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Various Artists

Borrowed Scenery / Cattle Deport Artist Village / Hong Kong / Dec 14 – Jan 12 / Christie Lee /

In Japanese garden design, borrowed scenery is the practice of incorporating the surrounding landscape into the composition of your garden.

It’s unclear what Borrowed Scenery, a group exhibition of six Hong Kong-based artists and artist groups at Cattle Depot Artist Village, is borrowing from, and what scenery it might conjure. According to co-curators André Chan and Jing Chi-yin Chong, the show isn’t so much a direct reflection of the Hong Kong protests as a general reflection of what’s been happening in the world. Yet it’s difficult not to see the art through the eyes of the local sociopolitical movement.

Ko Sin Tung’s Guardian (2019) shows someone gently weaving together a barbed wire fence in three videos. The title is ironic, for while a fence is meant to protect, Ko’s video evokes images of the menacing rows of barbed wire installed around Kwun Tong Police Station ahead of a march in the neighbourhood last August. Opposite this work, Sarah Lai’s “graffiti columns” seem to be a direct reference to the city’s protest graffiti.

Borrowed Scenery, Vvzela Kook, installation view, 2020. 
Photo: Christie Lee.

Ocean Leung’s Encounters (Never Mind the Cloying Sentiments) (2019), comprising steel tables that are stacked atop one another, and four videos – one of which displays a ferociously burning fire – is reminiscent of the barricades protesters built as a tactic to delay police clearing actions, but also the “bridges” they constructed on Harcourt Road during the early days of the protests and, before that, the 2014 Occupy movement. Shreds of our current cityscape are everywhere. As the curators led journalists around the installation at an opening event for the show, someone asked, “Can I climb this?”. That was met with a hesitant “Technically, yes. But I don’t believe it’s meant for that.” It was reminiscent of footage of protesters hurriedly climbing over makeshift bridges to either block roads or escape police attacks during marches. If art is ultimately linked to play and can act as a “play-generating yeast”, as philosopher Henri Lefebvre suggested in Critique of Everyday Life (1947), what happens if that sense of play is disrupted by collective trauma?

Lai Lon Hin’s Black Dream (2019) pieces together more than 20 snapshots taken with a phone in a video loop – a wide open mouth, traffic lights that have been tampered with, a doll’s head. While some images, like the traffic lights, evoke the protests, others are shots of day-to-day city life – and yet, in part due to the speed with which one image flips to the next, there appears to be little differentiation between the two groups of photos, with one appearing to meld into the other. In normal times, art has the power to transport our senses beyond the world we’re living in. But in tumultuous times like this, it appears that the surrealism of the everyday overwhelms any speculative power that art is supposed to offer.

C&G Artpartment’s On the Fire 2018 and Our Next Generation and Us (both 2018) are two of the few works that don’t directly evoke the protests, and are the strongest of the bunch. The latter is particularly succinct. In the video, founders Gum Cheng and Clara Cheung learn Putonghua from their daughter through a pop quiz, exposing the fact that Cantonese, the native tongue of many born and bred Hongkongers, always appears to take second place – to English during British colonial rule and then to Putonghua after the 1997 handover. The work, and the title of the exhibition, recall Richard Hughes’ 1968 book Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time. As inhabitants of a colony, Hughes argued in his book, Hongkongers had always been living in a borrowed place and time, and it is this mentality, with no regrets for the past or worries for the future, that allowed an entrepreneurial spirit to flourish. It should follow that Hong Kong, upon its return to China in 1997, would no longer be living in a borrowed time and place. But that didn’t happen; while Hong Kong might not be living in a borrowed place, it is still living on borrowed time, as shown by how differently many Hongkongers view themselves from their mainland Chinese counterparts.

Vvzela Kook’s Confidential Record: Execution (2019) is a VR work whose message, “Civilisation is sterilisation”, can be applied to almost any civilisation, but particularly evokes the Uyghur Muslims who have been sent to re-education camps in mainland China.

The show never really answers the question: what is Borrowed Scenery borrowing from? The ongoing protests in Hong Kong? The viewer’s emotions during this tumultuous time? It could be a timely show, but some of the works hew too closely to reality. That dilemma appears to take literal form in Kong Chun-hei’s United As An Obstacle, a metal structure that blends seamlessly with the feeding troughs at the Cattle Depot. If art’s power lies in its ability to say “What if?”, what can it do when reality is becoming stranger than fiction? While Borrowed Scenery raises more questions than answers, it does point out one thing: that our way of seeing and experiencing art and the world has already undergone major shifts at a time when ideological and physical clashes appear to engulf all aspects of life.

14th Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival

Jun 5 – 28, 2020

The 14th Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival will be held from 5 to 28 June 2020, with 54 local and overseas films to be screened at Broadway Cinematheque, MOViE MOViE Cityplaza and PREMIERE ELEMENTS. Tickets are now available at broadway circuit.

9 Themed Programmes  
11 local and 26 international short films are to be screened and make 9 themed programmes. Each programme, namely “Shades of Youth”, “Spot the Difference”, “Knots Untied”, “Stormy Family”, “Home-breaking”, “Times-a-changing”, “Loneliness is the Best Antidote”, “No Harm Kids”, “No Pain, No Gain”, consists of 3-5 local and international short films. 

6 Must-watch
Opening Film Miyamoto. Directed by Tetsuya Mariko, a Japanese film director and scriptwriter, the film depicts the struggle of a salaryman Miyamoto (Sosuke Ikematsu). Vowing to protect his girlfriend (Yu Aoi), Miyamoto start fight against villain even the possibility to win is almost nil.

2 Special Feature: The Cinema of Tetsuya Mariko. Our guest filmmaker this year who established a unique kind of film style based on fist-fighting, in order to survive in this cruel society. By his innovative might freshen Hong Kong audience up in dealing with our daily life difficulties.

Filmmakers to Watch series. Same as last year, Fresh Wave would like to recommend some Asian emerging filmmakers to our audience. This year the programme will showcase 10 short films directed by Taiwanese director Lin Ya-yu and Malaysian director Leong Siew-hong.

4 Injustice is happening in every corner in the World. In the programme Times-a-changingBelated Listen from Local Competition; Look At The Sky, A Siege (winner of CILECT Prize 2019 – Fiction) & All Day from International Selection will be screened.

5 Local Competition Short Films. 11 shorts from our local filmmakers will be screened including Chan Kam-hei’s This Is Not The End, Lam Sen’s Grace, Ho Yuk-fai’s Eternal Sunshine, Wong Ka-ki’s Wild Child, etc. May their concepts and ideas get into audience’s heart through the camera.

6 International Selections. See yourselves in the other perspectives. Short films from young filmmakers around the world will be showcased including A Day Out, Where is Spring, My Planet, Yuwol: The Boy Who Made The World Dance, Sisters and Tiptoe etc. 

Programme details: https://bit.ly/2WRgjm8
Buy tickets now: https://www.cinema.com.hk/en/movie/special/25

Programme Enquiry
Simon Au (Festival Manager)
Tel: 3619 4565

Media Enquiry
Wong Wai Lun (Communications Officer)
Tel: 3619 4520

Jeffrey Shaw

WYSIWYG / By Brady Ng /

Sometimes, art can leave its viewers scratching their heads. Much of it is staged to be seen from a distance in sanitised rooms, short pieces of text pasted beside it lazily flicking at pre-verbal notions. You might not engage with these objects beyond mental acrobatics or passive sensations. What you see or feel is often exactly what you get.

Though that plight persists, the emergence of participatory art in the late 1950s and early 1960s shook things up. One of the artists who sought to transform the process of viewing art into active participation in its creation, Jeffrey Shaw developed a practice that riffed off the technological developments of the day. Anyone who approaches his work is meant to handle the apparatus he designed and built – clunky monitors (now slimmed down), stationary bicycles (now more robust), dials, knobs, switches, sensors.

Shaw has been based in Hong Kong for 11 years. In 2009, he joined City University of Hong Kong as its chair professor of media art, and was dean of the institution’s School of Creative Media until 2015. Before that, he was the founding director of the ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe in Germany, and co-founded the iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research at the University of New South Wales in Australia, his home country.

Eavesdrop by Jeffrey Shaw, David Pledger, 2004/2019.
Courtesy the artist, Osage Art Foundation, and Centre for Applied 
Computing and Interactive Media, School of Creative Media, 
City University of Hong Kong.

A solo show for Shaw in Hong Kong was long overdue. WYSIWYG at Osage Gallery draws on 50 years of his artistic practice and includes objects from decades of hardware experiments as well as works that have been modified with new, smaller components.

In computer parlance, WYSIWYG, which stands for “what you see is what you get”, refers to a user interface where the layout on a screen is exactly what will be printed on paper, with the monitor displaying font effects and line breaks accurately. It was an important step in personal computing, one that made word processors more accessible to people without specialised training, fundamentally changing how humans interacted with what was new technology at the time – much as Shaw’s art draws in viewers, prompting them to physically interact with his works.

Golden Calf (1994/2018) stood at the centre of the Osage show – at the “axis mundi” of the exhibition, the artist said during a tour of it. An iPad rests on a plinth. Pick it up and the tablet’s camera detects patterns on the marble slab set on the pedestal to generate a three-dimensional rendering of the work’s titular object. Move around, and the image continually renders in real time, including reflections on the polished golden surface of its surroundings, produced by interpreting visual data piped in through four cameras set within the plinth.

Fall Again, Fall Better by Jeffrey Shaw, Sinan Goo, 2012. 
Courtesy the artist and Osage Art Foundation.

Golden Calf brings together a couple of ideas. One is a direct biblical reference to the cult image that was made by the Israelites when Moses ascended Mount Sinai. The fact that it is presented in augmented reality calls to mind the frothy venture capital poured into tech startups that have a deep vocabulary of techno-marketing speak but no plans for sustainable businesses, as well as claims that the most valuable resource is no longer oil but data – virtual slivers of information that describe our movements, habits and personalities.

