ISSUE 9 Curating Against Forgetting
Memories of Underdevelopment: Revisiting Curatorial Methods and the Asian Context
An Eurasian Epistolary: Reflections from a Decade Past
On the Asia Art Archive’s online repository, one can still read the once heated intellectual correspondence back in May 2013 between the Pakistan-British artist Rasheed Araeen, and Chen Kuan-hsing, a Taiwanese left-wing cultural theorist. Notably, this lively exchange was ignited by Araeen’s critical reception toward Chen’s seminal opus, Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization (2010) that recognized as a rarity within the landscape of East Asia. In Araeen’s letter, he highlights the cooption of Postcolonial Studies by exemplifying how British Cultural Studies got involved with the allocation of government funding for arts and culture. This assimilation aligns with the state’s multiculturalism agenda but curtails the potential for de-imperialization. Araeen argues that progress lies in advocating for struggle and engaging in art practice in order to prevent the vulnerability of intellectual work to power dynamics. While the constraints of Postcolonial Studies did constitute a central concern discussed in Asia as Method, Chen proposes a reorientation of the analytical framework, emphasizing the unique complexities of Asia, and promoting the development of “Asian studies in Asia.”1 In response to this proposition, Araeen challenges Chen’s inclination to overestimate the impact of the Cold War, emphasizing that the endeavor towards anti-imperialism requires a dedicated site that offers a critical framework, rather than relying on regional identities as a method that may be deemed too “ambiguous and general”:
It does not lead us into a concrete discourse by which we can confront the particularity of neo-imperialist knowledge and produce counter-knowledge. Instead, I would propose Art as Method, because it is art by which modernity as an advancing force is defined with its exclusive European subjectivity; only art can confront neo-imperialism and offer a model of decolonisation. Moreover, art is concerned with making things and thus can enter the everyday and become part of its collective productivity. Only through collectivity can we win the struggle.2
In his response to Araeen, Chen straightforwardly expresses his skepticism towards the transformative capacity of art. On one hand, he observed that our notion of art has not been problematized and still follows the European understanding, while on the other hand, he highlights the conflicts arising from the interests involved in art and the livelihood of artists, alongside the tendency of art to become institutionalized and aligned with capital. While Araeen courageously confronts the lingering colonialism of the British Empire, Chen, firmly grounded in East Asia, passionately seeks out avenues for engaging in critical discourses. Reflecting upon their brief encounter a decade ago, it becomes evident that their disagreement foreshadowed the growing divide between critical knowledge in the realms of art and academia, as well as the gradual erosion concerning the role of art criticism.
In my view, both Araeen and Chen provide accurate assessments. When juxtaposed, their perspectives illuminate the challenges and possibilities inherent in the realms of art and academia with regard to decolonization, yielding valuable insights for further exploration and discourse. The very fact that their exchange took place under the auspices of the Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong highlights the presence of a space within the contemporary art context, encompassing both social and aesthetic dimensions, and crucial for negotiating with political realities and economic structures.
However, a looming reality that may not have been fully considered by Araeen and Chen is the unprecedented potential that technology and media have bestowed upon both capital-political hegemony and the alliance with alternative actions. As these two divergent domains increasingly converge and become ubiquitous. Their meilding compels us to learn new critical languages.
