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Catherine Opie

By Diana d’Arenberg Parmanand

American photographer Catherine Opie once described herself as a “kind of twisted social documentary photographer”. Born in Sandusky, Ohio, the young Opie picked up a camera at age nine, inspired by the photographs of Lewis Hine, and immediately began photographing friends and her community. Over several decades she has gone from marginalised photographer of the marginalised to a member of the establishment: she had a 2009 retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, is a tenured professor at UCLA and sits on the boards of the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Like Walker Evans before her, and later Robert Mapplethorpe and Diane Arbus, Opie shares an interest in and affection for subcultures, and for individuals and communities overlooked by society. Her early series Being and Having (1991) and Portraits (1993-97) mixed traditional portrait photography with less traditional subjects, depicting her friends in the lesbian and gay community in Los Angeles, transgender women and men, drag queens, and members of the tatted, pierced, leather, queer and S&M community of San Francisco. To photograph is to accord importance, and Opie accorded these subjects beauty, dignity and visibility, bringing them into art galleries and museums, and opening up discourse around the queer community.

There were also self-portraits that were both controversial and later also iconic and career-defining. Self-Portrait/Cutting (1993), a photo of her shirtless back carved with stick figures of two women and a house, expressed her personal domestic longing. In Self-Portrait/ Pervert (1994), Opie is seated topless, hands folded on her lap, before a black and gold brocade curtain. She is hooded in a black leather gimp mask, the word ‘Pervert’ cut in ornate script across her chest, and her arms woven with hypodermic needles – play piercing associated with the S&M scene in which she was a participant.

In Self Portrait/Nursing (2004), created after she had given birth to her rst child, she sits against a background of red drapery, cradling her cherubic, golden-haired infant to her naked breast. Her exposed arm is decorated with tattoos and her chest bares a faint scar spelling the word “ pervert”, an image of butch motherhood that defiantly rejects the traditional notions of normative femininity. Opie challenges social norms by exploring sexual and cultural identity in images that play with the classical tropes of art-historical imagery, in this case the Madonna-with-child associated with maternity. Her portraits display the composition and sensibility of old master portraits, with the formality of portraiture drawing viewers in and inviting them to look carefully at something they might otherwise not take time to see, or want to see.

But her three-decade career body of work can be confounding in its diversity of subject matter. At times it’s difficult to connect the dots between her work, from photos exploring the gender- fluidity of pierced and tattooed friends to photos of LA freeways, surfers, Elizabeth Taylor’s personal effects, malls, high-school football and tree stumps. Opie doesn’t discriminate when it comes to in a subject’s value or importance. Hers is a democratic, inclusive view of America. But her photo series all share curiosity and an affection for their subject matter.

Final Print Files

Tree, Pigment print, 114.3 x 76.2 cm (print), 116.8 x 78.7 x 5.1 cm (framed) , 2015. © Catherine Opie. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong

Her recent Hong Kong exhibition at Lehmann Maupin, So long as they are wild, featured 11 photographs from her 2015 series of Yosemite National Park, initially created as a commission for the new federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles, alongside a cluster of nine small ceramic tree stump sculptures. The latter, grouped together on a hexagonal pedestal in the middle of the gallery’s smaller room against a background of three photographs, are a “tactical representation of the nature in her photographs”, according to the gallery, formed by directly imprinting the clay onto the bark.

Unlike the photos that made her name, those in the exhibition are quieter and subtler. Her usual radicalism and iconoclasm are still on display, however. They depict landscapes: some out of focus, others close-ups of a cascading waterfall, reflections of a waterfall in a lake, or a stretch of cobalt-blue sky over the jagged ridge of a mountain peak. They require more of a committed engagement from the viewer, a slowing down, and reflection on both what is shown and what isn’t. These images push the boundaries of depiction and recognition; her landscapes are sometimes barely recognisable as such.

Opie spent a long time visiting wilderness sites across the US, and chose to focus on Yosemite National Park due to its strong connection to iconic American landscape photographer Ansel Adams, who released his Yosemite series in 1927, displaying images of the monolithic granite cliff face of Half Dome, as well as panoramic views of the park. The photographs emphasised the indomitability, awe-inspiring beauty, authority and majesty of the landscape, a frontier open to exploration and conquering. Opie rejects the rugged, masculine representation of the classical landscape genre, opening it up for examination through a feminist lens. She explores the relationship of the natural landscape to the human body, humorously creating visual parallels, as well as deconstructing the way we look at photographs.

The photos on view all depict the wilderness fragmented, in close-up, blurred, cropped at surprising angles, so that there is no notion of scale, let alone a recognition of the iconic geographical site. There is a soft, emotional quality to many of the works, dreamy, sensual and intimate. In Untitled #4 (Yosemite Valley) (2015) and Untitled #2 (Yosemite Valley) (2015), the landscape is so blurred in that the images take on an abstract, painterly quality. The out-of-focus photographs seem to imply memory, nostalgia and the passing of time, but also a foreboding warning of the fading or disappearance of the landscape before us.

Final Print Files

Untitled #1 (Yosemite Valley), 114.3 x 76.2 cm (print) 116.8 x 78.7 x 5.1 cm (framed) , 2015. © Catherine Opie. Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

A couple of sharp-focus photographs of a waterfall, Yosemite Falls #4 (2015) and Yosemite Falls #2, (2015), are deliberately suggestive of female genitalia, of crevices and wetness. Blurrier photos such as Untitled #3 (Yosemite Valley) (2015) take on almost a censorious appearance, a negation of the female sex that highlights society’s obsession with censoring the female body. But a blurry photo is also an anti-photo, imperfect or an accident, and runs contrary to our expectations of what formal landscape photography ought to be: clear, in focus, and with a strong emphasis on composition. The blurriness and unusual cropping of the images reveal the photographer’s hand, drawing the viewer into dialogue with the work. The viewer is prompted to ask why the photographer has chosen to privilege this shot over another, or chosen a blurry image and then framed it, or focused on the sky instead of the mountain.

The exhibition title is taken from a quote by Scottish-American naturalist John Muir, known as the “father of the national parks”, who in 1890 pushed the US Congress to pass a bill to protect national monuments and parks, and establish Yosemite National Park. “None of Nature’s landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild,” he wrote. It is an acknowledgement of the importance of Muir’s preservation work, but also reveals Opie’s reverence for the great, untouched, natural landscape, and the need to protect it.

“The painter constructs, the photographer discloses,” wrote feminist theorist Susan Sontag. These photographs are not just a representation of a captured visual experience, but also captured consciousness. Opie’s is a conceptually and intellectually laden artistic output, suggesting an alternative to the way we look at and present photographs.

Image, top: So long as they are wild, Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong. May 17—Jul 7, 2018. Photo: Kitmin Lee. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

 

 

Cheuk Wing Nam, Han Jinpeng

Wander in Style
Leo Gallery at Little Tai Hang Hong Kong
May 20 – Jul 31
Christine Chan Chiu

For Wander in Style, a collaboration with Leo Gallery, Little Tai Hang is displaying works by new-media artists Cheuk Wing Nam and Han Jinpeng in its gallery and outdoor public areas. The whimsical pop-up show explores social themes and challenges the conventions that have traditionally surrounded classical art.

Cheuk’s sound sculpture Avaritia – Silent Greed consists of about 90 green glass bottles of various sizes, suspended from a large ceiling grid similar to those used for hanging ower pots. Dangling inside each of the bottomless containers is a shard of plastic that is connected to a power source and programmed to swivel around randomly. The result is a cacophony of sounds of varying frequencies as the plastic shards strike glass.

Viewers are encouraged to visit at dusk, specifically at 7pm when it is most atmospheric: from
this hour, it becomes clear in the darkened space that the bottles are also individually lit with warm fluorescent lights. The beating movements of the plastic accentuate the contrast between light and shadow, creating an effect evocative of fireflies uttering around in a jar – ying yet going nowhere. The bottles were discarded at the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival while the plastic shards are from Sham Shui Po market; Cheuk is drawing attention to the relationship between production and consumerism.

Han Jinpeng_Bacchus Is Allergic To Alcohol

Bacchus Is Allergic To Alcohol by Han Jinpeng, Video installation, 14 min 32 sec, edition 7/8 + 2 AP, 100 x 80 cm, 2014. Courtesy the artist, Leo Gallery and Little Tai Hang.

Complementing this are ve video installations based on masterpieces by Vermeer, Caravaggio, Velázquez and Kramskoi, all re-enacted by Han Jinpeng. Han unexpectedly and serendipitously displays in outdoor public areas versions of classical portraits usually seen in museums. As the main character in the videos, Han also treats the viewer to a voyeuristic view of himself in various states of being. Whether yawning, falling asleep or having his Dutch maid’s linen cap blown away (The Milkmaid in the Strong Wind, à la Vermeer), he imbues his subjects with humour and relevance, breathing new life into static pieces and playfully challenging his audience to look at classical art from new perspectives.

Wander in Style is a journey into the unexpected, both in its location in a neighbourhood that is usually considered o the beaten path, and in the element of surprise inherent in the installations. It captivated and delighted its audience with its quirkiness, but wasn’t frivolous or superficial. Both artists delved into societal issues and raised valid points about ways of viewing art.

Chris Huen Sin Kan

By Elliat Albrecht

As a painter and in person, Chris Huen Sin Kan is far beyond his years. His intuitive paintings look less like those of a 27-year-old and more like those of an artist who’s had several decades to hone his visual language, arriving at a mature and idiosyncratic style of painting. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Huen has been drawing since he was a small child, and earned a BA from The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Made with fluid and sometimes staccato brushstrokes, his paintings are characterised by their quotidian content and sketch-like quality; Huen achieves this aesthetic in part by thinning down his oils with turpentine until they appear almost like watercolours. The bare canvas shows through in many places on his paintings; the viewer is left to fill in the blanks of negative space like a word game. These gaps in perception are fundamental to Huen’s philosophy: rather than painting direct representations or his memories, he is concerned with exploring the fragmented experience of looking. With a restrained palette and vegetation sprouting all over his domestic scenes, his paintings sometimes include his wife Haze and young son Joel, but more often feature his three dogs, which he renders with a minimal number of brushstrokes.

