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Lee Kit

We used to be more sensitive /Hara Museum / Tokyo / Sep 16 – Dec 24, 2018 / John Batten /

Lee Kit’s exhibition occupies, as a single installation, the entire Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, an adapted modernist 1930s former residential building surrounded on two sides by a Japanese garden with an open lawn at the rear. Selections from the museum’s permanent contemporary sculpture collection are shown outside, and permanent installations are also displayed within the museum. It is necessary to appreciate the architecture, the architectural detailing – particularly the windows – and the other art and areas of the museum, including the shop and cafe, to fully appreciate Lee’s exhibition. 

Rather than ignoring or competing with the museum’s architecture and its installed art, Lee actively embraces the museum, and both strategically and subtly places his own paintings, videos and installations within it. Lee’s entire installation beckons to be quietly looked at, but it also works if viewers quickly pace through the galleries, ideally accompanied by their own (loud) ear-plugged music, passing through the museum’s natural light, shadows and reflections layered by Lee’s added contributions, then going outside and back in again. Lee would probably approve; his work is open to all sorts of interpretation and he often uses and is inspired by music.

Exhibition view of We used to be more sensitive by Lee Kit at Hara Museum, Tokyo.
Photo: John Batten.

Lee has made two intentional alterations to the museum’s internal architecture. They will be invisible to most viewers, but they show the artist’s commitment to getting his installation correct. The major change is on the ground floor, where two pillars are covered by adding a wall to create two separate rooms with a low opening between them, making visitors duck slightly to pass between them. Lee says he did this because the two pillars “were very impressive for me. Which meant I didn’t know how to use them.” In this gallery there is also an annex with a wonderfully curved window – original, from when the building was residential – looking out onto the garden. On the windowsill halfway along is a nonchalantly but ever so precisely placed brown bedside radio alarm clock of a style popular in the 1980s. Standing near the clock gives dual views: into the garden and into the gallery. The eye catches both the garden and a video projection on a far wall of a woman’s legs, in which her feet twist, writhe and rub together. The text added to the video (“Deep inside you never let go. Deep inside you never let this go”) could be either connected to or entirely disconnected from the images. Acknowledging this, Lee says: “I was thinking, maybe this is too much because it provides too much emotion to the video. But then I thought, no, emotion is like a frame to the video, to prevent people from over-interpreting it. I don’t want people to look at the video and think, ‘Oh, this is so relaxing’. Yes, it probably is, but I am not talking about being relaxed, so I added these two sentences. But these sentences repeat too obviously, so I added two more. So sometimes I add lyrics or phrases which function like frames.”

On the museum’s floors are all the projectors he uses, which are themselves sitting on top of or beside plastic storage boxes, each positioned as obstacles not to be tripped over or as just aesthetic forms. Video images are beamed onto walls and pure white light at times shines through these boxes. For example, at a right angle to the feet video is an intermittently projected light coming from the floor onto the wall and across and through the low opening into the next room. As they walk past or pass into the room, visitors are briefly fully lit. Caught in this light, the audience and their shadows intentionally add layers that complement the interior architecture and Lee’s own installation. This shadowing effect is repeated in other sections of the museum and layers the entire exhibition. Says Lee: “The layer is somehow also invisible because when people start to move, all compositions will change. This is something I cannot control.” The audiencecomes and goes randomly through the museum; they are projected, making the entire exhibition intentionally dynamic, with people spotlit, shadows projected.

Exhibition view of We used to be more sensitive by Lee Kit at Hara Museum, Tokyo.
Photo: John Batten.

Lee replicates the museum’s windows as video projections on white walls, often adjacent to the real windows. Both have their blinds drawn. Enigmatically, the text near one replica window says, in part: “Everything is fragmented, but not broken. It’s beautiful.” 

There are magic tricks too, openly presented for the audience to spot. A painting of a hand with the index finger pointing downwards is replicated in a video in another room. If a viewer watches this video long enough, a figure appears and walks towards the “painting” to adjust its position. Elsewhere, a green coffee mug on an upstairs windowsill has the words “Full of joy” printed on it. A nearby video includes the words, “But my arm is not long enough to reach the cup”. The cup, however, is available for sale in the museum shop. Also, one of Lee Kit’s archetypal painted cloths is pinned to a wall, and at frequent intervals a small child in a bright red T-shirt appears projected on the cloth; the text below simply says “hello”. Finally, the real blinds covering the real windows are made from a gauze-like fabric, and in places this same gauze is projected, giving some paintings and some walls a shadowy, gauze-like appearance.

The exhibition is a swirl of text, painting, light, shadow, architecture and glimpses of the outdoor gardens. The audience is an unconscious participant, and the initial crucial welcome, the child’s “hello”, sets the exhibition’s friendly, embracing tone. The audience were intrigued, possibly mesmerised in some cases, and fascinated by the exhibition’s touching, enigmatic layers of installation and possible meaning. It will be fondly remembered.

Amna Naqvi

Supporter of the arts, collector and philanthropist Amna Naqvi talks about two commissioned pieces in her collection.

Untitled is an installation that was commissioned from the Hong Kong-based artist Tsang Kin-Wah in 2012. Both my husband Ali and I’d been noticing Kin-Wah’s work in Hong Kong for some time. For me the appeal lay in his use of text as a leitmotif. We were on an Asia Art Archive Collectors Circle trip to Seoul in 2011 and it proved to be the turning point for this acquisition. We visited Leeum museum in Seoul, came upon Kin-Wah’s text on the glass cladding of the museum, and I was mesmerised by the sheer scale of the installation. We both decided that a commissioned work would be best as we would prefer the possibility of an installation rather than a painting. We invited Kin-Wah home for a discussion with Jehan Chu, who helped us with the commission. We came up with the idea of a folding blue and white chinoiserie-inspired screen which would be manifested as a single work of art but with the possibility of transforming it into three separate pieces.

Untitled by Tsang Kin Wah, 2012.
Courtesy the artist and Amna Naqvi.

The text was based on discussions between Kin-Wah and our family. As we looked to Singapore, Pakistan and Hong Kong as home and as places which nurtured and nourished us, we decided to speak about what that notion meant to us. So we all spoke about our experiences living and growing up in these countries. I really enjoyed observing the process when the children were speaking to Kin Wah about what the idea of home meant to them. The art work employed notions of heritage, culture, nostalgia and language. Kin-Wah used English, Mandarin and Cantonese to create the text from the discussions, which was transformed into floral motifs that enveloped the screen. This work is special to me for both its form and its process. 

The first time I came upon Wilson Shieh’s work was in the exhibition Outside In: Alternative Narratives in Contemporary Art at the University Museum and Art Gallery of The University of Hong Kong in 2009. The exhibition was curated by Tina Pang and organised in conjunction with the conference Rethinking Visual Narratives from Asia: Intercultural and Comparative Perspectives, and the museum was showing the works of six contemporary artists from Asia. The museum had approached us to borrow works by Imran Qureshi and Aisha Khalid from our collection, artists from Pakistan who are trained in historic Indo-Persian miniature painting; I am drawn to their work as they employ centuries-old traditional techniques to create works that are rooted in contemporary culture. I noticed Wilson Sheih’s work at the opening of the exhibition, as he was playing with the same notion, and connecting history with now. He was using the Gongbi Jehan Chu also helped with this commission in 2015. Both Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali had lived large in the imaginations of people growing up in the 1970s. They were both universal figures who were loved and venerated globally, be it Los Angeles, London, Lahore or Lagos. Therefore we asked Wilson to use their portraits and combine them with IM Pei’s Bank of China Tower for Lee and the IFC II for Muhammad Ali. The work combined images of Hong Kong’s iconic skyline with two giants of our generation.

Lee and Ali by Wilson Sheih, 2015.
Courtesy the artist and Amna Naqvi.

Wesley Tongson

The Journey /

By DeWitt Cheng /

The idea that life is a spiritual journey was once common in European and American religious culture: Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s 1678 allegorical adventure of a Christian soul, used to be required reading. Spirituality has largely fallen by the wayside, however, replaced by modern materialism. In developed countries now we focus on scientific and economic progress, and largely neglect the spiritual aspect of life, still part of the social menu of traditional cultures, which patronising contemporary standards adjudge backward.

The paintings of Hong Kong artist Wesley Tongson (1957-2012), aka Tong Ka Wai, in The Journey at San Francisco’s Chinese Culture Center through March 9, 2019, constitute a spiritual pilgrimage as well. Curated by Catherine Maudsley, and featuring biographical notes by Cynthia Tseng, the artist’s sister – who, she reveals, did her brother’s art homework when he was a child, before his interest in art surfaced in adolescence – the show reveals a talented hand, both disciplined and intuitive, at the service of a restless, relentless creative drive.

Plum 5 by Wesley Tongson, Ink on paper, 2011. Courtesy Cynthia Tongson and 
Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.

Tongson, who grew up in a Chinese Christian family in Hong Kong, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 15, in spring 1973. Shortly afterwards, at age 17, he declared an interest in studying traditional Chinese painting, and began taking lessons, encouraged by his family and teachers. Says Tseng: “Due to his illness, Wesley could not do anything else. Art was the only thing he could do. He was good at it and it was what made him happy, so my parents were supportive and encouraged him to continue. Wesley was a lonely person. Later, when he retreated into his own world, he disconnected with friends and family. Art was his life; it gave him purpose and the courage to go on: his constant companion. He found solace in his art. He was able to cope with his illness,” including his paranoia and the side-effects of his medication. “Without his art, I honestly don’t know how he would have survived all those years.”

Not only did Tongson survive; he thrived, visibly, in his art. The paintings on board and paper, framed or mounted onto wooden strainers, are artfully laid out in the venue’s three small galleries, with pairs of large coloured landscapes flanked by monochromatic calligraphic paintings, facing each other: landscape and calligraphy, the twin poles of traditional Chinese painting, recapitulated and reinterpreted with modernist verve and dash. Along the adjacent hallway are smaller works that show the evolution of Tongson’s famous splashed landscapes, accompanied by writing by the somewhat reticent artist and his sister, a talented keeper of the flame.

Spiritual Mountains 7 by Wesley Tongson, Ink and colour on paper, 2012. Courtesy Cynthia Tongson and Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.

While a chronological arrangement that traced the artist’s development would have been preferable, the space dictated the arrangement; attentive viewers can puzzle out the progression, however, and the works of various styles speak to each other anyway. While still in high school in Hong Kong, Tongson studied traditional Chinese painting styles and themes, such as pine trees, plum blossoms, bamboo, with their symbolic and homophonic associations with longevity, perseverance and congratulation respectively. With incessant practice, he became a young latter-day guohua painter in the retired-Confucian-scholar mode before graduating in 1977. At Ontario College of Art from 1977 to 1981, he studied western painting, especially the metamorphic Picasso, and began experimenting with splashing ink, probably influenced by Jackson Pollock and certainly by Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), the versatile modernist master, and virtuoso mimic/forger of older masters, who sported an antiquarian long beard and flowing robes, and developed a late splashed-paint style, pocai, which came, as Tongson writes in a letter, directly from his heart.

Tongson returned to Hong Kong in 1981, studying with Gu Qingyao and Huang Zhongfang, and he continued experimenting with and perfecting various non-brush ink application techniques. He was instructed by Taiwanese painter Liu Guosong in ink staining, rubbing, dyeing and marbling – floating ink on the surface of water and dipping the paper into it, capturing the swirling, cosmic patterns used for the psychedelic end papers of deluxe books. These masterly landscapes, combinations of time-honored themes and new techniques, garnered praise from critics and collectors, museums and galleries in Hong Kong, Beijing, Suzhou and London. The artist, whose visions originated in Mahayana Buddhism’s Western Paradise, and who called these richly textured works, improvised yet impossibly perfect, his Zen Mountains of Heaven paintings, referred to himself at the time, with irony and pride, as shandou laoshi (mountainscape teacher). Finally come Tongson’s late, monumental landscape paintings, created with his hands, fingers and fingernails, without tools: direct transcriptions of his nervous system, like Pollock’s loops and skeins of liquid paint flung from a stick.

Installation view of The Journey at Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco. Courtesy Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.

San Francisco is fortunate to have even this modest sample of Tongson’s prodigious output of work, the latest of a series of exhibitions assembled by the Tongson family, which can take pride in the achievement of its prodigiously talented, hard-working, solitary son. It includes a few extraordinary works worth singling out: the three 1992 calligraphic splash paintings The Light, Blessed Rain and God’s Light, pictograms that seem to be both carved and liquid, monumentalyet evanescent; Red Plums Over the Earth (1993), a traditional bucolic motif given explosive energy, with the plums represented by perfectly sized and placed drops of vermilion ink; Plum 5 (2011), with fruit-laden trees dissolving into what appears a dance diagram or musical score; and Mountain 1 (1995) and Misty Mountains (1993), small, magical miracles of evocation: paradise, regained.

Featured image: Red Plums Over the Earth by Wesley Tongson, Ink and colour on board, 1993.Courtesy Cynthia Tongson and Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.

Cheung Yee, Angela Su, Manuel Bravo, Danh Vo, Andrew Luk, Wong Kai Kin and Carolee Schneemann at Dai Bing

Dai Bing presents:

Body Works, Body Shop, Body Parts 
A show of anatomical bits and bobs including paintings and sculpture at Hong Kong’s newest bar serving tall drinks and pesticos.

52 Bonham Strand West
Sheung Wan
(852) 9838 4438
Mo-Su 6.30 to 11.30pm

#大冰 #DaiBing52 #LongDrinks #ArtisanIce #CraftIce #IceFromLoveland

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Miao Ying’s ‘Hardcore Digital Detox’, the first work in M+’s series of digital commissions

www.stories.mplus.org.hk

M+ presents Hardcore Digital Detox, a work by Shanghai- and New York–based artist Miao Ying, commissioned expressly for the M+ Stories online platform. It explores the restricted Chinese internet—popularly known as the ‘Chinternet’—and is a ‘strategic lifestyle advice tool’ with the seemingly illogical premise of offering an online retreat from the digital world. This #spiritualretreatinchinternet parodies the widespread commodification of ‘wellness’ in Western societies, as well as the growing demand among affluent consumers for post-materialist experiences rooted in authenticity and nature—the kind that make for perfect Instagram posts.

Miao considers herself a dual citizen of the Chinternet and the World Wide Web, and Hardcore Digital Detox operates in these two territories simultaneously, pitting mainstream internet users against Chinese censors by playfully instructing users to set their virtual private network (VPN) to mainland China, where popular websites and apps like Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, eBay, WhatsApp, Vimeo, and Amazon are restricted. For Miao, the images and ideas that are blocked by the Great Firewall of China are akin to liu bai (negative space) in traditional Chinese ink painting, as both are paradoxically productive negative spaces that stimulate imagination. Far from seeing the restricted internet as a deficiency, the artist’s self-diagnosed Chinternet Stockholm syndrome celebrates the ingenuity, humour, and intelligence of Chinese internet users, and the rich visual culture they have cultivated behind the firewall. Hardcore Digital Detox adopts many of these users’ creative workarounds, which are strategies Miao describes in positive terms as ‘self-censorship’. The work is a companion piece to her 2016 project Chinternet Plus, commissioned by Rhizome and the New Museum.

Hardcore Digital Detox is the first work in M+’s new series of digital commissions, which explores online creative practices that sit at the intersection of visual culture and technology. The series engages with a range of topics related to the digital, including data visualisation, interactive design, gamification, and hyper-connectivity.

For media enquiries

Communications and Public Affairs Department West Kowloon Cultural District Authority
Man Cheung
852 2200 0896 / man.cheung@wkcda.hk

Sutton (international media)
Emily Chow
852 2528 0792 / wkcda@suttonpr.com

About Miao Ying
Miao Ying is a Shanghai- and New York–based artist who navigates the possibilities available in the restricted sphere of the Chinese internet, critically and playfully reflecting on censorship. Her work has been shown at the Gwangju Biennale (2018); the Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto (2018); the Photographers’ Gallery, London (2018); K11 Art Foundation and MoMA PS1 (2017); the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (2017); KW Institute for Contemporary Art (2016); and the Venice Biennale (2015).

About M+
M+ is a museum dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, and interpreting visual art, design and architecture, moving image, and Hong Kong visual culture of the 20th and 21st centuries. In Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District, we are building one of the largest museums of modern and contemporary visual culture in the world, with a bold ambition to establish ourselves as one of the world’s leading cultural institutions. Our aim is to create a new kind of museum that reflects our unique time and place, a museum that builds on Hong Kong’s historic balance of the local and the international to define a distinctive and innovative voice for Asia’s 21st century.

About the West Kowloon Cultural District
Located on Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour, the West Kowloon Cultural District is one of the largest cultural projects in the world. Its vision is to create a vibrant new cultural quarter for Hong Kong. With a complex of theatres, performance spaces, and museums, the West Kowloon Cultural District will produce and host world-class exhibitions, performances, and cultural events, as well as provide 23 hectares of public open space, including a two-kilometre waterfront promenade.

Oscar Chan Yik Long

By Christie Lee

Hong Kong artist Oscar Chan Yik Long talks demons, horror films and his big move to the City of Lights 

Chatting with Oscar Chan Yik Long at a coffee shop on D’Aguilar Street, Central, it’s hard to imagine that the sunny artist, decked out in one of his trademark vibrantly patterned shirts, lives his life haunted by demons. 

Born in Hong Kong in 1988, Chan studied at Hong Kong Baptist University’s Academy of Visual Arts but it was an “abstract” fear of demons, planted in the artist’s mind when he was still a young boy, that weighs most heavily on his paintings.

As much as he fears and is repelled by fear, he is also drawn to it. In his art, screaming skeletons, amorphous beasts and ghoulish, tear- or blood-shedding creatures fill walls and life-sized canvases. “I need to give fear a form,” he says. 

