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.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Abstract Question

(Hong Kong Gallery Guide June 2010)

Osage Kwun Tong
May 1 to June 27

The latest group show at Osage Kwun Tong, The Burden of Representation: Abstraction in Asia Today, aims at a broad question: the positions of abstract painting in Asia and in turns, its significance for cultural production against social and political invasion. The premise is a pointed one given the implication of burden in the curatorial conception. What is the boundary abstract painting seeking to illuminate and to transgress?

Illusion underlines the works of Chinese painters Yang Jiechang and Ding Yi, who focus on the transition of painting as a meditative act to its representation of reality. Yang departs from traditional Chinese ink painting in ‘100 Layers of Ink’, which alludes to the materiality of landscape and an opening in history that the audience must cross. Ding employs more playful motifs in ‘Appearance of Crosses’, though the work heightens the sense of collective expression rather than the subjectivity that is the starting point of the painting. If Yang and Ding have sought to transcend the representation of the real, their quest remains partially unanswered, as their works highlight the presence of cultural and social consciousness rather than its breakdown.

Japan-born Taiwanese artist Michael Lin examines s similar constraints through his floral motifs, traditional and aesthetic icons that turn into shallow denotations in contemporary society. Set against minimalist and contrasting design, the images represent the loss of meaning of abstraction and art amid the trends of today’s popular culture. In a similar vein Lee Kit reproduces images from mass media to signify the collapse between art and everyday life, though Lee’s effort lacks drive. Ambitious as they are, his narratives come across as a palette of somewhat diffused efforts than a concrete assembly of his ideas. Deconstruction also runs through the work of Milenko Prvacki, who dissects the visuality in painting in ‘Collection: The Ultimate Visual Dictionary’, which pinpoints the presence of reality in abstraction.
Prvacki’s lyricism is an attempt to define and defy the burden of representation that lies at the heart of the show, as it touches on the strength of artist’s subjectivity against larger cultural production. Yet Prvaki’s answer may be more ambiguous—and scattered—than succinct to audience that is unfamiliar with abstract art. Chinese artists Zhao Zhao and Gong Jian takes the exploration to their mindscape, where their brushstrokes are minute or repetitive transcribing of their response to the external world. Gong’s concern with the interaction between emotion, text and expression has a linear, simplistic flow, though there is a hint of deeper emotion that seems to be missing on the canvas. One wonders if the artist stops himself short in communicating his interiority to the audience, or if the creative impetus could gain fuller weight.

Liu Wei shows a different kind of restraint in ‘Yes, That’s All!’ and ‘Purple Air VI-15’. His color-field paintings are contemplation on the image-saturated nature of our society, of the surroundings we are confined by in everyday life. Disturbance is at last a stimulus in art, where people can decipher reality in freedom and isolation. ‘Yes, That’s All’ is one of the stand-out pieces in the show: it is sharp, coherent take on the conflict between representation and the real world. Masato Kobayashi chimes in the dialogue with his ‘Light Painting #9’, where objecthood takes on an illusive guise. The allusion to reality is inherent in the shaped monochrome painting that stresses the space and dimension of the art form.

If The Burden of Representation: Abstraction in Asia Today sets out to review the state of abstract art in Asia at present, it presents possibilities and hints while some of the selected artworks are rather weak in their emotional or visual impact. The question remains, though it is certainly a worthy direction to explore.

Missing Static

(Hong Kong Gallery Guide May 2010)

Gallery EXIT
April 9 to May 22

Among the young and emerging artists in Hong Kong, Kong Chun Hei makes his mark with his minimalist style and insistence on drawing as a form of contemplation—one that defies the passage of time and intrusion of the external world. His first solo show Gleaning at Gallery EXIT illuminates his conviction in the relationship between drawing and the monuments of life.

The selection of Kong’s ink drawings strikes a deep chord of solitude. Beyond their apparent stillness the images spell a desire for movement. ‘Suitcase’ is a mockery of such desire: the image is a realistic depiction of the lonesome suitcase that stands within the frame, and the viewers cannot decide whether it points to travel or stagnation or even abandonment. Larger scale works such as ‘Black Rain’ carry an inkling of the outside world. Yet the sense of confinement remains when the audience returns to the fine touches of Kong’s dedication: the creation of these drawings embodies silence and labor through solitary hours.

Nostalgia is another underlying theme of Gleaning, whose title is an apt opening note for recollections of a distant past. The two drawings of old blank albums may seem like an obvious statement, though details of the objects—intact in parts, broken in others—instill a wonderful ambiguity in the images. Did the past exist and fade away, or does it lie in wait for one to create and manipulate? The same question goes for ‘Photo I’ and ‘Photo II’, phantoms of the Queen of England on TV screens. Are the images recreation of history, or are they Kong’s conception of bygone days imbued with new meanings?

‘Snow’, a series of twenty drawings, could have been a conceptual bridge between the rest of the works in Gleaning if not for the presence of an old TV set showing static as a part of the set up. The drawings are perfectly intriguing artworks on their own: the minute traces of symbolic snow hint at an almost obsessive attention, one that takes the audience on a trip to the artist’s mental landscape. The addition of the TV set not only demystifies the images; it disrupts the artist’s imagination that runs through the exhibition. Such intrusion strikes one as counter-intuitive to the detachment from reality Kong aims for in his contemplation. For the audience the gleaning of traces needs no entry point from a real-life object—they only need to see the artist’s mind.

In Search of Voices

(Hong Kong Gallery Guide April 2010)

Amid heated debates over the term ‘post 80’s’ generation and its social and political connotations, a contemporary art show featuring young artists from across Asia seeks to be a new focal point of reflection, Nicolette Wong reports.

The term ‘post 80s’ bears many negative imprints by the media and public opinions, thanks to a series of controversial current affairs in Hong Kong in the last few years. Yet the spirits of a generation cannot be defined by a narrow focus on social issues and their repercussions; in art, post 80’s artists are depicting their response to the challenges they live, offering glimpses into their times and sensibilities.

As a stimulus to this dialogue, local curator Calvin Hui presents ‘Haven’t You Heard?’ Artists of the 80’s Contemporary Art Group Show at Contemporary by Angela Li. The impetus for the show lies in Hui’s belief in the language of art as the bridge between divergent views, through which the public can gain deeper comprehension of the young generation and the multiple facets of their experience.

