Research on Contemporary Arts in Asia

Les Joynes

Scholar in Visual Cultures, Columbia University, New York

Visiting Faculty at Renmin University School of Art, Beijing, China; US Zero1 Art and Technology Artist


Visual culture scholar at Columbia University in New York  Dr. Les Joynes (US) is founder of FormLAB, a site specific art installation series exhibited worldwide most recently on China’s Great Wall. Recipient of Fulbright-Hays US Public Diplomacy Awards for Mongolia and China, Les has exhibited at the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture, Norimatsu Museum, Japan; Bangkok Experimental Film Festival; Museu Brasileiro de Arte, São Paulo; the Inside Out Art Museum, Beijing and the Barbican, London.  He represents the United States as 2019 Zero-One Art and Technology Artist. 


He assisted in the curating of the inaugural Taipei Biennial: “Site of Desire” and was lead curator for “Networking” in Tokyo participating as a Japan-UK cultural event. Les has contributed to Art in America and his research is recently published in Museum 2050 (Long Museum, Shanghai) and Going Beyond: Art as Adventure (Cambridge Scholars, UK). He serves on the editorial committee for ProjectAnywhere.

Image  Dr. Joynes in a community-specific module at the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture, Sao Paolo, Brazil, 2012


Image  Multi-media performances at Zanabazar Museum of Fine Art, Mongolia (Fulbright-Hays US Public Diplomacy Award, 2014) 


Image  Video documentary of nomadic Tsaatan groups and habitats in Mongolia (Fulbright-Hays US Public Diplomacy Award, 2014)

Image above: LED performances in Singapore as part of Bauhaus Cities of Tomorrow Series with contemporary artists and dancers. 


We must not cease from exploration. 

And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive 

where we began and to know the place for the first time. 


T.S. Eliot, 1942





As a research scholar focused on projects that foster mutual understanding, my research will contribute to the understanding of Southeast Asian arts in the context of its past and recent history. I have experience building scholarship through primary research (interviews, and field research, exhibitions and collaborative publications that expand the field of discourse in the arts and culture.


Title: Lenses into practice and culture: 

Exploring contemporary visual arts in Southeast Asia




As an artist and researcher I will research Southeast Asian culture and arts relating participatory to the regions Modern history. My initial research and dialogues have inspired met to conduct an in-depth exploration from the perspectives of Southeast Asian artists, writers and critics. As a Visiting Research Fellow, through secondary research, studio visits, primary interviews, oral histories, my research will unpack current climate of Southeast Asian arts and art history. It will result in writing and presentation at upcoming conferences in the arts and art history. 


Research Competencies


As a research scholar in the arts (1986-present) and visual artist, I have built a solid track-record of arts research with contributions to peer-reviewed publications, artist interviews, public lectures on contemporary art and performance. Having led arts-based research projects including a 2014 Fulbright-Hays US Public Diplomacy Award/CEC ArtsLink Grant; a 2016 US Department of State funded field research fellowship on arts education in Mongolia; and a 2017 Fulbright-Hays Mission China Cultural Grant. I have experience liaising with local researchers, working with interpreters and completing all outcomes on time and entirely within budget while producing thoughtful public exhibitions that foster international cooperation in the arts. 


Additional experience in research: I trained in research at Boston University and Vrije Universiteit Brussels, Brussels; and on behalf of Boston University, Du Pont de Nemours, 3M, Dow Chemical, and General Electric authored in-depth multi-country studies on new technologies and competitive intelligence. At California State Polytechnic University I co-authored research on technology transfer models (Dankook University Press, Seoul, 1990) and am currently completing a paper on arts in education in Mongolia as American Center for Mongolian Studies Field Research Fellow. In addition to co-editing a journal on art I am contributing to a book on the future of the museum in China (2019), and another on site-site-specific art practices (2019). I have been a scholar on art, philosophy, education and art history at Columbia University’s Visiting Scholar and Scientist Program since 2008. 


Other resources: I possess at my disposal resources for interviews including video and editing equipment necessary to complete documentation. I have already initiated my research this year conducting interviews on contemporary art and performance with regional specialists, attending conferences, will plan the project in detail over the next year so that I will be ready meet all of my objectives during the research.


Demonstrated Interest in the Region


This project builds upon twenty years demonstrated activity in Asia. This research (interviews and on-site consultation with resources and artworks) and outcomes (a report and edited publication with artists, academics and curators in the region and in Southeast Asian studies. It is important for me to contribute not only to better understanding of the region but how this experience can be possibly unpacked to explore other regions in recent or current conflict (China, Lebanon, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine, Paris…). Finally it will also be an opportunity for me to explore notions of border, social demographies and transnational citizenry (Balibar) and the network models (Sassen) and notions of minority, exile and nomad (Deleuze).