To me, the significance of the brief exchange between Araeen and Chen in ten years ago lies in its potential implications. Let’s imagine, for a moment, the presence of a Chinese-language intellectual work firmly rooted in the principles of Third World internationalism. How might such a work have made a profound impact on the local art communities, offering a platform for deep contemplation and rich discourse on the intricate challenge of reconfiguring regional constellations and discursive spaces? Ultimately, the core issue may not solely lie in the choice between the arts or Asia as a methodological approach, but rather in our capacity to critically examine and interrogate the precise definition and contextual positioning of “art” and “knowledge” within a local framework. This goes beyond mere rhetoric, aiming to further differentiate between a depoliticized knowledge that conforms to the system and one that emerges from dissenting voices in marginal spaces, engaging in alternative networks and disobedient memories. Only through such an approach can we hope to break free from the ideological constraints imposed by nationalist lenses, transcend the barriers between academia and art, and discover a realm where meaningful dialogues can take place.
The Long Shadow of Developmentalism in Curating
When exploring the exhibition history so as to identify a sequence of events that counterpoints the paradigm shift into geopolitics discussed earlier, one may think of the rise of curating subsequent to the fall of Soviet Union and that of the Berlin Wall. This seismic political event proved to be a transformative force, igniting a profound narrative shift within the art world. Against this backdrop, Manifesta emerged in the mid-1990s as a nomadic exhibition endeavor, aiming to bridge the political and historical divides between Eastern and Western Europe. This marked a significant milestone in the evolving art landscape. Simultaneously, a cohort of emerging art institutions, often characterized by their modest scale, embraced the ethos of New Institutionalism. Among them, BAK (basis voor actuele kunst) stands as an exemplary institution that defied the odds with its enduring presence. BAK adopted a distinct approach that prioritized knowledge exchange and public discourse, thus negated the exhibition-spectacle model. It is within this context that “Former West: Art and the Contemporary After 1989” (2008–2016) reached its culmination. “Former West” undertook the critical task of examining the multifaceted impacts of political, cultural, and economic events after 1989 on contemporary conditions. Employing contemporary art and social theory, the project unfolded through transnational research, education, publishing, and exhibitions. Its primary objective was to provide a platform for incisive discussions and alternative narratives that challenged prevailing Western-centric perspectives.
The geographical implication of the Former West paradigm responded to two key historical constructs: firstly, it reflects the emergence of the Former East following the integration of Eastern Europe into that of the West, and secondly, it refers to the postwar emergence of the First World and its subsequent hypermodernity. The project highlights the paradoxical nature of both communism and capitalism, which, despite their Cold War rivalry, found themselves trapped within the confines of Developmentalism—an ideology centered around the relentless pursuit of economic, technological, and political progress—extending its domination and exploitation to other subordinated countries. The project aims to critique the colonialism implicit in the Cold War paradigm and the imperialism implicit in hypermodernity, advocating for an alternative constellation beyond the narrative of the West disguised and promoted as universality.
