Things Entangling Exhibition guide
Born in 1973 in Melbourne. Lives and works in Melbourne.
Tom Nicholson uses drawing, film, installation, actions, and writing to engage with colonial histories of Australia that unfold in and outside of the country, and to critique its nation-state system. Through in-depth archival research and collaborative object making, he draws connections between different moments, places, and subjects to uncover layers of history or propose alternative historical trajectories.
Nicholson’s installation Comparative Monument (Shellal) (2014–17) imagines a repatriation of the Shellal floor mosaic, a Byzantine work from a sixth-century church with animistic iconography. After it was found near Gaza by Australian soldiers during World War I, it was removed and shipped to Australia and became the foundational object of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, embedded in the vertical wall of the Hall of Valour in 1941. In the work, Nicholson sheds light on another mosaic housed in the War Memorial, a golden dome symbolizing a monotheistic world and celebrating the spirits of those who died for the Australian nation, to compare the vastly different worldviews represented in the two artworks. Suggesting a symbolic repatriation of the Shellal mosaic to its original location, a site whose ownership is still subject to conflict, he proposes the production of a new Shellal mosaic using tiles from this dome, thereby inviting us to reflect on dominance, dislocation, repatriation, and political imagination.
Born in 1983 in Manila. Lives and works in London.
Deeply informed by the modern history of the Philippines, where the artist was born and raised, Pio Abad’s work, which ranges from drawing to textiles, installation, and photography, engages with the complexities of hegemonic power and its representation through objects. By appropriating symbols of power and evoking a sense of excess, the artist weaves together historical layers and present-day realities arising from forms of repression, rendering visible a critique of and solidarity with those who stand against injustice. The works presented here bring together traumatic legacies that continue to haunt the Philippines and Romania, questioning the limits of justice, and whether nations can ever fully resolve their painful pasts. The Collection of Jane Ryan & William Saunders (2014–19) consists of ninety-eight postcard reproductions of Old Master paintings that were once in the possession of the former dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, and his wife, Imelda Marcos. Article citations printed on the backs offer insight into the scale of the regime’s corruption, implicating a vast network of players from the worlds of art and politics. The title reflects the aliases that the Marcoses used for the Swiss bank account that held their ill-gotten wealth. Members of the public who visit the installation are invited to take the postcards away with them in a symbolic act of restitution.
Splendour (2019) is a set of eight photographs Abad took in Palatul Primaverii, the former residence of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu in Bucharest (which is now a museum), and the prison cell in Targoviste where the couple was held before their execution in 1989. Five of the eight are shown in this exhibition. The images convey the personal lives of the dictators, from the opulent interiors of their extravagant home to the thin lace curtain in the room where they spent their last day – the only hint of domesticity in the space where they met their end.
mixrice is an artists’ collective based in Seoul, originally established by four artists in 2002 including Jieun Cho. It was run by Jieun Cho and Chulmo Yang in 2006-2019, and currently by Jungwon Kim, Gyeol Ko and Jieun Cho since early 2020.
mixrice’s multidisciplinary practice spans from video, installation, and photography to performances that engage with migrants in Korea. Their works question the idea of community and belonging, critique society’s attitude toward difference, and articulate migrants’memories and the aspirations behind their border crossing.
The duo has also explored fauna and flora as yet other subjects that migrate – or are forced to migrate – due to urban and energy developments. Plants That Evolve (in some way or other) (2013) is based on this research. It consists of a two-channel video and fourteen photographs capturing various conditions in which plants survive in Korea after being displaced by urban development. While weaving narratives of plants’ journeys and displacements in the urban everyday, the work denounces the market forces of capitalism that have commodified the value of trees, once objects of worship.
The video also traces the market’s systemic violence that remains oblivious to the lives of those regarded as subordinate, be they plants or people. The artists view the resilience of plants surviving in daunting conditions, like elderly women who fight with their bare bodies against environmentally destructive energy developments, as acts of resistance. The work reflects mixrice’s continued commitment to engaging with and articulating the voices of those in society who are most often disregarded.
