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Isaac Chong Wai

By Caroline Ha Thuc /

A multimedia artist known for his performances in public spaces, Isaac Chong Wai (b.1990) explores the relativity and ambiguities of our collective norms and values, inviting us to rethink our experiences of daily life and our physical presence within society. As he exhibits a soft wall unable to stand by itself, a boat made with fences that takes on water, or inefficient, arty policemen, Chong’s practice questions the construction of our modes of representation. Time, history and the imprint of the past and even of a future-to-be also seem to haunt the artist, who constantly breaks the linear perception of temporality with re-enactment, dreams and slow-motion gestures.

Caroline Ha Thuc: This time, you are coming back to Hong Kong with quite a personal exhibition, Is the world your friend?, where you mix your own experience as a victim of aggression with today’s representations and manifestations of violence. Isaac Chong Wai: People often think there’s a gap between personal and social issues. Is art a way to put them together? When I think of my works that are presented in Hong Kong, they are all somehow personal to me, even if they might not seem so, like my recent installation A selfie that celebrated a murder incident in the no man’s land. This work features 91 crystal blocks of framed images extracted from online video footage of killers taking selfies after shooting people in international waters. After watching the video online, I could not get rid of these images. I tried different ways to deal with them: I tried drawing and painting, but I disliked seeing the images. Then I recognised that I didn’t want to see them, and this is how I decided to make a work which is both visible and invisible. From the front, since all the blocks overlap, one cannot recognise the images of them taking selfies. However, while walking through the installation, every frame stands there as if the whole motion has stopped or slowed down. For me, this work is still personal. It is something that I felt like I had to deal with through art. It shows different my thinking processes about what I imagine the event could be transformed into.

CHT: Why did you choose to testify to the violence committed against you through an art work? How do you connect these personal experiences with your other works? Is your daily life a source of inspiration? ICW: For me, it was a way out. I needed to deal with what happened, otherwise I might have got stuck with the experience, unable to move on. Still, I think I was very lucky. After a stranger used a glass bottle to hit my head, I actually asked a policeman to take a picture of me. Unsurprisingly, the picture wasn’t very well taken, so when I got home I used my camera and timer to take a picture of myself. Once I saw it, I found the bruise beautiful, with its geometrical shape and layers of colour. I think that aesthetics and appreciation, or being a stranger looking at myself, helped me to deal with this terrible experience. I won’t say these personal experiences are directly connected to my other works, yet they reflect the way I deal with events through art. I often think about how the personalisation of events might bring reconciliation, no matter if it is something that happens to me or something I wasn’t even part of. I still think that the speech The Dead: Speech on the Three World Wars by [20th-century German philosopher and writer] Günther Anders had a big influence on me concerning how to remember death in order to prevent terrible events from happening in the future. I would say that my daily life is surely my source of inspiration; it becomes a performance when art intervenes. 

Equilibrium by Isaac Chong Wai, Performance, 2012.
Courtesy the artist.

CHT: In I Dated a Guy in Buchenwald (2013) you improvised a kiss in Nazi concentration camp Buchenwald, engaging you and your partner in a provocative act that revived a time when gay people were oppressed for their sexual orientation, provoking a collision between the past and the present. Is there any idea of a healing process behind this act?ICW: A lot of people think there is a healing process behind it, and maybe there is. When I was having the date, I actually didn’t think of doing
an art work. It just felt weird that two gay guys visit a concentration camp where homosexuals were persecuted and executed. I asked if I could kiss him and after kissing him I remarked that people couldn’t do that in the past. For me it was only one of the stories of my life. Not until I had seen the news from Russia about the 100-year ban on gay propaganda [in 2012, Russia voted to ban gay parades for the next 100 years], I asked François, who I dated in the camp, to write me anything about the date. His text ended with the words “human warmth”. I think the healing process is more about how we both have looked at the event, and how we wanted people to look at the event: where is the human warmth when we look back at human history?

CHT: A few years ago, you organised One Sound of the Futures, an important public performance in Hong Kong, in which participants were encouraged to express loudly their wishes for the future. Does your practice aim to share a vision of the future? ICW: For this performance, numerous people in three different cities were invited to talk about their personal futures, all at the same time. Between the performers there was at least two metres, so that what each heard from the others was often fragmented. That means that the performance allowed for sharing while giving enough space to people to talk freely about their own futures, without always being heard by other people.

CHT: Reviving the past within the present or expressing the future in the present is an important thread of your practice. Do you see our bodies as potential bridges that can reach back the past and out to the future? ICW: Why are we told about the past? And how does it lead to the future? I am interested to find out how our bodies are able to apprehend the future while connecting ourselves to the past. This is what I have tried in the performance One Sound of the Histories, where people were invited to talk about their personal past in a public square which was built by Hitler.

CHT: In Rehearsal of the Futures: Police Training Exercises (2018), policemen are trained in slow motion, breaking down the movements of violence. You told me these are utopian practices, taking place in a future when, you hope, there will be less violence. At the same time, your deconstruction of the movements emphasises each gesture and might exacerbate violence. Are you playing on this ambiguity? ICW: I don’t know if I should hope that violence be reduced. I don’t know if it would be a good idea to have no confrontation, or to not even allow confrontation to happen. Violence exists not only physically; it is also inherent to different structures. I believe violence will not disappear, but we can look at the different forms it might take. The work itself shows that soft power and soft violence will still go on in the future, with the proposition that riot police will still be trained, but in an artistic way. Here I think the work is more about questioning the gaps between our imagination of a so-called utopian version of police
training exercises and the actual ones.

