New Horizons: Ways of Seeing Hong Kong Art in the 80s and 90s Until April 24, 2022
Hong Kong Museum of Art (HKMoA) 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong Mon – Wed, Fri 10am – 6pm Sat, Sun, Public holidays 10am – 7pm
The development of Hong Kong art reached a critical juncture in the 1980s and 1990s. Numerous young artists, having graduated in Hong Kong or returned to the city after studying aboard, dedicated themselves to exploring new artistic forms and expressions through their creations. This enabled the rise of installation art, new media, contemporary photography, etc., and brought vibrancy to art creation in Hong Kong. The New Horizons: Ways of Seeing Hong Kong Art in the 80s and 90s exhibition being held at the Hong Kong Museum of Art (HKMoA) examines the new trends and breakthroughs in contemporary art in Hong Kong during the era.
With a two-year project of interviews, research and consolidation, the HKMoA worked closely with guest curator Janet Fong and her team, and invites visitors to look at the breakthroughs and accomplishments of Hong Kong artists in a new light. This was achieved through showcasing artworks by seven representative artists and artist collectives, restaging iconic art spaces of the time, and presenting archives and documents.
The exhibits include a new edition of Chan Yuk-keung’s mixed media installation Vertical Rye Field; May Fung’s video installation work She Said Why Me; Joseph Fung’s photographic works Shenzhen Series, East/West Diptychs and a series of 3D digital images, Butterfly Dream Series; Ellen Pau’s iconic work Recycling Cinema; and Choi Yan-chi’s reinterpretation of her installation Butterfly Dream as Smoke and of her video As Slow as Possible.
In addition to innovative creations by the artists, the exhibition has rebuilt the site-specific project Coffee Shop, created in 1998 by the founding members of Para Site (formerly Para/Site), including Tsang Tak-ping, Leung Chi-wo, Sara Wong, Patrick Lee, Phoebe Man, Leung Mee-ping and the second-generation member Anthony Leung. By turning the art space into a makeshift café, the artists display their experimental works in the venue to invite viewers to interact with the work and the site. The exhibition also has reconstructed the art space of the NuNaHeDuo Centre of Photography in the 1990s and showcases the photographic works by the five co-founders members Lee Ka-sing, Holly Lee, Patrick Lee, Lau Ching-ping and Blues Wong.
HKDI Gallery is honoured to stage the exhibition Dai Fujiwara The Road of My Cyber Physical Hands, the renowned Japanese designer Dai Fujiwara’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, co-organised with DAIFUJIWARA AND COMPANY. Bringing creativity to textiles, product design and beyond, Dai Fujiwara is a designer who continues to transcend creative borders. This exhibition features a first ever look into his earliest works from his time as a design student, tracing the road he has travelled through to his most recent creations.
The exhibition at HKDI Gallery is a conversation between the present and the future, capturing Fujiwara’s journey through different realms, from nature and technology to design, art, community and society; and travels through the past, present and future, blurring the borders of each.
In Sync: Music in Motion / Mar 20 – 21 Saturday – Sunday / Freespace, Art Park, West Kowloon Cultural District (MTR Kowloon Station Exit E) $180 (No handling fee)
Hong Kong music and video artists join forces to present a cross-media live performance. Musicians including Olivier Cong, Fung Lam, Mike Yip, Narbi, Bowen Li and the newly-formed Freespace Ensemble perform various genre-defying music. Simultaneously, video artists exhibit visually stunning short films in the background, creating an innovative audio-visual experience. Buy tickets now.
The programme is a celebration of rearrangements, featuring a revamped version of Olivier Cong’s spellbinding The Interpretation of Milou’s Dream with Linus Chan’s video. The audio-visual piece tells an introspective story and brings solace after an isolating year.
The Freespace Ensemble, a new group-in-residence at Freespace, will make their debut by playing Fung Lam’s rearranged pieces, including Reminiscence (taken from Hong Kong Episodes), under the backdrop of the visual works by Jess Lau Ching-wa and Anthony Lai. Mike Yip will collaborate with Narbi and Bowen Li to twine their compositions around the films by Prescott Law Ho-pui and Wong Cheuk-man.
