The rise of Hong Kong street art – signs of a new creative awakening?



Street art is surging in Hong Kong. 

Two important exhibitions at Pearl Lam Galleries and Above Second are bringing artists off the gritty concrete and into the air-conditioning – revealing the city’s thriving sub-cultures and the presence of notable international talents. 

Installation view of 4Get from "Hidden Street" at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo by Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Installation view of 4Get’s work from “Hidden Street” at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo: Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Are we seeing signs of a creative awakening in Hong Kong? The city’s street artists have certainly been busy in recent years with the establishment of major events and galleries to support them, as well as a wave of international street artists coming to exhibit or even settle in the city to collaborate with local artists. Art Radar looks into the wave of developments in recent years and questions what the future has to hold.

Installation view of Bao's and Sinic's works (from left to right) from "Hidden Street" at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo by Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Installation view of Bao’s and Sinic’s works (from left to right) from “Hidden Street” at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo: Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

In 2013 the largest ever exhibition of international street art “Work in Progress” took place in a loading bay and defunct office space in Quarry Bay’s glitzy Somerset House. The show drew attention in the media and gave an international kick-start to the street art scene.

The following year, Hong Kong’s only international street art and graffiti festival was founded. HKwalls became a great catalyst for creative production of street art at the local level, giving the opportunity for artists to leave their designs on surfaces with the permission of building owners. Works from the 2014 festival in Sheung Wang and Stanley Market are still visible.

Adding fuel to the trend was the vast Umbrella Movement in late 2014. The protests turned out to be a rife platform for the creation of street art, with students, activists and citizens leaving their marks on the city’s concrete and turning the streets into extraordinary art installations. Their visual messages and rebellions were catapulted into the world’s consciousness via the international media reporting on the protests.

Sinic, Felipe Wong, Anny, Cath Love, Hadrian Lam, Uns and Peter Yuill from "Hidden Street" at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo by Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Sinic, Felipe Wong, Anny, Cath Love, Hadrian Lam, Uns and Peter Yuill from “Hidden Street” at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo: Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

From the streets to the gallery

This August, we’re seeing a new shift. Pearl Lam Galleries in SOHO is now starting to do the opposite: bringing the streets into the gallery with “Hidden Street” (PDF download), a community art project and exhibition of urban art on show until 11 September. Featuring some of the most well-known, young graffiti names in Hong Kong, the show includes a three-day live-painting session, artist talks, events with local indie singer and illustrator Jan Curious and workshops. A highlight is the screening of On The Road (2012), a street art travel documentary supported by Converse that recounts the 50-day, 2.250-kilometre-long painting journey from Southwest China’s Kunming to Tibet by artists Sinic, NAN and WHYYY (IDT Crew).

Installation view of Peter Yuill's work from "Hidden Street" at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo by Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Installation view of Peter Yuill’s work from “Hidden Street” at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo: Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

The exhibition is also taking place in an area that is the ripest for street art in Hong Kong. The artists in the show all have connections to the Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun neighbourhoods – historic areas on the western side of Hong Kong Island that are known for a unique art scene, restaurants and nightlife where Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO is located. The gallery provides a map with the location of some of the artworks present in the area by the nine exhibited artists.

Installation view of Bao, Anny, Felipe, Hadrian and Uns' collaborative mural from "Hidden Street" at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo by Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Installation view of Bao, Anny, Felipe, Hadrian and Uns’ collaborative mural from “Hidden Street” at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo: Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Bao, a young self-taught female graffiti artist, has created two large murals in collaboration with Hadrian Lam, Felipe Wong, Uns and Anny, inspired by the red, white and blue colours of the neighbourhood, and using found objects like majhong tiles and a post box for a collage effect. Canadian artist Peter Yuill’s hand-painted raven is inspired by Norse mythology, while local artist Sinic incorporated advertisement posters he took off local walls with a fusion of Western and Chinese calligraphy, transporting the alley into the gallery and visualising what is happening to the old buildings in the area.

Gallerist Pearl Lam tells Art Radar:

[…] By showing nine Hong Kong based street artists, I hope we can create a platform to engage audience[s] from a more diversified background and encourage dialogues at all levels.

An artwork by Nick Walker. Image courtesy the artist and Above Second, Hong Kong.

An artwork by Nick Walker. Image courtesy the artist and Above Second, Hong Kong.

Another major show opens

Only a few days after “Hidden Street” closes, another gallery in the area, Above Second, launches a solo exhibition of pioneering British street artist Nick Walker (b. 1969) entitled “Entrophy”.

Nick Walker, who is based in Bristol, first came to Hong Kong in December 2014 to gain inspiration and collect photographs for his future work in the show. “Entrophy” comprises a series created for the exhibition in honour of Hong Kong’s urban aesthetics, whose “abundance of old signage and history, and […] a very gritty edge” provide a connection between the city and the artist’s street scenes. Walker’s dystopian sci-fi imagery takes inspiration from the illustrative works of Moebius and Ridley Scott’s 1982 feature film Blade Runner (which was produced by Hong Kong’s Sir Run Run Shaw) as well as Jasper Johns.

An artwork by Nick Walker. Image courtesy the artist and Above Second, Hong Kong.

An artwork by Nick Walker. Image courtesy the artist and Above Second, Hong Kong.

An artwork by Nick Walker. Image courtesy the artist and Above Second, Hong Kong.

An artwork by Nick Walker. Image courtesy the artist and Above Second, Hong Kong.

A growing trend?

The increasing number of street art-focused exhibitions in Hong Kong may indicate a growing trend or renewed appreciation of the genre. While street art has long been in the city, it is hitting a new level of visibility. David Langlois Ng at Above Second tells Art Radar:

Street art is an art form that grew because of its ability to inspire individuals from every walk of life, the richest and least wealthiest person on the street can appreciate a tag if they know what they’re looking at. […]

Gallerist Pearl Lam, whose new gallery space in SoHo aims to complement her larger Pedder Building gallery, tells Art Radar:

Attention and interests on street art are developing. Graffiti was one of the first street art forms the general public came across, but nowadays, the audience is exposed to a wider range of street art including sculptures, mural paintings, installations and more, thanks to the support of various arts institutions and galleries providing exhibition space. You would be surprised by the number of active street artists in Hong Kong. […] The popularity of street art is growing in Hong Kong but it has been underrated for many years. The recent ‘Wipe Out’ exhibition at PMQ drew much attention and attracted a great number of crowds. The exhibition particularly went viral on social media platforms. […]

Installation view of Cath Love's work from "Hidden Street" at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo by Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Installation view of Cath Love’s work from “Hidden Street” at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo: Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Will it last?

Secret Walls, a worldwide live street art and graffiti competition, premiered in Hong Kong in 2013 and just held its 2015 edition in July. Together with the annual HKwalls festival, this event is a catalyst for the local street art scene and promotes a better understanding of graffiti art to the public, as well as giving a platform for artists to express themselves freely. But while HKwalls tries to find permanent locations for at least some of the artwork, Secret Walls is more of a temporary, even though rewarding, opportunity for artists.

Many artists, both local and international, creating street art in Hong Kong have one common complaint: the government is very quick and effective in erasing the art from public walls and street venues. One obvious local example is the late King of Kowloon, a street art legend in Hong Kong, whose works have all been painted over, even after the government committed to preserving some of it.

Installation view of Bao, Anny, Felipe, Hadrian and Uns' collaborative work from "Hidden Street" at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo by Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Installation view of Bao, Anny, Felipe, Hadrian and Uns’ collaborative work from “Hidden Street” at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo by Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

In early 2014, French street artist Invader came to Hong Kong to install 48 of his tiled works inspired by first generation arcade videogames in various spots in the city, only to see the majority of them being scratched off a month or so later. The Hong Kong Government was in for a surprise a year later in early 2015, when a replica of Invader’s life-sized Hong Kong Phooey (HK 58) achieved HKD1.96 million (USD250,000) at auction at Sotheby’s.

In May 2015, the new arts venue PMQ held “Wipe Out”, an exhibition of works by Invader, including some of those that the government wiped off the city’s walls. This may also be another solution for street artists, who usually are intimidated and out of context in a gallery: creating work that can be collected and conserved ‘forever’, not in the streets but still in the urban surroundings, as Zhang Dali’s evolution demonstrates in his recent exhibition “Under the Sky” (PDF download) at Pékin Fine Arts in Hong Kong.

An artwork by Nick Walker. Image courtesy the artist and Above Second, Hong Kong.

An artwork by Nick Walker. Image courtesy the artist and Above Second, Hong Kong.

Fortunately, there are places where artworks can survive their short material life in the virtual sphere, like HK Street Art, a website that archives an ever growing collection of street art and graffiti around Hong Kong. The Umbrella Movement Visual Archives & Research Collective has also made an effort to preserve, document and archive the 2014 protest art. The Google Cultural Institute has a vast virtual collection of images of King of Kowloon’s work.

Installation view of Sinic's work from "Hidden Street" at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo by Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

Installation view of Sinic’s work from “Hidden Street” at Pearl Lam Galleries SOHO, 2015. Photo: Moses Ng / studioEAST. Image courtesy Pearl Lam Galleries.

A new cultural awakening?

Even though street art might still have, for the majority, a short life span in Hong Kong’s public spaces, an increasing number of venues and art galleries in the city are welcoming and commissioning street artists to create work to display on the walls of their restaurants, cafes and businesses. There might, after all, be a bright future ahead for artists devoted to the form.

As David Langlois Ng at Above Second tells Art Radar:

Hong Kong is now the base for many renowned street artists such as: Peter Yuill, The Parents Parents, Stern Rockwell, Cath Love among others, and previously Mark Gross and the late, King Of Kowloon. Culturally and politically, this is a crucial era in Hong Kong’s history. With groups such as HKwalls, Vafford Gates, and our gallery, who exist here and are committed to putting street art in the public eye, street art appreciation in the city has grown exponentially in the last few years. Though we might not be at the point of what was going on for street art in New York during the 1980s with the graffiti boom, or Bristol at around the same time, I wouldn’t think that we are far off from a new cultural awakening.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

827

Related Topics: Hong Kong artists, emerging artists, street art, graffiti, urban art, political art, art and the community, democratisation of art, gallery shows, events in Hong Kong

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Seeking semiotics in colour: British-Balinese artist Sinta Tantra – interview



The young, British-Balinese artist Sinta Tantra “injects” colours into her vast architectual projects. 

Art Radar speaks with Sinta Tantra to learn more about her site-specific work in the world’s largest private development project, and how she blends colours and patterns to question communication and identity.

Sinta Tantra, 'A Beautiful Sunset Mistaken for a Dawn' commission for Olympic Games, DLR Bridge, Canary Wharf, London, 2012, paint on steel bridge, 2 x 300 m. Image courtesy the artist.

Sinta Tantra, ‘A Beautiful Sunset Mistaken for a Dawn’ commission for Olympic Games, DLR Bridge, Canary Wharf, London, 2012, paint on steel bridge, 2 x 300 m. Image courtesy the artist.

Sinta Tantra (b. 1979, New York City) earned her BFA with First Class Honours from the Slade School of Fine Art, University College of London in 2003 and a Post Graduate Degree in Fine Art from the Royal Academy Schools in 2006. Tantra is currently working on two public art commissions at the Newnham College in Cambridge University and the public square in Songdo, South Korea. Her work can be found in public and private collections, including the United Kingdom’s Government Art Collection. The artist has won several awards, including the prestigious Deutsche Bank Award in 2006.

Sinta Tantra. Image courtesy the artist.

Sinta Tantra. Image courtesy the artist.

You are a British artist of Balinese descent, born in New York City in 1979. How have your experiences spanning these three distinct cultures impacted your work and your sense of identity as an artist?

Growing up in both London and New York, I was very much aware of my Balinese and Indonesian heritage. When I was young, I found it frustrating how Western culture clashed so much with a Southeast Asian one. Like many first generation children whose parents migrated, I could never really identify with being from just one particular place. My work explores my identity and the layering of cultures specific to my own experiences. I am inspired by the colours of Bali, an English Heritage palette and 1980s pop Americana.

What is it about public art that particularly interests you?

Since art school, I often created site-specific works either on walls, floors or ceilings. Painting on canvas didn’t really appeal to me. I was more interested in playing with an architectural space – injecting colour, line and form into new environments. Admittedly in the early days, there was also the desire to challenge the gender stereotype – that both men and women could make large-scale works. Each commission brings with it an intimate and unique insight into both location and culture. There’s a sort of “constructivist” approach to the entire process which I like and there are the practicalities of making the work itself whilst giving the artwork a “social function”.

Sinta Tantra, aerial shot of public art commission in Songdo, South Korea. Image courtesy the artist. Photo by Kim Sung-Hwan. ⓒ Sinta Tantra.

Sinta Tantra, aerial shot of public art commission in Songdo, South Korea. Image courtesy the artist. Photo by Kim Sung-Hwan. ⓒ Sinta Tantra.

Can you tell us more about your recent project in Songdo, South Korea. Your installation is located in the world’s largest private development project – how did the project come about? And were there any constraints or major differences in the process compared to creating installations in the United Kingdom?

I was introduced to the director of Summ Projects, an art consultancy firm based in Korea and the United Kingdom, a few years ago in London. Since then we’ve stayed in touch and they’ve kept me in mind for projects. I got the commission in Songdo mainly based on my previous work for Canary Wharf, London, where I painted a bridge for the 2012 Olympics.

Both Canary Wharf and Songdo share similar features – business developments built from scratch, ambitious in scale and wanting to mark their claim in the global economy. There really wasn’t much difference in terms of working in Korea and working in the United Kingdom. When it comes to construction, blueprints and numbers seem to form a universal language. Having said this though, I’ve never experieced a delay due to a typhoon before!

For your public, site-specific installations, I’m curious to know how the process works: how much of the work do you do yourself – from the renderings, to the installation and the painting?

It really depends on how big the project is, [in terms of] location, budget and client. For a major international commission such as Songdo, the scale of the work means that I am not expected to undertake everything myself. In this case, the design and renders were made by both me and an architect in London. All the information, instructions and samples get sent to the project manager in Korea who then works with the clients and fabricators to make it all happen. On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve also spent plenty of time in my life climbing up scaffolding, covered in paint and dust! Having practical experience has helped me appreciate and judge what can and can’t be done on-site.

Sinta Tantra, 'Le Bonheur' installation view at NEST, Den Hague, 2012, acrylic, size variable. Image courtesy the artist.

Sinta Tantra, ‘Le Bonheur’ installation view at NEST, Den Hague, 2012, acrylic, dimensions variable. Image courtesy the artist.

You spent your artist residency in Yogyakarta. Could you tell us more about the local art scene there? What surprised you the most about it?

The local art scene in Jogja (short name for Yogyakarta) is exceptionally thriving. I often describe the city to people as a sort of “Berlin of Asia”. Cheap rents and cheap living allow for both artists and curators to have a more immediate approach to art making. Compared to living somewhere like London, it’s inspiring to see how much could be done on limited resources. There’s an international flair to the city too, as half of the artists there come from abroad to take part in residencies. It’s refreshing to be part of an art scene that is so young and progressive. Indonesia’s oldest art organisation, Cemeti Art House, is based in Jogja and has been running for only 25 years.

I read in the Jakarta Globe that Indonesian Batik artist Mochtar Apin influenced your work. Can you speak about how Indonesian traditions have been woven into your practice?

There’s this idea that there was never an “abstract” movement in Indonesian art and that Indonesian painting and sculpture consisted of figuration only until the 1970s. Outside the fine arts, you can see how geometric pattern, colour and composition play an important role in Indonesian crafts such as textiles, architecture and wood carvings. Mochtar Apin (1923–1994), was one of the first Indonesian painters to include batik designs, thereby making the link between decorative and abstract. In my work, there are specific elements inspired by Indonesian patterns. These patterns are reduced, distorted or enlarged to such a scale that the viewer becomes submerged in the decoration itself.

Sinta Tantra, “Eccentricity of Zero” commission at Napolean Gardens, Holland Park, London, 2013, glass panels, 2 x 2 x 2m. Image courtesy the artist.

Sinta Tantra, ‘Eccentricity of Zero’ commission at Napolean Gardens, Holland Park, London, 2013, glass panels, 2 x 2 x 2 m. Image courtesy the artist.