With such expansive geo-temporal bandwidth of the Former West in mind, it is worth examining how contemporary exhibition practices reimagine the very essence of the West through a skillful synthesis of diverse forms of alterity. One such example can be found in the recent history of documenta. Notably, Okwui Enwezor made a profound impact by curating yearlong itinerant forums held in cities such as Vienna, Berlin, New Delhi, Saint Lucia, Freetown, Johannesburg, Kinshasa, and Lagos. These forums provided fertile ground for the emergence of non-Western discourses, leading up to the anticipated opening of documenta 11, 2002. Similarly, in 2012, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev extended the exhibition venues of documenta 13 to include Kabul, Afghanistan. This curatorial move addressed the aftermath of the United States’ military invasion while contributing to the cultural renewal in the postwar context. Biennial platforms often demonstrate a keen interest in expanding their influence into regions experiencing political or economic emergencies. Following documenta in Kabul, its next edition has further confirmed this trend by selecting Athens, a city burdened by debt due to EU creditors, as its venue. Similarly, Manifesta has announced its upcoming exhibition in Ukraine in 2028. However, these endeavors carry potential risks as they may face strong criticism from local art communities, often centering around the perception that these shows either promote crisis tourism or perpetuate cultural imperialism.
1 Chen Kuan-hsing, Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010) p.1.
2 Chen Kuan-hsing and Rasheed Araeen, “A Conversation between Chen Kuan-hsing and Rasheed Araeen,” Field Notes 03, edited by Claire Hsu and Chantal Wong (Hong Kong: Asia Art Archive, 2013).
During one of the Former West events held at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, titled “Documents, Constellations, Prospects,” Polish art historian Piotr Piotrowski lauded the curatorial effort as a regional “Agoraphilia,” driven by a deep passion for engaging in public discourse. Furthermore, he envisioned a “Global Agoraphilia,” which would extend this practice to a globally interconnected context. Piotrowski outlined a timeline of such intellectual anticipation, crediting various individuals for their visionary aspirations. Thomas Fillitz’s envisioning of Senegal’s Dak’Art biennale as “zones of contact” inspired by the 2006 Biennale of Sydney; Ranjit Hoskote’s observation of Okwui Enwezor’s 2008 Gwangju Biennial as the “biennial of resistance”; Boris Groys’s coinage of a “global politeia” during the 2009 Istanbul Biennial, to which Charles Esche seconded by referring to the agency shown in 1989 Havana Biennial; and finally, the 2012 Berlin Biennial curated by Artur Żmijewski and Joanna Warsz as the most recent instalment. Piotrowski’s vision can be seen as the final curatorial constellation that harkens back to the spirit of New Institutionalism, leading to the popularization of the concepts of assembly, community, and commons in recently curated projects.3
In the context of the ongoing fascination with “Agoraphilia,” which effectively encapsulated BAK’s Former West project, we can expand Piotrowski’s exhibition timeline from the year 2013 onwards, observing the continuation of this trajectory. One noteworthy development is the transformation of Casco, BAK’s adjacent institution, which recently rebranded itself from an office of art, theory, and design into an institute dedicated to producing intellectual work for the commons.
In 2018, Casco initiated a research project titled “Unmapping Eurasia.” Curated by its director Binna Choi and guest curator Mi You, the project shifted its focus to the nomadic spaces of the expansive Eurasian steppe. By exploring the symbiotic relationships between these regions and nonhuman species, the project aimed to envision an ecological commons that transcends anthropocentrism. It offered an opportunity to delve into the lesser-discussed connections between Asia and the European continent, often overshadowed by the remnants of the Cold War.