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Chris Huen Sin Kan in his studio in Yuen Long, 2018.

Elliat Albrecht: Can you tell me about your experience studying at CUHK? Chris Huen: At CUHK I studied many different forms of art. One medium I was fascinated by in particular was installation, as I didn’t know much about it before I went to college. It was a very good learning experience, but personally I couldn’t find a good way to investigate the form deeply. So I turned my attention back to what inspired me to engage in art in the rst place: painting. I think most kids become interested in art through drawing and painting when they’re young; it was true for me.

In school, when I started to learn the basics of both western and Chinese paintings, I was dealing with two completely different systems of depicting things. Western painting reconstructs things we’ve seen on a surface, and Chinese painting reconnects strokes to things we’ve seen. This led me to think there is a very critical and fundamental question about painting: how do we recognise things that are depicted? What is more, I began to wonder about what painting as a subject really means. Since then, painting has been the main medium that I’ve investigated as an artist.

EA: How, if at all, did studying traditional Chinese painting affect your current work? CH: Chinese painting comes mainly from Chinese scholarly culture and is based on the techniques of Chinese calligraphy. So Chinese painting was never a means to represent things we had seen in the real world, but was rather a representation of qualities that scholars should look for in nature. I wasn’t particularly inspired by the scholarly culture, but Chinese painting as a whole is a very good reference for me to understand what painting nowadays can be.

At the core of my investigation is how we recognise what we know from life within the images of a painting. My works are somehow about my understanding of things and how that appears to others. In this way, I always regard my paintings as writing, similar to the traditional Chinese idea that painting corresponds to writing. I care about the imagery which represents my experience of seeing. So most of my work wasn’t initiated by a material or a concept. It turns out my work contains ideas of how things could be understood, but not a system of how things could be put into order.

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Inside view of Chris Huen Sin Kan’s studio in Yuen Long, 2018. Courtesy Elliat Albrecht.

EA: Was there a defining moment that changed your practice? CH: Yes. When I was in college, I worked part-time teaching drawing to very young children. I asked a little boy to copy a blue elephant from an image I had provided. After he finished, I asked him to draw whatever he liked. He drew a solid black ball and when I asked him what it was, he told me it was a cat. I was really inspired at that moment. It made me think of René Magritte’s famous The Treachery of Images (1928–9), but the kid’s drawing made the complete opposite statement from Magritte’s. He drew something without any of the significant features of a cat and called it a cat. It made me question what images in paintings really represent. Perhaps the kid had once seen a curled-up, sleeping black cat and that’s why he drew it as a circle, but we couldn’t surmise that from the drawing. On the other hand, he had never seen a blue elephant in his life but could recognise it from a few important features of the image I showed him. This was an important moment in how I think about painting.

EA: You mentioned the highest form of art, including in literature, poetry or music, is the investigation of something that is undefined – or, in other words, the ineffable. What undefined entity are you exploring? Is there an aesthetic question you’re grappling with? CH: I want to share a quote from a novelist Jerzy Kosiński: “The principles of true art is [sic] not to portray, but to evoke.” I always think good art isn’t just about stating the facts, but recalls a shared experience to our conscious mind. For now, I’m focusing on depicting humdrum moments in which we cannot get ourselves narrated. Such uneventfulness is being forgotten in our daily life and neglected when we try to understand our days.

EA: When we first met, in April this year, we were discussing how you know when to finish a piece, and you mentioned that you’re the first person to ever see your paintings. What does this mean to you? CH: I think painting is directly related to our vision, especially when it comes to imagery within a picture. The progress begins when we first see something and relate it to the images we are looking at. When I’m painting, I’m the first person to witness that the moment depicted is happening. Throughout the process, I’m the only person really reacting to that scenery.

EA: Can you elaborate on your interest in painting the experience of seeing, rather than memory, and where your sense of colour comes from? CH: I want my paintings to reflect the complete experience of being in a space and seeing things. We are actually looking with our eyes and seeing things with our mind. Our mind perceiving information is preceded by our senses. Think of how our bodies can react without going through our brains, like in dangerous situations.

But mostly we respond to our understanding of the whole situation of the scenery. The things depicted in my pictures might be something I had seen before, but when I make my works I want them to be my responses to the present. So I refuse to say it is from my memory, which would refer to something that happened in the past. The sense of colour also arises from this idea. Rather than a scientific approach, I tend to take a sentimental approach to applying colour. I believe other senses apart form sight affect how we perceive colour.

EA: Earlier this year, you moved from working in your grandfather’s old home in Kowloon to your current studio in Yuen Long. Did this have any effect on your practice? CH: I’m still discovering what is the real difference between the two different work spaces. For now I would say maybe the way I perceive space has changed. I used to visit my grandfather every Saturday when I was a kid, so the way I perceived my old studio was always between memory and the current moment. But now I work in a new industrial at, and all I care about is the new neighbourhood and environment. Many factors changed, like my routine, that affect my practice.

EA: What’s your routine in the studio? CH: I usually work there on weekdays from 9.30am to 7.30pm and save the weekend for family. I like to listen to European pop or American folk songs from the 70s and 80s.

