After Utopia: Revisiting the Asian Ideal in Contemporary Art

Belinda Aucott

Shelter. Survival. Community. Communism. It’s all thrown out on the operating table where Asia exists in this bold exhibition, After Utopia.
After Utopia: Revisiting the Asian Ideal in Contemporary Art

Kawayan De Guia, Bomba, 2011, installation comprising 9 mirror bomb sculptures, dimensions variable, Singapore Art Museum collection. Courtesy the artist.

Australia is a part of Asia and with our ever-growing appreciation of Asian art, and this is one exhibition that speaks boldly of contemporary politics, change and urbanisation on the continent.

After Utopia: Revisiting the Asian Ideal in Contemporary Art paints a picture of Asian society as disoriented, conflicted and restless. Curated by Siuli Tan and Louis Ho from the Singapore Art Museum, it is really a very hypnotic travelling show that tackles all the hard stuff in Asia - socialism, capitalism, prostitution, displacement and real estate.


After Utopia presents work by artists from South East Asian countries including Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.   It is interesting that Singapore Art Museum presents this show now. Singapore was once so sanitized that it hardly felt like Asia at all.  Hong Kong was always the champion of contemporary art. But this show is proof of just how far Singapore has come, and of its new role in reflecting the region’s ideas and discontents.

What makes this show really great is how every single medium is used to discuss the themes. The video art has a dry humour, the sculpture is mesmerising, the installations are highly detailed and the paintings are bold and visceral.

Occupying galleries 1 and 2 of Samstag, the ground quickly delivers a creepy feeling of conflict and discordance. As you enter the gallery you are confronted by Kawayan De Guia’s Bomba (pictured top), a work made up of a series of slow spinning bombs, each covered in a tantalising mirror ball skin and pointing down at the earth.

This work’s ominous presence recalls the threat of nuclear war from missile testing by North Korea and the ever-expanding power of China in the South China Sea.

Next up is Chris Chong Chan Fui’s Block B, an oddly engaging video that shows people going about their daily business in a Brickfields tower block located in Kuala Lump, Malaysia. After just ten minutes inside the door you feel as though the sacred heart of Asia has been transgressed and maybe lost forever. The quotes on the wall are nice, but the work speaks for itself.

Chris Chong Chan Fui, Block B, 2008, single-channel video with sound, 20:00 mins (loop), Singapore Art Museum collection. Courtesy the artist.

Shaun Lee Castlemann’s Jurong West 81 is simply a framed 1871 map of Java by Stamford Raffles. Upon closer inspection, you notice that the map documents not the geographical features of the island but also its mineral riches. Like the body of a young woman about to be violated, this work makes you want to reach into the sepia toned map and rescue Java from its future plundering and exploitation at the hands of colonial powers.

Yes the start of this show has notes of colonial exoticism and passion to it. There are references to Asian mysticism and animist traditions - it’s tantalising and remote. But as you work your way upstairs looking for relief, the works just get darker and more ironically philosophical, like a plot in an art house film.

Miti Ruangkritya, Dream Property: Room, 2016, digital archival print, 31.3 x 45.3 x 3.5cm each. Courtesy the artist and Bangkok CityCity Gallery, Thailand.

Miti Ruangritya’s Dream Property: Excerpts from Bangkok Real Estate Advertising is a brilliantly executed and startling series of silk screen archival prints on paper about questing after impossible dreams.

Shelter. Survival. Community. Communism. It’s all thrown out on the operating table where Asia exists. The earth is raped. The end is nigh. The damage is done. The last witness is dead.

After Utopia leaves me feeling disoriented, conflicted and restless as though I should do something.

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5

After Utopia: Revisiting the Asian Ideal in Contemporary Art

Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art
Hawke Building, UNISA, North Terrace, Adelaide
22 September – 1 December 2017

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Belinda Aucott is a journalist and media consultant with over 17 years of experience. During her career she has worked in Sydney; London; Paris and Milan writing for publications including Fashion Wire Daily; GQ; Oyster; Men’s Style; Penthouse; Australian Creative; Indesign; Design Quarterly and Design Taxi.

Belinda also has extensive experience in digital and social media spheres having held the position of Online Editor for Habitusliving, FHM, and at Yahoo for Marie Claire and Home Beautiful. With a background in radio journalism, current affairs media and public relations, Belinda now works as a publicist and writer of branded content. Her passion is helping brands to tell better stories.