Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Poetics of Confrontation -- Femininity, Oppression and Transgression in Cui Xiuwen's Existential Emptiness

For all its preoccupation with female sexuality and identity in contemporary China, the work of Cui Xiuwen has always transcended the label of feminism with its intimate, emotive yet confrontational aesthetics. From her earlier paintings and videos to her conceptual photography in recent years, the artist's alter-ego has metamorphosed through grief and constraints imposed by the external world, to reach a state of illumination that speaks to the wider human experience.

Cui's latest series since 2007, Existential Emptiness is a deeper, more introspective voyage. The new series continues in a similar vein of digitally manipulated photography as her previous works, One Day in 2004 and Angel, where brilliant light and colourful palettes shine on the contradictions in cultural traditions and violence enacted against women in earlier times in China. The repercussions remain in Cui’s renditions, as the figures of young girls embody the pressure that is inherent in the feminine identity. Through the doleful girl-child in One Day in 2004 and the dejected, pregnant teenage girl in Angel, the protagonists are depicted in self-portrait formats and ethereal settings through which Cui addresses the violation of innocence under social and cultural pressure.

Paradox underlines the image of Cui’s alter-ego, which appears in different guises and settings. In Existential Emptiness, chilling landscapes of Northern China are transformed into monochrome images reminiscent of traditional Chinese ink painting. The solitude of Cui's alter-ego unfolds, framed by ice and snow, against barren backgrounds with hues of silver hinting at the arrival of spring. Existential Emptiness probes deep into the loneliness of femininity: in the fictive domain, the artist’s alter-ego is accompanied by a life-size doll that lays limb in her arms. At times the two are mirrored selves in isolation and enlightenment through their journey; at other moments the doll is a burden the protagonist must bear as she plods along her path.

The narrative acquires a subtly subversive dimension: for Cui, the doll evokes the duality of body and soul in the subject in art. Its presence in the photos symbolizes the artist's confrontation with her own female identity, and the dynamic shifts between helplessness and strength. In 'Existential Emptiness No.5', the girl succumbs under the weight of her struggle and falls onto the snow with the doll on her back, her face obliterated against snowy mountains. The artist's resistance strikes again in 'Existential Emptiness No.7' where her alter-ego, wearing splinters of snow all over her body, drags her doll across a surreal whiteness and misty veils of trees. The image is one of self-assertion, of a relentless search for an exit towards an unknown point in time.

The discovery in Existential Emptiness is an unsettling one for the audience—it presents the pain borne by women in contemporary China, inviting the viewers to experience its thought-provoking representations. 'Existential Emptiness No.6', a triptych of three horizontally aligned compositions, is the perfect culmination of this dilemma. The protagonist and her doll stand defenceless in the middle of a highway, and the doll's sexuality is exposed through her open school uniform amid harsh wind. The headlights of oncoming car, sightings of pedestrians and bicyclists and the pale silhouette of the smokestacks of an industrial factory site come together in a cold, ruthless symphony that plays to the girl's distress.

The motifs in this image are a stark revelation of the oppression that runs through the series: both the girl and her doll, in their school girl personas and vulnerable state, seemingly conform to the stereotyping of female identity as seen through the conventional male gaze. The artist's alter-ego can only hold her doll in front of her while huddling behind its inert body, then shielding it as they ride away from the scene. The city setting points to the universality of such female experience in the society, where women continue to endure and seek to escape from conventional judgement. The flight begins at an early as symbolized by the doll’s bony rib cage and thin pubic hair. Neither a child nor a woman, the girl protagonist struggles in isolation through the abrupt changes in her sexuality. The sense of loneliness lingers into adulthood, which the artist continues to redefine it in her series of alter-egos.

In the universe of Existential Emptiness one finds both oppression and refuge, as the void offers an opening into enlightened, interior landscape. The artist's alter-ego finds certainty in the silent union with her doll in 'Existential Emptiness No.9'. The two engage in a shared meditation, protected from the intrusion of the surroundings by retreating into their selves. The refuge is also a meditation on the wider human condition, as silence is often the only transgression one can rage against cultural and social constraints. And the power of such transgression must come from a true recognition of one's body and soul, which Cui alludes to in 'Existential Emptiness No.16'--an individual must face her selves, in perfect stillness and acceptance, as if one's existence was at stake in a vast, frozen wilderness.