Research to date


I have met and am in dialogue with contemporary art performance specialist Prof. Rustom Homi Bharucha, Professor (Ret.) of Theatre and Performance Studies in the School of Arts and Aesthetics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, Professor Uttara Asha Coorlawara, Professor of Indian Dance at Barnard College, Columbia University, New York;  I have initiated dialogue with the Dean of the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University; Deepan Sivaraman, Associate Professor of Performance Studies at School of Culture and Creative Expressions at Ambedkar University Delhi; Vidya Dehejia, Professor of Indian and South Asian Art, Columbia University; and Phillip Zarrilli a specialist in Indian festival performance. I have applied as Visiting Research Scholar at the Post-Graduate Institute of Archeology of the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. 


Project Feasibility


Having led arts-based research projects since 1994 including a 2014 Fulbright-Hays US Public Diplomacy Award/CEC ArtsLink Grant I am currently a US Department of State Zero1 Art and Technology Artist. I possess experience in peer-reviewed publications, public lectures on the subject of ritual, collaborative art and community-based performance. 


Outcomes and Dissemination of Results


I will submit this research to peer-reviewed journals including Journal for Arts Research (JAR), University of Bern; ProjectAnywhere (University of Melbourne, Australia); Faultline, University of California Irvine; Cambridge University Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities; Afterall, [journal published by the University of the Arts London], and E-Flux, New York. I will submit festival recordings to Columbia University’s ethnographic music collection Wiener Music & Arts Library. 


Why this Project needs to be done


Significance to discipline and host country: In the past five years there has been significant growing awareness of India’s participation in the “global artscape” (D’Souza, 2017). Rather than depending on the colonial urge to impose homogenized contemporary aesthetics on the Indian artscape, this project investigates the creative impulse as evidence of an atemporal ritual practice, honoring the unique desire for tradition prevalent through out Indian festivals. Through artistic collaboration I will expand on the richness of traditional Southeast asian identities to as explore new contemporary visual cultures throughout the region. This project will be an unprecedented opportunity for me both as scholar and artist to contribute to the field, enhance my understanding of India, and develop myself as a regional specialist.


I will use cooperation to bridge cultural and interpersonal divides and to build mutual understanding through art. The rise of populism throughout the region cannot get in the way of the evolution of ideas. If I can learn about Indian traditions while contributing to contemporary performance practices, I will have succeeded in evolving my own practice, bettering my understanding of India and contributing a broader dialogue on the relationship between the local and the global as it relates to the expression of the 21st century Southeast Asian identities.




I am proposing community performance presentations at Columbia University Global Center, Mumbai; ProjectAnywhere 2020 conference, New York and College Arts Association Conference. 


Professional experience preparing me for this project


I recently completed my post-doctorate on art and performance at University of São Paulo, Brazil and am examining public spectacle and contemporary visual culture as 2018-2019 Visiting Scholar at Columbia University’s Department of Art History and Archeology. As my CV demonstrates, I possess professional experience in collaborative performances in the arts, have a track-record of solo and group exhibitions at museums and foundations, and am represented by Thomas Jaeckel Gallery in New York. Although this is my first time in India, I have experience in Asia since 1985 and have conducted performance research in Mongolia, China, South Korea and Singapore. 


For my Bauhaus Foundation sponsored research in Singapore (2009) on dance and performance in local communities, I collaborated with two teams of traditional and contemporary dancers to produce twelve public performances using body, movement and light inspired by Keralan Theyyam dance. The performances, created in sacred groves, were captured on long duration photographs in which the performers’ bodies manifested into swirls of ornamented flesh and streaks of white and red light. This series was featured in three international exhibitions and a peer-reviewed paper in The Journal of Visual Culture, University of California, Irvine. In 2012, I led a two-month research, exhibition and artist-workshop project at the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture in São Paulo. Through collaborative performance, I learned indigenous rituals performances, that are at the foundation of contemporary Brazilian visual cultures. With US and Brazilian artists, I produced fifteen performances exploring shamanic ritual, dance and theater with the Candomblé performance group Usina da Alegria Planetária in Embú and Commediens Tropicales, a São Paolo-based theater company, resulting in nine videos, and a solo exhibition.  In 2014, I led an 11-week research project studying shamanic performance, rituals and traditional music, becoming one of the first Americans to produce a series of collaborative performances in Mongolia. Outcomes included the video Shapeshifter (2014), xhoomi throat singing performances that were combined with synthesized digital music and dance at the Zanabazar Museum of Art in Ulaanbaatar.  As 2017 Mission China Cultural Project Grantee I directed a US-China performance series that exhibited at Inside Out Museum, Beijing that explored the relationship between the US-China team of artists and local sites (The Great Wall, the Forbidden City). Within local Beijing neighborhoods we created community-interactive performances in public markets, grocery stores and in narrow-alleyways.   In early 2019 I will produce a series of site-specific performance workshops with local communities in Sri Lanka. 