One of your designs, commissioned for the 2012 Olympics, is painted on the DLR Bridge across London’s Canary Wharf. Can you tell us more about the design behind the DLR Bridge and the creative source behind it? What challenges do you face when painting on an architectural scale such as a 300-metre long structure?  

My first challenge was to figure out how to create an artwork that would hold its own whilst creating a playful tension with the skyline. If you look out onto Canary Wharf, the DLR bridge appears as a lost, thin, horizontal line surrounded by skyscrapers. As part of my research, I created a 24-hour timelapse film from sunrise to sunset.

I wanted to understand how the bridge looked like at different times of day; how it functioned and how people, trains, buses interacted with it. You could say that the inspiration for the design was taken from the bridge itself. The colours, for example, were inspired by the film. Blues, greys and greens were selected for a daytime palette, whilst pinks and purples for a nighttime one.

Sinta Tantra, 'Gentlemen Prefer Blonds' (floor) and 'Miami Dizzle' installation shot from Canal Project's "Zinger!" group show at Salon Vert Gallery, 2014. Image courtesy the artist.

Sinta Tantra, ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blonds’ (floor) and ‘Miami Dizzle’ installation shot from Canal Project’s “Zinger!” group show at Salon Vert Gallery, 2014. Image courtesy the artist.

Your upcoming solo show, “Fantastic / Chromatic” (11 September – 10 October at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London) includes both paintings and installations. Several of your large works were influenced by American novelist William H. Gass’ On Being Blue: A Philosophical Enquiry. How did this book lead to the creation of these particular works?

One of the reasons why I was so inspired by this book was because it’s so different to any other colour book that I‘ve read. It rejects the typical scientific approach to colour theory, harmony. Instead, it explores playful colour associations. The references are varied, from high art to low art, from mundane to sexual.

I would say that this series of paintings have a “cooler” palette than early works, which focused more on pink. I’m interested in the semiotics of colour. [In particular], the complex nature of how we communicate through colour and how these associations reflect our own identities, tapping into our unconsciousness. In these new paintings, I enjoy creating a back-and-forth tension between the hot pinks and the blues.

Sinta Tantra, 'Simple Races', 2015,  paint on linen and found print, 77 x 44 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

Sinta Tantra, ‘Simple Races’, 2015, paint on linen and found print, 77 x 44 cm. Image courtesy the artist.

For this exhibition, you also create what you call “hybrid assemblages”, which include wall paintings, canvases and found prints. I have read that these assemblages were inspired by American naturalist and painter John James Audubon’s Birds of America folio (1827–1839). Can you explain these works and why his work is such an inspiration to you?

The exhibition explores the word “chroma” itself – its etymology, history and contemporary significance. Including Audubon’s prints as part of an installation adds another level of complexity. For the contemporary viewer, Audubon’s prints give historical evidence on how – like colour itself – these birds were seen as part of the New World, exotic, other.

Lisa Pollman

823

Related Topics: abstract art, art and architectureIndonesian artists, interviews, public art

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Largest-ever “Rain Room” arrives in Shanghai: Random International interview



Random International’s work lies at the very forefront of art and technology.

Art Radar interviews founders Florian Ortkrass, Stuart Wood and Hannes Koch about their artistic process and their monumental project Rain Room opening in Shanghai’s Yuz Museum next week. 

Random International, ‘Rain Room’, Installation view at MoMA, New York 2013. Image courtesy Random International.

Random International, ‘Rain Room’, installation view at MoMA, New York 2013. Image courtesy Random International.

From 1 September to 31 December 2015, Random International, the artists behind the highly acclaimed Rain Room installation at London’s Barbican in 2012 and MoMA in New York 2013, will be unveiling the largest Rain Room to date at Yuz Museum in Shanghai.

The founders of Random International’s collaborative studio tell Art Radar about the philosophy behind their high-tech artworks that explore behaviour and interactions between man, machine and environment, as well as their upcoming project in Shanghai.

Florian Ortkrass, Hannes Koch and Stuart Wood of Random International. Image courtesy the artists.

Florian Ortkrass, Hannes Koch and Stuart Wood of Random International. Image courtesy the artists.

Is it true that the three of you met while studying at the Royal College of Art in London, and after collaborating together on art projects, founded Random International? Could you talk about your respective backgrounds and what inspired you to focus on technology?

We actually met before the RCA, during our undergraduate studies at Brunel University. Flo and Hannes were in the same residence and being pretty much the only Germans there as well as a little bit older than the rest – we soon became friends and then collaborators.

We first worked with Stuart in the final year, on the graduate exhibition catalogue. We worked around the clock on it and realised we had surprisingly complementary attitudes and ideas. We all went on to the RCA and continued to collaborate, founding the studio directly upon graduating. We didn’t necessarily have a defined idea of what we were, as you define it above, but we all wanted – needed – the freedom to explore our ideas and we used technology as a tool to do so.

Your website says that Random International creates works and installations that explore behaviour, reaction and intuition in relation to natural phenomena and the human form. Could you elaborate on this?

Currently, we are fascinated by the relationship between man, machine and environment; we are looking at the implications of living in an increasingly computerised, mechanised world from an artistic perspective and how this might change those relationships or affect our perceptions of them. The physicality of the studio’s work is important to expressing this; “Rain Room” would not have worked with projected water, it has to be real to create the engagement.

Random International, ‘Temporary Printing Machine’, 2011, Corian frame, custom rail system, light reactive screen print on canvas, motor, electronic UV, glass LED print head, rapid prototyped components, proprietary software, proprietary tracking software, camera, lens, computer, 1170 x 1695 x 120 mm, edition of 8 + 4 AP. Installation view at Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Image courtesy Random International.

Random International, ‘Temporary Printing Machine’, 2011, Corian frame, custom rail system, light reactive screen print on canvas, motor, electronic UV, glass LED print head, rapid prototyped components, proprietary software, proprietary tracking software, camera, lens, computer, 1170 x 1695 x 120 mm, edition of 8 + 4 AP. Installation view at Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Image courtesy Random International.

You’ve received worldwide recognition with Rain Room, as well as with your interactive works such as Swarm Study (2010-ongoing), Audience (2008) and Fly (2011). Could you pick out what you think are Random International’s most noteworthy projects?

Well, Pixel Roller (2005) was the very beginning, our first work. It’s a performance tool with which you can physically paint digital information or imagery. We then developed other ways to materialise this, such as painting digital imagery with light on a light-reactive surface. This crossover between the intangible, digital information and the direct, physical way it is made manifest… this was something we began to explore further in our Temporary Printing Machine series (2009-ongoing) – blank canvases that respond to the onlookers by printing his or her reflection in light on a light-reactive canvas. Where Pixel Roller depended on our presence as artists, Temporary Printing Machine is automated and will perform continuously without our being there; it’s the viewer’s presence that is essential here.

Random International, ‘Audience’, 2008, mirror, metal cast bases, motors, custom motion tracking software, camera, computer, dimensions variable, each mirror 150 x 250 x 150 mm, edition of 8 + 4 AP. Installation view at Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Image courtesy Random International.

Random International, ‘Audience’, 2008, mirror, metal cast bases, motors, custom motion tracking software, camera, computer, dimensions variable, each mirror 150 x 250 x 150 mm, edition of 8 + 4 AP. Installation view at Carpenters Workshop Gallery. Image courtesy Random International.

The first work where we began to explore the recognition of three dimensional bodies in space was Audience (2008), a field of 64 small anthropomorphic mirrors each imbued with recognisably human-like behaviour. When a person walks towards the artwork, the mirrors collectively turn towards that person making them the subject of the artwork and presenting that person’s own reflection 64 times.

We began to explore the simulation of natural behaviour further, through the Swarm Study series (2010-ongoing), which translates the behaviour of flocking birds into light. The individual light sources act collectively, in real-time; each light source knows where it is in relation to its neighbour and follows certain basic rules to form the swarm, which also responds to the behaviour of people nearby. And of course there are the new works currently in development, but we will come to that…

Random International, ‘Swarm Study / III’, 2011, electronics, Corian, steel frame 4 cubes of 2327 x 1195 x 1195 mm. Installation view at V&A Museum, London. Image courtesy Random International.

Random International, ‘Swarm Study / III’, 2011, electronics, Corian, steel frame 4 cubes of 2327 x 1195 x 1195 mm. Installation view at V&A Museum, London. Image courtesy Random International.

I’d like to ask you about Rain Room: the breath-taking installation allows visitors to walk through a space experiencing rain, including the smell and sound of rain, without actually getting wet. How did you come up with the idea? 

We were coming up with new ideas for how to print digital information and were experimenting with dropping water onto a water-reactive substrate, like falling pixels. The more we began to think about this, the more we realised what would actually be more interesting to us was the system to make the waterfall – to make rain.

At the same time, we were exploring ideas of immersion, how that affects the senses, and so we came to ask ourselves: how would it feel to be surrounded by rain but remain protected from it at the same time? The presence of a visitor within Rain Room is detected by sensors, this causes the rain directly above that visitor (or visitors) to stop falling.

Random International, ‘Rain Room’, Installation view at MoMA, New York 2013. Image courtesy Random International.

Random International, ‘Rain Room’, Installation view at MoMA, New York 2013. Image courtesy Random International.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Rain Room installation at MoMA drew in 74,222 visitors during the 11 weeks. Why do you think it drew in such a large number of visitors?

Rain Room takes something very familiar and makes it totally surreal, but it’s also a very physical experience and perhaps there is a desire for that in an increasingly virtual age. The work is also aesthetically striking, which is not something we had anticipated, and people’s photographs inside Rain Room created a whole new facet of the work online.

Rain Room now arrives at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, founded by Budi Tek who is also building an “art theme park” in Bali. How did the China show come about? And what were some of the challenges in creating this installation – the biggest of all time?

Discussions began with Budi Tek and it grew from there. For us, it’s been a very engaging development process. The actual experience of Rain Room remains consistent, but it will be more overwhelming because the field of rain is bigger, and it will intensify the sensory aspect – the smell and sound of the rain – as well as enable more people to enter at once. For us as artists, it’s really important that this Rain Room will ultimately have a permanent home at Budi Tek’s sculpture park in Bali.

Random International, ‘What it isn’t’, 2014, glass vials, custom machined brass rings, vibration motor, custom circuit board, custom driver software and hardware, behavioral algorithm, computer, 444 pendants in a 12 x 37 grid, dimensions variable. Installation view at Lunds Konsthall, Lunds. Image courtesy Random International.

Random International, ‘What it isn’t’, 2014, glass vials, custom machined brass rings, vibration motor, custom circuit board, custom driver software and hardware, behavioral algorithm, computer, 444 pendants in a 12 x 37 grid, dimensions variable. Installation view at Lunds Konsthall, Lunds. Image courtesy Random International.

How do you see high-tech artworks or installations evolving over the next five years?

It’s likely that there will be a breaking-away from definition. As technology becomes more and more embedded in day-to-day life, so it will become more established as just another tool for creative expression; and to us it already is just this (see next question). Just as the borders between traditional media have today dissolved somewhat, so perhaps will this extend to encompass ‘new media’ in the future. For digital native artists, everything is open to them – technology is not necessarily a specialisation.

Random International, ‘Fly’, 2011, glass, cable, machined aluminium, pulley, custom control system and software, 2 x 2 m Protype. Rachel Verghis – Incubator. ‘Fly’ premiered at the 4th Moscow Biennial of Contemporary Art. Image courtesy Random International.

Random International, ‘Fly’, 2011, glass, cable, machined aluminium, pulley, custom control system and software, 2 x 2 m Protype. Rachel Verghis – Incubator. ‘Fly’ premiered at the 4th Moscow Biennial of Contemporary Art. Image courtesy Random International.

Finally, could you leave us with some of the new projects you are currently working on?

We’ve been taking part in a long-term residency at Harvard University over the past year or so, working with the Bio-mimetic Robotics Department and we have since developed a new body of work that looks at life in a world that is increasingly machine-led. One of these works, 15 Points, is a minimalistic representation of human movement. We’re incredibly excited to develop this further.

Christine Lee

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Related Topics: collaborative art, art and technology, interactive art, new media, museum exhibitions, events in Shanghai

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Revisiting the Utopian Ideal in Asian Contemporary Art at SAM – interview



Art Radar talks to SAM Senior Curator Tan Siuli about the exhibition “After Utopia”.

The Singapore Art Museum is revisiting the utopian ideal in Asian contemporary through an exhibition of artists from Singapore and across the Asian region. Tan Siuli discusses the show and the status of Southeast Asian art.

Anurendra Jegadeva, 'MA-NA-VA-REH – Love, Loss and Pre!Nuptials in the Time of the Big Debate', 2012 – 2014, multimedia installation, dimensions variable. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Anurendra Jegadeva, ‘MA-NA-VA-REH – Love, Loss and Pre!Nuptials in the Time of the Big Debate’, 2012/2014, multimedia installation, dimensions variable. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

“After Utopia” (PDF download) runs at the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) until 18 October 2015. Curated by Tan Siuli, a Senior Curator at SAM, the exhibition brings together 20 works by 18 artists from Singapore and other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, China and India. The artworks are drawn from SAM’s permanent collection as well as artists’ private collections and includes new commissions. The premise is to explore the creation of utopian ideals; imaginary worlds that have haunted our collective desires for centuries and still populate our contemporary realities.

SAM Senior Curator Tan Siuli. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

SAM Senior Curator Tan Siuli. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Tan Siuli oversees the Indonesia collection at SAM. She holds an MA in Art History from University College London, a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of Nottingham, UK, and a Postgraduate Diploma in Education from the National Institute of Education, Singapore. Among her previous curated exhibitions are “Unearthed” (2014); “The Collectors Show: Chimera. Asian Contemporary Art from Private Collections” (2012); “Classic Contemporary: Contemporary Southeast Asian Art from the Singapore Art Museum Collection” (2010); and “FX Harsono: Testimonies” (2010). She was Curator-Mentor in Curating Lab 2012, a co-curator of the Singapore Biennale 2013, a member of the Advisory Committee to the Indonesian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2013, and a Juror for the Bandung Contemporary Art Awards.

Art Radar speaks to Tan Siuli about “After Utopia”, curating Asian contemporary art, the Singapore art scene and the significance of Southeast Asian contemporary art.

Svay Sareth, 'Mon Boulet', 2011, single channel video installation with metal sphere. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Svay Sareth, ‘Mon Boulet’, 2011, single channel video installation with metal sphere. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Made Wianta, 'Air Pollution', 2014, motorcycle exhaust pipes, stainless pipe, 250 x 300 x 300 cm. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Made Wianta, ‘Air Pollution’, 2014, motorcycle exhaust pipes, stainless pipe, 250 x 300 x 300 cm. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

The exhibition “After Utopia” brings together artists from Singapore and the Asian region. Could you tell me about the underlying theme of the exhibition and how the different artistic practices are linked together through this theme?

“After Utopia” premises the idea of Utopia on four prospects. Our first sub-theme, “Other Edens” explores the image of the garden as a symbol of the originary paradise to which we long to return, even while reflecting back to us our current imperfections and fall from grace. Also encompassed in this strand are colonial imaginings of exotic dream-gardens overflowing with bounty, beckoning from distant, ‘undiscovered’ shores.

A second strand, “The City and its Discontents” locates our aspirations to the ideal in the contemporary structures and environments we inhabit, and how these concrete realities fall short of the utopian impulses of architecture and urban planning, such that escape from the city to its opposite – or the  ‘countryside’ – becomes inevitable. “Legacies Left” examines the legacy of ideologies that have left an indelible mark on the last century – thought experiments on which societies and nations have been built. The final chapter, “The Way Within”, journeys into the realms of self and psyche, where, eschewing the grand narratives of history – one utopia after another – a quiet thought lingers: perhaps, the search for the ever-elusive utopia lies inward.

How did the idea for this curatorial project come about and why do you think it is significant to present it right now? 

At SAM, we curate exhibitions around big ideas. Earlier this year we were slated to do a permanent collection show, and as this exhibition was scheduled to take place during Singapore’s jubilee year celebrations, the theme of Utopia was suggested as it occasioned an opportunity for thinking about, and revisiting, ideals and principles.