About the artist

One of the most renowned artists in contemporary art in China, Cui Xiuwen graduated from Central   Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in 1996. Cui's artistic career began with painting and evolved to include video works in the early 2000's, and her works presented a pointed exploration of the new sexuality in China. Since 2004, Cui has turned to photographic assemblages in an intriguing mix of digital manipulation, traditional motifs in both Western and Chinese arts and her singular aesthetics.

The work of Cui Xiuwen has been exhibited in some of the world's most prestigious galleries and museums including Tate Modern and Victoria and Albert Museum in London; International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York and Pompidou Centre in Paris. Cui recently had a solo exhibition at Today Art Museum in Beijing.

Fragmented Emotions -- Photography of Cozue Takagi and Shu Ikeda

Since contemporary Japanese photography came to wider attention in the West since the 1990’s, it has been acclaimed for its diversity—in the words of photography critic and scholar Mariko Takeuchi’s, its ‘multitude of reactions’ in the reproduction of truth1. In the past decade, the new generation of Japanese photographers has elevated this diversity to greater magnitudes by pushing the limits of their visual representations, often prolonging the images beyond their original frames or dimensions and conceptual boundaries2.

On today’s forefront of such exploration are Cozue Takagi and Shu Ikeda, two young Japanese artists who illuminate the intervals between the visible and the invisible in their works. Both artists voyage into new possibilities in the photographic medium with their collaged creations: Cozue employs digital manipulation to give an incredible density to her emotional landscapes, while Shu uses the method of paper-cutting to create quietly punctuated universes, where one experiences a breakdown of the boundary between interiority and the external world.

One of the most recognized young photographers in Japan, Cozue Takagi stands out for the provocative imagery in her work, as well as her constantly evolving techniques and styles. In her signature diptych titled ‘Ground’, Cozue’s method is to scan a group of original negatives photographed on film and to convert the monochrome images into colored ones, before digitally mixing them as collages and adjusting the tones. The fabricated, multi-layered images carry deep, stirring hues and atmospheres that spring from Cozue’s creative process.

While Cozue started her artistic journey with the desires to confront the outside world and to protect her inner refuge, ‘split’ and ‘grain’ show that the two realms stem from the same place in the artist’s mind. In ‘split’, a series of 18 images that originate from ‘ground’, the assemblage of human figures, animals, plants, fire, objects and printed matters symbolizes scenes from Cozue’s life. The expressive gestures call to an intense subjectivism within the artist. ‘grain’, a further decomposition of ‘ground’ images, cuts to the heart of her creativity: the repeated cycle of life and death, of life being born for the dying and returning to the earth to be born again.

Rebirth takes on a different guise in the work of Shu Ikeda, who inverts the photographic images and reality to create unique, distant landscapes. Shu also photographs on film: he cuts out different shapes on the photographs with a paper cutter, and each artwork is a delicate creation that takes one to three months to complete. The layered images show both existence and voids: they represent Shu’s cropping of a moment in reality, then cropping it further and reinventing it in a new light and space. Mounted on acrylic, the punctuated photos contain a variety of visual effects that invite comparisons between illusion and substance.

The central subject in Shu’s work is scenery of nature, as he believed nature evokes feelings and impressions that are universal in people regardless of their backgrounds. In Shu’s world where the real and the imaginary intersect, the viewers recognize deep, visceral response to the external world in their own consciousness. Works such as ‘we must say goodbye until we see it once again’ draws on one’s perception of the passage of time, while ‘another shadow’ hints at the exploration of selves within the audience. These associations are questions from the artist, who maintains remarkable emotional restraints in his work.

For all the contrast in compositions and styles between the two artists’ works, Cozue and Shu share one creative ideal: to express their innermost feelings with clarity, and with no discrepancies between their artworks and their selves. In their reproduction of reality, Cozue and Shu explore compositional and conceptual limits in contemporary Japanese photography, a bourgeoning art form that often questions the nature of photography itself3. Fragmented Emotions brings Cozue Takagi and Shu Ikeda to the Hong Kong audience for the first time, in a showcase of the emotive, daring and innovative facets of contemporary Japanese photography.

Artists’ biographies

Cozue Takagi (b. 1985) – Cozue Takagi first rose to prominence in Japan’s art scene when she won the Grand Prize at Canon’s New Cosmos of Photography in 2006 during her last year of studies in Tokyo Polytechnic University. Since then Takagi’s works have been exhibited in various solo and group exhibitions across Japan and in Korea. She is the winner of the 35th Kimura Ihei Memorial Photography Award 2010, one of the most prestigious photography awards in Japan. She lives and works in Nagano, Japan.