In Hui’s understanding, ‘post 80’s’ is a broad topic of discussion that is set against the backdrop of globalization and urbanization. In the age of Internet where youths around the world consume the same doses of popular culture and mass branding, many post 80’s artists show a degree of synchronicity in their works despite their different backgrounds.
‘In Haven’t You Heard?, the artists come from various cultures and religions, but they all have a globalized outlook and deal with the issues of urbanization in their works,’ Hui noted. ‘My hope is to present an exchange of ideas through this art show, to expand on common perspectives of what “post 80’s” means.’

The two Hong Kong artists featured in Haven’t You Heard?, Li Tin Lun and Wong Chun Hei, are apt examples of the existence between virtuality and reality among the post 80’s generation. Both works are directly inspired by the virtual world such as online games, as they reflect on the subjects of identity and control.

In Wong’s paintings, ‘China Downtown 2’ and ‘London Clock Tower’, frozen frames of computer games pose as questions about one’s control of his or her own subjectivity. While the players indulge in virtuality for control over imaginary worlds, they are in fact manipulated by the rules and frameworks they seek to override.

The loss of identity puts on a more taunting take in the mixed media installations of Li Tin Lun. In ‘Amitabha’, an image reminiscent of Buddha stands gazing at the audience through many layers of colors and consciousness, like dissected shadows of those who engage in the virtual world.

Beyond such personal perspectives, Haven’t You Heard? showcases a broad range of interpretations on contemporary art by the young artists. Japanese artist Ikumi Nagasawa strikes a familiar note with the ‘kidult’ implications in her paintings, which unmask the surreal expression of sadness in the cute Japanese girl dolls.

Nagasawa’s compositions are remarkable in that she conveys a deep sense of certainty through her strokes: each line marks a conscious detachment from and critique on the subject. The audience is lured into a deceptively simple yet dark mindscape, where they must contemplate the emptiness that is drawn from their real, everyday life.

Such ambiguity runs through the works of Kim Yong Kwan, a third-generation Korean-Japanese artist. His series of ‘Deco Knife’ mark a strong feeling of nostalgia as well as confusion—the combination of glittery accessories recall the joys of bygone days, but also carries a blurring of Asian cultural motifs.

In comparison to these Hong Kong, Japanese and Korean artists, who focus on their personal space as the starting points in their works, mainland Chinese artists show a much keener sense of mission. ‘They emphasize a lot more on nation, history and race in their interpretations of contemporary art,’ Hui pinpoints.

Painter and mixed media artist Zhou Yilun gives a twist to classical literary imagination in his ‘Master. Don’t Go!’ and ‘The Most Important Thing Is Not Ready’. The paintings reinterpret two of the four great classical Chinese novels, Journey to the West and Dream of the Red Chamber.

The electrifying kisses on canvas bring out the hidden sexual impulses in these tales of morality. They also stand in contrast with ‘Had Before’, which depicts a similar union of Deng Xiaoping and his Western counterpart. Together the paintings are a pointed play on the development of the country’s cultural and historical imagination.

Fellow Chinese artist Xu Di exhibits a broad social awareness in artworks that employ seafood as a common element. In her photo ‘Lure of the Body’, the salmon-clad sandal speaks of decay and abuse in contemporary society, and provokes in the viewers both fascination with and repulsion against the subject.

Filipino artist Joseph de Juras takes a more direct approach in his ‘BETAMAX’ series. The three paintings, titled ‘Rewind’, ‘Play’ and ‘Stop’, trace the nation’s progression from tribal history to current political instability, to the hope for autonomy for the people in the future—through struggle and violence.

For Hui, the diversity of subject matters and artistic expressions are proof that many ‘post 80’s’ youths strive for serious ideals. ‘Art is where we start to think about life and our society,’ he says. ‘In putting the show together, I went for a selection of regional young artists so there could be contrasting perspectives on the debate.

‘The truth is, each country and city has its unique set of problems, and I hope the show will reach the general public. Be it a curious art lover or just a passer-by who happens to take a look, they will see that the ‘post 80’s’ generation has a lot to share about the world we live in today.’

Hui believed that Haven’t You Heard? has been well-received. Some of the featured artworks were sold at the opening, which was a real encouragement for the young artists. The Western audience is particularly appreciative since many of the works are non-commercial and different from what they usually see in local galleries.

‘We also got some great exposure during Art Walk,’ Hui noted. ‘Many fellow artists, critics and collectors gave very positive feedback on the concept of the show. For me it’s important to have a serious, well-developed theme and to bring out new possibilities for critique.’

Contemplating Randomness - Interview with Joao Vasco Paiva

(Hong Kong Gallery Guide March 2010)

Shifting his traces from Portugal to Hong Kong, Joao Vasco Paiva is a young artist who seeks to defy common perceptions of new media art with his intensely focused, reflexive artworks. Nicolette Wong talks to him about his latest exhibition Experiments on the Notations of Shapes at Input/Output Gallery.

Nicolette Wong: Your new work is a generative multi-channel video installation of Hong Kong cityscapes. How is it executed? How did the idea come to you?

Joao Vasco Paiva: It’s something I started to work on last year. The first version was a performance I presented at the Architecture Is Art Festival 2009, where I selected the footages to be played for the video installation. With my latest project, my idea was to create an orchestration based on the different shapes of Hong Kong architecture. The three video channels show three different elements of the cityscapes: the skyline, the line between buildings and the sky, and the space between buildings in back alleys. The computer would map the skyline, for example, and the footages generate the sounds that underline the installation.

My perspectives on video installation have a lot to do with my background as a painter. I look for ordinary spaces and objects that are familiar to people. Here in Hong Kong I feel a certain detachment from the city, partly because I don’t speak the language and cannot immerse myself in a lot of what’s going on. It translates into what you see in the videos: the city is devoid of people, it’s abandoned and you embrace it as something abstract. There’s an element of solitude to it.

Nicolette Wong: You feel like an alien in a way and it gives you a kind of focus.

