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China Guardian Hong Kong Autumn Auctions 2019

Oct 5 – 8, 2019
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre
Hall 5BC

Preview Oct 5 – 6, 10am – 9pm
Auction Oct 7 – 8

The sale series will present remarkable artworks and collectibles from around the world, including Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy, Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art, Ceramics and Works of Art, Classical Chinese Furniture as well as Jewellery, Watches and Luxury Goods. More than 1,800 lots will be offered with a total estimate of approximately HK$ 780 million / US$ 100 million

Star-pieces include: White Cloud Studio, a six-metre scroll created by Zhang Daqian in 1947 and gifted to fellow painter Huang Junbi, Qing dynasty painter Jin Nong’s Album of Landscapes and Figures, a masterpiece of poetry, calligraphy as well as painting that was praised by Wu Hufan as ‘a godly creation’; Yoshitomo Nara’s classic work Midnight Vampire, 24.01.73 painted by Zao Wou-ki at the turning point of his life, Li Chen’s 248-cm-tall sculpture Dragon-Riding Buddha appearing at auction for the first time; a rare white-glazed seated figure of a lion from the 7th century with illustrious provenance, a pair of doucai ‘Longevity’ dishes from the former collection of T. Y. Chao, an early Qing dynasty zitan waistless couch-bed of a simple style that transcends time, an important set of Ming dynasty scholar’s rocks spanning 14 metres that evokes distant mountains shrouded in mist, as well as a splendid suite of a jadeite and diamond necklace, earrings and a ring from an important Asian collection.

Auction Oct 7 
Sale Room A

10.30am Ancient Chinese Ceramics from The Tang to The Song Dynasty
11.30am Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art: session I
2pm The Art of Connoisseurship: The Tang Family Collection of Porcelain from The Republic Period
2.30pm Curio: The Beauty of Chinese Antiquities
3.30pm Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art: session II
7.30pm Exquisite Beauty of Archaic Jade Carvings from A San Francisco Private Collection II
8pm Heavenly Rites: Fine Chinese Jade Carvings

Sale Room B
2pm Asian 20th Century and Contemporary Art
6pm Classic Furniture of The Ming and The Qing Dynasties
6.30pm Classic Furniture from The Hung Collection

Auction Oct 8 
Sale Room A

10am Important Collections of Fine Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy from Asia
2pm Fine Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy
3pm Important Jewels and Jadeite

Image: From Left to right: Jin Nong’s Album of Landscapes and Figures (1 album selected to be shown above), Yoshitomo Nara’s Midnight Vampire, A Rare White-glazed Seated Figure of a Lion, Oriental Garden: An Important Set of Scholar’s Rocks, Extremely Rare and Impressive 4.58 Carat Natural Fancy Purplish Pink and Diamond Ring.

Wong Ping

Heart Digger / Camden Arts Centre & Cork Street Gallery, London / Jul 5 – Sep 15, 2019 /  Margot Mottaz /

How to write about art when the world is on fire? More specifically, how to write about art from Hong Kong when the territory is experiencing a historic revolution? The answer is simple: art is freedom. It offers a new perspective, a common language to challenge opposition, ignorance and oppression. And Wong Ping’s two-venue exhibition in London does exactly that. Spread across the Camden Arts Centre (CAC) – which awarded Wong the inaugural Emerging Artist Prize at Frieze in 2018 – and the Cork Street Gallery, the works in Wong Ping: Heart Digger employ just the right amount of humour and cynicism to expose the darkest sides of contemporary society in their full absurdity.

Installation photo of Wong Ping: Heart Digger, Camden Arts Centre at Cork Street, 2019 © Wong Ping, courtesy Edouard Malingue Gallery, photographer Luke Walker

Wong unmistakably belongs to the 21st century. Explicitly political, he tackles everything from alienation and taboos to violence and corruption in the age of online dating, surveillance and social media, all packaged in a low-resolution saccharine aesthetic and deadpan Cantonese narration distinctly his own. Who’s the daddy (2017) and Dear, Can I Give You a Hand (2019), each in their own room at the CAC, are among Wong’s better-known animations featuring stylised human characters. In the former, a young man attempts to navigate the labyrinthine world of dating apps, eventually meeting a woman whose fetishes – incompatible with his own – lead to emotional and physical distress. Through this incongruous anecdote about a sexual encounter gone wrong, Wong speaks of loneliness, suppressed desires and romantic expectations with a matter-of-factness that emphasises their universality. 

