Art Radar speaks with Para/Site curator, director Fominaya on November auction event

ART AUCTION FUNDRAISER HONG KONG CURATOR INTERVIEW

Para/Site Art Space, a non-profit organisation located in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, will hold its annual Para/Site Fundraising Auction in early November this year. It will take place in the Kee Club, who also support the event, and is one of the most important fund-generators for the space. Para/Site is devoted to the exhibition of local and international contemporary art. It is also a space where seminars, talks and workshops take place regularly.

We had the opportunity to talk with the Para/Site Director and Curator Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya who has been working for the space for one-and-a-half-years, half of his contracted commitment. We wanted to know more about him, Para/Site Art Space and what special surprises the upcoming auction will have for attendees.

Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya, director and curator of Hong Kong's non-profit Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya, director and curator of Hong Kong's non-profit Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Fominaya and Para/Site: small scale projects with international interaction

How long has Para/Site Art Space been running for?

Para/Site was founded in 1996. It was one of the first organisations of its kind to be created in Hong Kong. In 1997, other organisations like 1Artspace were created. Para/Site started as an artists’ collective, providing a space for member artists to exhibit. Very soon it became a space for other artists coming from abroad to show their work. Para/Site started an international programme and this has continued until now. Para/Site, in a way, was a pioneer in inviting curators to work full time. I am the second curator who has joined the space. (Editor’s note: Before Fominaya, Para/Site employed Tobias Berger, a German curator who worked for the space for three years from 2006 to 2008.)

Why did you decide to join Para/Site Art Space?

Several reasons made me want to join this space: I wanted to distance myself somewhat from the European gallery/art space model. I wanted also to be able to curate all major parts of a project. In Europe, the scale of the projects I was working on was very different. I was used to working on big projects within a large team. I wanted to experiment with small scale projects, as they give me a much closer relationship with the artist. But, we also have a minor budget here! It is very challenging (smiles). The logic of culture working in a large scale organisation or in a small one is very different. I have to say that it was very shocking for me at first! I had to adapt to a different scale of project and to a different culture.

What has changed since you first joined Para/Site Art Space?

We have worked harder to develop our facilities for our Hong Kong artists and also to increase our public programme by developing some workshops…. [We are] promoting local art abroad and making dialogue between the art and artists possible in and outside Hong Kong. An example of a workshop has been the participation of the director of education at MoMA, Philip Yenawine, who talked about museums and education. [Past] workshops weren’t that much focused on artists but more on art administrators, curators, etc..

What have you been doing before you joined Para/Site Art Space?

Before coming to Para/Site I worked in a very different type of environment. I was working as a curator in a contemporary and modern art museum in Spain for six years. It was a different type of organisation; it was much larger and we covered all the twentieth century. At Para/Site Art Space … it’s a totally different type of environment, being a micro non-profit organisation with only four people working on our projects. Most of those projects are commissioned works that the artists develop for us. We have a very active international programme, which is very different from [the programme we had in] my previous job. That’s one of the challenges.

Zhang Dali, 'AK-47 (V.7)', 2010, acrylic on canvas, 102 x 82 cm, unique edition. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Zhang Dali, 'AK-47 (V.7)', 2010, acrylic on canvas, 102 x 82 cm, unique edition. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

How is it funded?

The money raised in the auction covers almost half of our annual budget. That’s why it’s a very important event for us. We want to fundraise approximately HKD1,000,000 during this event. [We have organised] this kind of event for almost ten years now and we always had a very successful response. The rest of the budget is covered by the government, a French petrol group and smaller sponsors like corporate entities.

Rem Koolhaas, 'Lagos', 2007, photographic paper, 112 x 84 cm, special edition for Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Rem Koolhaas, 'Lagos', 2007, photographic paper, 112 x 84 cm, special edition for Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Para/Site Fundraising Auction to sell one-off and special edition works

Can you explain the fundraising event to me in a few words. How do you get the artwork? What happens on the night? How did you select the artists?