Tai Kwun

By Elliat Albrecht

Hong Kong has a soft spot for crime and police stories. Films about gangs, double agents and bloody conflicts have long been a mainstay of local cinema. There is an underlying psychological reason: a surge of public interest in the genre occurred in the 1980s, coinciding with the UK and China’s negotiations over the 1997 handover. Amid anxiety about the political future, the movies often depicted the goings-on of crime syndicates and their clashes with authority to explore themes of loyalty, heroism and chaos. This blue-coat fascination laid the foundation for some of the most significant pop culture of the 1980s – and continues to provide inspiration today, in the form of the city’s newest cultural institution.

While Hong Kong awaits the opening of M+, its much-anticipated major museum of visual culture, the recently opened Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage & Arts is poised to tick the mid-size museum box. Built on a historical site, the 19th-century Central Police Station compound on Hollywood Road, Tai Kwun has an unusual cross-disciplinary remit. The centre (named after the compound’s Cantonese colloquial name, translated in English as ‘Big Station’) is billed as an aggregate of heritage conservation, performing arts and contemporary art, with year-round programming spanning all three fields.

Tasked with the preservation and renovation of the cluster of 16 historical buildings, including the Central Magistracy, Victoria Prison and Central Police Station (decommissioned in 2006), was UK conservation firm Purcell, while Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron oversaw construction of two new aluminium-clad buildings. Sheathed in three-dimensional modules with oval motifs, the new buildings include a multi-storey gallery and an auditorium. The new additions’ names, JC Contemporary and JCube respectively, refer to the main funder of the project: the Hong Kong Jockey Club. According to Tai Kwun’s director Timothy Calnin, who formerly held managerial roles at Sydney Opera House and the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, conversation and revitalisation have cost about HK$3.8 billion to date. Given this financial backing and the huge value of Tai Kwun’s approximately 146,000 sqft lot in Central, the official stakes for the cultural centre’s success are high.

Bridges and labyrinthine pathways connect old and new sites within the compound, while open, retained courtyards like the Prison Yard and Parade Grounds are filled with sunlight and ample seating, reflecting the organisation’s desire to create a welcoming public space. The Prison Yard features public works by locally based artists Nadim Abbas, Izumi Kato and Gaylord Chan, as well as US conceptual-art kingpin Lawrence Weiner. About 30 shops and restaurants will soon be integrated onto the premises, with revenue supporting the ongoing maintenance of the heritage buildings.

Tai Kwun merges contemporary and historical Hong Kong in its materials, a combination of brick, concrete, glass and metal. This incorporation of official history underscores many of the centre’s ambitions, making it a palatable recipient of public funding. As part of the centre’s heritage programming, led by Winnie Yeung, eight “story-telling experiences” around the site let visitors explore prison conditions or retrace a 1930s officer’s typical daytime patrol. Permanent exhibitions, installations and wall texts also reflect the site’s cop-shop past, while school tours will be an important measure of the centre’s impact.

Dismantling the Scaffold

Installation view of Dismantling the Scaffold at Tai Kwun Contemporary, Jun – Aug 2018. Number of Visitors by SUPERFLEX and Jens Haaning, Sculpture, metal box, electronic number counter, 104 × 264 × 20 cm, 2005. Courtesy the artist and Tai Kwun. Count at time of publishing 25970.

Parallel to the historical police materials are performance, music and art. Former Hong Kong Arts Festival and Hong Kong Dance Company staff member Eddy Zee is directing the centre’s performing-arts programming; he says Tai Kwun will offer audiences a more inviting and accessible experience than traditional performance spaces in Hong Kong. The indoor auditorium in JC Cube has so far been tested for music recitals, theatre shows and conference panels, while a 39-step open-air amphitheatre below offers seating for outdoor performances, film screenings and lunchtime talks. A busy schedule for Tai Kwun’s opening season includes a Cantonese performance of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, family-oriented circus showcases and workshops, and an a cappella choral group.

Heading Tai Kwun Contemporary, the centre’s visual-arts arm, is Tobias Berger, who assumed the role of head of art in May 2015, having left his role early as curator of visual art at M+ to take the job. With a team of 12 employees, the centre boasts seven gallery spaces and an 800-publication-strong artists’ library. German-born Berger positions Tai Kwun as something of a Kunsthalle, a utopian combination of disciplines complete with residencies, exhibitions and an art book fair, which is slated to take place in December. Berger says that because Tai Kwun is a non-commercial, non-collecting art centre, it has more freedom to take risks and feature emerging talent.

Tai Kwun’s first group art exhibition, Dismantling the Scaffold, opened on 9 June. Curated by Christina Li in collaboration with non-profit Spring Workshop, it will address the site’s history, using the scaffold as a main motif, as both a temporary construction support and a historical stage for public executions. Many of the 37 artists and 11 artist collectives or groups in the exhibition, including Xijing Men, Luke Ching Chi Wai and Big Tail Elephants, hail from Asia. Berger says that the focus of Tai Kwun’s programming’s isn’t explicitly Asian, but the institution will have an international perspective, looking outwards from Hong Kong. The first Hongkonger to stage a solo exhibition is Wing Po So, a young artist who grew up across from the compound and whose abstract sculptures are made from Chinese medicine.