Joao Vasco Paiva: Very much so. From a more conceptual point of view, I present the city as a huge architectural space that is constantly mutating. Most people think of architecture as something fixed or planned. In my work, architecture is organic in the sense that it changes with every minute addition, like the abrupt presence of an air-conditioner. There should be a different kind of relationship between people and the space they inhabit beyond their functional perspectives. Most don’t recognize or understand what they see though, until they find themselves in an alien setting.

Nicolette Wong: How does this contemplation reflect your experience and focus, as an artist?

Joao Vasco Paiva: Contemplation is interaction. Most audience who goes to a new media art show expects a direct form of interactivity, an artifice to play with. It’s interesting at times, but for the most part it’s overwhelming participation and it takes over the artwork. I prefer the concept of interference. When you contemplate on an artwork, you interfere with it in that you have to fill in the gaps.

Nicolette Wong: It’s common for audience to respond to new media art how you described though. Most don’t spend the time on interacting with the artworks in their mind.

Joao Vasco Paiva: The definition of new media art is another issue here. People tend to make a sharp distinction between new media art and the rest, like fine art. I don’t think the distinction stands because art is always changing. People coin the term new media art by focusing on the media, say, the use of computer, which isn’t new at all. What’s new should be the way artists can display their works and how audience can interfere. But most people seem to overlook this idea, which is why they expect entertainment rather than contemplation from new media art.

Nicolette Wong: What kind of artist would you describe yourself to be, if someone who isn’t familiar with your work asks you this question?

Joao Vasco Paiva: I had someone come up to me with this question at one of my previous shows. Again it’s rooted in my training as a painter. I spent years studying compositions and looking at elements of a situation or a movement. What I address in my work is the randomness of life. It’s something I experiment with other mediums than video installation, like painting or writing. I’m always looking for different notations to encrypt things in a way that defies logic. I want to get the essences of what is happening. For one of my projects, I walked down the streets of Mong Kok with two recorders attached to my sleeves, which recorded the sound of people brushing against me. It is a composition of randomness.

People generally go for categorization when they look at art. Of course there’re artist who bond themselves in certain groups, but there’re those who never intend to be a part of any movement or trend because they don’t want to their works to be monopolized. I value this individualistic streak in my work.

The Dream of Stone - Interview with Ma Desheng

(Hong Kong Gallery Guide Jan/Feb 2010)

Life has taken circuitous turns for Ma Desheng, leader of the Stars (Xing-Xing, 1979-1980), the group of dissident artists who rebelled against the government orthodoxy and set the stage for the future of artistic freedom in China. Since his exile from China in 1982, Ma’s works have garnered international acclaim while he has been recognized as one of the pioneers of contemporary Chinese art. Ma discusses the reinvention of his life’s story in his stone paintings with Nicolette Wong.

Nicolette Wong: Your stone figures go through constant transformation on the canvas. At times they appear as lonesome drifters; other times they seem to be playful company with one another. How do these figures reflect the story of your life? And of human lives in general?

Ma Desheng: I’ve gone through many drastic and traumatic changes that have led me to contemplate the true meaning of life. Since 1986 I’ve resided in France. In 1992 I went to the US for my exhibition and had a serious car accident in Miami, in which I lost my wife. It took me five years to recover from my injuries as well.

In that light, I see stone as a special entity in which I find echoes of my life. Stones are eternal: they are natural substances, constant and solid, and they resist the ongoing changes in nature. In my stone paintings, I evoke emotions and energy with my calligraphic strokes. My stones represent humanity, and each form of stone represents an individual. The audience can relate each painting to their own perception and interpretation.

Nicolette Wong: Your stone compositions are inspired by The Story of the Stone, the classical Chinese novel that is commonly known as The Dream of the Red Chamber. The book has been a highly popular reference in contemporary Chinese culture and art. In your view, what’s it about the story that speaks to the audience? How does it form a part of the resonance of your works?

Ma Desheng: The Dream of the Red Chamber is a profound story and it depicts some very broad, yet very precise observations of human life. The tale is at once realistic and surreal. Every detail in the narrative has its basis in real life, while its symbolism speaks to the audience at an intellectual and spiritual level. It tells you a lot about the many facets of life, which is in sync with my stone compositions.

Nicolette Wong: What do you think of the wave of avant-garde Chinese artists that have come to the forefront, such as Gu Wenda, Wang Guangyi and Xu Bing, since 1989? Do you think they have found their freedom of expression as Chinese artists, as they establish themselves both at home and overseas?

Ma Desheng: The younger generation of Chinese artists definitely have more freedom and time to focus on their creation. There’s a lot more room for them to express their character through art, since the art scene has become international with globalization.

It’s also to do with the drastic social, political changes and economic changes China has gone through since 1989. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, most of us couldn’t work as artists, and we bonded to strike for artistic freedom. But the situation was impossible and many members of the Stars group had to leave the country.

Nicolette Wong: Are you familiar or connected with some of the younger mainland artists in China? What do you think of their works and development?

Ma Desheng: There’re many talented young artists in China. Each generation has their own culture, perception and expression; I think the new generation is lucky in that they don’t have to struggle as hard with living conditions and money. For that reason, though, some of these young artists go commercial and create more market-driven works.

Distant Reminiscences

(Hong Kong Gallery Guide November 2010)

Amelia Johnson Contemporary
Sept 18 to Oct 31

The unfolding of memories manifests through whirling paths. Award-winning British-Chinese visual artist Dinu Li examines the subtle workings of the memory lane in his solo show The Mother of All Journeys at Amelia Johnson Contemporary. Between old haunts, family histories and the photographer’s gaze, the pictures transcend time, space and individual perspectives in an encompassing narrative.

Initially commissioned by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the exhibition is a collection of Li’s snapshots that recapture his family’s voyage from China to Hong Kong and their emigration to England. The journey took place between 2001 and 2005, during which Li and his mother visited their former residences. The result is a silent merging of perspectives, where real landscapes of the mother’s childhood, oral histories, and Li’s imagination blend in images of the family’s ancestral homes in Guangdong. The mental journey is at once lyrical and fragmented, as Li closes in on details that reveal the essence of his mother’s early life: a figure by the river who reflects longingly on her youth in ‘Dai Hai Kaiping Mum’s Hangout’, or the floor tile in ‘Parents’ Martial Home’, accompanied by captions that feature Yeuk’s re-telling of past anecdotes. The viewers are lured into a world that shifts between reality and fantasy—the reliving of bygone times is filled with yearning, words and distinct pictures.