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: www.westkowloon.hk/freespace/visit-2827
Wet feet __ dry feet: borders and games Solo exhibition by Francis Alÿs Curators: Xue Tan, Sunjung Kim Co-presented with Art Sonje Seoul Now till March 28
SNEEZE Solo exhibition by Mika Rottenberg Curator: Tobias Berger Presenter: Tai Kwun Contemporary Now till March 31
Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong 10 Hollywood Road Central, Hong Kong Tuesday to Sunday, 11am – 7pm
𝘞𝘦𝘵 𝘧𝘦𝘦𝘵 __ 𝘥𝘳𝘺 𝘧𝘦𝘦𝘵: 𝘣𝘰𝘳𝘥𝘦𝘳𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘨𝘢𝘮𝘦𝘴 gathers for the first time in Hong Kong important recent works by Francis Alÿs, one of the most influential conceptual artists of our time. Presented on the 1/F, the exhibition is structured around the artist’s interests in migration and borders, and his fascination with children’s games from around the world. This solo exhibition highlights his poetic, imaginative sensibility, anchored by geopolitical concerns and individual will while being grounded in everyday life.
We are excited to welcome all visitors again with the debut presentation of Francis Alÿs’s two newly commissioned videos that he specially created in Hong Kong for Tai Kwun Contemporary.
Mika Rottenberg’s 𝙎𝙉𝙀𝙀𝙕𝙀 also continues on the 3/F gallery, presenting immersive video installations about surreal alternative worlds of global everyday life. With an engaging yet rigorous artistic practice combining film, architectural installation, and sculpture, Mika Rottenberg is fascinated by processes of labour and of technology as well as the effects of distance and the production of value in our contemporary world.
Social Distancing Measures: Tai Kwun will adhere to the latest health and safety regulations and enforce social distancing measures.
About Tai Kwun Contemporary Tai Kwun Contemporary is the contemporary art programming arm of Tai Kwun dedicated to showcasing contemporary art exhibitions and programmes as platforms for a continually expanding cultural discourse in Hong Kong. Operated by the contemporary art team, Tai Kwun Contemporary is an integral part of Tai Kwun at the Central Police Station compound, Hong Kong.
A multimedia artist and designer, Ng Tsz-kwan (b.1972) proposes various and reflexive modes of artistic experience based on a poetics of language that unfolds at the borderline of performance. Ng graduated from The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1997 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, and later earned his master’s at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. In 2006, he co-founded multimedia design company Yucolab. His artistic practice draws from these experiences yet also departs from them. It mainly develops in two experimental directions: immersive, multisensory installations and space-oriented installations based on decontextualised, fragmented moving images. For Ng, “What we see is how we see”. His installations often question and explore the medium of the cinema and the relationships that the audience entertains with moving images in order to open up the space between them. Recently, he created an automated mobile chair that travels along a railway track within the exhibition space, a way for viewers to encounter his works while in motion, on a journey he controls. He disengages from narratives and linear modes of thinking in favour of open-ended experiences that trigger and nurture imagination.
Caroline Ha Thuc: Solitude is one of your most important series of work. It provides a very original cinematographic experience, in which an automated moving chair navigates between the works so the viewer sees the installations from specific angles and distances and for specific durations. How did you come up with such a device? Ng Tsz-kwan: I began my art journey as a painter yet quickly I tried to include 3D and time on the canvas: I used to project small images in the corners of my paintings to give them depth and to add a temporal dimension. I realised that these projections changed my relationships with the images I projected; according to the medium and the frames that I used, the perception and meaning of the images changed. This is perhaps the point of departure for my later research on screens and the cinema, and on how modes of viewing impact the audience’s experience. When you watch a movie on the tiny screens of a plane, on your mobile phone or in a movie theatre, the physical distance from the screen is often optimised.
However, what if you sit far from the screen or very close? I started my experiences with very small screens that I displayed very far from the viewer; all you could see were vague images, and you could only guess what was happening on the monitor. I was wondering if such an apparatus would trigger the audience’s curiosity.
CHT: Did it work? Did you notice any changes in viewers’ perception and understanding of moving images? NTK: I am not so sure yet and it takes time; I am still testing different modes of viewing. When I first implemented my moving chair device, I realised that some settings did not work. It was in 2018 for Solitude 1 at the Sheung Wan Civic Centre. The viewer was sitting on the chair, which stopped seven times along the journey. At that time, I worked with old Hong Kong movie footage, displayed variously on different supports and projected in different sizes. In the last part, entitled Ending that Never Ends, I juxtaposed many screens featuring the last scenes of these movies, which are all happy endings. I wanted to play with this idea: since there was no narrative in the experience of cinema I proposed, what could a happy ending mean? The projections were huge and offered an immersive experience within this “happiness”, yet it seems that the audience took it literally and did not understand that I was challenging their habits of watching movies and their usual expectations.
