• Germany's news in English

Berlin exhibition explores perceptions of Asia

The Local · 15 Apr 2008, 18:35

Published: 15 Apr 2008 18:35 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Asia can still sound exotic to many Westerners, but it’s less distant than in the past. These days, every major German city has Chinese and Indian restaurants, as well as movie theatres showing Japanese films, and households with Korean cars in the driveway.

For all that, though, the image of Asia as a savage expanse filled with inhuman hordes remains strangely popular here and in the rest of the Abendland – as the West is often poetically described in German. The recent Hollywood movie 300 even presented the Persian army as a force composed of four-meter tall ogres with crab claws for arms.

These kinds of paranoid stereotypes serve as the principal fodder for Haus der Kulturen der Welt's new exhibition Re-Imagining Asia. The brainchild of both the HdKdW’s own Shaheen Merali and his long-time collaborator, art historian and curator Wu Hung, the show unfolds a vast and expansive historical cartography, stretching from the black iron ships that opened-up Japan to the bills of black gold and green currency that fuel the Kuwaiti stock exchange.

Re-Imagining Asia is loosely divided into four separate sections: “Love & Fantasy,” “Architecture & Mobility,” “Pleasure & Suffering,” and “Doubts within the System.” Each of these incorporates both an exhibition and a film programme. The cinematic part started in early April and includes amongst its highlights Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s widely-praised feature Syndromes and a Century, a film which has never been shown in Thailand due to censorship laws there. An accompanying literature festival, meanwhile, as well as a number of dance events, have also been scheduled to run alongside the main programme, making the exhibition a truly multi-level experience.

In the show's catalogue, Merali writes that the one of the principal aims of Re-Imagining Asia is to explore the more overlooked and suppressed aspects of Asia's historically-vexed relationship with the West.

This ambition comes across strongly throughout the show. In his composite corner-relief Offshore Accounts, the Pakistani photographer Rashid Rana intersperses a hypnotic seascape assembled from photos of land-fill material with tiny romanticized pictures of European sea voyages. The effect is to establish a tack between the classical age of colonialism and our contemporary epoch of global consumerism. Elsewhere, the Chinese artist Zhang Dali's finely-conceived study of Mao pictures A Second History queries the details that have been airbrushed from the archive in order to shore-up a properly heroic image of the Great Helmsman.

These works take their place alongside a series of unnerving sculptural pieces – three predatory-looking, militarized baby carriages, a wooden Japanese house converted into a tank, and a Bond-villainesque fantasy of the secret series of bunkers buried beneath Tiananmen Square's Forbidden City – underscore that both violence and globalization are phenomena connecting the West and Asia.

It all somehow comes together to contribute to a much larger picture. In his own contribution to the catalogue, Wu Hung speaks of Asian art as “an open landscape, less located in a physical place than a mental one.”

Of course, a show like this is all about getting your bearings. It’s as much about how we define ourselves as others. What fabulous foreign entities – Asian ones in this case – are we compelled to fabricate in order to hold-down our own fragile identities?

This dilemma is dealt with in several unique ways – perhaps most succinctly by Korean-born and New York-based artist Sun K. Kwak's site-specific installation Untying Space. A jet-black and air-light liquid paint cascade, unfurling and encircling the Haus's “pregnant oyster” architecture – speaks of the speed and fluidity of the contemporary world where everything that was once solid melts into air.

Other works in the show address this same basic condition: London-born, New Delhi-based sculptor Bharti Kher's The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own – is a life-like rendition in fibreglass of a dead Indian elephant. It offers a perspective on both collapsing tradition and ongoing ecological tragedy. Elsewhere, the Japanese artist Manabu Ikeda at once flies into the future and escapes into fantasy with his Howl's Castle-like megastructure History of Rise and Fall.

Story continues below…

In many respects, this exhibition raises more questions than it answers. Nevertheless, if there is one central theme which emerges here, it’s probably garbage and waste.

The vast installation Waste Not is a maze-like confection of neatly catalogued rubbish that occupies the entirety of the HdKdW’s central foyer. Assembled by the artist Song Dong in partnership with his mother, the piece at once recalls Martin Kippenberger's similarly-sprawling The Happy End of Franz Kafka's 'Amerika' – a work based on an unfinished “failed” manuscript which Kafka himself ordered burned – and the novelist Don DeLillo's even more supersized paean to trash, the literary doorstopper Underworld. Beyond all cultural differences, maybe, deconstructed or otherwise, the one thing Asia and the West share is our trash.

Re-Imagining Asia runs through May 18. Admission costs €5, €3 for reduced tickets.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Today's headlines
Outrage over ruling on 'brutal' gang rape of teen girl
The now convicted suspects, sitting in court in Hamburg. Photo: DPA.

A 14-year-old girl was gang-raped and left partially clothed and unconscious in freezing temperatures. Now prosecutors are appealing the sentences for the young men found guilty, most of whom will not set foot in jail.

Dozens of Turkish diplomats apply for asylum in Germany
Demonstrators holding a giant Turkish flag protest against the attempted coup in Istanbul in July. Photo: DPA.

Since the failed putsch attempt in Turkey in July, Germany has received 35 asylum applications from people with Turkish diplomatic passports, the Interior Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

Hertha Berlin fan club criticised for 'anti-gay banner'
Hertha BSC beat FC Cologne 2-1. Photo: DPA

A 50 metre fan banner apparently mocking the idea of gay adoption has overshadowed Hertha BSC's win in the Bundesliga.

Germany stalls Chinese takeover of tech firm Aixtron
Aixtron headquarters in Herzogenrath. Photo: DPA

The German government on Monday said it had withdrawn approval for a Chinese firm to acquire Aixtron, a supplier to the semiconductor industry, amid growing unease over Chinese investment in German companies.

Politicians call for tough sentences for 'killer clowns'
File photo: DPA.

Now that the so-called 'killer clown' craze has spread from the US to Germany, elected officials are drawing a hard line against such "pranks", with some threatening offenders with jail time of up to a year.

Nearly one in ten Germans are severely disabled
Photo: DPA

New figures reveal that 9.3 percent of the German population last year were considered severely disabled.

The Local List
Germany's top 10 most surreal sites to visit
The Upside-Down House, in Mecklenburg–Western Pomerania. Photo: Olaf Meister / Wikimedia Commons

From upside-down houses on Baltic islands to a fairy-tale castle near the Austrian border, Germany is a treasure trove of the extraordinary.

Bavarian critics back Merkel for Chancellor again
Photo: DPA

The Christian Social Union (CSU) have long delayed backing Angela Merkel as their candidate for Chancellor in next year's general election. But now key leaders are supporting her publicly.

Four taken to hospital after hotel toilet bursts into flames
File photo: DPA.

Four guests at a Nuremberg hotel were taken to hospital due to smoke inhalation early Monday morning after a toilet there burst into flames.

Creepy clown scare spreads to Germany
Two of the clowns were apparently equipped with chainsaws. Photo: Pedro Pardo / AFP file picture

Police said Friday five incidents involving so-called scary clowns had occurred in two north German towns, including one assailant who hit a man with a baseball bat, amid fears that Halloween could spark a rash of similar attacks.

10 things you never knew about socialist East Germany
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
How Germans fell in love with America's favourite squash
How I ditched London for Berlin and became a published author
12 clever German idioms that'll make you sound like a pro
23 fascinating facts you never knew about Berlin
9 unmissable events to check out in Germany this October
10 things you never knew about German reunification
10 things you're sure to notice after an Oktoberfest visit
Germany's 10 most Instagram-able places
15 pics that prove Germany is absolutely enchanting in autumn
10 German films you have to watch before you die
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd