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Jun 30 – Sep 10

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Courtesy Para Site.

Group show.

Para Site

22/F, Wing Wah Industrial Building
677 King’s Road, Quarry Bay
(852) 2517 4620
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We-Su 12pm to 7pm

Para Site Art is a non-profit art organisation that was established in 1996. We produce, exhibit and communicate local and international contemporary art. Our main activities include presenting an ambitious year programme comprising 10 exhibitions, publications of catalogues and PS magazine, a bilingual visual-arts publication. The gallery also organises seminars, talks and workshops.

Samson Young

Songs for Disaster Relief
Venice Biennale 2017
May 13 – Nov 26, 2017
Diana d’Arenberg Parmanand

With over a decade of practice, artist Samson Young has made audiences question and examine their relationship to sound and music, and their relationship to history, politics and identity through sound.

Young is a product of a certain time and place. Born in 1979 in Hong Kong, he grew up under British colonial rule in the city, and moved with his family to Sydney after the handover to China in 1997, fearing the worst of Chinese rule in Hong Kong less than a decade after the Tiananmen Square massacre. In the 20 years since the handover, the people of Hong Kong have constantly reassessed what it means to be a Hongkonger, and are undergoing the self-scrutiny of a nation whose identity is in flux.

Trained in classical music composition, and generally described as a sound artist, Young has explored the relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong by recording sounds in the border area separating the two, arranging them into sonic compositions and then transcribing them in graphic notation. Last year the artist presented an installation at Art Basel in Basel consisting of a sonic boom that projected birdsong through sound canons, used as ultrasonic weapons by police to break up protests. A composition using ringing bells from around the world related to conflict won the inaugural BMW Art Journey award in 2015.

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Lullaby (World Music) by Samson Young, Installation view, video, soundtrack and stainless steel, 2017. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Simon Vogel.

But the artist also works with collages, drawings, video and site-specific installations. His presentation for the Hong Kong pavilion at this year’s Venice

Biennale, Songs for Disaster Relief, brings all of these media together across four spaces. The exhibition looks at the musical genre of charity singles and the cultural and historical environment that made these songs possible, highlighting the anachronism they have become, and questioning the political ideology that produced them. Songs including Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? and USA for Africa’s We Are the World were recorded by celebrity musicians in the 1980s to raise funds for relief of the Ethiopian famine and natural disasters. Hong Kong boasted its own examples, such as a cover version of Bridge Over Troubled Water by Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui that was recorded for the Eastern China flood in 1991. These songs reflected the rise of the global pop music industry, coinciding with the rise of neoliberalism and the consolidation of power by leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The project arose out of Young’s discomfort with the idea of charity singles, their subtext of neoliberal imperialism, the moral and ethical problems these gestures provoked and more.

The first thing the visitor sees on entering the courtyard to the pavilion is a neon writing installation against a brick wall reading, ‘The world is yours, but also ours, but basically yours’, a quote attributed to an address by former Chinese leader Mao Zedong to Chinese students in Moscow. The message is set against a foreground of colourful choir platforms. They look like inviting, giant, primary-coloured wooden blocks for children.

In the first room inside the building stands a vitrine of found objects and a winged statue. It is a symbolically loaded digital collage of Winged Victory; busts of Pythagoras, the father of geometric harmony, and Ronald Reagan – Greeks and neoliberals both posited harmonic political theories; and a space station – Reagan’s presidency suffered the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986 – intersected with a military bugle. The statue is a disharmonious and unsettling malformation of neoliberalism and power. It is the preface to an exhibition that reveals a cynical view of its ideology and promise.

Behind a red curtain bearing the words of the charity singles are two sitting rooms, furnished with coffee table, TV, lamps and chairs. This space feels and looks like a set from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. It evokes unease. It is the residence of a character Young stumbled on, a South African singer named Boomtown Gundane. Gundane supposedly released his own response to Do They Know It’s Christmas?, a song called Yes, We Do, channeling proceeds into contraceptive programmes in the UK. The story turned out to be fake; the character was made up. But Young ran with it, creating his own fictional backstory for Boomtown Gundane and reimagining him as a descendent of Chinese immigrants to California. The sitting rooms, glowing from the TV light and changing colours of the floor lamps, are strewn with the personal effects of Boomtown Gundane. The intention of the work, Palazzo Gundane (Homage to the Myth-Maker Who Fell to Earth), a reference to the David Bowie film The Man Who Fell to Earth, is hidden behind an overly elaborate narrative that brings little to the overall exhibtion. Perhaps it’s a commentary on fake news, or new geopolitical imperialism, or whatevever, but the message gets lost somewhere among Boomtown Gundane’s personal effects. The installation feels like a loungey intermission to The Wrong Side of History the compelling film recording that follows in a small cinema room.

Crossing from one room to another, visitors step over a doormat that reads “The Wrong Side of History”. But who is on the wrong side of history? On the large screen before several rows of chairs we see the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions choir, a pro-Beijing labour and political group, whispering We Are the World. “We are the world/We are the children/ We are the ones who make a brighter day,” they whisper. On the surface it all seems rather benign and playful. In their original context these lyrics were suggestive of well-intentioned but, some would argue, patronising and paternalistic neoliberalism. Here the words have been hijacked by a pro-Beijing labour union, an impediment to the market competition encouraged by neoliberalism. It is a nod to the shift in the current global balance of power to a new but different paternalism. But there is also tongue-in-cheek commentary on Hong Kong identity vis-a-vis mainland China. To whisper is to supress one’s voice – out of fear, uncertainty or so as not to call attention to oneself. Despite their political stance, these are Hong Kong singers and they seem to be unwittingly censoring themselves, muting their voices. The choir sounds like a room full of secrets exchanged, ominous and foreboding. It evokes a childlike naughtiness and hints at a subversive undertone that questions power.

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Palazzo Gundane (homage to the myth-maker who fell to earth) by Samson Young, Installation view, silk-screen print on vinyl cover, felt tip pen on vinyl records, 3D-printed nylon, vitrine of found objects, movable curtain system, neon, video, animation and 10-channel sound installation, 2017. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Simon Vogel.

Across the canal behind the building is another message in response to Mao’s quote, which reads “Why have you forsaken me?” It echoes the cry of many students during’s Hong Kong pro-democracy protests of 2014 – not to China but to the west, in particular the former colonising power, Great Britain. Many felt it had all but turned their back on the democratic movement, and abandoned the promise of the One Country, Two Systems ret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping, which guaranteed Hong Kong autonomy for 50 years after reunification. However, it’s equally applicable to neoliberalism today, a fractured ideology that has left many out in the cold.

Subtle politics have become the hallmark of a number of young Hong Kong artists in recent years. This exhibition provokes discomfort and ambiguity. But a Hongkonger is familiar with reading between the lines. You’re on the “wrong side of history”. The world is yours – but basically theirs.

Speculative Cartography

By Gerhard Bruyns and Peter Hasdell

On Exactitude in Science: In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. Succeeding Generations… came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome… In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography.

Purportedly from Travels of Prudent Men by Suárez Miranda, Book Four, Chapter XLV, Lérida, 1658; from A Universal History of Infamy by Jorge Luis Borges, 1935

Jorge Luis Borges’ On Exactitude in Science examines as speculative instruments the applications, skills and techniques of cartography, and can be understood as a critique both of science and of the folly of geography. Borges invites us to regard a cartography that attempts to map the world to such an extent that it ends up effacing or supplanting its object, namely the real, terra firma. A cautionary parable that questions ideas of representation and reality – the text is also an elaborate fiction acutely aware of its artifice – it both describes the construction of the grounds for cartography’s authority and offers a critique of its veracity.

From Borges we learn that in the horizon between the fragments of the map that remain and the territory it covers, an imaginary world exists. The map is no longer based on an ontological, comprehensible reality but exists between reality and representation, between the known and the unknown, and between that which can be represented and that which will always be outside representation. The blurring of this horizon questions the discourse of power that provides a map with its authority, and the authority vested in the lines that demarcate a projected territory. The lines, or rather the lineages that construct them, be they cartographic, legal, cultural or architectural, abound in peculiarities that hide their fictions, errors, distortions, erasures, acts of censorship, duplicities and areas of dispute. The legitimacy of cartographic fictions is evidence of a power and dominion that is often founded on the projected and speculative basis of a territory being terra incognita or terra nullius, unknown or unoccupied land.

1_All Water Pattern 841x841 with Depth

Jacky Chan

Architecture, planning and cartography are premised on the economy and apparatus of the inscribed line, be it on paper or defining physical territory. As orthogonality, as rectilinearity and as correctness, the line itself, as the primal essence of drawing, is not perceived as a line but as the coastline on a map, by the spaces either side of the line, or as a grid, a scale, a name, a mesh of conventions, speculations, laws and codifications carrying the notions of authority and power.

Here, between the representational and the real, determined by the intersection of the material world with the imaginary territory of the mind, an ephemeral condition exists. In other words, the specular and speculative world of appearance found in the projective practices of the draughtsperson or cartographer and of their imaginings prevents the map or drawing from being mere pictorial representation. These processes construct a complex territory that defies simple spatial articulation of inside and outside.

Questions of power are at stake: lines that restrict the professions of architecture, planning or cartography, and underscore the practices of the architect, planner and cartographer and their tools of speculation, and their subsequent manifestation in the material world with the authority to demarcate walls, streets, boundaries and lands. In Alberti’s terms, the lineaments, the cartographers’ lines, the surveyors’ lines, the lines of the law, those of the architect and others seek to enclose and articulate a form or body. Written, charted, drawn and inscribed on a surface, these lines carry intentions, emotions and desires. Therefore the cartographer who draws with these many and varied lines could begin to conceptually, conventionally, metaphorically and in practice inhabit the lines they inscribe.

Cartography has a range of codified practices. The grid lines indicating position, reference and location, the dimensions and scales, the boundaries and borders, the manifestations on maps of height and depth, and of walls and buildings, not to mention the numbers, names, notes and abstractions all provide identity to each mapped reality. All cartography is codified in particular ways that are decoded by reading it. Each drawing symbol is assigned a specific meaning meant to lead the reader through sets of information. A misreading of a map or chart that in the architectural world, for instance, might lead to dimension lines being constructed as a wall, or lead a map reader to look for the grid lines on a map in a real place, similar to using a conventional road map in places omitted from maps such as Area 51 in Nevada, its erasure from all charts an act of deliberate obfuscation.