CHT: You leave the audience alone in front of the works, hence the title. Where does this idea come from? NTK: I noticed that in Hong Kong people do not go to the movies alone and seldom watch a movie at home on their own. I like being alone and I am a bit claustrophobic so I had this idea of a singular experience of cinema, in which I would have the space just for myself.
CHT: Paradoxically, as viewers, we are left alone but we are not free to wander among the installation since you are controlling our viewing experience. By strengthening these constraints, are you emphasising the gaps that inevitably separate spectators from moving images? NTK: I actually did not think too much about this issue of freedom before the recent Hong Kong protests. Since then, all works related to any kind of surveillance and control can be interpreted politically, but this was not my intent. When you see a movie in a theatre, you are in fact trapped for at least two hours: you cannot stand up, pause or walk around. You cannot zoom in and zoom out. When you sit in my automated moving chair, it is true that you have no choice but to look at the works the way I envision it. However, under these constraints, you may discover another relationship with moving images that brings another form of freedom.
CHT: After Solitude 1, you did not use movie footage any more but your own images. Why? NTK: After testing the vocabulary of this setting, I wanted to create my own sentences and own sceneries, so I began shooting the images myself. For Solitude 2, the work had to dialogue with another installation by Japanese artist Tsuda Michiko which pertained to flight travel, and I shot some images in two MTR stations: Prince Edward and Tuen Mun. In Hong Kong, we were in the middle of the protests and it was difficult to think of something else: these two stations were important sites of the movement, yet I did not wish to refer directly to the street violence. I chose to shoot the exact moment when the stations were closing, when the gates are closed but when the lights are still on. I was interested in that moment of transition. For me, the monitors’ screens become like windows, as if someone were peeping outside: the images constantly zoomed in and out to express these movements.
CHT: For Solitude 3 (2020) at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, the first stop of the journey was titled The End of the Road, which I found rather amusing, if not totally cynical. Because of the moving chair, we inevitably create connections between all the discontinued and isolated elements of the installation, as if we were following the wanderings of our own minds, including the gaps and confusions. How did you conceive this journey that started from the end? NTK: There is no linearity, no narrative. This road refers to a road near my place, and I liked the idea of beginning with a small corridor made from projected images. Although they might look like various works, they function as a whole and the different parts cannot be separated. The visual experience that I propose is fragmented yet all the images are somehow connected, and I hope that they can form a consistent set. At first, I tried to respond to the specificities of the site, and this is why I decided to include a moon on the large wall that is above the balcony railing. I do not like so much relying on intuition, yet this is how I started. For example, the small dark room triggered my desire to lighten everything up and this is why I created a fire room, with images of a fire burning. I worked from these initial intuitions to create the different sets that probably reflect my psychological state.
CHT: In the middle of the space, there are old-fashioned monitors with small screens featuring images of Buddhist statues. They look marginalised because they cannot be reached by the moving chair. NTK: Yes, you need to walk back into the space to see them. I felt there could be no time limit to meet these gods. I did some research about Chinese stories pertaining to gods: if you are one of them, you must have a duty. For example, the god of the kitchen protects the food, and the goddess of the sea protects fishermen. However, when they are abandoned, they lose these duties and somehow become free. I was wondering what they could do with such freedom and imagining how they might hang out. In the Chinese language there is even a term for that: 散仙.
CHT: One could say that you are more interested in the language of the cinema when it is deprived of its communication and narrative features. Is it the texture of images that interests you the most, or perhaps their imaginative potential? NTK: I try to stay away from any forms of narrative in order to explore different modes of language. In literature, American writer Raymond Carver does that very well: his fragmented pieces are usually uncompleted, but they are very strong and remain with you for a long time. In my installations, I feel fine if people just catch some impressions and leave with a feeling of frustration.