Shu Ikeda (b. 1979) – Shu Ikeda studied painting in Tokyo Zokei University and graduated in 2004. Since his debut solo exhibition fragmentary time in 2007, Ikeda has risen as one of Japan’s up-and-coming artists with his Honorable Mention at Canon’s New Cosmos of Photography in 2009 and winning the Mayor of Judge Prize at Tokyo Wonder Wall 2009. He works and lives in Tokyo, Japan. 

1Photography in Japan’, an essay by Mariko Takeuchi for Paris Photo 2008 with Mariko Takeuchi’ in foam magazine #17, winter 2008 

2Photography in Japan’, an essay by Mariko Takeuchi for Paris Photo 2008
3Ferdinand Brueggemann, ‘Focus on contemporary Japanese photography: Interview 

Three Dimensions -- A Vestige of Time and Space in Architectural Photography

Between functional and artistic abstraction, architectural photography is centered in a depiction of perspectives that redefines the dynamic of its subjects1. Beyond the interpretation of locations and structures, architectural images often reveal temporal realms that are previously invisible and allow the viewers to see through dimensions2. In subverting temporality, photographers employ distinct visual languages grounded in personal and cultural backgrounds, to create new vistas of the ever-shifting cityscapes. 

Peter Margonelli’s photography of deserted industrial locations projects a world without time. The Invisible Geographies series are captures of industrial sites of flat light and grayish hues, devoid of recent human presence. The photos allude to film sets fallen into disuse, with a surreal ambience that resembles Edward Hooper’s paintings at times. The echoes of a distant past come from the artist’s childhood, and they are subtly stilled by the symmetry of objects, colours and typography in the images. The buildings are squarely exposed in their isolation, since Margonelli does not optimise them against the surroundings with compositional techniques such as dramatic texture or shadow. 

Decontextualised, the industrial landscapes become abandoned sites where the past obliterates the present and any possible future, and the viewers are offered no emotional entrance into the architectural subjects. Margonelli’s paradoxical strategy is precisely what makes Invisible Geographies metaphysically provocative: the photos propagate hidden architectures into a wider world where they normally cannot be seen. 

The manipulation of time and space takes the opposite direction in the Landmark series by Hong Kong photographer Eason Tsang. Taken at night from an upshot angle, these photos of Hong Kong skyscrapers give only small hints of their true identities, which are mostly famous landmarks like the Peninsula Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui and the Jardine House in Central. The compositions of these images revolve around emphasis and omission, while extending the subjects’ spatial dimensions beyond their physical settings. Conventional architectural qualities like stillness and formality are replaced by a striking sense of movement, as the buildings move vertically up toward the sky and become new landmarks on their own vertical planes. 

Tsang’s creation of these imaginative landmarks is a statement on Hong Kong being a densely populated space. It also unmasks an intriguing temporal dimension of the city: its architectural space thrives through the night, in moments that elude the viewers who perceive architectures as static human constructions.

In the words of architect and cultural critic Kazys Varnelis, architecture has become a way to represent the delirium of globalised space today, and the visual impact of architecture photography is divorced from its ostensible subject3. Dick Chan’s latest series The Familiar Peculiarity, which encapsulate the transformation of old districts like Kowloon Bay and Wong Tai Sin in Hong Kong, offer a succinct example of this accelerating modernisation and an alternate view on Varnelis’ critique on the art form. The panoramic images highlight the physical, intrinsic characteristics of buildings like deserted factories and traditional public housing, and modern skyscrapers springing up over the areas. The interpretation of architectural structures, as well as their relation to the environmental contexts, remains one of the central elements of the photographic works. Chan’s juxtaposition of the historic and the modern is a familiar theme to city dwellers, whose existence constantly unfolds in unfamiliar moments as the city changes every day. 

For the conceptual and stylistic differences between their works, Peter Margonelli, Eason Tsang and Dick Chan present highly individualised and imaginative interpretations of cityscapes that alter audience perception of their immediate surroundings or distant environments. By bringing together the distinct sensibilities of these artists, "Three Dimensions" showcases the cultural and artistic diversity inherent in architectural photography.

1 Architectural Photography: Composition, Capture and Digital Image Processing by Adrian Schulz
2“Is Architectural Photography Art Photography?” an essay by Alan Rapp in Critical Terrain, Jan 2010

3“On Architectural Photography Today”, an essay by Kazys Varnelis on, July 2009

Sunday, December 19, 2010

New Ink - Mixed Interpretations

(Hong Kong Gallery Guide  Dec/Jan 2010)

The New Ink Movement is becoming a popular term among those who are interested in the art form, as ink painting evolves in contemporary art in mainland China. Born out of the country’s post-revolutionary art, the New Ink marks a departure from the traditional aesthetics of landscape painting (‘shan shui’ in Chinese) and the limits of the medium.

