The final forum in the All a Part series examined the idea of futures. This theme linked closely to the main focus of APT10, which was centred on the ‘future of art and the world we inhabit together’.1
Through emphasis on speculative, plural and imaginative connotations of futures, there was a chance to reflect on the way that themes of the future are entangled with art practice today, what the past can tell us about the future, and what the future of art means in the context of global threats such as climate change.
Two artists presented on their practices to the forum: the first was Fangas Nayaw and the second was Subash Thebe Limbu. Although both artists work through a different variety of media with different philosophical and theoretical underpinnings, there appeared to be a resonance that connected their practices and presentations. This can be seen in their attitudes and vantage points: looking to the future through hypothetical, imaginative frames.
For Fangas Nayaw, whose featured works were part of the Between Earth and Sky: Indigenous Contemporary Art from Taiwan exhibition at APT10, these modes of futurism are explored through speculative visions that combines the future with traditional practices; bringing them together to illustrate the malleability of culture through dance and performing arts. Ideas of movement therefore become important for articulating interpretations of the future.
This future [I have constructed] is about how I understand right now, and creates a future situation to make people understand [that] we have to really look closer at the culture … and the people who live with the culture.
- Fangas Nayaw
Subash Thebe Limbu argued similarly that ‘we need to imagine because of the status quo’; and that it is only through imagination that we can find the necessary tools and strategies to address societal issues through art, and find new ways of expressing sovereignty and autonomy. He argued that ‘We are not only trying to imagine an Indigenous futurism for Indigenous nations, but we’re also imagining a future for our friends.’ Offering his own speculative visions on art and the future, Subash uses the medium of science fiction and astrology as narrative devices: as tools to reimagine. In this way, the critical role that narratives play in shaping futures through art becomes visible; interplayed with ideas of ethics and climate justice.
Ideas of narration, movement and time explored in the artists’ presentations show the many ways that futures are made and remade through art practice. The panel session was therefore a chance to talk through these processes of ‘making futures’: questioning how we can collectively mobilise to imagine through art, how ideas of futurism link to questions of regionality, and how ideas shaped by colonial legacies can be destabilised through future-centred frameworks. Lee Paje considered the links between ideas of time, coloniality and creation myths as they relate to a bigger theme of monumentality. Monumentality represented the idea of Filipino creation myths; and future-centred practices mean an opportunity to rethink gender roles within these narratives: ‘I mine stories and retell them so they can open up and allow for non-normative histories and identities. Through this retelling, gender norms are undermined’.
This notion of monumentality gives an opportunity to think about what kind of future we would like to remember through art. Drawing on the findings from the previous two forums, it appears to be a future in which obscured histories receive critical attention, where art and society undergo a process of ‘reindigenisation’, where communities are given spaces to tell and narrate their own stories, and ways to reflect critically on the writing of history and the perspectives that are missing.
Prospects for a future art history were considered by Saubin Yap, who offered a number of important provocations on what a regional futurism looks like. Bringing the Indonesian/Malay idea of nusantara (meaning: the ‘outer islands’ within maritime Southeast Asia) to the discussion, he sought to examine what a nusantara futurism looks like. He argued that nusantara can be stretched from its origins in maritime Southeast Asia to encompass all of mainland Southeast Asia and the Oceanic region too, and that this extended map is a ‘vortex’ of porous geographic, historical and cultural influences. Through constructing a ‘vortex’ of futures, Saubin argued that it is possible to ‘playfully destabilise’ colonial narratives through these frames. Not only that, but there is also a chance to consider ‘how we share within the region’ through such a perspective.
These concepts of monumentality, futurism and unmapped ‘spinning’ regionalisms show some of the ways that futures can be reimagined through art, and how art histories can be reconstructed to contribute to this broader, future-centred project. It expands the possibilities for understanding art’s role in shaping society, and for acting as a bridge across cultural contexts. Questions of how sharing-through-art can connect us to the future are therefore one of the crucial issues to navigate, moving forward.
‘Walking backwards into the future’
Through the idea of ‘making futures’ and sharing, there is an opportunity to ask how much older, longer cultural ideas can be integrated into the framework of artistic futures. This was already discussed through references to colonial ideas around creation myths, monumentality, and the idea of nusantara (an Old Javanese term), as well as in the two artist presentations. However, the comments by Shannon Te Ao crystallised the ideas further. He cited the Maori phrase, ka mua, ka muri – which translates as ‘walking backwards into the future’ – as a central principle for looking to the past to inform the future. He stated that Maori history in New Zealand ‘stretches far beyond the length of colonisation’, and that ‘to realise that we’ve been here longer than our struggles have been here is one of the most empowering ideas for me to carry forward’. The importance of ‘walking backwards’ is seen in the need for cultural and language revitalisation, and through processes of rewriting history. As well as this, it is also connected to the environment, and the positions of place.
What we try to do is remember that we belong to the land, and that the land and the water are our ancestors. … Being oceanic, being symbiotic with the geography here is a very cogent and effective way of being, and reminds us of how to get along within this space, how to connect, and how to enjoy the spaces that we live in.
- Shannon Te Ao
Two arguments from previous sessions show us the importance of drawing on Indigenous knowledge to inform futures of art making: the first is the idea of ‘reindigenisation’ discussed by Vicki Lenihan in the ‘Communities’ forum, and the second is the idea of relational exchanges that are illustrated through ‘canoe cultures’, discussed by Vincente Diaz for the ‘Visibility/Invisibility’ forum. In drawing on ideas of relational reframing through art history and curatorship, there are ways to spotlight the stories centred on sharing and exchange, and illustrate regional connections that span across significant time-distances, geographies and cultures.
