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Interior Materialism[s]

By Gerhard Bruyns

One of the most daunting challenges of all design endeavours is the material expression of ideas and intentions.

Historically, the very first attempts at materialising ideas have in some way been challenged. First, designers consider the technical skills needed to express the idea. Second, they question the material at hand to give the idea a form or body. And third, they search for the stylistic language most suited to the idea.

For the ancient Greeks, the challenge was to achieve material perfection in either architectural or human form. Architectural perfection lay within the classical orders of the Doric or Ionic orders that guided the way that building facades had to be designed. The composition of each facade, the elements it contained and the proportions of each section of a facade were the driving concerns. The geometric simplicity of the Doric order’s column capital influenced a specific material composition compared to the Ionic order’s curvatures and edges. Each Greek temple was devised in a similar order, where the perfection lay in the proportional orders of the plan: usually in a 1:3 ratio between the main entrance and the sides.

Greek sculpture brought perfection to the material form of the human body. Sculptor Polykleitos (5th century BC) summarised this perfection both in the written word and in his work. His treatise Kanon describes using Pythagorean mathematical principles to achieve the harmony contained inside each statue. The perfection of the statue was a combination of bodily proportions and balanced composition, deregulating the angularity of the human body in the contrapposto or counter stance. In the Renaissance, the same ideologies of harmony were overlaid with another technological development: perspective. The discovery of the microscope opened new worlds of seeing: the ability to look into things in scientific detail, and also to see things that are very far away, such as the stars. This technology was effortlessly applied elsewhere. Perspective soon became a dominant force in the set-up and layout of interior and city spaces, captured in the architectural projects of Michelangelo (1475-1564) and in the painted settings of Raphael (1483-1520) and da Vinci (1452-1519). 

Image 1_Doris Hung

Doris Hung Shuk Ying’s Literal Interiors uses assemblages and collaging to produce interior settings from texts, before translating the same settings into technical drawings.

For students of design today, the challenge remains in the material itself. Apart from all the other external influences that can impact design decisions, the literal reprioritising of material exploration above aesthetic qualities or what the project actually looks like impacts how designers conceptualise projects. Whether in terms of a method of making, the scale of execution or the method of translation, designers remain focused on a return to the value and appropriateness of material.

Two recent graduate theses attempt to understand material in terms of space, interior and design.

Doris Hung Shuk Ying’s thesis Literal Interiors follows a process of translating written text into spatial terms. The premise of the project questions how the description of spaces, discussed in the text, materialises as spaces of volumes and surfaces. The thesis questions the validity of how languages use and apply different terminology to describe the same elements in space. Taking Jacques Derrida’s philosophical work Of Grammatology (1967) and its inversion of language rules as an example, Hung limits her focus to a single text, Italo Calvino’s The Invisible City (1974), originally penned in Italian and later translated into both English and Chinese. Each line of the four individual city descriptions is mathematically examined in terms of its textual layout, graphic eloquence, spacing, word choices, and use of oxymoron, parables and analogies. Text is translated into a spatial language by assembling collages for each one, with separate collages for the English and Chinese versions that, over time, develop into two distinct interior images of the same city. For example, where the English text refers to the characteristic of being “thin”, describing pipes as the predominant structure of the city, the Chinese version harnesses the idea of thin nets suspended over the city to explain the delicate landscape. The final translation occurs when images of elements are substituted back into the original text for words. Each newly formed text-image tests the material qualities of both text and space. Objects or ideas that are supposed to be drawn to access their meaning are offset against their textual descriptions, which by default employ the linguistic characteristics of alphabetic or phonetic characters to convey meaning. The project highlights the process of spatial description as a material expression in its fusion of space, text and material objects into one coherent material reality.

In contrast, Winson Man Ting Fung’s cubic, angular Elemental Tectonics uses construction materials to challenge the lifespan of both building elements and designs. Over a yearlong experiment, the project examined whether buildings or spaces can last forever. Inspired by the architect Carlo Scarpa’s one-to-one experiments, where the details of a space are tested at its full scale before being constructed, Fung materially tested combinations of materials to develop a definitive approach. 

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Winson Man Ting Fung’s Elemental Tectonics uses construction materials to challenge the lifespan of building elements emplying layering and cocooning to preserve interior space.

Under the influence of Adolf Loos’ writings in Ornament and Crime (1908) and Henry Moore’s (1898-1986) aesthetic value of “truth to materials”, each experiment formed a material approach in own right. Fung’s work attests to a understanding of material in which where the process merges two distinct elements. At each step the work experiments with how to fuse wood and concrete, old concrete and new concrete, plaster and concrete or concrete and aluminium. Progressing through a series of trials, some successful and some not, the results demonstrate an approach that is not only material-dependant but that allows the material itself to develop the design method. The designer further chose to follow the processes of mergers and fusion as key concepts in his final design vocabulary. Applied to interior columns and beams, the results look like two or three layers of lamination. Existing concrete columns are bulked up, layered with steel brackets and iron bars. Although the work depends on the materials joining, it portrays the condition of cocooning. With each cocooning composite, a protective layer is added, extending the longevity of both space and interior element, and extending the lease of each space’s life, structurally as well as aesthetically.

