Asia Triennial returns to the streets and galleries of Manchester and beyond

By Nick Owen | 03 October 2011
Desperately Seeking Paradise II
Rashid Rana, Desperately Seeking Paradise II (2010-11)© Rashid Rana
Event: Asia Triennial,various venues, Manchester, until November 27 2011

Opening on the hottest October weekend ever recorded, the uncharacteristic weather seemed to provide the perfect atmosphere for the return of the UK's only triennial.

The second since its inception in 2008, the Asia Triennial Manchester is a vibrant celebration of visual culture from one of the world’s most creative global hotspots.

40 international and UK artists are taking part this year, each tasked with creating artworks which focus on the theme of Time and Generation, expressed through gallery specific work, films, installations and playful gimmicks.

It appears the overarching ambition of the ATM is to challenge the stereotypical viewpoints of contemporary Asian artistic practice and Rashid Rana's multimedia exhibition at Cornerhouse, Everything is Happening at Once, confronts this problem head on.

Considered to be one of the most original artists currently working in South Asia, Rana, from Lahore, Pakistan, blurs the boundaries between two and three-dimensional forms.

Over three of Cornerhouse's galleries, Rana explores themes of dislocation, abstraction and flesh and blood and despite some interesting cubist still lives in Gallery One and Two, it's the deeply textured abstracts that immediately grab the viewer's attention.
 
From undulating, serene seascapes composed of thousands of images depicting urban decay, to a fine Persian carpet intricately woven from the unsettling images of a Lahore abattoir, the artist urges us to look deeper into the relationship between the fragment and the bigger picture. 

However, it is in Gallery Three that Rana has placed his show stealer, Desperately Seeking Paradise (2010-11).
 
Sisila
Tasawar Bashir, Brian Duffy and Tim O'Brien, Silsila (2011)© Nick Owen
A stunning large-scale sculpture, in which Rana has constructed the skyline of an imaginary high rise city, reveals thousands of smaller images depicting the low-rise houses of Lahore upon closer inspection.

In 2008, galleries such as Cornerhouse and others in the city centre provided the backbone for the ATM programme, but this year the Triennial reaches beyond Manchester’s city limits.

At Jodrell Bank's newly built Discovery Centre, the ATM reaches beyond the stars with Silsila, a Sufi-inspired cosmic journey in sound.

Artists Tasawar Bashir and Brian Duffy have worked with astrophysicist Tim O'Brien to create a qawwali-inspired sound installation based on the epic Sufi poem, Conference of the Birds.

Using the site's Lovell Radio Telescope, the artists have created an endless musical algorithm to translate data sourced from stellar events such as star formations, pulsars and solar flares.

The drones of the cosmos are combined with the voice of the greatest qawwali singer of the modern era, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, to produce a mind bending aural display.

Ger Project
Enkhbold Togmidshiirev, Ger Project (2011)© Nick Owen
Expanding on the theme of Time and Generation, the ATM also aims to tell the broader, epochal tale of migration.

The continuous movement of people around the globe has radically changed demographics, and given rise to a new 21st century politics of identity that has altered many of our perceptions of place, territory and belonging.

No other piece explores this idea to the extent of Enkhbold Togmidshiirev’s Ger Project.

Using a self-built version of a ger, a mobile living structure used by nomadic Mongolian families, this performance piece explores geographic and contextual shifts.

Beginning in Manchester Museum and later appearing at Islington Mill, the performance is a two-hour display of construction and destruction.

Despite using a prop central to nomadic living, and therefore staying perfectly in tune with the theme of the Triennial, points of the performance seem in danger of falling into exactly what the ATM is trying to avoid: stereotypicality. 

At the height of the piece Togmidshiirev sits in the centre of his ger and howls from behind a grey mask, then douses himself with milk.

With no point of reference it's hard to attribute what we are witnessing with any meaning, and you would be forgiven for thinking that the piece is simply here for its "otherness". 

A more tangible piece can be found at John Rylands Library, which hosts NS Harsha's Thought Mala or "spiritual garlands".

Made up of clay heads, the garlands are a reflection on how people spend their time in the gothic splendour of the Library.

Thought Garlands
NS Harsha, Thought Mala (2011)© NS Harsha
Harsha perceives the Library as a spiritual place of ritual and hopes visitors see it similarly as they borrow the garlands like a book – wearing them, handling them or simply contemplating them.

The standout show, however, is the Whitworth Art Gallery's Dark Matters, which combines the work of ten internationally acclaimed artists with ones which engage with ideas surrounding shadow, darkness and illusion drawn from the Whitworth's collection.

Two specially ATM-commissioned works by Ja-Young Ku and Hiraki Sawa are among the standouts in the "group show".

Seoul-based Ja-Young Ku's The Veil (2011) is a response to a world constructed by its interaction with digital communication, cyberspace and video games.

Using video, projection, sculpture and performance, he cleverly explores the relationship between the real and the illusory by reacting with the ghostly remnants of his former actions.

The Veil
Ja-Young Ku, The Veil (2011)© Nick Owen
In Did I? Hiraki Sawa similarly explores the boundaries of reality and imagination by using collage and cinematic illusion to transport the viewer into a dreamlike state. The film attempts to escape the structures of temporality by using the delicate movement of shadows, passing clouds and rotating forms to suggest the cycle of time. 
 
ATM is an ambitious undertaking that encompasses many forms and formats. The first week saw the ever-adventurous Chinese Arts Centre unleash a man dressed as a sheep pushing a ball of wool around the city centre. Dashka Patel's artworks have also appeared in lightboxes on the platforms at Piccadilly Station.

It's bold and adventurous curation that brings welcome, fresh perspectives on how art is experienced and perceived.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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