Dismantling the Scaffold

Installation view of Dismantling the Scaffold at Tai Kwun Contemporary, Jun – Aug 2018. Nucleus by PolyLester, Installation, dimensions variable, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Tai Kwun.

While Tai Kwun is a welcome, much-needed addition to Hong Kong’s chronically underfunded non-profit ecosystem, its romanticising of colonial police authority is raising eyebrows. The British established the Hong Kong Police Force in 1841 to dominate what they considered an unruly, crude local population using Victorian methods. With the influx of poor refugees from mainland China in the 20th century, the police strengthened their resources to face increasing civil unrest and disobedience. The preserved prison cells on the Tai Kwun site are evidence of such British authority: each tiny cell held three prisoners, with a total capacity of a few hundred bodies. During the Second World War the Japanese army used the compound as a base, and two decades later the military units deployed to control the anti-colonial and leftist riots of 1967 were stationed there. 

Is this the history that Hong Kong people want painstakingly and expensively preserved? While evidence of Beijing’s exercises of authority crop up in Hong Kong, the theme-parkisation of colonialism, incarceration and correctional systems for a public audience seems off-key. Members of the art community also recently reacted with scepticism and outrage to the announcement of the opening in 2022 of the Hong Kong Palace Museum, which will house artefacts from Beijing’s Palace Museum. Irked by the museum’s role as soft nationalist propaganda, Hongkongers were upset with the lack of consultation before allocating public funds that are sorely needed by other non-profit art organisations. 

"Six Part Practice Exhibitions" by Wing Po So

Installation view of Six-Part Practice: Wing Po So Solo Exhibition. Courtesy the artist and Tai Kwun.

While around the world statues, monuments and other symbols of colonialism are being dismantled, a question lingers over Tai Kwun’s opening. By its very nature, contemporary art questions authority, power and institutional repression; how can it be exhibited beside carefully preserved, permanent relics of all three?

Image, top: One of the two major outdoor spaces at Tai Kwun, the Prison Yard was used as a space for prisoners to exercise, and now hosts performances and cultural programmes. Courtesy Tai Kwun.

David Zwirner presents Brilliant City

6 July – 4 August 2018
Opening reception: Friday, 6 July, 6 – 8pm

David Zwirner is pleased to present Brilliant City, a group exhibition organized by Leo Xu at the gallery’s Hong Kong location featuring work by Francis Alÿs, Chen Wei, Stan Douglas, Li Qing, Michael Lin, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Ming Wong. The exhibition borrows its title from the lyrics of the 1987 Cantopop classic song “Starry Night,” in which the Hong Kong–based electro duo Tat Ming Pair illustrate the perplexing brilliance of the city’s landscape at night, and the feeling of loss and doubt that it harbors amongst its youth. Drawing inspiration from Hong Kong, an archetypal dystopian metropolis characterized by its unparalleled density and lofty high rises, this exhibition explores how artists across generations and locations have engaged with the complexity of urban space.

5-6/F, H Queen’s
80 Queen’s Road, Central
T (852) 2119 5900
Email
Tu-Sa 11am – 7pm

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Image: Iron Sheet by Chen Wei, Archival inkjet print, framed, 150 × 187.5 cm print, 154 × 191.5 cm framed, 2015.

M+ Matters: Post-1949 Visual and Material Culture in China

July 5, 2018, 6.30pm 

Miller Theater, Asia Society Hong Kong Center 
9 Justice Dr
Admiralty
Hong Kong 

M+ Matters: Post-1949 Visual and Material Culture in China is a public talk on July 5, 2018, that considers critical issues in the first decades of the socialist state in China through a multidisciplinary lens, examining design and visual art. Bringing together three international scholars and curators, it aims to propose new ways of appraising the highly complex narratives of socialist cultural production in China, which have often been overlooked by historians.

Following the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese state devised visual and material strategies to achieve its particular conception of socialist modernity. The talk builds on pioneering studies that contextualise and re-examine the manifestations of this modernity—often positioned as alternative or oppositional—across geographies, time, and disciplines within China’s shifting socio-economic and political frameworks.

The talk consists of three presentations:

Everyday Desirables: What Wristwatches, Sewing Machines, and Bicycles Can Tell Us about Mao-Era China
Karl Gerth (Hwei-Chih and Julia Hsiu Endowed Chair in Chinese Studies and Professor of History, Department of History, University of California, San Diego)

New China’s Showcase: The China Pavilion at the Leipzig Fairs in East Germany
Jennifer Altehenger (Lecturer in Contemporary Chinese History, Department of History, King’s College London)

Crossing the Pacific: A Hidden History
Zheng Shengtian (Adjunct Director, Institute of Asian Art, Vancouver Art Gallery)

This public talk follows on two days of internal discussions organised by M+ on a range of topics, including the direct and indirect influence and transnational exchange between China, the Soviet Bloc, Latin America, and beyond; the impact of the production, consumption, and mediation of industrial products, both domestically and abroad; the use of posters, memorabilia, films and exhibitions as vehicles for state propaganda and means of reinforcing collectivism; and the goals and practices of institutions in building collections of material from the post-1949 era.