Images courtesy students Doris Sun Shu Man and Winson Man Ting Fung, undergraduate programme 2016-17, and tutors Kuo Jze Yi, Gerhard Bruyns, Environmental and Interior Design, School of Design, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong. 
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The Un/Safe Reading of Spectrosynthesis – Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now

By Anthony Leung Po Shan

Spectrosynthesis – Asian LGBTQ Issues and Art Now at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei in September proclaimed itself to be Asia’s first “LGBTQ art” exhibition at a state-owned museum. In addition to being the icing on the cake after Taiwan became the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage, it also marks the homonormative order finally gaining acceptance in its political, economic, social and cultural aspects. Although successful in its scope and accessibility, the exhibition failed to explore a more creative/destructive gender imagination, and inevitably felt too safe to an audience familiar with gender issues.

The exhibition took three years to prepare, with curator Sean C S Hu classifying all artists that belong to the politically marginalised or the non-heterosexual mainstream as “tongzhi”, a collective term that usually encompasses lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The inclusive definition of the term was an attempt to efface the question of who does and doesn’t qualify, plus some works of unspecified gender orientation also helped to dilute the stereotypical image of “tongzhi art”.

Although the 44 works from 24 artists were not exhibited chronologically, with its timeline from the 1950s to the present, this was a historical inventory. The exhibition kicked off with the paintings of veteran artists Shiy De-jinn (1923-81) and Ku Fu-Sheng (1935-2017). Not only did this let us revisit the seminal works of the old masters, it also linked “” with historical classics – Shiy was a student of pioneer Lin Fengmian during the latter’s Hangzhou School of Art period, while Ku was a member of the innovative Fifth Moon Group of modernist artists. These early explorations, which were not ostensibly “tongzhi art” but essentially created through desire, became the legacy upon which the male-male homosexual art of Martin Wong, Wang Jun-Jieh, Xi Ya Die and Yan Xing built. Apart from muscles and organs, the photography and video of Tseng Kwong Chi, Tzeng Yi-Hsin, Ming Wong, Wu Tsang and Wen Hsin illustrated through media and parody that gender and even race were performances. In addition to blatant sex, the more conceptual works of Chen Chien-Pei, Chuang Chih-Wei and Samson Young became metaphors for the living conditions of a marginalised community.
Meanwhile, Tao Hui, Su Hui-Yu and Hou Chun-Ming, through their own and others’ bodies, re-examined the sense of taboo and submission that came into being when repressed by power. The works of Wang Haiyang, Hsi Shih-Pin and Wang Liang-Yin, along with fan magazines from Tam Ho that bordered on the mundane, showed an examination of art that transcended the narrow definition of tongzhi.
Although the majority of the artists were male Chinese, which did not fit the exhibition’s positioning of representing Asia and the LGBTQ community, the curator’s strategy of approaching from the middle turned collections that reflected personal tastes into exhibits that were publicly appealing, widening the spectrum of tongzhi art.

Placed in the middle of the entrance, Shiy De-Jinn’s two oil portrait paintings Young Man in Yellow Shirt (1967) and Young Woman in Red Dress (1960), from his Taipei period (1952-62), caused a sensation due to the familiarity of the faces. Shiy, born in Sichuan but based in Taiwan after the civil war, used his solid foundation in sketching, along with the sharp, direct brushstrokes and strong colour contrasts of fauvism, to both continue the legacy of his forebears and innovate. The two paintings produced a dichotomy, which could be seen as a biological-sex footnote to the diversification of tongzhi art, and counterbalanced the male domination of the exhibition. However, the works showed obvious favouritism towards the subjects of the paintings.

Although Shiy worked during Taiwan’s highly repressive martial-law era, his homosexuality was an open secret during his lifetime. The bitter love story between Shiy and the young man dressed in yellow in the painting – his model and assistant Chuang Jia-Cun – was common knowledge. This dishevelled young man with a sideways glance had his right hand on his waist. The blue background made his shirt pop, highlighting his rebelliousness and unapproachability. As for The Young Woman in the Red Dress, Shiy did not deviate from his bold style, such as using blue in the whites of the eyes, but the girl seems out of place in her surroundings, and the painter treated her as a still object. Besides the reedy, asexual physique, which might hint at queerness, the desire and emotion expressed in the two paintings were poles apart.

