not do his works justice.


passage/s do ho suh

passage/s do ho suh  passage/s do ho suh

passage/s do ho suh

passage/s do ho suh  passage/s do ho suh

passage/s do ho suh

passage/s do ho suh  passage/s do ho suh

Do Ho Suh: Passage/s at Victoria Miro


Without forerunners like Park Seo-Bo, the contemporary Korean art scene would probably be quite different today. One of the ‘hottest’ Korean artists of today must be the London-based Do Ho Suh. I have seen works by the artist through print/internet for a long time, but I finally encountered the artist’s Passage/s installations at Frieze art fair a few years ago. Unlike Park Seo-Bo’s understated style, Do‘s Passage/s installations are conspicuous, colourful and distinctive. At Victoria Miro gallery, his nine one-to-one scale translucent fabric architectural structures occupied the 25-metre-long of the gallery, thereby creating a walk-through corridor for visitors to pass through.

Inspired by his peripatetic life, Do Ho Suh‘s works explore the boundaries of identity and the connection between the individual and the group across global cultures. In the globalised world we live in today, finding your identity is no longer easily discernible. Suh‘s attempt in capturing time, memory and space prompted him to create the fascinating man-size installations, which offer an insight into the issues of migration, transitions and identities that many of us face in this day and age. Coincidentally, Suh used to live at 348 W22nd Street in New York, whereas I used live at no. 318 on the same street and around the same period, so it was quite possible that we walked past each other in the street all these years ago.

I was also drawn to the intricate stitched objects inside the installations like water pipes, door handles and hinges, and even fire escape instructions… these familiar and yet seemingly mundane everyday things are wonderfully highlighted in his works.


Do Ho Suh, Entrance, Unit G5, Union Wharf, 23 Wenlock road, London, N1 7SB

passage/s do ho suhpassage/s do ho suh

Top: Entrance, Unit G5, Union Wharf, 23 Wenlock road, London, N1 7SB


Elsewhere at the gallery, there were Suh’s signature architectural pieces compressed into large-scale two-dimensional ‘drawings’; photographic images of interior spaces from various locations are digitally ‘stitched’ together; and a three-channel video Passage/s: The Pram Project, in which the artist, accompanied by his daughters, explores streets in South Korea and around his home in London.

Numerous artists have explore the theme of identities and migration, but Suh’s tactile three-dimensional installations enable visitors to share his memory and experiences in a more direct and tangible way. In the exhibition’s press release, Suh said, “I see life as a passageway, with no fixed beginning or destination. We tend to focus on the destination all the time and forget about the in-between spaces. But without these mundane spaces that nobody really pays attention to, these grey areas, one cannot get from point a to point b.” And I couldn’t agree more with him.



Zaha Hadid: Early Paintings and drawings

‘Metropolis' (1988) by Zaha Hadid

‘Metropolis’ (1988) by Zaha Hadid at the entrance of the exhibition at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery


I have previously written about the late British Iraqi star architect Zaha Hadid (click here), and I showed little enthusiasm about her later works. However, I was a fan of her earlier paintings – the conceptual ones heavily influenced by the Russian avant-garde Kazimir Malevich – and the focus of the “Zaha Hadid: Early paintings and drawings” exhibition (until 12th February 2017) at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, which she redesigned in 2013.


Zaha Hadid ‘Metropolis' (1988)  Malevich’s Tektonik (1976-77)

Right: Malevich’s Tektonik (1976-77)


Not so long ago, I watched a BBC documentary about the Russian avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich presented by Zaha Hadid; it was no secret that the artist heavily influenced her especially when she was student at the AA. And the works at this show demonstrated his impact on her, not only aesthetically but also metaphysically. Malevich‘s utopian vision is prominent in Hadid‘s earlier bold abstract paintings – they are imaginative, futuristic and idealistic.


zaha hadid

zaha hadid  zaha hadid

zaha hadid  zaha hadid

Constructivism and deconstructivism are both evident in her earlier works


Aside from Malevich, one could also detect the influence of another Russian Constructivist Vladimir Tatlin (see above) and Arabic calligraphy (since I spent three years learning Arabic calligraphy under an Iraqi calligrapher, I could undoubtedly see the strong connection between the two). Her signature buildings often display bold geometrical forms and curves, which are inspired by her Arabic background.


zaha hadid  zaha hadid

zaha hadid  zaha hadid

Zaha Hadid’s grand vision failed to be realised at the early years of her career


During the early part of Hadid‘s career, she was known largely as a theoretical architect, and her buildings were deemed as unbuildable. And walking around the exhibition, it is not hard to see why they thought that way. Her early paintings proof that she was a visionary, an artist who was willing to take risks, break barriers and create new grounds.