The same applies to Wong’s more recent animations at Cork Street Gallery, grouped under the title Wong Ping’s Fables (2018-19), which exclusively feature animals, including an obese ultra-high-net-worth cow, a maniacal three-headed rabbit and a chicken police officer affected by Tourette’s syndrome. In the vein of Aesop’s Fables and the Grimms’ Fairy Tales, these stories begin with the conventional ‘Once upon a time…’ before recounting the events that led to the protagonists’ demise. There is no ‘Happily ever after’ in sight, only soured relationships, intense suffering and death. All the animations are tragic, but they are also hilarious. Complicit voyeurs, we are made to laugh at the expense of characters whose fates inevitably take a turn for the worse, not only as a result of their own actions but also because of social, economic and political conditions beyond their control.

Wong Ping’s Fables 1

Motifs and characters from the video works have been extracted from their virtual realm and brought into the physical space of the galleries. At the CAC, thousands of gold-enamelled toy dentures in a mound seem to bury the free-standing screen displaying Dear, Can I Give You a Hand?; Wong’s trademark upside-down heart, unequivocally resembling a cartoon scrotum with facial attributes, crowns the centre’s entrance; and the neck of a giant giraffe emerges from dug-up soil in the garden. The giraffe’s severed head reappears in the green-tinted exhibition at Cork Street, its tongue hanging out, along with an equally large rabbit float. In a short wall text written by the artist at the time, we learn that the giraffe’s neck is in fact a tunnel built by Hong Kong’s chief executive and her officials to hide from the protests. 

Installation photo of Dear, Can I Give You a Hand? 2018, film, and The Ha Ha Ha Online Cemetry Limited, 2019, toy dentures from Wong Ping: Heart Digger, Camden Arts Centre, 2019 © Wong Ping, photographer Luke Walker

These whimsical fantasies dreamed up by Wong but based on real-life observations denote a profound distrust in Hong Kong’s government, felt by many across the city as the protests continue to gain momentum. There is an implication that under the current circumstances, most paths lead straight to misfortune. While the scale of both the large screens and the blow-up sculptures felt gimmicky at first, this is only because they take time to have their full effect. They shrink everything around them, and in doing so place the viewers firmly in their universe. The cynical world that Wong depicts is our very own, one we’ve created and one in which we all play a central part.

Edward Lam Dance Theatre “Art School Musical” and public seminar series “Rethinking Musicals”

Oct 3 – 6, Thursday – Sunday 7.30pm
Oct 9 –12, Wednesday – Saturday 7.30pm
Oct 7 & 13, Monday & Sunday 2.30pm

The Box, Freespace, Art Park, West Kowloon Cultural District

From 3 October, Edward Lam Dance Theatre returns to Hong Kong with Art School Musical, a contemporary adaptation of the classic Chinese work The Butterfly Lovers. Featuring Macau’s rising star Jordan Cheng, this new interpretation includes a cast from Hong Kong and Taiwan, in a wonderfully scored version that resets the classical tale into a contemporary school of arts.

Tickets: HK$420, HK$300 (Concessions available)

Group discount: 5% discount for 5 to 9 tickets, 10% discount for 10 to 19 tickets and 20% discount for 20 or more tickets

Buy tickets now:

Cheung Chi Wai ©Moon9 image

Alongside 10 performances of the show, director Edward Lam, the creative team and invited guests also lead a series of three public seminars that look at the creative foundations of Chinese-language musicals in the region and some of the possibilities for future development.

Acting and Singing on Stages Around the World
Sep 28, Saturday 5pm
The Room, Freespace, Art Park, West Kowloon Cultural District
Macau-based musical actor, scriptwriter and creative artist Jordan Cheng, one of the cast members of Art School Musical, joins Edward Lam to talk about his experience of studying musical theatre in the UK, and performing on stages around the world. Cheng and Lam also share personal insights and observations on new developments in contemporary Chinese-language musicals.
Free admission. Register now: 

The Multidimensional Nature of Musical Theatre
Sep 29, Sunday 5pm
The Room, Freespace, Art Park, West Kowloon Cultural District
Musical theatre is an integrated art form where plot and character are driven and outlined through acting, singing and dancing, often in familiar and formulaic ways. To explore the wider potential of the multidimensional nature of musical theatre, Taiwanese scholar Liang Wen-ching joins Edward Lam in a discussion on new musical structures and new ways of using song and dance.
Free admission. Register now: 

Chinese Musical Theatre Creation
Oct 6, Sunday 5pm
The Room, Freespace, Art Park, West Kowloon Cultural District
Multi-award-winning Taiwanese composer Chen Chien-chi, Music Director for Art School Musical, is a long-term collaborator with Edward Lam. In this seminar he joins Lam to talk about the process involved in creating melodies for musicals, from the perspective of both music director and composer. He also shares insight into the difference between the usual practice of composing melodies and then writing lyrics and the process used for Art School Musical, where 18 sets of original lyrics were put together before a single note was penned.
Free admission. Register now:

About Freespace
Freespace – Hong Kong’s new centre for contemporary performance in the heart of the West Kowloon Art Park – presents multi-genre performances and events, produces boundary-pushing collaborations, and promotes new ways of seeing and experiencing performance. Partnering with emerging and established artists from Hong Kong and around the world, Freespace nurtures diverse creative voices and bring works that challenge and redefine the role of performing arts for our age.

Getting to Freespace:

South Island Art Day

Saturday, September 21
12 – 8pm

Following highly successful South Island Art Days over the past 5 years, SICD promises an exciting and varied program including art exhibitions in 13 art spaces, giving visitors the opportunity to attend exhibition openings, interact with local and international artists, experience contemporary art, performances, as well as enjoy free food and drink from our south side partners. Beside the indoor art activities, we will run an outdoor installation program. Around 10 local and international artists will install interactive pieces in the streets of Wong Chuk Hang. Visitors will therefore be able to experience more art from different artists going from one gallery to another.

For more information visit or contact us on T +852 2696 2300 E

Xu Zhen

The Glorious / Perrotin / Hong Kong / Mar 25 – May 11 / Katherine Volk /

Walk into Perrotin, and a towering sculpture commands the middle of the room, surrounded by two large-scale series from Xu Zhen’s solo exhibition The Glorious. The juxtaposition of media and styles typifies Xu’s exploration of cultural exchange, authenticity, history, globalisation and capitalism. The prolific artist founded MadeIn Company in 2009 and creates work both individually and through the collective practice of the group.

In Eternity – Northern Qi Painted Bodhisattva, River God Ilissos from West Pediment of Parthenon (2018), from Xu’s Eternity series, a replica of a Northern Qi (AD 550-577) figure is posed upside down on top of a replica of a Classical Greek sculpture, with the head and arms removed from the former to match the latter. The two headless, handless bodies are seemingly defenceless, conjoined at the necks in an unwilling but inevitable clash of cultures. The sculptures depict Gods and the Buddha as figures elevated beyond mankind; comically connected, they satirically confront the fluidity and struggles of humanity, globalisation and relationships between ideologies from the east and west.

Evolution–North Wall of Mogao Cave No. 220, 
Boa Pongdudu Mask by Xu Zhen, Oil on canvas, 
155 x 100cm, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Xu’s oil-on-canvas series Evolution, developed from Eternity, explores elements found in different cultures across time. Traditional African face masks are layered on top of murals from the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China, with the masks replacing the underlying painted figures’ heads. The glaring differences between them challenge contemporary cultural mashups in an age when accessibility alters quality and transforms understanding. The disruptive content creates a social critique of the way we collect, retain and use culture in our modern world.

In bold visual contrast to the rest of the exhibition, Xu’s opulent monochromatic series Under Heaven – Gold is a reiteration of his colourful signature series Under Heaven. The piped gold evokes the tops of cakes, ice cream or Iced Gem biscuits, turned into swirly signifiers of consumption and excess. However, the gold, unlike the previous candy-coloured pieces, seems to replace innocent, youthful decadence with a solid display of wealth.

The gold exudes a triumphant spirit, mocking the art market and its shallowness. Black walls serve as a backdrop for the exhibition, and make the gilded 3D wall pieces stand out, the glaring, textured surface questioning the limitations of commodifying culture and gluttonous consumerism. The exhibition title, The Glorious, describes the glow emitted by the works, which bathes viewers in a subtle reflected sheen, but it questions whether those standing in the gold radiance are worthy of being showered in the luxurious light. If everyone is worthy of basking in the luxury, what does that say about value, originality and production?

Xu’s exhibition critiques culture and society through humorous, engaging works. It provides insight into the coexistence and collisions of cultures, shifts in our globalised society and the question of what we value.

Samson Young

It’s Heaven Over There / Centre A / Vancouver / Feb 23 – Jun 4 / Justin Ramsey /

When the Sun Wah Centre was constructed in the 1980s, it was envisioned as a neighbourhood mall for Vancouver’s Chinatown, the kind one might find all over Hong Kong: a fountain on the main floor, central escalators wending their way up through glitzy tiers of fashion and food. This never materialised. The building’s few vendors nestle in a near constant state of pink-walled disrepair.

The setting is apt for Samson Young’s exhibition It’s Heaven Over There, curated by Tyler Russell at Centre A, which has recently moved into the Sun
Wah Centre, alongside other arts organisations that are transforming this under-realised mall into a cultural hub.

The first display in Young’s exhibition resembles a shopfront: blaring pop music, a glass case full of trinkets. It is an appropriate beginning to an
exhibition focused on the mall itself. It’s Heaven Over There is the second in a trilogy of site-responsive exhibitions by Young that critique utopian
projects and their fraught, often unexpected outcomes.

