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Joseph Chen 陳敬元

By Christie Lee / 

In 2018, Joseph Chen was sauntering through the street markets in Sham Shui Po when he happened upon a stack of 50 hard drives. The Hong Kong artist bought all of them for “under HK$100” and extracted the deluge of personal images and documents. 

That exercise culminated in Shameplant in Glory Hole, a series of performances, a series of performances, a research group and exhibitions from 2019-21 exploring the idea of “second-hand memories”. The latest event was a solo exhibition, Shameplant in Glory Hole, that ran from June 19 to July 17 at Videotage. At the dim art space, one sees as well as enters Chen’s immersive installation, where 8-10 terabytes of “second-hand memories” have been collaged into a psychedelic whole.

Walls are plastered with a mishmash of images and documents, from selfies to song lyrics to travel photos to pornographic images, while the objects in the space offer a glimpse into lives, real or imaginary, underlined by the artist’s predilection for juxtapositions. 

Having kicked off his career as a video artist, Chen is increasingly drawn towards found objects, though his interests remain the same: technology’s impact on the way we receive and process information, and the idea of originality in a digital age.

Christie Lee: Why drew you to the images and documents of strangers? Joseph Chen: They are testaments to lives lived. Sometimes I’d see a pornographic image and immediately think: this was likely to be a guy. But then I’d think: wait a minute, doesn’t that assumption reveal certain gender biases? After all, women also watch pornography. As an artist, I’m interested in the ways I can reappropriate these found materials to tell new stories.

CL: How did you conceptualise this exhibition? 
JC: I am always into correlative thinking when I make art, versus causality. It’s about finding the patterns between things, whether visually or conceptually. The abundance and disorder of materials on the hard drives drove me to chaotic imaginations, inspiring me to build a universe with excessive and maximal elements, not focusing on a specific thing. Hopefully it can open up a variety of perceptions and interpretations.

CL: Who or what are your visual inspirations? 
JC: Animes, video games, internet meme culture and 80s consumerist culture. 

Big Data Big Other by Joseph Chen, Mattress, barbwire, steel knife, rose, expanding spray foam, 2021.
Courtesy the artist. Photo: Sze Ming Li..

CL: One of your installation pieces refers to a hospital environment. An impregnated figure lies on a stainless steel bed, while beneath it a pendulum swings menancingly over an ultrasound image of twin foetuses. Could you tell us more about this work?
JC: I was reading [philosopher] Bernard Stiegler, who spoke about how a lot of what makes up our consciousness is externalised or coded in different objects. I thought: isn’t ultrasound our earliest externalised memory?

CL: Meanwhile, a few objects in the exhibition are coded with messages.
JC: Yes: for example, a headboard I picked up near where I live. When I picked it up, there were already children’s stickers all over it, so I decided to work with that idea. I proceeded to carve some of the messages from the hard drives onto it. You know how we used to carve messages on our desks during secondary school days, as a way of leaving your mark on something – of leaving a memory behind?

CL: But you also installed three spiky plants in front of it, which evokes the image of a gravestone.
JC: There is innocence but there is also pain and a bit of absurdity. I like to contrast ideas and visual images in my works.

Unconditional Love by Joseph Chen, Silicone, Steel table, 
reciprocating rocking motor, LED screen, 2021.
Courtesy the artist. Photo: Sze Ming Li..

CL: Your exhibition also intermingles organic and inorganic in a way that blurs the line between the two. For example, you attempted to grow weeds from the hard drives.
JC: I want to appropriate objects in a way that appears absurd. That’s why I created a sculpture of a pair of wings that might look like a vagina at a different angle, a dildo that evokes the image of an animal’s tail or a pointed sword. I suppose all this is because I like abundance and disorder, as [they allow] my eye and mind to wander till they decide to focus on something.

CL: Let’s talk about the rather provocative exhibition title. Originating in London in 18th century, glory holes were a way for gay men to engage in sexual behaviour while safeguarding their identity.
JC: I am a queer person, so I am naturally drawn to idea. The idea is quite intriguing. You are revealing the most private part of yourself, which is exhibitionist, but you’re also doing it in a way that won’t reveal your identity.Normally, I am ‘Shameplant’, but when I’m exhibiting, I feel like ‘Glory Hole’.

Hard Collage 1-7 by Joseph Chen, PVC sticker, 2020-2021.
Courtesy the artist. Photo: Sze Ming Li..