Another concept embedded in the work is our relationship with technology. To fully experience the work, we need to handle the tablet, aim it properly, walk in a circle and view it on a screen. The original iteration of Golden Calf involved a clunky 13-inch monitor with a sign that read “pick me up” attached to it, because people weren’t used to handling visual output devices in such a way a quarter-century ago. This arrangement augured the prevalence of “black mirrors” in our lives, as well as our dependence on such devices to remain connected to other people. Though originally intended as a playful system, handling the iPad in Golden Calf can be a disorienting experience. Accessing the work requires situational awareness in physical space combined with attentive mental focus on a virtual environment. Our gaze is never meant to leave the “statue” of a false god.

Another of Shaw’s works, Virtual Sculptures (1981/2019) also requires viewers/participants to experience the installation on circular footpaths. As one of the world’s first augmented reality art works, it was an exercise in fusing tech with art, featuring a design that prompts the viewer to take control and operate it. A CRT monitor is mounted on a tripod, screen side up. Using a Fresnel lens and a semi-transparent mirror, graphics generated by an Apple II computer – including wireframe images of a cube, and a plane from the first Flight Simulator video game – are projected into our physical space, viewable only through a black box that is on top of the whole setup.

Heavens Gate Anamorphosis by Jeffrey Shaw, Harry de Wi, 1987/1993. 
Courtesy the artist, Osage Art Foundation, and Centre for Applied Computing and 
Interactive Media, School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong.

At Osage, the tripod was placed within a blown-up Cycloramic photograph produced by Hong Kong photographer John Choy depicting the city’s central business district without people shortly after 6am. The names of businesses including luxury-brand shops and bank branches have been removed, with the spaces left blank, though reflections of their logos and signs remain on glossy surfaces. Other traces tell us what the city is going through: a makeshift roadblock remains on a road that is normally packed with traffic, and Chinese graffiti reads “Hong Kong add oil”, a popular slogan that is posted on social media, painted all over the city and shouted out of windows at night.

Like Golden Calf, viewers are compelled by the setup of Virtual Sculptures to grip the work and move with it. Take it to the right bearing, tilt it to the proper angle and look into the box, and you’ll see the computer-generated fragment “FUTURE?” floating before the vacant street. That graphic was present in the original work too, but its latest iteration taps into new uncertainties and anxieties that have emerged in Hong Kong.

The interplay between work and physical input continues in Eavesdrop (2004/19), which the artist calls a “film that is not a film”. Step inside and you’ll find a mounted projector ready for you to rotate and aim at a cylindrical projector screen. Depending on where the projector points, a different narrative unfolds and the viewer, peering into a club, eavesdrops on conversations between pairs of characters, including a mafioso and his puppet lover, an older married couple who pretend that they are strangers, and a journalist and his interview subject – a revolutionary or terrorist who blows himself up after nine minutes, killing everyone in the club who is still alive at that point (the older couple kill themselves beforehand). The video loops back to the beginning, and we realise that two men seated next to each other are aware that, for all who are in the premises, time folds onto itself. They need to relive their deaths over and over again, dying every nine minutes.

Recombinatory Poetry Wheel by Jeffrey Shaw, Sarah Kenderdine, 2018. 
Courtesy the artist, Osage Art Foundation, and Centre for Applied Computing and 
Interactive Media, School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong.

Though time carries the narrative forward, the viewer determines what information is revealed. It’s like a video game controlled from a first-person point of view; there is a narrow, limited field of vision and sound, and we are forced to abandon all sense of periphery. To piece together the entire scene, we need to be nimble and direct the projector’s lens to different portions of the screen.

Other works in WYSIWYG demanded viewers’ participation too, like Fall Again, Fall Better (2012), where we step onto a mat to make digitally rendered puppets collapse; or Legible City (1989–91), where we pedal on a stationary bicycle to navigate Manhattan, Amsterdam or Karlsruhe, reading text along the streets that forms stories about each city. And in Recombinatory Poetry Wheel (2018), we twist a knob to splice together snippets from poems by Singapore’s Edwin Thumboo, recited by the man himself. These works only function properly if we contribute.

Shaw uses technology to drive home the point that art is your business too: that it doesn’t need to be something haughty, housed in sterile, bleak, imposing environments. Perhaps this is best encapsulated by Waterwalk (1969/2019), a PVC tetrahedron filled with air that people can step within and traverse the surfaces of lakes, rivers and oceans. It was a project by the Eventstructure Research Group, of which Shaw was a member. At Osage, the artist showed footage of the original demonstration in Amsterdam in 1969 on a boxy CRT monitor, as well as of a restaging during the 2019 Venice Biennale on a much thinner LCD screen. Everyone who tried it emerged from the bubble with a cheek-to-cheek grin. How could they not? Art had just literally given them the chance to walk on water.

Various Artists & Josh Haner

Disruptive Matter & The New York Times: Carbon’s Casualties / K11 Atelier HACC / Hong Kong / Jan 17 – Feb 16, 2020 / Ellen Wong /

Two exhibitions inaugurated HACC, the new venue run by the K11 Art Foundation that opened in Quarry Bay in January: Disruptive Matter, a group show of works about sustainable and innovative designs; and The New York Times: Carbon’s Casualties, a prize-winning collection of climate photography. Following in the footsteps of Murakami vs Murakami at Tai Kwun last year and the recent Hong Kong Museum of Art exhibition A Sense of Place: from Turner to Hockney, K11 experimented with a pay model at the new venue, charging HK$80 for admission. While the appeal of the former two exhibitions lies in the renown of the artists, the exhibitions at HACC were bolder, featuring less famous names. Curated by Anouchka van Driel, Disruptive Matter brought together works from 12 designers and artists addressing environmental issues, while The New York Times:
Carbon’s Casualties
showcased the climate photography of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Josh Haner.