Selected Bibliography


Ahuja, N. P. (2013). Body in Indian art and thought. Brussels: Europalia International.


Auslander, Philip  (2008). Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture, 2nd edition, London and New York: Routledge.


Bachelard, Gaston (1994). The Poetics of Space, Boston: Beacon Press, 1994.


Barthold, L.S (2014). “True Identities: From Performativity to Festival,” In Hypatia. New York: Wiley vol. 29, no. 4 (Fall).


Becker, C (2002) Surpassing the spectacle: Global transformations and the changing politics of art, New York: Rowman & Littlefield.


Bhabha, H. K.  (1994) The Location of Culture, London: Routledge.


Bharucha, R. (2007). Rajasthan: An Oral History, New York: Penguin.


Bharucha, R  (1990). Theatre and the world: Essays on performance and politics of culture, New Delhi: Manohar Publications.


Bhattacharya, S.K. (1996) The story of Indian art, Delhi: Atma Ram & Sons.


Billing, J, Lind, M and Nilsson, L (eds.) (2007) Taking the Matter into Common Hands: Contemporary Art and Collaborative Practices, London: Black Dog.


Bishop, C. (ed.) (2006), Participation, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.


Bishop, C.. (2012). “Participation and Spectacle: Where Are We Now?” in Living as Form: Socially Engaged Art from 1991-201,. Cambridge: MIT Press.


Bourriaud, N.  (1998). Relational Aesthetics, Dijon: Les Presse du Reél.


Breton, A. (1948). Le Cadavre Exquis: Son Exaltation, Paris, La Dragonne.


Carlson, M. (2003). Performance: A Critical Introduction, New York: Routledge.


Chavis, D. & McMillan, D. (1986) “Sense of community: A definition and theory,” Journal of Community Psychology 14, 1986. 6–23. 


Childs, N. and Walwin, J. (eds.) (1998), A Split Second of Paradise: Live Art, Installation and Performance, London: Rivers Oram Press.


Crary, J (2000). Suspensions of Perception. Attention, Spectacle and Modern Culture, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 


Crary, J (1990), Techniques of the Observer, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press. 


David, A.R. (2009) “When the body becomes the dance: issues of space, place-making and empowerment in British Hindu worship” in Proceedings of the 25th symposium of the 

ICTM study group on ethnochoreology, 151–54. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.


Davies, D. (2004), Art as Performance, Oxford: Blackwells, 2004.


Hayden, Dolores (1995) The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


D'Souza, R and Manghani S. (Eds) (2017). India's Biennale effect : a politics of contemporary art, London, Routledge.


Enwezor, O and Bouteloup, M [et al.] (2012). Intense Proximity: an Anthology of the Near and the Far, Paris: Artlys/Centre National des Arts Plastiques.


Falconi, J.P. 2011. Space and festivalscapes. Platform 5 [Internet] (accessed 19/07/2018).


Foster, H (1996) The Return of the Real, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.


Goldberg, R (2011). Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present, 3rd edition, New York: Thames and Hudson.


Goswamy,B. N. and Singh K (eds) (2000). Indian Art: forms, concerns and development in historical perspective, New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.


Heathfield, A (ed.) (2000), Small Acts: Performance, the Millennium and the Marking of Time, London: Black Dog Publishing.


Jackson, P., Crang, P. and Dwyer, C (2004). Transnational spaces, London: Routledge. 


Jacobsen, K.A., ed. (2008). South Asian religions on display. Religious processions in South Asia and in the diaspora, London and New York: Routledge.


Joynes, “Artist as Explorer” (2018). in Going Beyond: Art as Adventure, O’Neill, R. and Werner, J. (eds), Nottingham, UK: Cambridge Scholars.


Joynes, L (2017) Intercultural Collaboration in the Arts: Shamanism, Ritual in Brazil, [post-doctoral thesis], Department of Performance Arts, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.


Joynes, L , et al in (2016). Anywhere v.1. Lowry, S and Douglas, S (eds.), New York: Parsons Fine Arts, School of Art, Media and Technology.


Joynes, L. et al (2014). in Art and Research at the Outermost Limits of Site Specificity. Lowry, S. and Douglas, S. eds. Newcastle, Australia: University of Newcastle.


Joynes, L and Basu, S, (2012). “The Invisible and the Transvisible in Contemporary Art in Singapore,” Irvine, CA: Journal for Visual Culture, University of California, Irvine.


Kaprow, A. (1966). Assemblage, Environments & Happenings, New York: Abrams.


Karashima, N (2014) A concise history of South India: issues and interpretations, N.Delhi: OUP.