Chaotic and unabashedly confessional, they’re the portraits of a tangled mind that vacillates between fearing and repelling these creatures, and being drawn towards them. We sat down with Chan on the eve of C&G Artpartment’s The Survey Exhibition, where he is exhibiting a work. 

Christie Lee: There is so much fear in your art. When did you start feeling fear? Oscar Chan Yik Long: When I was about seven, I was really scared of ghosts and vampires. I lived in a public housing estate with my parents and two older sisters. You know Hong Kong public housing estates have these long corridors, and whenever someone walks past, there’d be an echo. I shared a bed with my parents, but my dad was away for business all the time, and my mom worked until the wee hours, so I’d circle the bed whenever the feeling of fear overcame me.

Another memory was when I was 10. It was the first day of summer. My brain hurt like mad and I was rushed into surgery. It turns out that a blood vessel had burst in my brain, forming an egg-sized clot. I had very little idea what was happening. I only remember feeling very dizzy and nauseous. On the seventh day, I managed to climb out of bed to look at the mirror. There was a row of staples on my forehead. I looked like Frankenstein’s monster.If I’d had the surgery now, I would have felt very differently.

CL: How would it be different? OCYL: When I was younger, I only knew that I’d lose everything in the blink of an eye, like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff. Now I consider death as a part of a process, not an end point. I used to get anxious very easily, and I still do. I still panic during security screening at the airport. I went to the toilet 10 times on the night prior to my flight to Guangzhou for my solo show in 2015.

CL: Are you portraying your own personal fears in your paintings, or fear in general? Can the two be separated? OCYL: I paint what I feel, but it’s never as direct as “I’m scared of this particular thing so I’m going to paint this thing”. Fear itself is very abstract thing, and I find myself constantly trying to find a tangible object to feed it. For me, art is a kind of therapy. I need to live with this fear. At one point, I thought of befriending it, but I realised that it only added to my anxiety as I was always thinking about it. The process of learning to live with it is already a kind of transformation for me. 

Saṃsāra by Oscar Chan Yik Long, Ink and acrylic on canvas, 178 x 148 cm, 2018. 
Courtesy the artist.

CL: Why do you need to feed it? OCYL: I have always lived with fear. I wouldn’t know how to not to.  

CL: So fear is a kind of motivation? OCYL: You can say that, but I’m also beginning to think it can be replaced by happiness. Maybe my move to Paris will change that.

CL: Is that why you’re moving to Paris – to be happy?OCYL: Not exactly. I have never lived abroad so I’d like to try, to gain a new perspective on things. But I’d also like to do more research on the topic of demons.

CL: Research?OCYL: Yes, particularly demons in horror movies. I’ve been watching Dennis Yu’s The Imp. It’s basically the idea that horror exists in everyday life. Polanski is also a director that I’m very interested in. I’m also interested in learning more about how different religious see evil.

CL: Are you religious? OCYL: No. I’m not as interested in religion as in belief as structure: the way that religions manipulate fear. Although religion is connected with spirituality, and spirituality supposedly puts us at a higher level, religious stories and rules are written by man. I believe that there is something out there. I believe in reincarnation and karma. I don’t just follow one religion, as there something I can take from every religion. My beliefs are not stagnant, either; they are always changing, transforming.

Just another sunny afternoon by Oscar Chan Yik Long, Ink on canvas and wall, 500 x 1200 cm, 2017. Courtesy the artist.

CL: Since your art is so personal, do you ever fear being judged?OCYL: I always believe in the saying, “What you resist, you resist in yourself”. I’m always told to be stronger but if I weren’t strong, I wouldn’t be here. I mean, why would I even bother? My dad would tell me to stop crying, but crying is a form of release. It’s not a show of weakness.  

CL: The Most Misplaced Worry, your work at the C&G Artpartment, comprises a stack of gutted cigarettes. What is the inspiration behind it? OCYL: It’s about my boyfriend. I also fear when he smokes, as it is a sign that he could get sick and die, and the cigarettes symbolise my fear of
losing him. Even if he weren’t a smoker, I could still lose him in a thousand ways. So it’s not about what he does, but how I handle my worry. 

CL: Many Hong Kong artists are responding to what’s happening in Hong Kong politics and society through their art. What is the relationship between art and politics?OCYL: It’s inevitable that I’d feel affected by my surroundings. When you open the newspaper, all you see is the bad, in Hong Kong or elsewhere. The anxiety is always there. But if I were to directly respond, it wouldn’t be through art. I mean, I’m gay but I don’t want to label my art as gay art, as it’d pigeonhole my work and me.

The Lord of The Mountain by Oscar Chan Yik Long, Ink on rock, site specific, 2016.
Courtesy the artist.

