Mar 10, 2020

An Oceanic Vision of a Contemporary Art Museum in Asia


Just as the sea is an open and ever flowing reality,

so should our oceanic identity transcend all forms of insularity,

to become one that is openly searching, inventive and welcoming.


Epeli Hau Ofa

Writer and anthropologist, Tonga and Fiji islands



Tell them about the water

how we have seen it rising flooding across our cemeteries

gushing over the sea walls

and crashing against our homes


Tell them what it's like

to see the entire ocean


with the land


Kathy Jeñil-Kijiner

Poet, performer and educator, Marshall islands and Portland



Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Loverboy), 1989

Between me and the world

you are a gauze curtain, a mist

a lamp shining in my dreams

you are a bamboo flute, a song without words

a closed eyelid carved in stone.


Between me and the world

you are a chasm, a pool

an abyss plunging down

you are a balustrade, a wall

a shield’s eternal pattern.


Bei Dao

Poet and writer, Beijing and San Francisco



Not really inside, not really outside

Made of different cultures, of multiple writings

Ocean of islands, souls in exile

Fragmented identities, dismembered cultures

Into a complex relation to language, to the thought, to the dominant idea.


Chantal Spitz

Poet and writer, Huahine island


Installation view of "Felix Gonzalez-Torres", 2016, Rockbund Art Museum

Process geographies are precipitates of various kind of action, interaction, and

motion – trade, travel, pilgrimage, warfare, proselytisation, colonisation, exile and

the like. These geographies are necessary large scale and shifting, and their

changes highlight variable congeries of language, history and material life.


‘Grassroots Globalization and the Research Imagination’, Public Culture 12, no.1,

2000, p.7


Arjun Appadurai

Anthropologist, Mumbai and New York


Zhang Ruyi, Decoration: Displacement, 2018


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.


Thus it is fundamental for RAM to embrace Asia in its oceanic and archipelagic representations,

as a local and international contemporary Museum based in Shanghai (literally “上海“, translated as “On the Sea”).



• 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.



Francis Alÿs, Nei Mongol Paintings, 2017


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.


Installation view of "Ugo Rondinone: BREATHE WALK DIE", 2014, Rockbund Art Museum
Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Golden), 1995


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


Philippe Parreno, Anywhere Out of the World, 2017


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.


Paola Pivi, What goes round - art comes round, 2010


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…


Paola Pivi, It's a cocktail party, 2008
Firelei Báez, Ciguapa Pantera (to all the goods and pleasures of this world), 2015
Firelei Báez, Wanderlust Demanding Recompense, 2016


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

Li Liao, A Slap (Wuhan), 2010
Winner celebration of “HUGO BOSS ASIA ART 2013” — “Tear Down the Water Barrier with Kwan Sheung Chi”, Rockbund Art Museum.


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

"Felix Gonzalez-Torres", Untitled (Arena), 1993
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