CHT: Is this poetics of language that you are exploring the very antithesis of what you are doing as a designer with Yucolab, your commercial company NTK: Sure, I guess I am reacting to my commercial work too. When you design advertisements, you need to include a message every second. The usual use of tight framing, enhanced contrast in composition, fast rhythm and shorter shots are conceived to keep the attention of viewers who otherwise are constantly distracted. This is probably why I am focusing on different forms of language that are not merely instrumentalised for communication purposes. Ideally, I would also love to have only one person as an audience.
CHT: The curator, in his statement, refers to Plato’s cave in describing the installation: what is your relationship with reality? Do you feel that we have lost contact with the real world? NTK: To be honest, I don’t feel comfortable with virtual reality, although it is a powerful technology which can generate more complete spatial experiences. Sure, somehow we have lost this contact with reality and I won’t pass judgement on this lack of interest. However, for me, physical forms or spatial experiences remain much more intriguing.
CHT: You also created installations such as Breathe IN Breathe OUT (2019) and One Minute of Void (2019) that seem to offer the pure pleasure of being transported into a multisensory environment. What is your drive for such creations? NTK: These two immersive installations are indeed quite different from Solitude, and I am still looking for a way to connect them. They focus on experiences of mindfulness. For instance, I conceive One Minute of Void as the external embodiment of a meditation process, when someone scans his or her own body. The mind focuses on each part of the body while breathing regularly and deeply. Similarly, in the installation, waves of light are browsing the space. The soundtrack suggests that heavy rain is pouring outside so that the audience feels protected in this intimate and ethereal space.
CHT: For Breathe IN Breathe OUT, you filled the Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre’s art space with inflatable balloons, as if emptiness could be filled with empty forms. You often seem to refer to the void and to the importance of breath. NTK: I have been influenced by former classmates who became monks. The balloons represent waves breaking and, metaphorically, they embody the intimate struggles one is engaged in against his or her own mind. I wanted to reflect on this moment, when one can let go his or her thoughts, so all the balloons are flying yet, from their intrinsic forms, they still bear the traces of these struggles. I am interested in the creation of spaces where people feel like taking a break, meditating or even hanging out. They would function like shelters.
CHT: What is your next project? NTK: I am working with visual artist Ivy Ma on a theatre project that will take place in City Hall this year. We are trying to experiment new ways of framing art, working between performance, cinema and visual arts.
Caroline Ha Thuc：《Solitude》是你其中一個最重要的作品系列。自動移動的座椅在作品間導航，讓觀眾可以從特定角度和距離，以及在特定時間內觀看裝置，營造了非常創新的電影體驗。你是怎麼構想出這個裝置的？ 吳子昆：剛開始接觸藝術時我是先畫畫，但很快我就嘗試將3D和時間的元素投放在畫布上。我以前會在畫的角落投影小影像，讓畫作加上深度和時間維度。我發現這些投影改變了我與投影影像的關係，影像的感知和含義會根據我使用的媒體和框架而改變，這可能是我後來研究屏幕和戲院以及觀看方式如何影響觀眾體驗的起點。透過機上的小屏幕、手機或於戲院觀看電影時，你通常都會與屏幕保持最佳的物理距離，但如果坐在距離屏幕很遠或很近的地方呢？我把很小的屏幕放於離觀眾很遠的地方開始實驗，你只能看到模糊的影像並猜測屏幕上的畫面。我想知道這樣的裝置會否引起觀眾的好奇心。
Oi! invited composer Kung Chi Shing to orchestrate a symphony in memory of the art space’s second phase of development. His composition used sounds produced by the site and its surroundings, between Oil Street and Electric Road.
Watch the first two Soundscape music performances here.
The first part of Kung Chi Shing’s haunting video City Inside a Broken Sky, Deep Night alternates black-and-white imagery of a construction site amid debris and scaffolding, the colonial-era building of the Oil Street Art Space, and a young boy. Familiar construction noises are interspersed with occasional wailing, an eerie, melancholic sound conveying despair. “Dark in every sense,” in the artist’s own words, the video is the first of four in a series called Soundscape, a meditation on the implications of construction, the use of public space and the city itself.
“Construction involves destruction,” he says. “When you destroy something, you’re erasing something that came before it, and Hong Kong is famous for erasing. Every few months an old building is gone, an old space is destroyed to build a new one.”
