2 or 3

Edited by Anselm Franke and Hyunjin Kim

This website presents a range of mostly newly written texts in relation to the exhibition 2 or 3 Tigers. Departing from the symbolic uses and iconographies of tigers in modernity, several articles discuss particular artworks in and beyond the exhibition while others delve more deeply into historiographies of colonialism and modernization processes. Texts by artists, art historians, and writers of other disciplines outline subterranean histories in the shadow of geopolitical divides, militarization, the mobilization of tradition, and changing conceptions of media, and provide a critical analysis of political and cultural contexts where the actual presence and the mythology of tigers are historically entangled.

The Tiger and the
George Coleman’s
Dream of Extinction

Kevin Chua

Taking an engraving of George Coleman surveying deep in the jungle of nineteenth-century Singapore as its starting point, this essay—published here in a slightly abridged version—examines global capitalism on the frontier, the figure of the tiger in the British colonial imaginary, and the ways in which the Malay weretiger unravels the relationship between colonizer and colonized, human and animal, tradition and modernity.

Unruly Mediations

Anselm Franke

The term “medium” carries considerably more facets than the current use of (communication) media allows for—from invisible transmissions between organisms and their environments to a condition of being-in-a-medium, bound by a common language. Taking up this thread, the essay reads the works of Ho Tzu Nyen and Chia-Wei Hsu as putting forward an expanded notion of media and mediality against the backdrop of colonial modernity. Their juxtaposition of “old” and “new” media points to the colonial unconscious undergirding their separation, but it also stresses that the colonial assault on non-modern cosmographies and non-capitalist economies, is ongoing and intensifying.

Sick Bodies and the Political Body: The Political Theology of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor

Masato Fukushima

Taking its cue from the famous early modern concept of the king’s two bodies—the body natural and the body politic—this essay discusses the work of filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul as “medical realism,” blending a medical approach to his subject with a sharp eye for social predicaments. When this stance is taken up on social authority, the filmic gaze “inevitably conveys an atmosphere of radical criticism.”

Korea, a Country without Religion?

Hongkoo Han

In Korea religion and politics have been closely intertwined since the nineteenth century. Especially the astounding growth of Protestant Christianity cannot be considered without mentioning its close relationship with politics. This essay explores the development of the various religious strands against the background of sociopolitical transformations and the bifurcation of North and South after the Second World War.

Every Cat in History is I

Ho Tzu Nyen

Cats have played a vital—and viral—role in the history of Singapore, from the lion as mythical founding figure to the culling of cats in the wake of the SARS epidemic in 2003. Lions, tigers, and other cats have experienced myriads of metaphorical appearances, linked to diseases, communists, colonialists—and even becoming the national mascot. “Every Cat in History is I” traces the ways in which these metaphors have been employed to serve strategic interests of identity- and nation-building.

The Mind and the Body:
A Chinaman’s Chance

James T. Hong

Western understanding of the world is based on a few fundamental tenets, such as free will and truth. Employing metaphors of spiritual and corporeal illness this essay probes into these tenets, reading them against the grain and holding them up against notions of the East such as harmony and—as concerns China in particular—sameness. If people do not differ individually, might not their nation-state—by differing from a wavering USA—stand out?

On a Possible Passing from the Digital to the Symbolic

Yuk Hui

It is often said that the symbolic no longer holds its proper place in a digitalized world, which having lost its contact to nature relies completely on signs. This essay, however, suggests a passing from the digital to the symbolic through a reflection on the notion of cosmotechnics.

A Thousand Asian Tigers:
Contested Modernity and the Image of History

Hyunjin Kim

The tiger occupies and embodies the spaces in between the human and the animal, between conquering and venerating nature. Furthermore, if considered such an embodiment of liminality, the tiger is in a perpetual state of becoming. Based on this proposition, the essay analyzes the works of this exhibition against the background of Asian societies in-between becoming and unraveling, with the tiger being the medium, fused with the image of resistance, valor, and nationalistic spirituality by the colonized people.