New Ink Exhibition Part 1: New Landscape at Galerie Ora-Ora features three graduates from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, and the young artists have strikingly different styles that point to new possibilities in ink. The work of Li Pang seems to bear a more traditional imprint, though he instills a sense of conflict and pressure into his paintings by incorporating motifs of contemporary life, as in the series ‘Untitled Chinese Landscape’. Most of the paintings present a distortion or intersection of perspectives—the viewers are lured into the illusion of aerial view of a quiet farm, or the cinematic depiction of cars on a highway, heading towards the far end of the landscape. ‘Utopia’, a surprising rendition of the Great Wall, embodies the subtle irony in Li’s craft. The subject is devoid of its grandeur and revealed through the shadows of ink, a black-and-white ambivalence seeping on paper.

On the other end of the spectrum is Huang Haifei, who paints her interiority in her compositions. The landscapes take on the guise of old, yellow maps, on which Huang re-creates classical icons such as trees, plants and animals with whimsical stamps. 'Ego Dimension' is a clear statement on the breakdown of boundaries: the artist's scattered self splits and spreads, all over the territory, which portrays Huang's inner world and forsakes any external realm. Larger scale works such as ‘World’s Edge’ and ‘Mirror Sight Overlap’ show a progression of metaphors of traditional landscape while suggesting a new definition of the genre. The drifting scenery, homes and creatures seem to be floating away to the world's edge, while ink wash in Huang's work embodies the feeling of painting in mixed media on rice paper.

Japanese artist Kuchima Maki brings varied perspectives on ink painting with her use of diverse techniques, materials and cultural motifs. In the same vein as most of her work, ‘Study’ features densely patterned landscapes created with elements of Chinese paper-cutting and traditional Japanese prints. The composition and its greyish, earthy tone carry a distinctly contemporary expression; the landscape appears fiery in its strange symmetry, as if it was transcending its own boundaries. Her 'Landscape' series, painted on aluminum foil on silk, is another display of muted transgression. The scenery she depicts seems almost conventional at the first glance, but the landscapes waver between contemplative and playful—they are imaginary lands, fantastical realms where the artist communicates her feelings about society and traditions.

Li Pang captures this play between the classical and its contemporary guise perfectly in his 'Before Me' series. The two paintings narrate the artist's journey—drifting on a boat, flowing through time under the pale moon—in traditional landscape ink painting. The imagery alludes to the transition of time and traditions, and the artist's personal response to the changing art form. 

The Lost Homeland

(Hong Kong Gallery Guide  Dec/Jan 2010)

The image of China recedes at an accelerating pace in the works of the new generation of mainland artists. Old landscapes fade and blur into the illusion of prosperity; exiled souls go on a relentless search for their identities around the cities. Young Chinese painter Liu Weijian encapsulates this sense of loss in his compositions, which carry a profound sorrow that is far beyond his years.

Farewell My Country is a somewhat limited though thoughtful retrospective on Liu’s works, as it features some of his lesser-known paintings since 2003. Liu’s paintings are often visual narratives in which the protagonists are unseen or anonymous figures, while their despair is revealed with a quietly cinematic touch. In the stand-out piece of the show, ‘Dusk’, the misty blue world carries an ambivalent longing for respite. Yet the blue sky of varying shades and brightness only highlights the factory as the emotional focus in the picture, a world in which the day’s end promises more dreariness to come. Such contrast between hope and pain adds a subtle irony to Liu’s paintings like ‘Ideal in the garden’. The faceless statues feel like an absurd surprise against the dark backdrop, and the ideal they represent wear off like a disappointment.

Liu’s paintings from his earlier years present a more visceral side to his expression. The paintings play with the conflict between the inside and the outside: images of abandoned homes stand in the snow or at the end of the landscapes, with traces of passers-by who have left the places forever. These paintings speak of nostaglia and solitude, as much as the impossibility of connection. In ‘Late autumn’, human figures appear in deliberately odd and random relations to one another, and their presence accentuates rather than fills the void. In Liu’s world, the light shines on a painful reality and his feelings for a homeland that is fading away--once he has left a dwelling, a locale or a city, it changes and becomes an image from the past, an unreal entity.