CHT: To what extent would you connect this work with Hong Kong? ICW: When I produced the work, I did not localise it to any specific place, since police have a shared global identity. When it is exhibited in different places, I believe that visitors are able to connect their memories of the police acting in the virtual world and in their own city. 

CHT: You have been working a lot in public spaces, inviting participants to walk with you in the streets in slow motion, forming improvised lines or expressing themselves collectively. What led you there? ICW: Collectivity is important in Chinese culture. In Hong Kong, I feel like I don’t live as an individual, but more as someone who represents his family. Hong Kong is a city where people don’t have much space, and it is impossible to ignore the physical presence of others: even if we are in a packed car, we twist our body in order not to have any physical connection with strangers. The distance between strangers was one of the themes that I investigated earlier, and it did influence how I think of the presence of bodies in public space. The series Equilibrium (2012) was an important turning point for me, when I started to ponder how I could get closer to people or gather people though performance.

CHT: Some of these performances invite participants to engage in very simple gestures, yet because they are acting in public and collectively, their performance becomes almost automatically an expression of their freedom. At the same time, you give them very clear instructions, and this freedom can only be expressed within the framework set by you. Are you pointing out the power of the collective or the possible freedom of individuals within the collective? ICW: Freedom is always a difficult word, and I think only the participants will be able to testify. I believe that the performance provides a structure, in which participants are able to express what they would like to. Often participants have told me that they were grateful for the experience. This is probably because they had an unusual experience, allowing them to do what they usually don’t. It might lead them to rethink their body’s presence in public space. Most of the time, collective movements create a sense of inclusion, while exclusion takes place via individual decisions. What if all these so-called exclusions become an inclusion? How can we all belong to a collective while expressing different points of view? I am interested in how heterogeneity composes the structure of a collective which is often interpreted as homogeneous, and in the ambiguity that constructs the notions of individuality and collectivity.

CHT: In the performance Help! Help! Help! (2016) you explored the idea of solidarity: who would help others? How did you think of this staging and what did you discover? ICW: I enjoyed doing this piece. When we see someone who performs the posture of asking for help, lying on the ground and raising his hand, should we help? If we do, what is the nature of this help, considering that the performer does not, in fact, need help, since he is lying down of his own choice? When we see other people helping the performers to get up, what are they doing, and how can it impact our own behaviour? The performance questions the politics of help at large by
challenging the concept of help.

I Made a Boat in Prison – A Journey to the Shore by Isaac Chong Wai, Installation, 2015.
Courtesy the artist and Blindspot Gallery.

CHT: In your performances the subject is never isolated. You explore how individuals are tied to society, but you also emphasise a positive feature of collectivity: solidarity. Would that be part of your utopia? ICW: I think of solidarity as one important element when it comes to how I think about ourselves and others. However, I am not sure if it is a definite positive feature reflected in the work itself. Holding the posture of surrender or of being arrested both reveal a weird ambiguity between help and violence: helping someone to surrender? Helping someone not to surrender in a violent way? Being together and helping each other are not absolute positive things; they can sometimes go very wrong as well.

CHT: Your Haribo Wall (2017-19), a wall made with Haribo Goldbears, is a wall but also not a wall, since it is so soft that it cannot stand by itself and so is constantly under construction. What did you wish to express through this unusual installation? ICW: The gummy candy Haribo bear is elastic, flexible, sweet, soft and accessible to kids and adults, while it travels everywhere in the world. I am fascinated by the mobility and accessibility of such a small object. When we think of a wall, we think of something that doesn’t move, but this wall keeps travelling from exhibition to exhibition.

CHT: Playing with contradictions is not new in your practice, and the wall reminds me of the boat that you made with fences taken from a prison in Weimar, Germany in I Made A Boat in Prison (2015). It’s an open boat and doesn’t float. It embodies both freedom and the impossibility of such freedom. Just like the policemen who hit people in slow motion without hurting them, do you aim at revealing a world embedded within deep illusions? ICW: I think the works more reveal clashes of representation, through which we are able to question our status quo, as those clashes are out of the norm.

CHT: Do people take your work too seriously? Would you like to introduce more humour into it? ICW: Some people have said that my works got so serious after I lived in Germany. It is true that when I was in France, you could see me strolling with a goldfish [in his 2013 performance/video La Promenade du Poisson Rouge, created in Toulouse] and everyone found it funny. I do think humour is important: never stop laughing.

Shen Ling

Intensity of Concreteness /Tang Contemporary Art / Hong Kong / Jan 1 – Feb 9 / Elliat Albrecht /

A drastic pivot between pleasure and gloom marked Beijing-based painter Shen Ling’s exhibition Intensity of Concreteness at Tang Contemporary. Embodying the latter, five of the 10 large-scale, square canvases in the show were of melancholy outdoor scenes rendered in cursory lines and layers of dry-brushed grey and blue paint. Black Crows on a Tree (2018), for example, depicts an incredulous orange cat glaring from beneath gnarled branches, while the hero of Winter Star (2018) is an emaciated tree veiled beneath sheaths of pearly rain. In contrast, the five other paintings teemed with abundance and joie de vivre, their densely layered compositions depicting men lying in repose among flowers, birds and stirring blades of grass. 