CL: What will you miss most about Hong Kong? OCYL: Definitely the food. And the convenience. It’s just easier to get things done here, though that’s not always good. I had to print a batch of postcards around Christmas one year, and the guy from the print shop rang me past midnight on December 24 to tell me that there was something wrong with my file. I didn’t mind the call, but seriously, why was he even working on Christmas Eve? Many Hongkongers take pride in this convenience, including my mother, but at what cost? My boyfriend has no television, only a radio, and he still buys magazines. It’s a completely different way of knowledge consumption. There is less anxiety. If a Hongkonger is on the beach, he or she might think, “Should I be reading a book or something?” In Hong Kong, there are many desires, and many different ways to fulfil those desires. If they aren’t fulfilled immediately, one feels anxious or scared. It’s a vicious circle. 

CL: Could you imagine making art without that well of fear to draw from?OCYL: Perhaps I’d stop making art altogether. It’s a process, I think. Sometimes I feel I could paint when I’m feeling calmer. For my solo show at Things that can happen [Soliquid, 2017], I trapped myself in the art space for 18 days. There was no television, no phone. Before the exhibition, I bought a lot of pills and water, like it was the end of the world. I felt panicky for the first few days, but after 10 days I started to get used to it. There was nobody to ask if you are productive, no questions like “What did you do today? Do you feel you were efficient today?” I covered the four walls with straight lines. The idea is that I’m in the eye of this hurricane [of black lines], where it is most peaceful.


Kader Attia

Heroes Heridos / Lehmann Maupin / Hong Kong / Nov 1 – Dec 22 / By Diana d’Arenberg Parmanand /

It is perhaps fitting that French-born Algerian artist Kader Attia is based in Berlin, a city of scars. A city where the ruins of a wall that once divided it are still visible; a city in which the atrocities committed during wars and by two repressive regimes are memorialised; where the architecture of communism and fascism stand side by side, sometimes pockmarked with bullet holes. It is a city where the scars are on display so that you are in constant confrontation with history and memory, and never able to forget the past. 

And so it is with Attia’s work. Working across diverse media and forms – photography, film, collage, sculpture, drawing and installation – the artist has built up a two-decade career defined by rigorous research. Through his work he critiques power and hierarchical structures by examining the scars, trauma and injury inflicted by colonial and imperial powers on non-western cultures. Exploring the relationship between non-western cultures and western thought, he regularly employs ethnographic artefacts to reveal the effects of this clash of civilisations on the body, and on the shaping of history and culture.  

Straddling both the “occident” and the “orient”, the artist has a fluid identity inflected with the political and philosophical. Born in France to Algerian parents, he grew up in Algeria and Paris where he studied both philosophy and fine art, followed by further studies in Barcelona. It was in Congo, where he spent a couple of years doing his obligatory non-military French national service, that Attia became fascinated with the way people repaired objects. For Attia, to repair is an act of historical righting, of reclaiming and reappropriating history, and of reclaiming the freedom that was denied to the conquered or colonised in the writing of the historical narrative. It is an act of reconstructing identity in a post-colonial era, and in the face of western cultural hegemony.

Untitled by Kader Attia,  Collage on cardboard, 57 x 36 cm, 2018.
Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

His first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, Heroes Heridos (translated from Spanish as Wounded Heroes), explores the issue of reparation in the pecuniary, political, physical and psychological sense, through mixed media including film, sculpture, collage and works on canvas. The eponymous Héroes Heridos (2018) a three-channel video installation consisting of interviews with immigration activists – many of them immigrants or children of immigrants themselves – occupying in protest La Massana, the former school of arts in Barcelona that Attia himself attended. The 40-minute film raises questions of citizenship and identity, and highlights the challenges and indignities resulting from a structure of racism and ingrained biases against immigrants that stems from Spanish colonialisation. Three separate collage works on paper (all untitled, 2018) juxtapose the disfigured, stitched-up faces of First World War soldiers in western military uniforms with images of African tribal facial scarring and traditional African masks. These are “sickness masks” used in traditional ceremonies in Congo, Nigeria and Mozambique, which celebrate and acknowledge illness in order to overcome fear of disfigurement or illness, and to memorialise the act of healing. In colligating the traditional masks with faces disfigured by modern warfare and ritual scarring, Attia makes us consider not the differences – as western modernism, obsessed with categorising according to difference, does – but the similarities between them. 

