Third Realm – an otherworldly Asian art experience

Lu Yang, Still from Wrathful King Kong Core, 2011 | Photo courtesy of Lu Yang

An exciting collection of contemporary artworks by sixteen East and Southeast Asian artists will be on exhibit at North Vancouver’s Polygon Gallery from Sept. 4–Nov. 8.

Aptly named The Third Realm, the exhibition’s namesake is a Buddhist concept as well as a description of an otherworldly and in-between space, according to project curator Davide Quadrio. The artworks explore the use of rituals to investigate the liminal (transitional) spaces – between past and present, local and global, secular and sacred – to uncover the “third realms” that lie in between.

The exhibition came from Quadrio’s FarEastFarWest project from 2004 to 2019 which focused on non-commercial artworks about Asia with a time-based perspective and elements of performance or durative actions.

“Quadrio has lived in China for 25 years; he has an in-depth view of Asian art. He wants this whole project to reflect the complexity of Asia,” says Helga Pakasaar, Audain Chief Curator at the Polygon Gallery. “One of his themes was about this period when there were so much economic activities and important changes that unsettled stable national identities. There are a lot of shifting ideas about what it means to be an Asian artist.”

Juxtaposing opposites

Jompet Kuswidananto, Third Realm Venice Series #2, 2011, installation piece. | Photo courtesy of Jompet Kuswidananto

The exhibition’s titular piece, made by Indonesian artist Jompet Kuswidananto, is a ghost-like installation of horse saddles and bodiless figures in colonial military uniforms that are used in festival parades. With surrounding video and sound effects, this theatrical work reflects the tension of Indonesia’s past and present, as Kuswidananto reflects on the impact of the country’s colonial history on its modern national identity.

Modernization and technology also inevitably influence traditions, says Pakasaar. Artists Paolo Pivi and Lu Yang explore this idea through Tibetan Buddhist rituals. Pivi compiles a photographic archive of Tibetan Buddhist tulkus, the recognized reincarnations of previous Buddhist masters, in the last 150 years. By exhibiting these photographs, Pivi suggests that the gallery itself can become a sacred place. Lu Yang, a Chinese digital artist and filmmaker, uses the latest technology in brain mapping to produce videos of animated Tibetan Buddhist deities, thus conflating the secular world of science and the traditional world of religion.

“During the last two decades, there was the intense thrust of globalization. Some of these artists are looking at traditional symbols that are very culturally specific but messing with them in a way to bring in contemporary media that are sometimes very high tech,” Pakasaar adds.

She says one of her favorites in this exhibition is the installation piece by Singapore artist Heman Chong. The conceptual artwork is composed of a million solid black business cards scattered throughout the gallery space, an allegory to the hollowness of rituals in capitalist exchanges. The piece is appropriately named Monument to the people we’ve conveniently forgotten (I hate you).

The exhibition also has a significant representation of Chinese contemporary artists. Juxtaposing traditional and modern elements, their artworks usually satirize historical and social issues unique to China during its rapid economic transformation.

For example, artist Cao Fei created a fictitious RMB city by combining iconography associated with the Cultural Revolution with representations of urban development, critiquing rampant consumerism while highlighting the tension between past and present in a new China.

The exhibition also showcases artists from Thailand, the Philippines, Japan, and Korea.

“Some artists are already very key figures in Asian art, and others are a younger generation that is not so well-known. It is the combination that is really interesting,” says Pakasaar.

Polygon’s new digital initiatives

Paola Pivi, Tulkus, 2012–ongoing. | Photo courtesy of Paola Pivi

With changing circumstances since COVID-19, Pakasaar says the gallery is increasing its efforts to make art accessible to its audience.

“We will have a webinar for the exhibition on Sept. 12, with an interview with the Curator Quadrio, and there will also be a series of short YouTube pieces introducing the artists,” says Pakasaar.

The additional media content is also an extension of the new podcast project that the gallery launched since lockdown, to help the community stay connected with exciting local and global artworks.

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