In the past year, the Berlin-based organization Savvy Contemporary, known for its emphasis on non-Western knowledge manifestation, has undertaken a perennial curatorial project titled “Unraveling The (Under)Development Complex, or: Towards a Post-(Under)Development Interdependence” in the past year. This project aims to revisit Walter Rodney’s postcolonial canon, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972), which critically analyzes Europe’s colonial plans through a political-economic lens of underdevelopment. Given the persistent historical complexities of developmentalism within contemporary transnational infrastructure projects, Savvy Contemporary has thematized the “Development Complex” by collecting research writings and investigative reports on various forms of development projects. Through this collection, they seek to explore the enduring presence of developmentalism within geopolitical, financial, urban design, and ecological networks.

Engaging with the Future: Art, Asia, and Knowledge Production
3 Piotr Piotrowski, “Dissident Knowledge. Global Agoraphilia.” Filmed 2013. 39:35.
One of the key figures in New Institutionalism, Charles Esche, commented on documenta 15 curated by ruangrupa, calling it “the first exhibition of the 21st century.” He referred to it as an acknowledgement of capitalism’s destructive nature, without attempting to reform it, but rather emphasizing the importance of survival through resistance.4 As a result, it no longer adheres to the mission of post-War cultural reconstruction, which has been a central objective of documenta since its inception. Instead, it emerges as a response to the financial and climate crises of the 2010s. While Esche’s statement might have been shaped by personal factors, given his involvement in selecting ruangrupa as the artistic director, the catchphrase “the first exhibition of the 21st century” undeniably signifies a significant departure from the political economy of the previous century. It firmly grounds us in the present-day context, urging us to confront the genuine challenges we face and offering an alternative approach to periodization in contemporary curatorial practices.
Adapting this alternative periodization to the context of East Asia, the 2008 Guangzhou Triennial challenged the rigidity of post-colonial theory with its provocative title, “Farewell to Post-colonialism.” Similarly, the 2008 Taipei Biennial explored alternative modes of production within the global economic network, constructing an imaginative landscape of resistance against the rising tide of neoliberalism. During the late 2000s, post-colonial discourse and globalization emerged as the focal points of debate in East Asia’s contemporary art scenes, but it was in the subsequent decade of the 2010s that a notable shift in critical discourse occurred, highlighting the region’s increasing emphasis on ecology discourse and addressing climate change, interspecies ethics, and indigenous justice, which consequently became dominant curatorial themes.
In recent years, there has been a notable resurgence of a distinct branch of the decolonial discourse in contemporary art, prompting East Asia, with its complex colonial histories, to reexamine the multifaceted aspects of colonization. For example, Taiwanese curator Chien-Hung Huang introduced the concept of Paracolonialism in 2019, emphasizing the pervasive influence of colonization through technological media, going beyond the conventional colonial discourse focused on the nation-state’s political economy. In the context of decolonization discourse, the question arises: who do we consider as “we”? The assertion made by posthumanist feminist philosopher Rosi Braidotti continues to resonate in contemplating non-Western discourse and the process of art production: “We are in this together, but we are not one and the same.” In light of the diverse historical and contemporary discourses, as well as the emergence of a redefined concept of “decolonization” specific to their local contexts, diverging from mainstream Western discourses, it remains intriguing to contemplate how contemporary art practices and critical agency in East Asia will navigate with their unique colonial complexities, ultimately seeking new pathways for renewed alliances.
4 John Roosa & Charles Esche, “Let there be lumbung (Day 2) – John Roosa & Charles Esche.” Filmed 2022. 3:26:25.
1Chen Kuan-hsing, Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010) p.1.
2 Chen Kuan-hsing and Rasheed Araeen, “A Conversation between Chen Kuan-hsing and Rasheed Araeen,” Field Notes 03, edited by Claire Hsu and Chantal Wong (Hong Kong: Asia Art Archive, 2013).
3 Piotr Piotrowski, “Dissident Knowledge. Global Agoraphilia.” Filmed 2013. 39:35.
4 John Roosa & Charles Esche, “Let there be lumbung (Day 2) – John Roosa & Charles Esche.” Filmed 2022. 3:26:25.
Wan-Yin Chen
Writer and researcher. She was the editor of the Mandarin art magazine Art Critique of Taiwan (from 2011 to 2012) and Artist Magazine (from 2014 to 2017). As a writer and editor, she participated in art projects,such as Broken Spectre (Taipei Fine Art Museum, 2017) and (Asian Art Biennale at National Taiwan Museum, 2021). Her recent essays are published in Taipei Fine Arts Museum Modern Art, Voices of Photography. Her interests lie in artistic confrontations with the entanglements of coloniality in art historiography. She, as a scriptwriter, has also participated in the production of videos which have been exhibited at São Paulo Biennial (2021), Seoul Mediacity Biennale (2021), Theater der Welt (2023). Currently, she is a PhD candidate in modern and contemporary art history at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
Issue 11 Ethics of Flourishing Onto-Epistemologies
Introduction / Ethics of Flourishing Onto-Epistemologies Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
A Chronicle of “the Open World” and the Chiang Rai Biennale 2023 Sorayut Aiem-UeaYut
The Exhibition Is Not Enough: Evolving Trends in Indonesian Art Biennials Ayos Purwoaji
Streaming Discourse: Phnom Penh as Currents of Dialogues Pen Sereypagna and Vuth Lyno