Historically the origins of cartography find their source in the ancient Greek in χάρτης or khartēs, meaning the act of writing on a sheet of papyrus or paper, or a map. Present-day definitions outline the diagrammatic and informational representation of a variety of elements in a two-dimensional format. Also known as cartographic projections, the quest for making, reading and reinterpreting cartography remains vibrant within the current digital paradigm. John Noble Wilford’s The Mapmakers (1981) is a representational account of cartographic processes, tracing the trials and obstacles cartographers have faced in the production of maps. Each type of cartography remains a product of a period of thought, for example the mapping strategies of Marcus Agrippa (65-12 BC), son-in-law of Augustus Caesar, who wanted to map most of Britain and segments of Europe as part of the Mappa Mundi, or Map of the World. Although rudimentary by today’s standards, the map was a way of configuring the perceived world and its spatial dimensions. Later the Portuguese, under the leadership of Prince Henry of Portugal (1393-1460), known as Henry the Navigator, undertook four personally funded expeditions to map the unknown world. By the time of Henry’s death the Portuguese had managed to map Africa’s west coast as far as Sierra Leone, facilitating Vasco da Gama’s expeditions to India from 1498.

Moving forward a few centuries, the variety of maps remains as diverse as ever, despite the increasing prevalence of Cartesian systems. Some cartography independently addresses thematic aspects, social conditions and a range of worldly phenomena. The more conventional, drawn on parchment, paper or canvas, stand in contrast to the plethora of digital maps now available. Other, more artistically inspired maps interpret a world of emotions and mapped experiences through their use of symbols, aesthetics and compositions. There are also the familiar historical, aerial, satellite, cadastral, topographical, planning and geographical maps, as well as themed maps covering fauna and flora, density, population distribution, use of space, internet connectivity, political preferences and tourist activities, all using their own colour codes and symbolic systems.

From a philosophical perspective, cartography has always been an artistic endeavour, since before it turned into a scientific instrument meant to document and place a rationalist form of taxonomy over the world. As creative act, cartography has continuously challenged how real objects can be combined with imaginary ideas or concepts. Ernst Haeckel’s Tree of Life, published in 1866, is as much a classification of morphologies within the biological world as it is a mapping of taxonomic life orders. More recent conceptual mapping includes Rem Koolhaas’ 2003 proposal for tracing out 30 new spatial types for the 21st century, in what he terms the New World. Commissioned by Wired magazine, Koolhaas used his AMO think tank to represent actual environments as well as computer-generated landscapes of data, processes and activities as a way of confronting the commonly accepted aspects of the urban landscape. Through the activity of mapping, that is to say the realignment of topological characteristics in a visual format, Koolhaas defines new spatial geographies, which might appear to be virtual but have a bearing on the physical landscapes. The results remain astounding. Koolhaas’ cartography is confrontational, producing, for example, maps of warning spaces, contested spaces and new spaces. Warning spaces are places once celebrated that have become unstable, based on European powers’ relations to the third world; contested spaces reflect on terrain continuously redefined by battles to control it; and new space cartography, including art spaces, atlas spaces, voice spaces, home spaces, office spaces, protest spaces, border spaces, colour spaces, crowd spaces, dump spaces, euro spaces and blog spaces.

With design fulfilling the roles of both synthetic process and analytic skill, cartography can fill a fertile gap as both a methodological means of exploring the territorial and a profoundly speculative vehicle that opens up a series of critical ways of questioning. Grounding notions, descriptions and visual lexicons have been land-centred: territory, territoriality and terrain are all derivative of ‘terra’, or ‘earth’. Jacky Chan’s cartographic work Aquatic Territoriality Exploring the Future and Potentials of Alternative Urbanization Within the 9 Dash Line (2017) features a different, aquatic understanding of territory, proposing the abandonment of all land-derived concepts, usually referenced as landscape features, topographical aspects and traces of humanity such as roads, railways, airports, public spaces and settlement patterns, from both the conceptual and visual domains, replaced by a reformulated, water-driven spatial terminology. As a replacement of the terra framework, Chan’s cartographic proposal postulates four projections based on, among other things, cultural superstitions, water policy and law, historical and oceanic events, sea currents, wave cycles, sub-surface depths and oceanic ravines. As result, the methods of reconfiguring this specific portion of Southern China question the understanding of China’s political intent and spatial ideologies in contentious geopolitical debate around the Nine-Dash Line policy towards islands in the South China Sea.

Jacky Au’s confrontational cartographic proposal Polis | 1.5 – A Story of the Socio-political change in Hong Kong 2047 harnesses both the projective and the analytic features of cartography. As cartographic activity, each solid line, dash line and Photoshopped segment is meant to destabilise the conventional associations of an existing political territory and its two countries-one-system approach. With the Hong Kong SAR as context, Au reformulates regions and their speculative power structures, proposing a complete division between Hong Kong island and the Chinese mainland, including Kowloon and the New Territories. Amplifying the idea of one country, two systems, what the author calls the Hong Kong 1.5 effect, the speculative landscape is expressed with Hong Kong island becoming the main political entity, referred to as Hong Kong SAR 1.5 Polis, or political refugee centre and urban enclave, and Lantau island transforming into the urban agora, or place of commerce, entertainment and religious practice, and home to a vastly expanded international airport. Victoria Harbour acts as the new division, scaling the distances between Hong Kong and China at a 1.5 scale distance.

Cartography as means of speculative representation is also found in Shanzhi Lui’s Data Atlas (2017), which questions the contemporary city and the digital paradigm. Challenging the data cartography that is part of the information society, the project mirrors the complexities of digital overload in one of the densest urban landscapes on the planet. To represent the data clouds over roughly five square kilometres of Victoria Harbour, Lui condensed all available digital information, drawn layer on layer, onto one surface. Totalling 50 layers, including wireless networks, camera systems, public transportation systems and block-out zones, the informational cartography deliberately becomes illegible, requiring alternative means to observe and interpret the vast information sets. Optical filters can be used to eliminate some layers from view, revealing specific information sets and creating a cartography of choice, constructed by allowing access to information at will.

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Shanzhi Lui

This approach stands in stark contrast to Intergreening Huizhou (2017), a proposal by Shu Ye that examines cartographies of nutrition, food security and exchange. Ye’s approach is a process cartography based on how human necessity becomes spatialised and used as a medium for spatial intervention and urban reconfiguration. Ye’s repetitive colour sets represent the food centres or centres for nutrition in Huizhou, China, affecting hinterlands and a historic centre in terms of food security at a mega city scale.

Irrespective of scientific intent, cartography offers both the artistic means and speculative potential to provide a fertile ground for critically questioning the authority of cartography, its means of representation and our cartographic conventions. It remains part of the nature of the human condition and the territories we hold in our dominion: speculative, open-ended and ever-present.

Lee Kit

Something You Can’t Leave Behind

By Charlotte Chang

The introduction to Lee Kit’s first solo show with Massimo De Carlo Hong Kong, Something You Can’t Leave Behind, opens with a lengthy quote containing sentence fragments and abrupt imperatives that is at once baffling and transcendent. After a series of disjointed declarative statements – such as “there is a movie in every corner”, “a bus ride might make you smile” and “our time has gone” – Lee commands viewers to “mute the voiceover”, before ending by saying “something you can’t leave behind”, the show’s titular reference to elusive and ineffable but persistent traces of life and memory.

The intimate narrative of the show, composed of eight site-specific works with complex combinations of projections and Lee’s characteristic mixed-media paintings and drawings, is as much a stream of consciousness as the quote. While the show’s “something” seems intertwined with Lee’s individual consciousness, manifest in ghostly imprints of mundane objects, disembodied gestures and
idiosyncratic expletives, the multifarious interplay between tangibility and intangibility, light and shadow, sharpness and blurriness, and contrasting scales brings out something more universal: that, in myriad ways, personal
memories interact with and reveal psychological truths larger than individual experience.

In many works, the material elements of composition, including cardboard and plywood supports but also, in one case, a blank piece of paper, are presented together with lightprojections far exceeding their physical boundaries. These encompassing blankets of light never obscure what is physically there in two and three dimensions, painted, drawn and put on the walls; rather, the juxtaposition of smaller motifs – particular “somethings” in words and sketches – within larger expanses of forms, colours and moving images suggests that singular memories can exist as entities in sharp focus while merging into bigger narratives.

Viewers first encounter A Piano Song (2017), a work in emulsion paint, inkjet ink and pencil on plywood that interacts with a large rectangular projection featuring blocks of white, grey and green on the wall. Within this intangible canvas of light, the plywood occupies a small area, on which an even smaller square is delineated and shaded in pencil, leaving the shape of two cadaverous, disembodied hands with missing fingers in white. By itself, this sole pictorial element is an arrested gesture caught in memory limbo; but interacting with the pixels dotting the wall, it becomes part of a much more complex visual composition. It is unclear which parts exist physically on the wall and which are projected until some cast a shadow. With the light blocked out, the image becomes dimmer and even more ghostly, but it still has a concrete presence, speaking to the way larger memory narratives can subsume daily moments while these singular traces linger on in essence, as lasting snapshots.

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This is something in my head, Acrylic, emulsion paint, inkjet ink and pencil on paper, looped video, plastic boxes, dimensions variable, 2017.

The piece Something You Can’t Leave Behind (2017) features a similar gestural motif: a pair of disembodied cupped hands drawn ambiguously so that they could be about to commit either an act of compassion or an act of cruelty. The background of the plywood, painted in shades of light colours and marked with pencil lines, blends visually into the wall behind it, which shows uneven patches of white and lacks a finishing coat of paint. Although no projected light engulfs the work, the patchy whitewash of the wall forms the larger backdrop to the painted plywood, focusing attention on the central image, a synecdoche as sharp as it is puzzling within an encompassing but indeterminate expanse of tones and hues.

The uncanny video work A Story About Autumn (2017), showing the still image of a pen with the motivational inscription “no rain no rainbow” throughout, references a recent memory, the Umbrella Movement. Over a jazz melody, subtitles loop onscreen at aconversational pace, telling a simple love story, the coherence of the narrative breaking away from the show’s stream-of-consciousness mode. “He was a great guy,” the mute narrator begins, before taking an eerie turn with “Our country became a police state”. Then, with “One night, I killed him”, the narrative abruptly becomes a murder confession. Since the pen onscreen divulges nothing and the tone of the mute narrator is impossible to determine, the recounting of the killing is stripped of any weight and emotion appropriate for such violence. With its reference to the Umbrella Movement, the work taps into viewers’ collective memory, suggesting perhaps that impassioned acts of resistance could over time easily be reduced to apathetic though persistent and looping narratives.

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A story about something, Looped video, A4 paper, dimensions variable, 2017.

A Muted Voice (2017) shows the words “you fuck you” stencilled vertically downwards, while on the cardboard background pieces of tape mend small but visible cracks. The orientation of the words forces viewers to pronounce them one at a time to form a full sentence with subject, verb and object. In doing so, the everyday expletive “fuck you” becomes alienating in an unfamiliar sentence structure, resulting in an uncomfortable formality void of rudeness. Swear words, usually laden with emotion, are often the only vestiges left when a person loses language ability. Foregrounded against the crackingbackground, “you fuck you” is no longer an impassioned interjection; it still persists vividly, but only as three hollow forms.

The video Skin (A Secret) (2017) focuses on a plastic box; the link to the theme of memories is clear, boxes being associated with storing old belongings. Through subtitles at a conversational pace, the mute narrator tells a story of a “he” who “used to keep all his secrets in a tote box” and “felt the box had become his skin”. Throughout the narrative, told like a secret, the box remains empty despite all the memories supposedly in it. An example of Lee’s characteristic use of mundane, everyday objects to tap into something transcendent, the ordinary box points to a phenomenological question: whether memories are substantial when laden only with a certain psychological weight felt by an individual, without any physical presence.

A Story About Something (2017), another video work with a large-scale projection reaching up to the ceiling, extends the stream-of-consciousness narrative of the show with disjointed shots of open windows, grassy banks and blurred hands, accompanied by enigmatic subtitles such as “reality tears a person into pieces”. While the ambiguous narrative suggests an aching nostalgia, the central element of the work is a blank piece of A4 paper on the wall, subsumed visually by the projection. The blank paper, an everyday object often associated with a clean slate, highlights an emptiness that seems insignificant compared to the overwhelming scale of the projected memories. As the video loops, the A4 paper is barely visible, imprinted with a small section of the moving images without obscuring anything; but when the video stops, the paper is all that is left, suggesting that memory traces without any distinct details could refuse to fade, steadfast in their blankness.

In There is Something in My Head (2017), the six words of the title flash insistently on the wall along with a blurred projection of a hand, the outline of which matches a cut-out pencil drawing beside it. A stack of plastic boxes, as featured in Skin (A Secret), blocks the projector, refracting and warping the image projected on the wall. Recalling the earlier gestural motif of the disembodied hand, the blurred image could be read as an imperfect mental reflection of the realistic drawing, which is not only physically present but also in sharp focus. The compulsive flashing of the words seems to suggest an impatience at the tenacity of certain memory traces even in their blurred and imprecise forms.

The final work, Someone You Can’t Leave Behind (2017), a drawing of a short-haired woman’s profile as she turns away, is the most readable. Framed by strips of shading, the drawing looks as if it has been cut from the film of a mental black-and-white photograph. While this image of a person is vivid and detailed, it is also drained of colour, contrasting with the vibrant light blue of the background. Aside from the subtle melancholy of the grey, the work is hung on a dark wall in the gallery, overshadowed by projections from nearby works, leaving viewers with a solemn “something” crystallised into the parting sight of a loved one, laden with more meaning than a disembodied gesture, a mundane object or disjointed words.

A psychological intimacy throughout Lee’s show urges viewers to search intently for his“something”, both in the depths of their own memories and in the works’ visualexternalisation of streams of consciousness. Sometimes this elusive something is in sharp focus within fuzzier contexts; sometimes it remains intact through refraction and bending; sometimes it is blank yet somehow ineffaceable; sometimes it is laden with emotional weight; and sometimes it remains indelible even after being stripped of all meaning. The partly reflective, partly visceral process of identifying it connects artist and viewers, reaching beyond the personal to reveal universal but ineffable truths about life and memory.

Markus Brunetti

Jun 8 – Aug 26
Opening: Thursday, Jun 8, 6-8pm

Markus Brunetti and his partner Betty Schöner have been documenting facades of Cathedrals part-by-part in Europe since 2005. The separated elements are then assembled digitally into a coherent whole.

 

Axel Vervoordt Gallery

Unit D, 15/F Entertainment Building
30 Queen’s Road, Central
T (852)2503 2220
Email
Web
Tu-Sa 11am – 7pm

As a strong supporter of Zero and Gutai art movements from its inception, the gallery’s vision has gradually evolved into contemporary art with a special interest in the concept of the void, the process of the creation and in the questioning of the experience of space and time.

In May 2014, Axel Vervoordt Gallery expanded to Hong Kong and opened its first overseas exhibition venue in the city’s central district. El Anatsui created new work for this occasion. By having a physical presence in Hong Kong, Axel Vervoordt Gallery will continue to bridge artistic expressions between the East and the West.

Talk on Hong Kong participation at the 57th Venice Biennale, Samson Young: Songs for Disaster Relief

To accompany Hong Kong’s collateral event at the Venice Biennale 2017, Samson Young: Songs for Disaster Relief, M+ and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council are co-hosting a series of talks in Hong Kong. Taking Young’s artistic practice and diverse influences as a starting point, the series offers a deeper understanding of key concepts in contemporary art and provides a wider context for Young’s newly commissioned work in Venice.

Songs for Disaster Relief is conceived of as an album unfolding in space to be experienced in person. The series includes four key pieces, each of which tells a new story referencing the cultural and political context of iconic 80s charity songs. Through a deliberate repurposing and creative misreading of such iconic songs, Young presents an exploration of the troubling ideologies and genuine affective qualities that these songs and their aspirations embody.

In the first talk in our series, Guest Curator Ying Kwok shares her experience of taking Songs for Disaster Relief from concept to realisation in Venice. She is joined by Anthony Leung Po-shan, one of the contributors to the exhibition catalogue, who expands the discussion on Young’s artistic practice in relation to the presentation of his current exhibition.
An Album Unfolding in Space: Conversation with the Curator
Date: 13 June 2017 (Tue)
Time: 7.30 – 9 pm
Venue: Miller Theatre, Asia Society Hong Kong Center,
9 Justice Drive, Admiralty, Hong Kong
Speakers: Anthony Leung Po-shan, Ying Kwok

 

 

 

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Trevor Yeung

The Darkroom That Is Not Dark
Magician Space
Beijing
Dec 17, 2016 – Feb 26, 2017
Nooshfar Afnan

Trevor Yeung has explored voyeurism since his earliest works, such as the Sleepy Bed series, in which he took photographs, without permission, of sleeping hostel roommates. But in his solo show he no longer focuses on photographic images of voyeuristic subjects; instead, fleeting glances immediately blur the lines between who is watching whom, as the audience uses an L-shaped, mirror-clad locker room at the entrance of the show.

Artist Studio Party (2012), a digital projection work, continues this theme. Faced with the image of a couple embracing, audience members might feel they are intruding on an intimate moment, as did the artist when he took the photo, causing them to quickly move along the hall, past the image and into the next room.

The work touches on the key Yeung theme of audience control, and throughout the show the audience is manipulated in its movement through the exhibition space, stopping, slowing down and kneeling, and is sometimes also manipulated in the emotions that are conjured up. In the locker room visitors are given the choice to hang their clothes in one of the 30 lockers; unknown to them, 10 of these lockers contain a T-shirt with the logo “staff”, granting wearers access to parts of the exhibition others are barred from, and creating a kind of hierarchy among visitors. Those who happen to find a T-shirt have to make a choice of whether to wear it or not, determining their course through the exhibition.

Those who do not wear the staff T-shirt find they can’t access the top floor of The Dark Room Pavilion (2016). Those who can access it climb up a very steep flight of stairs, expecting to find a sense of freedom and a good vantage point at the top, but instead finding themselves standing in a tight space and realising they are like prisoners trapped behind bars.

展览现场 Exhibition view Pigeon Wings

Pigeon Wings (Seven Roses) and Pigeon Wings (Three Roses) by Trevor Yeung, White synthetic rose, porcelain, neroli water, dimensions variable, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Magician Space.

In Pigeon Wings (Seven Roses) and Pigeon Wings (Three Roses) (2016) the audience is impelled to stop and “smell the roses” and enjoy a “romantic” space, only to realise
that the flowers are artificial, with added orange-blossom fragrance, and an odd piece of porcelain replacing the centre of a rose.

The last work in the show, Dark Sun (2016), acts as a metaphor for the whole of it. A ring
studded at equal intervals with 10 infrared lamps, it is the main source of light in the room. Red light interferes with or obscures existing details, masking some realities and making others seem more rosy, until closer scrutiny reveals otherwise.

Earlier on in the show, with Jacuzzi (2016), a fish tank with several heating lamps, Yeung tries to reinforce the idea that the space we inhabit could be just as controlled as that of the fish. In fact, throughout the show every element is carefully controlled: he manipulates us, turns us into unsuspecting voyeurs and surprises us at every turn.

Gerard d’Alton Henderson

A Total Embrace

By Alexandra A Seno

In the autumn of 1963, a new luxury hotel opened in the heart of Hong Kong’s Central district. The 27-floor Mandarin Oriental boasted state-of-the-art amenities such as the city’s first phone system that allowed guests to make direct calls to outside numbers, and switchboard operators to activate an in-room light informing occupants of missed calls.

Befitting such a cosmopolitan operation, the hotel’s owners chose an artist based in Spain to create the property’s most prominent features. A rising star with a growing international following, he was of European and Chinese descent, and seemed to have just the right style for the large, dramatic murals in the lobby and the Mandarin Grill restaurant, as well as mosaics for the rooftop swimming pool area. This is how most of Hong Kong was first introduced to Gerard d’Alton Henderson.

Drawing 6

Menage a Quatre, Crayon on vinyl on board, 55 x 76 cm, 1987. Collection of Elizabeth and Anthony Golamco.

