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Art And Society

In the Midst of Chaos, Art must go on

Sanghee Kim

Dec 29, 2021

Over two years ago now, what we know to be the first case of infection from SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) was discovered. Not to make any geological or racial discriminations, it is also important to note that the original source of viral transmission to humans is still unclear. However, there is evidence that suggests that Covid-19 has a zoonotic source; meaning, the virus is transmitted between animals and humans. One of the possibilities is that while destroying the wildlife, humans come in contact with animals that may carry the disease. Although the relationship between humans and nature have long been discussed, the current pandemic has brought more environmental issues to the surface. 


Ackroyd & Harvey, Beuys’ Acorns, 2021
© Tate / Photo by Seraphina Neville



Exhibitions around the world have reflected on the subject of our surrounding environment since the outbreak of the pandemic. The artist duo Ackroyd and Harvey planted 100 oak trees outside Tate Modern, with the title, Beuys' Acorns, which remained there until Nov 14, 2021. These 100 young oak trees were offsprings of 7,000 oak trees Joseph Beuys planted around Kassel, Germany, under the project titled 700 Oaks (1982-1987). The living sculpture installation was intended to be a place to gather and have dialogues about our relationship with nature. The project provided a chance to reflect on our behaviour towards the environment and ask ourselves if we have done enough for the past 30 years, the years between the two projects. 



Installation view of Minds Rising, Spirits Tuning, the 13th Gwangju Biennale (featured works by Pacita Abad, Seyni Camara, and Jumaadi)
Courtesy of the 13th Gwangju Biennale / Photo by Sang tae Kim



Biennale around the world have responded to the interesting and strange times we are living in. For the 11th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, The Crack Begins Within (Sep 5 - Nov 1, 2020), artists developed ways to articulate solidarity towards those vulnerable, and create resistance together with the city and people of Berlin. Traumatic events and loss of loved ones often make people question their existential beliefs, whether to find a way to heal or create a community to support each other in hard times. The 13th Gwangju Biennale titled Minds Rising, Spirits Tuning (Apr 1 - May 9, 2021) reflected the contemporary phenomenon of communal solidarity and global alliances. Sharjah Biennales has titled its 15th edition, Thinking Historically in the Present, which will open in February 2023 after two postponements due to the pandemic; 30 artists were commissioned to ‘explore histories that continue to shape our present’, giving the artists and the audience the chance to recognize immediate concerns in our society. The 15th Documenta, which is due to open during the months of June - September, 2022, has its core value in collectivity, sharing, and equal allocation in the context of sustainability; in all which will reflect on the artistic collaboration in the exhibition. 


Whether it is economic or racial, social gaps have also been magnified and the importance of solidarity of communities was highlighted. Although everyone is at risk from Covid-19 to a certain extent, there is an inequality in the magnitude of the suffering; or the chances of being exposed to the virus varies depending on the socioeconomic status. Policies such as mandatory lockdowns have impacted different social groups disproportionately, especially their mental health. 



Bosco Sodi, Tabula Rasa, 2021, in Washington Square Park, New York
Courtesy of Studio Bosco Sodi



Bosco Sodi installed Tabula Rasa at Washington Square Park in New York on May 23, 2021; the public artwork and performance were presented just for the day. 439 clay spheres with three types of seeds, which are known to sustain and nourish each other, in the middle; corn, squash and bean. Passerby New Yorkers were invited to take a sphere away and plant it to grow the seeds, extending the project into their home. The public site-specific sculpture symbolized the community cooperation that we need especially in hard times. The number of the sphere also referenced to one day of the pandemic’s duration at the time. 


Some exhibitions were more directly related to the pandemic with their curatorial approach. Care | Contagion | Community - Self & Other (Sep 23, 2021 - Feb 12, 2022) at Autograph, London was initiated during the first lock down in the UK in March 2020. Although the word “contagion” now makes us think about virus-filled diseases that spread between people, the original meaning was “together” and “to touch”, conjuring a more positive image. The exhibition was commissioned to explore deeper layers of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic; other than what can be seen on the surface. Looking at a wide range of subjects from belonging and grief, the ten UK-based artists critically reflect their personal experiences that can be universally related. 


After much confusion and trying to navigate what has become a new reality during 2020, year 2021 has been a strange one too say the least; but at the same time, it has also been a year where we have seen a glimpse of hope that things might get back to a new normal with more art spaces welcoming back visitors, including major art fairs. Note, a new normal, because according to the experts, the Covid-19 pandemic is said to be “endemic”, meaning that the virus will settle into a steady rate that relatively small pool of people will spread the virus to others like common colds and seasonal flu. We have all had colds and one or two flu, but Covid still feels alien to us and it will take time to get used to living with it. 


