In Neuem Kontext

Curated by Tereza del Arruda, Carson Chan and Shaheen Merali

As a counterpart to the New York based Asian artists featured in the House of World Culture’s Shangri-La performance/screening series during Asia-Pacific week 2007, In Neuem Kontext provides a cross-section of work from emerging Berlin artists of Asian descent. Rather than ghettoizing Asian artists as a discrete group, this exhibition attests to the growing diversity and internationalism of the Berlin art scene.

Featuring the work some of the city’s most promising Asian artists during the first three weeks of September, visitors will find St. Johannes church transformed into the site of constant transfiguration: installations that the artists transform continuously throughout the period will be supplemented by performances and screenings. The church also poses unusual challenges to the artists and their work. In a secular society like Berlin, the church represents a place of shifting identities. From 1978 to 2002, this neo-Romantic church, constructed at the end of the 19th century, served as Humboldt University’s library annex, and since 2003, the space has been used for various cultural events as well as for prayer.

There remains a theoretical void after Kakuzo Okakura’s seminal ‘Book of Tea’ (1964) – an apologia on Asian identity that became the precursor for contemporary Orientalist thought. In Neuem Kontext, at once submitting to the myth of a unified Asian culture, in fact provides evidence for the contrary. Common ethnicity and heritage no longer function as viable identifiers within a globalized system of art practices. Artists today often live like nomads; Residencies, biennials, and art fairs combine their international influences to relocate practices that have traditionally been stationed within the studio’s confines. Taking her practice into the urban realm, Yuka Oyama will conduct workshops in the church, the House of World Cultures and at Hansaviertel, producing a site-specific installation with the community that surrounds each of the locations.

Identity is found within context – whether artistic, geographic, historic, political or otherwise. Already labeled with hyphenated identities (eg. Korean-American), these artists have come to Berlin, not to appropriate a new title, but rather to construct their own profile along side Berlin’s own growing reputation as a center of contemporary art. The New Berlin, like these artists, is a character of hybrid personalities – it is a place that allows for activity outside of the mainstream that simultaneously avoids being categorized as alternative.