Samson Young, exhibition view of It’s Heaven Over There at Centre A, Vancouver, 2019.
Courtesy the artist and Centre A.

Malls are utopian projects par excellence, putting the wares of the world at people’s fingertips. In Young’s computer-animated video work Big Big Company, fragmented architecture and infrastructure – escalators, lift shafts, dim sum restaurants and fountains – float and fragment across backgrounds alternately photographic and surreal. A soundtrack performed by Michael Schiefel samples My Favourite Things, a Cantonese accent transforming the word “things” into “sins” to wry effect.

Dancing through all of this is the figure of Alexander Won Cumyow, who according to documentation was the first ethnic Chinese person born in Canada. In the early 20th century, Won campaigned to establish aconstitutional monarchy in China, even though he never intended to live there. His vision for a neo-monarchic China was idealistic: a dream whose potential might have been more important than any actual outcome. Perhaps this is why Young has positioned Won in effigy, dancing through a hallucinogenic, half-realised dreamscape.

Won’s ideal China was a retrotopia, fantasising about the glories of the past. The shopping mall is having its own retrotopic moment, after being endangered by the internet. Civilisation yearns for progress, only to lament later what was lost along the way. The endless cycle of utopia and retrotopia finds physical trajectory in Young’s video: objects whirl on the spot; dance moves repeat in loops.

What utopia and retrotopia share is a disregard for limits: of physical resources and of imagination. In Big Big Company, space tessellates endlessly, to the point at which objects fracture and distort; fountains run ad infinitum, only to overflow cataclysmically. Young’s Mist Machine series of sculptures extend this motif of the fountain as something that is perceived to protect from bad luck but that in reality wastes precious resources for ostentatious display.

It’s Heaven Over There contemplates the costs of utopia – or, more precisely, the costs of our untenable utopian projects failing, and of starting over and over again. Utopia isn’t grand development or faster commerce; that’s been tried. Perhaps it’s rooted in quieter things that blossom amid their ruin – like art galleries and studio spaces taking over an abandoned mall.

Vvzela Kook

By Christie Lee /

I’d expected a philosophical explanation for Hong Kong artist Vvzela Kook’s quirky name, but it turns out that it was all due to a technicality. The artist had wanted to call herself vuvuzela, after the African horn, but on realising the domain name was taken, took out the two “u”s.  

Kook’s art, however, is rather better thought out. Research is key to her artistic process. During our conversation, she repeatedly describes her works as projects rather than videos or installations, and says she spends the bulk of her time reading, researching and mapping the details of her projects in her mind. It’s similar to the artistic process of fellow Hong Kong artist Samson Young, for whom Kook works as an assistant.

Born in Dalian, a port city on the southern tip of Liaoning province in northern China, the 29 year old received her BA from Hangzhou University before reading for a MA in Creative Media at City University in Hong Kong.

We chatted at her new studio in Ngau Tau Kok.

Fragrant Little Haven by Vvzela Kook, Video with stereo sound, 4 mins 15 secs, with audio track of (We’re Bound For) Botany Bay by Trad.Arr P.M.Adamson, 2019. Courtesy the artist.

Christie Lee: Why did you decide to stay in Hong Kong? Vvzela Kook: At the beginning, it was more like I didn’t want to go back to China. But after doing more and more research into Hong Kong, and visiting historical sites like the Gin Drinkers Line in the New Territories, I really wanted to stay. In a way, I wouldn’t know how to make art if I were to go back now. The cyberpunk aesthetics you see in my art: I was deeply influenced by the cityscape of Hong Kong – the lights, the different neon signs. My art wouldn’t be like that if I was living in mainland China, especially now, when the Chinese government is mandating uniform storefronts.

CL: Does Samson Young have any influence on your artistic process? VK: I think it’s inevitable that he’d have some sort of influence on me. I’m drawn to his research into Hong Kong and the city’s history, but we also perceive the world differently. Trained as a composer, he perceives the world sonically. My works, on the other hand, place more  emphasis on the visuals, the storytelling, with all the  futuristic and fantasy elements. Sound is often in the background. 

CL: A few of your recent pieces are about Hong Kong history, such as Confidential Records, which also has strong sci-fi undertones, specifically cyberpunk. VK: I visited the Kowloon Walled City, and even though I hadn’t experienced what it was like when there were still people living there, I wanted to do something with it. I was really into fantasy and detective tales when I was younger: you know, Harry Potter and the like. Having that ability to control every little detail that happens in this alternative world excites me. So I decided to build a virtual world in parallel to the world we live in.