Setting aside the penises and muscles, most emblematic of the queer spirit in the exhibition were two videos by Wu Tsang, Duilian (2016) and For How We Perceived a Life (2012). Both used a strategy of intertextuality, choosing an existing text as a starting
point – respectively, Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris is Burning and the biography of anti-Qing revolutionary martyr Qiu Jin – but used the body to tell the ambiguity that diverged from the original text. For How We Perceived a Life was a destructive reality show – there was no superfluous setting or scenery in the rehearsal room. The five actors, including Tsang herself, were of different sizes and shapes. They
exaggerated the emotions of the original text through markings denoting ethnic and gender differences on their bodies, while eradicating the stereotypes applied to them in reality.

The semi-fictional Duilian, on the other hand, transformed the life, death, love and sensuality of a revolutionary martyr obscured by the conventional historical narrative
into dream-like monologues and lovers’ murmurs. Tsang compared her own interracial and transgender identity with Qiu, who once disguised herself as a man. The story bore no resemblance to historical facts, but amplified the intimate physical contact between Qiu and a lesbian partner: sparring, writing, combing each other’s hair. Despite the orientalist stylings of the costume and scenery, the story deliberately mixed English, Cantonese and Tagalog but not Putonghua in its soundtrack, questioning the pureness of Chineseness.

Compared to Tsang’s ease, Tao Hui’s Talk About the Body (2013) took a subtler approach. The male artist put on a burqa to play a Muslim woman, with a Koran in her hands, sitting on the edge of a bed in isolation, her eyes downcast, talking about her bodily characteristics and genealogy as modern, urban Han sat or stood around her, not only invading her private space but also indifferent to her testimony. Through roleplay and simple production, the work pondered the Sinocentrism rarely examined by contemporary Chinese artists.

Works related to gender issues are sometimes too preachy, and become an accomplice of moral discipline. Since the 1990s, Hou Chun-Ming has repeatedly broken taboos. His Body Chart series of recent years turned self-indulgence into a collective theme. The exhibition presented only the Manhole pictures (2014-16) from the series: using the hole as a metaphor for maleness, they invert the sexual formula of phallocentrism, highlighting the way desire stems from an absence. Through two days of interviews, respondents created graffiti with their bodies, with the result transcending defintions of heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or transgender, becoming a life history reconstructed in accordance with perceptions and desire. The illustrations and text graphically depict sexual organs, gay sex and intimate or violent relationships: penises cease to be just representations of physical males but of “sperm and blood”, tiny crushed memories spread all over the body. Hou deliberately arranged for the participants to graffiti in the nude on a tatami, then reassembled the fragmented feelings of the author of the graffiti to produce a double-sided hanging scroll. Traditional portraits are usually created by a painter through careful objective observation to display the mental state of the subject. But Body Chart broke the distinction between subject and object, and even refuted the notion that the person in the portrait was a complete, independent subject. The “painter” and “owner”, kneeling, crawling and lying on the tatami, became closely related due to their intimate interaction. The painting was displayed as a double-sided hanging scroll; the queer character of the work did not lie in stated sexual orientation or identity but in the joining together of the “owner” and the “painter”.

Xi Ya Die, Train, Paper, 136 x 136cm, 2017

Train《車》by Xi Ya Die, Paper, 136 x 136 cm, 2017. Courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei.

The curator juxtaposed the paper-cut work of Xi Ya Die with the works of Hou Chun-Ming, underlining the contrasts in the approaches and contexts of the two artists. Art-school graduate Hou started from modern art-concepts and then learned from folk traditions; Xi Ya Die, who grew up in Shanxi, learned paper-cutting techniques from his mother and then encountered modern art. Unlike urban gay people who pursued a gay identity assiduously, Xi Ya Die was in a heterosexual marriage while at the same time active in gay circles in Beijing. Train (2017) in the exhibition vividly portrayed his double enlightenment through sex and modernity – the young, naive Xi Ya Die took a train from the countryside to the city, was seduced by the ticket inspector and half-reluctantly experienced his first sexual encounter amid the rumbling of the wheels. Explicit descriptions were hidden within decorative patterns, while autobiographical narrative pictures of different times and spaces interspersed cleverly in a two-dimensional plane. The birds on the green ceramic, the rabbit holding a signal flag, the monkey stealing a peach: common folk-art symbols suddenly became filled with sexual innuendo. Xi Ya Die not only enriched the artistic lexicon of traditional paper cutting but also broke through the metropolitan aesthetics of tongzhi culture. A queerer interpretation lies in Xi Ya Die’s origins in rural mainland China, positioning him as the other in the modern, Taiwan-centric exhibition. The earliest works on display were from the 1950s, when “tongzhi modernity gradually formed, aspiring to be the ‘progressive’ West”, according to the exhibition brochure, underscoring Taiwan’s post-war situation.