The New York Times: Carbon’s Casualties, installation view, 2020. 
Courtesy the artist and K11 Art Foundation.

In the present age of social media, visually impactful, sensational, dramatic photographs are favoured by newspapers and other publications – the ones that create the biggest impact, drive up click rate and provoke responses. But contemporary documentary photography is also converging with art. The photographs in the Haner exhibition recorded the ecological disasters suffered by communities and ecosystems around the world, but with admirable restraint. For example, the photograph of Greenland at the entrance seems like a typical piece of landscape photography, but in fact Haner has captured a gigantic flowing meltwater stream between bodies of ice produced by a melting glacier. Climate change is like a silent beast pretending to be ordinary, and Haner, either deliberately or inadvertently, has injected a sense of ordinariness into his work to create a double-layered meaning.

Continuing in the vein of Haner’s epic narrative, Disruptive Matter explored the subject of climate change from various angles. The solutions here were markedly more pragmatic: small adjustments that create change in the world. Documentary Kingyo Kingdom (2013) by Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen echoed Haner’s work, documenting and dissecting the commodification of goldfish in Japan, through which we could see how the climate crisis took shape. The curator proposed a number of concrete solutions, such as Qiang Huang’s Bike Scavengers (2019), which encourages the public to upcycle discarded shared bicycles and turn them into new
and valuable products by incorporating semi-finished parts he has designed. Although some of the design plans on show lacked imagination and were unable to support the narrative the exhibitions proposed, as a whole the exhibitions were relatively well-rounded.

Yellowstone National Park, United States. Visitors walk past Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone, where warming temperatures have brought rapid changes. Winters are shorter. Less snow is falling. Summers are hotter and drier. In a few decades, this iconic American landscape will not be the same. Courtesy the artist and K11 Art Foundation.

On the topic of sustainability, K11 Art Foundation’s decision to charge for admission to the new venue is a healthy attempt as far as establishing a long-term artistic ecosystem in Hong Kong is concerned. It recalls Taiwanese artist Chou Yu-cheng demanding NT$100 for admission to the Asian Art Biennial to see his work 100 (2015), as a way of questioning whether free admission to museums in Taiwan would lead to the long-term collapse of the artistic ecosystem. Nevertheless, in the long run, the operational stability of K11 Art Foundation is yet to be seen, because it has already run too many unsustainable venues in the past decade, including the chi art spaces in Clear Water Bay and Central, neither of which survived longer than a few exhibitions.

Howie Tsui

Parallax Chambers / Burrard Arts Foundation / Vancouver  / 10 Jan – 7 Mar, 2020 / Elliat Albrecht /

Two years ago, while passing by Aberdeen Fish Market after it had closed for the night, Howie Tsui wandered inside to consider the tanks in the dark. As the artist stood there alone, he noticed inky liquid steadily sloshing over the market floor and into his shoes, later realising that it was part of a nightly ritual in which stagnant water is flushed out of the aquariums.

A similar teeming tank is a recurring motif in Tsui’s exhibition Parallax Chambers at Burrard Arts Foundation in Vancouver, where Hong Kong-born Tsui is based. The centrepiece of the show is the fantastical animation Parallax Chambers (2018-), made from scans of hundreds of Tsui’s ink-and-marker drawings. Projected against one wall in a darkened room, the work features spectral imagery inspired by the wuxia martial arts fiction series Legend of the Condor Heroes, Hong Kong cinema and a grisly fish in a tank with a fluctuating water level. Various haunted-looking characters are seen impaled by tree trunks, praying, fighting and dying inside crowded rooms as lasers jut across the screen.

Complementing the video elsewhere in the room were four framed works, including two lightbox lenticular prints of images from Retainers of Anarchy – Joyride (2018) and Winged Assassin (2018) – and the beautiful ink-on-goat-parchment drawing The peel, the bark, the tome (White Camel Mountain) (2019), which was mirrored on the opposite wall by Parallax Neon (White Camel Mountain) (2019). These still works offer visitors an opportunity to closely contemplate Tsui’s striking drawing style, which eschews rules of perspective or depth at the service of otherworldly drama.

In 2018, Tsui exhibited an earlier version of Parallax Chambers at Art Labor Gallery in Shanghai; as Nooshfar Afnan described it in Artomity, the animation offered a “peek into the magical world of wuxia characters as they fight or purge themselves from poison”. So too does its successor on view in Vancouver; yet as opposed to the earlier iteration, which followed a consistent narrative, this updated work is live rendering. Thanks to programming assistance from Remy Sui, the scenes unfurl in a chaotic manner – their lighting conditions, backdrops, soundtracks and sequences are determined at random by a humming computer hidden behind the gallery wall.