Soundscape was created to mark Oil Street Art Space’s expansion. With two galleries housed in a complex of historical significance, its expansion will include an indoor gallery, and an outdoor venue that will be open to the public. The space has served over the years as a yacht club during the colonial era, a monuments and antiques storage facility, and a studio space for young artists.
Using this history as a point of departure to understand the site and city today, Ivy Lin, curator of Oil Street Art Space, says the aim of the expansion is to reinvigorate audience engagement with public space by exploring ideas of sustainability, community and sharing public resources. “We would like to engage people to think about what we will be – and how they can be involved in the future space. This is why we invited Kung Chi Shing; he’s very good at creating an intimate response to the environment.”
Originally Soundscape was supposed to be a live performance conducted at sunset, in both the construction site and the courtyard in front of Oi!, with members of the audience watching from the footbridge above, resulting in a much more immersive experience. Kung had to reimagine a pandemic-friendly version, resulting in the four-part video installation.
Known for his live experimental music performed during “street concerts”, Kung traversed new creative ground with Soundscape while holding firm the core concept of his practice – examining how environments, especially public spaces, are altered by music and art.
“I don’t think music should invade a place” says the artist. “It should integrate with the environment to generate something different.” He achieves this effect by extracting everyday sounds we experience in our surroundings and combining them with his experimental creations.
Kung’s street concerts began in 2009, the same time as his interest in public space was piqued, after the controversy surrounding the public area in front of Times Square. Attempted privatisation of public space and its designated use became a focal point for the artist. He was later approached by Hong Kong Arts Centre and used the space outside it to make a statement that public space shouldn’t be used for commercial purposes. He additionally organised casual street concerts in older areas of Hong Kong, such as outside the Blue House in Wan Chai, using “primitive equipment”. In staging these intimate shows, his infusion of music into their neighbourhoods brought people together in a way that broke the monotony of their daily lives.
“It was meant to stimulate your sense beyond what you see every day,” Kung recalls. “People today are so robotic; their life is a constant routine. It’s all calculated, with a small variation of ups and downs. It’s that order that I find frustrating. I don’t want to shock people for the sake of shocking them; I want to slap them in the face and wake them up a little. Especially in Hong Kong where we’re so conservative.”
His experimental sound reached new heights in his collaborations with Peter Suart, who formed a group called The Box. It was during one of their shows that Lin first encountered Kung’s music, and recognised his practice as an artistic one.
“It’s almost making sound rather than music. From that point of view it’s close to artistic creation: musicians responding to their environment and daily issues the same way that a lot of contemporary artists do.”
Ultimately Kung’s response to his environment, specifically in City Inside a Broken Sky, is unexpected for audiences, which he likens to creating a “sense of displacement”.
“Displacement is a very powerful expression. When you put things in a place where it’s not supposed to occur, that can be very powerful. It inspires you to see it in a different light.”
The impact of the hybrid soundtrack along with the dark imagery is a discomfiting one, but also one that resonates with the current climate of uncertainty, mirroring viewers’ changed relationships with and associations of public space.
BOOKED: 2021, Tai Kwun Contemporary’s third annual celebration of art and publishing, features over 80 local and non-local participants—including artists, publishers, organisations, booksellers and more—presenting artist-made and artist-centred books, including zines, photo books, monographs, and critical or experimental writing, alongside associated publications and ephemera.
This year, due to the pandemic, BOOKED: 2021 is presented within various “pop-ups” throughout the heritage buildings at Blocks 01, 03, and 09, around the Parade Ground of Tai Kwun, and will adhere to the latest health and safety regulations and enforce social distancing measures. As a special “boutique” edition, BOOKED: 2021 brings together not only Hong Kong-based participants but also non-locals contributing from a distance through a special “twin” partner programme. BOOKED: 2021 also offers a programme of editions, special projects, and talks and workshops, both on-site and online, fostering a platform for creative practitioners and publishers who are invested in books as a medium of artistic and intellectual expression to share their work with public audiences.