The exhibition followed the conventional meaning of “tongzhi”, encompassing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, but it ignored the deconstructive strategy of “queer” as a verb. Several ambiguous works radicalised the cultural operation of identity politics, especially as an alternative reflection of class and nation outside the tongzhi mainstream. An exhibition like Spectrosynthesis, which contemplates the essentialism and gender stereotypes concealed by identity politics, could unleash the invaluable experimental side of art.

Featured image: Manhole《켕떪》by Hou Chun-Ming, Crayons, paper, 55 x 237 cm, 13 groups, 2014-16. Courtesy the artist and Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei.

Prominent Artists Headline Bonhams Hong Kong Modern And Contemporary Art Sale This November

Lot 10 – Kishio Suga (b. 1944), Inside and Out of Lattice, oil paint and wood panels,149 x 133 x 8 cm, 1990. (HK$300,000 – 500,000)

Zeng Fanzhi, Zao Wou Ki, Hsiao Chin, Key Hiraga, KAWS and Kishio Suga are among the line-up of sought after artists featured in Bonhams 39-lot sale for Modern and Contemporary Art on 21 Novemberin Hong Kong, created to appeal to the global artworld. 

The cover lot is a rare piece by Kishio Suga (b.1944), a leading member of Mono-Ha, a group of Japanese artists prolific during the late 60s and early 70s that aimed to challenge the traditional concepts of art. In this post Mono-Ha piece, Inside and Out of Lattice, painted in 1990 (estimate HK$300,000 – 500,000), the work reflects the spirit of this movement as the artist’s interest in using every day materials to explore a dynamic relationship between the materials and the negative space around them.

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Lot 22 – Zao Wou Ki (1921 – 2013), Dordogne, oil on canvas, 46 x 61 cm, 1954. (HK$ 4,000,000 – 6,000,000)

A strong selection of works by renowned Chinese modern and contemporary artists is also among the highlights of the sale. Led by a work by the Chinese contemporary artist, Zao Wou-ki (1921-2013), Dordogne (1954) is estimated at HK$4,000,000 – 6,000,000. The painting is from an important period in Zao’s career when he broke through his previous limitations to present an entirely new language for abstraction, incorporation Chinese calligraphy, signs, ancient bronze and oracle bone inscriptions as inspiration for his brushwork.

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Lot 17 – Zeng Fanzhi (b. 1964), Smiling Bei Ke Ning, oil on wood, 75 x 59 cm, 1964. (HK$ 3,500,000 – 5,500,000)

Chinese contemporary artist, Zeng Fanzhi (b.1964), is presented in the sale by Smiling Bei Ke Ning, estimated at HK$3,500,000 – 5,500,000 and coming from the very early days of Zeng’s discovery of his “voice” as an artist. Painted in late 1989, the piece features a casual and relaxed figure (a classmate of the artist’s, nicknamed Bei Ke Ning), in which he is rendered in emotive, expressionistic strokes, revealing Zeng’s longstanding interest in psychological expression.

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Lot 18 – Hsiao Chin (b. 1935), Untitled, oil on canvas, 35 x 46 cm, 1956. (HK$ 80,000 – 100,000)

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Lot 19 – Hsiao Chin (b. 1935), Vento Cosmico – 28, oil on canvas, 70 x 100 cm, 1988. (HK$ 350,000 – 550,000)

Works by Hsiao Chin (b.1935) span different decades of the artist’s career including Untitled, 1956 (HK$80,000 – 100,000) – a rare example of oil painting from Hsiao Chin’s early Chinese Opera series; and, Vento Cosmico – 28, 1988 (HK$350,000 – 550,000) – a late masterpiece from the Chi series of the 1980s, a period after the Duality and Zen series of the 70s as the artist entered a stage of further maturity, and began creating imposing and majestic abstract paintings.

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Lot 35 – KAWS, Untitled, acrylic on shaped canvas, 2013. (HK$ 2,200,000 – 2,800,000)

The sale is also highlighted by a strong international urban art section, featuring works by French artists Invader and Blek Le Rat, and a monumental tondo canvas by American artist known as KAWS. KAWS worldwide star status was affirmed by his recent retrospective, Where the End Starts¸ held at the Yuz Art Museum in Shanghai, and which had waiting lines for attendees for months on end. KAWS is known for his uniquely personal and introspective appropriation of popular commercial and cartoon images. The work included in the auction features one of his anxiety-ridden reinterpretations of SpongeBob SquarePants into his much sought-after KAWSBob series.

Finally, following a successful exhibition this past June of early works on paper by Japanese artist, Key Hiraga (1936-2000), Bonhams plans to hold a larger exhibition of his works in April 2018 in their exhibition space on Madison Avenue in New York. This Hong Kong auction is highlighted by additional early drawings by the artist, demonstrating his restless talent, as well as signature works from his years in Paris and beyond, in which Hiraga’s technique, style, and joie de vivre in full bloom. 