As a photographer Li has a wonderful sense of the duality—of time that becomes the past at every passing second, and of locales that are both personal and universal. In this sense, The Mother of All Journeys is an exploration of the distance between personal experience and histories that inhabit the artist’s subjects. In ‘First Home in Hong Kong’, Li and his mother return to the family’s rooftop house that has been passed down to several owners in the last three decades. Both the physical properties and emotional facets of the house have changed drastically, but Li’s remembrance of his childhood home dominates the image. Memories override the gap between past and present, against evidence of irretrievable changes in one’s personal histories. The sovereignty of memory is at work in ‘Local Portrait Studio’: the dusty display windows and stairways call out from an olden time, their voices vivid and immediate. Yet the echoes are proof of times past, of presences that have dwelled in and exited the scene.

In the transformation of locales Li finds another tool for narration. The image of the disused Kai Tak airport communicates the Li family’s move to England, and hints at the changes that took place in the city. The artist’s take is direct and succinct, while the lives of others form the backdrop of the work. In a similar vein, ‘Wasteland by Disused Railway Line, Manchester’ speaks of a forgotten realm. The sun shines on the snow-covered track that bore witness to the artist’s youth and his bond with his mother (‘It wasn’t long before you started showing me quicker routes to school,’ she said in the caption). The image astounds with its composition and lighting, and it strikes a deep emotional resonance that serves as an endnote to the show. In the passage through the past lies the promise of return—to the changing locales in life, and to the emotions that continue to shape the artist’s perception.

The additional slide show of family photos gives a thorough view on the chronology of Yeuk’s voyage and Li’s intentions in creating The Mother of All Journeys. For audience who value completeness in a visual narrative, the slide show sure fills in the gaps. Yet it takes away some of the intrigue of the show—for Li’s manipulation of time is delicate, and it works best as understatement.

Vanguard of Transgression

(Hong Kong Gallery Guide October 2010)

Hanart TZ Gallery
4 to 26 September 2009

Shanghai-born artist Qiu Jie makes big statement in both form and substance. At Hanart T Z Gallery, Qiu’s massive, meticulously detailed drawings weave traditional Chinese with cliché West in an ideological transgression. The artist’s visions are delivered with painstaking techniques, while Qiu is search of a finer balance in his iconography.

Qiu is clearly more at home in a prominently Chinese landscape. Woman and Tiger is an effective summary of the artist’s themes: sexuality, the twist of traditional Chinese art with Western perspectives, and his play on historical artifacts. The stamp of ‘sadomaso’ leaves no room for ambiguity for those who do not understand the Chinese text in the drawing. The artist is an observer–Qiu Jie is a pseudonym that means ‘foreigner’ or ‘outsider’—of the risqué. Yet Qiu’s daring goes far beyond his illustration of the explicit. In Woman and Tiger Qiu fuses exotica into canonized Chinese traditions in a seamless manner, which legitimizes his creative visions.

The artist’s triumph echoes in Celebration of the Harvest. Chairman Mao appears in the image of a recurring cat figure – a pun on the transliteration of the Chinese character for cat – and reaches out to his rewards from the West. Chinese authority is again in control in Poetry of President M. The reinvented image of the chairman stands tall amid classical Chinese images, next to a Coca-cola can as a symbol of Western culture. Both works are inviting in their layers of composition effects: the images and colors flow, along with the works’ thematic movement. Qiu’s touches are concise, assertive of his artistic heritage and his embrace of Western influence.

The two drawings titled Da Zi Bao 1 & 2 – a term that means propaganda banners or public critique during the Cultural Revolution – are in murkier waters. Qiu mixes kitsch references to the West with Chinese icons—it hints at the clichéd perception foreigners often have of China, as much as the yearning Chinese project onto the West. Both views are sadistic, Qiu says in his drawings: this is where Qiu falls short of a convincing blend of cultural references. The text, images and icons he chooses are pressing in a scattered way. The fragmentation does not strike a conceptual note, and the critique is lost in Qiu’s lavish efforts.

The deepest resonance of Qiu’s work is lost on those who do not understand the Chinese language or have little knowledge of its literature. The underlying theme of Woman and Tiger is Qiu’s self-reflection: the Chinese text in the background is confessional poetry, and the references to The Dream of the Red Chamber point to illusion and repentance. So much for the outsider’s remorse over his obsession with the risqué and his voyage out to the Western art world—there remains an unresolved conflict in Qiu that many of his audience would not see.

Phantoms of Power

(Hong Kong Gallery Guide October 2009)

From September 3 to 30
Para/Site Art Space

In the black box screening gallery where power stirs like phantasms, internationally acclaimed artist Shahzia Sikander astounds with her first solo presentation in China, Authority As Approximation. In a retrospective of five time-based videos, the Pakistani talent fuses oppression and illusion in an unsettling mix of history and present reality.

The focal point of the show is Bending The Barrels (2008), which portrays the formation of the Pakistani Army military brass band as a political device. Sikander’s messages are clear in the superimposed text on the visual: ironic statements clash with close-ups of band members’ faces, whose celebration of music only mocks the country’s aggression. The artist takes a long and deliberate look on the band, allowing their sentiments to come to life on their own. The humanity of the musicians is what drives the audience to see into the conflict—there is a strong sense of guilelessness in the procession, and it prompts the question of whether the Pakistanis know what sacrifice they are making for their country.

The substance of Bending The Barrels cuts through with Sikander’s wonderful execution.
As the camera alternates between human emotions and distant authority, Sikander’s colors seep on the screen, while retaining a passivity that hints at the nation’s bygone glory. The compositional effects of the film are rooted in the tradition of Indo-Islamic miniature paintings, in which the artist is schooled and which she transforms for the contemporary audience. The recall of history again runs deep in the film’s accompanying soundtrack. The brass resounds with depth, a low whirling sadness. The music reinforces but also smoothens the edges of Sikander’s sometimes blatant text: ‘The armed forces have made every effort not to be harsh.’