In the final two decades of British rule, Henderson — who was born in Malaysia and grew up in Singapore — was the artist to know in the Crown Colony. The best households had to have his paintings: contemporary reinterpretations of Tang Dynasty figures rendered in impasto, or fleshy horses outlined with the burned end of one of the cigars he always seemed to be brandishing. (Sometimes he would dunk his cigar in coffee and sketch as one might with a crayon, as he did on a television appearance.)

Some examples of Henderson’s oeuvre are on show at Ping Pong, the Sai Ying Pun gin bar. Sourced from local private collections, the exhibition provides a glimpse of Henderson as a phenomenon of his time, and a reminder of changing fashions in trend-conscious Hong Kong.

In the 1970s Henderson left Europe to make Hong Kong his home. His movie-star good looks and his effortless wit made him a regular in the society pages. In 1980 a local magazine named him one of the “Ten Most Fascinating Men in Hong Kong”, alongside tycoons Stanley Ho and Li Ka Shing. Between a life of epic adventures from Afghanistan to Argentina, Henderson produced murals that quickly became familiar to many a sophisticated globetrotter. His work hung prominently at the Savoy Hotel in London, the Phoenicia Intercontinental Hotel in Beirut, the Pan Am Building in New York, the Peace Hotel in Beijing and on the facade of the Hilton in Singapore, among others.

When high-flying Australian property mogul Alan Bond built shiny twin skyscrapers in the middle of Hong Kong’s most prestigious commercial neighbourhood in 1987, Henderson was commissioned to create the complex’s murals, rumoured to cost hundreds of thousands of US dollars, the equivalent of millions today. Henderson’s ceramic-and-rock murals celebrating his favourite east-meets-west theme still dominate the lobbies of what is now known as the Lippo Centre.

“Painting to me is an emotional high, my ultimate climax. I approach painting the same way one makes love, with nothing held back, a total embrace,” Henderson once said. The quote, typical of the artist, appears at the start of the catalogue for the exhibition, which marks the 20th anniversary of the last big Henderson show in Hong Kong, held in 1997 at the Mandarin to commemorate Hong Kong’s handover to China.

Some of Henderson’s most memorable works feature horses. In her essay for the Ping Pong catalogue,

Painting 10

Celebration, Acrylic on sculpted epoxy on canvas, 78 x 86 cm, 1990s. Collection of Perveen and John Crawford.

notes Henderson’s equine fetish: “He liked to say their rumps reminded him of women’s behinds: ‘Nice voluptuous bottoms.’” One of the most striking pieces is an oil-on-canvas work from the 1970s; more than two metres long, it depicts a group of men on horseback, banners in the wind and galloping, as if in China’s distant past, across a dusty, unidentified landscape rendered in broad ochre and blue-grey strokes.

He was also fond of creating paintings of Buddhist deities, of the type found in cave temples along the Silk Road, one of his favourite destinations. Though his work was on canvas, his love for impasto techniques resulted in an almost 3D effect, layers of paint giving shape to his figures. One such piece portrays Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, diaphanous robes appearing to billow at her feet, rising from a misty, mustard-hued background.

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The rooftop pool and its murals (now the fitness centre), Mandarin Hotel, 1963.

By the late 1990s Henderson had become so successful that he lived and worked on The Peak, his studio occupying a luxury flat adjacent to his home. His paintings continued to be in high demand among the city’s aficionados of western-style art, then an even smaller group than today. Like many in his social circle, however, Henderson left Hong Kong after 1997.

Tastes changed in the city. New, younger collectors wanted art that resonated with their generation, and now the colonial years and the likes of Henderson seem like a distant memory. Initially Henderson returned to Spain, where his two grown children lived. In 2005 he moved to a sprawling estate in the rural Philippines, to spend his last years with his partner Paula Perrine, whose family controlled Del Monte plantations and operations in the country. He passed away in 2014. Now and then Henderson’s work still appears at auctions, smaller paintings going under the hammer for just hundreds of US dollars.

Matjaž Tančič

3DPRK 
Pékin Fine Arts
Hong Kong
Nov 19, 2016 – Jan 31, 2017
Elliat Albrecht

Apparently some North Korean officials harbour a fondness for 3D photography. That, at least, is the explanation given for Slovenian photographer Matjaž Tančič gaining access to the notoriously secretive, restrictive country in 2014 to take stereoscopic photographs of its citizens — images that were recently displayed in the exhibition 3DPRK at Pékin Fine Arts in Wong Chuk Hang. Tančič obtained permission through a contact to take photographs for a temporary exhibition in Pyongyang, which later travelled to Pékin Fine Arts in Beijing and then to Hong Kong.

The photographs, which include images of waitresses, shop clerks, factory workers, athletes, nurses and farmers, were shown in the gallery alongside a video documenting Tančič’s 10-day trip. He was accompanied by two local guides as he documented ordinary people in restaurants, hospitals, laboratories, factories and “children’s palaces” – community centres for extracurricular activities. Adhering to a strict, breakneck schedule punctuated with requisite museum visits, Tančič managed to capture some captivating, albeit highly structured and posed portraits, while his assistants discreetly recorded video footage of the process. By gradually gaining the trust of his chaperones, Tančič pushed boundaries, venturing beyond frequently visited locations and photographing soldiers, something that was previously forbidden. The three-dimensionality of the pictures gives viewers an empathetic relationship with the subjects, allowing them to walk around figures with whom contact is otherwise rare, shifting the act of looking from passive to active.

