Q&A With The Columns Gallery Director, Dong Jo Chang

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With the fourth edition of S.E.A. Focus, the world’s first fair dedicated to Southeast Asian contemporary art, opening next week in Singapore, I speak to Dong Jo Chang, director of The Columns Gallery (with spaces in Seoul and Singapore), about participating in the anchor event of Singapore Art Week since the very beginning.

With Art SG having been postponed until 2023, are you excited that S.E.A. Focus is one of the few art fairs still able to take place in Singapore at the beginning of 2022?

The Columns Gallery was invited to participate in Art SG and it’s unfortunate to hear of its postponement. We are definitely highly anticipating the fair taking place in 2023 and will be patient, as it is an extremely important one. The pandemic has posed a great challenge to the art market, both locally and globally. We are therefore very excited that things have not come to a standstill with S.E.A. Focus being one of the few art fairs that Singapore is still able to host in early 2022.

Why did you decide to participate again in S.E.A. Focus?

This is the fourth time The Columns Gallery is participating in S.E.A. Focus. Although our gallery is based in Seoul and features South Korean artists in exhibitions such as Dansaekhwa, a Korean monochrome painting group exhibition, as well as Kim Tae-Ho in our upcoming exhibition for Singapore Art Week 2022, we have always shone a spotlight on ASEAN artists such as Indonesian artists Heri Dono and Timoteus Anggawan Kusno. In previous editions of S.E.A. Focus, The Columns Gallery showcased Singaporean artist Yeo Chee Kiong and Filipina 2019 Hugo Boss Asia Art Award winner, Eisa Jocson. We find that S.E.A. Focus is a great platform for Southeast Asian artists to expand their influence, especially emerging Singaporean artists.

Which are the most promising artists who have the greatest potential that you will be presenting at S.E.A. Focus and what is their subject matter?

We believe that all of the artists we have with us for S.E.A. Focus are in fact very promising. Some of whom show the greatest potential are Tristan Lim as well as Ernest Wu. Singaporean visual artist Tristan Lim questions the manner in which we perceive and value virtuality and reality in contemporary life. By examining the forms in which visual materials circulate and manifest in culture, he also looks at the relationships between disparate things. Through this, he discovers the uncovered surfacing questions of material and existential significance. Ernest Wu is a Singapore-based artist who explores spatial relationships and visual esthetics to produce artworks through photography and moving images. By questioning traditional photography techniques, his projects use unconventional methods of creating images structured around the limitations of the camera. His most recent explorations into NFTs and digital art explore how we perceive images and digital experiences.

Which categories or themes of contemporary Southeast Asian art are registering the most interest from collectors?

NFTs are currently one of the hottest topics amongst collectors, with the rise of digital art on the blockchain, its exclusivity, unmediated transactions and potential for huge returns in cryptocurrency.

What is the value of Southeast Asia’s contemporary artists and the potential for the development of Southeast Asian contemporary art and its rising stars?

During the early 1990s, Heri Dono, currently a leading Yogyakarta-based contemporary artist, was the first Indonesian to break onto the global art scene. Since his early career, he has traveled around the world to exhibit and respond to workshop invitations from various countries. Timoteus Anggawan Kusno has also found great success and had been commissioned and shown his work internationally at several cultural institutions and biennales, including Mumbai City Museum, India, Center for Fine Art Brussels, Belgium, Biennale Jogja XIV Equator #4: Indonesia-Brazil and 13th Gwangju Biennale, South Korea, among others. Eisa Jocson, a Manila-born artist, dancer and choreographer, has not only established a name for herself within Asia, but has also extended her reach to countries at the other end of the world such as Germany, Spain and Italy. With the rise of NFTs, more ASEAN artists now have the potential to make greater waves on an international scale. These artists who predominantly work in traditional fine art mediums can be catapulted even further into the limelight should they choose to dabble in the world of NFTs.

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