Key issue: Supporting emerging voices
How ideas of the future are made and remade through contemporary arts practice connect to bigger concerns about sustainability in the arts sector, and how emerging artists and arts professionals are supported to develop and realise their potentials in the future. Through the pandemic, there have been career disruptions across all levels of the arts sector throughout the region and the world. But for those who are at the beginning point of their careers, the impact has been of particular significance.
Through the disruptions of not just COVID-19, but climate change and other recent global events, artists have continued to use their practices to draw meaning from events, and connect through these experiences to a global audience. It is worth considering: what kinds of future-centred discussions might be prominent tomorrow, if there was greater visibility and opportunity – as well as a greater sense of artistic community – for those at the earlier stages of their careers? How might these perspectives provide us with new ways of understanding our current moment and our position in the world?
These questions are not separate to the concerns raised in the Futures forum, but rather, are entangled in the ways through which we give voice to new ideas and perspectives. It is seen in the practices of mining old stories to present new ones, of ‘playing with’ art, of teaching, of speculating and imagining, and the broader ideas of ‘walking backwards into the future’. All of these actions and processes help to support an arts ecology, and the types of critical ideas that emerge through this environment. This, in turn, feeds back into the community, continuing the cycle. Through finding ways to centre ideas of sharing and exchange within the arts ecosystem, there are ways to walk side by side with emerging and established voices, and to listen.
The three All a Part forums invited participants together for a sustained and extended conversation on the key issues that are influencing contemporary art practice within the Asia-Pacific region, and to consider, map, and speculate on what we might encounter as we move towards the future. Although many of the panellists had been involved in APT10 – or prior iterations of the APT project – the conversation extended beyond this exhibition, asking us to consider the meaning of making art, and the potentials for the future.
As the conversations progressed, the links between the forum themes became clearer. Not only were the three factors connected in one way or another, but the significance of this interdependence was also revealed. Curatorial and art-historical work can bring attention to new art practices; increasing visibility. In a region where collaborative ways-of-working are well established, the impact of visibility (or invisibility) in the gallery has the potential to also impact art-historical perceptions of communities and places. What types of issues are revealed to us through art, and why and how this is done, also has the potential to impact visibility. Ideas of sustainability – whether it is cultural, linguistic, environmental or artistic – links community concerns of the present to the possibilities or issues of the future.
How do we draw on the artistic resources of the present to navigate the future of art-making? This was a recurring theme across all three panels. For many participants, the question of futures and art practices indicated a need to offer decolonial (or ‘reindigenised’) perspectives, and to centre Indigenous knowledges from across the Asia-Pacific region in any attempt at reframing art history. These perspectives tie into ideas raised in the discussion about education, learning, and finding methodological frameworks for audience engagement that are not founded on Eurocentric models. The importance of storytelling was noted by several artists: as a way to share knowledge and cultural ideas, but to recover lost stories too. The idea of lost stories became an important one, as it ties into discussions from the first session: on the legacies of making-invisible in art history, and the structures that have underpinned it. But after these legacies of invisibility, there is also an opportunity to use curatorship to engage in a process of making art practices visible.
The need to reframe regional perspectives was another key topic. Through Vincente Diaz’s presentation in the first session, as well as later comments by Shannon Te Ao and Saubin Yap to the third forum, the way that relations across geographies are understood needs to be reframed. As several panelists noted, rather than following Eurocentric regions, there are opportunities to dissolve that map and replace it with a different kind: one centred on relationality. In this new map, there are opportunities to better understand how we can share and ‘play’ within the region.
Following each of the three forums, critical reflections were provided on an issue identified in each of the All a Part themes. The first forum demonstrated the ways that invisibility was tied to access, and the ways that access to opportunities can hinder visibility in the international art arena. The second forum – through its emphasis on community – examined ideas of care, both for communities and the world we live in. And the third forum illustrated the importance of finding new ways to support emerging voices at the start of their careers.
Yet through ideas of revitalising culture, repositioning regionalities and finding ways to share across borders, we are pointed to another key issue: that of sustainability. And it is precisely through practices of care, facilitating access, and amplifying the perspectives from new voices that we can enable sustainability of the arts for the next generation. Centring sustainability in arts practice – in whatever way it manifests – will therefore be crucial for building towards this future.
1. Subash Thebe Limbu, Yakthung people, Nepal/United Kingdom b.1981, NINGWASUM (video still) 2020-21, Single channel video: 40 minutes (approx.), colour, sound, 16:9, Purchased 2021. Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation, Collection: Queensland Art Gallery.
2. Fangas Nayaw, Amis people Taiwan b.1987, La XXX Punk (still) 2021 Four-channel video: 16:9, 30 minutes (approx.), sound, colour / Courtesy: The artist.
3. Lee Paje, The Philippines b.1980, The Stories that Weren’t Told 2019, Oil on copper mounted on wood / 243.8 x 300cm / Purchased 2021 with funds from Terry and Mary Peabody and Mary-Jeanne Hutchinson through the Queensland Art Gallery, | Gallery of Modern Art Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane.
4. Shannon Te Ao Ngāti Tūwharetoa Australia / Aotearoa New Zealand b.1978, Michael Bridgman Aotearoa New Zealand b.1976, Kurt Komene Te Ati Awa, Taranaki Whānui Aotearoa New Zealand b.1986, Maikuku (detail) 2020 Pigment inks on Hahnamuhle Photorag Ultra smooth / 92 x 239cm overall / Image courtesy: The artists.
Caitlin is a writer, curator and PhD researcher in Art History and Curatorship at the University of Melbourne. Her research focuses on contemporary Southeast Asian art in cross-cultural contexts, as well as on themes of play, futures, the environment and urban aesthetics in art from across the Asia-Pacific region. She completed a Bachelor of Art History and Curatorship (Honours, First Class) at the Australian National University in 2020.