Camouflaged beneath foliage, some of the men hold cameras, as in Jealous Night in Flowery Wind No.1 (2017); they appear pensive, passive and wholly unaware of Shen’s gaze.Along with her husband Wang Yuping, Shen is often classified as a member of the New Generation of artists who emerged from Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts in the 1980s equipped with rigorous training in realist oil painting. These strict techniques for representation were unravelled and refashioned into expressive, often figurative styles. Over the past 30 years, Shen’s paintings and drawings have dripped with sensuality, often featuring flowers, and men and women in various states of coitus. Poetic, sensitive and deeply introspective about what it means to be both a woman and an artist, Shen has long painted herself into her works. At Tang, her likeness observed viewers from the centre panel of
the sombre 2016 triptych Autumnal Wind and Rain on a Moody Day. Posing in the mist before a knotted tree, the artist dangles a paintbrush from her hand, while two red devil’s horns poke out of her head.

Drifting No.1 by Shen Ling, Oil on canvas, 200 x 200 cm 2017.

That it acted as a small survey of Shen’s varied recent output rather than a cohesive grouping of related works was the only downfall of an otherwise excellent exhibition. Sectioned off from the gallery’s main space was a narrow room with several delicate framed pencil drawings, including the series Smog, in which graphite is smudged across simple line drawings of trees to represent Beijing’s pollution (the series is exhibited under a different title in mainland China). Ephemeral (2015–18) is a
particularly tender sketch of Wang reading a book across the table from Shen; her husband is one of her most regular subjects. 

The most remarkable work in the exhibition, however, was the fanciful painting Sleepwalking (2017), which the artist says came to her in a dream. Measuring two by two metres, the canvas teems with the curving bodies of softly painted fish swimming among thick, chaotic, layers of black palm fronds, pink petals, green leaves, concentric ripples, butterflies and butter-coloured birds. Almost hidden beneath the dense foliage and aquatic life is a long-haired man’s smiling head, which appears to be covered in fish scales. In its extravagance and layered excess, this painting best demonstrates Shen’s mastery of planting capricious details in her works that reward a lingering gaze.

Whitney Ferrare

Pace Gallery senior director Whitney Ferrare introduces three Hong Kong pieces from her collection. 

When I was approached by the editor of Artomity about potentially discussing works in my private collection, I was apprehensive whether it would be viewed as a conflict of interest. The secret would be out that, as a gallerist, I was also a collector. It began at 10 years old in Hong Kong, when I pushed my mother to acquire a work depicting three women by Walasse Ting for my bedroom – a rather exorbitant demand for a kid, but the stage was set. My high school dormitory room was filled to the brim with my own renditions of Pollock paintings, and eventually the first work I paid for was a 19th-century water jug from Afghanistan. I paid for it in instalments, something I still do to this day.

There’s a myth that working in the art world means you are sure to have access to desirable works, but it’s been challenging to have the word “dealer” marking my fate like some archaic scarlet letter. In some extreme instances, fellow gallerists have been reluctant to share price lists and divulge the inner workings of their primary market pricing for an artist. Often I would be invited to collect the works, but rarely to a private opening-reception dinner to mingle with other collectors – probably a sign of how competitive and market-focused the art world has become. This being Hong Kong, naturally I’ve run out of wall space. I have art hiding under couches and in a spare room behind the kitchen, which is full. But it wasn’t until I was asked to list the Hong Kong artists I have supported that I realised there is clearly a gap in my collecting where they are concerned. My quiet tendency is to visit shows unannounced, in solitude, usually with no text in hand, so that I arrive fully ready to see the art. 

These three works I’ve grouped together are by different Hong Kong artists who explore painting. From a curatorial perspective, one can see painterly linear vertical striations in each painting thatfor me connect the works, but not only visually. Clint Ho, Hung Fai and Mark Schdroski employ the vocabulary of painting in ways that belie their respective histories, studies and relationships with Hong Kong. Hung and Clint’s works were bought from a charity auction supporting the endeavours of the Hong Kong Arts Centre, while Mark’s painting was acquired from Ruci Art Space in Jakarta.

Mark Schdroski, Blue Curtain, Oil on canvas, 40.6 x 30 cm, 2017
Courtesy the artist and Whitney Ferrare.

Mark Schdroski is a deeply personal choice; in addition to being a dear friend, he is an exceptionally gifted artist with an immensely rich art-history knowledge. He was born in New Zealand, but I’ve included him as a Hong Kong artist because this is his home, and in this hyper-nationalised world where the country of your birth often determines how your work is pre-judged, Mark is here, working and creating among the cacophony of Sheung Wan. His studio is like walking into a room where all your hopes and dreams are realised: the story of your own life looking back at you is told in the purity of his abstraction. Bright, effervescent and fluorescent blues and marigold yellows, his paintings are stripped of everything external. What a joy to see this work each day!

Temporary Strut by Clint Ho, Acrylic on canvas, 60 x 90 cm, 2018. 
Courtesy the artist and Whitney Ferrare.

Clint Ho has had one of the most surprising starts in art; I am just so happy to hear that these stories of people doing what they love still exist. Construction workers scaling unholy heights on bamboo scaffolding outside vertiginous buildings are a familiar site in Hong Kong. Clint worked for three decades as a Hong Kong construction worker, and it wasn’t until his late 40s that, initially through a Chinese humanities courses at the Open University of Hong Kong, he fully awoke to the power of painting. You can see clearly that, whether unconsciously or not, his past vocation informs the architectural forms of his work. Clint has grown into a talented artist who gives me hope for our city. 

Splash XXV by Hung Fai, Ink on paper, 70 x 70 cm, 2018.
Courtesy the artist and Whitney Ferrare.

Hung Fai is perhaps the most traditional among this trio, although ironically he’s a young millennial forging his own path in the serious medium of ink painting. I feel a great renaissance taking place in the ink world; whereas in past decades it was dominated by these giant figures long passed away and still put on a pedestal, now new voices like Hung’s are shining through. Through my own lens this painting called to mind Yves Klein’s scandalous nude blue figures from the 1960s, showing that even in entirely different times and places, we can’t always shift away from what our memories push us to see. Shifting figures splayed out in a pointillist effect, not otherwise seen in ink is rather compelling to me. 

Performing Society: The Violence of Gender

By Christie Lee /

Half-used paint. Paint-streaked trainers. Crinkly plastic drop cloth. Three panels in shades of pink and orangey-red. A scene of unfinished business. But there is also a palpable sense of energy to it. On the wall opposite, an oil painting depicts a row of female nudes ascending the stairs, their bodies half-translucent, their flesh cutting into each other, giving a sense that whoever was there a moment ago had hurried off, leaving behind a trace of their presence.

The two pieces could have been by the same artist, but they’re not. While the trainers and panels – meant to evoke “the carnal colour of the flesh”, according to the exhibition catalogue – are part of Pamela Rosenkranz’s Sexual Power (Three Viagra Paintings), the nudes belong to Jana Euler’s Nude Climbing Up the Stairs (2014).

It is a liberating but also curious opening for Performing Society: The Violence of Gender, a show that – as one discovers in the proceeding exhibits – puts the systemic violence done to our bodies on glaring display. The exhibition is curated by Susanne Pfeffer, and features 11 artists from Hong Kong and abroad.

Uterusland ​(Partial) by Raphaela Vogel, Polyurethane 
elastomer, breast model, milking machine, video projector, cable, video 7 min 11 sec. Breast model and horse: 215 × 670 × 210 cm (installation dimensions); video sculpture: 340 × 260 × 320 cm (installation dimensions) 3 min 09 sec, 2017.
Courtesy BQ, Berlin and Raphaela Vogel. Installation view of Performing 
Society: The Violence Of Gender, Tai Kwun Contemporary, 16 Feb – 28 Apr, 2019.

Violence and the idea of the fragmented body appear to go hand in hand in the exhibition. The first hint of this is in Dong Jinling’s Dong Jinling 2-1, a cautiously optimistic video featuring a close-up of her hand repeatedly squeezing milk from her left breast. The action is a symbol of life-giving, and a mother’s love – and sacrifice – but, by only using only the left breast, it’s also delightfully defiant, speaking to a desire to reclaim a part of one’s body for oneself. This defiance, however, comes with its woes, as the artist discovers that her left breast has had to grow larger to accommodate the flow of milk.

Things get darker with Marianna Simnett’s The Udder (2014). Despite featuring the body – both human and animal – in all its literal fleshiness,it posits a much crueller narrative than Rosenkranz’s work. The video is set inside a cow’s mammary gland, the various sections separated by screens of crimson gauze. Three kids – a girl and her two brothers – flit between the screens, but the innocent setting is undercut by close-up shots of the mechanised milking process, and parallels drawn between the girl’s chastity and the cleanliness of the cows’ udders, lending the video an eerily sinister air. Simnett is known for her unsettling videos – two audience members fainted at a showing of her works at London’s Serpentine Gallery – and in The Udder, that disquieting moment happens when the girl, defying her mother’s orders to never leave the mammary gland for fear of contamination, slashes her nose, a nod to Saint Abbe the Younger, Abbess of Coldingham, who cut off her nose to avoid being raped by the Vikings.

Ma Qiusha’s Must Be Beauty (2009) is less morbid but no less disturbing. The four-minute video features the artist ingesting jar after jar of eye cream, makeup remover and lotion, the slurping and gulping sounds an assault to the ears. It’s an outright rejection of societal standards of beauty but, as with Dong Jinling’s act, resistance comes with its cost.

Untitled by Oliver Laric, Video still.
Courtesy the artist and Tai Kwun Contemporary.

Ma’s From No. 4 Pingyuanli to No. 4 Tianqiaobeili is a comparatively literal telling of the pains of growing up female in a society that still favours the male sex, and the physical and psychological violence that the state education system inflicts on a person. Ma, with her impassive gaze and deadpan voice, is a good storyteller but the piece pales in comparison to Must be Beauty.