The pandemic has had a profound impact on the arts and other cultural sectors around the world; from revenues to the way people connect. Tate for example only had 7% of its normal visitors in 2020/2021. For this reason, it has been an absolute treat to archive over 300 high quality exhibitions between 2020 and 2021 from around the world, especially at a time when travelling is restricted. In the midst of chaos, art still played an important role in being the mirror of our society, and it must carry on. As a way to look back, the following selection of exhibitions are in the themes that reflect the past two years; as well as giving the opportunity to look forward to the new normal that we all have to live together in. 



The Covid-19 Pandemic

/ Valerie Hegarty, Gone Viral at Malin Gallery, New York (Sep 28 - Nov 23, 2021) 


Valerie Hegarty, Fresh Start (The Covid Diaries Series), 2021
Courtesy of the artist and Malin Gallery, New York


A solo exhibition titled Gone Viral, by Valerie Hegarty presented a body of work from her Covid Diaries series, which was inspired by the artist’s personal journal entries from the onset of the pandemic to the present. Although Hegarty’s works come from her own experiences of trauma, the exhibition addressed the social injustice that has been even more amplified by the Covid-19 pandemic. Through Gone Viral, Hegarty drew attention to the fact that the current political turmoil is not a recent phenomenon, but one that stems back to America’s founding and history. 



/ Jay Samit, America Disrupted at Richard Taittinger Gallery, New York (Sep 30 - Oct 18, 2020)


Jay Samit, Heroes, 29 April 2020
Courtesy of the artist and Richard Taittinger Gallery, New York


An inaugural New York solo exhibition of Jay Samit titled America Disrupted included artworks that the artist painted to cope with the isolation due to the Covid-19 quarantine. The works are a response to the current disruption in everyday lives, in which no-one is sure whether it will go back to “normal” as daily routines have been forcefully altered. Layered with personal experiences and contextualized in a bigger political realm, Samit highlighted the repeat of history while politicians try to take advantage of the situation while hundreds of thousands of Americans die from the infection. 



/ Ricardo Mazal, Full Circle at Sundaram Tagore, New York (Nov 12 - Dec 19, 2020)


Installation view of Full Circle at Sundaram Tagore, New York
Courtesy of Sundaram Tagore, New York


Some artists have responded to the situation by taking the opportunity to spend more time with their families and loved ones. A solo exhibition by Ricardo Mazal titled Full Circle, shows how a body of work can come from revisiting a series of work with the support of the loved ones in tough times. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Mazal was not able to create work the way he used to, which is by traveling for inspiration. The artist instead invited one of his daughters to the studio to assist in the preparatory phase of his work. This process not only gave Mazal the motivation to work again and create a beautiful body of work, but also gave him the gift of time to spend with the family.  





/ Teresita Fernández, Maelstrom at Lehmann Maupin, New York (Nov 12, 2020 - Jan 23, 2021)


Installation view of Maelstrom at Lehmann Maupin, New York 
Courtesy of Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London 
Photo by Elisabeth Bernstein


In her solo exhibition Maelstrom at Lehmann Maupin in their New York venue, Teresita Fernández presented a new series of monumental sculptures and installations, visualising devestations and violence caused by colonisation, especially focusing on the ecological destruction in the Caribbean islands. The exhibition revealed the wealth that was gained on the expenses of the indigenous people, and the extraction of natural resources. Using mixed media, Fernández created images of catastrophic weather and natural disasters as metaphor to reflect on the turmoil the local people and the surrounding environment have been subjected to systemic oppression. 



/ Hyunsoo Kim and Jaewon Jung, Forest of Wonders at Hanwon Museum of Art, Seoul (Jun 10 - Jul 30, 2021)


Hyunsoo Kim, Moment of Eternity, 2021 
Courtesy of the artist


In the two-person exhibition Forest of Wonders at Hanwon Museum of Art, Hyunsoo Kim and Jaewon Jung explore the concept of nature as a world in the context of artificiality, harmony, and memories. In the exhibition, Kim depicted his hometown, Jeju Island, which is surrounded by stunning nature; and for that reason it is one of the most popular retreat destinations in Korea. Perhaps the island Kim used to know when he was growing up is not the same any more due to the development of resorts, cafes, and restaurants for tourists, hence contextualizing the body of work in connection with childhood memories. By contrast, Jung’s paintings are of considerations of the urban ecosystem where reality and ideals coexist; possibly referring to the relationship between us and the environment. The exhibition consolidated the appreciation for greenery and its function, yet encourages us to reflect on ourselves about what we sometimes take for granted. 