CL: Humans are never the focus of your art. Even if they do make an appearance – the tiny astronaut figures in And if your head explodes, for example – they aren’t in the leading role. Why is that? VK: I suppose I focus more on situations. In the case of And if your head explodes, it’s about that split second before human beings enter the picture.

CL: So you aren’t interested in depicting the human experience? VK: I am, I just like to express human cruelty, for example, or angst, through seemingly calm situations. 

Specimen II: Aquilaria sinensis by Vvzela Kook, Installation view from Fragrant Little Haven, Hand-made soap (apricot kernel oil, coconut oil, shea butter, rice bran oil, sunflower oil, water, sodium hydroxide, mica powder in various colours), glass specimen dome, 2019. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Yi Yi Lily Chan.

CL: Like Fragrant Little HeavenVK: Yes, as it is essentially a project about Hong Kong as a colonial city. I started to grow my own plants when I decided to settle in Hong Kong. I was not trying to colonise the place or anything. You know how there is a Flower Market Road in Hong Kong? It made me think: there are so many flower markets in Hong Kong; why is only one called Flower Market Road? I bought a map and tried to pin down all of the streets named after a flower or plant. There are about 120 in total. All these streets have their own histories, whether it’s related to colonisation or the development of the city. One of the ways the British colonised Hong Kong was by naming streets in a pretty way to dilute the cruelty that they’d inflicted on the local population. For example, Hollywood Road was the first road built by the Englishmen when they arrived in Hong Kong.

CL: Like Fragrant Little HeavenVK: Yes, as it is essentially a project about Hong Kong as a colonial city. I started to grow my own plants when I decided to settle in Hong Kong. I was not trying to colonise the place or anything. You know how there is a Flower Market Road in Hong Kong? It made me think: there are so many flower markets in Hong Kong; why is only one called Flower Market Road? I bought a map and tried to pin down all of the streets named after a flower or plant. There are about 120 in total. All these streets have their own histories, whether it’s related to colonisation or the development of the city. One of the ways the British colonised Hong Kong was by naming streets in a pretty way to dilute the cruelty that they’d inflicted on the local population. For example, Hollywood Road was the first road built by the Englishmen when they arrived in Hong Kong.

CL: Did you visit all 120 locations? VK: I wasn’t able to gain access to some of them: Fairview Park, for example. It has a street named after the lotus, another named after the bauhinia and a third called Pinery Road, but it’s a gated community. 

Confidential Records: Dual Metropolitans by Vvzela Kook. Dual-screen audio-visual work,
9 mins 50 sec, 2016-2018. Courtesy the artist. 

CL: Was Fragrant Little Flower also the first exhibition when you expanded your oeuvre into objects and installations? VK: Yes – for example, one work comprises a map of Central, a vintage Hong Kong geography book, a 3D map of Hollywood Road and debris that represents Hong Kong’s first ever reclamation. It’s a way of bringing together different times in a still object or image, something that I’ve always been interested in doing.

CL: And you’re launching the second phase of the project soon? VK: It’ll be part of Asia Society’s To See the Forest and the Trees group exhibition. It’ll be about trees. Probably a mix of video and objects.

CL: Do you have a specific tree in mind? VK: No. As I told Chantal [Wong, curator of Fragrant Little Heaven], this project has everything to do with plants but also nothing to do with them. It isn’t about the plants themselves; rather it’s about the history of Hong Kong – how certain plants were used as vessels for colonisation.

Installation view of Fragrant Little Haven by Vvzela Kook, 2019. Courtesy the artist.
Photo: Yi Yi Lily Chan.

CL: Is Hong Kong’s colonial history your main interest as an artist? VK: I think so. You know Dalian was occupied by the Japanese and Russians at different points in time, but you don’t really see the Japanese or Russian influence there, because they were only there for a very short time.

CL: Could you tell us about your two residencies in the latter half of the year? VK: The first one is the Sula Artist in Residence. I’ll be living in a lighthouse in Sula, an island on the northern tip of Norway, for a month. It’s a defunct lighthouse that’s been turned into a hostel. I’m going to do an architectural mapping project. The second one is at the Confucius Institute in Nuremberg. I’ll be doing research on German industrial ruins.

Mandy El-Sayegh

By Christie Lee /

Somewhere between dizzying grids, newspaper clippings and a xeroxed copy of a page from a Chinese colouring book is Mandy El-Sayegh’s subjectivity. Or was: as the artist says, her subjectivity is a process.

“I view myself as someone who is always changing. It [one’s subjectivity] depends on different moments in time. If you accept that as you are mutable, you’ll be more accepting of change,” says El-Sayegh, who is in Hong Kong to open Dispersal,her first solo exhibition at Lehmann Maupin.