A while ago, a well-respected architect (whose name I can’t recall) criticised Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid as artists rather than architects, and I couldn’t agree more. However, they did achieve the almost impossible task of turning their art works into brick and mortar, and this certainly required an immense amount of perseverance and dedication.


zaha hadid The Peak (1982-83)

zaha hadid The Peak (1982-83)  zaha hadid The Peak (1982-83)

The Peak (1982-83)


One of my favourite earlier projects by Hadid was the award-winning ‘The Peak’ in Hong Kong, which was intended to be a private sports club and spa. Judging from her drawings, I think this deconstructive structure was buildable, but I believe the developer lacked the vision and guts to go ahead with it (and they later opted for a hideous design that I consider a serious eye-sore that stands on the top of the peak now).

The project proposed excavating the hills to form a site by using the excavated rock to build artificial cliffs. In her paintings, the dramatic fragmented design display jagged edges that resemble its surrounding rocks. They also show the perspective of how the Peak looked down on the rest of the city of Hong Kong, how it stood in stark contrast to other architecture, and how it used the mountainside almost as a launching pad. Yet the most striking aspect of her paintings is how futuristic and coherent the city looked, which was more of an ideal than reality.


zaha hadid

zaha hadid sketchbook

zaha hadid

2nd row: Hadid’s sketchbook; Bottom row: Hadid’s furniture and products from the later period


At the exhibition, visitors could also see the abstract artworks transformed into 360-degree virtual environments thanks to the collaboration between the Virtual Reality department at Zaha Hadid Architects and Google Arts and Culture using a HTC Vive headset.


serpentine sackler gallery

Serpentine Sackler Gallery’s new extension was designed by Hadid in 2013


Leaving the exhibition, I felt that the exhibition revealed Hadid as more of an avant-garde artist full of utopian ideals than a practical architect. Practicality, conventionality and banality are words that could never be applied to her designs. She was controversial, daring and larger-than-life. In a world full of conformists, Zaha Hadid stood out for her unorthodox ideals, and whether you like her architecture or not, you would have to respect her for her visions and uncompromising approach to life and work.


Collect art fair 2017

Laure Prouvost's Improving The Everyday (In Support Of Grand Dad Vistor Center)

primal pottery project by Ole Jensen  hanna järlehed hyving

Top: by Laure Prouvost; Bottom left: Primal pottery project by Ole Jensen; Bottom right: Hanna Järlehed Hyving


The annual Collect art fair (2-6th February) organised by the Craft Council did not take place last year (according to their website, they had to take the time off to regroup and revamp), and so I was eager to see the new changes at the Saatchi Gallery.

This reputable craft fair showcased works by established and emerging contemporary artists and craftsmen who are represented by 35 leading art and craft galleries from around the world. Works included ceramics, glass, jewellery, wood, metal and textiles; and as usual, there were many stunning and intricately crafted pieces at the fair.

This year, aside from the exhibitions, there was an interesting programme of daily talks and activities; and a fund-raising Benefit Auction featuring works by top artists and makers.


vessels on stilts by Adi TOCH  malcolm appleby

img_0076-min  Tulipere 1 by coilin o dubhghaill

hitomi uchikura  chien wei chang

Top left: Vessels on stilts by Adi Toch; Top right: Malcolm Appleby; 2nd row right: Tulipere 1 by Coilin O Dubhghaill; Bottom left: Gouttes de lune by Hitomi Uchikura; Bamboo series by Chien Wei Chang


On the ground floor, I was particularly drawn to an unconventional piece of work: “ by Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost (see above) at Cass Sculpture Foundation. Prouvost’s dining table is drawn from her project Wantee, which she won the Turner Prize for in 2013. Based on two fictional grandparents, she has created a tale out of ceramic tiles by turning symbols like eyeballs and lips into domestic functional objects. The ceramic eyeballs are in fact salt and pepper shakers and the ceramic mounds suggestive of breasts can be used as butter dishes (these may satisfy many men’s secret fantasies!). I like the playful concept and the organic style and forms, which are distinctively different from the more polished and refined works at the fair.


