The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia by internationally acclaimed artist Ho Tzu Nyen (b. 1976, Singapore) is part of an ongoing project that grows, generates and provides critical insight into the pluralistic definitions of the territories under the term “Southeast Asia.” Born out of recognition for how sweeping the term “Southeast Asia” is, it considers what makes up an area not unified by language, religion or political power.
At the heart of the exhibition will be a moving image installation, in which an algorithm, created by the artist in collaboration with software developer Jan Gerber and media artist Sebastian Lütgert, weaves together a rich tapestry of texts, music, and found footage pertaining to an alphabetized list of concepts, generating different permutations with every loop. This stream of algorithmically-edited images is accompanied by the voiceover of Singaporean musician and vocalist Bani Haykal, who sings a series of notes about Southeast Asia that Ho has accumulated over many years of research. These notes offer sometimes condensed and sometimes rewritten explanations of a number of keywords that Ho sees are of particular significance in the Southeast Asian context – such as anarchism, buffalo, corruption, decay, epidemics, forest, gong, humidity, etc. This same algorithm will also trigger flashes from a screen of LED lights positioned behind the screen, that will occasionally wash out the video imagery. This not only asserts the algorithm’s material presence as a distant controller of content, but is also suggestive of the metaphorical process of desensitization to media and the afterimage of colonialization.
Ho Tzu Nyen makes films, installations and performances that begin as engagements with historical and theoretical texts. His recent works are populated by metamorphic figures such as the weretiger (One or Several Tigers, 2017) and the triple agent (The Nameless, 2015), under the rubric of The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia, an ongoing meta project.
His works have been presented at the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (2021), Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art (Oldenburg, 2019), Kunstverein in Hamburg (2018), Ming Contemporary Art Museum (Shanghai, 2018), Asia Art Archive (2017), Guggenheim Bilbao (2015) and Mori Art Museum (2012). He represented the Singapore Pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale (2011).
Recent group exhibitions include the 12th Gwangju Biennale (2021), Aichi Triennale (2019) and 2 or 3 Tigers at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2017). Together with Taiwanese artist Hsu Chia-Wei, he also co-curated ‘The Strangers from Beyond the Mountain and the Sea’, the 7th Asian Art Biennial (2019) at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.