Both visually and thematically, Parallax Chambers can be seen as a continuation of Tsui’s Retainers of Anarchy (2017), a tremendous animation set within the infamously lawless Kowloon Walled City, which also used wuxia motifs to explore the erosion of social order. While the disjointed viewing experience of Parallax Chambers denies visitors the narrative gratification of Retainers of Anarchy, its violence, discord and unpredictability are reflective of present-day Hong Kong, which can often feel like it’s overflowing with sociopolitical tensions, leaving many gasping for air. At the gallery, Tsui pointed out a figure in the animation being hit by sticks wielded by an invisible hand. “It looks like someone being beaten with police batons,” he said.

Image: Winged Assassin by Howie Tsui, Lenticular lightbox, 62.5 x 62.5 cm, edition of 8, 2018. Courtesy the artist and Burrad Arts Foundation, Vancouver.

Gordon Cheung

Tears of Paradise / Edel Assanti / London / Jan 17 – Mar 18, 2020 / Margot Mottaz /

Geopolitics. If a single word summarises the theme of Gordon Cheung’s latest series of works (all 2020) on display at Edel Assanti in London, that would be it. In the single-room exhibition Tears of Paradise, a large hanging installation and five equally sized paintings-cum-collages confront us with the major infrastructural initiatives in China that represent the foundation of Xi Jinping’s “Chinese dream” of global hegemony. The scale of these developments is unprecedented in human history and simply unfathomable for most people, especially those of us living in the west. 

Three works that deal with hyperconnectivity – bringing people and goods closer together than ever – hang side by side on one wall. The first is String of Pearls, a map of the coastal countries along the US$1 trillion Belt and Road Initiative. Its key hubs and ports appear as luminescent jewels that shine with the promise of direct trade routes between China and more than 70 countries across Asia, Africa and Europe. The third is Megalopolis, a close-up of the sprawling Greater Bay Area, where the planned consolidation of 11 cities under a unified administration will soon form the most highly populated agglomeration in the world, at a towering 70 million-plus inhabitants.

Tears of Paradise, installation view, 2020. 
Courtesy the artist and Edel Assanti, London.

In the centre, the title painting Tears of Paradise juxtaposes the Opium Wars, symbolised by poppy flowers blooming in the foreground, and the current plans for the new railway network in the GBA that will, by 2030, reach a total length of 1,890 km and connect all major regional cities to Guangzhou in under an hour. The historical events that led to the Century of Humiliation are here superseded by the contemporary innovations that are intended to overcome it. 

I chanced on the London-based artist during my visit to the gallery, and over the course of an hour, he spoke of each of the scenes in nuanced terms without any of the cynicism that many have attributed to his treatment of the subject matter. He was instead in awe of a nation’s ability to achieve such incredible engineering feats and, at the same time, saddened by the difficult truth that with every advancement on this scale comes huge sacrifice. 

Towers of Water and Desert of the Real, shown together on the opposite wall, are explicit commentaries on the negative impact these developments can have on a local level.

In Towers of Water, the rivers that cross the Tibetan Plateau look electrically charged, alluding to the growing numbers of dams – already in the tens of thousands – being built to supply China with hydropower. Sadly, these sources of renewable energy destabilise ecosystems, displace entire communities and drown cities in the process.

In Desert of the Real, settlements in northwest China’s Xinjiang region, home to the Uyghur Muslim ethnic minority, are framed by a monumental poplar tree, a traditional building from the Xinjiang city of Kashgar and a modern bridge. Officially described by the Chinese government as re-education camps to combat terrorism and maintain peace in one of the busiest intersections along the Belt and Road due to its proximity to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia, these settlements are in fact sinicisation centres where millions of people are detained and indoctrinated.

Tears of Paradise, installation view, 2020. 
Courtesy the artist and Edel Assanti, London.

Cheung has borrowed codes from sci-fi, the Romantic sublime and traditional Chinese landscape paintings to produce five equivalent compositions, each containing, from the bottom up, the human scale (singled-out motifs like buildings and boats), the harnessed land (built infrastructure), the divine (sacred mountains) and the near future (planned developments). The works are layered visually, but also in their making and meaning. Small rectangular cut-outs from financial newspapers, combined with acrylic and sand, are pasted across the canvases in a visual patchwork reminiscent of a desktop saturated with open apps and browser windows. Today, technology, big data and capitalism are the backbones of economic and political growth.

Financial newspapers are employed again as the primary medium for Home, the large installation suspended on bamboo rods under the skylight at the back of the space. The 30 traditional Chinese window frames represent the boundary between the interior and the exterior, the private and the public, and the home and the city. They stand in as the final frontiers between the old and the new, looking out onto a future that can only come into existence through destruction. They ask us to consider the point at which individual sacrifice is expected for the progress of a whole nation. 

Are the sacred mountains watching over or looming? Are the colours vibrant or toxic? Are the glowing lights guides or warnings? It’s these ambiguities that preclude placing Cheung in the camp of advocate or detractor; he is a witness rather than a critic. These tears of paradise, are they tears of joy or tears of pain? Are they ruptures? It would seem that in all utopias is a dystopia that can be seen through the cracks.