Bonhams Director of Modern and Contemporary Art, Asia, Ingrid Dudek, “This season’s auction is highlighted by some of the most recognized artists in their field – whether Zao Wou-ki, Zeng Fanzhi, Kishio Suga or KAWS – the auction points to the strengths and tastes of the Asian market: adventurous in inspiration, innovative in approach, international in impact and appeal. We look forward to continuing to bring a dynamic range of unique and rare works that will appeal to collectors from across the region and the world.”

Other featured artists include Susumu Koshimizu, Park Seo-Bo, Kim Chan-Il, and Chuang Che. 

Preview
Thursday, 16 – Tuesday, 21 November 2017
Bonhams Hong Kong Gallery
Suite 2001, One Pacific Place, Admiralty

Auction
Tuesday, 21 November, 3 pm

About Bonhams 
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world’s largest and most renowned auctioneers of fine art and antiques, motor cars and jewellery. The main salerooms are in London, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, with sales also held in Knightsbridge, Edinburgh, Paris, San Francisco and Sydney. With a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 22 countries, Bonhams offers sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of forthcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments, please visit bonhams.com

 

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J. Park: Embodiment 2017 | Ben Brown Fine Arts Hong Kong

Ben Brown Fine Arts is pleased to present J PARK: Embodiment 2017, our first solo exhibition of artist J. Park at the Hong Kong gallery.  J. Park is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work includes painting, sculpture, photography, video and installations.  This exhibition presents a group of recent paintings as well as two video installations.

J. Park addresses many social and political themes in his work, including surveillance, communication and social order, all through the framework of omnipresent technology.  J. Park’s paintings are comprised of elaborate arrangements of dots and bars evoking complex computer coding, microchips, braille, barcodes and myriad other technological associations. 

J PARK: Embodiment 2017
15 November 2017 – 6 January 2018 
Opening: 14 November 2017, 6 – 8 pm

Ben Brown Fine Arts
303 Pedder Building
12 Pedder Street Central
Hong Kong

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Mo-Sa 11am – 7pm

Image: Maze of Onlookers by J. Park, Acrylic on canvas, 227.3 x 181.8 cm, 2016.

 

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An Empty Apartment. A Painting. Afternoon: Law Man Lok at Things That Can Happen

By Michele Chan

Opening with the starkest, barest of scenes – “A country. A tree. Evening.” – Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot sends viewers on a reflexive rummage for revelation and meaning. There is an analogous barren yet expectant vacuity in the closing exhibition at things that can happen in Sham Shui Po: the door opens onto an empty Hong Kong apartment, its walls painted deep grey, and the eye falls on a sole painting hung near the far right corner in which Dumbo, wraith-like and ethereal in orange pastel hues, hovers mid-flight against a background of electric yellow. The only other work in the room, displayed on the wall opposite, is the diptych He-Man & She-Ra (2015), two garish superhero murals executed in the shabby vintage style signature to Hong Kong artist Law Man Lok, aka Lawman. A sense of stagnant expectation pervades, Beckettian with a whimsical twist: He-Man and She-Ra are frozen mid-transformation; Dumbo is trying to fly; and Things’ two-year-old space in Sham Shui Po is set to close, while its founders, artist Lee Kit and head of strategic development at Asia Art Archive Chantal Wong, plot future activities beyond the non-profit’s physical location.

"The ABCs of Law" by Law Man Lok

Wanted Wanted by Lawman, Digital collage of original drawings, 106 x 102 cm, 2015. Courtesy the artist, Michele Chan and Things that can happen.

Lawman’s The ABCs of Law exhibition continues into the smaller adjoining rooms of the sparsely furnished apartment space. In the brightest, naturally lit room adjacent to Dumbo, rectangular streams of afternoon sun pour in from the windows to interlace with the cartoon sunrays depicted in Wanted Wanted (2015), a manga-inspired quadriptych. The only work – indeed, the only object – in the room, the four-panel digital collage of drawings is cheerfully kid-friendly at first glance but deathly sinister on closer inspection. A wild-eyed grin, repeated; a hangman’s knot, progressively tightened; and the ominous numbers “66”, recalling the controversy-laden apparent suicide of mainland Chinese dissident activist Li Wangyang on 6 June, 2012: all are more disturbing for the work’s innocuous facade.

At the opposite end of the apartment, a dark, windowless room houses gently whirring projection installation All I know about the Daya Bay Nuclear Power Station Contingency Plan (2012). Blurred images click into semi-focus almost half-heartedly, configuring with a nonchalant ambiguity that belies the gravity of the work’s concept. In 2012 the Hong Kong government aired a promotional video that ostensibly aimed to educate the public about safety issues surrounding the newly built Daya Bay Nuclear Power Plant. Instead of offering practical information, the video’s empty reassurances, asking citizens to not be afraid, constituted a preposterous, ludicrous form of propaganda. Finding the material absurd, Lawman selected still images from the video that he found to be formally “beautiful and concrete”, and presented them as discrete slices of isolated, dreamlike imagination.

