Mar 10, 2020
An Oceanic Vision of a Contemporary Art Museum in Asia
Epeli Hau Ofa
Located in Shanghai (上海, “On the Sea”)
RAM is a museum developing from “ASIA”
Through positioning RAM as a museum developing from Asia, and “on the sea”,
we choose to consider Asia not only as one big continent, but as a myriad of areas, nations and cultures.
The predominance of the water and multiplicity of oceans explains the autonomy of localities,
as migration, economic developments and the cultural exchanges substantiate the intra-connections and
inter-connections among islands and continents.
• Reason 1: The sea becomes the site where decisive historical
and contemporary connections, conflicts, ruptures, mutations, closure,
openness, imperialism, occupations take place.
• Reason 2: Western and global continental theories often talk about “Territory”
as a keyword for understanding Nation-State geopolitics, and questioning migration issues,
nomadic experiences related to economic transformations (de/re-territorializing).
• Reason 3: However, coming from the context of Asia, it is neither relevant nor necessary to recontextualize
these concepts upon the reality of deep oceanic/continental processes of moves,
flows and nomadic experiences.
An open museum that cultivates ongoing changes and shares constructive metaphors
At RAM, we cultivate on going change, and share constructive metaphors like the paradoxes of the surface and the deepness of the ocean, and the question of unity opposed to the extreme multiplicity of its (small) islands and cultures.
• RAM aims to share, to switch our perspectives on human relations, social and economical mutations, cultural and artistic practices, from a continental point of view to an oceanic one.
• Indeed, our understanding of art-making and art mapping is often (too much) built upon dominant continental perspectives.
We often talk about Asian, European, American, African cultures and art, identifying them according to large continental civilizations, nations, regions, divisions, frontiers.
But today most of the continental geo-political conflicts in Asia are being displaced onto the seas, continental countries trying to claim and to partition seas, oceans, islands from over-centered continental positions and occupations.
Thus it is necessary, as a Museum, to question such continental centrism and to change our point of view. If we accept, not only to look to the sea, but literally to look from the surface and from the deepness of the ocean, we will see lands, people, movements, exchanges, cultures and arts from totally different angles.
An institution made of infinite, fluid, evolving moves, (ex)changes,
circulations, cooperations, and extensions
On the sea, or from the islands, the continental realities become less important than the ocean’s capacity of evolving with the streams, diving in the layers of the water, moving with the blow of the wind, traveling virtually through observing stars and sky, (inter)connecting in between islands and with continents.
So does the definitions of grounds, lands, territories, and properties.
With this in mind, we aim to redefine the vision of a museum, beyond its architectural, local, (inter)national frameworks.
In a local and global context there is an urgent need for art institutions:
• To claim for more flexible operational structures
• To build deeper connections with artists
• To switch the Museal concept of audience to an evolving group of individuals and contributors, who really and constructively engage with art projects and learning processes.
RAM believes that future changes of global museums comes from the small
If we consider and respect the presence, the autonomy and the power of small islands in the vast environment of Asian seas and oceans, we immediately understand that most often the big changes in economy and culture today are coming from the small. Nowadays, because of:
• Eternal and unfruitful economical/political wars between super-powers
• Decisive crisis that happened in globally
• Conflicts of global interests, imperialisms, geopolitics have moved to Asia
• Growing paradoxical roles of small nations in Asia (Eg.: Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore, Myanmar)
• Major environmental changes globally
Individuals, small organizations and local collectives are gathering to make possible smart alternative projects for developing agriculture, durable economies, reactive and new art projects.
At RAM, we understand such radical changes, and aim to contribute to the invention of new Museums Formats that consider the importance of flexible but engaged and solid art institutions, alternative art and educational projects, smaller but efficient collaborative researched and curated programs.
The oceanic dimension of RAM is thus about embracing the Asian dimensions of the seas and small islands as a metaphor of a Museum making small but decisive changes. For example: the intra-relations between RAM and artists (collectives), independent curators, Museums, art organizations that constructively develop such dialogues and reflections between big continental countries and small multiple nation-islands.
RAM considers the inter-relation between islands & continents as transforming connections
At RAM, we consider the inter relation between islands and continents less related to frontiers and divisions, but to the shores and the transforming connections between the sea and the land.
This shore area is made of sands, rocks, trees, quiet lagoons or oceanic waves, human architectures or eco systems that are continuously transforming according to the climatic changes, movements of sand, volcanic eruptions, typhoons or tsunamis, touristic attractions.
The interesting observation is that no human activity can fully control such area since it is fully subject to complex natural combinations and specific environmental situations.
As a contemporary art Museum, instead of controlling, dividing and possessing, we welcome such unique transforming characteristics of the shores as a meaningful metaphor for a Museum to make happen the dynamics of evolving…, walking along/with…, passing through…, diving in…, digging in…, floating on…, splashing to…
Towards an Oceanic Dimension of a Museum in Asia
From a continental perspective, islands are often considered as:
• Colonialist or imperialist possessions
• Exotic or touristic destinations
• Small scales (and often under-developed) areas to exploit and educate
From an oceanic and archipelagic perspective, the islands are considered as:
• Autonomous but always opened lands and seas
• Deep indigenous cultures transformed with different historical layers due to exchanges, migrations, invasions, imperialisms.
• An extended area that always assimilates, learns, migrates and recreates.
At RAM, a continental contemporary art Museum based in Asia,
it is fundamental to analyze and question such situations in order to:
• Create more dynamic exchanges with neighborhood art organizations
• Research on archives and remake histories
• Invent new creative art projects based on combinations, openness, and transformations