Various artists / Tomorrow Maybe at Eaton / Hong Kong / Aug 13 – Sept 3, 2023 / Ilaria Maria Sala /
As you enter the exhibition space on the fourth floor of the Eaton Hotel, you are greeted by a small print of an image macro, a digital picture with text superimposed, hanging from the roof, attached with string and clips. It features an image of a manga girl sitting on a messy bed with her legs bent against her chest, provocatively showing the back of her upper thighs, left uncovered by her pink miniskirt – coordinating with her pink baby shoes – her mouth hiding behind a mobile phone. The floor is strewn with all sorts of items: shopping bags and takeaway containers, bits of paper and other undecipherable debris. On top is the sentence that gives the show part of its title: “Welcome >_< take a seat wherever” (not that there is anywhere to sit in this rubbish-piled room). Internet neologisms, and neologisms from internet neologisms – like the cringevibing of the show’s title – add a further layer of fun and stimulation, and a potential feeling of FOMO from being out of the over-productive internet meme loop.
This collective show, by and about Gen Z artists and curated by Angela Liu, claims to “take memetic irony as its point of departure”, and while this is plain to see, some of the posters(with pictures of large-eyed manga girls and the superimposed writing “i’m not an artist i’m just a vessel”; “Yes. We are prayer.” by Miri & Jenn, constituting a “hypercitational room of exe file” for the work .nomedia-doll (datadollyeschalon.exe) (2023), are more disquieting than ironic. That description is intentionally confusing, as the stated intention is to peek into a mostly online, occasionally offline universe which is filled with internet citations, images on which memes and only half comprehensible sentences are superimposed (described here as “executable files, or exe files”) and a pervasive soft screen-glow.
Or take Deus ex machina, a massive pink foam installation by Janice Kei, which leaves behind the ironic, humorous approach quite quickly, as the playful intention is absorbed and annihilated by a profusion of objects and references and a sort of everything everywhere feeling, which effectively brings to the forefront the extreme demands on Gen Z’s attention in a world of constant online production, reproduction and uncontrollable expansion of images, trends, memes, viral videos and trends. Works such as Miri & Jenn’s nonsense slogans written in an awkward font over manga-like girl doll faces – huge eyes and shut mouths, in an ever-spreading eroticised Hello Kitty aesthetic – add to the sense of disorientation and déjà vu. Internet trends, at first short-lived, are suddenly proposed again, added back into the Gen Z mix in a rapid and unexpected revival, that only reinforces the sense of overwhelming intensity.
From the very first glance, which promises all the multilayered, mixed visuals that await the visitor, we move into a profusion of pink, the main colour of the show. It appears not just in its cutesy, kawaii declination, but also in a more haunting version that pulsates teen confusion and an insomniac exhaustion brought about by a desire to be constantly online. This is exemplified by the representation of various childhood games derived from manga characters or online games that morph into stylised erotic fantasies, portrayed in a series of oil-on-canvas paintings of semi-naked, non-binary characters. These works by E8mkboy are a series of four variations on a theme, depicting a sexually ambiguous, naked figure in various states of S&M bondage. The images are brushed on the canvas at first in a rather realistic style, which fades into a softer semi-abstraction. Memes abound, as do cute images wrapped in the paraphernalia of war and weaponry, such as those in the work by Noura Tafeche, Annihilation Core, Inherited Lore, where a small, play mat-style carpet replete with square pictures of sexy female soldiers from the Israeli army form a series from “Kalashnikitty”, a made-up brand, constituting a short-circuit-inducing representation of military cuteness. These include pictures taken from real Twitter (now X) accounts of Israeli women soldiers that cutify themselves with sweet or sexy facial expressions and a lot of pink, in spite of the rifles they hold in their hands, mixed with Sanrio characters with superimposed writings, like “We Committed tax fraud/Wholesome economy”. On top of the play mat sit a bunch of dakimakuras (large, Japanese-style pillows) with printed images of porn mangas and sweet animals.
