M+ Pavilion’s inaugural exhibition presents an immersive, site-specific project by Hong Kong artist Tsang Kin-Wah.
Nihilism is what comes to mind when we look at Hong Kong artist Tsang Kin-Wah. This vision, empty yet full of meaning, is depicted in his latest exhibition “
Nothing” at the newly opened M+ Pavilion, an expansion of “The Infinite Nothing”, the artist’s solo presentation for Hong Kong at the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. Tsang questions how “nothingness” and emptiness are forces that make humans feel powerless.
Nothing” is the inaugural exhibition at M+ Pavilion, running from 9 September to 6 November 2016, the home for M+ exhibitions in the West Kowloon Cultural District in the run-up to the museum’s opening in 2019. Tsang Kin-Wah’s “The Infinite Nothing” exhibition at the 56th Venice Biennale last year, which opens with a video of a running river, was influenced by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and his proclamation, “Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?“.
The work emphasises the notion that all things reside in a state of constant change, positing life as a perpetual cycle of a self-realisation, manifestation and deconstruction, a cyclical journey that starts and ends in the same existential void.
Tsang Kin-Wah was born in Shantou, China, in 1976, and now lives and works in Hong Kong. He studied Fine Arts at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, and book arts at Camberwell College of Arts in London. Well known in Asia and abroad, his work is critically acclaimed for its innovative use of text and language, which he manipulates with computer technology to create immersive installations.
Tsang has exhibited extensively across the globe. Recent solo exhibitions include “30 years of CFCCA – Tsang Kin-Wah”, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, Manchester (2016); “Ecce Homo Trilogy II”, Thurgau Art Museum, Warth, Switzerland (2015); “We Know: NOTHING”, Ark Galerie, Yogyakarta (2013); and “Ecce Homo Trilogy I”, Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong (2012). He has also presented his work in numerous group exhibitions and museums worldwide such as “Chinese Whispers” at the Kunstmuseum Bern (2016), “Global Imaginations” at the Museum De Lakenhal, Leiden (2015) and many others. His work was showcased in M+’s second public exhibition featuring Hong Kong artists “Mobile M+: Yau Ma Tei” (2012).
Tsang is preparing for upcoming shows at Vancouver Art Gallery and the Guggenheim Museum. He is among a group of contemporary Chinese artists commissioned by the Guggenheim in 2016 for the Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Chinese Art Initiative. His work is held in a number of important private and public collections, including the Burger Collection, the Sigg Collection, the A3 Collection of the Kadist Art Foundation in San Francisco, the DSL Collection in Paris, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, the CODA Museum in the Netherlands, the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.
Nothing” exhibition combines metaphors and allegories drawn from philosophy, literature and religious concepts, with elements of film, music and other popular cultural references – ranging from the Christian Tree of Life to the Buddhist Bodhi Tree, from legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange to the music of Kurt Cobain (the lead singer and guitarist of Nirvana), and from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse. The show invites viewers into the emotional ebbs and flows of the artist’s inner world and compels them to reconsider life’s bitterness and emptiness.
Tsang’s exhibition seems to perfectly echo what Hong Kongers think about their future, especially the younger generation, represented by a feeling of powerlessness in the face of a meaningless life in a city with no certain future. They might not need to draw from philosophies, religious concepts or literature like Tsang to rationalise the bitterness and suffering of life’s uncertainty.
Tsang said his exhibition is not an instant response to a certain social incident. However, he admits the turmoil of recent years in Hong Kong or the world may have affected him indirectly and unconsciously:
I put lots of personal experiences and feeling into this exhibition, such as my favourite movie or music, relatively more than the previous one ( at 56th Venice Biennale ). I didn’t intend to respond to a certain social issue. The exhibition just narrates how I feel about life.
Tsang, who was once a devout Christian, now is an atheist. Deeply influenced by Nietzsche, Tsang follows the 20th-century philosopher’s notorious pronouncement of the death of god – the infinite nothing in life. He explains to Art Radar:
The reason why the exhibition titled Nothing, because the word “nothing” is existence, I add the strikethrough on the word to emphasis the nothingness of the title.
Tsang’s current exhibition comprises an installation that is a continuation and evolution of “The Infinite Nothing”, including text, sound, projections and site-specific installation. According to Tsang, the installation in the open-air terrace of the M+ Pavilion is divided into three sections: the open sky above, the terrace itself and the curved staircase.
The sections represent, respectively, the unattainable metaphysical realm, the human world and the path of no return, covered in earth and accessible only through death. The stress that occupies the centre of the terrace struck the artist as richly symbolic. Tsang uses this symbol to suggest a sombre and philosophical matter: the destiny of mankind is like that of a tree, rooted in dust, and returning to dust. So what significance does life possess?
Tsang covered the exterior walls of the M+ Pavilion terrace with mirrors, creating a seemingly endless space in which we can see multiple “selves”. His thinking recalls Buddhist notions of impermanence and anatman (“non-self”), which posit that all things are insubstantial and that even our perceived “self” is an illusion.
Tsang tries to miniature humanity’s circle of existence in the exhibition for viewers to experience the emptiness and absurdity of life. Audiences are enticed by the written words displayed on the terrace floor that read “THIS IS THE ONLY WAY / THIS IS THE ONLY WAY”, before entering the gallery.
Audiences move through the space in a circle that represents the wheel of cyclical existence. They pass through a long, narrow passage into a dark gallery and see a huge, frightening prison screen video at the end of the passage capped by the American director Stanley Kubrick’s movie A Clockwork Orange.
After they weave through a forest of metal pillars, they encounter a tree projected on a glass wall, accompanied by no sound other than one’s own breathing. A ceiling-mounted projector in the gallery casts onto the floor the hazy image of a donkey so heavily loaded that it can barely move. The donkey represents the state in which humanity is burdened by responsibilities. In these surroundings, audiences can feel the emotional entrapment akin to that of a state of imprisonment behind bars, reflecting the intense helplessness of the modern age and the feeling of an afterlife.
Tsang’s favourite band Nirvana’s late lead singer and guitarist, grunge luminary Kurt Cobain who committed suicide in the 1990s, was also his inspiration in part of the exhibition. Tsang combines Ludwig van Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata with other sounds, placing it in the room
in the corner of the gallery, along with ambiguous imagery like a staged performance to create an
ambience along with different words including: “LOVE/YOUR HAPPINESS….RIGHT HERE.”: “LOVE/YOUR HAPPINESS….RIGHT HERE….” Tsang tells Art Radar:
I don’t believe in the existence of angels. So I focus on darkness in the exhibition. However, viewers can have different points of view, and they may see the impermanence of bitterness in life as well. It all depends on the interpretation of the viewers.
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