The discussions and the public talk are part of M+ Matters, the museum’s flagship discursive series dedicated to addressing topics in historical and contemporary visual culture.

Participants in “M+ Matters: Post-1949 Visual and Material Culture in China” include Jennifer Altehenger (Lecturer in Contemporary Chinese History, Department of History, King’s College London), Laurence Coderre (Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, New York University), Karl Gerth (Hwei-Chih and Julia Hsiu Endowed Chair in Chinese Studies and Professor of History, Department of History, University of California, San Diego), Mary Ginsberg (Visiting Academic, British Museum), Denise Ho (Assistant Professor of History, Department of History, Yale University), Ying Qian (Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, Columbia University), Alexandra Sankova (Director, Moscow Design Museum), Shen Yu (Founder, China Industrial Design Museum), Song Ke (Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, Harbin Institute of Technology (Shenzhen)), and Zheng Shengtian (Adjunct Director, Institute of Asian Art, Vancouver Art Gallery).

This edition of M+ Matters is organised by Shirley Surya (Associate Curator, Design and Architecture, M+) and Jennifer Wong (Assistant Curator, Design and Architecture, M+), with Jennifer Altehenger (Lecturer in Contemporary Chinese History, Department of History, King’s College London) and Denise Ho (Assistant Professor of History, Department of History, Yale University), and is partially funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the United Kingdom.

Admission to the public talk is free, but space is limited. Please register in advance at www.westkowloon.hk/en/mplusmatters.

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 twentieth and twenty-first 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 M+, the West Kowloon Cultural District will produce and host world-class exhibitions, performances, and cultural events, and will provide 23 hectares of public open space, including a two-kilometre waterfront promenade.

 

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Jane Lee

Red States
Hong Kong Arts Centre
Hong Kong
May 11 – Jun 10
Christine Chan Chiu

The aptly named Red States showcased 17 new works and smaller existing pieces and studies by Singaporean artist Jane Lee, revolving around the boldest of all colours. Alluring and provocative, the exhibition invited its audience to contemplate the emotions and connotations that the colour red conjures. More importantly, it provided an insight into Lee’s innovative practice and artistic virtuosity for the past 15 years, highlighting her vastly tactile signature techniques, including coiling, layering, mixing and stacking.

At the entrance, visitors were greeted by a large heap of tangled red canvas threads, a prelude of what was to come. The rectangular piece The Story of Canvas #2, hanging in the main gallery, is made of more layers of canvas threads, giving it an organic, fibrous texture. The Story of Canvas #1 and The Story of Canvas #1a followed – compositions of roundels of varying sizes made from coils of red canvas strips, strategically arranged and spanning 500cm along the wall. These works prompt the viewer to abandon all preconceived notions regarding the traditional roles paint and canvas play; having now taken centre stage as lead instead of supporting characters, they become active variables that can be reimagined and re-enacted. This theme ran throughout the show.

In a similar manner, in Pond Series, an installation in a darkened room, the artist breaks canvas out of its conventional quadrilateral frame. Confined within a round enclosure, several draped forms are suspended low from the ceiling, weighty with grids of paint layered over their contoured surfaces, recalling the warp and weft of fabric. The colours change gradually from off-white to a deep bloody red pooling towards the bottom, which could be interpreted as ominous and unsettling.

StoryofCanvas

The Story of Canvas #1 by Jane Lee, Acrylic paint, canvas on board, 204 cm diameter, 2017. The Story of Canvas #1 by Jane Lee, Acrylic paint, canvas on board, variable, 500 cm length as pictured. © Jane Lee. Courtesy of the artist, Hong Kong Arts Centre and Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Other notable works illustrated Lee’s mastery over paint and canvas as media, challenging the viewer to reconsider them in new roles while also revealing her background in fashion. They include Fetish, where twisted cords of dried paint are used in a technique not unlike couching in embroidery; and Stack Up 1 and Stack Up 2, works of expertly cut, piled-up canvas squares, only the sides of which are visible.

The lower level featured a selection of 10 earlier works, as well as studies from Lee’s studio shown for the first time, many of them prototypes for her larger works. They chronicle Lee’s journey for the past decade and a half, tracing her artistic evolution and providing a behind-the-scenes look at her processes of experimentation.

Bold and unapologetic, the exhibition was a labour of love, revealing an artist who has put her heart and soul into her art-making. It was also a demonstration of Lee’s technical achievements to date, a culmination of highs that have defined her career. Constantly exploring unconventional ways to reinvent the roles art media play and the ways they interact with their surrounding space, Lee has given them lives of their own. In her work, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

Top: Pond Series by Jane Lee, Acrylic paint, heavy gel on fiberglass, Pond 194 cm diameter, the largest piece 140 cm height. © Jane Lee. Courtesy of the artist, Hong Kong Arts Centre and Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Sarah Morris

By Nooshfar Afnan

The Importance of Conversation

Conversations and research form the bedrock of Sarah Morris’s artistic practice. The artist conceives most of her creative ideas through conversations, followed by research to give shape to those thoughts, and then even more conversations to realise a work. These conversations involve fellow artists, curators and potential film subjects. But the spark for new ideas for artistic projects most regularly comes from conversations with the group of culturally diverse young professional studio assistants from a variety of disciplines that she surrounds herself with.