The crude lines carved into the faces of the African masks are echoed in the brutal injuries of the soldiers’ cuts.Within these works, spanning two years of the artist’s practice, also lies a critique of modern western aesthetics with their idealisation of and obsession with perfection and the unblemished. The soldiers’ faces and the masks aren’t really repaired at all in the sense that they have been restored to their original state; the repair process always leaves a trace of the injury. A large cotton canvas, Mirrors (2018), is slashed and stitched back together into visible raised scars that speckle the otherwise smooth, unprimed canvas. For Attia, to repair is also to reveal the trauma – scars are a visual reminder of the past, for the injury should never be forgotten. The wounds of colonial history, war and genocide need to be accounted for.

Scarring and repair create something new. Such is also the case with Entropy (2016), a stark juxtaposition of an amputated tribal Ngbaka figure from Central Africa with a stainless telescopic arm. The traditional and the modern – the colonised and the coloniser – are fused into a hybrid, born of both worlds but resulting in something altogether new. By placing the traditional object in a new context with the modern, Attia speaks of the alteration to history that takes place when one culture is overcome by another, and one historical narrative dominates another.

Attia’s repaired works speak of value, and the difference in values between western and non-western cultures, critiquing capitalism with its emphasis on insatiable consumption rather than repair. While the repaired object still holds value for many non-western cultures – the Japanese, for example, have a name for repaired pottery, kintsugi, repairing cracks with gold or silver so that they become a feature – western culture tends to see objects that are broken as disposable and not worth repairing. Imperfection renders an object valueless, an attitude that also permeates notions of physical beauty. To repair is an act of resistance to this cycle of consumerism, one of reclaiming and rejecting western cultural hegemony with its emphasis on the sterilised, unblemished perfection.

The stand-out piece of the exhibition, Hainamoration (2017), is composed of an ancient wooden double bird sculpture from the Sakalava people of Madagascar. Facing a double-sided mirror, the sculpture is both multiplied and divided. The sculptures are both reflections of one another and reflections of themselves. Drawn from Lacanian theory, the title is a portmanteau of enamouré (to be in love with) and haine (to hate), referring to the inextricable entwinement of love and hate. But the work also hints at the one-sided depictions of multiple histories, a connecting thread of many of Attia’s works.  

In French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s theory, a child first gains self-awareness when seeing its reflection in a mirror, but this self-awareness remains incomplete due to the visual limitations of the mirror. The work is allegorical of western modernity’s singular viewpoint of itself and the cultures around it, precipitated by a historical amnesia that is, Attia once said, “The great tragedy of contemporary society”. Attia highlights these multiple histories – scarred, injured and broken – and symbolically repairs them in an act of healing, but also as an act of revealing and remembering. 

Celebrating the Inclusive Power of the Arts

By Samson Wong Kei Shun

The policy report Celebrating the Inclusive Power of the Arts, released by the Our Hong Kong Foundation (OHKF) this March, is hamstrung by its own reductive view of inclusion and the power of art. Its failure to accurately define its own terms of engagement means that it is condemned to reach over-restrictive, unhelpful conclusions.

OHKF is a high-profile, outspoken supporter of government policies. Its recent report Re-imagining Hong Kong with a Game-Changer: Enhanced East Lantau Metropolis was released at an event officiated by its chairperson, Hong Kong’s first chief executive and now a vice-chairman of mainland China’s CPPCC, Tung Chee-hwa.

Similarly, media coverage of the launch of Celebrating the Inclusive Power of the Arts was bolstered by prominent speakers including Bernard Chan, convenor of Hong Kong government’s Executive Council; Gwen Kao, chairman of the Charles K Kao Foundation for Alzheimer’s Disease; Adeline Ooi, director Asia of Art Basel; Gavin Glayton of New York’s Arts & Minds; and Richard Ings of Arts Council England. With such influential backing, the report deserves closer scrutiny before its version of arts inclusion takes root in Hong Kong.

Disappointingly, the report suffers from poor arguments and the misuse of key literature to propose an incomplete framework for inclusiveness. The results are recommendations disconnected from inclusion, to be carried out according to a sterilised vision of art.

Celebrating states that it has chosen to value the arts as a means to an end rather than for having any intrinsic worth. This is a simplistic division at a policy proposal level. Since antiquity, rituals and arts have been a vessel for individual processes and social interactions. In contemporary times art has become a highly specialised field removed from function, but the arts as a general practice continue to permeate daily lives and impact societies (Belfiore & Bennett, 2008). Even Art for Health, a UK report heavily cited by Celebrating, connected artistic quality with function by stating that “quality of artwork should be a primary focus of a project’s aims” (Health Development Agency, 2000). As artists, NGOs and some levels of government have realised over recent decades, the arts as a means to an end and them having intrinsic value are not mutually exclusive positions.