Participants Hong Kong: ACO Books, Asia Art Archive, Asia Publishers Services Ltd, Blindspot Gallery, brownie publishing, Chan Wai Kwong, Chan Wai Lap, Display Distribute, dotdotdot, dung1waa2, flip & roll press, Hex Editions, Hong Kong Baptist University Academy of Visual Arts, Hong Kong Open Printshop, Idea Publishing by HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity, Ink’chacha, Kary Kwok Production, Lau Kwong Shing, Pearl Law, Lazy Press, Christy Leung, Lik Ink, MCCM Creations, Milosophy, mini press @ Tiana CloudLand, MOSSES, Mount Zero Books, Ng Sai Kit, No Reason Studio, ODD ONE OUT, Old Textbooks, ONION PETERMAN & Dry Run Press, Otter Zines, otto, Para Site, Ping Pong, Queer Reads Library, Saamsyu, SAMPLE, Small Tune Press, Soft D Press, soundpocket, Spicy Fish, Tai Yip Art Bookshop, Hang Tam, TASCHEN, Thames & Hudson, TheBookshop, thisbakery, To be confirmed (Au Wah Yan/Kwok Tze Ki/Bunchi Chan/Kenji Ide/Man Mei To/Wong Chun Hoi/Chow Yik Lam/Yip Kin Bon/Fok Hiu Tung/Kensa Hung/Chow Yik Shun/So Wai Lam), Hou Lam Tsui, Union Publisher, Sandy Wang, Kan Tai Wong, Wu Jiaru, YeP YeP, ZINE COOP, 10 Chancery Lane Gallery
Asia: commune Press (Tokyo), crevasse (Ibaraki), Dialect (Macau), FULE (Taipei), Silas Fong | Hye Kyoung Kwon (Seoul/Hong Kong), Hiccup! (Taipei), Koshigoe School (Kanagawa), nos:books (Taipei), the shop (Guangzhou), Typesetting SG (Singapore), Zen Foto Gallery (Tokyo)
International: Afterall (London), Art Metropole (Toronto), BlackMountain Books (Madrid/Hong Kong), Olga Bubich (Minsk), ELEVATORTEETH (Portland, Oregon), Fair Enough (Zurich/Beijing/Lisbon), Galerie Kamel Mennour (Paris), hato store (London), Independent Publishing Resource Center (Portland, Oregon), motto (Berlin), Mousse Magazine & Publishing (Milan), onestar press / Three Star Books (Paris), Primary Information (New York)
Special Projects Raven Chacon, David Horvitz, Dorothy Wong Ka Chung, Benjamin Ryser (o!sland), Popo-Post Art Group, Short Hair Studio, Yim Sui Fong
soundpocket / Hong Kong / Dec 11-17, 2020 / Jacqueline Leung /
Originally conceived as a series of live performances in May, unconstrained tone was an online screening of seven new audiovisual works by 19 emerging Hong Kong artists. The culmination of a year-long project, it aimed to let participating artists, mostly from composition and videography backgrounds, experiment with ways of bringing sound and image together. Despite its postponement and digital presentation, much of unconstrained tone remained in the here and now. Each work was only up for 24 hours, after which it could no longer be viewed.
The programme opened with Synchronization (2020), a multimedia improvisation by musician Kong Chan and filmmaker Wong Hoi-yin. In a dark interior, a dancer moved to music performed using dongxiao flute, electronic sound effects and The World of Dreams, a set of lyrics composed by Hong Yi, an eminent Buddhist monk, sung in the Cantonese naamyam singing tradition. The dancer’s movements were processed by a visual mixer and projected onto the wall, producing illusory shadows that in turn informed the musicians’ playing. A work of simultaneous creation, Synchronization formally embodies the harmony of life’s cycles and of existence, as the lyrics demonstrate in translation: “The wide and manifold world/is but one and the same.”
Other works in unconstrained tone are also collaborations. Sourcing sound and footage from their immediate surroundings, Phantom Muyu (2020) by Wong Chun-hoi, Peace Wong and Daniel Yung Tsz-hong gives humdrum contemporary a surreal ambience. It begins with a vibrant electronic track mixed with everyday noise similar to the muyu, a percussive instrument – sounds of typing on a mobile phone and the click of a tongue overlay spoken lyrics, more rhythmic than meaningful as words are repeated until they make no sense. The visual segment that follows, a one-take fisheye shot of a couple leaving their apartment in silence, distorts reality, conveying urban isolation with its claustrophobic, globular view.