The ambivalence of Must be Beauty also underlies Raphaela Vogel’s Uterusland, where a giant breast is sliced up into two halves, its muscles and sinews exposed, as in a biology lab. While a white rope shoots from one half to nourish a unicorn-white creature, the other half is used to morbidly illustrate various types of breast cancer. Opposite this clunky installation is a video of a woman clutching a baby in terror while sliding down a pink-coloured tunnel which could be either a playground slide or the interior of the female reproductive organs.

Wong Ping’s Who’s the Daddy (2017) offers the only male perspective in an exhibition predominantly dedicated to exploring the female psyche. In the highly entertaining video, a male narrator suffering from an existential crisis ponders his “straight, small penis” as he takes selfies for a dating app, lifts weights and goes on a date. His efforts are admirable but ultimately redundant, as the video culminates in the gruesome scene of a lover grinding her stiletto heel on his eyeball, tearing it out of the socket. If stilettos symbolise female subordination in a patriarchal system, this scene points out that female and male bodies are oppressed by the same forces.

Installed behind From No. 4 Pingyuanli to No. 4 Tianqiaobeili is Anne Imhof’s Prior Park. Its title is also the name of an early 18th-century Palladian house in Somerset in the UK, but that seems to bear no relation to the chair in the room. Grey, snug-looking, but also equipped with wrist and ankle locks, the design appears to be an odd hybrid of a massage chair and a restraint chair. On the back rest, an abstract symbol evokes an emblem that might adorn a university hall or prison gate, a reminder that control and oppression come in many guises.

In contrast to the clinical Prior Park, the artist’s scratch paintings are surprisingly freeing. In I Promise to be Good I and I Promise to be Good II, she clawed through an upper layer of black paint to reveal a white, contrasting colour beneath. It’s reminder that there is always something beneath the surface, an alternative to the status quo, but it’s also a way to assert presence, its free-wheeling sensibility bringing to mind Rosenkranz’ Sexual Power (Three Viagra Paintings).

York News by Liu Yefu, Single-channel HD video projection 10 min 40 sec, dimensions variable. Courtesy Liu Yefu and Magician Space.

Perhaps the first step to beating structural violence is to go beyond thinking about the physical confines of the body, towards the fact that we simply embody. While Prior Park’s emptiness focuses on the absence of the corporeal body, the scratch paintings testify to the messiness and struggle of lived experience.

Just when you think you’ve reached the end of the exhibition, a white door opens to reveal Oliver Laric’s Untitled, a soothing video that calls for the malleability of identity. An astronaut boy morphs into a puppy, a wolf claw into a human hand, and a polar bear into an Inuit. Is this what escaping the body looks like? But the smooth transitions, the soft contours, rid of the toil and tussle of the other works on display, look out of place. Unlike Simnett’s or Imhof’s works, where there is so much brutality and tragedy but also vitality, Laric’s figures appear a little unreal.

South Island Art Day

29 March 2019
10am –2pm

16 of the South Island Cultural District (SICD) galleries and artist studios open their doors as part of Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Central VIP Programmes. Yet this exceptional event is also open to the general public and the admission is free. Following highly successful South Island Art Days over the past 5 years, the SICD is expecting around 2000 local and international art lovers, collectors and curators to attend the event held in Hong Kong’s new destination for contemporary art.

Art Day Program
SICD promises an exciting and varied programme giving visitors the opportunity to see 16 exceptional exhibitions, interact with local and international artists, attend unique performances, join guided tours as well as enjoy free food and drink from its south side partners.

Outdoor Installations and Performances
Beside the indoor contemporary art exhibitions and performances, SICD runs an outdoor installation programme. While walking from one gallery to another, visitors will be able to experience installations by Kacey Wong and David Boyce scattered along the streets of Wong Chuk Hang. During a four hour non-stop performance, Yeung Siu Fong will also stun art lovers joining the event.

The South Island Art Day is best accessible by MTR (South Island line, exit A at Wong Chuk Hang), car, taxi or public buses (70, 72, 90, 595, 37B, 41)

Sebastian Stöhrer / Caroline Chiu Studio, Hong Kong

March 23 – 29, 2019

Opening: Saturday, March 23, 2 – 6.30pm

Artist Talk with Ilaria Maria Sala: March 23, 4 – 5pm  
South Island Art Day: March 29, 10am – 6pm
Artist Talk: 29 March, 5 – 6pm 

Caroline Chiu Studio, in collaboration with Carl Freedman Gallery, is proud to present an exhibition of new sculptures by German artist Sebastian Stöhrer. The exhibition features 15 works inspired by the artist’s 2017 Travel Residency in China (sponsored by Caroline Chiu Studio), which included glaze research and site visits in Jingdezhen, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Many of the works are inspired by ancient Chinese masterpieces, traditions and discoveries that the artist made on his travels.  

Stöhrer’s quirky, colourful vessels take on various shapes and sizes, and are united by a fluidity that defies their weight. The application and balance of colour are central to the artist’s creative process. Stöhrer has created and continues to perfect his own personal alchemy of glazing. His hand, chemistry and kiln come together and hatch beautifully balanced, vibrant, unique sculptures with their own innate personas. For example, in this stunning four-legged, indigo blue sculpture that rests on four tripod legs, Stöhrer uses all of this inventiveness. His hybrid works are part sexy legs, part abstract expressionist painting, and all good humour.