"The ABCs of Law" by Law Man Lok

The flying Dumbo by Lawman, Wall paints, oil bars, oil pastels on canvas, 175 x 151 cm, 2015. Courtesy the artist, Michele Chan and Things that can happen.

Under Lawman’s manipulation, the images are hazy to the point of unintelligibility; in the face of their muffled reticence, the viewer almost feels more drawn to the dynamic materiality of the rotating carousel projector. The images themselves approach the lingering quality of an afterthought – lethargic yet graceful, indifferent yet curiously haunting. Daya Bay, The Flying Dumbo, Wanted Wanted and He-Man & She-Ra seem to lurk at the shadowy perimeters of the vacant apartment, as if themselves reflecting on the ambiguous potential of the artistic gesture, even as viewers ponder the ambiguous social and political potential of art itself. Is this really the closing exhibition of a unique non-profit Hong Kong art space?

Things was one of the city’s few truly alternative sites for art and related experimentation. Since autumn 2015, the renovated tong lau, a 1960s walk-up tenement, in the gritty Sham Shui Po district played host to everything from exquisite installations (Chloe Cheuk) to raunchy animations (Wong Ping), and from screenings, book launches and various forms of interventions (Ocean Leung’s architectural structures, Doreen Chan’s speed-dating event, Oscar Chan’s extended self-confinement within the space) to residencies that cultivated unique investigations (Devora Neumark’s exploration of joy as a radical practice). Together with an eclectic library of books and artists’ publications and weekend English classes for young asylum seekers and refugees, things’ programme was ambitiously interdisciplinary but spontaneous and relaxed, grounded in open-ended research, authentic conversations and each artist’s singular intentions.

It was a modest enterprise that was never overly serious about itself, while still succeeding in building an alternative to the heavily commercial Hong Kong art scene. Things manoeuvred a fine line between many dichotomies: the local and the global; theory and nonconformity; structure and spontaneity; criticality and entertainment. One area where it never compromised, however, was in its commitment to art for art’s sake, operating on resources from individual supporters rather than institutions or the government. That allowed its agenda to be free not only from the market but from any form of institutional constraint or demand, including box-office performance, a key benchmark for traditional funding. Such autonomy often results in programmatic choices that don’t attract the largest audiences. As Mary Lee, the day-to-day manager of the space, once put it: “Somehow I have accepted the fact that some art forms only cater to a limited audience.” It’s a curious sentiment that hovers between reluctant resignation and enlightened acceptance. Should art aim for more, and if so, what and how?

That seems to be the question Lawman ponders in his exhibition. Tacked unobtrusively to a wall near the entrance are A4-sized sheets of paper on which the artist has typed up personal musings on the nature of art and creation. “A is for Artist”, “B is for Bauhaus”, “C is for Commons”, “D is for Duchamp” and so on: in a conversational, non-affected, almost diary-like tone in his native language, Chinese, Lawman reflects on schools of art theory, their impact on his practice, and symptoms of the wider artistic and sociopolitical scene in the city. The artist says that it’s an ongoing project and he plans on someday reaching “Z” (at the time of viewing, “D” was as far as he had got). It’s a disarmingly guileless undertaking whose very nature challenges the standard paradigm of a modern-day exhibition: a fixed timeframe, a cohesive and marketable concept and, for a city famed for its exorbitantly priced square footage, equally marketable art. Instead The ABCs of Law adheres to things’ agenda of art being an incubator rather than just a presenter of ideas and conversations and, in Lawman’s own words, also being “an attitude” instead of a career or even an object. It’s a special exhibition that aptly bids adieu to a special space, whose allegiance to the ordinary and the domestic ultimately reminds us that all change starts at home.

Art for the People

Building a future audience: why should people care about your art?

By Vivienne Chow

Most people hate the truth – and this is articularly true in the art world.

At both the recent Museum Forum staged by the Maritime Museum and the annual Cultural Leadership Summit organised by the Hong Kong Arts Administrators Association, questions were raised regarding building a future audience. The government, the media and the education sector were all blamed for not providing an environment that allows more youngsters and other members of the public to experience arts and culture.

The question that wasn’t raised was whether artists, exhibition organisers, curators and promoters bear responsibility for building and attracting an audience. It raises the further question of why people should care about art in the first place.

This is an incredibly uncomfortable question to ask; it sounds like a blatant attack on the culture of artistic excellence art professionals strive to pursue. It suggests that the shows they present, be they visual or performing arts, are so irrelevant that only a small percentage of the population are interested in them.