In the same vein as other post-80’s Chinese artists, Liu delivers a personal, emotive take on the social issues phenomena in mainland China today. While Liu forsakes the abstract treatment that is popular among his contemporaries, his works strike an intriguing balance between realism and an intense subjectivism. His ‘comic books’--works on sketch books--are a remarkable example. ‘Two stories’ depict the monotonous lives of factory workers who migrate to the city from their hometowns. The drawings of these faceless characters spell imbalance and desperation--they have no way out of the nightmarish universes that stem from the artist’s vision. The sense of pressure, of a surreal existence gives poignancy to Liu’s interpretation of the subject, since it brings the audience very close to his feelings.

Farewell My Country gives some scattered and unsettling glimpses into a country that eludes the grip of her people, and Liu’s works are at times disturbing for their mix of cold and dark colors and melancholy subjects. ‘Crow’s moving castle (part)’, an installation of painting on boxes, may seem like a surprise amid the paintings of gloom and anonymity. The cardboard boxes--ones used for containing bottled mineral water--give a false sense of movement, yet the images speak sorrow and despair. The recycle signs interfere with images of anguished characters, demolished realms, ruined nature and crows flying like messengers of death around a lighthouse with a Chinese flag. For the receptive audience, Liu’s debut solo exhibition in Hong Kong may feel like a brief preview, but it is certainly a good introduction to the artist’s repertoire and sensibility. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Poetics of Mockery

(HK Gallery Guide  October 2010)

Acclaimed Chinese photographers Maleonn and Jiang Pengyi transform the classical into a surreal present of fantasy and loss in A Departure From Reality III: The Tender Truth. Nicolette Wong speaks to the two artists about the fusion of classical Chinese culture and its new guises, contemporary art in China and the transcendence of selves in their art.

Nicolette Wong: In both of your works there is often a bizarre mix of traditional Chinese culture and its present landscape, as if you are inviting the audience to lament of the loss of the classical in today’s China. For Jiang Pengyi, there is a Zen feeling in some of your works like All Back To Dust. Do you intend to create this chemistry for the audience to experience, when you are creating your art?
Jiang Pengyi: What a question! No journalist has asked me this before, not even in China.
Nicolette Wong: That is because most audience may feel the Zen streak in your work without being able to articulate their impression.
Jiang Pengyi: It is indeed something I have in mind when I am working on my art. From ‘All Back to Dust’ to ‘Unregistered City’, my idea was very simple: to put classical Chinese motifs and icons such as Guan Yin, which express the essence of humanity at hidden corners of the cityscape. The representation itself is an opening for the audience to discover—in the end, both the question and answer come from them.
Nicolette Wong: What a Zen answer. What about Maleonn?
Maleonn: My use of classical Chinese motifs, especially those from literature, is very deliberate because they were an essential part of my growing up. In today’s China, our younger generations have a very shallow understanding of traditions. The society is growing increasingly absurd; young people have little exposure to the classics and the spirit—the purity—is very hard for them to grasp.
Nicolette Wong: But there is an inevitable gap between the real and the mimic in your work too, like ‘Second Hand Tang Poems’.
Maleonn: That is where the joke is. As an artist I can only create second-hand interpretation of the real. It is not an attempt to inspire any answer, but rather mockery of the loss or an entry point to the subject.
Nicolette Wong: Janet Fong (curator of the exhibition) and I had a conversation about contemporary Chinese art, a term that sometimes carries a Westernized and limited perspective on what defines today’s Chinese artists, in terms of popularity and auction prices. Do you worry about being labeled in this light, as your works are getting wider recognition in the West?
Maleonn: It is hard not to be labeled and I have made conscious efforts to stay away from it. In my early days as an artist, I was aware that the Western audience might pay more attention to certain important icons of Chinese culture and it affected our artists’ creative expression. My subjects are China and her culture too, but my choice of motifs and treatment is different. I am resistant to the outsider’s perception.
Nicolette Wong: Because contemporary art in China is not exactly the same thing as contemporary Chinese art.
Jiang Pengyi: It is not, but even in China the debate is not so clear-cut. In Beijing where I am based now, audience, critics and even artists can be caught up in confusion and misinterpretation—the perspectives can be quite clouded. As for me, I simply do not think about how others see my work. I do not care what the local or foreign audience says.
Nicolette Wong: What about your relationship with your work? You said your earlier photos of skyscrapers stemmed from an unnamable fear of the city, and you have moved away from shooting skyscrapers. Does it mean you have overcome your fear?
Jiang Pengyi: In a way, yes. I understand that fear now that I have re-created it, time and again, over the years. I have switched to shooting other subjects for my new work while my relationship with buildings is still revealing itself. I have been using model buildings as a different mode of exploration of my feelings, and it has not yielded itself to complete clarity yet. I see it as a question that will get more difficult in the days to come.
Nicolette Wong: Both of your works are expressions of your selves in rather polarized manners. For Maleonn, your persona has metamorphosed throughout your staged photography. Has it not reached its peak by now?
Maleonn: No, because the persona never stops changing as the creator goes on his quest. As I mature as a person and an artist, I am still discovering new ways to channel my thoughts and feelings. I think it is the same with the audience too; they never experience the same chemistry twice as they chance upon an artwork. Art is mirrors and windows: you see yourself in it, and you see yourself in relation to the outside world.
Jiang Pengyi: And you must know what my answer is.
Nicolette Wong: You are going for nothingness.
Jiang Pengyi: Yes, I am trying to obliterate any sense of self in my work.
Nicolette Wong: That is a tough task. Even as you try to cast your self away from the pictures, the audience will naturally get a feeling of your temperament or mindset from your work.
Jiang Pengyi: That is true, but the absence of self has been at the heart of my work for quite some time now and I am developing along that direction. For my upcoming work I am shooting totally random or irrelevant subjects and I will see where it takes me. It is not the same as objectivism in photography because works of that genre carry specific goals or purpose. Mine is going to have no purpose. It is a long and difficult process but I will get there.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Paradox of Photography