Stöhrer is part of a growing group of contemporary artists who have embraced ceramic art and helped it make its way back into contemporary art venues. The market has responded, largely thanks to leading contemporary artists such as Grayson Perry and Franz West, whose emotive, tactile works affirm the relevance of ceramic art as a contemporary medium. The tension between old and new is fundamental to Stöhrer’s work. The organic curvature of his shapes evokes transformation and the humility of an artist who has taken the time to learn the lessons of the past so intensely. In doing so, Stöhrer offers an entirely new future for this ancient art form.

Caroline Chiu Studio
8A Shui Ki Industrial Building                    
18 Wong Chuk Hang Road                    
Hong Kong

Weekday viewings available by appointment.
+852 6117 6155
+852 9222 7315


Sebastian Stöhrer / Caroline Chiu Studio, Hong Kong

March 23 – 29, 2019

Opening: Saturday, March 23, 2 – 6.30pm

Artist Talk with Ilaria Maria Sala: March 23, 4 – 5pm  
South Island Art Day: March 29, 10am – 6pm
Artist Talk: 29 March, 5 – 6pm 

Caroline Chiu Studio, in collaboration with Carl Freedman Gallery, is proud to present an exhibition of new sculptures by German artist Sebastian Stöhrer. The exhibition features 15 works inspired by the artist’s 2017 Travel Residency in China, which included glaze research and site visits in Jingdezhen, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Many of the works are inspired by ancient Chinese masterpieces, traditions and discoveries that the artist made on his travels.  

Stöhrer’s quirky, colourful vessels take on various shapes and sizes, and are united by a fluidity that defies their weight. The application and balance of colour are central to the artist’s creative process. Stöhrer has created and continues to perfect his own personal alchemy of glazing. His hand, chemistry and kiln come together and hatch beautifully balanced, vibrant, unique sculptures with their own innate personas. Many of these new works reference Tang and Song dynasty tripods and four-legged cups and vases, deconstructed and complete with bold, vibrant colours inspired by the traditional blue-and-white and Sancai glazing techniques attributed to the same period.  

Stöhrer is part of a growing group of contemporary artists who have embraced ceramic art and helped it make its way back into contemporary art venues. The market has responded, largely thanks to leading contemporary artists such as Grayson Perry and Sterling Ruby, whose emotive, tactile works affirm the relevance of ceramic art as a contemporary medium. The tension between old and new is fundamental to Stöhrer’s work, whether it be the application of glaze or the anthropomorphic qualities that the sculptural forms can take on. The organic curvature of his shapes evokes transformation and the humility of an artist who has taken the time to learn the lessons of the past so intensely. In doing so, Stöhrer offers an entirely new future for this ancient art form.

Caroline Chiu Studio
8A Shui Ki Industrial Building                    
18 Wong Chuk Hang Road                    
Hong Kong

Weekday viewings available by appointment.
+852 6117 6155
+852 9222 7315


Asia Art Archive March Programmes 2019

In March, Asia Art Archive (AAA) is presenting talks, activities, and exhibitions highlighting our ongoing research initiative on performance art. Join us for our annual artist’s lecture to be delivered by Zhang Peili, view an exhibition on the Lee Wen Archive, and visit our display on the history of performance art in our booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong.

Exhibition | Form Colour Action
On view at AAA Library, Form Colour Action: Sketchbooks and Notebook of Lee Wenexplores drawing as a site of performance. With materials from the archive of Lee Wen, a pioneering artist in performance art in Asia, the exhibition brings together his sketchbooks and notebooks—on display for the first time—as well as documentation of his performance works. The selection shows multiple alter egos that Lee created, and early manifestations of development use of the performing body as a medium that understands the individual as a part of the body politic. Click here for more information.

Date: 13 March–29 June 2019
Venue: Asia Art Archive Library, 11/F, Hollywood Centre
233 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan

Annual Artist’s Lecture | Zhang Peili 
AAA is honoured to welcome Zhang Peili as a guest speaker for our annual artist’s lecture. Zhang is widely considered the “father of Chinese video art” in acknowledgment of his contributions to the development of the genre in East Asia. What is less well-known is how this engagement with the technology of video grew out of a concern and interest with the body and embodied actions. In this conversation, Zhang reflects on the work of his early years, which considers the role and place of performance in his own development as an artist and that of China more broadly. Click here to register. 

Date: Thu, 28 March 2019, 11am 
Venue: A Space, Asia Art Archive, 10/F, Hollywood Centre
233 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan

Exhibition | The Body Collective: Performance Art Histories
AAA’s booth at Art Basel in Hong Kong, The Body Collective, looks at the evolution of performance art in Asia from the 1960s till today. The display features artwork and other materials drawn from AAA’s collections, which include the archives of Kwok Mangho Frog King, Ray Langenbach, Lee Wen, and Betsy Damon (Keepers of the Waters), among others. 

Related public programmes include performances and talks by artist siren eun young jung, performer and activist Maya Krishna Rao, and artist Xing Danwen. Register now.