The event is basically a fundraising auction. We are very cheeky and we ask the artists to donate their work to Para/Site. Some of the participating artists have worked with us and the others just want to support us in a generous way. During the event, the idea is to sell all the works in a pleasant atmosphere. From the 28 artists that participate in the events, around ten of them will attend the event. Those ten artists are based in Hong Kong. Unfortunately we don’t have the budget to fly all the artist here but we’ll have a very good representation of the selection we made. This night is very special, because it gathers different kinds of personalities together: curators, art gallery owners, artists and art lovers. Make sure to RSVP to attend to the auction as the event, with 100 people expected, will have limited places.

For this fundraising auction, 28 artists will participate. This selection of artists is a good representation of what we do. It is a mix of local Chinese, Asian and international artists. Some are very established and others not so. We’ll have secured the participation of a very established artist, Rem Koolhaas, who is donating a photograph titled Lagos. He has never sold his work before. You know what to do if you want to get it: Come to the Kee Club and it’s yours! We also have Ai Weiwei, a very interesting artist who we already exhibited last April and May. [We have] Zhang Dali, one of the pioneers of the Chinese avant-guarde and a very established artist. We have also a good representation of artists from Hong Kong. This event is a great opportunity to get artworks of a very good quality. I want to highlight also the big support from some galleries and foundations that have donated works to Para/Site, such as Cat Street Gallery. All the works that will be part of the auction will be shown here in Para/Site space.

It’s a big challenge as we curate a large number of art works and deal with artists from all over the world,… almost thirty artists, most of whom do not live in Hong Kong. The process is really like curating a show, the only difference is that the artists donate their work instead of selling it. Surprisingly, most of the artists we approached, even those who didn’t have any past relationship with Para/Site, had heard about this space and wanted to help and support us. It is a big responsibility; it has to go well for us, but it is at the same time a celebration.

Ai Weiwei, 'Swatter', 2007, brass gilded, 0.5 x 50 x 7cm.

Ai Weiwei, 'Swatter', 2007, brass gilded, 0.5 x 50 x 7cm.

Fominaya on running a non-profit art organisation

How do you choose which artists to represent Para/Site Art Space’s regular exhibition?

For the most part I invite the artists I want to work with. I do review the portfolios that we receive but the process I follow is mostly by invitation. I generally focus in the region, working with Hong Kong artists on international projects as a mission. I’m really focussing on Chinese, Asian and South Asian artists. We use the fact that Hong Kong is a door between the West, China and the south of Asia to get our inspiration for creating our programme. We want to show what Hong Kong means in a political, geographical and economic sense. At the same time, I try to  stay away from what you can find in a commercial gallery. Actually, that’s one of the reasons why we don’t work that much with painters. Most of the work [we show] is installation and moving image. Personally, I’m very interested in moving image art.

Has the mission of Para/Site Art Space changed over time?

We continue with the same philosophy as before my arrival. In these two years, we have been developing more international projects with Hong Kong artists. We have also done a few projects with artists from outside Hong Kong, creating a dialogue between all of them. An example is the exhibition we curated with Joseph Kosuth andTsang Kin Wah in 2009.

Has Para/Site Art Space always been in Po Yan Street? Or has the gallery been in another location before?

In April 1997, Para/Site Art Space was located in Kennedy Town before moving to its present location in Sheung Wan District, but it looks like we will have to emigrate. Sheung Wan is an area of Hong Kong that is getting very expensive. Next door, a luxurious apartment building is being built. The prices in the area are getting as expensive as the Peak. I think we need to move to a larger space to develop different types of projects with different scales. For the moment, the space that Para/Site has suits the type of exhibitions shown, but also the human resources and the budget we have available.

Sometimes you can find very famous artists in Para/Site. They don’t do the same kind of work they usually do in big museums as they have to adapt their work to the space. They also don’t have so much pressure and they tend to use this space to experiment, trying out different types of work.

How would you like to see Para/Site Art Space grow?

The artist community in Hong Kong is very active and developed. There are many commercial galleries but most of them are small and Hong Kong needs powerful galleries that can support its artists. What we would need in Hong Kong would be a larger number of non-commercial art spaces. A bit like Para/Site but on an even larger scale in order to allow the local art community to develop their projects.

The desire we have for Para/Site is to have a larger budget and a bigger venue that will help us achieve our larger goals. We want to make possible more dialogue with other art spaces around the world in order to develop projects. But this is not a short-term idea. This needs to be done over time to assure its sustainability.

SB/KN/HH

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