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Comparative Contemporaries

One project that I’m currently working on is called “Comparative Contemporaries”. It’s a website anthology, a collaboration between the Asia Art Archive, the International Association of Art Critics, Singapore, and The Substation. Five editors — Sue Acret, Patrick Flores, Ho Tzu Nyen, Ly Daravuth and Keiko Sei — each select what they believe are ten significant texts about contemporary visual art from Southeast Asia (I serve as the project manager). These selections, along with the editors’ introductory essays, will be published on the AAA’s website. Over time, more editors and more “proto-anthologies” will be added, and other contributors will be invited to comment on the selections. Comparative Contemporaries makes reference to the discipline of comparative literature. Complit, as it’s sometimes called, asks its students to think about literature, not only from differing national traditions, but also from different historical periods — often with the aim of questioning the concepts of “literature”, “tradition”, “canon”, “nation” and “history”. Likewise, Comparative Contemporaries evokes an investigation of the art of different traditions, and, at the same time, a questioning of those categories usually employed in constructing big fat books, a.k.a. anthologies. In what ways are the arts of different societies in Southeast Asia “contemporary” with each other? How does one begin to compare these diverse arts communities? And what about the fit or misfit between the “contemporary” and the “modern”? Comparative Contemporaries, or CC for short, also suggests something more provisional or tactical than a definitive survey or authoritative mapping. It reflects both the exploratory attitude underlying this open-ended collection, and the fact that we are still at the early stages of forming discourses about contemporary art from Southeast Asia. The project aims to bring together different fields of practice side by side, to generate dialogue, and to find, contest and build common grounds. CC started in 2003 at The Substation with a conference and workshop involving more than thirty writers, artists, administrators and curators from the region. In 2006, we co-orgnaised a follow-up event took place during the island-city’s inaugural biennale. The online publication of the five editors’ selections is scheduled for 2009, with commentary and more editors’ selections to follow in 2010.