Kersenboom, S. (2010). “Ritual differs: Beyond fixity and flexibility in South Indian Hindu 

Ritual.”. in Ritual matters: Dynamic dimensions in practice, Brosius, C and Husken (eds), London: Routledge.


Kochi Biennale Foundation (2012). Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012, Kerala: Kochi Foundation.


Kramrisch, S (1999). The arts and crafts of Travancore, Thiruvananthapuram: Dept. of Cultural Publications, Govt. of Kerala.


Krauss, R.  (2000). A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition, London: Thames & Hudson.


Kwon, Miwon (2004). One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Lane, J. and Phelan, P. (eds.) (1998). The Ends of Performance, New York: NYU Press.


Lippard, L. (1997). The Lure of the Local: Sense of Place in a Multicultural Society, New York: New Press.


Massey, D. (1994). Space, place, and gender. Cambridge, MA: Polity Press.


Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002). Phenomenology of Perception, London: Routledge Classics.


Miles, M.  (1997). Art, Space and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures, London: Routledge.


Mookerjee, A. (1985). Ritual art of India, London: Thames and Hudson.


Rancière, J. (2009). The Emancipated Spectator, New York: Verso.


Ray, H.P. (2007). Sacred landscapes in Asia: shared traditions, multiple histories, New Delhi: Manohar.


Rogoff, I. (2000). Terra Infirma: Geography’s Visual Culture, London: Routledge.


Singh, R. (1987) Banaras, sacred city of India. London: Thames and Hudson.


Sood, P. (2010). The Khoj Book: Contemporary Practice in India, London: C Collins.


Suderberg, E  (2000). Space, Site, Intervention: Situating Installation Art. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


Taussig, M (2008). Walter Benjamin’s Grave. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.


Thompson, N and Sholette G (eds.) (2004). The Interventionists: Users’ Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Vatsyayan, K (2003). The Square and the Circle of the Indian Arts, New Delhi: Abhinav.


Vergine,  L (2000). Body Art and Performance: The Body as Language, Milan: Skira.


Watts, j. (2005) Kerala: of gods and men. New Delhi: Timeless Books.


Zarrilli, P. (1999). Kathakali Dance-Drama: Where Gods and Demons Come to Play, London: Routledge.





 Reactiveness entreats failure, learning and serendipity. Pagan Kennedy in her article How to Cultivate the Art of Serendipity (The New York Times, January 2, 2015) gives an example of the Super Encounterer,  a term coined by Information Scientist, Dr. Sanda Erdelez, based at the University of Missouri to denote someone who finds surprises almost wherever they look. This is for me akin to the discoveries made by the Flâneur who is constantly roving to discover.

 A. Breton, A., Le Cadavre Exquis: Son Exaltation [exhibition catalogue], (La Dragonne, October 7–30, Paris, Galerie Nina Dausset). 

 For me observers include the artists, participants and the spectators. The LAB disrupts expectations of the processes (which engage the unfamiliar) and destabilizes the notion of the exhibition being a passive display of works of art: sculpture, drawings, installations, moving image, photographs – the collections of which may change and mutate during the exhibition. 

 Robert Smithson in his essay “Cultural Confinement” (1972) writes: “A work of art when placed in a gallery loses its charge and becomes a transient object or surface disengaged with the outside world. A vacant white room with lights is still a submission to the neutral. Works of art seen in such spaces seem to be going through a kind of aesthetic convalescence. They are looked upon as so many inanimate invalids, waiting for critics to pronounce them curable or incurable. Next comes integration. “Once the work of art is totally neutralized, ineffective, abstracted, safe, and politically lobotomized, it is ready to be consumed by society. All is reduced to visual fodder and transportable merchandise. Innovations are allowed only if they support this kind of confinement” (Smithson, 1996, pp. 154-155).

 Okwui Enwezor writes of the receiver of the artwork encountering “a phenomenological space within which dimensions of temporal and historical, aesthetic and critical methodological and disciplinary models converge so as to produce new relationships of proximity. Enwezor, O. and Bouteloup, M.[et al.] (2012) Intense Proximity: an Anthology of the Near and the Far, Paris: Artlys, Centre National des Arts Plastiques, p 11.“an error in speech, memory, or physical action that is interpreted as occurring due to the interference of an unconscious ("dynamically repressed") subdued wish, conflict, or train of thought guided by the ego and the rules of correct behavior” Wikipedia [Internet] Accessed January 21 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freudian_slip

 Foucault, M. (1970) The Order of Things: Archaeology of the Human Sciences. New York, Vintage Books. P 364.

 There is a sense of the self being “buttressed” through self opposition a notion that we are that we are that what we are not in Hal, F (1996) in The Artist as Ethnographer in The Return of the Real, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp 179-180.