Issue 10 Exhibition Amnesia
Introduction / Exhibition Amnesia, or, the Apparatus of Speculative Curating Hongjohn Lin
How to Build an Exhibition Archive - A Preliminary Proposal from a Generative Studies Perspective Lin Chi-Ming
Reformulating the Architecture of Exhibitions Miya Yoshida
Orality and Its Amnesia in the Mist of Metalanguage Tai-Sung Chen

Issue 9 Curating Against Forgetting
Editorial / Transgressing Epistemic Boundaries Zian Chen
Icon and Network: Solidarity’s Mediums and a Materialist Internationalism Ho Rui An
Settlers and the Unhomely: The Cinematic Visions of Infrastructure in Eastern Taiwan Zian Chen and Chi-Yu Wu
Memories of Underdevelopment: Revisiting Curatorial Methods and the Asian Context Wan-Yin Chen

Issue 8 Reformatting Documenta with lumbung Formula: documenta fifteen
Editorial / Reformatting documenta with lumbung Formula: documenta fifteen Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Harvesting and a Single Story of Lumbung Putra Hidayatullah
The Politics in the Ramayana / Ramakien in documenta fifteen: Decoding the Power of the Thai Ruling Class Jiandyin
Malaise of Commons: on the Quality of the Relationships in documenta fifteen Hsiang-Pin Wu

Issue 7 The Heterogeneous South
Editorial / The Heterogeneous South Hongjohn Lin
The South - An art of asking and listening Manray Hsu
Uncharted Territory: The Roots of Curatorial Practices in Eastern Indonesia Ayos Purwoaji
South Fever: The South as a Method in Taiwan Contemporary Curating Pei-Yi Lu

Issue 6 The Beginning of Curating
Editorial / The Beginning of Curating Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Are Curators Really Needed? Bùi Kim Đĩnh
The Documents 15 and the Concept of Lumbung ruangrupa
The Three Axes of Curating: Ethics, Politics, and Aesthetics Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo

Issue 5 Curatorial Episteme
Editorial / Curatorial Episteme Hongjohn Lin
Epistemic Encounters Henk Slager
The Curatorial Thing Hongjohn Lin
Ethics of Curating Meng-Shi Chen

Issue 4 Curatorial Consciousness in the Times of Post-Nationalism
Editorial / Curatorial Consciousness in the Times of Post-Nationalism Manray Hsu
When Kacalisian Culture Meets the Vertical City: Contemporary Art from Greater Sandimen Manray Hsu
Pathways and Challenges: Art History in the Context of Global Contemporary Art Jau-Lan Guo
Curating Commemoration: Conditions of Political Choreography, a Performance Exhibition in Retrospect Sophie Goltz

Issue 3 Curating Performativity
Editorial / Curating Performativity I-wen Chang
Choreographing Exhibitions: Performative Curatorgraphy in Taiwan I-wen Chang
Living and Working Together in the Now Normal: Visual Arts and Co. at Bangkok Art and Culture Centre Pawit Mahasarinand
The Curatorial as A Praxis of Disobedience Miya Yoshida

Issue 2 Curators' Living Rooms
Editorial / Curators' Living Rooms Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo
Extended Living Room: Space and Conversation ruangrupa(Ade Darmawan, Mirwan Andan)
Freeing the Weights of the Habitual Raqs Media Collective
Curating Topography Sandy Hsiu-chih Lo

Issue 1 Curatography
Editorial / One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward Hongjohn Lin
What is Curatography? Hongjohn Lin
Les fleurs américaines Yoann Gourmel, Elodie Royer
There are No Blank Slates Eileen Legaspi Ramirez
Issue 11 Ethics of Flourishing Onto-Epistemologies

Issue 10 Exhibition Amnesia

Issue 9 Curating Against Forgetting

Issue 8 Reformatting documenta with lumbung Formula: documenta fifteen

Issue 7 The Heterogeneous South

Issue 6 The Beginning of Curating

Issue 5 Curatorial Episteme

Issue 4 Curatorial Consciousness in the Times of Post-Nationalism

Issue 3 Curating Performativity

Issue 2 Curators' Living Rooms

Issue 1 Curatography