AWDB Spotlight: Interview with Ian Tee from Art & Market

Art & Market (A&M) is an online platform that presents content on Southeast Asian art featuring editorials focused on artistic, curatorial, and art business practices. The site also runs writing competitions, live events, YouTube videos, a podcast, and an annual publication called ‘CHECK-IN’, in which they aim to provide insights into the Southeast Asian art ecosystem and give creatives a platform to showcase their work. AWDB speaks with Ian Tee, Associate Editor, on the occasion of the fourth edition of CHECK-IN, which publishes stories about the Southeast Asian art world and its evolution. As well as contributing to the site as a writer, Ian helps to conceive of its content and manage the platform’s publishing schedule.

Considering the diverse cultures and histories of the region, what has been Art & Market’s strategy for covering it in its entirety and diversity?

The core team at Art & Market (A&M) is based in Singapore and Jakarta, hence we work with writers on the ground across the region. We invite freelance contributors to pitch stories about exhibitions, events, and practitioners in their locale. We are also building our connections with artist spaces, institutions, academic platforms, and cultural workers who hold different roles in the ecosystem.

That said, we are mindful of discourses that are happening in local languages which we may not be able to address. For CHECK-IN 2022, I worked on a story titled The Poetics, Purpose, and Politics of Translation where I commissioned four translators to write about the projects they were working on. Their essays provide great insights into the intricacies of language and nuanced issues around translation. It is certainly a direction where more work needs to be done, and one we hope to pursue further.

Another strategy we have adopted is to seek out new voices through our annual writing contest Fresh Take. Finalists would receive a cash or book prize as well as mentorship from our editorial team, as we workshop their essays for publication on A&M. The fifth edition of Fresh Take will launch in July 2024, so do look out for it!

Page spread from CHECK-IN 2024, featuring Fresh Faces artists Aki Hassan and Saroot Supasuthivech. Image courtesy of Art & Market

Considering your dedication to new artists found in the “Fresh Faces” section of the ‘CHECK-IN’ publication, what are some of the trends you are seeing in Southeast Asian contemporary art?

“Fresh Faces” is a series where we profile an emerging artist from the region each month. In addition to featuring their works, we also speak to them about how they kick-started their career, how they sustain their practice, and what drives them as artists. The intention is not only for us to highlight new artists, but also for them to share their individual journeys which vary significantly based on their backgrounds. We catch up with Fresh Faces artists in CHECK-IN, to find out what they have been working on in the past year.

With the rapid circulation of information, I have observed that young artists are increasingly proficient in speaking to global art discourses. This could be tapping into hot topics or curatorial themes, as well as participating in specific styles of art-making. In my opinion, young artists with the most compelling practices tend to incorporate skill sets acquired through their day jobs or prior experiences. Many of the artists we have featured are also working in other aspects of the art ecosystem, as curators, organisers, handlers, educators etc. This is not a new trend, but I think that artists stand to gain a more layered understanding of the industry through their exposure to different roles. In turn, this helps them make better decisions about how to navigate the ecosystem and position their practices.

How crucial do you feel documentation is of Southeast Asian art for the global ecosystem, whether it be academically, institutionally, commercially, or otherwise?

Documentation is essential, especially when primary sources are created from the perspective of local practitioners. Within an art context, it is about capturing the personal voice and experience on the ground. Academic, institutional, and commercial interests will take what they need and spin new narratives out of archives and documentation materials. Hence it is important to have original sources available, which can then be translated or re-interpreted.

I think this explains the popularity of the “My Own Words” series on A&M, an Op-Ed column where practitioners reflect on their experiences or an issue they observed. They bring a personal point of view and discuss pertinent issues through concrete case studies. As pieces of documentation, these essays provide rich contextual information. At A&M, one important consideration we have in commissioning stories is its longevity. We look for pieces to continue adding value in years to come, so that readers or researchers can return to them repeatedly.

Samuel Xun, ‘I’m Exhausted, Where is he’, 2022, installation view presented as part of A&M Small Rooms. Image courtesy of Art & Market

As you yourself are an artist who explores the notion of youth, where do you see the future of Southeast Asia’s art world, shaped by the young art workers of today?

I anticipate even more connectivity and movement in the future. There are increasing numbers of young practitioners who have studied abroad, living/working across multiple locales, or gained critical recognition at international platforms. Their activities expand the geographical limits of what we consider Southeast Asia’s art ecosystem, establishing new networks that connect different art worlds. I hope this is rising tide which lifts all boats, creating more opportunities and encouraging greater diversity of voices

CHECK-IN 2024, featuring a spread from Leslie de Chavez’s essay. Image courtesy of Art & Market

Where do you see the future of Art & Market heading to and what evolutions do you hope to see in Southeast Asian contemporary art, not only on a regional scale, but also on a transnational level?

Picking up on my previous point about an expanded Southeast Asian art ecosystem, it is a key question we ask ourselves when thinking about the future of A&M. As the editorial lead for CHECK-IN 2024, I proposed a refined editorial direction for A&M through a restructuring of the publication format. The new format allows us to hone in on key areas of interest without being bound to specific topics, or types of writing. In CHECK-IN 2024, you will find these sections: “From the Studio”, “Holding Space”, “Beyond Southeast Asia”, “Business Practices” and “The Road Ahead”. Taken together, they reflect A&M’s core interests in processes, spaces, networks, and markets.

The publication offers multiple vantage points by practitioners from Southeast Asia looking outwards, and by individuals from elsewhere who are intimately involved in the regional ecosystem. Examples include Sadiah Boonstra’s essay which discusses systemic issues around repatriation, and the interview with Yuto Yabumoto which details his ongoing engagement with artists from the Mekong region. Contributions by May Adadol Ingawanij, Chloe Ho, and Adeena Mey provide nuanced perspectives on this dynamic at personal and institutional levels. What I hope to tease out are resonances based on shared interests or struggles, as well as connections that have deep roots.

Looking ahead, we also aim to build a stronger presence outside of the digital platform. This includes exploring more formats for in-person events as well as collaborative projects that incorporate education and travel.

Personally, I hope to see more avenues for practitioners at all levels to continue their work. These avenues may take different forms and entail various intensities. I hope that the art world evolves to be more accommodating to pluralistic definitions of what it means to be a practitioner.

For more information on Art & Market and to pre-order a copy of CHECK-IN 2024, please click here.

INTERVIEW COURTESY OF ART WORLD DATABASE AND IAN TEE FROM ART & MARKET, JULY 2024.