Celebrating has identified six areas where art can have a social impact. However, it only focuses on one of them, Health and Wellbeing, while the others, Personal Development, Social Cohesion, Community Empowerment and Self-determination, Local Image and Identity, and Imagination and Vision, are cast aside without explanation. There is no rational reason that a report from an organisation that claims to unite Hong Kong through art should ignore the comprehensive framework that it has built. It suggests the report believes that all six areas can be reduced to Health and Wellbeing, or that art has no impact in other areas. The rationale behind this argument emerges in chapter 2 of the report, Arts Therapy, and its Efficacy on Persons with Dementia, in Rehabilitation, and with SEN, which represents a misplaced dependence on measurable impact. The difficulties and misuses of quantifying the impact of the arts, long studied by scholars, was underlined in the 2016 UK report Understanding the Value of the Arts and Culture, a meta-analysis of existing studies. However, governments and societies all around the world, Hong Kong included, continue to apply the scientific mode of understanding indiscriminately to the arts and culture.

In Hong Kong, either because the arts continue to be misunderstood, or because of the government’s need to be bureaucratically accountable, there is a dependency on certifications that promise standardised quality and methods. In the field of arts, the group that comes nearest to being trained to wield scientific language and having a certificate to prove it is arts therapists – hence the decision to limit the scope of the report to Health and Wellbeing, and the “top-ranked scientific journals and literature” drawn upon being limited to arts therapy.

But arts therapy is not a suitable tool to spearhead Hong Kong and its communities towards inclusiveness; the report’s definition of inclusiveness is incomplete. The task of building an inclusive society through art requires the full range of artistic practices, of which arts therapy is just one among many contributors.

The report’s recommendation that arts therapists train social workers and counsellors is unrealistic. It underestimates how overworked social workers are, and the dedication and training required to work as arts therapists, art educators or artists.

Moreover, studies of arts and social impact rarely mention arts therapists, but instead emphasise the freedom of artists to shape projects that achieve integrated artistic and social goals. As the profession of arts therapy has matured over the past decades, there has been no significant turn towards the social, unlike contemporary artists and art educators in various media, who increasingly work with communities.

The report leaves many causes of social exclusion and sources of social inclusion unaddressed. The vision of the arts in Celebrating seems to be what critic Claire Bishop describes as “to mop up wherever the government wishes to absolve itself of responsibility” (Bishop, 2012).

The unspoken goal of the report could be to propose a kind of art that can be measured, predicted and controlled. Even setting aside political implications, such an agenda is simply poor practice, as the Art for Health report says:

“With many of the best projects being based on intuition, opportunism and personal drive, it is important for the field not to become over-professionalised” (Health Development Agency, 2000).

If not arts therapists, then who? The answer is implied in chapter 3, where diverse examples of art projects actually undermine the report by demonstrating that there are more artists than arts therapists committed to this work. Studies (Crossick & Kaszynska 2016, Lally 2009, Mulligan & Smith 2010 ) have shown the effectiveness of art as hobby, art education and art facilitation, and the important role of non-professionals such as family, friends, teachers and artists.

Over the last few decades artistic collaborations have become increasingly important, to draw on a wider range of skills but also, more importantly, to draw on a range of perspectives that can see beyond neat, compartmentalised problems and solutions. That is the inclusive power of art, already in practice in Hong Kong thanks to an increasing number of artists and organisations.

Outdoor Interactive Exhibition “Home?” by GayBird unveils now!

3-22 January 2019 Central Pier No. 9
5-9 January 2019 Piazza A, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Tsim Sha Tsui

Mid-January 2019  Causeway Bay

Taking place at various locations citywide, Home? is GayBird’s follow-up piece to a well-received installation that also premiered at the OzAsia Festival 2017. For the Hong Kong edition of the outdoor, interactive exhibition, GayBird adds a question mark to the end of the word ‘home’, inviting the audience to question the concept of home.

Home? is inspired by the Chinese character “家” (home), which is composed of two parts: “宀” representing a roof, and “豕”, a pig. In modern Chinese, “家” can refer to identity, careers, schools of thought and even formal address when combined with other characters. This installation is a literal take on the combination of roof and pig that forms the Chinese character, and a ringing sound is activated upon entering the space which recalls a doorbell.

Home? will be exhibited in Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay. Presented in either a crowded, concentrated or a structured setting, each presentation guides the audience to embrace the sense of space in different situations. The installation in Central will feature an all-new, 1.8m-tall giant pig, the face of which will be a mirror to reflect the identity of the audience themselves, leading to an open discussion around the concept of home.

http://newartspower.hk/tc/programme/anothermusicinanticlockwise/