Gao Lei, 'Cabinet', 2008, (detail), metal cabinet and 3 rows of lightboxes, 270 x 45 x 190 cm. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Gao Lei, ‘Cabinet’ (detail), 2008, metal cabinet and 3 rows of lightboxes, 270 x 45 x 190 cm. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

The exhibition draws not only from the SAM collection and artists’ collections, but also has commissions made especially for the show. Could you speak about these commissions?

When we curate an exhibition, whether it’s “After Utopia” or another show, we look for compelling works which articulate or flesh out our curatorial propositions in interesting ways, and which also resonate with other works. We like to have multiple conversations going on in the same gallery.

As this was primarily a permanent collection show, we started by looking at works in our collection that could work for our theme, and we had numerous discussions over the selection. Apart from what I mentioned earlier, we also try to present works that have not been shown before – so you will find amongst the works in this show a number of recent acquisitions, or acquisitions dating further back that we have not had a chance to present yet. Once we have formed a ‘core’ comprising works from our permanent collection, we started to look outside for other existing works which we feel would contribute to the ideas and conversations in our curatorial narratives. As you can imagine, the process is very much like putting pieces of a jigsaw together.

There are a number of works that are on loan to us for the purposes of this exhibition, as well as a commissioned installation piece. Loans include those from local artists Tang Da Wu and Ian Woo, as well as Malaysian Chris Chong Chan Fui. The commissioned work is by artist Maryanto, who has recreated a work from his Rijksakademie residency show in Amsterdam two years ago, an installation that turns the tradition of the Mooi Indies (‘beautiful Indies’) on its head by presenting the landscape of his native Indonesia as one ravaged by big mining and industrial concerns, a dystopian rendering in charcoal and pencil.

Maryanto, 'Pandora’s Box', 2013/2015, charcoal and carbon powder drawing on wall, found objects, dimensions variable. Site-specific commission for Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Maryanto, ‘Pandora’s Box’, 2013/2015, charcoal and carbon powder drawing on wall, found objects, dimensions variable. Site-specific commission for Singapore Art Museum. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

I am interested to know what your approach is to studying and analysing contemporary art practices from Asia. For example, is it important to consider single countries art practices alone or should they be comparatively considered within a regional context for a more complete perspective? In the case of Southeast Asia, national practices are so diverse, what links them together as ‘Southeast Asian’ art?

First of all, this may be interesting for many to know: at SAM, each of the curators specialises in a particular country portfolio. I oversee the Indonesian portfolio, for instance. What this enables each of us to do is to develop more in-depth knowledge about the art scene of our respective country portfolios: how it has evolved over the years, who are some of the promising emerging artists, the nuances and shifts in the art scene(s).

When we convene our curatorial meetings, to discuss and plan new exhibitions and propose artists and artworks, we bring our respective ‘country’ expertise to the table. This is also when we make connections across various countries and art scenes in Southeast Asia, as parallels and differences start to emerge, in terms of art practices, styles, modes of making and thinking.

As curators, we also make the effort to travel with our colleagues to their respective countries of expertise, to get a sense of the art scene there, which in turn informs how we think about our own country portfolios. So, in response to your question, I would say that it is important to do both: to have a good sense of each individual country’s art scene, but also to have a sense of the bigger picture, which in turn sheds light on each country, by comparison.

Kawayan de Guia, 'Bomba', 2011, installation comprising of 18 mirror bombs, ‘Sputnik’ sound sculpture, dimensions variable. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Kawayan de Guia, ‘Bomba’, 2011, installation comprising of 18 mirror bombs, ‘Sputnik’ sound sculpture, dimensions variable. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

What links Southeast Asian art? I suppose one could also ask, what links Southeast Asia? This is a question that academics have been turning over for some time, and one which we had to confront at the last Singapore Biennale as well. And we are still asking. As you pointed out, the various countries, cultures and art scenes that make up Southeast Asia are so incredibly diverse. And that is precisely why this region holds so much fascination for us.

Generally speaking, there are common threads running through much of this region’s history. In recent times, some of the commonalities include: political and social upheaval; rapid transformation of ways of life as well as art-making, once the interest of the art world (and art market) turned towards this part of the world. So a lot of similar themes emerge in Southeast Asian contemporary art: socio-political commentary, identity politics, grappling with ‘globalisation’, etc. But every art scene, and every artist, addresses this in varying ways, and every art scene is also developing at a different pace, shaped by different forces, so these variations are what makes it fascinating to study this region and make comparisons across.

Geraldine Javier, 'Ella Amo’ Apasionadamente y Fue Correspondida (For She Loved Fiercely, and She is Well-Loved)', 2010, oil on canvas, with framed insets of embroidery with preserved butterflies, 229 x 160 cm. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Geraldine Javier, ‘Ella Amo Apasionadamente y Fue Correspondida (For She Loved Fiercely, and She is Well-Loved)’, 2010, oil on canvas, with framed insets of embroidery with preserved butterflies, 229 x 160 cm. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

What is your outlook on the view of and impact of Southeast Asian art internationally? Which according to you are the most important art scenes coming out of the region right now and why? And which do you think are the most promising, emerging ones in terms of development and evolution?

Everyone is calling this ‘the Asian century’ and I am inclined to agree. We live in an interesting epoch where the art world is becoming much more diverse, with multiple narratives and epicentres of production and presentation developing, in addition to the more traditional Euro-American spheres. The Southeast Asian contemporary art scene has been extremely active in recent years, and is gaining steady recognition around the world.

Arguably, the Philippines and Indonesian art scenes are the most established in the region. Both countries have dynamic art scenes, and their artists have enjoyed critical success at major expositions of contemporary art, as well as international gallery representation. Singapore is also a major presence in the region, because we have the infrastructure that many other countries in Southeast Asia lack: museums, to present and validate art in a non-commercial context, just to cite one example. In recent years, a number of Singaporean artists have also made their mark in the international art scene.

Kamin Lertchaiprasert, 'Sitting', 2004, installation with 366 carved wooden sculptures, dimensions variable. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Kamin Lertchaiprasert, ‘Sitting’, 2004, installation with 366 carved wooden sculptures, dimensions variable. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

How the contemporary art scene in Thailand develops in the coming years will also be interesting to observe, with a new generation of artists with interesting, conceptually-oriented practices, a critical mass of writer / thinker / artist / educators, and the recent establishment of institutions such as the Bangkok Art And Culture Centre, located right in the heart of the city and making more accessible well-curated exhibitions of contemporary art from Thailand and Southeast Asia.

That said, while there is a lot of excitement about and enthusiasm for Southeast Asian contemporary art, the art scene in this part of the world is still very nascent, and a lot more needs to be done to cultivate a public appreciative of contemporary art. I feel it is also important to continue to develop new frameworks for considering art; new ways of thinking about and presenting the art and ideas emerging from this region.

Tang Da Wu, 'Sembawang', 2013, (details), multimedia installation, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Tang Da Wu, ‘Sembawang’ (detail), 2013, multimedia installation, dimensions variable. Collection of the artist. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Being from Singapore, you surely have a very in-depth knowledge of the art scene there. Where does it stand now within the Southeast Asian region, the broader Asian context and finally, upon the international stage?

The Singapore art scene has grown tremendously within the past decade or so. This may be attributed to the fact that the development of the art scene here has largely been determined and supported by the government, which has ensured some continuity and stability unlike other projects in other art scenes in the region, which may come and go depending on the availability of funding or the initiatives of individuals and private organisations.

Within the region, Singapore is known for its infrastructure and many artists from Southeast Asia aspire to show their work here, because they know here their art will be presented in a professional manner, and in a proper museum or gallery setting. For many, showing in Singapore is an opportunity for their art to be seen by international visitors – something they may not be able to achieve in their home countries. Singapore artists have also been gaining international recognition, because of the availability of government funding for the arts, schemes to develop artistic talent and concerted efforts to profile Singaporean artists abroad.

