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Public-engaged art in Southeast Asian contemporary

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

Abstract of a paper for the Czong Institute for Contemporary Art New Media Art Conference

Amanda Heng, Let's Chat (2016) Concept Context Contestation, Cemeti Art House.

Recent developments in what Nicolas Bourriaud termed as Relational Aesthetics have been more visible in contemporary Southeast Asian practices that engage the publics. This can be seen particularly so in the works of Azizan Paiman and Amanda Heng. This paper examines the practices of these artists as case studies for the participative method. In the participatory, the aesthetic and ethical values of public-engaged art in terms of both the production and reception of the artwork are analysed.

In public-engaged art, the publics are used as materials that mainly constitute the main aspect of the artwork. Conventionally, art is made of traditional materials such as paint, marble, or bronze. However, when the audience is engaged in the production of the work, their roles and functions shift from being a passive viewer to an active participant. The production and reception of the artwork are approached within a more communal situation. In addition, when looking at public-engaged art in this paper, it is considered that human encounters manifest adjacent to the art object. The art object are non-human agencies within the artwork and is different from the artwork itself, which is the totality of both human and non-human engagements.

Overall, this practice typically opens up ethical questions such as the work’s authorship or compensation of the participant’s labour, etc. Thus, with more ethical questions in tow, there is a tendency for the ethical to replace the aesthetic critique of the work. However, this paper argues that both are necessary for a thorough understanding of public-engaged artworks. Aesthetics and the ethical can work side by side to produce critical questions for probing public-engagement in art.

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