One end of the gallery is dominated by her Piece Paintings (2010-), featuring a smorgasbord of figurative imagery in unexpected juxtapositions. Theyare hoisted against an installation piece featuring copies of the South China Morning Post, meticulously arranged in a grid-like format on the walls and floor and smeared with a thin veneer of white paint. El-Sayegh says she deliberately picked a newspaper that was easily comprehensible to a western audience, and one that conveys a sense of truthfulness, to ask what context newspapers provide to help us to understand the world, whether context is always self-evident and whether picking one context means disregarding the rest.

Dispersal by Mandy El-Sayegh, Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, Hong Kong, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul. Photo: Owen Wong.

These are questions that El-Sayegh have been conscious of all her life. Born in Selangor, Malaysia to a Chinese-Malay mother and a Pakistani father, she spent the first five years of her life in Sharjah in the UAE before moving with her family to west London. While this multiracial background inevitably informs her work, she also fears that everything she does is seen through the lens of identity politics.

“I wanted to free myself from thinking too much about context, because identity is so loaded, and making proof of yourself as an artist through identity is like an injunction,” she says. “If you think about it too consciously, you’re going to think: this might reflect this, that might reflect that. You don’t get to have the play in it.” But that doesn’t mean that her personal background doesn’t come through in her art, which is deeply personal.

That newspapers take centre stage in her exhibition, whether the Financial Times or Daily Mail at her recent show at London’s Chisenhale Gallery or the SCMP at the current show, stems from her father’s calligraphy practice. “My dad would practise calligraphy on the newspaper every day, and throw them away afterwards. I like this kind of ephemerality of newspapers. I also like how it’s not elevated. So it is about movement, practicality and being conscious of the way that people consume.”

TBC – small grids by Mandy El-Sayegh, Oil and mixed media on linen, artist steel frame, 143 x 119 cm, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

Similarly, for her Piece Paintings, she seizes whatever is lying around her studio, be it a sweet wrapper, an old copy of a newspaper or whatever tickles her fancy at that moment, from a joke she’d noted down to an evocative Instagram picture she’d saved. Meanings are slippery and associations fragile in an area when technology and globalisation dictate that information travels at ever faster speeds than before; no sooner do our minds become tethered to an idea than it is pulled away again.

El-Sayegh herself is a product of this era. It often feels as if she is hemorrhaging thoughts, her mind darting from one idea to the next within seconds. For example: “The protests you have here [in Hong Kong], it reminds me of a piece I did on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The idea of one country, two systems, [makes me] think of two in in, then two for one, which makes me think of hair products,” she says.

There are limits, though, usually external ones, such as the limited time she has in a gallery. At Dispersal, that’s manifested in the Net-grid (2010-) studies, where red grids are superimposed on faded images, as if nets are trying to contain the chaos bubbling underneath. This is mirrored in estimated at thirty-two (2019), a collection lumpy latex pieces that tile the floor. Rather than restrictive or comforting, she says, she finds these limitations “necessary, else I could just go on and on”.

Dressed in a crisp blue shirt, wide-legged trousers and boots, her angular face lit up with a punch of red lip, El-Sayegh looks the part of a confident, globe-trotting artist who has shown in London, New York, Guadalajara, Berlin and Sharjah in the past three years. But it took her some time to get here.

After reading fine art at the University of Westminster, she went on to get a MFA at the Royal College of Art, which she describes as “horrible”. “At that time, painting was very separate from sculpture, and that wasn’t how I understood painting. There was no criticality.” When she realised that art-making, at least the in the form then promoted by the RCA, didn’t involve a “method to apprehend the problems of life”, she hatched the idea of working as a children’s social worker.

TBC – Piece Painting (denzel) by Mandy El-Sayegh, Oil and mixed media on linen, stainless steel artist frame, 225 x 150 cm, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, and Seoul.

But she didn’t really quit art, instead channelling her creative impulses through her then partner, a singer-songwriter, for whom she contributed “fragments of words”. Then they broke up. Her sense of self shattered, and at one point the emotional pain became physical, as she lost her vision. “I literally couldn’t see. It was traumatic,” she says. Her younger self would have taken relief in anatomy books. “When I felt anxious, I’d go to Hammersmith Library [in London] and look at anatomy books. I thought, if I could name all the different body parts these anxieties were coming from, I could suppress the chaos.” But the grown-up El-Sayegh went back to art. “It gave me structure. When you feel like you have nothing, you have a lot to offer. That’s why I believe trauma and creativity are connected.”

This preoccupation with the body infiltrates her works. In Oprah (2019), a women is clad in a skimpy bikini emblazoned with the word “Oprah”. Her head is obscured by a price sticker. “With women it’s always about the body; with men it’s always about the cerebral,” she says.

