An acute manner 更尖銳的方式 / Kiang Malingue / Hong Kong / Nov 11 – Jan 15, 2022 /
If something is sharp, the edge is often outward facing. For instance, sharpness can be used to describe piercing speech or sharp questions. But in changing times, when all sharpness has been blunted, how can one maintain one’s sharp edge? When the world squabbles about what to say and what can’t be said, Ko Sin Tung quietly conveyed what she considered to be a sharp edge in her solo exhibition at Kiang Malingue.
Memories of the artist’s last exhibition are still fresh: for that, she turned the gallery space, in a Grade A office building in Central, into a construction site. For this new exhibition, the gallery has temporarily relocated to an old industrial building in Aberdeen. But the exhibition space inside the gallery is suffocatingly clean, and cool tones pervade the venue and the works. There are only two pieces, and Ko’s signature allusion to spaces in construction is nowhere to be found. At first glance, the minimalistic furnishings have made the white cube even whiter.
Ko has always been attracted to the visual forms and aesthetics of man-made objects and urban construction work, at the same time exploring the latent violence hidden beneath them. Her minimalistic approach to this show wasn’t solely an aesthetic decision, but was also related to urban development
Her recent work also features numerous allusions to surgery. In Dust and Trivial Matters (2019), she cut up and broke objects and placed them in a sterilised, segregated space; in Guardian (2019), part of the group exhibition Borrowed Scenery, she put on a pair of surgical gloves to weave wire loops under the protection of a medical screen.
Surgery is the process of externally treating pathological conditions, changing the structure of or implanting foreign objects in the body or other organic matter using instruments. Construction work and surgery are both intrusions into a specific site to improve the whole based on certain aspirations – healing or development. But the operating procedures of the two are the complete opposites: the former emphasises construction, while the latter is about elimination, eradication and preservation. If Ko’s previous works have focused on the way everyday objects are handled – for example, Adaptation (2019) remains a construction site in progress – this new exhibition was closer to how a site nearing completion would look, with the artist skipping all illustrations of the production process.
Cut-up pieces of plastic containers are scattered around the venue, metal barriers running through them. The venue is divided by a slowly moving screen down its centre made from metal wires. A white cube seemingly does not have a position or character, providing an artist with a blank sheet of paper. But through minimal interference, the artist has divided the exhibition space using metal barricades, subtly disrupting the movement of the viewer to create a slight difference between the experiences of the exhibition and of daily life.
Ko’s latest exhibition has shown great restraint in not creating any points of interest for viewers (or potential buyers). Social media photo-sharing enthusiasts will probably be unable to find anything Instagrammable in this exhibition. With everyday objects and ordinary materials placed by Ko in a spanking clean space, evoking daily life, minimalism and cleanness of form, while at the same time pretending to be mundane, she alludes to the latent oppression beneath everyday life. The pandemic has been ongoing for two years. Under the hyper-awareness of hygiene and cleanliness, Ko draws attention to the numerous tiny restrictions currently in place. Consequently, her sharp edge is also inward facing, its sensitivity a contrast to the numbness often felt towards the constraints of the new normal.
From the unfinished holes left in construction sites in her previous works to the wounds that punctuate objects and are dabbed with iodine, the artist has broadened her visual vocabulary in the past two years, with her concerns moving from urban construction to what is inside our own bodies. Amid the coolness of the exhibition, areas of warmth stood out; the iodine on the punctured objects might be the only warm colour in the entire exhibition. The artist was probably well aware that the iodine is not a treatment but a symbol of grief. The slight ache reminds us of the existence of the wound, the silent blind spot in our memory, while telling us everything about the current state of affairs.