The New York-based artist was in Beijing in March for the opening of her solo show at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Sarah Morris: Odysseus Factor. Resembling a mid-career retrospective, it is one of her biggest shows to date. It also marks a decade since Morris came to China to shoot her film Beijing (2008) about the Olympics. Ten years is also the amount of time it took Odysseus to sail home to Ithaca and the duration of the Trojan war, hence the show’s title. 

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Beijing by Sarah Morris, 35mm/HD, 84 min 47 sec, 2008. © Sarah Morris. Courtesy White Cube.

Morris is busy working on several projects. In late May she will be in Hong Kong to attend the opening of her solo show at White Cube. After Beijing, she and her team travelled to Japan to shoot her next film, which has two main elements: the spectacle that surrounds the blooming of the sakura cherry blossoms; and an interview with molecular biologist Shinya Yamanaka, a Nobel Prize winner, about a controversial new technology to create stem cells. She is also working on a project for the Convention Center for Art Basel Miami in December, a very large-scale site-specific ceramics facade, produced in Guadalajara, Mexico.

All of Morris’s 14 films are on show at the UCCA, spanning the two decades from 1998 to 2017. Most of the rest of the exhibition comprises her paintings, mostly consisting of geometric shapes and precisely drawn lines, with a limited palette per painting of solid colours. Posters designed in collaboration with M/M Paris to promote her films and two large-scale wall paintings round out the show. Dr Caligari [2] (2018), a site-specific wall painting over nine metres long, was created for the UCCA’s monumental factory space.

For Morris, her films and paintings form a cohesive whole, although each is different in the state of mind it requires, the time it takes to execute and the collaborative effort involved. “They allow for each other to exist and they also constantly inform each other,” she says. There are also overlaps between the two practices in colour palettes and titles.Morris’s key themes include power structures, the movement of capital, corruption and conspiracy. Rather than following the trend of artists dealing with the marginal and the alternative, from the beginning of her career Morris has been interested in the idea of “trying to deal with these very mainstream forces – to go right to the centre”. This finds expression in her focus on the self-involved world of Hollywood in Los Angeles (2004); the juggernaut that is the Olympics, described by Morris as “political, corrupt, super-commercial and artificial” in 1972 and Beijing (both 2008); how power is manifested in a city’s architecture in AM/PM (1999) and Points on a Line (2010); and how the cash that flows in from selling “a fantasy” or “a dream” via luxury goods enables the building of an art museum by a starchitect like Frank Gehry, in her film commissioned by Suzanne Pagé and the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Strange Magic (2014). However, we never feel outright critique, only subtle hints at something dark or corrupt. “If there is a conspiracy, I’m not saying I know what it is,” she says.

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1972 by Sarah Morris, 35mm/HD, 38 min 12 sec, 2008. © Sarah Morris. Courtesy White Cube.

Morris’s films are neither documentary nor entirely fictional. They occupy a space between the two, forcing the viewer to grapple with the images seen and come up with some kind of understanding. Devoid of a definite narrative, defying logic and a clear ending, we see scenes jump from one to the next, from macro to micro and back again. In Beijing (2008), for example, we see preparations and practice for the Olympics, followed by a close-up of a woman collecting plastic bottles for recycling in the vicinity of the Bird’s Nest Stadium. These scenes seem both random and yet interconnected. For example, we might draw the conclusion that large sports events create a lot of additional waste. Morris wants her audience to come to their own conclusions. “The viewer is actually producing the meaning. Of course, I try to direct it when I can,” she says.

Instead of verbal commentary, highly repetitive electronic music forms the audio background to most of Morris’s films, exacerbating the absence of clues. The artist considers music an important element in her films. All originally composed by artist Liam Gillick, who is familiar with some of the themes in each film, the music is not written to accompany specific images. Then Morris takes the composed elements and pairs them with visual material, but she just as easily “might run counter to the image”, she says, questioning the implications of the scene. For example, in Rio (2012), the artist matches footage from an assembly line in a beer factory with ominous-sounding music. Elsewhere a disturbing scene, in which a seemingly dead horse is carried off by a Jockey Club truck, comes paired with gentle music.

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Rio by Sarah Morris, Red Code / HD, 88 min 33 sec, 2012. © Sarah Morris. Courtesy White Cube and Galeria Fortes Vilaça.

The title of her latest show, at White Cube Hong Kong, Your Words are Mine, reflects her belief that “conversation is a very powerful thing. This issue of speech and the veracity of speech is obviously being contested a lot right now. Words are very important and very beautiful.” Building on this theme, Morris is showing a series of her latest paintings, which she refers to as “sound graphs”, with undulating lines that resemble hills and mountains. The series was inspired by a remark made by Alexander Kluge in her film Finite and Infinite Games (2017) while discussing New German cinema, when he momentarily veered off-script. His words where converted into the first sound graph painting, So in a sense it’s abstract as no painting will ever be [Sound 3] (2017), which is on show at the UCCA. Other works at White Cube will include the film Abu Dhabi (2016) and several paintings that capture the colours of the desert city.