Meanwhile Denzel (2019) provides a stark commentary of how black bodies are perpetually dismembered in contemporary society. Among the concoction of imagery, US actor Denzel Washington’s eyes are cut out and pasted above a black man’s face. It was inspired a case in which a police forensic artist reconstructed a criminal’s face using the face of another African-American man and Washington’s eyes.

El-Sayegh believes that the body is the locus through which we experience and understand the world. “If you aren’t allowed to exist symbolically as a subject in society,” she says, referring to the commodification of the female body, “what do you have? You still have your body; you have your flesh.” And because context is important, she draws parallels between a female body that is rid of agency and the body of a protestor. “If you’re at a protest, your body feels that proximity; you feel the tear gas. It’s very different if you’re watching it on the news.”

It’s been six years since El-Sayegh recovered from her vision scare, but she says trauma is no longer the force driving her art, but she also fears complacency. “I’m not in that space any more; that was emotional diarrhea.. But I think you always need to feel something.”

Ho Tzu Nyen

R for Rhombicuboctahedron, Vol. 8 / Edouard Malingue Gallery / Hong Kong / Mar 26 – May 17 / Caroline Ha Thuc /

Humidity, corruption, nationalism, irrigation, rice, empire of decay. A for anarchism. Modern nepotism. K for kingship. To think through the effects of ghosts. F for fiction, fluidity, forest, friction, frontier. Across past and present. Southeast Asia is a machinery of rots. Jellyfish, Malaya, legibility, Utama, ecology, buffalo, politics, tigers, slavery. Theatrical acts of civil disobedience. V for vampires, vaginas. C for cosmology, circle, contagion. Acts of political vengeance. Becoming animal. N for nation, narration, narcosis. A triple agent from the Japanese, the French, the British. L for linguistic, legibility, Lai Teck. P for paddy, politics, plateau.

Endlessly, an algorithm selects and weaves different sounds and images from the database of text, music and online images that forms Ho Tzy Nyen’s ongoing project The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia. It asks what Southeast Asia is, and how we can grasp such a concept, which is at once real and constructed.

Language itself is inadequate at reflecting the region’s diverse features and unifying characteristics. Experience on the ground also has its limits: wandering the streets of Bangkok or along a rice field in Vietnam would not be enough to seize the essence, if one exists, of such a vast territory. According to Ho, the term Southeast Asia originated with the western allied armies during World War II, when they created special force to liberate the region from the Japanese. In the context of the Cold War, and later during the Vietnam War, it increasingly became used from a geopolitical perspective. In 1950, for instance, Cornell University opened its Southeast Asian Studies department, financed by the CIA to better understand these countries and monitor the development of communism there. This notion has then been progressively internalised and somehow integrated into local cultures and modes of thinking.

Installation view of The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia Volume 8: R for Rhombicuboctahedron by Ho Tzu Nyen at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong, 2019. Photo: Kwan Sheung Chi. Courtesy the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery.

Rather than trying to define this problematic term, which might in fact have no essence, Ho approaches it from different modalities and from a rhizomatic, pluralistic, dynamic perspective. His dictionary, first developed in 2012 while in residence at the Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong, offers an open way to grasp the intangible reality of the concept, challenging the traditional narratives pertaining to Southeast Asia and our usual modes of knowledge.

The most recent video from the dictionary, exhibited at Edouard Malingue Gallery, is an overarching work, including all the letters of the alphabet in an ongoing loop. Random footage from the internet is combined with sentences dealing with communism, political corruption or animistic cosmology, read or chanted by an ever-changing voiceover. Constantly edited by an algorithm, the video is never the same and continuously re-creates itself. This state of permanent transformation reflects the endless process of defining something and the impossibility of encompassing a notion, especially when it comes to an identity which is alive.

The work is hypnotic, taking viewers away in a physical experience: the brain tries to catch up but cannot resist the dense flow of sound and images, and somehow has to let go. The rhythm is constantly broken up, making it impossible to adapt to it. The voiceover keeps varying in tune, like a musical instrument: a quiet voice, a whisper, a song or a monotonous, almost ritual recitation or feverish repetition of words, a haunting chant performed by Singaporean artist Bani Haykal mixed with electronic resonances. The sound is pervasive and enveloping, again speaking to the body more than the mind. The footage is also eclectic, from cartoons to nature documentaries, biological animations and historical archives. Some extracts are long, others very short and accompanied by flashing images. Colour and black-and-white images fuse.

Video still from The Critical Dictionary of Southeast Asia by Ho Tzu Nyen, Algorithmically composed video, infinite loop, voice by Bani Haykal, 2017-. 
Courtesy the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery.