CL: Do you think there is such a thing as queer aesthetics
JC: To be queer is to resist categorisation. I think my art has that inclination, as I like to mix various ideas and styles. I think that queer identity will have an impact, but since queerness is also a sort of anti-identity identity, there won’t a singular definition. As an artist, my works don’t explicitly talk about queerness.


2018年,香港藝術家陳敬元在深水埗地攤閒逛時偶然發現了一批50隻硬碟,他以不到HK$100的價格購買了所有硬碟,並修復了大量他人的圖像和文件。

「在尋歡洞的含羞草」是陳敬元於2019-2021年的研究計劃,以一系列的表演、研究小組及展覽探索「二手記憶」。最近藝術家於6月19日至7月17日在錄映太奇舉辦了個展「在尋歡洞的含羞草」,在昏暗的藝術空間裡展示沉浸式裝置,把8至10TB的「二手記憶」拼貼成一個迷幻的個體。

展覽空間的牆上貼滿了雜亂無章的圖像和文件,自拍、歌詞、旅行照片到色情圖片都有。藝術家喜愛並列主題,空間內的物品讓人一窺真實和想像的生活。

陳敬元本是一名錄像藝術家,後來越來越受現成物吸引,不過他對於科技對數據接收和處理方式的影響以及數碼年代的原創理念的興趣仍然保持不變。

陌生人的圖像和文件有什麼吸引你?
它們是生活的見證。當我看到色情圖片的時候我立刻會覺得硬碟的主人可能是個男人,但仔細想想這假設其實是不是揭示了一種性別偏見?畢竟女性也可以看色情片。作為一名藝術家,我很喜歡重新利用現成物講述新的故事。

你如何構思這個展覽?
創作的時候我總是會用關聯思維而非因果關係思考,我會尋找物品之間構成的模式,無論是在視覺抑或概念上。硬碟內的資料豐富雜亂,讓我陷入了混亂的想像,啟發我去構建一個元素最多最大的宇宙,而非專注於一件特定的物品,希望這樣可以開闢各種看法和詮釋。

你的視覺靈感源自哪裡?
動漫、電玩、網絡迷因文化和80年代消費主義文化。

你其中一件裝置的背景是醫院,作品中一個受孕的人物躺在不銹鋼床上,下方有一個鐘擺惡形惡相的在雙胞胎超聲波圖像上來回擺動。可否談談這件作品?
那時我正在閱讀哲學家貝爾納・斯蒂格勒的作品,他談到很多構成意識的東西是表達或隱藏在不同物品中,我想:超聲波不就是我們最早的外部記憶嗎?

而另一方面展覽的其中一些物品也隱藏了訊息。
沒錯,我在家附近撿到的床頭板就是其中一個例子。我找到它的時候上面已經貼滿了兒童貼紙,所以我決定沿著這個方向創作,把一些硬盤內的訊息刻在上面,就好像我們中學的時候會在課桌上刻上訊息,留下印記和記憶。

但你還在它前面擺放了三棵尖的植物,讓人聯想起墓碑。
它看起來充滿童真,但也有點痛苦和荒謬。我喜歡在作品中對比想法和視覺圖像。

你的展覽還把生物和死物混合,模糊了兩者之間的界限。在硬盤中種植雜草就是其中一個例子。
我想以一種看似荒謬的方式來處理物品,因此我創作了有翅膀的雕塑。從某些角度來看它可能像陰道,亦可能是會讓人聯想到動物尾巴或尖頭劍的假陽具。我想一切都是因為我喜歡豐富和雜亂,它們可以令我的眼睛和思想放空,進而專注某物。

讓我們來談談這個頗具挑釁性的展覽名稱。尋歡洞起源於18世紀的倫敦,是男同性戀者在保護自己身份的同時進行性行為的一種方式。
我是個酷兒,所以我很自然就受到這個構思所吸引。要以一種不會暴露身份的方式來揭示自己最私隱的部分,這意念其實非常有趣。通常我都是棵「含羞草」,但參展時我總感覺置身「尋歡洞」之中。

你認為你的作品有呈現酷兒美學嗎?
成為酷兒就是要抵抗分類,我認為我的藝術創作有這種傾向,因為我喜歡混合各種想法和風格。我覺得酷兒身份會有影響,但由於酷兒也是一種「反身份」的身份,因此不會有單一的定義。作為一名藝術家,我的作品並沒有明確談論酷兒。

Feature image: Eye, Tail, Bait, Rite, Wing by Joseph Chen, Installaion view from Shameplant in Glory Hole at Videotage, 2021. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Sze Ming Li.

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