Date: 27–31 March 2019
Venue: Booth P7, Art Basel in Hong Kong
Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre, Wan Chai

Special thanks

Form Colour Action: Eunei & Ron Lee; Yvonne Wang & Alex Turnbull; The St. Regis Hong Kong

Artist’s Lecture by Zhang Peili: The St. Regis Hong Kong

The Body Collective: Shane Akeroyd; Susan Beningson & Steve Arons; Mimi Brown & Alp Ercil; Patricia & Jonathan Crockett; Katherine Don & Daniel Touff; Catherine & Barry Freeman; Eunei & Ron Lee; Wendy Lee & Stephen Li; James Lie; Tiffany Soong & Jake Lynch; CL3 Architects Ltd.; The St. Regis Hong Kong; Art Basel in Hong Kong; alonglongtime; Artomity; Ocula

Asia Art Archive (AAA) is an independent non-profit organisation initiated in 2000 in response to the urgent need to document and make accessible the multiple recent histories of art in the region. With one of the most valuable collections of material on art freely available from its website and onsite library, AAA builds tools and communities to collectively expand knowledge through research, residency, and educational programmes.

Ethan Murrow

We Travel in Our Minds / Duddell’s / Hong Kong / Oct 10 – Mar 10 / Christine Chan Chiu

We Travel in Our Minds was the latest guest-curated exhibition that Duddell’s presented for its third consecutive autumn programme, with the aim of showcasing unique, rarely seen items from private Hong Kong collections. It highlighted unusual pieces from three collections in the Duddell’s library, replacing the books on its shelves as objects conveying knowledge, culture and history. They were complemented by a series of meticulously executed black-and-white wall drawings by Boston-based artist Ethan Murrow. Depicting imagined worlds of the whimsical and the absurd, they formed a fantastical backdrop for the objects. The result was a melange of contrasting artforms that balanced the classical with the modern, creating an interesting, serendipitous conversation between the two.

Most of the antiques were from the Claire & Francis Heritage Lane Collection, with the oldest, a white pottery bird-shaped cup, dating to the Han dynasty (202BC-220AD). There were other animal-themed vessels in the form of a parrot-shaped stoneware cup from the Northernand Southern dynasties (420-589AD) and two small Yue ware celadon ewers in the shape of tigers from the Jin dynasty (265-420AD).

Other outlandish sculptures included two small stoneware figures of mermen from the Song dynasty (960-1279AD), with human heads on the bodies of fish; they could even be described as cute. Another anthropormorphic figure is a striking pottery horse-headed court official from the Tang dynasty (618-907AD), standing majestically and solenmly tall. From the same period there was also a two-headed turtle inkstone from the Wui Po Kok Collection, and a sancai unicorn from the Songyin Ge Collection. All the objects attest to the playful imagination and creativity of Chinese artisans from bygone eras, who incorporated peculiar mythological elements into their commissions.

(left to right): Stoneware figure of a vermilion bird, 10 cm x 7.2 cm, Northern Song, AD960–1127. Stoneware figure of a merman, 9 cm x 4 cm, Northern Song, AD960–1127. 
Qingbai glazed merman with brown splashes, 9.7 cm x 5.1 cm, Song Dynasty, 960–1279.

The same spirit continues through Ethan Murrow’s wall drawings. Pastoral Monologue depicts a gigantic orb, not unlike a snow globe, being transported on a moving platform with a large exhaust pipe beneath spluttering black smoke. It is simultaneously being hoisted up by a hook. A tree has erupted from the interior landscape of the globe, breaking a metal chain tied to its trunk.

Aria Maker depicts a wooden stringed instrument with mechanical parts hanging from above, below which dangles an iron wheel connected to a large Chinese bronze ding tripod. This is in turn linked to a birdcage hanging on strings tied to two fingers of a marionette’s hand. Nothing is what it seems.

We Travel in Our Minds was, as the title suggests, an exhibition that encouraged its audience to venture out and explore a world of fantasy and the unknown. It indulged in ideas of the otherworldly, flirting with theatre, puppetry, music, mechanics and, of course, travel. By combining historical objects with modern wall drawings, it showed how creativity and
imagination traverse the boundaries of time, across cultures and through different media; that art is open to interpretation and, more importantly, can be fun.

Atlas 4013

By Gerhard Bruyns /

Cities are constructions. They consist of streets, lanes and alleys. Walls, windows, ceilings and a succession of doorways. Buildings, loose structures, canopies and streets. Trees, shrubs, bushes and garden pockets.

In a variety of combinations and orders, the binding together of any of these elements crystallise other formations: spatial complexes and neighbourhoods, articulating cultural burrows and areas of affluence. In its totality it represents a body of material that formulates an urban environment, living and non-living, operating through natural and human processes. 

However, for most of us who live in the city, we form an association through our ways of existence, in how we engage with the material world, with the buildings, structures and gardens. We build memories, link important moments to places we have seen, and savour the places we knew while becoming adults.

From anthropologist Gregory Bateson’s (1904-80) perspective, this in itself represents specific Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972), a way of thinking about the world we know and experience. Irrespective of what the actual artefact is or how that object is woven into our existence, our inner thought process formulate our real understanding of such environmental elements. This would imply that even if one object has a certain meaning to others, the object’s actual relevance comes through our ecologies of thought.