We are all too good at finding fault in others. Many who have been living in the art bubble for a long time have forgotten how it feels to be an outsider. Before blaming the government and private sector for not better funding their programmes and the media for ignoring their press releases, cultural professionals should ask themselves whether they have tried to establish a connection between their arts and the public.

A lot of people out there do not care about the arts. They do not see a painting, a sculpture or a theatre performance as being essential to their lives. They see them as the so-called high arts, which suffer from the stigma of being remote, unattainable and irrelevant, a game belonging to the one per cent of society.

“I don’t get it” or “My kids could’ve done that” are among the most common responses when many people see a Mark Rothko painting or a Pina Bausch dance performance. Standing in front of an art work is stressful to a lot of people. They feel ignorant, as if there is a big hurdle of knowledge they have to jump over before they can appreciate its beauty. It feels elitist. And such feelings of rejection can easily create resentment.

To attract a new audience, a top priority must be to establish the relevance of the arts. That does not mean sacrificing artistic excellence in favour of a populist approach. It is about finding a way to connect art works with potential viewers, be it an anecdote or a relatable cultural context, presented in a way that is accessible and accompanied with explainers written in plain language, without incomprehensible, meaningless artspeak that tells people nothing. Cultural professionals have to walk a fine line between upholding artistic integrity and building a connection with the audience.

It is not impossible. In 2013 M+ staged Mobile M+: Inflation!, an outdoor exhibition of six monumentally sized inflatable sculptures at West Kowloon Cultural District that drew 150,000 visitors. Videotage’s One World Exposition 2.1: #like4like, at the art space in the K11 mall this spring, was like a magnet to youngsters.

The attraction of these shows did not come from big-name artists, but from the idea that art could speak directly to the audience, addressing issues they care about. If the works on show could inspire the audience to think about bigger questions or spark their curiosity, great. If not, they were simply enjoyable. They were relevant.

The challenge is to retain that relevance so that the audience wants to come back for more. Building an audience is like cultivating a community: it is about gathering like-minded people to share their views and passion on an equal footing. Being a snob and “teaching” others as if they were uneducated bumpkins are mentalities of the last century. Creating a friendly environment that inspires people to spread the word and discuss the art they have experienced is more important than ever. Art isn’t just about producing an excellent piece of work. It’s about connecting people through great works.

Image: Poetic Cosmos of the Breath by Tomás Saraceno at Mobile M+: Inflation!, 2013.  © Artomity

Caroline Chiu & Paul Aiello

Caroline Chiu, RTHK Radio 4 presenter and art critic with her husband Paul Aiello, discusses three of her favourite pieces from their collection.

Chiu saw Chris Huen Sin Kan’s solo exhibition Out of the Ordinary at Gallery Exit in 2015. His ease with painting on a large scale, his sense of allowing white space to exist, without having to fill every inch of the canvas up, exuded confidence. In that show, there was a painting where his girlfriend, now wife, was sitting on Shek O beach. Chiu fell in love with the abstractness of it, but it had already sold.

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Landscape commission of Shek O by Chris Huen Sin Kan, Oil on canvas, 250 x 500 cm, 2017. Courtesy the artists, Caroline Chiu and Paul Aiello.

Chiu had bought and renovated an old village house in Shek O and was living there with her family. Falling in love with the location, she began to think about commissioning Hong Kong artists to explore it as an art subject.

She visited Shek O Headland with Huen in spring 2016, showing him the most southeasterly point of Hong Kong island, a small outcrop of rock surrounded by the roaring sea. Chiu visited Huen’s studio in July 2016 to see the work, a five-metre landscape painting, in progress. He had already finished painting the undulating ocean from various perspectives, the edge of the beach and the mountain in the background. She received the painting around Chinese New Year 2017, and describes it as very lively, full of movement, life and a wonderful sense of air and space.

In December 2017 Richard Winkworth had a solo exhibition at Ping Pong Gintonería. His series of night seascapes from his studio on Ap Lei Chau were wonderfully coloured: full of purple, pink, blue and violet hues, and made with layers of deeply pigmented wax. The effect was like looking at different layers of a stained-glass window: a shimmering, colourful effect seen from different angles.

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Landscape commission of Shek O by Richard Winkworth, Encoustic on board, 2017. Courtesy the artists, Caroline Chiu and Paul Aiello.

Chiu asked if he would be interested in doing a commission of Shek O, and in spring 2017 they went to the headland. Winkworth immediately fell in love with the place too. That weekend he stayed at Chiu’s house with his husband David, sitting on the roof of the house and listening to the ocean, with Winkworth walking to the headland to sketch.

In July Winkworth asked Chiu to choose from among three maritime landscapes he had painted in encaustic on board. She chose the image that most represented the waves of the ocean from an outcropping that Winkworth had identified, on which the whites and blues of the layers of wax seemed to ripple like the waves themselves.