Donna Ong, 'The Forest Speaks Back I', 2014, single channel projection with sound 8:00 min (loop). Collection of the artist. 'Letters From The Forest (II)', 2015, 19th century antique desk with accompanying chair, two LED dioramas from cut illustrations in wooden boxes, stuffed bird, antique letter cases with cut paper butterflies, antique frames with found photographs and old books, magnifying glass, compass and bottles, dimensions variable. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy Singapore Art Museum.

Donna Ong, ‘The Forest Speaks Back I’, 2014, single channel projection with sound 8:00 min (loop). Collection of the artist. ‘Letters From The Forest (II)’, 2015, 19th century antique desk with accompanying chair, two LED dioramas from cut illustrations in wooden boxes, stuffed bird, antique letter cases with cut paper butterflies, antique frames with found photographs and old books, magnifying glass, compass and bottles, dimensions variable. Singapore Art Museum collection. Image courtesy the artist and Singapore Art Museum.

We are, I believe, on the cusp of a new chapter with new challenges: Singapore’s infrastructural edge may not be enough once our regional neighbours start to catch up and build their own museums and cultural centres and organise their own biennales and art fairs. International networks are easy to form these days in this hyper-connected age, and international curators and art enthusiasts can go directly to artists in Southeast Asia, without the need for intermediaries. The challenge now is for the Singapore art scene to distinguish itself with the thoughtful content it creates, to hopefully be amongst the pioneers – as I mentioned earlier – of new ways of thinking about and presenting the art and ideas of this region.

There is now also growing confidence in the art of this region, and hopefully this will, in time, translate into developing local talent and institutions, and being less reliant on looking to foreign ‘imports’ or establishments for validation.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Southeast Asian artists, Asian artists, museum exhibitions, curatorial practice, events in Singapore, interviews with curators

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Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize 2015 opens for submissions



The third edition of the prize calls upon Hong Kong’s creative community to shine a light upon those in need. 

The Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize aims to raise awareness through visual art, acting upon the belief that art can bring about significant social change.

Xyza Bacani, 'BURN', 2013, photograph, 31 x 47cm, edition 1/10. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Xyza Cruz Bacani, ‘BURN’, 2013, photograph, 31 x 47 cm, edition 1/10. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

The Justice Centre Hong Kong, a charity protecting the rights of forced migrants, is calling for entries for the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize 2015. The deadline for submissions on the theme of ‘human rights’ is on 20 September 2015. Accepted media include photography, painting, prints, digital work and video.

A panel of prominent art experts and human rights specialists will shortlist artworks, to be sold at a charity auction in December 2015, when the winner of the prize will also be announced and awarded HKD30,000. Shortlisted artists are encouraged to donate their works to the charity, as auction proceeds will be used to support the work of the Justice Centre to protect human rights of refugees and survivors of human trafficking.

RiK Yu, 'A Somatic Dialogue', 2013, series of 5 videos, edition 1/5. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

RiK Yu, ‘A Somatic Dialogue’, 2013, series of 5 videos, edition 1/5. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

One of a kind in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize is now in its third edition and was founded in 2013 by the Hong Kong Refugee Advice Centre, known as the Justice Centre Hong Kong since 2014. The Prize provides a platform for young, Hong Kong-based artists to explore issues surrounding human rights through visual art, thus also raising awareness about these problems amongst the public.

In the press release for the 2015 announcement, Adela Kamaragoda of Justice Centre Hong Kong, says (PDF download):

This is the only arts prize of its kind in Hong Kong, and through it, I hope we can give artists a platform to put the spotlight on issues they are passionate about that affect the rights of Hongkongers and those further afield.

In 2014, the Human Rights Arts Prize focused on the theme of ‘modern slavery and human trafficking’. The Prize received over 40 entries from Hong Kong-based artists of diverse origins, coming from as far as Finland, Cameroon, Zimbabwe, Australia, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. The judging panel included artist and activist Kacey Wong, Claire Hsu - the founder and director of Asia Art Archive (AAA) – and Kevin Zervos, a Judge of the High Court in Hong Kong.

Katie Vajda, 'Can you see me yet?', 2014, series of 2 photographs, 76 x 50cm each, edition 1/6. Xyza Bacani, 'BURN', 2013, photograph, 31 x 47cm, edition 1/10. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Katie Vajda, ‘Can You See Me Yet?’, 2014, series of 2 photographs, 76 x 50cm each, edition 1/6. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

The 16 shortlisted artists and the winner of the second edition of the prize, Katie Vajda, were announced on International Human Rights Day, on 10 December 2014, during an exhibition and Christie’s charity auction at Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

The winner of the Justice Centre Choice Award, Xyza Cruz Bacani, emerged as a notable new talent. A former domestic worker turned award-winning photographer, she claimed the prize with her image of a domestic worker with her back burnt by soup – who had been denied medical attention by her employer. Bacani was quoted as saying in the 2015 call for entries press release:

Through this Prize I could plant seeds of awareness among the public, so they can’t ignore the abuse that happens behind closed doors. By raising awareness, slowly we can bring about change. I would encourage artists to enter the Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize as it is a way of focusing on the issues they care about, and making them mainstream. These issues are underreported and unknown, so it is important to raise awareness of them.

Tiff Chan and Shawn Griffin, 'Bless the souls who made our clothes', 2014, series of 3 archival inkjet prints on Hahnemühle pearl paper, 18 x 25cm each, edition 1/1. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Tiff Chan and Shawn Griffin, ‘Bless the Souls Who Made Our Clothes’, 2014, series of 3 archival inkjet prints on Hahnemühle pearl paper, 18 x 25cm each, edition 1/1. Image courtesy the artist and Hong Kong Human Rights Arts Prize/Justice Centre Hong Kong.

Art that can change the world

Last year’s Prize coincided with a highly-charged time in Hong Kong’s political and social climate. The Umbrella Movement saw a great surge in people’s participation in activism, and artists’ involvement in the protests resulted in the creation of significant artworks in favour of democracy. The 2014 protests also marked a time when, according to a PEN report (PDF download), the freedom and diversity of expression in the Hong Kong press was being further imperilled.

Kacey Wong, who has been a judge for the Prize since its inception, was active during the Umbrella Movement and used his social networks to create action through art. In a 2014 press release (PDF download), where Wong called for support for the Prize from the artistic community, the artist was quoted as saying:

I believe art can change the world. Art doesn’t really solve the problem but it brings forward the problem. Art arouses emotion towards the problem; when enough attention is created, the problem might eventually be resolved. Be it photography, a flag, or a song that was sung in a rally, art has its place and it is one of the best weapons that will free us and bring positive change to the world.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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5 Taiwanese artists going global



Art Radar profiles the diverse practices of 5 Taiwanese artists making an impact on the international stage. 

We chart the multimedia practices of five Taiwanese artists: Kuo-chun Chiu, Ya-chu Kang, Kuei-chih (Chris) Lee, Liping Ting and Chin Chih Yang.

Kuo-chun Chiu, 'Land of Deities 04', 2014. Image courtesy the artist.

Kuo-chun Chiu, ‘Land of Deities 04′, 2014. Image courtesy the artist.

A small island country with limited art markets, Taiwanese artists often need to go global with their art. This is aided by Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture and Taiwanese foundations that support the global presence of Taiwan’s contemporary artists by offering venues in foreign countries and international artist-in-residency grants – such as those through the Taiwan National Culture and Arts Foundation, Taipei Artist Village and Fubon Foundation. Art Radar explores the works of five notable artists who are moving from strength-to-strength. Their unique brands of art transcend the geographic confines of their small island as well as the boundaries of any one specific media.

Kuo-chun Chiu, 'Untitled 2', 2015, digital photo with embroidery. Image courtesy the artist.

Kuo-chun Chiu, ‘Untitled 2′, 2015, digital photograph with embroidery. Image courtesy the artist.

Kuo-chun Chiu: Innovating photography 

Taiwan is known for its technological innovations and development of cutting edge technology in its industry as well as its art. Much of the most innovative contemporary art from Taiwan is in the field of digital photography, computer art and video. Photography is arguably the dominant media in contemporary Taiwanese art and the strongest department in most art universities in Taiwan.

Kuo-chun Chiu is an example of Taiwanese innovation in photography. An Associate Professor at the College of Creative Media, Kun Shan University in Tainan, Taiwan, he completed an MFA in Photography at SUNY New Paltz in the United States and then returned to Taiwan to pursue a career as an artist photographer.

