Hot on the heels of the Hong Kong International Arts Festival, Hong Kong this week welcomed the fifth edition of Art Basel. You’ve flown thousands of miles, endured over eight hours of screaming spawn on a long haul flight, paralysing jetlag, and visual and social overload at the Art Basel preview. And now you want to experience more than Hong Kong’s convention centre, malls and dim sum, right? Well, there’s no shortage of wonderful shows this time around; Hong Kong has really stepped up, with a strong showing of local, regional, and international artists outside of the main event. It’s an overwhelming week of art events, exhibitions, parties, and gratuitous luxury branding, so I’m cutting away the fat and giving you my pick of some of the most enagaging, challenging, experimental and unmissable exhibitions and experiences in Hong Kong during Art Week.
Ari Benjamin Meyers, An exposition, not an exhibition at Spring Workshop
Spring Workshop presents a demanding durational performance, created by artist-in-residence, composer and artist, Ari Benjamin Meyers. Titled Litany and Rapture, the project—part of a seven-venue performance project called An exposition, not an exhibition—was developed by Meyer’s experimental art institution, Kunsthalle for Music. This experience is as sublime as you will get during Art Week—a world of heightened reality and senses.
The Hong Kong New Music Ensemble plays music from a repertoire of 142 works offering an encyclopedic overview of contemporary classical music from composers including Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, Kazuo Fukushima, Benjamin Britten and Steve Reich. Going against the traditional training of musicians, Meyers gives the performers agency to change and deconstruct the pieces, emphasising imperfections with notations recorded on a chalkboard. This becomes the diary of the pieces and their only documentation. Classical works are taken out of the sacrosanct context in which they are usually played, hierarchy between audience and musicians dissolved. Meyers has also invited six local Hong Kong composers to create new works for staff members at these organisations across the city. Performances will take place at six other Hong Kong art institutions and spaces: Asia Art Archive, M+, ParaSite, Things that can happen, Hong Kong Arts Centre and Soundpocket. These are, as Spring’s founder Mimi Brown so perfectly put it, ‘beautiful mini jewels of music’. Drop by during Art Week for some much needed respite from the contemporary art hamster wheel.
One of the newest kids on the art block, Mill6 Foundation—a non-profit arts and cultural institution—presents an exhibition exploring the universal yet subjective experience of time through multi-disciplinary artworks featuring Aziz + Cucher, Yin-Ju Chen and Hong Kong artist, Morgan Wong. Aziz + Cucher, known for their digital photography, present five multi-dimensional politically charged and powerful tapestries composed of collaged digital images culled from news media and the internet. They are heterotopic narratives, crossing between time and space to document the contemporary world. Wong’s installation addresses the passing of time, interpreting the intangible via the remnant of performance, sculpture and video. There is an element of absurdity in his work as he undertakes the Sisyphean task of capturing time. Filing down a metal bar—a daily task undertaken for the duration of the artist’s life—Wong fills glass needles with the metal shavings in a symbolic gesture of capturing every second and making the ephemeral material. Multimedia Taiwanese artist Yin-Ju Chen has created a large-scale audio-visual installation inspired by geocentrism and heliocentrism, exploring planetary movement and astrology to present time as non-linear. MILL6 will also be presenting a parallel programme of artist talks, and a tarot reading workshop held by Yin-Ju Chen, so you can find out what life holds in store for you post-Hong Kong Art Week.
Hong Kong’s oldest non-profit space ParaSite presents its largest and most ambitious show to date. Curated by ParaSite director Cosmin Costinas, and Neptune’s Inti Guerrero, this travelling exhibition has previously seen a run at Manila’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design. A dense show comprised of works from over 40 international artists—including Pio Abad, Ion Grigorescu, Valerie Snobeck, Haegue Yang and Simrin Gill—and installed across three floors, Soil and Stones, Souls and Songs is an exploration of the anxieties borne of globalisation: the shifting geopolitical order and violence that accompanies economic and political transformations; the struggle to preserve indigenous identity and communities from the encroachment of modernism and multi-national corporations and the clash of values that ensues in the confrontation between the two; ecological threats; the questioning of historical and national narratives. Closer to home, local Hong Kong artists Ho Siu-Kee and Ocean Leung navigate the anxieties of a shifting identity of Hong Kong post-Umbrella Revolution protests. These are all big and urgent issues, but while the works grapple with different political and social concerns, they are unified in their defiance of a single canonical art history and hegemonic Western view. A fantastic exhibition!
Breathing Space: Contemporary Art from Hong Kong at Asia Society
Asia Society has brought together the works of eleven young and emerging Hong Kong artists, including Chilai Howard, Chloë Cheuk, Cheuk Wing Nam, Enoch Cheung, South Ho, Vaan Ip, Ko Sin Tung, Andio Lai, Siu Wai Hang, Adrian Wong and Magdalen Wong, in an exhibition that navigates life in Hong Kong and the changing social, environmental, cultural and political landscape of the city. Breathing Space: Contemporary Art from Hong Kong presents 11 extant and 12 new, site-specific works that respond to the environment or Asia Society’s site heritage. Andio Lai’s interactive cipher machine Pyxis44 (2015) invites visitors to type in codes gleaned from clues left around the site, referencing one of the Asia Society’s building’s alleged history as a base for British Intelligence; and Chloe Cheuk’s Until I’m Found (2017), a globe viewfinder, allows visitors to see the cityscape from a distorted perspective. The works explore issues as diverse as borders, cultural identity and effacement, colonial history, urban experience and environmental issues, and there is a playful dialogue between indoor and outdoor artworks, which allows the audience to navigate life in Hong Kong through art.
Tucked away on the ground floor of a Hong Kong 1970s government housing building in Chai Wan and sandwiched amongst small shops and dai pai dongs, is the glass-fronted Neptune art space. Founded last year by curator Inti Guerrero, the art space aims to be an ‘inspiring low-cost model for an art space/project with international ambitions’. The unconventional venue has presented four shows so far, featuring commissioned site-specific work from international and local artists including Romanian Vlad Nanca, Agnès Varda, Trevor Yeung and So Wai Lam. The latest offering, Sailor Neptune II—the second in a series of exhibitions which explores the relationship between fantasy and gender—presents works from Hong Kong artist Angela Su and Australian-Colombian artist Maria Fernanda Cardoso. Su, a former biologist, creates beautifully intricate ink drawings exploring a symbioses between the human body and sex organs that are as elegant and intricate as they are dark.
12 March–31 May 2017
Unit 153, 1/f Koway Court, Tai Man Street, Chai Wan, Hong Kong www.neptunehk.rocks
Zaha Hadid, There Should Be No End To Experimentation, at ArtisTree
Although the late Zaha Hadid was internationally lauded as an architect, this current exhibition at ArtisTree—a collaboration with Serpentine Galleries, London—avoids the use of maquettes, which would emphasise her architectural projects, and celebrates her vision as an artist instead. The exhibition, conceived before her passing, takes a look at Hadid’s 1983 Hong Kong Peak Project architectural proposal—a career-changing proposal for a leisure club propelling her to international recognition—through a selection of paintings and drawings. Although the project was never realised, the radical gravity defying geometric structure, which seemed to explode out into fragments from the mountainside, grabbed the attention of the jurors and won the design competition, placing her on the map.
Hadid’s paintings and drawings of topographical metropolises—impressive works of art in themselves—exhibit more than a streak of Russian Constructivist and Suprematist influence. They demonstrate Hadid’s attraction to the Russian avant-garde principles that she would develop, refine and carry into designs that became a signature of her style. As an architect, Hadid not only considered how architecture could impact contemporary design, but was also steeped in social and political consciousness exemplified by Berlin 2000 (1988)—a large diptych symbolising the city’s division, painted one year before the fall of the Wall. The exhibition also includes four virtual reality installations, developed in collaboration with the Google Cultural Initiative, that connect directly with individual paintings, allowing viewers to step into Hadid’s architectural vision.
Adrian Wong, The Tiger Returns to the Mountain at chi art space
Through an arched ‘gateway’, in a room buzzing with pink and yellow neon light and shrouded in mist, K11‘s new exhibition space (one of two recent additions) is a portal into another Hong Kong—a Hong Kong of the past and of the imagination, daubed with lashings of kitsch. Titled The Tiger Returns to the Mountain, Adrian Wong‘s latest offering is a large-scale, multi-sensory site-specific installation that references the cultural history of Hong Kong, conjuring the ghosts of the colonial era and playing on Western conceptions of the ‘orient’. Taking as a reference point the Tiger Balm Garden—a weird and garish theme park-type garden popular in Hong Kong in the 80s and created by the Tiger Balm tycoon, Aw Boon Haw (since of course redeveloped as everything else in Hong Kong)—the exhibition presents a deliberate layering of clichés and stereotypes to an audience on the hunt for an authentic Hong Kong through art. Once through the arched gateway—a reference to Hong Kong’s branding as the ‘Gateway to the Orient’—the viewer literally steps into the frame to confront a crouching talking tiger (the feline emits a sampling of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ growling guttural voice singing in faux Chinese) on a rock against a landscape of rock formations and bamboo, set against a wall of blinking neon. The scene fuses both the urban Hong Kong landscape teeming with neon signs (once the backdrop to many a Hollywood and Hong Kong film, but now becoming a thing of the past as many signs are taken down), and the romantic landscapes of Chinese ink painting, creating a space between the pictorial image and the visceral, between past and prese
Theaster Gates, Tarry Skies and Psalms for Now at White Cube
At a time when more artists are engaging with the political and social with a new intensity, using art as a platform to challenge, question and hold accountable political establishment, at a time when more than ever we need art that is used as a critical tool, Theaster Gates wants you to know his latest works are no longer concerned with politics. The Chicago-born social practice artist is renowned for art that asks questions about race, class and society, situating the black body into the history of abstraction. Embodying the ‘be the change you want to see’ ethos, Gates’ art practice is used as a critical tool that extends beyond the confines of the white cube into the community itself with social rejuvenation projects in Chicago’s South Side. So this departure from his previous narrative was a surprise. The new gallery works are a logical continuation of previous works. Gates still employs the roofing materials—rubber, tar, wood—and techniques that have become a signature of his practice, but this time he subjects the craft of roofing to the tenets of painting. This show is an exploration of and experimentation with material and painterly form. Same material, different context. Whereas previously Gates used tar as a symbol of the black body, and class, the viscous material is now employed for its materiality and utility as a binding material to hold the coloured rubber sheeting together. The works have a wonderful sculptural and tactile quality. These latest works don’t speak of power structures: instead Gates opens up a dialogue with other (white) visual artists. Geometric coloured shapes of rubber are layered and adhered into the black tar in bold abstract geometric forms in a nod to abstract artists like Frank Stella, while the thick, encrusted black strokes acknowledge a debt to the Abstract Expressionists.
The third exhibition from the M+ Pavilion (no, the museum is still not yet finished) Ambiguously Yours: Gender in Hong Kong Popular Culture (17 March–21 May 2017) is apparently (but not really) an exploration of popular culture through the aesthetics of androgyny and gender fluidity, in ‘a dynamic interplay with visual art, design and moving image’. Although this coitus interruptus of an exhibition pulls away from doing the very thing it purports to do (it touches on issues of gender in the most superficial of ways), there are great Hong Kong pop cultural artifacts to gander at, like a fabulous peacock feather robe worn by Roman Tam—the Cantopop equivalent of Kylie’s gold hot-pants—and Leslie Cheung’s ruby red slippers, a wink and a nudge to the ‘friends of Dorothy’. Over in the rejuvenated schmatte district of Sham Shui Po, the newish non-profit art space, Things that can happen, is presenting Tick Tock (9 March–2 April 2017), an exhibition by Taiwanese artist Yang Chi-Chuan, the first of a two-part experiment which comprises of voice recordings of the artist reading her own writings. In Central, Duddell’s—the go-to for an afternoon G’n’T during Art Basel—collaborates with the 2018 Biennale of Sydney in an exhibition curated by the Biennale’s artistic director Mami Kataoka (Duddell’s x Biennale of Sydney. Abstraction of the World (20 March–10 July 2017)). Three artists from Australia, Thailand and South Korea explore their differing perceptions of cosmic space and natural phenomena—light and dark, water and fire—in all their abstract glory. K11 Foundation has partnered with MoMAPS1 for .com/.cn (21 March–30 April 2017), a group show curated by PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach and chief curator Peter Eleey which explores points of intersection between post-internet practices in China and the West. As Pedderphiles stream into the Pedder building, be sure to catch Roland Flexner—Ai Weiwei at Massimo de Carlo (21 March–14 May 2017), Do Ho Suh’s Passage/s at Lehmann Maupin (20 March–May 13 2017), and a wonderful exhibition of Hong Kong’s pioneer of modern art, Luis Chan, at Hanart TZ (17 February–13 April 2017). A short walk away in Sheung Wan in the Soho189 Art Lane, Puerta Roja is showing a historical show of Op artist Carlos Cruz-Diez (20 March–25 May 2017), replete with a fun and immersive light installation. And once you re-hit the convention centre for Art Basel (23–25 March 2017), make sure you reconsider the curated Encounters section—presenting 17 large-scale works by leading international artists—dotted around the fair across two floors and curated by Alexie Glass-Kantor. Not an exhibition, but definitely an experience worth catching during Art Week, local artist Kingsley Ng has turned two of the city’s iconic public trams into a travelling camera obscura for his public project, titled Twenty Five Minutes Older. The project is free to the public and offers guests the chance to engage with art, and the city, in a completely unique way. Book your slot as tickets are already selling out!
Diana is an art and fashion writer and curator. She has contributed to Asia Tatler, Harper's Bazaar, Rossiskaya Gazeta, LEAP, The Art Newspaper and ocula.com. She is the former editor of Framed, a Hong Kong art and culture magazine dedicated to profiling local, regional and emerging international artists.
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