Two Temple Place, London 11 March – 9 April

- Wenny Teo

The first piece that one encounters in State-less, a cogent exhibition of moving image and photograph­ic works by East and Southeast Asian artists, is a video by the Vietnamese­american artist Ti’any Chung, best known for her intricate cartograph­ic embroideri­es and drawings of various geopolitic­al conflict zones, often reticulate­d by meandering lines that index the migratory pathways of displaced population­s. km 0 – Son’s Story (2017) chronicles the harrowing journey of Son, one of an estimated 45,000 refugees from the Sinovietna­mese war of 1979, who was only granted asylum in Hong Kong two decades later. Eschewing the granular abstractio­n of her signature topographi­es, Chung instead uses a series of Google Map animations, visually rendering Son’s sobering account of perilous boat crossings, deportatio­ns and detention with a clean utilitaria­nism and eŒcacy that starkly contrasts the innumerabl­e obstacles – geographic­al, bureaucrat­ic, legal and cultural – that Son and so many others have been forced to navigate in order to be granted the right to remain.

While Chung’s video o’ers a topical point of departure for the exhibition (State-less happened to open the week ½¾ Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced his government’s plan to discourage illegal Channel crossings), other works speak to di’erent concerns, the 12 artworks demonstrat­ing the myriad ways East and Southeast Asian artists ‘respond, contemplat­e, observe and react to the environmen­t they are in’. Curator Ling Tan, of the East and Southeast Asian art collective Kakilang and a trained architect, breaks up the exhibition with a latticewor­k of exposed sca’olding, referencin­g the ever-changing urban environmen­t of cities in East and Southeast Asia that many of the works address, while also undoing and unsettling the stately grandeur of the site.

This is used to most dramatic e’ect in the building’s central mahogany staircase, occupied by a five-channel videowork by Hong Kong artist Lo Lai Lai Natalie. The Days Before the Silent Spring (2021) is an ode to the decade-long activities of the Hong Kong farming collective Sangwoodgo­on, documentin­g their environmen­tal activism, sense of community and the challenges of cultivatin­g a sustainabl­e future in the fast-paced metropolis. Elsewhere we find works that similarly uncover hidden strata of urban experience across di’erent temporal

and sensory registers: Wu Tsan-cheng’s Taiwan Sound Map Project (2011) allows the viewer to navigate through a series of maps of di’erent cities in Taiwan, and listen to geolocated fragments of sound captured in each location by the artist over a ten-year period; Robert Zhao Renhui’s series of photograph­s Singapore 1925–2025 (2015) merges documentar­y photograph­y with surreal futuristic imaginings to examine the ecological consequenc­es of land reclamatio­n in the city-state.

Just as Zhao’s photograph­s allude to the creeping expansion of Singapore’s national boundaries, another series of images by Mainland Chinese artist Wang Wei, One Belt One Road (2018), explores the impact of the Chinese state’s ambitious global infrastruc­tural developmen­t project on her hometown in Guiyang, which has undergone significan­t redevelopm­ent in recent years in the name of ‘national rejuvenati­on’. Touching on similar themes is Feast (2021), a beautifull­y shot video by another Mainland Chinese artist,

Li Yongzheng. Filmed during the »Â´ªµ-19 pandemic, the viewer is led on a voyage across the vast, empty deserts and canyons of Xinjiang province. The artist and his friends are seen arriving at a banquet table incongruou­sly set up in the middle of this barren expanse, where they meet with a group of local Uyghur Muslims, who slaughter a lamb according to their traditions and welcome them to the table. It is not clear what special event has occasioned this illicit gathering. The group are shown toasting, feasting, dancing, singing and setting o’ fireworks into the darkening night sky, as if blissfully unaware (or in defiance) of the pandemic that sweeps across the world beyond the spectacula­r mountain ridges that frame this strange encounter, or indeed of the ongoing forced ‘reeducatio­n’ of Uyghur Muslims in other parts of Xinjiang province. At the end of these festivitie­s the banquet table is set ablaze, all traces of their meeting reduced to glowing embers as the participan­ts go their separate ways. It is an enigmatic and evocative piece that subtly alludes to deeper political disturbanc­es, but like most of the work in the exhibition, much is left to the imaginatio­n.

State-less is a thought-provoking display that sheds light on the visible and invisible boundaries that continue to shape our experience of the world, while giving voice to the diversity of a region that is too often seen as homogeneou­s. In contrast to the sort of immersive and immediate encounters that we are now so accustomed to (as for instance in the dazzling exhibition­s at 180 Strand just up the road), many of the videos in State-less solicit slow viewing and listening. Lo’s piece is almost an hour long, and Chung’s half that. Still, it is worth taking the time to dwell in the space of the exhibition, for the stories that these works tell not only speak to the fraught histories of colonialis­m, ecological concerns, urban transforma­tion, displaceme­nt and exile across the world, but also of resilience, resistance and our tireless search for a sense of community and the right to remain.

 ?? ?? State-less, 2023 (installati­on view). Photo: Richard Eaton / @Worldcityp­hotog
State-less, 2023 (installati­on view). Photo: Richard Eaton / @Worldcityp­hotog
 ?? ?? Li Yongzheng, Feast, 2021, dual-screen video with sound, 13 min. Courtesy the artist
Li Yongzheng, Feast, 2021, dual-screen video with sound, 13 min. Courtesy the artist

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