(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.’