(HK Gallery Guide  September 2010)

Amid the buzz over new media art in the last few years, photography in Hong Kong seems to have only reemerged from the sideline of the city's art map in fairly recent times. From a local perspective, exhibitions such as City Flauneur: Social Documentary Photography at Hong Kong Heritage Museum are collaborative efforts in redefining the voice of Hong Kong photography for a wider audience. At the commercial end of a number of galleries have come to feature more popular international photographers, as well as up-and-coming ones who draw serious attention from art critics and collectors.

The question remains whether such moves induce a genuine reflection on contemporary photography as an art form, or if they are largely to tap into unexplored potential of the art market. The arrivals of galleries like Upper Station and Blindspot put photography under the spotlight for the summer--they also put select Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong artists in a more popularized and commercial context. North: a photo exhibition about contemporary China, the last show at Upper Station, featured five Hong Kong photographers who explore the socio-cultural codes in today's China in their works. The presentation of artworks struck what appeared to be an easy balance between artists' sensitivities and audience acceptance: it highlighted a certain homogeneity of subjects, voices and motifs that resonate with popular perception and feelings of China among many Hong Kongers. For the lack of conflict, it is hard to see if the viewers would look beyond the deceptive accessibility of these works and probe deeper into the artists' intention. 

The showcase of internationally renowned artists in recent shows, such as Candida Hofer at Ben Brown, Margarita Dittborn at Connoisseur Contemporary and Edward Burtynsky at Sundaram Tagore illuminates different facets of contemporary photography for the local audience. While Hofer's photographs of public spaces that are centers of cultural life may be distant epochs for some, Burtynsky's photographic depictions of industrial landscapes--some of which are set in China--should stir a stronger sense of urgency and amazement. Yet the question of audience appreciation remains: How far can these works reach the pool of art lovers in Hong Kong, other than regular fine art collectors and the more informed gallery goers? For those who are less familiar with conceptual photography like Dittborn's photomontages, how do they find solid entry points into this genre? In this context, it would be curious to see if galleries will invest more effort in promoting contemporary photography that they feature beyond the commercial aspect.

The relationship between promotion of photography and reflection on the art form may stay paradoxical for some time to come. For Blues Wong Kai Yu, co-founder of pH5 Photo Group, Mainland Chinese artist Maleonn is a case in point. Well-known for his staged, dramatic photography in China and in the West, Ma had his last exhibition in Hong Kong at Metro Art Gallery in Jockey Clubs Creative Arts Center in 2008. His present at Blindspot this September should generate considerable publicity, though attention does not necessarily lead to a wider understanding. 'The Hong Kong audience has yet to grasp the changing definitions of realism and documentation in contemporary photography in the West. Community galleries in Hong Kong have made a lot of effort to educate the audience, while the work for commercial galleries has an essentially different focus. We will have to wait and see if the openings of these new galleries will give that much-needed boost to contemporary photography in Hong Kong,' Wong says.