Taxidermy of Time: Tigers as the Chronotope of Continual Coloniality in Korea

Yongwoo Lee

This essay is mainly focused on conceptualization of the subject of the nonhuman and the animality issue in representations of the tiger in particular, in images of the colonial and postcolonial periods in Korea. The portrayal of animals and the concept of animality have been reflected in all of the various stages of collective memory in the formation of Korean modernity, throughout the history of Japanese colonialism, the Korean War, anti-communism and Americanism, and Korea’s role in the Vietnam War in the Cold War era. In this sense, the representational problem of nonhuman and animistic subjectivities in postcolonial Korea casts several seminal questions concerning the formation of colonial modernity, which can be traced back to the Japanese occupation period and the postwar dictatorial governmentality through biopolitics by highly racialized tropes and ethicized cultural discourses. Yet, the epistemological dichotomy is still embedded in the collective memory of Koreans as a form of anti-communist ideology, racism, and xenophobia. Through overviewing theoretical and critical analyses on the subject of the human-animal, discourses of animality, and the images of tigers, questioning the relationship between the concept of present-past as the primordial, and animal as the chronotope of colonial modernity, Yongwoo Lee discusses the mono-ethnic imaginary of nationalism, symptomatic tropes within the formation of colonial modernity, and its impact on the collective unconscious during the postcolonial era through representations of the tiger.

The Phantom of
“Minjok Art”

Park Chan-kyong

Categorizing “Oriental” art, in our times of enduring cultural colonization, is not an easy task. Traditional or, for that matter, national art, may prove an effective antidote to Western culture ruling over the world. And while, on the other hand, the critique of “Orientalism” is certainly legitimate, an Orientalist perspective may help the “Oriental” artist to define his own attitude. Taking Korea as its point of departure, this essay endeavors to disentangle the different strands of traditional, national, and post-Orientalist art to reach a more differentiated picture of these terms.

The Fugitive Reflex: Autonomy and Sublimation after Zomia

David Teh

This essay begins by considering the work of political scientist and agrarianist James Scott and its possible affinities with contemporary art. Scott’s “anarchist” history of Southeast Asia’s upland peoples highlights the dynamics of flight, as a defense against the rationalization and encompassment wrought by modern nation-states. As a political geography, the region Scott calls “Zomia” may be no more, yet that fugitive logic may have survived its historical moment. Where might we look today for the modes of withdrawal, and the autonomy, that distinguished these uplanders? And what stake might artists have in such strategies of avoidance? The evidence in contemporary art suggests that the fugitive instinct is alive and well in Southeast Asia. Zooming in on a single project by the artist Pratchaya Phinthong, the text opens very widely the question of how this instinct finds expression in art’s supposedly “post-national” era. Finally, a speculative sketch asks where we might search for such fugitive expressions in a certain regional art history, and what they might reveal about the scope, and the limits, of artistic independence.

Three Tigers

Filipa Ramos

Three Tigers considers three artistic renderings of tiger‒human encounters—Heinrich Leutemann’s lithograph Road Surveying Interrupted in Singapore (c.1885), Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s film Tropical Malady (2004), and Phillip Warnell’s film Ming of Harlem (2014)—to investigate the entanglement of human‒animal relations at the crossroads of cultural and environmental histories. I will take into consideration the relations these animal-images establish with the sites they occupy and with those who traverse them—how Road Surveying Interrupted in Singapore depicts a leaping tiger surprising an urban planner and his team; how in Tropical Malady a weretiger haunts his feverish lover across the jungle; and how Ming, a Bengal tiger, becomes one with the house that hosts him—echoing Donna Haraway’s appeal to make kin across species and beings and constitute zones of refuge where these alliances can become stronger.

Nature’s Kill Switch

Etienne Turpin

In his Theoretical Introduction to The Accursed Share (La part maudite), Georges Bataille offers a halting simile: tigers are to space what sex is to time. This essay examines Bataille’s claim in the context of his philosophy of expenditure. It begins by considering the philosophical consequences of Bataille’s argument against energetic scarcity; next, it attends to the tiger as a metaphor of nature and as a colonial figuration used to legitimize extermination; then, by re-considering the colonial origins of this metaphor-image-figure of evolutionary expenditure in relation to the bodily restrictions related to sexual practices, the essay evaluates the potential excesses of anal intercourse; finally, by examining the colonial history of the potlatch, it determines how the actual process of economic restriction drives colonial expansion and reifies an annihilating violence in the form of the state.