Much of what was shown relates to Hong Kong’s curtailed social movement and the subsequent trauma. Distancing – A Mirror of Absence (2020) by Sam Cheng Kui-sum, Lau Sai-wing and Guyshawn Wong expresses the inescapable nature of anguish even when overseas. Framed around ideas of travel and withdrawal, the work juxtaposes footage of tourists enjoying Venice and scenes from the protests on a split screen. The declaration of the National Security Law echoes McDonald’s club membership recruitment, while a boat ride on Venice’s canals resonates with a gushing fire hydrant on a deserted road beside Polytechnic University, where one of the most intense sieges took place. These seemingly nonchalant associations are interspersed with indications of violence – a seagull pecks at the corpse of a pigeon; monochrome mosaics of battle linger amid mundane conversations on a bus, suggesting the continuation of harm even in the aftermath. By nature, videos imply a certain linearity, but the use of collage editing portrays the patchwork of memory and recognition even as time moves forward, denoting the convolution of present experience and what it means to be in the moment.
Andio Lai’s path as an artist has been refreshingly indirect. Each personal misstep and doubt forced a self-assessment and redirection to where he is now – and “now” does not necessarily refer to his status as a visual artist. It is a label that sits uncomfortably for him, but if the word “artist” is associated with musicians, cartoonists, gamers, players and those that draw creative stories, then it is a little closer to being an accurate description.
After finishing secondary school, Lai – as was expected by the traditional school he attended – began studies at Monash University in Melbourne, on track for a career in business. He settled into university alongside close school friends from Hong Kong during his first-year foundation course, but the following year he found the first-year economics degree courses much less satisfying than reading the campus library’s selection of sci-fi books. Unhappy with his studies, realising he was not cut out to be a businessman and mildly homesick, he returned to Hong Kong in late 2009.
Lai grew up in a small Sham Shui Po flat in a supportive family, with two sisters who also shared his passion for stories, play acting and watching Japanese cartoons on after-school TVB. His father worked in the office of a toy company and often brought home samples for his children to play with: these toys were happily incorporated into fantasy and make-believe games, an influence on Lai’s current art work, with its playroom aesthetic. He first became interested in gaming and electronics through model racing cars, with his first racing track bought by his father, who also modified a four-wheel-drive model car; modifications of toys are central in Lai’s current work. In his primary school years, he played with Lego and started modelling with wood, as constructing objects became an early interest. As a teenager, he started learning guitar by watching YouTube lessons and joining online guitar forums. In Australia, it was the guitar that had been one of his escapes from uninteresting academic studies.
In November 2009 and back in Hong Kong, Lai’s hobbies, which were associated with art and music, offered a direction in his personal and academic restart. His quiet personality led him to the safe, studious environment of Hong Kong public libraries: there he studied photography, drew cartoons and joined online forums related to his interests. Concerned, still, with future job opportunities, in April 2010 he started an Open University short course in cartoon drawing, learning practical skills, aesthetics, the business of cartooning, layout and the storytelling of Japanese manga. This enjoyable course expanded his aspirations: to his surprise, he realised that Hong Kong cartoonists were capable of drawing just as well as their Japanese counterparts.
Putting together a portfolio, Lai also applied and was accepted in September 2010 into a two-year associate degree in design at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He was introduced to industrial and laser design, and further improved his understanding of photography, comics and art. Although the design course was generally unsatisfactory because, he feels, “good designers don’t necessarily make good teachers”, a few teachers gave their students encouragement to be themselves; for Lai’s unconventional, informal design and non-mainstream approach to art, this sentiment allowed an open and personal approach to creativity. Graduating from this associate degree was a stepping stone to formal art-related studies.
Not really understanding the requirements for entering a fine art course, Lai prepared a portfolio heavily weighted towards comics and cartoons, not the usual figure studies. He applied to all of Hong Kong’s undergraduate fine arts courses, but his sole offer was from the School of Creative Media (SCM) at City University of Hong Kong. SCM had an eclectic range of teachers – themselves filmmakers, fabricators, animators and sound artists – who saw the quirky, nerdy potential creativity in Lai’s cartoon stories.
Soon after returning from Australia and in parallel with his PolyU studies, Lai joined a guitar group that regularly played together in the park next to the Shing Mun River. Led by an older devotee of the acoustic guitar who gave free lessons and encouragement, Lai developed a love for the acoustic guitar and the music of Jack Johnson, John Mayer and James Blunt. He was a member for three years and this ability to play music was to be carried into his later interest in and development of eclectic electronic sounds.