Kong Chun Hei

Raise the Dimness / TKG+ Projects / Taipei / Feb 15 – Apr 12, 2020 / Brian Hioe /

Kong Chun Hei’s solo exhibition at TKG+, Raise the Dimness, stands out for its adaptive use of space and effective creation of tension between works. Thenine works which comprise the exhibition prove highly complementary, echoing similar concerns also seen in other works by Kong.

Non-stop Stop (2019), a single-channel video work depicting two hands in continual motion, as if clapping but never fully meeting, frames the viewer’s entrance into the gallery space. Attention is next drawn toward Flooding (2019), which runs diagonally through the length of the exhibition and consists of 20 stainless steel water gauges placed on the gallery floor. Flooding and another piece, Signature Work II (2020), an acrylic LED lightbox showing a grey static field affixed to a barrier in the centre of the gallery, which has two rooms, further divide the exhibition space.

Standoff by Kong Chun Hei, Installation view, 2019. 
Courtesy the artist and TKG+Projects, Taipei.

Standoff (2019), a large installation that occupies an entire wall, consisting of several dozen darts attached to it, occupies the viewer’s attention in the first room. Illumination from an LED light tube placed nearby causes the darts to project long shadows, giving the impression of unitary motion in one direction. Behind the wall, adjacent to the darts, is a dartboard. Standoff suggests, then, a sense of suspended tension in the disjunction between the objects, the darts conveying a sense of strong motion, yet motion apparently misdirected away from the intended target of the dartboard.

Parallel to Standoff in the second room is The Sliding Myth (2020), constructed out of four pieces of tempered glass on a sliding track in front of the gallery window, and resembling Kong’s earlier It’s a Myth (2017). Looking more closely, what appear to be the remnants of tape on the glass, as if tape had been attached to it to prevent shattering during a hurricane or typhoon, are actually scratches on the window surface. In this way, The Sliding Myth and Flooding both carry a sense of foreboding, with the suggestion of rising waters or preparations for an oncoming storm. Consequently, a subtly apocalyptic register pervades the gallery space.

The paintings Highly Transparent II, Highly Transparent III and Highly Transparent IV (all 2019) also feature deceptive surface appearances: they appear to be transparencies mounted in frames, but on closer examination are black-and-white watercolours.

Be free from your burden of luscious color by Kong Chun Hei, Installation view, 2017. Courtesy the artist and TKG+Projects, Taipei.

The only work in the exhibition that’s not from the past two years, Be free from your burden of luscious color (2017), which is displayed outside the gallery, differs from the other, mostly monotone works in its powerful use of fluorescent colour. Fashioned from an electric bug zapper, it features two LED light tubes that shift between blue, pink, green and purple. Though the work seems somewhat at odds with the rest of the exhibition, it also partakes in the act of repurposing mundane objects found in other works. The tension drawn out by the works in the exhibition is to be found in the everyday, apparently.

The exhibition proves more than the sum of its parts, relying on the naturally complementary nature of the works to create a sense of quiet foreboding, even dread, in the viewer.

Justin Wong Chiu Tat

Normal Life / A Concept Gallery / Hong Kong / Feb 13 – Mar 14, 2020 / Valencia Tong /

Philosophers, artists and musicians often contemplate the meaning of life, asking why we exist and whether there’s a higher purpose for what we are doing. Aristotle’s well-known reflection on how to live a good life
inspires many people to see the eudaimonia he advocates as something worth achieving. On the other hand, some perfectionists embody Sisyphus in his never-ending quest to pushing a rock up a mountain. While all these manifestations of the desire for self-actualisation can be cliched, the exhibition Normal Life at A Concept Gallery is surprisingly refreshing, as it unshackles itself from the burden of maintaining a facade of such lofty ambitions. Prompting us to consciously re-examine and re-engage with our experiences in daily life, comic artist Justin Wong Chiu Tat’s illustrations offer us an alternative to what he deems “distorted human nature”, which arises from our culture of maximising everything. Instead, he takes a down-to-earth approach, presenting a sincere investigation of what normal life is.

Whispering Machine by Justin Wong Chiu Tat. Giclée print on paper, 50.5 x 65.6 cm, 2020. Courtesy the artist and A Concept Gallery.

On entering the dimly lit exhibition space, viewers are greeted with framed illustrations hung on the wall, each highlighted by spotlights. Nearby, the artist’s work is projected onto the wall at a much larger scale, allowing viewers to take a closer look at the intricate details, as text and patterns move across the animation of the cityscape he created. For many citizens in Hong Kong, the past year has been surreal in the real world, as unprecedented changes in society have unmasked the cold, alienating reality of urban existence. Rather than depicting snapshots of our lives, Wong chooses to illustrate his thoughts through symbolism in a calm, detached, architectural manner, such as in his work David’s Paradise (2020). The flat colours of the works on view in the exhibition recall Michael Craig-Martin’s line drawings of ordinary objects, yet Wong’s art evokes a dream-like quality, in a radical departure from most people’s definition of normal. The result is that there are infinite interpretations of his work, depending on the viewer’s background and experiences.

One particularly eye-catching piece is Whispering Machine (2020), which depicts a gramophone, rendered without shading, with fence-like vertical structures in front that evoke a sense of isolation and entrapment. It is implied that sound is being emitted an audible level, with simple curved lines in projectile motion emerging from the speaker. Paradoxically, the title suggests the notion of secrecy, as if the machine’s voice is not being heard. Meanwhile, in monochrome work The Pool (2020), the artist sketches in a minimal style what people encounter during their mundane experience of being at the swimming pool, with special attention paid to the patterns, textures and figures from aerial view and at eye level in the same pictorial frame.

With the artist’s background as a comic creator, this exhibition offers a multi-faceted exploration of life itself, and how the narrative of life unfolds. As much as people yearn for a normal life, perhaps the best way to begin is by focusing more on the details around us, the way the artist captures them in his art.

Ho Sin Tung

The Optimism in Swamps /

By Christie Lee /

At the opening of Ho Sin Tung’s Swampland, one wades (pun intended) through paintings and installations, taking care not to bump into a furry wall or knock over a ghost sculpture. Sufjan Stevens’ Mystery of Love, the theme song to the 2017 film Call Me by Your Name, washes over the crowd, who chat and clink glasses.

The title of the show evokes the uncertain state that Hong Kong is in after eight months of protest, with the dimly lit gallery and cobalt walls conveying moodiness – although Ho says they weren’t her decisions.

The setting looks markedly different from previous exhibitions by the artist, known for intricate drawings of her obsessions, usually borderline characters aspiring to reach an idealised state, only to find that it inevitably ends in failure. The artist, who was born in Hong Kong in 1986 and is a fine arts graduate from The Chinese University of Hong Kong, says she’s always been interested in the same themes.

Installation view of Swamplands at HanartTZ Gallery, 2020.
Courtesy the artist and Hanart TZ Gallery. Photo: South Ho Siu Nam.

“This work is about the desire in all of us to create a utopian world and the subsequent failure,” she comments when we meet on a late January morning, referring to Dead Skin, a series of nine hand-painted bed sheet ghosts depicting nine extinct states, including British Hong Kong. “These countries might be extinct, but the impact they have on the world is still there, like a ghost.”

The work strikes a chord in protest-hit Hong Kong, but it also asks broader questions about the construction of identity. “I think a lot of identities are make-believe,” says Ho. “I mean, we say that Hongkongers are Chinese, but why? What does it mean to be a Hong Kong person? That concept is always in flux. I think the ability to pick one’s identity is a kind of freedom. I think fiction and what you see in front of you have equal hold on our imagination.”

The idea of the lingering past is seen in Same Old Street, where the artist melts candy and medicinal pills given to her by her exes, mixes them with clay and plops them into glass jars. 

Installation view of Swamplands at HanartTZ Gallery, 2020.
Courtesy the artist and Hanart TZ Gallery. Photo: South Ho Siu Nam.

“While I was making them, they gave off such a rancid smell,” she says. “I think this process allowed me to re-examine the relationship I had with their original owners.” 

The shape the candy takes was inspired by Salò (1975), Pier Paolo Pasolini’s controversial film about four fascists who kidnap and torture 18 adolescent boys and girls in an Italian villa. In one scene, the boys and girls are forced to ingest faeces while their torturers watch on, then moments later join in. “You see how much they enjoy it and, later, how much they enjoy being sodomised or beaten; you realise there is no way to defeat them, even if the tables are turned. That, to me, is the most shocking thing.” 

Call Me by Your Name and Stevens’ album anchor the exhibition. On the main gallery wall are three paintings, each featuring the hand-painted lyrics of a song from the album, accompanied by a drawing. “I’ve put this album on repeat for the last three years. Spotify tells me these are my top three songs,” Ho laughs.

The drawing with Mystery of Love appears to have little to do with the lyrics. Like Same Old Street, there is no straightforward narrative. In fact, there appears to be a disconnect between the song and drawing. Where the lyrics are about the complicated feelings the movie’s protagonist Elio has for his love interest, Oliver, the drawing fuses various visual references: Greek ruins; a delicately drawn, mountainous landscape; a pink moon, symbolising rebirth and rising among the ruins; and four pillars, a reference to the four pillars marking the entrance of Chinese University, a key battleground during the Hong Kong protests in November 2019.

In Call Me by Your Name, there is this scene where Oliver extends the hand of a Greek sculpture and Elio shakes it. It made me think of how desires are passed down generations,” says the artist. 

Death by Dignity depicts the ghost of Stevens’ mum passing through his body. “He was never very close to his mum but when she died, he missed her intensely. It’s missing somebody but not necessarily because you have this trove of memories.” She draws a parallel with her feelings about the June 4 incident: she was only three in 1989 and has no first-hand memory of it.

Kluedo for Artists by Ho Sin Tung, Colour pencil and ink on paper, 
dimensions variable, set of 5, 2012. Courtesy the artist and Hanart TZ Gallery. 

“In this song [Death with Dignity], Stevens kept singing, ‘I don’t know where to begin’. But he’s actually trying to construct his own identity
in the process. I try to do the same with this
exhibition,” she says.

What I Saw on Top of the World is a two-part piece comprising a furry painting that occupies a length of wall and, hanging above it, three
Chinese characters. Both pieces revolve around King Kong – the artist is an admirer of the famous gorilla – although he isn’t the main character as much as a springboard for the artist to explore other, more complicated feelings.

