Global Citizens and UrbanScapes 

This article is based on i) the discussion at Southeast Asia forum Singapore, part of the ArtStage event at Marina Bay Sands; and ii) an interview session with Prof. Peggy Levitt– Professor and Chair of the Sociology Department at Wellesley College and Co-Director of the Transnational Studies Initiative at Harvard University, and Ms Tintin Wulia. 

Do museums shape a global citizen? What is a global citizen?

According to the discussion at the ArtStage 2016 Southeast forum, the idea of global citizen or better known as passport without borders is an overly optimistic perception. In Southeast Asia, the difference among subgroups of individuals living in a community exists as of two hundred years ago, and diversity in a community and in a nation is not a bad thing at all. It should be viewed as a valuable asset. However, to adapt to newcomers is often a less straightforward process. Because each of us holds on to an expectation. An expectation on co-existing parameters that are socially acceptable behaviors.

The decisions to establish an opera house or a museum are often driven by political agenda. Most countries in the Middle East and Asia wherefore public and private corporates are often not clearly defined, it is impossible to perform decision-makings as transparent as most intellectuals would like to. The decision-making tools to build or not to build an opera house for the public and whether or not it should be of free admission is far from straightforward. It is a subject that is complex to begin with, particularly when a so-called public business has been managed in a similar fashion as of a private corporate.

Do museums shape our lives? 

Teshima Art musuemImage source: Teshima Art Museum

During the panel discussion moderated by Enin Supriyanto, Miami Kataoka raised the example of Teshima Island, one of southern islands in Japan. Teshima island was once an illegal dumping waste land. Teshima Art Museum (豊島美術館 Teshima Bijitsukan) was established since 2010, a collaborative work by Ryue Nishizawa and Rei Naito. Teshima Art Museum in Teshima Island has transformed the waste island with the use of contemporary arts. An excellent example of what art can do and on how art can engage with the community. The relationship between art and the transformation of an environment has been considered as a complex issue as it underlies in the complexity of human relationships.

Artists living in cities dwellings often consider a different existing problem. The problem became a niche for artists to showcase their creativity and talent. It is often politically true and sound that each showcase or installation carries a piece of identity of the artist; the culture, the socioeconomic status, the struggle for Human rights, etc.

Piyarat Piyapongwiwat, a Thai artist (Lyla Gallery) was one of the invited speakers at the ArtStage debate and forum. Piyarat’s 2015 project presented at Pattaya in Thailand, messages from nowhere to nowhere was a collection of ‘voices’ from the residents; e.g. migrants, housekeepers, gardeners, bar owners and tourists. The ‘voices’ were then represented by and shaped into neon lights in public space such as tourist attraction sites. The process of her showcase involved negotiation and detailed explanation with the locals residing at the site of the exhibition. Using her artwork showcased on the walls of the city’s buildings, Piyarat aim to provide a better understanding of the blurred line drawn between individual frustrations and to follow the ground rules laid out by the state.

Piyarat’s approach to display her artwork under the starlight of Pattaya, in an open space, an open-space museum overlooking the streets and pedestrians. This approach is not a first-timer and definitely, it should not be the last.

Within the leaves, a sight of forest 

Tintin Wulia a young artist trained as an architect and music composing, is internationally recognized for artworks in socio-politics. TinTin has shown an exceptional creativity from her daily observations of socioeconomic problems. In her recent film production ‘Trade, Trace, Transit’, Tintin uses cardboard boxes to illustrate migrant workers in Hong Kong. With a slight motivation from the news of a self-made millionaire China’s ‘Queen of Trash’ (published by The New York Times, 2007), the film production was initiated in March 2015 and it will be completed in October 2016.

The film encompasses the multilayer network of things to everyday life. It includes affairs in a relationship, ice-breakers and arguments in friendships, and warnings and a penalty from Hong Kong Police for the use of cardboard boxes as an obstruction in public space.

What will be the rights for migrant workers? Will they ever have the right to vote? What will be the future of their next generation if they were to continue to live in Hong Kong? Or on a land that is faraway from their place of birth?

Transnational studies: Crossing the borders. Too much, or are we not doing enough?

Prof. Peggy Levitt, an expert in transnational and migration studies elaborated that migration is one of the most common trends in developing countries, and there are already countries which have already assigned lanes at the passport control borders for returning citizens visiting their homeland. This simp, and yet symbolic gesture is part of an understanding of individuals’ choice to extend national boundaries, e.g. business incentives.

Tintin said, ‘Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, made the best remark regarding the influx of Syrian refugees and migrants in Germany. Germans just have to cope with it.’

Good Art? Bad Art? Disappearing Languages?
Identity- the sense of belonging or being part of a community helps artists to create good, and if not, impressive artwork. Bad art is not necessary terrible, it is a work that lacks the determinants to drive popularity. A piece of artwork that is not socially accepted today, does not necessarily translate to a big no-no in the near future.

According to the 2013 UNESCO report, nearly half of 7000 living languages are expected to vanish by the end of the century, 2100. That is 84 years from year 2016, which equates to 1 language is expected to die per 14 days. Should we be worried?

‘Certain things outlived its usefulness,’ said Tintin and Prof. Levitt agreed with her comment.

In an environment where you were to choose between learning the new language or to be outcast by groups of people, it is a survival instinct to choose learning and adapting as the option.

‘Death is something that is a horrible concept or thought to think of,’ Tintin grew up in Indonesia and as an Indonesian Chinese there were more restrictions among the ethnic minorities than Indonesia today. For instance, Tintin never knew what Chinese New Year was until 1999 when the formerly appointed President Gus Dur reinstates Chinese rights to celebrate Chinese New Year.

There is no doubt that the ability to speak an additional foreign language is a bonus in the business world, but let’s not forget that there are circumstances for the need of survival instincts or a moment of desperation whereby assets have to outlived its usefulness.

Editor’s notes

  • At the 2016 ArtStage exhibition and forum, 33 speakers and more than 150,000 participants contributed and took part in the grand annual meet.
  • Ryue Nishizawa – established his architect firm with his co-founder Kazuyo Seijima in 1997. In 2010, they received the Pritzker Prize; making Ryue the second youngest recipient.
  • According to Ms Miami Kataoka, the Chief Curator of Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, in the 1960s, Japan considered contemporary art as the common language among the urban republic. Comparisons between contemporary arts and rural or classical arts should not be made as it is wrong to compare two artistic fields that are very different.
  • Since 2004, Indonesia has declared Chinese New Year as a National Holiday and it is celebrated annually.

Source: NaoRococo, Written by: NY Lin

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