Male manicurists and armpits: emerging Australian art at Para/Site Hong Kong

 

Christian Bumbarra Thompson, The Sixth Mile, video

Christian Bumbarra Thompson, The Sixth Mile, video

AUSTRALIAN ART HONG KONG

 

 

Rare display of Australian contemporary art in Hong Kong

From 20 June to 2 August 2009, renowned nonprofit Para/Site Art Space in Hong Kong makes its space available to the Chalk Horse Art Center, an artist run initiative from Australia for a rare display of Australian contemporary art.

 

There are less than a handful of commercial galleries (Gaffer and Cat Street being two of the principal ones) which show Australian art in Hong Kong and in the non-commercial arena Australian art is even  more rare. So why Hong Kong? …and why now?

Oliver Watts outside Chalk Horse Art Center's show at Para/Site

Oliver Watts outside Chalk Horse Art Center's show at Para/Site

Artist Oliver Watts explains: “In Australia there is a lot of interest in Asia right now, a lot of government interest in funding these kind of cultural exchanges. After all our prime minister speaks Mandarin. We approached Para/Site about this project earlier in the year because it has an outstanding reputation in Australia”.

Their initiative was well-timed because Para/Site has become a fertile ground for such a project.  At the beginning of this year Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya took the helm as Executive Director and Curator at Para/Site and he has made it his mission to encourage collaboration and exchange between artists within the Asia Pacific region.

So far this year Fominaya has curated shows by Japanese performance artist Tatsumi Orimoto and Thai installation artist Surasi Kusolwong. This time he is stepping back as curator to allow Australian curator Dougal Phillips to present his exhibtion called  The Horn of Plenty: Excess and Reversibility, a showcase of video, performance, installation and painting by young Australian artists.

The double themes of  ‘excess’ and ‘reversibility’ refer to the recent juddering reversal of the economy from excess which is represented by the magical horn of plenty. In mythology this horn, which Zeus provided for the goat Amalthea,  endlessly overflowed with fruit, flowers and grain.

The title of the show is topical but not an adroit fit with the artworks; no matter though because there is some powerful art on display.

Look out for Christian Bumbarra Thompson’s two compelling video artworks. Thompson is the most senior artist in the show and his The Sixth Mile (2007) was shown at the inaugural National Indigenous Arts Triennale: Culture Warriors which “explores cultural hybridity and recalls nostalgically the importance his father placed on personal grooming”.

In the 34 minute Desert Slippers made in 2007 we see Thompson and his father engaging in repetitive ritualistic movements of armpit touching. Sweat-swapping becomes a disconcertingly intimate greeting ceremony.

A graduate of RMIT in 2004, Bumbarra Thompson (b.1978) is gaining recognition for his multiple talents as photographer, installation artist, curator and writer. His works have been exhibited extensively across Asia Europe and the South Pacific.

 

Kate Mitchell (b. 1980) too is interested in the the human body as a medium and creates powerful performance art from  by turning herself into a human sundial. In the video which records  her arresting 8 hour endurance performance in its entirety, Mitchell stands in the blistering sun from 9 am to 5 pm so that her shadow can mark the time of a perfect working day.

Kate Mitchell, 9-5, performance

Kate Mitchell, 9-5, performance

Mitchell could probably have done with some serious pampering after her toil and if you feel that you could too, then  come to Para/Site space between 24 and 28 June 2009.

Push your way through a curtained door opening tucked right at the back of the Para/Site space and inside you will find a surprise: a perfectly equipped nail salon where, on the appointed days you can receive a free manicure.  This art piece has been created by Bababa International, a Melbourne-based arts collective consisting of four young men who, according to a list they scribbled down on our media kit at the show’s press conference, are

  • Stephen Russell (tall, pale)
  • Giles Thackway (tall, handsome)
  • Tom Melick (tall, glasses)
  • IvanRuhle (the other guy)

Life appears to be a playful spree for these four and art is just as much of a lark. But it is their humour and endearing humility which allow them, with a light touch, to confront serious entrenched social issues such as the treatment of migrant workers.  While they stress that the event is open to anyone they have been working closely with organisations like the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants to help promote the event to Filipino domestic workers whom they are especially keen to attract. According to a review on SBS.com:

although a nail salon tended by boys, who admit they are still honing their skills in nail care seems like an entertaining spectacle, the project has intriguing socio-political undertones.

The salon is specifically aimed at providing pampering for Filipino maids on their day off after the collective became aware that domestic workers were congregating in an underpass in the absence of public spaces and leisure areas accessible to their socio-economic means.

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