Twenty years ago, while employed at Hanart TZ Gallery, Chiu worked on Gaylord Chan’s 70th-birthday exhibition – and, now well into his 90s, the artist is still working today, and his style continues to develop. Chan is an important figure in the Hong Kong art scene. In the 1970s he took night-school art classes, founded his own art school, served on various arts development committees and inspired at least two generations of Hong Kong artists.

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Lightcraft by Gaylord Chan, Digital print on fabriano rosaspina paper, 70 x 100 cm, edition 2/8, edition of 8 + 1 AP, 2011. Courtesy the artist, Hanart TZ Gallery, Caroline Chiu and Paul Aiello.

Chiu chose the print Lightcraft (2011) from among about 20 others. Chan created it using the drawing tool on his computer when he was well into his 80s. The image is of a bull-like animal figure whose back shows a scene of a rocket ship blasting off. Chiu describes it as quintessential Gaylord Chan: it alludes to an animal’s primal energy, to sexual take-off, but with a detached, almost naive, childlike design. The drawing has a flat, graphic quality but is drawn with a delicate line.

Chiu says she also appreciates Chan pricing his work so that it is affordable to his many students. The print, from an edition of eight, was priced at HK$10,000, even though he could have charged far more; for him, she adds, it’s not about money but sharing art.

Gladys Nistor

Gladys Nistor

Nov 9 – Jan 6
Opening: Thursday, Nov 9, 6 – 8.30pm

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Untitled 1 by Gladys Nistor, site-specific installation, dimensions variable, 2017.

Hong Kong.CMYK

Site-specific, bodiless sculptures float in space, challenging perception. The works by the 
Argentinian artist boldly create the illusion of form and glow with innovative vitality.

 

Puerta Roja

1/F Soho 189 Art Lane
189 Queens Road West
Sheung Wan
T (852) 2803 0332
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Tue–Sat
11am – 7pm

Founded in in 2010 by Adriana Alvarez-Nichol, Puerta Roja promotes established and emerging contemporary artists as the only gallery to specialise in Latin American and Spanish art in the region. Located at art district SOHO 189 Art Lane, the gallery prides itself on having both a strong influence in the development of the local contemporary art scene and a growing footprint across Asia-Pacific.

Sudhee Liao, Andrew Luk

Nov 11, 6 – 8pm

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Wing Platform for Performance is hosting White Cell, an interactive-movement installation by Sudhee Liao and Andrew Luk. It takes its inspiration from the notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, exploring how the removal of established identities affects human behaviour. November 11, 6–8pm.

Wing | Platform for Performance

Unit 2102, Chai Wan Industrial City Phase 2
70 Wing Tai Road, Chai Wan

T (852)2522 3342
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Wing is a Hong Kong based non-profit organisation for performance founded in 2015 by Leslie Van Eyck focusing on the crossover between dance, visual art theatre and other hybrid art practices.

The organisation aims to create an effective platform to nourish local micro-cosmoses through residencies, performances, artist talks, workshops and more.

J. Park

Nov 15 – Jan 7
Opening: Tuesday, Nov 14, 6 – 8pm

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Maze of Onlookers by J Park, Acrylic on convas, 162,2 x 130.3 cm.

The first solo exhibition of artist at the Hong Kong gallery, Embodiment includes recent paintings, sculpture as well as two video installations.  

Ben Brown Fine Arts

303 Pedder Building
12 Pedder Street, Central
T (852)2522 9600
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Mo-Sa 11am – 7pm

Ben Brown Fine Arts opened its first location on Cork Street in the heart of Mayfair, London, in 2004. The gallery has prominently positioned itself on the contemporary art scene with the sole UK representation of artists such as Ron Arad, Tony Bevan, Ori Gersht, Candida Höfer, Claude & François-Xavier Lalanne, Heinz Mack, Vik Muniz, Gavin Turk and Not Vital. Also renowned for its strong expertise in 20th century Italian art, the gallery has been exhibiting the work of Alighiero Boetti and Lucio Fontana, amongst others, since its inception. In 2008, Ben Brown Fine Arts opened a new exhibition space on Brook’s Mews, also in Mayfair, designed by architect Alexander Maybank. The office and viewing room are conveniently located across from the gallery space.

In 2009, the gallery took its first step in an international expansion with the opening of an exhibition space in Hong Kong. Designed by André Fu, Ben Brown Fine Arts Hong Kong was the first Western gallery to open in the iconic Pedder Building, offering a programme of international art exhibitions tailored to the Asian market. Since its inception, the Hong Kong gallery has hosted exhibitions of gallery artists such as Ron Arad, Miquel Barceló, Candida Höfer, Claude & François-Xavier Lalanne, Heinz Mack and Vik Muniz as well as presented exhibitions of important modern artists, most notably Alighiero Boetti and Pablo Picasso.