Still from Agil Abdullayev's 'The Pink City (How to survive: A Promotional video. Part 1),' 2019. (Asian Art Museum)
In order to watch the entirety of After Hope: Videos of Resistance, you would need to sit in the Asian Art Museum’s Lee Gallery for over six hours. And while many of us have more time on our hands than we used to, no one is meant to treat this expansive exhibition like an endurance sport.
Unlike other media programs that offer the opportunity for completism (say, video X will start at 1pm each day), the 54 videos from 60 artists in After Hope play on a continuous but asynchronous loop. In other words, if you routinely stop by at 1pm during the museum’s open hours, you may never see the same video twice.
I find the prospect of never really knowing what you’re about to get thrilling. This is the opposite of scrolling through an endless menu of streaming options; ceding control to the artists of After Hope is liberating. And in video after video, the show delivers a document of our time, from very far afield and, notably, very close to home.
Alphabetization by artwork title is After Hope’s only organizing principle. As a result, each video is a portal to an entirely different, unexpected mood, which could range in length from 29 seconds to just under 21 minutes.
The pieces, the oldest of which is from 2004, were sourced from across Asia and the Asian diaspora based on recommendations from a network of artists, curators and organizations. For exhibition curators Abby Chen, Viv Liu and Padma D. Maitland, some of those suggestions would end up being discoveries—perhaps an artist with a local reputation who wasn’t as known to the international scene. Liu told me they were open to experiments and possibly half-baked ideas; many of the videos have a sense of on-the-fly scrappiness.
Taken together, the presentation is more affective than didactic; scenes, voiceovers, text and music wash over you without much context beyond an artist’s name and an artwork’s title. I will point out there are some locals in the mix, including Zeina Barakeh, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Mehregan Pezeshki, Gazelle Samizay, Tina Takemoto, Xiaoze Xie, Connie Zheng and Minoosh Zomorodinia. It’s always thrilling to see Bay Area artists in our museums, and especially when they’re placed within the context of a global survey—rather than a dedicated “Bay Area” show.
The eclectic mix of artistic styles, video lengths and subject matter feels cacophonous in the best possible way. In the hour that I watched After Hope, I saw documentation of a performance in nearby Portsmouth Square; a student occupation of Taiwan’s parliament; a music video for a rock rendition of “The Internationale”; a distorted walk through Yangon, Myanmar; a pseudo-documentary about seeds in the near future; a promotional video for an imaginary city; a feminist protest in India; and a dreamlike meditation on TV drama and real-life political clashes.
Should you happen across it, I dare you not to tap your foot and/or laugh out loud during the aforementioned music video (by Chulayarnnon Siriphol), which shows the artist dressed in a Japanese school uniform, multiplying himself across candy-colored locations in Chongqing, China, all to the incongruous sound of the well-known left-wing anthem on electric guitar.
While we’re trained to want information on an artist’s background or the underlying geopolitical context of their work to fully “get” something, After Hope proves that knowledge is by no means necessary for having a direct and immediate reaction to a piece of art. Shoaib Daniyal’s The Rapist is You filled me with full-body anger. Nyein Chan Su’s The Last Memory is disorienting and heartbreaking. And for those whose interest is piqued, a companion website offers writing by the artists and recommenders, specifically (and sometimes obliquely) addressing how an individual piece embodies the exhibition’s title.
About that title. What first struck me as bleak (after hope comes hopelessness, I mused) transforms, in the context of the Lee Gallery presentation, into action. Opposite the large video projection, two gallery walls bear long rows of ephemera submitted to the museum by the exhibition artists. While the call for video works was issued long before the pandemic, this collection of printed paper came about during the past year, rooting the objects in our current social imperatives: the movement for Black lives, countering anti-AAPI hate, and addressing the inequities the coronavirus has laid bare.
A poster reading “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power” hangs alongside “Viruses Don’t Discriminate. Neither Do We.” Nearby is a booklet filled with verses for Hong Kong protest songs. Similar to the video presentation, the stapled pages are loosed from their contexts and even the names of their contributors. But the resulting spread—a constellation of source material, artist-made zines, political missives and essays—are, as Liu said, “residue of the real world.”
Art does not exist solely within the confines of darkened galleries, and artists certainly don’t operate only in the realm of fine art exhibitions. Artists are conduits; the real world enters them, and they put artwork back into the real world. For however long you can spare to sit in its projected presence, After Hope is a reminder that all that activity is ongoing, making the experience less like a screening of preexisting works, and more like real-time glimpse into other lives, other struggles and other artistic practices.
‘After Hope: Videos of Resistance’ is on view at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum through 2021. Details here.
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