sue paraskeva  Marc Ricourt

Construct by Irina Razumovskaya

halima cassell  jun matsumura

katie spragg  img_0042-min  fuku fukumoto

Top left: Broke by Sue Paraskeva; Top right: Lime tress by Marc Ricourt; 2nd row: Construct by Irina Razumovskaya 3rd row left: Halima Cassell; 3rd row right: Jun matsumura; 4th row left: Katie Spragg; 4th row right: Moonlight by Fuku Fukumoto



valeria nascimento

Swell by Sara Dodd  zemer peled

simone crestani

img_0075-min  Delusion by Aya Mori

Top: Valeria Nascimento; 2nd row left: Swell by Sara Dodd; 2nd row right: Zemer Peled; 3rd row: Glass sculptures by Simone Crestani; Delusion by Aya Mori


David Gates and Helen Carnac

Joseph Walsh  jongjin park

Michel Gouèry  misnad by aljoud lootah

constructed feast by tinkah  sarood by sheikha hind majid

Top: Cabinets for Small Curiosities by David Gates and Helen Carnac; 2nd row left: Enignum Shelf XXVII by Joseph Walsh; 2nd row right: Jongjin Park; 3rd row left: Michel Gouèry; 3rd row right: Misnad by Aljoud Lootah; Bottom left: Constructed feast by Tinkah; Bottom right: Sarood by Sheikha Hind Majid


At the Gendras Reginer Gallery, I was captivated by the quirky and fantastic terracotta alien-like sculptures by French sculptor, Michel Gouèry. The works stood out because they evoked our imaginations, and they are also beautifully made.

It was also interesting to see The Irthi Contemporary Craft Council from the UAE exhibiting at the fair for the first time. The Irthi Contemporary Crafts Council is an initiative established as part of the NAMA Women Advancement Establishment, under the patronage of the wife of the Ruler of Sharjah and Chairperson of NAMA. The three pieces shown at the fair (see above) showcased the merge of traditional Arabic crafts with new technologies by female designer makers from the UAE today.


Lauren Nauman

yoichi takada  tomomi tanaka  nostalgia 1016-TWt01 by osamu kojima

Top: Lines by Lauren Nauman; Bottom left: Breathing Wings by Yoichi Takada; Bottom middle: Tomomi Tanaka; Bottom right: Nostalgia 1016-TWt01 by Osamu kojima


Diamond dots IV by Marian Bijlenga

Queen's chair by isabel berglund  Rikke Ruhwald  shihoko fukumoto

Shihoko Fukumoto

mika kenmoku  mikiko minewaki

Top: Diamond dots IV by Marian Bijlenga; 2nd row left: Queen’s chair by Isabel Berglund; 2nd row middle: Rikke Ruhwald; 2nd row right & 3rd row: Shibori textiles by Shihoko Fukumoto; Bottom left: Mika Kenmoku; Bottom right: Mikiko Minewaki


grayson perry's essex house tapestries

grayson perry's essex house tapestries

Grayson Perry’s Essex House tapestries: Julie Cope’s Grand Tour


One of the hightlights of the fair was a room dedicated to Craft Council’s latest acquisitions: two of Grayson Perry‘s Essex House tapestries. They depict the story of a fictional Essex woman, Julie Cope, accompanied by a long, tongue-in-cheek poem, which provides a social history of Essex since the Second World War.



img_0112-min  soojin kang

Domitilla Biondi  tending the fires by claire curneen

tanya gomez

Ruth Glasheen  Wooseon Cheon

shelley james

Top: Collect Open exhibition – 2nd & 3rd row left: Paper craft by Domitilla Biondi; 2nd row right: White by Soojin Kang; 3rd row right: Tending the fires by Claire Curneen; 4th row: Vessels by Tanya Gomez; 5th row left: Ruth Glasheen; 5th row right: Wooseon Cheon; Bottom: Crystalline Constellation by Shelley James


On the top floor, Collect Open showcased 14 up-and-coming designer makers from around the world selected by a panel headed by Faye Toogood. And there was Showtime, an exhibit celebrating the history of the Craft Council, which included many wonderful posters from its archive and objects from its previous exhibitions.


showtime collect

Ring change spectrum by Ann sutton  img_0100-min

img_0099-min  Poster designed by David King  img_0105-min

Showtime exhibition – Ring change spectrum by Ann sutton; Poster for Eric Ravilious’ exhibition; Poster designed by David King


The popularity of the fair demonstrates that craft is being more recognised than before, however, it is still nowhere near as prominent as other art forms such as paintings, sculptures and photography – which is a real shame. I hope that we will see more positive changes in the future because craft is an important art form that needs to be celebrated and appreciated by the masses and not just an elite group of buyers/insiders.