Lai began studying at SCM in September 2012. These student years introduced him to serious art, theory and ideas, and various approaches to artmaking. He was encouraged to cross traditional art boundaries, and met fellow students who similarly wanted to explore. One of the first student group tasks in which he participated resulted in what he refers to as a “spray can”. The project’s aim was for students to explore the functionality of an object. Lai and two other students developed a simple electronic musical instrument that could be held in the hand, its sound altering when it was tilted and moved, and a button adding another sound dimension when pressed. This simple object has retained its fascination for Lai, and his later “spray cans” are often constructed in see-through cylindrical acrylic that has two moving parts, like a kaleidoscope, and a button. The inner electronics, wires and connections can be seen and are often embellished with LED lighting; variations might require connection to his favoured Teenage Engineering OP-1 synthesiser, a computer or external speaker. These spray cans still feature in his musical performances today.
Teachers such as film director Patrick Tam and film historian Ka Ming gave influential classes in film history, production, direction and screenwriting. Hector Rodriguez introduced film theory, and Samson Young experimentations with sound. A range of art was discussed: dada, bio-art and the international Fluxus group of artists. It was Fluxus that demonstrated to Lai that art could use traditional media and found and repurposed objects. Art could then be something else: objects reassembled to produce light, sound, video or music. The boundaries of his own art suddenly expanded to incorporate his own objects of obsession and fascination, particularly toys. In 2013, Lai joined a Fotan industrial building studio with five other artists, and has remained a member. His studio-mates, rotating over time, give him support and share their different approaches to artmaking.
After completing a BA in creative media at the SCM, Lai wished to continue the art-focused momentum of his studies and applied for a MA in fine arts at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, graduating in 2017. These layers of academic study have nicely underpinned his practical work as a performer, musical instrument maker and, currently, a teacher in a secondary school. His interests in play, audience participation, toys and sound have led to his self-described focus on “media archaeology, studying tools development and the relative history of interfaces, [which] focuses on the subject matter of experimental instruments, playing and human-machine relations”.
This is best seen in his membership of Floating Projects, a collective of artists interested in film, animation, installation, sound, history and video. Initiated by SCM teacher Linda Lai, Floating Projects began in an industrial unit in Wong Chuk Hang and now operates in a Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre studio in Shek Kip Mei. One of their first exhibitions, co-curated by Lai, was the wonderfully inventive Toy as Medium (2016) group exhibition that explored toys, playing and gaming. In a departure from his usual work, he set up an installation of a sofa, TV and video game consoles, where visitors could play Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros game. Located near the entrance, it replicated the common situation of a small Hong Kong flat with children playing video games while their parents annoyingly walked past in front of the screen.
Lai’s usual work features toys that he reconstitutes as musical instruments: quirky, colourful and easy to play. For example, using the contours of a toy dinosaur, he rewires it with antennae to make a theremin, an early electronic instrument whose sound is controlled by antennae sensing the relative position of hand movements to oscillators that produce different frequencies and volumes broadcast over a speaker.
Lai strongly believes that an audience makes an art work complete. In formal exhibitions, he often requires the active involvement of users with his toy objects: they can handle and play with them to produce sound. He does not fuss if a work is damaged – indeed, it gives him the opportunity to repair, adjust and modify it. Consequently, he has adopted a rough aesthetic in his constructions: his art is focused not on appearances but on playability and fun.
One of his early public performances was at Sonic Anchor #24 Interfacing Dynamics (2015), organised by Hong Kong sound group Contemporary Musicking. Lai stood behind a table fully set out with his toys repurposed as musical instruments, variously rigged up to oscillators, speakers, a computer and an OP-1 synthesiser. Lai’s performances are pure experimental sound, but the experience has other dimensions: it is visually beautiful with the bright array of toys that he uses, it is experiential and it is about play. He says that when giving a musical performance, he “enjoys the playing, not so much the resulting sound”.
It is refreshing that Lai’s approach to art is generally carefree and audience-centred. His art brings a playful happiness to viewers, and fulfils the need in any art scene for humour and enjoyment. There is a lovely lightness in his work; his experience as a performer can be genuinely replicated by his audience, who can play with the same repurposed toys in an exhibition to produce similar sound effects, and enjoy the same pleasure of playing as the artist who made them.