Other people have constructed similar ecologies linked to thinking. Jorge Luis Borges’ A Certain Chinese Encyclopaedia Entitled “Celestial (Emporium)” of Benevolent Knowledge (1942) in his El Idioma Analitico de John Wilkins used speculation to put animals in categories including “belonging to the Emperor”, “embalmed”, “tame”, “sirens”, “fabulous”, “stray dogs”, “frenzied”, “innumerable”, “drawn with a very fine camelhair brush and “having just broken the water pitcher”. Johann Amos Comenius’s Orbis Senualium Pictus or Visible World (1777), on the other hand, arranged “chief things” using true, full, clear, solid guidelines to order the material world.

From a purely environmental perspective, our understanding of this landscape could be reframed through other means – from a designer’s perspective and through the graphic and visual tools available within design practices. It raises the question of how such a reformulation would change our comprehension of the formal character of our immediate landscape, for something so mundane as street patterns or street names.

Queens Road field identity, pop-up and spatial installation. Previous spread: Sai Yeung Choi, field identity and pop-up. Courtesy Rice Mok Hiu Suen, Gerhard Bruyns and Environmental and Interior Design, School of Design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. 

Rice Hiu Suen Mok’s Atlas 4013, a Cartographic Space of Memory and Heritage examines the prevalent naming categories that have given Hong Kong its street names. In itself, a visual assembly of maps, analytical drawings, urban elements and historical artefacts, the body of work focuses on Hong Kong’s 4,000 streets, as an attempt to reposition a historical narrative.

Exploring the possible linkages between street types and streets names places design at the forefront of a spatial enquiry that exposes what are known as “field identities”, connecting historical accounts to present lifestyles. Such a way of thinking is an ecology of comprehension through which culture, history and lifestyle move beyond geographic locale or functional use alone.

Atlas 4013 is divided into two parts. Part one delves into the nomenclature and formative qualities of Hong Kong’s spatial distribution and streets. Overall, the territory consists of roughly 4,004 streets: 2,002 in the New Territories and on Lantau, 999 in Kowloon and 983 on Hong Kong island. Within these, 13 types of nomenclaturedefine all street names: (1) conventional historical naming (Hollywood Road); (2) building-related (Mosque Street); (3) great people (Queen’s Road); (4) place names (San Francisco Path); (5) site descriptions (Yeung Uk Road – House of Yeung); (6) literary quotations, usually from Chinese poems (Marigold Road); (7) numbering (Pat Tat Street – Eighth Street); (8) parallelism (streets named in pairs or groups from certain Chinese poems, such Lung Cheung Road and Fung Mo Street – Flying Dragon and Dancing Phoenix); (9) plants (Chang Fa Avenue – Orange Flower); (10) animals (Lung To Street – Dragon); (11) beliefs and embedding names (Luen Fu Street – Rich); (12) streets indicating a location (Queen’s Road Central); and (13) unnamed streets. Each category shows the width and breadth of the various streets and their geographic positions and possible relationships to other places classified under the same principles.

Whampoa Street field identity pop-up. Courtesy Rice Mok Hiu Suen, Gerhard Bruyns and Environmental and Interior Design, School of Design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. 

Part two closes in on the “field identities” of seven specific streets: Queen’s Road, Hollywood Road, Whampoa Street, Sai Yeung Choi Street, Boundary Street, Yeung Uk Road and Parc Oasis Road. Individual streets are redrawn layer by layer, incorporating human and natural influences. In succession, they allow for new a spatial proposition through collaging, editing and written text. Each collage is presented as both a book pop-up and as spatial installation.

Queen’s Road (Queen’s Road West, Queen’s Road Central, Queensway and Queen’s Road East) fuses the conditions of imperial artefacts, economic centres, Victoria Harbour’s coastlines and Hong Kong’s rapid development into a single field condition. The 43-page result, the most extensive among the streets examined, binds together new imagery, the “Queen’s Road mandala”, representing the one-point focus of imperial development surrounded by socio-spatial factors. Its spatial installation, a three-metre-diameter print of the mandala, forms the context for presenting the totality of Atlas 4013’s work. In pop-up format, the mandala stands out from the book pages, highlighting each factor of influence that forms the concentric layering around the British empress.

The section on Yeung Uk Road focuses on its urban village setting, the history of fortification and the new satellite towns to construct a spatial dialogue. Conceptually the streets form the common ground, binding together the various village and new townhouse typologies within a contemporary setting. The Yeung Uk spatial installation is a 2.5-metre folded panel, suspended from the ceiling, with its pop-up counterpart a double-page spatial filigree of housing typologies.

In comparison, although Parc Oasis Road’s field condition commences with a road network analysis, its final results revert to biological species the peony, marigold, magnolia, verbena and wisteria flowers as both spatial and pop-up phenomena. With its spatial installation representative of a collection of flowers suspended in mid-air by way of the street structures, the book version of Parc Oasis Road pulls together the various flower petals in one organic constellation, merging seven spatial settings into one.  

Throughout the collection of seven streets, and their renewed spatial compositions, Atlas 4013 charts the possibilities of altering course, challenging even the most spatially literate to look into other avenues of thought.