By Aaina Bhargava /
In the midst of Wan Chai, a neon pink roller shutter poses a seemingly innocent question: “What did you dream of last night?” Reading like an ad, a phone number and website, halfdream.org, are listed above and beneath the question. Surrounded by an eclectic mix of shops plastered with flyers and notices, bustling Hennessy Road might be the last place you’d expect to see Chicago-based Hong Kong artist Doreen Chan’s ongoing project Half Dream (Promotion 1, Hong Kong) (2020). She invites people to recall their dreams and subsequently transforms them into an art work. Surreal in spirit and content, the work marks the beginning of an equally unexpected occurrence.
What once was a Japanese restaurant became, for a fleeting moment, a pop-up exhibition, A’fair. Outfitted with jagged edges, dirt, partly pulled-out floor tiles and exposed brick walls, the space’s former function was only hinted at by remnants of white, ceramic-like, fan-patterned tiles. The gritty impact of the unfinished, rough-hewn interiors was intensified by a series of sculptural installations. Raw, visceral and fleeting – it lasted just four days – A’fair took the viewer by surprise, baring an intimate vulnerability and leaving them wanting more.
Beyond the obvious play on a romantic affair, the title assumes a myriad of meanings, which the show addressed. Curator Tiffany Leung says that it recalls an art fair that never happened, the state of affairs in Hong Kong and the world generally, and also brings to mind the common Cantonese name Afai (阿輝) . Together with Leung, artist Lau Hiu Tung and architect Norine Chu chanced on the vacant space and conceived of this zero-budget collaborative project. They invited local artists, many of whom were their close friends, to respond to and reflect on the site, place and this moment of time.
“We’re playing with space and time, resisting the white cube gallery space,” says Leung. “It’s playing with chaos, imagining and transforming spaces, and using this collaborative ethos to inhabit it.”
For Chu, the show breaks up the monotony of everyday life. “It was an affair because of its atypical relationship with the carcass of the shop,” she says of the decrepit space. “It diverted me from my daily routine and a 9-to-6 job – it was short, sweet and memorable.”
Her towering series of sculptures Threshold (2020), created together with architect Carolyn Wong, resembled the bamboo scaffolding commonly used in construction across the city. Chu’s iteration sought to reimagine the conceptual space between the public and private by pulling external architecture into a more intimate realm.
Ko Sin Tung’s Hard Pieces (2020) also engaged with the architectural elements of the space. Inspired by the gritty aesthetic of the shop, the artist filled PVC hosepipes with dirt from the site, inserting them into the pillars and walls in an attempt to present the space from a different perspective.
Tiger Wong seamlessly merged and transformed his signature ephemeral blue ceramic practice to the crude concrete brick walls of the shop in #X (2020), created while contemplating the tumultuous past year and a half in Hong Kong. Consisting of chained concrete cast sculptures protruding from the walls and even hanging from the ceiling, the installation’s severe, tactile yet palatable aesthetic made a visceral impact. Mak Ying Tung II’s Revenge (2013) riffs on this unbridled brutality, consisting of a hammer with nails protruding from its head.
In close proximity, Lau’s series of sculptures and paintings were formed while thinking of sex and relationships, a theme evoked by a prevalence of spas, massage parlours, sex shops and even an encounter with a used condom. Hiu incorporated found objects, such as the metal tins used in Compersion (2020), which she got free at a nearby hardware store. The act of drawing from surroundings both physically and conceptually featured in all the artists’ works, signifying a preoccupation with the city and defining an identity, which was further emphasised by the ambiguous function of the exhibition site.
One level up, in an even more intimate, dimly lit setting, one finds Andrew Luk’s Floating Citadel (2020) deceptively hovering above the ground. Consisting of a pallet the artist found in Tai Kok Tsui with tiles meticulously stuck to it, Luk’s work questions what comprises a city itself. Is it the physical architecture, manifested in a sculpture of a generic fortified city with a grid-like aesthetic, or the movement and exchange of ideas, goods and people, made visible through the interconnected networks formed within the pallet?
Yet again formed from found objects and layered with ambiguity, Ocean Leung’s Basterd (2020), a highlight of the show, uses discarded shop signs from a closed rice roll restaurant (腸粉店). By rearranging pieces of broken red signage, Leung forms the Cantonese characters for bastard, referencing both Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and local cultural tropes.
The visual cohesion of the exhibition can be traced to the unity of an artist-driven collaboration with genuine intentions. As Leung reflects: “We were self-organised and wanted to create something spontaneous. We never wanted to be too heavy-handed with what people wanted to do; we simply wanted a response to the space.”
The result is a refreshingly unfiltered and authentic endeavour. In true Hong Kong style, it’s adaptive and quietly defiant, speaking to the short-lived nature of independent art spaces, and indeed most spaces, in this spatially challenged city.
在灣仔的鬧市中，一道霓紅色的鐵閘展示一個看似單純的問題：「你琴晚發夢…夢到咩?」問題的上下部份寫上了電話號碼和網址 halfdream.org，看起來像一則廣告。鐵閘周遭都是不同類型、貼滿廣告和告示的店舖，在熙來攘往的軒尼詩道上，很難想像看到駐芝加哥的香港藝術家陳泳因的持續性發展作品《半夢（宣傳_1, 香港）》（2020年）。藝術家邀請觀眾回想自己做過的夢，然後把它們變成藝術品。這部作品的內容和風格帶有超現實味道，標誌著一件同樣令人難以想像的事情的開始。
展覽名稱，除了明顯把玩愛情和慾望的主題，亦帶有許多意義。策展人Tiffany Leung.分享，這令人想到一個從未舉行的 Art fair，及現今世界和香港的事件，亦令人想起廣東話名字「阿輝」。Tiffany、藝術家劉曉彤和建築師 Norine Chu 偶現發現這間吉舖，於是發起這個不花一分一毫的合作性項目。他們邀請多位本地藝術家透過創作，對這個場地、地方和這個時刻作回應，許多參展藝術家都是三位發起人的好朋友。
對於 Norine Chu 來說，展覽打破單調的日常生活：「這次展覽與殘舊的店舖之間的關係破格，就像一場外遇。」談到這個破落的空間，她說：「它帶我偏離日常的朝九晚六的工作─這段關係短暫、甜蜜，而且令人難忘。」
Norine Chu 夥拍建築師 Carolyn Wong，創作重要的雕塑作品《Threshold》（2020年），仿照在城市常見的竹棚架構。這番複製透過把外置的建築物放到一個較親密的場域，重新想像公共和私人空間的概念。
是次展覽在視覺上的一致性，表達了眾藝術家團結合作而成的真摯意圖。策展人Tiffany Leung 回想：「這個展覽由我們自我組織，希望可以創作出隨心即興的一件事。我們不會嚴厲地對待人們想要做的事，我們只想對這個空間作出回應。」