David Teh (National University of Singapore)
Fellow in Research Area 2: "Travelling Matters"
September – October 2021
Worldly Words: literary innovation and Asian contemporaneity
David Teh’s recent research can be situated among the now widespread reassessments of artistic modernism and its decentering from a ‘North Atlantic’ axis toward other geographies. His work in Southeast Asia mainly concerns the history of contemporary visual art, but he has increasingly found Art History’s habitual discriminations to be limiting – a chronotope that distinguishes the contemporary from the modern, for instance, or the projection of certain art-form boundaries – in contexts where modern art’s bearings and instrumentality may bear little resemblance to Euro-American norms. This divergence has made some non-Western modernists all the more potent as critics of institutional habits, and as harbingers of a transdisciplinary contemporaneity, a potency Teh has both exploited and questioned in his curatorial work. His current research extends these efforts to historicise the transdisciplinary impulse, not as a moment of innovation but as a kind of frequency fundamental to the artistic vocation, albeit sometimes dampened by bureaucratic deskilling. His broader research project, ‘Genealogies of Worldliness,’ pursues such transdisciplinary intellectual histories across Asia and the Pacific Rim, in the name of an errant regionalism that crosses the discursive boundaries separating visual art from other kinds of making (especially performative and literary ones). Teh’s focus in the fellowship will be on identifying fertile intersections of literary and visual experimentation, both in historical collections and through the lens of contemporary practices. Among other things, he aims to query the definition of concretism, as a way of disrupting the usual temporal and spatial encoding of contemporaneity; and to learn about the ideological construction of contemporaneity in global literature studies. During the Fellowship, he will also develop his ongoing curatorial research (in collaboration with Amar Kanwar and Temporal Communities fellow, Ute Meta Bauer) in preparation for the 17th Istanbul Biennial (2022).
David Teh is a writer, curator and Associate Professor at the National University of Singapore, with a research focus on Southeast Asian modern and contemporary art. His curatorial projects have included Unreal Asia (55. Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, 2009), Video Vortex #7 (Yogyakarta, 2011), TRANSMISSION (Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok, 2014), Misfits: Pages from a Loose-leaf Modernity (Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 2017) and Returns (12th Gwangju Biennale, 2018). He is currently co-curating the 17th Istanbul Biennial (with Ute Meta Bauer and Amar Kanwar). David's essays have appeared in Third Text, Afterall, ARTMargins, Theory Culture & Society and Artforum. His book Thai Art: Currencies of the Contemporary was published in 2017 by MIT Press, and he was co-editor (with David Morris) of Artist-to-Artist: Independent Art Festivals in Chiang Mai 1992-98 (2018), for Afterall's Exhibition Histories series.