Off Beat 「踏空」 /
Hong Kong /
Apr 1 – May 14, 2022 /
As you enter art space Feyerabend, located in an old Tai Kok Tsui tong lau – a type of residential building built before the 1960s – a barber’s pole catches your attention. Its spinning action draws your eye yet lacks focus. As you continue to approach the centre of the space, the audio effects that usually come before announcements at old-style Cantonese teahouses or railway platforms blast from four mini speakers, filling the rectangular space, as if an announcement is imminent but not forthcoming. An abandoned wooden ladder and a dried up can of latex paint give the space a sense of being stuck in the past. If not for the video Sudivision playing, one might suspect that the objects were left behind from a previous occupant, instead of being part of an exhibition.
I was told by the person in charge of the art space that many viewers had expected to see Kong Chun Hei’s technical pen drawings in the exhibition Off Beat, and were disappointed to find that they were not displayed. Those who have followed the artist’s works in recent years know that Kong has often used modern industrial products such as stainless steel and machinery. His presentations have been simple, restrained and succinct. For example, in the recent Double Vision exhibition at Tai Kwun, he showed a lightness of touch with the way he submerged a water level gauge horizontally in a centimetre of water to create a sense of crisis.
Despite the difference in approach to this exhibition from his previous ones in galleries, which might not meet some viewers’ expectations, Kong’s usual creative approach and way of thinking were still in evidence. They were based on observations of certain paradoxes, with all emotions and symbols filtered out during the creative process. He handled materials with minimal interference, but by changing their presentation or materiality, turned them into contradictory forms that questioned the nature of art.
The quiet space was a psuedo disaster scene: the barber’s pole was spinning like a fire alarm (was it an advertisement or a warning?); the wooden ladder leaning on the wall was hollow, left with its bare bones, which collapse when stepped on (was it a method of escape or a trap?); the speakers seemed to be calling for someone in an intermittent, repetitive manner (were they calls, alarms or brainwashing?). Kong’s deliberate designs persistently attracted viewers’ attention, visually, aurally and conceptually, disrupting their subconscious and habits through interruption and negation to confuse their cognitive abilities and recognition of their environment. Finally, he slowly builds a wall in the video Sudivision that blocks the audience’s view, ultimately separating himself from the quiet disaster scene.
Living in a fast-paced, densely populated place, individuals are bundled into groups, emotionally blackmailed with a sense of urgency by social media, forced to give an immediate response, so that they can feel relieved from anxiety and moral obligation. The world exerts an invisible pressure that drives people to go further. Kong’s exhibition counteracts this pressure, simultaneously blocking visitors’ view and inviting them to participate in an exercise that subverts their preconceived ideas. Kong might not have provided any symbols to evoke emotional responses, and nor could his repeated negations and disrupted narrative provide any grand solution. But in the context of art, can the blank space between the interruptions and confusion be interpreted as a kind of creation?
The piece Dried Paint on Wall acted as the conclusion of the exhibition, but could also be seen as the beginning of the next one. A block of dried latex paint that could be mistaken for a sculpture or a piece of pottery, it turned out to be only a found object the artist came across in a can when he was cleaning up. It was both an artwork and not an artwork, both handled – taken from the can – and not handled. It was a rebuttal as well as a welcome – he was willing to come with the viewer to this emptiness to rediscover the nature of seeing and thinking. In retrospect, one might come to understand that the block of dried paint was the beginning of all meanings.
作品《乾涸的漆在牆上》，儼然是這個展覽的終結，也可以是下一個展覽的開始：是一件已經乾涸的乳膠漆，令人誤以為是雕塑／陶瓷，原來只是藝術家在執拾打掃時無意中從鐵罐中拿出的現成物。是作品，也不是作品。有處理（只是從罐中拿出來），同時也沒有處理。在拒絕之後同時是迎接 ── 他願意你和他一起走到這片空白之中，重新看見和思考存在本身，回首時也許會發現，那個乾涸的乳膠漆正是一切意義的開始。