Born in 1987 in Princeton, New Jersey, and raised in Jerusalem. Lives and works in Berlin.
Working in film and sculpture, Jumana Manna explores how power relations play out in the inheritances of colonialism, and systems of sustenance in particular. Referring to the human body, archaeology, industrial structures, and cultural environments, her works are amalgamations marked by both specificities of place and dislocations.
The sculptural forms of the series Cache (Insurance Policy) (2018–19) evoke architectural fragments, displayed as archaeological findings supposedly extracted and displaced from their original settings. Their cabinet-like shapes are inspired by khabyas, traditional storage vessels that were a key feature of Levantine rural architecture – in a sense the ancestors of our modern refrigerators. Often built into a house’s interior, they stored and preserved seeds, grains, oil, and wine for families and village communities. With a large cavity on the top and a smaller one below for the bottling of grains, they were made of clay, slaked lime, cow dung, and hay.
By amplifying the openings of these forms, Manna gives her sculptures an anthropomorphic quality and a scale closer to that of the human body. The abstract interpretation of the khabyas' shapes influences our perception of them, opening up a space for reflection on how our habits, territories, and lineages are reflected in our bodies. Featuring grid structures that suggest contemporary storage methods, the installation emphasizes the transformations of systems of sustenance and knowledge from practices of survival to centralized economies of capital growth.
Born in 1975 in Tokyo. Lives and works in Berlin and Tokyo.
Asako Iwama’s background as both cook and artist has led her to organize a number of experimental workshops and field trips that explore the social dimensions of the production, distribution, and consumption of food. In her recent works, often produced in collaboration, Iwama speculates on social conditions and subjectivities by investigating the historical and technological transformation of the relationship between natural elements and humans.
Iwama’s new work, Pinocchio (2020), is one such project. It began when the artist came across the obscure fact that the Japanese army attempted to develop aviation fuel from pine roots toward the end of World War II. She researched the methods they used to render pine tree sap – fluid that is the tree’s life essence, providing its nutrition and healing its wounds – into fuel. She also researched the use of pine in France and Germany, where she resides, by physically engaging with the trees and methods of sap extraction: tracing the scars on the trunks, the impressions of workers’ gestures, the extraction tools, and the distillation devices.
The exhibition presents pieces produced during this investigation, rendered as an assemblage. The items allude the close relationship between pine trees and humans, while opening up the meaning of circulation, control and purification. Iwama appropriated the title from Carlo Collodi’s 1883 novel The Adventures of Pinocchio, which tells the story of a pine trunk that becomes a human child. She also depicts in a photopolymer print the “hermit of pine,” based on a mythical Taoist story in which hermits eat pine leaves to attain eternal life.
Referencing multiple narratives of alterity in the nexus between pine trees and humans, the work is an open invitation for speculation and imagination.
Born in 1935 in Tokyo. Lives and works in Tokyo.
Yukihisa Isobe began as a painter, with a particular interest in abstract forms and symbols, natural landscapes, and living things. After moving to the United States in 1965 to study natural sciences at the University of Pennsylvania, he became enamored with ecological planning – understanding and evaluating land use to ensure a better fit with human habitation. Isobe’s artistic practice utilizes iconography from that field, including technical drawings, graphics, and statistical symbols, and plans and mappings have become a constant motif in his work. Isobe’s pieces in this exhibition belong to different series that bring together his interests in abstract representation with the cataloguing of natural resources. Whereas the large work Wind Direction Undefinable (1998) depicts the multiple energy flows of the wind, metaphorically suggesting the constant transformations of our environment, a series of ecological planning maps originally produced for a government agency represent the Osaka Bay and Mount Rokko regions. On these maps, Isobe renders visible the different land layers as a creative means of understanding a region’s characteristic features, including earthquake danger areas. Personal Landscapes (2000–01) consists of interventions on local maps of different regions in France, using abstract and geometric shapes. The intent, in the artist’s words, is “not to capture the actual appearance of the landscape, but to subjectively decode the structure of its elements.”*
From his environmental inventories to his subjective landscapes, Isobe develops a universal cartographic language intertwining science and art in order to raise awareness about global warming, the depletion of natural resources, and soil pollution. His practice recalls the precious, merging, and reciprocal long-term relationship between a region’s environment, its natural processes, and its human activity, challenging the conventional opposition of nature “versus” culture.