Sarah Morris Your Words Become Mine Sound graph 2018 (medium res)

Your Words Become Mine by Sarah Morris, [Sound graph], Household gloss on canvas, 122 x 122 cm, 2018. © Sarah Morris. Photo © Ron Amstutz. Courtesy White Cube.

For Morris “there is meaning in every surface” and “meaning is there to be mined” by the audience. She believes our eyes are already trained to do so; she’s just trying to give us a helping hand.

M+ Live Art: Audience as Performer

June 1–3, 2018 

Goethe-Institut Hongkong 
14/F, Hong Kong Arts Centre
2 Harbour Rd
Wan Chai, Hong Kong 
Free admission. No registration is required for performance programmes.

Friday, June 1, 7:30–10pm
Saturday, June 2, 12–7pm
Sunday, June 3, 12–5:30pm

Audience as Performer is the inaugural exhibition of M+ Live Art, the museum’s first series dedicated to performance art, highlighting and unpacking the concept of the live body in visual art through compelling performances from local and international artists. Spread over three days, M+ Live Art: Audience as Performer features works by five artists from Asia who engage directly with the viewer, shifting the role of the audience from passive witness to active participant. By offering collaborations in new and open-ended works of art, the exhibition inspires the public to build social bonds through artistic production and collective action.

M+ Live Art: Audience as Performer features new commissions by two Hong Kong artists, wen yau and Isaac Chong Wai, whose works express the lived experiences of the city’s inhabitants facing shifting social realities. In A Drop and Two Dots: Everything Must Go! (Homage to All Peaceful Revolutionaries), wen yau focuses on a local context to examine the meaning of belonging to one’s land. In Rehearsal of the Futures: Police Training Exercises, Isaac Chong Wai addresses the history of protests around the world, considering how acts of confrontation can also be viewed as beautiful and gentle gestures.

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Rehearsal of the Futures: Is the World Your Friend? by Isaac Chong Wai, 2018. Photo: Alice Yu.

 

Equally dedicated to addressing societal concerns is Indonesian artist Tisna Sanjaya, who uses traditional rituals as means of uncovering social injustices. In his work 99 Sajadah Merah, he welcomes members of the audience to traverse a sprawling installation with him in a collective form of art making, to encourage tolerance and cooperation.

Taiwanese artist River Lin’s work is also concerned with notions of ritual and the relationship between the body and time in site-specific social spaces. His work Cleansing Service offers one-on-one dialogue through a series of prescribed actions and personal exchanges.

Duan Yingmei continues the exploration of conversations and introspection with her work My Hong Kong Friends. Seeking connections to others by observing human instincts such as desire, fear, and love, Duan leads the audience on a journey that offers personal stories and creative, imagined worlds.

M+ Live Art: Audience as Performer invites the public to experience the transformative potential of the works of these five artists and consider the role of the audience as agent and producer of artistic meaning for new and unexpected encounters that not only live in the moment, but also are shared as collective memories for the future.

Alongside live performances, the exhibition includes an artist talk and an artist-led workshop that further expand the viewers’ experiences to encourage exchanges of ideas and perspectives on this ephemeral art form.

Presented as a semi-annual series, M+ Live Art offers audiences direct access to the artists through their live, immediate, and ephemeral performances. M+ Live Art acts as a catalyst to spark curiosity and expand thinking, engagement, and dialogue with the Hong Kong public about performance as a mode of artistic expression. Through the convergence of disciplines in performance art, such as visual art, dance, technology, sound, and moving image, the series contributes to the interdisciplinary ethos of M+ as a museum of visual culture and as a place for new and diverse cultural experiences.

 

About M+
M+ is a new museum dedicated to collecting, exhibiting, and interpreting visual culture of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Within 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 in a short time as one of the world’s leading cultural institutions.

About 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 M+, the West Kowloon Cultural District will produce and host world-class exhibitions, performances, and cultural events, as well as provide twenty-three hectares of public open space, including a two-kilometre waterfront promenade.

 

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Catherine Opie at Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong

So long as they are wild

through July 7, 2018

Lehmann Maupin is pleased to present So long as they are wild, a solo exhibition of recent work by Catherine Opie. For the Los Angeles-based artist’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, Opie will present a series of photographs shot in one of the United States’ most revered and naturally beautiful locations, Yosemite National Park in California. Opie is known for her ability to create photographs that unite contemporary themes and issues with a classical aesthetic that expands upon her exploration of the tradition of photography as well as the greater art historical canon. In addition to the photographs, Opie will include a series of ceramic sculptures. This recent undertaking of sculpture began as a personal pastime but has evolved into an alternative aesthetic pursuit.

4th Floor, Pedder Building
12 Pedder Street, Central
T (852) 2530 0025
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Tu-Fr 10am to 7pm, Sa 11am to 7pm

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Image: Installation view of So long as they are wild by Catherine Opie at Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong.