Critical Reflections on the Imagination of Asia
“Discordant Harmony” is a concept that has been proposed collectively by a team of curators brought together by the Goethe-Institut in a programme aimed at re-examining and understanding Asia in its present state by means of artistic and intellectual endeavours. Four curators from China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan have conceived of a critical conceptual framework for an exhibition project that will evolve over the course of two years and a roadmap for its practical implementation.
Asia, primarily a construct of European origin, is anything but an economic, political or cultural unity. One of the most fundamental agreements shared in this temporary working group of curators is that Asia is not a cohesive political or cultural community and that the countries in Asia share no common horizon for the imminent emergence of a unified political entity. The precedent of the European Union does not therefore provide a template for the model of co-existence in Asia. There is neither an ideological base nor an administrative structure in place for making such a community possible. Asia is more strongly affected by the political and ideological differences among its countries than it is by political harmony (sympathies) and solidarity (among nations and states.)
Despite the geographical proximity and historic connections among various countries in Asia, the relevance of the idea of Asia changes with the power positions of different nations in the region, their own perception of their weight in the region, and their geopolitical ambitions. Asia is thus not a geographical concept, but a political hypothesis and construct. Based on their political imaginations, different nations and their leaderships have their own projections and expectations for Asia that find expression in military, diplomatic and cultural terms. Even under the aspect of culture, the differences among Asian countries can best be defined not by the notion of nations, but by their different historical paths and transitions in, for example, military matters, trade, religion, philosophy and so on. Each country freely formulates and constantly re-invents and articulates its perceived significance within this region.
Proceeding from the division of Asia carried out by the USA and USSR after WWII, and the assumption that the divisions of some territories were allegedly determined according to the ideologies prevalent there, we shall investigate how ideologies are formed and how they influence the formation of countries into nations. This distribution of nations between the two dominant powers ultimately affected the social, political and economic development and identity of each individual nation. But as the Cold War receded, globalization expanded and capital became the main motive behind decision-making in most countries, political and social divisions diminished. At the same time, the troubling territorial, ideological, economic and political disputes, conflicts and endless competition both within and among Asian countries remain a living reality, which cannot be overlooked or dismissed.
“Discordant Harmony” takes such ideological conditions as its primary premise in order to discern and understand the current power relationships and historical entanglements among several East Asian countries such as China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. This project aims at unsettling some of the prevalent assumptions and superficial misperceptions of Asia as a unified community. In nuanced reflections and by the questions posed by the artists and their works, we hope to embark on a journey during which we try to understand Asia through multiple lenses and perspectives. The opening chapter of this ongoing project will be presented in Seoul and focus on formulating an imagination of Asia through revelations and recognitions of differences and disagreements on cultural, ideological and historical terms and their political origins through works of twelve artists from China, Korean, Japan and Taiwan. This first exhibition will be accompanied by a series of talks by participating curators, artists and scholars.