Edmund Lee talks to the Hong Kong-based artist duo about their AAA project, Atlas of Asia Art Archive.
It’s only logical that MAP Office, the Hong Kong-based artist duo of Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix, is tasked with mapping the collection of Asia Art Archive on an ‘atlas’. As a conclusion to their residency at the archive – and in line with their ongoing enquiry into the idea of territories – the artists have come up with an installation, Atlas of Asia Art Archive, which designates 111 ‘destinations’ in the archive’s collection. It is, in the words of Portefaix, functioning ‘like those travelling brochures you find in a motel to guide you in a very complex region’. The project will soon be supplemented by a website, on which readers can navigate the atlas in an interactive way, as well as a lecture and performance programme next month, for which a roster of Hong Kong and regional artists have been invited to take part in a dialogue. The exhibit will then travel to Brisbane, Australia, and be presented at the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art. Gutierrez and Portefaix speak to Time Out at AAA.
What was the topic that you set out to investigate with this project?
LG: The material [has been] here within the archive [from the beginning]. By understanding the logic of the archive, we came to the conclusion that its centre of gravity is [the subject of] artistic production. Our residency would address and put the artistic production in its centre. That was our preliminary statement. We selected projects that exist within the archive and that address issues of territories, documenting them one by one, and only after that we started to establish relationships and see the commonalities between different artists.
How did you pick the 111 artists represented in this exhibit?
VP: We very simply started to look all around us, starting with Ni Haifeng’s [exhibition monograph] No-Man’s-Land… [laughs] because it has [an] eye-catching spine. When you’re right here, [you wonder] where to start. There are thousands of books.
Did you spend hours and hours going through all of them?
LG: Yes. [Both laugh]
VP: We spent four months going through all the books. We first looked for artists working with territories as a basis of their work and then, because many artists [who are] working with territories work on many territories, we started to think which is the one [territory] representing something important in [each artist’s] career. Like for Cai Guo Qiang, we picked this place in Japan called Iwaki where, at some point, he emigrated [to] from China and started to observe the trade between China and America, working with Pan-Pacific ideas; and like Ni Haifeng again, who’s rethinking trade systems as a Chinese immigrant in Europe. All those moves [by the artists] are very much influencing the vision of Asia and making it more organic.
In the work of MAP Office, the concept of territories is not just a geographical one but much wider. Can you elaborate on that?
LG: It started with a geographical concept – I mean, there’s a geographical concept even in the title of this institution [Asia Art Archive] – but you’re right that it doesn’t remain only that. We’re questioning the idea of cultural production; the best way to learn is to expose oneself to another culture. The atlas is the first element to help travellers to go to another place and learn. I mean, it’s not only the geography of the physical space but it’s also the human geography and a kind of cultural geography. One additional thing is: for every territory [in our project] we rewrite and reinvent them; [with that] we’re addressing ideas of poetics and of narrative – beyond geography itself.
What’s the significance of this mix of fact and fiction for your project?
VP: First, our research is non-scientific – we’re not defining what Asia is. And we chose not to show any images of those territories; we’re using the basis of the archive – the text books. We were discussing with many friends about this and they said: “If you know about the project of Cao Fei’s RMB City and you read the text [in our exhibit], you’ll have this image of RMB City in your mind; but if you don’t know the project, basically you’re building up another image, which is not something Cao Fei developed.” We somehow relate that to, for example, Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities: when you read [the text], you have all those images of [different imaginary] cities that come into your mind. So I think that’s the way each territory in the [project] brochure is ‘refictionalised’.
MAP Office’s installation Atlas of Asia Art Archive is at Asia Art Archive until Oct 20. The corresponding conversation and performance programme, Performing the Archipelago, is at Spring Workshop Oct 12 & 13. For updates, visit aaa.org.hk.