HR.PekinFineArts.Matjaž Tančič.#36. SIN UN YONG, 27, Soldier, Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum. 2014

#36 Sin Un Yong, 27, Military Guide, Armistice Signing Hall, Panmunjom by Matjaž Tančič, Pigment prints gloss archival paper, 93 x 140 cm / 60 x 90 cm, 2014. Courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts.

But it is impossible to ignore that the farms, schools, factories and hospitals Tančič was permitted to photograph are likely the best the reclusive country had to offer. The video describes how many aspects of the country looked like a film set or showcase constructed to convey a sense of stability to foreigners — one that human-rights reports and the accounts of defectors strongly contradict.

Yet Tančič is adamant that his undertaking was a politically neutral one: he insists his primary interest lay in depicting people as they naturally were. In execution, this is fair: he treats his subjects with dignity and as normal people, temporarily independent from the regime. But undertones of the government are omnipresent in the images’ careful framing.

It raises the question of where art ends and propaganda begins. A foreign photographer in North Korea faces the same difficult question encountered by tourists there, of whether they are affirming the regime either economically or by turning a blind eye to its realities – plus the further question of whether it is ever appropriate to depict North Korea without addressing its forced incarceration, starvation, abuse and concentration camps. Tančič’s ability to voice his true thoughts runs up against the fact that he has been granted an intimate privilege by a government which is likely to keep an eye on him. As an audience member pointed out after Tančič delivered a talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong, it’s likely that North Korean officials knew he was holding that very event.

Fabien Merelle

Étreindre
Edouard Malingue Gallery
Hong Kong
Dec 9, 2016 – Jan 14, 2017
Caroline Ha Thuc

The setting for this exhibition, of 10 ink and watercolour drawings and three sculptures by French artist Fabien Mérelle, is very sober, and there is enough empty space between each piece to get the imagination working. The drawings are meticulous, while the pale pink sculptures made from acrylic resin look pretty rough. Yet an unlikely balance and an interesting dialogue lend harmony to the whole gallery, dominated by a feeling of floating and emptiness.

Étreindre, the title of the exhibition, means to embrace warmly. It also means to hold someone so tightly that there is precisely no space in between. The title comes from a drawing, at the end of the exhibition, of two almost nude men holding each other tightly. They are actually the models for the three sculptures, which represent them in a fragmented way, scattered all over the space: the legs to begin with, then the torsos and finally the heads, all life-size empty moulds. There is a strong contrast between these pieces, abandoned like ruins, and the realistic embrace of the drawing: they are only traces or dreams of that embrace.

The sculptures are the remains of a real embrace: the artist and his father posed for them. According to Mérelle, it was a painful, tiring performance. The pressure of time and the threat of death weighed on this hug between a man who is still a father but who is now marching towards the end of his life, and a son who has become a father himself. The artist wished to capture this fragile, key instant when life switches and roles swap. The fragmentation comes from his desire to express the impossibility of two bodies being linked forever: a dream, then, but its presence-absence occupies the whole space and produces a sensation of hollowness and transience.

EMG1756_Fabien Merelle_Flamant Rose_2016_Ink and watercolour on paper_35 x 49.5 cm, Framed 54 x 68.5 cm

Flamant Rose by Fabien Mérelle, Ink and watercolour on paper, 35 x 49.5 cm, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Edouard Malingue Gallery.

Drawing, with its unimpeded access to the imagination and its fragility, is the perfect vehicle for uncertainty and perpetual suspension. In this way Mérelle’s drawings respond perfectly to the sculptures: open, and looking like works in progress, they stand like promises on the edge of reality and time.

Mérelle is above all a draughtsman: from pencil to ink pen, he has been drawing since an early age. He conceives the paper as the stage of a theatre open to all sorts of possibilities. Starting from accurate, truthful details, and thanks to the precision
afforded by ink, he gives birth to fantastical situations between realism and fiction: a man flying, following a bird in the sky, or seated with a little girl on the back of a crocodile; a woman welcoming a naked baby under a wooden hut; a man climbing a straight, thin tree full of tiny branches.

Mérelle’s drawings convey the enchantment and fears of childlike universes, and have the power of embracing reality as a whole, including its mythological, hidden, imaginative parts. An important place is left for blank spaces to create a vacuum around the characters, and for the mind to be able to float freely between the lines.

During a long residency in China, he discovered the void as an essential part of Chinese culture, and had to face the physical void of the place where he was working, an empty building that brought back all his childish nightmares. The artist constantly stages his own anxieties and fantasies, and creates narratives from his own life, transforming them into universal material. This time he expresses the urgency of protecting the ones he loves in a world overwhelmed with uncertainties and growing hostility. To embrace, then, could mean to hold tightly onto what we have, by accepting our own limits while exploring the infinite universe of the imaginary.

The marvellous drawings Homme volant 1 and 2 (meaning ‘flying man’) resemble sketches of costumes for a surreal play. They embody all people’s attempts to transform
themselves into flying creatures, and thus to escape the human condition. Yet they are only costumes, and we know it: this is only a dream. The beauty of these drawings comes from this touch of humility and simplicity.