The density of the data recalls the density of the jungle, while the sometimes breathless rhythm plunges the viewer back into a typically humid Southeast Asian atmosphere. The ruptures and accelerations of the flow recall the movement of water, an omnipresent feature of the region, running freely from the Himalayas or blocked by dams, canalised through irrigation systems or condensed as vapour. Despite an initial feeling of confusion, the viewer can grasps threads and follow them, wandering freely among this accumulation of singularities. Just like a thread that can give birth to many fibres, Ho’s tapestry is made out of infinite possibilities and ramifications.

For this exhibition, the artist also explored alternative visual representations of this condensed heterogeneity. Two large lightboxes, creating a superposition of patterns and colours that changed according to the viewer’s standpoint, crystalised the complexity of the video in static objects as an attempt to transfer the sense movement of the images into the viewer’s body. The images remain very blurry and abstract, though. A sculpture-like installation of a Rubik’s cube with 26 sidessuspended from the ceiling was easier to read, with its representation of 26 images extracted from the video, while an unfolded, flattened version of the cube hanging on the wall embodied the artist’s methodology, which crushes meanings and hierarchies, putting facts, fictions, people, heroes, colonisers, communists and bacteria side by side without any entry point or preference.

This anti-genealogical, flat approach paradoxically brings thickness and consistency to the concept of Southeast Asia, participating in the construction of its reality and mythology from a non-authoritative perspective. Breaking the usual linear narratives and the traditional system of representation, the work reveals unexpected power relations and allows us to rethink the question of identity through an original, political and epistemological model, which includes autonomous singularities without absorbing or diluting them.

Liu Heung Shing

Spring Breeze / Star Gallery / Beijing / Mar 20 – May 18 / Nooshfar Afnan /

A carefree rollerblader whizzes past a large statue of Chairman Mao at Dalian’s Institute of Technology in 1981. Like this one, each of the pictures in award-winning photographer Liu Heung Shing’s solo show Spring Breeze is a reminder of the enormous changes China has experienced since the “reform and opening up” that started in December 1978. For some audience members it is a trip down memory lane. For others it is a lesson in China’s recent history: Mao statutes were and often still are ubiquitous in public squares. Rollerskating was a popular pastime during an era of dire economic conditions, with wheels unceremoniously tied with strips of fabric around people’s shoes. The composition is engaging from a purely formal point of view, with the contrast between the solidity of the monument and the sprightly movement of the skater; and the juxtaposition of the dark shade of the figure with the light-hued statute.

The black-and-white photographs on display were taken by Liu in the late 70s and early 80s. These images take the viewer to a past era, albeit one that still lingers in the memory and whose effects strongly reverberate in the lives of many today. Shown in Star Gallery’s new Bauhaus-style space in Beijing’s 798 Art District, the exhibition won this year’s prize for best show at Gallery Weekend Beijing.

An iconic picture of a throng of cyclists streaming down Beijing’s famous Chang’an Avenue near Jianguomen (1981) greets viewers in the main gallery. For decades, bicycles were the officially sanctioned mode of transportation. Now millions of cars share the road with a plethora of mainly shared bikes on the capital’s busy streets. An early sign of warming relations with the west is captured by Liu when Big Bird, a popular character from the US TV series Sesame Street, made its debut in the capital in 1982. Even though the character was probably unknown to most, cheering crowds can be seen surrounding it at the Workers’ Culture Palace. Consumer goods then started to appear, as seen in a photograph of a young man leaning on his brand new motorbike (1982) or in a 1981 image of a newsstand stocked with a wide variety of print magazines.

A student skates past a statue of Chairman Mao. Dalian Institute of Technology, Liaoning Province, 1981. Courtesy the artist and Star Gallery.

As life returned to normal in the post-Mao era, people made more time for leisure. Liu’s image of a couple embracing on the grounds of Beijing Zoo (1979) or his photo of a young man posing for a beach portrait in Beidaihe, Hebei (1982) are examples of this new-found freedom. Citizens were once again able to think about personal emotions and a future together, as seen in a photo of a young couple on a bench in Shanghai’s People’s Park in 1978.

Starting in 1980, the systematic removal of Mao portraits signalled the end of the personality cult surrounding him. Liu captures one of those instances in 1981: a group of construction workers take a break outside the National Museum of China in Tiananmen Square during the process of taking down a large portrait of the Chairman. The masterful composition explains why Liu has been dubbed China’s Cartier-Bresson.

Liu, who is a former Time magazine photographer, has captured the zeitgeist of the life of ordinary citizens during those crucial decades in China’s history. As China has turned into an economic powerhouse, Liu’s iconic images constitute an important archive of the era.