The other videos are digital animation on small screens. In the same vein as her miniature paintings, the video works build upon religious motifs, and explore the tension between Islam and modern day sexuality. Nemesis (2003) is a quick reflection on identity, where human is a hybrid monster of mythic creatures. SpiNN (2003) carry similar images from Islamic mythology, in which kings and demons are two of a kind before the promise of power. The video stands out for its blend of traditional icons with surrealistic flushness. Pursuit Curve (2004) and Dissonance to Detour (2006) wear a deceptive innocence at the first glance. The landscapes of green trees and blue sky morph into death and decay; spirits rage and prevail.

The menace of Authority As Approximation grows on its audience—the soundtracks for the digital animation videos ring like visions of a private hell. Disturbing as it is for some, the show is one that demands a real intellectual response from its viewers. Para/Site does a fine job in introducing Sikander to the Hong Kong audience, who will definitely look forward to seeing more of the artist’s works in the future.

October Contemporary 2009

(China Daily HK Edition 10/24/2009 page 7)

Rare event, plenty of art

DTP007 series, Damon Tong, mixed media on canvas, 2009.

While the mention of contemporary visual arts sounds alien to most Hong Kong residents, a group of local artistes and curators has been working to reach a wider audience with their creations and thoughtful discussions.

The artists' work comes to fruition in October Contemporary (OC), the first and only large-scale event of contemporary visual arts in Hong Kong. Since its inception in 2007, OC has been dedicated to raising the profile of art practitioners and organizations among the public.

With the theme of "Now, or Never", this year's OC features participation from 21 local galleries and art spaces and collaboration with various art-related groups. The expanded efforts point to a more comprehensive program with exhibitions, talks and open forums, demonstrations and auctions.

As Yeung Yang, artistic director of OC 2009, remarked, many of the events are queries into the existence and value of art in Hong Kong. One example is "Insert Coin: Spanish contemporary art" at Para/Site, which questions the criteria by which art is evaluated in our town.

"Do we judge the value of an artwork by whether the artist can get a grant for it, or if the artist can auction it for money? What's the value of artists in Hong Kong?" Yang noted. "There're always the questions of whether Hong Kong can sustain a creative community, if 'creative clusters' do exist in this city."

In this vein, the introduction of partners to OC is an important move for illuminating the city's art ecology, Yang added. "Besides art production, this year we have partners such as Emergency Lab that work with websites and designs. This goes to show our art scene is multi-layered with diverse elements," he said.

The broader scope is crucial for both the artists and the public, since it sheds light on the role of the artists as organizers in the city's art circle. Beyond the creative process, artists are also keen on introducing their works to potential audience, to get feedback on their works through open dialogs.

"Most people feel they haven't seen much of the visual art scene in Hong Kong and the artists are doing their own thing in their hide-outs. It's a misconception," Yang explained. "With OC the artists take their initiatives to connect with the public, to show that we're professionals as well as creative individuals."

The connection is fostered by the recruitment of "Concerned Outsiders of Contemporary Art". Anyone who has an interest in contemporary art or OC program can apply to be one of the recruits, express personal views and meet the artists at show openings. The response has been very positive, said project manager Susie Law.

"We've got students, teachers and people from all walks of life chiming in. They write to tell us about their background, why they join, and their interests in art and galleries," she said. "It's a kind of interaction you don't get at regular exhibition openings, and it helps create a bigger pool of gallery visitors in the long run."

Such growth is instrumental to the development of contemporary art in Hong Kong, Yang noted. While the construction of the West Kowloon Cultural District has barely started, the city needs a larger population of art lovers to sustain the project. Publicity is often a thorny issue since resources are limited.

"Many art spaces in Hong Kong are small and don't have a 'business model', so money for publicity is always a problem," Yang elaborated. "With OC we're working to create an opening for the public to know a bit more about the art scene. It isn't just an event in October, but an on-going effort in the future."

Among this year's participating galleries, White Tube at the Hong Kong Arts Center is a community art space that encourages creativity of young local artists. For OC 2009 White Tube hosts "Something Behind", which showcases the latest mixed media works of Shek Chun-yin and Damon Tong.

In the words of curator Helen Ng, the substance in both artists' works remains hidden or unexplored, which constitutes the theme "something behind". "For Damon, meaning lies hidden in the works and it's for the audience to decipher, whereas Shek believed his true themes are yet to come," Ng said.

In his mixed media on canvas, Tong re-creates impressions of a personal item like a T-shirt, someone else's possessions or an object in geometrical shapes and colors. The works are manifestations of a creative process in reverse, since Tong paints with no pre-conceived ideas or themes in mind.

"My concern isn't about what to express; as an artist, I believed it's contrived to set out to say something. Any interpretation should come last," Tong contended. "For me, creation is a process of prying into my own thinking, to see how I've come to the point I'm at. It's not necessarily self-understanding, but it's a search."

Shek shares the same sentiments of exploration in his series called "Parasitoids", through which he examines the intricate relationship between humans and nature. Nature is re-created with artificial materials and colors, which alludes to the desire for control in humans over their external surroundings.

"Throughout history, humans have always looked for ways to surpass the limits of our lives and living environments. Medicine, construction and other material gains are some examples," Shek said. "By mimicking nature in my works, I pose an alternative voice to this constant destruction."

More details of October Contemporary are available on

Rare event, plenty of art

Parasitoids, Shek Chun Yin, mixed media, 2009. Photos courtesy of the artists

Art Walk 2009

(China Daily HK Edition 03/14/2009 page 3)

Up and lower left: Visitors examine works on display in two of the showrooms of ArtWalk 2009. China Daily

Fine art does not always mean highbrow attitudes or extravagant price tags. The premier charity art event in town, Hong Kong ArtWalk 2009, infused a genuine concern for the city's poverty-stricken with its showcase of creativity by local galleries on Wednesday.

Thriving in its ninth year, ArtWalk boasts a wide array of art displays, from visual arts exhibits in 65 galleries, videos, installations and banners on the streets, to performance by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra young musicians' quartet.

From 5 pm to midnight, participants with their ArtWalk badges and maps made their way through the art district along Central and Sheung Wan or breezed through the larger loft-style spaces through Causeway Bay to Wong Chuk Hang.

Caged spirits

The highlight of this year's ArtWalk was the Cage Home exhibition in Schoeni Art Gallery, organized by the Society for Community Organization (SoCO), a non-profit human rights organization in Hong Kong and benefiting charity of the event's ticket sale.

As SoCO director Ho Hei-wah remarked, the idea of having a real cage home as an exhibit was initiated by the ArtWalk organizer, who hoped to bring home to the public the reality of the underprivileged in Hong Kong.

"Last year we ran a photography exhibition of cage homes, which was pretty popular. This year we want to have the viewers experience the cage home for themselves, especially expatriate professionals who've never had a chance to see it in real life."

The cage home on display at Schoeni Art Gallery was originally situated in Tai Kok Tsui. Along with photographs of cage home residents, the exhibit exemplifies the life of nearly 100,000 people who live in cage homes, cubicles or small partitioned flats.

Each resident lives in between 15 to 24 square feet, which are typically infested with mice and fleas. They share a bathroom with up to 30 other residents in the same unit. The rent of these horrid spaces is about HK$30 per square foot.

The photographs on exhibit show glimpses of the people who live in these houses, including low-income sanitation workers, new immigrants, the lonely elderly, and those living on the fringe of society.

Tori Li, 21, who was born in Hong Kong but grew up in Canada, was deeply affected by the exhibition. "It's very alien and shocking to me. It's great to introduce these dark sides of Hong Kong to the public through such a large-scale art event."

As the exhibition runs until March 18, some ArtWalk participants plan to revisit the cage home with their peers.

"I'll bring my friends visiting from the States next week. It'd be an eye-opening experience," said Anna Hui, a 24-year-old university student.

The display of such sordid reality is particularly astonishing as it is situated along a strip of posh art galleries on Hollywood Road in Central, which opened their doors with food and drinks for the visitors.

Regular fare

While most ArtWalk enthusiasts were sipping wine and chatting with friends inside the galleries, Thomas Kwan, a human resources professional, had qualms about the quality of some of the exhibits.

"Many of these galleries are showing contemporary Chinese or Southeast Asian art, their usual 'stock'. It feels like a commercial gallery tour (more) than ArtWalk and that takes away the thrill for me somewhat."

Kenneth Chow, who started his route from Sheung Wan, shared the same impression.

"There're these artworks that I've seen in other curated shows before. It looks a bit like the galleries are 'recycling' and trying hard to sell the artworks through the event."

A number of local artists did find their places in this year's ArtWalk. The Polytechnic University's Bachelor of Arts in Applied and Media Arts Annual Exhibition, for instance, drew the audience's attention to a group of emerging young artists.

The exhibition, entitled 'Momentum', covers various individual and social topics through multi-media designs. An interactive website called 'Taste the food. Taste our family', is a platform where people share their family stories and the interior of their home life.

"It's a good opportunity for the public to see these students' artworks, to get an idea what our new generation of artists is doing," said Edmond Chu, a restaurant manager. "I might not have visited this exhibition if not for the ArtWalk."

Another delight was the photography exhibition by Leung Chi Ho. The works reflect on the conflict between the government branding of Hong Kong as 'Asia's World City' and the public perception of Hong Kong falling short of its label.

"It's funny to see our 'unaccomplished wishes' for Hong Kong as Asia's World City, like 'No grit', on street banners around Central," said Teresa Tsui, a young musician. "These works are ironic anecdotes about our town."

Local artist Wilson Shieh's 'Chow Yun Fat's Fitting Room' in Osage Soho was another exciting disruption. The works trace the metamorphosis of Hong Kong's superstar in his many movies and shed light on the shaping force of media on our culture.

"Chow Yun Fat as a star is someone we're very familiar with, though he's had little presence in Hong Kong art so far," Shieh said. "I wanted to transform the familiar into something new, something almost toy-like that departs from our usual perception of him as an icon."

The images, coming to life in color pencil drawings, demystify the actor's glamorous persona. The idea of a fitting room makes the viewers feel they can possess the superstar's image, as Hong Kong people like to claim him as a cultural ambassador for their town.

The show was popular with ArtWalk participants.

Cecilia Chow, a university student, thought it was particularly apt to choose Chow Yun Fat as the subject, since the actor is known to shed his superstar persona in public.

"He's down-to-earth and friendly, a star we can approach when we run into him on the streets," Chow concurred. "It's still a surprise when you see Chow Yun Fat 'stripped bare' in these artworks, especially for the expatriate audience, I guess."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Manila On Display

(China Daily HK Edition 09/23/2008 page4)

Book installation by Felix Bacolor. Photos courtesy of Osage gallery

FUTURAMANILA, an exhibition featuring 23 Filipino artists, is one of Osage Gallery's latest efforts in stimulating cross-cultural dialogue in the local art community.

Through the exhibition which showcases a variety of media including paintings, photography and mixed-media installations, the participating artists aim to explore the transformation of Manila in a societal context, as well as against the backdrop of globalization.

The artists often address social situations in their works while instilling their personal insights, their sense of displacement and reconnection.

Escape by Bea Camacho.

Felix Bacolor revisits the act of book burning in his installation piece, which sees a number of burnt books neatly arranged. Bacolor first conceived the idea from a National Geographic program, and other literature on biblioclasm.

While the art piece seems to echo the cultural destruction that has prevailed at different times in history, Bacolor stated that it is not intended to be a social commentary. His main concern is to illuminate the concept of rebirth through death.

"In real life, burning book is far from pretty," Bacolor pinpointed. "The purpose of my work is to bring out the beauty in destruction through art. In a way, art changes our perspective on some of the horrors in this world."

Bacolor's piece was exhibited in Manila earlier this year, to eager response from an audience who embraced its shock value and its contradictory beauty. The artist, however, does not have the same level of expectations from the Hong Kong audience.

"It's my first visit to Hong Kong and I know rather little about this city, so I'm open to ideas from the local audience. In fact I'm surprised to have my first overseas show here, as Hong Kong was mainly a commercial hub in my mind," he said.

Fellow artist Bea Camacho has a more pronounced interest in the feedback from the Hong Kong audience.

Manila-born and US-educated, Camacho also lived in Hong Kong for three years as a child and has works previously exhibited in this town.

Camacho's work at the exhibition, entitled "Escape", is a video of her spinning herself into a white carpet in a room of icy white walls. The viewers are lured into the sense of isolation, through the repetitive, almost ritualistic performance.

"It dives into my personal experience of growing up alone, away from my family. It's also about memory, absence and silence. When it was shown in Manila, most people reacted to its repetition, quietness, and the duration of the video," Camacho explained.

As Manila boasts a small but passionate art community, Camacho hopes to learn more about Asian and Hong Kong art.

"I haven't been back in Hong Kong for years. It's a great opportunity for me to take part in this show," she added.

Yason Banal, whose works have appeared in museums in London, Tokyo and many other cities around the world, is more critical of the art scene in Hong Kong. Banal noted the absence of an underground art scene in particular.

"My main concern with art is experimentation. There's little of that in the works you can see in local art spaces. There're art centers, museums and galleries in this town, but the quality of the artworks isn't very consistent," Banal pointed out.

FUTURAMANILA at Osage Kwun Tong.

Banal said he believed FUTURAMANILA will reflect the myriad facets of Manila. It should offer a well-rounded, creative view on the city and the energy of its people to the Hong Kong public.

"It's an interesting view on the diverse sensibilities of Filipino artists. It is also nice to learn of the different identities of Filipinos other than being migrant workers," he contended. "It's exciting to see my fellow artists put such a show together."

Despite the promise of its title, FUTURAMANILA may yet leave questions of the city's future unanswered for its viewers. Art critic John Batten noted a lack of a curatorial statement in the show.

"It's more a survey show and I don't get a sense of future from the artists' works. The works are very good conceptual art though. They are a departure from what Filipino artists did a couple decades back," he said.

In Batten's views, the catch of FUTURAMANILA is that it brings to Hong Kong a group of Filipino artists with an international outlook. For the cross-cultural dialogue to take place, however, the local community needs to take an active part.

"There're a lot of young people in the audience, which is definitely a positive sign," Batten explained. "In general Hong Kong people are very open-minded about what they see. The key is to get them to the right place to see the art."

Helen Leung, a Hong Kong painter, concurred that FUTURAMANILA seems to lack a clear curatorial direction, even though the artworks are excellent. In her opinions, the gap somewhat weakens the cross-cultural dialogue in question.

"The facets of Manila you get to see in these works don't quite come together conceptually, or I don't see a collective idea," Leung elaborated. "It makes it a bit hard for the viewer to have a well thought-out response."

Vivian Poon, local painter and researcher, said she believed that the show introduces new perspectives to the Hong Kong audience, who may be unfamiliar with Asian art in general.

"It's not often that we get to see a large exhibition by Filipino or other Asian artists. I think the Hong Kong audience is definitely catching up on their knowledge and appreciation of art though," Poon said.

FUTURAMANILA runs from September 5 to October 6 at Osage Kwun Tong. More details are available at

Photographs by Yason Banal.


(China Daily HK Edition 05/23/2008 page 4)

Artworks of international renown and local emergence met at the inaugural Hong Kong International Art Fair - ART HK 08 - which put the Hong Kong's art scene on the global stage and promoted cultural exchanges in the community.

The five-day gala was held from May 14 to 18 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Set to become an annual event, this year's fair showcased works by 850 artists, represented by over 100 of the world's leading contemporary and modern art galleries.

Key highlights included Francis Bacon's Man At A Washbasin 1989-1990, priced in the region of HK$275 million; and Andy Warhol's 1962 Avanti Cars, the artist's first silk-screen print on canvas, worth an estimated HK$29 million.

Body containers. Courtesy of Movana Chen

Works by regional artists from Japan, Korea, India, Pakistan, the mainland and Hong Kong also made a prominent presence at the fair, including Wang Qingsong's 2007 interpretation of the Olympic Games The Glory of Hope.

The fair highlighted Hong Kong's potential to become a cultural hub given its proximity to the mainland and other Asian countries, especially when China is currently the world's third largest art market, said fair director Magnus Renfrew.

Gilbert Lloyd of London-based Marlborough Fine Art Gallery, which brought works by Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol to the fair, said he is confident of the city's long-term prospects as an art market.

"Hong Kong is a good place to meet collectors and we're hoping to find more Asian buyers," Lloyd concurred. "We want to develop the market here and we're prepared to invest money and time."

For local exhibitors, the fair was an excellent opportunity to introduce Asian art to the world. 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, for example, specifically put artists from Hong Kong and the mainland under the spotlight for foreign audience.

Mainland artist Li Wei's performance at ART HK 08. Courtesy of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery

Li Wei, whose work is a mixture of photography and performance art, led one of the fair's opening performances. In front of a large crowd, Li wriggled in an effort to shed hundred of mirror shards stuck to his body.

Local artist Simon Birch and Stanley Wong, known as "Anothermountainman" in the art circle, brought different vibrations to the fair: the former with intense canvas, the latter with images of quiet, abandoned landscapes.

"We've received great response from audience and the works are selling very well," noted the gallery's press officer Eliette Rosich. "Our artists are delighted to be included in this selection of works by world-class galleries and to meet the collectors."

Besides its commercial nature, the fair also aimed to cultivate local knowledge in art. "Hong Kong Conversations", a series of talks by a group of renowned collectors and artists, discussed contemporary cultural development in Asia and beyond.

Another satellite event, "Shifting Sites: Cultural Desire and the Museum", was a one-day conference that addressed the role of museum in the 21st century and featured speakers from top art institutions, such as Tate Modern, London.

LanWei 5/ Big Business by Anothermountainman. Courtesy of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery

Alan Kwok, a 22-year-old art student who attended the conference, stated that it was a timely discussion for local audience, as the Hong Kong public is yet to reach a consensus over the West Kowloon Cultural District.

"There're many ways to promote art in Hong Kong and you have to wonder if museums are the answer," Kwok pinpointed. "As a young Hong Kong artist, I'd rather see the funding go to large-scale exhibitions of local art."

Such aspirations were reflected in a non-commercial exhibition - "Mirage". A play between illusion and imagination, the exhibition brings together large-scale installations, videos, sculptures and other works by five up-and-coming Hong Kong artists.

"I hope my work can be seen by art buyers so that I can develop my career," said one of the participating artists Wong Chung-yu, whose installation combines a fantasy world with real-time computer simulation.

The fair definitely opened new doors for Movana Chen, who drew audience and attention as she walked around the venue in her body container. The wearable art was knitted with shredded Shanghai Tang catalogues.

Avanti Cars by Andy Warhol. Courtesy of ART HK 08

"Everyone was excited by the performance," Chen said. "They asked a lot of questions and gave me very constructive feedback. Some of them said they'd follow up on my artwork in the future."

During her performance, Chen was intrigued by the barrier in her communication with the outside world. The audience believed Chen could not see them through the knitted dress, since they could not see her eyes as they spoke to her.

"In a way, my piece symbolizes the influx of external information that overwhelms individuals," Chen explained. "As messages from the outside enter through the top tube, the wearer is enclosed and can't break free from the container."

Chen's work won praises from the public as well as industry peers. While fellow artists inquired about possible collaborations, galleries from the mainland and other Asian cities approached Chen about prospective exhibitions.

"I'd like to extend my body container series into an on-going dialogue between Hong Kong and other cultures. Depending on the location, I will incorporate different languages into each exhibition," Chan explained.

"It should be what my artwork is about: despite language and cultural differences, different cultures can come together and transform into art, which the audience can understand and, in my case, feel it for themselves."

HK MIA - Art Sailing

(China Daily HK Edition 05/16/2008 page 4)

In the Hong Kong public mind, the images of freight containers point to the city's status as a commercial hub. The functional objects cannot be further away from art, just as the livelihood of Hong Kong seems to exist on a different plane from its cultural life.

Jasmine Chan, a student participant in the Art Container Departure Exhibition, is painting on one container. Nicole Wong

A group of local artists, however, dream the impossible with their Art Container Project. With the theme "Beautiful Journey, Beautiful World", the project will sail around the world, bringing Hong Kong art to the global audience.

The idea of marrying cargoes and art was born in November 2006, when the core members of Mere Independent Artists (MIA), a self-financed group of artists and art administrators, sought a new channel to promote art in the Hong Kong community.

"Art containers aren't a new concept in other countries," said Grace Tang, the project's program coordinator. "It would mark a significant moment in local art history, if we could do a large-scale exhibition in the West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD)."

The call drew response from 38 artists, ranging from visual arts to ceramics and architecture. On 37 containers, the artists express a variety of social and personal concerns, such as environmental protection and sense of identity.

Alex Heung is one of the participating artists and the project's designer. In his work Journey, Heung realizes his hopes of introducing Hong Kong art to the world through his loving brushstrokes.

"I joined the project because it's meaningful," Heung said. "The painting is just the beginning. The container will travel around the world and come back with traces of its journey, and interpretations of its meaning by viewers."

In the project's second stage, the cargoes will be used by Emirates Shipping Line to ship its clients' products to worldwide ports for three years. The artists can track the journey of their works on the company's website.

As ambassadors for cultural exchange, the containers will stop in Dubai, where MIA will organize meetings and workshops with local artists. Other ports may be in Africa, India or mainland.

"We chose Dubai because Arabic culture is rich in history and beauty," Tang remarked. "It's a great opportunity for us to learn from their art, especially when it's under-represented in the modern art scene."

An aerial view of the Art Container Departure Exhibition shows two Chinese characters meaning 'Where is Hong Kong art going?'. Courtesy of MIA

"As the containers arrive in different ports, the artists can create new artworks to expand on their original ideas," said Carol Lee, the project's vice-convener. "If there're sufficient funds, the artists will visit their containers overseas."

The meeting of different cultures is represented in Mirage by ceramics artist Lam Chi-kwong. Using a traditional pattern in ceramics, Lam portrays the co-existence of Western and Eastern cultures in a harmonious utopia.

"My work depicts the sea travel, using Western representation and Chinese perspectives," Lam explained. "The most exciting aspect of this project is that my artwork will develop a life of its own throughout its travel."

The identity of Hong Kong is another popular topic in the show. William Lim, architect and artist, celebrates the second decade of Hong Kong's return to its motherland in his work The Journey Home is the Most Beautiful.

"The travel adds a forth dimension - time - to our three dimensional artworks," Lim pinpointed. "It represents a new and apt direction for Hong Kong art, which continues to evolve through its journey home and abroad."

Local art schools students also have the opportunity to express their creativity. Jasmine Chan, a 6-year-old art student, joins her classmates in painting on one of the containers.

"It's the first time my daughter took part in a major art event. I'm terribly excited," Chan's mother, Tracy Liang contended. "The project takes on a wonderful concept, and it's encouraging for young children interested in art."

The project has launched the Art Ambassadors Scheme, which aims to promote art in local schools and different sectors in the city. Under the guidance of art ambassadors, school children create their mini-containers, which will be displayed in the exhibition.

"There'll be future events under the Art Ambassadors Scheme," Tang stressed. "One of our goals is to educate local students on Hong Kong art, which has had a lesser place than Western art in our art education so far."

While the project has won the appreciation of art lovers, the event preparation has not been smooth sailing. Funding is a major issue, since MIA has received rather dismal response to their requests for corporate sponsorship.

"We managed to meet our budget of over HK$4 million," Lee elaborated. "We hope to show that small art groups can succeed in hosting large-scale art events, and we're the ones who're most in need of financial support."

Sky is not the limit: Art containers in the West Kowloon Cultural District. Courtesy of MIA

With the help of friends and associates, MIA has recruited over 200 volunteers for the event. Support from sponsors and official partners also allows for remunerations for participating artists.

"It's crucial for artists to be rewarded for their work, if we're to develop our cultural industry," Tang noted. "It's wrong for some people to think that artists don't get paid, as long as they get exposure."

After the departure exhibition in WKCD on May 17 and 18, the containers will embark on their trip to foreign seas. Upon their return to Hong Kong, MIA hopes to obtain government support and to exhibit the containers in different spots in the city.

Evelyna Liang, a fellow artist who witnesses the painting-in-progress, holds the mission of these containers in high esteem. As the containers leave the port, they carry with them the hopes and ideals of Hong Kong, as well as its identity as a global city.

"They highlight our position as an international shipping port, which is central to Hong Kong's identity. At the same time, they commemorate a very happy event, which brings together diverse perspective in our city's artistic journey," Liang said.