Chiu’s multi-media work focuses on issues related to Taiwanese culture and society. In 2014 he won the Kaohsiung Award presented annually by the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts to outstanding up and coming Taiwanese artists. For this competition, he produced a new body of work that explored the traditional temple celebrations of south Taiwan combining his digital photography with embroidery, an unusual combination of media. Chiu collaborated with artisans who do embroidery work for temples in south Taiwan, giving them his printed photographs and allowing them creative freedom to interpret his ideas using the colorful embroidery. The artist also does outdoor sculpture installations and in August 2015 he participated in the Photography World Expo in China’s Yunnan Province.

Ya-chu Kang, 'The Loop', 2014, bamboo baskets, dirt, mixed media gallery installation, created during residency at Khon Kaen in Bangkok, Thailand. Image courtesy the artist.

Ya-chu Kang, ‘The Loop’, 2014, bamboo baskets, dirt, mixed media gallery installation, created during residency at Khon Kaen in Bangkok, Thailand. Image courtesy the artist.

Ya-chu Kang: Questioning the effects of globalism

Ya-chu Kang is a multi-media artist from Taiwan who has been to many residencies around the world including in the United States, Jordan, Canada and Thailand. Kang’s interdisciplinary practice includes a wide range of processes and media, among them photography, sculpture, video, sewing, felting, basketry and performance. She seeks to raise awareness about the economic, environmental and emotional effects of globalism through installation, collaboration and object-making.

After obtaining her MFA in 2005 in textile arts from Tainan National University of the Arts in Taiwan, Kang has made a mark in contemporary art with indoor and outdoor sculpture installations as well as global art projects in video, performance and photography. In 2014 she participated in a cultural exchange residency project in Thailand between Taipei Artist Village (Taiwan) and the Silpakorn University (Nakhon Pathom, Thailand) that resulted in a two-person exhibition in April 2015 at Taipei Artist Village, Taiwan. The exhibition featured video of her site installation in Thailand titled The Loop (2014) as well as sculpture and photography works from her Thailand residency.

Kang has received grants to do textile research trips in countries such as Peru and has produced a book in Chinese about her travels exploring the textile traditions of different countries. In February 2015, Garden City Publisher released Textile Map: An Artist’s Trips of Weaving and Dyeing. The book is illustrated with Kang’s sketches and photography depicting traditional textiles and contemporary practices in different countries where she traveled. She is already busy planning a second book documenting additional travels to explore the textiles of other countries.

In July 2015 Kang participated in a residency in Finland. In September 2015 she will be creating an environmentally focused multi-media work for the 2015 Guandu International Outdoor Sculpture Festival at Guandu Nature Park in Taipei. Later in December 2015 she is headed to an artist-in-residency in India with the Global Nomadic Art Project India.

Lee Kuei-Chih, 'Holy Stream', 2014, mixed media sculpture installation of natural materials, created for exhibition in Busan, Korea. Image courtesy the artist.

Lee Kuei-Chih, ‘Holy Stream’, 2014, mixed media sculpture installation of natural materials, created for exhibition in Busan, Korea. Image courtesy the artist.

Lee Kuei-chih (Chris): Land art 

In the field of land art, Taiwanese artist Lee Kuei-chih (Chris) is making a name for himself in the international arena. Lee’s art encompasses sculpture, photography, performance, video, painting, writing and collaborative work with artists in other disciplines. He has participated in several international environmental art projects in Taiwan, and recently has begun traveling outside Taiwan.

In 2014 he created a sculpture installation in Korea, participating in the International Open Air Arts Festival in Busan. In July-August 2015 he has been an artist-in residence in Japan at the Shinano Primitive Sense Art Festival creating a site-specific sculpture installation in the forests near Kizaki Lake. His outdoor sculpture installation is a three-part work titled Water Aura that draws attention to the importance of water and incorporates sound elements with the wind activating the hanging bamboo and wood elements.

After Japan, he travels to Korea for the “2015 Gang Won Environmental Installation Art Invitational Exhibition” from August 20-30, then in September he is back in Taiwan to participate in the 2015 Guandu International Outdoor Sculpture Festival at Guandu Nature Park, Taipei.

Liping Ting, '7 x 7 Poetry-Action’, 2015, multi media gallery installation with performance at Taipei Artist Village, Taipei, Taiwan. Image courtesy the artist.

Liping Ting, ’7 x 7 Poetry-Action’, 2015, multi media gallery installation with performance at Taipei Artist Village, Taipei, Taiwan. Image courtesy the artist.

Liping Ting: Poetry-Action

Liping Ting lived and worked in France for many years after completing her graduate studies in Paris, returning to Taiwan in 2012. Her artworks blend diverse cultural sources including art, literature, theatre, music and philosophy and are influenced by the work of John Cage and Samuel Beckett as well as the Chinese poet and philosopher Zhuang-Zi.

Ting was an artist-in-residence at Taipei Artist Village in 2013-14, producing new works in video and performance with installation art. Her recent performance artwork 7 x 7 Poetry-Action, reflects on Taoist priniciples of balance and flexibility and involves the artist walking very slowly with a stone on the head and a feather in the mouth.

Ting creates video art as well as doing live performances and sculpture installations at exhibitions and festivals around the world. In 2014 she traveled to China to participate in the Art of Performance Festival that toured to Xi’an, Ximen, Beijing, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. In the summer of 2015 she was in France participating in several performance art events. In 2016 Ting will head to New York for a music/art project involving contemporary composers.

Chin Chih Yang, 'Kill Me or Change', 2012, public performance at Queens Museum of Art. Image courtesy the artist.

Chin Chih Yang, ‘Kill Me or Change’, 2012, public performance at Queens Museum of Art. Image courtesy the artist.

Chin Chih Yang 

Chin Chih Yang is known for his guerrilla as well as institution-sponsored public performances with an environmental and social focus. Originally from Taipei, Yang studied at Pratt Institute and Parsons School of Design in New York and has lived in Queens for many years. Now he maintains a studio in New York as well as doing exhibitions, residencies and art projects in Taiwan for at least part of the year.

He has done several performances sponsored by the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing, New York, including his Kill Me or Change public performance at the official reopening of the newly-renovated museum in 2012 that involved releasing a mass of aluminum cans to fall on the head of the artist. Other public performances such as Carry Water were guerrilla performances on the streets of New York City. Here, the artist costumed in traditional Chinese dress, carried water in buckets – peasant-style – around the streets of New York City to bring attention to the importance of conserving water.

In 2015 he has presented several multi-media public art works in the United States including An Interactive Protest Against Corporate Waste in April 2015 that was staged independently in New York’s Times Square. For this one-night performance, the artist wore a costume woven of several thousand strips from aluminum cans collected in Times Square and erected a lighted tower of cans with public participation to raise awareness about individual responsibility and corporate waste.

He also created the multi-media sculpture installation Enduring Love for an exhibition running 8 August – 18 September 2015 at the New York Hall of Science to focus attention on what humans will become if modified by technological devices. For this sculpture, he uses a traditional Taiwanese paper-like material (pith paper) made from a native Taiwanese plant, and LED lights, branches, aluminum cans and more to create a spectral lighted humanoid figure transformed by technology. A solo exhibition of Yang’s multi-media installation, video and performance works will be on view at Taipei MOCA in Spring 2016.

Jane Ingram Allen

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“First Look” at the Asian Art Museum reveals a strategy of expansion



San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum unveils growing contemporary art collection.

As the Asian Art Museum launches its second summer exhibition of works from its recent contemporary art collection, Art Radar looks into the Museum’s strategy of ‘renewal’ and the highlights of “First Look”.

The front facade of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum.

The front facade of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum.

On 4 September 2015, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco will launch “First Look: Collecting Contemporary at the Asian”, an exhibition featuring highlights and recent acquisitions in the Museum’s expanding contemporary art collection. Running until 11 October, the show marks the second time in 2015 that the Asian Art Museum is mounting a major display of contemporary art from its collection.

Ushio Shinohara (Japanese, b. 1932), 'Boxing Painting, Feb. 16th, 2009-A', 2009, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Collette and Peter Rothschild, 2013.49. © Ushio Shinohara. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Ushio Shinohara, ‘Boxing Painting, Feb. 16th, 2009-A’, 2009, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Collette and Peter Rothschild, 2013.49. © Ushio Shinohara. Photo: © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

A strategy of ‘renewal’

The Asian Art Museum is renowned for its collection of Asian antiquities. The museum boasts a 180,000 strong collection, 1,100 of which are Asian contemporary artworks acquired in the past 15 years. This effort is comparable to LACMA, also known for its historical art collection, which has recently begun to collect contemporary art for its Islamic Collection in “Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East”.

Manuel Ocampo (Filipino, b. 1965), 'An Object at the Limits of Language - Necromantic Kippian Emancipator: No. 2', 2000, oil on linen. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Malou Babilonia, 2007.78. © Manuel Ocampo. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Manuel Ocampo, ‘An Object at the Limits of Language – Necromantic Kippian Emancipator: No. 2′, 2000, oil on linen. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Malou Babilonia, 2007.78. © Manuel Ocampo. Photo: © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Allison Harding is Guest Curator at the Asian Art Museum and the force who has organised “First Look”. As she explains in the press release (PDF download), understanding contemporary art is linked to a knowledge of its past context and traditions:

To truly understand the contemporary, you must understand the tradition from which it emerged. “First Look” embodies how tradition can inspire new works in the present and continue to impact contemporary life.

Koo Bohnchang (Korean, b. 1953), 'AM 010', 2011, archival pigment print. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by Frank S. Bayley, 2013.4. © Koo Bohnchang. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Koo Bohnchang, ‘AM 010′, 2011, archival pigment print. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by Frank S. Bayley, 2013.4. © Koo Bohnchang. Photo: © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

The Asian Art Museum is not new to contemporary art exhibitions. The Museum has already held “28 Chinese” this summer, presenting 48 works by 28 Chinese artists organised by Miami’s Rubell Collection. As Dr Karin Oen, the Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art, tells Art Radar:

Now, in the 21st century, the museum acknowledges that the artistic activities of the past century need to come to the forefront of the museum’s arts and programmes. Over the past 15 years, the Asian Art Museum has made a concentrated effort to include contemporary art in its exhibition programmes and acquisition pursuits. We’ve organised two major contemporary art exhibitions – “Phantoms of Asia” (2012) and “Gorgeous” (2014) and number of exhibitions and installations including “Proximities” (2014), “Tetsuya Ishida: Saving the World with a Brushstroke” (2014-2015) and “Sanaz Mazinani: Threshold” (2015). In 2015 we are presenting our “Summer of Contemporary Art” with “28 Chinese” and “First Look”. Expect to see more contemporary art from the museum.

C. C. Wang (Chinese, 1907–2003), 'Brush Symphony', 1998, ink on paper. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Yiqingzhai Collection, 2005.58. © Estate of C. C. Wang. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

C. C. Wang, ‘Brush Symphony’, 1998, ink on paper. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum, Gift of the Yiqingzhai Collection, 2005.58. © Estate of C. C. Wang. Photo: © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Taking up a challenge

The roots for this change began in 1998, when the Asian Art Museum held a seminar involving a number of influential professionals in the field of Asian contemporary art. As Oen explains to Art Radar, this group:

discussed the complexities of dealing with contemporary art when coming from a foundation of traditional art, and they called upon the Asian Art Museum to take up the challenge.

Oen, who was recently appointed in her current role supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for two years, is planning to step up the Museum’s contemporary programming. She reveals to Art Radar:

After getting more familiar with the collection, I will develop a strategy for expanding our contemporary holdings, as well as updating our approach to presenting contemporary art in general. You’ll likely see the early fruits of this thinking next spring.

Yang Yongliang (Chinese, b. 1980), 'The Night of Perpetual Day', 2013, HD video, four-channel with soundtrack, edition 3 of 7. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by Gorretti and Lawrence Lui, with additional funding from Richard Beleson, 2014.14. © Yang Yongliang.

Yang Yongliang, ‘The Night of Perpetual Day’, 2013, HD video, four-channel with soundtrack, edition 3 of 7. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by Gorretti and Lawrence Lui, with additional funding from Richard Beleson, 2014.14. © Yang Yongliang.

A first look at the Asian’s contemporary collection

“First Look” features more than 40 works of Asian contemporary art, many of which are on show for the first time. The artworks, as written in the press release, “connect us to Asia’s histories and traditions with the immediacy of contemporary ideas”.

Guest curator Allison Harding, who was also responsible for the presentation of “28 Chinese”, tells Art Radar what the exhibition sets out to demonstrate:

We wanted to show strengths of the growing contemporary art collection as well as its breadth and diversity. In First Look, you’ll see a variety of mediums from photography, animation and video to contemporary ceramics, ink paintings, sculptural baskets, and drawings. You’ll also see works from artists from across Asia, including Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, and the United States.

Lu Shoukun (Chinese, 1919–1979), 'Chan', 1974, ink and colours on paper. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of the Yiqingzhai Collection, 2011.53. © Estate of Lu Shoukun. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Lu Shoukun, ‘Chan’, 1974, ink and colours on paper. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of the Yiqingzhai Collection, 2011.53. © Estate of Lu Shoukun. Photo: © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

The exhibition includes artworks that engage with the tradition of landscape painting and represent a deeper spiritual connection with nature, such as Zhu Jinshi’s painting The Third Time Going to the Yellow Mountain (2011) and Okura Jiro’s wooden sculpture Chair for the Breeze (1973).

“First Look” also features some key contemporary ink art, a genre that occupies a large part of the Museum’s contemporary collection with more than 70 works by leading artists. The exhibition includes traditional paintings by Lu Shoukun, the pioneer of the New Ink Movement in Hong Kong, with his work Chan (1974) and C. C. Wang’s Brush Symphony (1998).

by Xu Bing (Chinese, b. 1955), 'The Character of Characters', 2012, animated five-channel video installation. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, 2013.20.1-.2. © Xu Bing.

Xu Bing, ‘The Character of Characters’, 2012, animated five-channel video installation. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Acquisition made possible by The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation, 2013.20.1-.2. © Xu Bing.

Other highlights are represented by artists who have pushed the boundaries of the medium and transported it beyond the paper support, such as the videos The Character of Characters (2012) by Xu Bing and Yang Yongliang’s The Night of Perpetual Day (2013).

RongRong (Chinese, b. 1968) & inri (Japanese, b. 1973), 'Untitled, No. 25', 2008, gelatin silver print. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Jack and Susy Wadsworth, 2013.15. © RongRong & inri. Photograph © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

RongRong & Inri, ‘Untitled, No. 25′, 2008, gelatin silver print. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Gift of Jack and Susy Wadsworth, 2013.15. © RongRong & Inri. Photo: © Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

Artworks debuting in “First Look” include Japanese technologists teamLab’s animated new media pieces, as well as an iconic image by Chinese-Japanese husband and wife photographers duo Rong Rong and Inri, Untitled, No. 25 (2008), in which the couple are joined together by their braided hair.

Ahmed Mater (Saudi Arabian, b. 1979), 'llumination Waqf', 2013, gold leaf, tea pomegranate, Chinese ink and offset X ray film print on paper. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Museum purchase, 2014.15.a-.b. © Ahmed Mater.

Ahmed Mater, ‘llumination Waqf’, 2013, gold leaf, tea pomegranate, Chinese ink and offset X ray film print on paper. Image courtesy Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, Museum purchase, 2014.15.a-.b. © Ahmed Mater.

Premiering in the show is also Saudi artist Ahmed Mater’s Illumination Waqf (2013), a diptych print recalling a decorated Islamic manuscript showing X-rays of two human figures facing each other. Another major highlight of “First Look” is Filipino Manuel Ocampo’s An Object at the Limits of Language – Necromantic Kippan Emancipator: No. 2 (2000), a painting that incorporates all the defining characteristics of Ocampo’s irreverent, cartoonish style that challenges the taboos of the art world, society and religion. The artist will also be talking about his work on opening night, 3 September 2015, in conversation with Chinese artist Chen Man.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Asian artists, museum exhibitions, curatorial practice, events in San Francisco

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