The self-affirmed playfulness, again, shifts in and out of this challenging and stimulating show: it is evident and amusing in works such as VeryVeryVeryVeryVery (Evening Gown and Things) by Ringo Lo, where a wall of text and hypertext has chat-like conversations looping back onto themselves; or in Brandon Bandy and Rachel Jackson’s Political Compass Chair_devirtualized and Platform Artifacts, where formerly functional or semi-functional objects are turned into purely visual products. In Cas Wong’s work Who’s That Girl, we are faced with a “young adult girlie bound in a swamp salon”, like a precog from the film Minority Report, with wings, strange objects in her hand and hair hanging from a helmet: a dark, disquieting composition sitting behind a niche-forming half-wall. A video essay by curator Angela Liu, Adderall Nation Ketamine Please, again reaffirms this dichotomy: a cute, playful life phase entangled in commercialisation and its own exhausted search for meaning, tottering incessantly between laughter and anxiety, arrogance and insecurity, where irony and hypersexualisation seem to act as protective shields against potential pain.
Featured image: E8mkboy. Courtesy the artist and Tomorrow Maybe.
群展 / 逸東酒店Tomorrow Maybe / 2023年8月13日至9月3日 / Ilaria Maria Sala
無獨有偶，Janice Kei的大型粉紅色泡沫裝置《Deus ex machina》，同樣很快就拋棄了諷刺、幽默的方式，運用了大量物體和提述，再配上每個地方每個物品的感覺，把營造趣味的想法完全纖滅。Z世代生活的世界充斥著各種原創與二次創作的圖像、潮流、迷因和瘋傳短片，這些內容的擴張無法控制。展覽中這類作品的取向，正正顯示了藝術家極力爭取Z世代注意。Miri與 Jenn把無意義的標語以怪形怪相的字體寫在漫畫少女巨眼閉嘴的娃娃臉上，配上越來越盛行的色情版Hello Kitty美學，增加了迷失方向和似曾相識的感覺。最初稍縱即逝的互聯網潮流突然再次現身，迅速而出乎意料地再次興起並重新走進Z世代現象，密集程度令人越來越透不過氣。
從第一眼開始，我們由展覽為參觀者承諾的多層次混合視覺效果，進入了繽粉的粉紅色國度。粉紅是展覽的主要顏色，不僅在可愛風的作品上找到，還出現於令人驚恐的作品中，後者令人感受到青少年的困惑，還有因渴望保持時刻在線而致的失眠疲憊。好像各種取材自動漫角色或網遊的童年遊戲便一一變型，成了風格化的情慾幻想，躍現於一系列半裸、非二元角色的布面油畫上。以上是E8mkboy圍繞同一主題的四款作品，畫中的裸體人物雌雄莫辨，而且處於各種束縛綑綁（S&M）狀態。畫布之上先是迫真描繪，逐漸淡出至半抽象狀態。Noura Tafeche的作品《Annihilation Core, Inherited Lore》則迷因處處，還有被戰爭和武器包圍的可愛圖像，例如是遊戲小墊子般的地毯上鋪滿了一格格以色列女兵的性感照片，以虛構品牌「Kalashnikitty」帶出了令人錯亂的軍裝可愛，包括來自真實Twitter（現稱X）帳戶的以色列女兵照片：她們手持步槍，面上流露甜美或性感表情，配合大量粉紅色和Sanrio卡通人物，再疊加「我們犯了稅務欺詐／健康經濟」等文字。遊戲墊上放著一堆日式抱枕，上面印有色情漫畫和可愛動物的圖案。
這個挑戰底線又刺激思考的展覽還有其他自我肯定的嬉鬧： Ringo Lo的《VeryVeryVeryVeryVery (Evening Gown and Things)》就是其中的逗趣代表，作品中描繪了一道滿佈文字和超連結的牆，上面是自說自話的聊天迴路。Brandon Bandy的《Political Compass Chair_devirtualized》和Rachel Jackson的《Platform Artifacts》，都以本來功能性或半功能性的物件變成純粹視覺之作。Cas Wong的《Who’s That Girl》以半道牆組成的角落為背景，呈現一名被困於沼澤裡的少女，就像電影《未來報告》中有預視能力的機械人一樣，她身上長有翅膀，手裡拿著奇怪的物件，頭上懸掛著頭盔——整件作品的構圖陰暗而令人不安。策展人廖翊名的錄像文章《Adderall Nation Ketamine Please》重申了這種二分矛盾：可愛、好玩的人生階段與商業化和令人疲累的尋找意義糾纏，在笑聲與焦慮、傲慢與缺乏安全感之間飄搖，諷刺和超情慾化似乎是潛藏痛苦的護罩。