*Kitagawa, Fram, "Towards the Origin of Art" Yukihisa Isobe: Environment, Image, Representation, Ichihara Lakeside Museum, Sep. 2013, p.3.
Born in 1978 in Hubei, China. Lives and works in Beijing.
Known for engaging with socioeconomic matters related to China’s immediate realities, Liu Chuang creates works that integrate readymades and social interventions across various mediums, from video to installation, architecture, and performance. He reflects on personal experiences of globalization and the sociopolitical systems underlying the everyday.
The three-channel video Bitcoin Mining and Field Recordings of Ethnic Minorities (2018) takes the form of a speculative journey, drawing lines between history and evolutions of technology, infrastructure, ecology, and finance. Mixing found footage and the artist’s own documentation, and intertwining anthropological insights and sci-fi imagery, the work first shows the building of early information networks in China, then connects current hydraulic projects with Bitcoin mines in the country, exploring the constant chain of exchange between energy and information. Chuang’s piece demonstrates how we are all embedded in systems and networks, and offers a convincing meditation on the destructive political impact of the race for energy resources on the Earth and society. But it also provides a message of self-empowerment, urging us to reconsider the geological surface, materials, and entangled memories of the Earth.
Born in 1978 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Lives and works in Paris.
Kapwani Kiwanga’s research-driven films, installations, and performances investigate marginalized or forgotten histories. By emphasizing the meaning of and cultural associations between certain objects or materials that have witnessed resistance struggles, her works reveal hidden authoritarian structures, institutional devices, and power imbalances.
The installation Rumours that Maji was a lie...(2014) explores the voids present within living memory as well as in the material traces of the Maji Maji Rebellion, an anti-colonial uprising that took place between 1905 and 1907 in German East Africa (now Tanzania). Triggered by the brutal labor conditions Tanzanians endured in cultivating cotton for export under the ruling German colonists, the rebellion was initiated by Kinjikitile Ngwale, a spirit medium whose practice incorporated animist beliefs. The work unfolds from a shelving system that functions simultaneously as a storage unit, an exhibiting structure, and a projection apparatus. It embodies storytelling in the form of a subjective archive that questions the classical way of organizing and categorizing knowledge. By intertwining testimonies and personal memories through found objects, books, fabrics, and videos, as well as the empty spaces in between, Rumours that Maji was a lie... underscores the necessity of looking back and revisiting an unresolved past that continues to haunt the present and the future.
Dale Harding with Hayley Matthew
Born in 1982 in Moranbah, Queensland, Australia. Lives and works in Brisbane, Queensland.
Dale Harding – a descendant of the Bidjara, Ghungalu, and Garingbal peoples of Central Queensland – investigates the social and political realities experienced by members of his family, especially his matrilineal elders. His work draws on the techniques, tools, and iconography still present among Australian Aboriginal cultures.
This new installation was conceived as a continuation of the series Know them in correct judgment (2017–), in which the artist underlines the static limitations of Western knowledge through the activation of inherited objects that bear witness to other types of knowledge – whether embodied, tactile, or interpersonal. Two items are inside a glass display case: a woomera, a carved wooden object that the artist inherited from his grandmother, and a book titled The Oral History of Mr. Tim Kemp, written by Harding’s uncle. Both appear inaccessible and mute within the case, while on the wall we see a composition where the woomera appears as a stenciled icon made with mouth-blown red ocher, a technique inherited from the artist’s ancestors.