/ Tomashi Jackson, The Land Claim at Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill (Jul 11 - Nov 07, 2021) 


Installation view of Vessels of Light (From Jeremy, Juni, and Steven), 2021
Courtesy of Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill


Tomashi Jackson’s solo exhibition titled The Land Claim was centered around both the historic and contemporary lives of Indigenous, Black, and Latinx communities on the East End of Long Island in New York. Through paintings, textile works, sculptures and video works, the exhibition reflected on the socioeconomic issues including migration and livelihood of the communities. The Land Claim also acted as a platform for dialogue as part of the museum's educational programs; investigating the recent histories of displacement and disenfranchisement of people of color.  



/ Azzah Sultan, Anak Dara at Trotter & Sholer, New York (Sep 10 - Sep 27, 2020)


Installation view of Anak Dara at Trotter & Sholer, New York 
Courtesy of Trotter & Sholer, New York


Interested in issues around identity related to culture and migration, Azzah Sultan challenged the fallacious argument that all Muslim women are oppressed by the nature of their religious customs, in her solo exhibition titled Anak Dara. The exhibition was also an attempt to revisit the term Anak Dara, which translates to “virgin” in Malay, but it is also commonly used to describe “young unmarried girl”. Sultan investigated the term in a contemporary context as it carries assumptions about women; both in Malay and in English. The exhibition provided a platform for the audience to reflect themselves in the images Sultan created about gaze and otherness. 



/ Zanele Muholi, Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong (May 18 - Aug 15, 2021) 


Installation view of Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong 
Courtesy of Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong


An exhibition showing a photographic body of work by Zanele Muholi titled Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness consisted of a collection of self-portraits that Muholi has been working on since 2012. Through taking photographs of themself around the world with different costumes, Muholi explored the politics of representation and the gaze towards the “black face” in the exhibition. Audience is often mesmerised by the way Muholi looks back at them, creating an atmosphere that they are the subject of exoticisation. The exhibition questioned the power relation between people and how it is deeply rooted in the way people are represented in the society. 



Beyond borders


/ Yangachi, Galaxy Express at Barakat Contemporary, Seoul (Oct 15 - Dec 27, 2020)


Installation view of Galaxy Express at Barakat Contemporary, Seoul 
Courtesy of Barakat Contemporary, Seoul


With the entrance of Barakat Contemporary as a border, the solo exhibition by Yangachi titled Galaxy Express transported the audience into a space where past, present, and the future all exist in the same realm. The exhibition explored the duality of real and virtual through installations of symbolic objects and video work that test the boundaries, and visualising the possibilities of the world beyond what we already know. The color tone of the exhibition was also warm, despite the purple metallic exterior, giving the healing properties on a spiritual level while presenting a highly technological aesthetic.  



/ “Orbital Resonance” Welcome Back at Space ISU, Seoul, curated by Enna Be and Sung woo Kim (Dec 03, 2020 - Jan 29, 2021)

Installation view of “Orbital Resonance” Welcome Back at Space ISU, Seoul
Courtesy of Space ISU, Seoul


“Orbital Resonance” Welcome Back curated by Enna Be and Sung woo Kim showcased works by 11 artists. Given the uniqueness of the exhibition space, the exhibition embraced the conditions of the environment through fictional narrative, rather than applying aesthetic language. The title of the exhibition is astronomical and cosmic, an existence that is known to be true, yet seems far from reality. By exploring layers of the concept of space-time, both in reality and perceived time, “Orbital Resonance” Welcome Back offered a moment of tranquility in the midst of trying to make sense of the confusing moment in human history, all the while questioning the function of art. 


/ Curtain at Para Site, Hong Kong (May 15 - Jul 25, 2021)


Installation view of Curtain at Para Site, Hong Kong 
Courtesy of Para Site, Hong Kong 


Curtain was a curatorial presentation of existing and newly commissioned works as well as site-specific installations by 24 artists over two exhibition venues (Para Site’s main venue and Soho House). The title comes from an everyday object that is used to either create borders in a space or to hide behind; hinting that the exhibition dealt with concepts related to border and visibility. As well as giving the curatorial context to the exhibition, the concept of a “curtain” is also aesthetically weaved throughout the exhibition. The exhibition also attempted to offer a path into the future, by looking back at forgotten histories and collective memories, with a desire that the post pandemic world does not have to be so disastrous if we make informed decisions and learn from the past. 



We hope you enjoyed the selection of exhibitions. Although the exhibitions have now ended in their physical spaces, you can still visit them via eazel’s Immersive VR exhibitions. Simply click on each image and we will take you there. For more exhibitions othe than mentioned above, please click here