“King Kong is huge, right? I imagine this will be all I see if I hug him,” says Ho, as she sticks her face into the soft patch of fur. “At the same time, King Kong is a modern-day Icarus. He fights the men and manages to scale the Empire State Building, but he ends up falling from it. For me, he symbolises the outsider who’d never fit within the system.”

The three characters were inspired by a curious encounter. “One time, this Thai man told me, ‘I am King Kong’. I have no idea why, but later he taught me how to say ‘forever’ in Thai. I heard ‘dta-lot-bpai’, and to me, it sounded like hitting or falling in Cantonese. Now, wherever I think of forever, I think of falling.”

Ho admits viewers might not be able to deduce all that from the work. “Sometimes, I like it when a work isn’t totally comprehensible,” she says, before leading me to But Something in Him Was Still Homesick for the Ice, where blank pages from books about the elusive philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein are back-lit to form a long, slippery, eggshell-white surface. This visual is inspired by the last scene of Derek Jarman’s 1993 film about the philosopher, which tells the story of a genius who wants to use pure logic to construct a perfect world but, when he achieves success, realises that friction doesn’t exist in this perfect world, and falls over every time he tries to enter.

Right: Bitter Dust by Ho Sin Tung, Colour pencil and ink on paper,  
38 x 58 cm, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Hanart TZ Gallery. 

For Ho, it is a reminder that the perfect world, a world of complete understanding ruled by logic, can’t exist. “If you use Wittgenstein as an example: so many people have represented him, his life, his work, but who’s to say they can fully represent him? Even he himself couldn’t fully represent himself.”

Ho’s art has always asked whether one person can fully comprehend another, but Swampland absolutely revels in exploring the gaps in understanding – not that it means people should stop trying, as Your blood is green and that’s okay hints. An inquisitive finger stabs into someone else’s body, drawing blood, which is red but also green and blue. Ho tells me the work is inspired by the apostle Thomas, who refused to believe in Jesus’ resurrection until he’d personally felt his wound, but also by an episode of popular Japanese anime Sailor Moon, in which a girl is unperturbed by the green blood of her extraterrestrial lover.

“I think there is a certain optimism in that: to not be scared by something that looks so different from you,” she says.

And perhaps that’s the optimism of swamps: they’ve acquired a reputation as slimy, dead and slow-moving, but beneath that is a hive of activity, where different entities meet and become entwined or separate.

Tseng Kwong Chi

East Meets West / Ben Brown Fine Arts / Hong Kong / Jan 10 – Mar 9 / Christine Chan Chiu

In 1979, Tseng Kwong Chi was meeting his family for dinner at the upscale Windows on the World restaurant in New York’s World Trade Center. Jackets were required for men, and Tseng decided to wear the Chinese-style Mao suit he had bought at a thrift store. Mistaken for a Chinese dignitary, he was treated as a VIP at the restaurant, and from that moment the artist, then 29 years old, would don the sartorial attire of the “ambiguous ambassador” for his self-portraits over the next decade.

Presented by Ben Brown Fine Arts, East Meets West is arguably the late artist’s best-known series of photographic works, in which he poses with famous landmarks around the world in the signature Mao suit and reflective sunglasses. Tseng realised his outfit not only offered him the anonymity of taking on another persona but also a semblance of power when he was mistaken for an important Chinese government official. Back then, China was still a mysterious and unknown place in the west; Tseng played precisely on this mindset among his audience.

The majority of the photographs show the artist posing in instantly recognisable tourist spots around the world, with a deadpan expression on his face, although a rare few show him jumping up like a goofy photobomber. New York, New York (Statue of Liberty) (1979) stands out for its dynamic composition and its commentary. Tseng’s dignified pose mirrors the solemnity of the iconic statue in the background; with the camera’s upward angle, both focal points even appear similar in size. The contrast and nuances between light and shadow are perfectly captured, thanks to the high light sensitivity of the artist’s medium of choice – silver gelatin prints.

The artist also makes a powerful commentary on identity and diaspora. Born in Hong Kong, raised in Canada, educated in France and living in New York, he questions what it means to be American or Chinese, within the US itself and overseas. His works might appear humorous and tongue in cheek, but they address social issues that are still very much relevant today – cultural identity, western stereotypes and perceptions of Chinese abroad, be they tourists or residents.

By contrast, the artist’s later works are a departure from this genre, depicting him in various vast landscapes, but still always in his Mao suit. Created a few years before he died from Aids-related complications, works such as Monument Valley, Arizona (Facing Rock) (1987) poignantly reflect the artist’s changing mood and bittersweet perspective on life – as if he is surrendering himself and becoming one with nature.

Exhibition view. Courtesy ben Brown Fine Arts.

Tseng was a photographer, performance artist and documentarian way ahead of his time. His self-portraits explore the notion of tourist snapshots and selfies as art before smartphones and selfie sticks were even invented, while addressing issues still pertinent today. This year marks the 30th anniversary of the artist’s death, yet his fun and at times satirical approach to politics and life makes him modern and relevant to today’s audiences, rendering his legacy both endearing and enduring.