Harding’s piece explores the relationships between an object, its representation, and the body, emphasizing the spiritual bond of ancestry within the body itself. Realized by the artist in collaboration with his cousin, Hayley Matthew, this act is also the result of a shared process in which they exchanged memories of their elders and enumerated how they are still present in their lives. Both personal and collective, Harding’s practice questions the heritage of his community and how to perpetuate its continuity, while rendering life and meaning to ancestral objects now relieved of their function in colonial discourse.
The Propeller Group and Superflex
The Propeller Group was established in 2006 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Superflex is an artist group founded in 1993 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The collective platform the Propeller Group examines political and social issues related to Vietnam’s tumultuous past, the residual effects of the Cold War, and the rise of neocolonialism. They often collaborate with Superflex, a Danish artist group committed to social and economic change. Through different modes of representation, from TV series to video installations, the two groups dig into the potentialities of objects and artifacts haunted by historical narratives, revealing through cultural exchange and value assignment the premises of colonialism. The collaboratively made video piece FADE IN: EXT. STORAGE-CU CHI-DAY (2010) shows a conversation between a FedEx agent and a member of the Propeller Group regarding the seizure of a shipment of fake weapons intended as props for Porcelain, a television series produced by the group. Broadcast in Vietnam in 2010, the show depicted the journey of the first consigned shipment of Southeast Asian porcelain destined for Europe in the seventeenth century. What begins as a mundane conversation about a shipment turns into a more philosophical discussion around issues of cultural identity and authenticity, appropriation, colonialism, and the rereading of history.
Born in 1976 in Tokyo. Lives and works in Tokyo.
Hikaru Fujii utilizes film to bridge art and activism. Inspired by specific historical moments and social issues related to systems of dominance, he creates various forms of dialogue in order to document tensions and seek out discourse and critique.
Fujii’s new work, The Anatomy Classroom (2020), consists of a forty-minute film and a set of objects, including fossils and everyday tools. The film reveals that the objects have been removed from a museum, where they were once part of a collection that the curator had developed over twenty years to represent the local community and its long history on the land. After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, the objects were evacuated from the museum, which is located in the “difficult-to-return zone,” to avoid radioactive contamination and biological damage, and have remained elsewhere to date. Fujii has been closely following the movements of these historical objects, while organizing visits to the site and hosting discursive events on the crisis of memory and culture.
The film captures one such dialogue, held in the anatomy classroom of the National School of Fine Arts in Paris. The speakers ruminate on the experience of visiting the empty museum, sharing reflections on what they saw and questioning one another regarding how a catastrophe can be represented, and by who. More importantly, they discuss the significance of cultural and philosophical practices – including the preservation of objects – in engaging with catastrophes in the past and the future while uncertainties continue to haunt the present. The work is at once a documentation of activities organized and filmed by Fujii and an extended platform to share the discourses and perspectives that emerged in the process, all intended to prompt the present audience to question how they perceive objects of catastrophe.
Born in 1982 in Bucharest, Romania. Lives and works in Bucharest.
Alexandra Pirici’s ongoing actions and performative works use embodiment to explore history, the production of meaning, and invisible structures of power. Through movement – specifically of the body, whether physically or virtually present – they reread historical and art historical narratives, turning objects into actions via enactments or living sculptures, and resituating abstraction in the living body.
Furthering the artist’s ongoing inquiry into the economy and circulation of artworks, Parthenon Marbles (2017) is an immaterial version of the famous sculptural ensemble embodied by performers. This action addresses the value of the sculptures as cultural capital in a legal and financial sense. The Parthenon Marbles are classical Greek sculptures that were originally part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Athens Acropolis. A major portion of them have been held at the British Museum since 1816, and Greece has consistently sought their repatriation since it gained independence from Turkey in 1832. Pirici’s action proposes that this ongoing dispute can serve as a metaphor for, and entry point into, a larger discussion about capital, accumulation, circulation, redistribution, and the role of the arts in today’s economy. Complemented by research into the sculptures’legal and financial status, Parthenon Marbles offers a speculative journey into a “what if” scenario of return.
✳ For the dates of the performative action, please visit the MOT website.