Artist Yuk King Tan and her husband, head of art at Tai Kwun Tobias Berger, talk about three of their favourite pieces in their collection.
All of the art work we have tells stories about countries that we live in, our friends and our shared history. Some of the work makes the audience reconsider its belief structures, opening up different ways of contemplating the world. Art is such a unique and challenging form of communication. It’s important to have pieces that inform the way we work and also shift how we perceive our surroundings and community.
Three really interesting, intelligent artists in Hong Kong right now are Ho Sin Tung, Nadim Abbas and Leung Chi Wo.
Ho Sin Tung has a lyrical, idiosyncratic illustrative style that uses a sociological perspective to examine the way memory, aesthetics, literature and filmscapes can create and mythologise a changing territory like Hong Kong. Her drawing style, with maps and seating plans, uses a muted colour palette and distorted viewpoints to make work that is suggestive, beautiful and often quietly subversive.
Your Name is Ferdinand (2010) is a delicate pencil and ink drawing of a seating plan at the HK Science Museum Lecture Hall, including film posters and an evocation of a stage set flanked by checkered curtains opening out over two dangling figures. Both figures are hung by marionette strings: the male figure appears to be carrying a rifle and a copy of the book For Ever Godard, while the female figure holds a trident that has speared a fish. Every seat that the artist has occupied is marked on the seating plan, with a careful list of the dates and titles of all the international and local movies she has seen in the old cinema hall.
Like a dreamy diary of cinematic impressions, the work suggests we build a repository of images and impressions over our own past, related to and also based on how filmmakers and writers have interpreted life in a mixture of reality and imagination. The artist has said in interviews that visual cues in her work can “accumulate possibilities” and, like the solitary act of sitting in a darkened cinema, restructure the way we think about urban life in ways that are both intimate and communal.
Nadim Abbas’ So Sorry, **** Off is a deft commentary on signage and semiotics. Abbas plays with different registers around language to destabilise our perspective on space and make the familiar unstable and transformative. In this work he has taken a photo of the PRC Liaison Office in Hong Kong and rearranged the lettering in an ambiguous new formation.
“The Chinese tourists depicted in the establishing shot were not in the 2011 version,” said Abbas in 2013. “They had seen me taking photos outside the ministry that day and, to my surprise, asked if I could take one of them in front of the entrance as a keepsake. Whereas previously the urgency of the situation seemed to demand a more direct statement, this time I was compelled to approach the subject in a more oblique manner. I will leave the reader to fill in the blanks.”
One of our favourite photographs is this work by Leung Chi Wo from the Colour Series (1999-2003). Capturing the less seen spaces above Hong Kong skyscrapers, this image was shot between Possession Street and Queen’s Road West. Leung finds another way to frame Hong Kong through its architecture of negative space, memoralising with colour filters strange new abstract forms in relation to the mass and density of the city’s uber-urban environment.
Like the artist’s other reflective, conceptual installations and multimedia works, the photograph tempts one to play detective and try to find the exact site where the artist stood, even though the speed of construction would make that almost impossible. As vignettes of places that we live in and love, the works in the Colour Series are metaphors about history and progress, in clean, modern shapes and primary colours.