Hong Kong’s Kwan Sheung Chi wins inaugural Hugo Boss Asia Art Award

Hong Kong artist Kwan Sheung Chi is awarded the inaugural Hugo Boss Asia Art Award.

Hong Kong artist Kwan Sheung Chi won the first edition of the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award at Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai on 31 October 2013. The award is one of several newly established platforms promoting international cultural ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

Kwan Sheung Chi has been awarded the 2013 HUGO BOSS ASIA ART -- Award for Emerging Chinese Artists, announced Larys Frogier, Director of the Rockbund Art Museum, together with Gareth Incledon, Managing Director of HUGO BOSS CHINA RETAIL CO., LTD. (From left to right are Larys Frogier, Kwan Sheung Chi and Gareth Incledon). Image courtesy RAM.

Kwan Sheung Chi (middle), winner of the 2013 HUGO BOSS ASIA ART — Award for Emerging Chinese Artists, with Larys Frogier, Director of the Rockbund Art Museum, and Gareth Incledon, Managing Director of HUGO BOSS CHINA RETAIL CO., LTD. Image courtesy RAM.

On 31 October 2013, Hong Kong artist Kwan Sheung Chi (b. 1980) was awarded the inaugural Hugo Boss Asia Art Award at the Rockbund Art Museum (RAM) in Shanghai, which carries prize money of RMB300,000 (USD49,000). The first edition of the award, as RAM Director Larys Frogier explains, “aims to support emerging artists in Greater China who, in the early stage of their artistic creation and exhibition practices, question, extend and enrich the possibilities of contemporary art.”

Kwan Sheung Chi, 'Water Barrier (Maotai-water, 1:999)', 2013, installation, 170 x 430 x 70 cm. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

Kwan Sheung Chi, ‘Water Barrier (Maotai-water, 1:999)’, 2013, installation, 170 x 430 x 70 cm. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

Competing with six other shortlisted artists currently being exhibited at RAM – including BIRDHEAD (Shanghai), Hsu Chia Wei (Taipei), Lee Kit (Hong Kong), Li Liao (Shenzhen) and Li Wei (Beijing), Hu Xiangqiang (Beijing) ­– the Hong Kong artist won the prize, say the organisers, for his “witty yet critical exploration of social and cultural challenges. Using video, text and installation, Kwan Sheung Chi’s conceptual and performative work evokes these themes in a unique and subtle way.”

Kwan Sheung Chi, 'Break Up a Piece of Short Thread', 2009, video, DV PAL, black and white, silent, 43 min. 43 sec. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

Kwan Sheung Chi, ‘Break Up a Piece of Short Thread’, 2009, video, DV PAL, black and white, silent, 43 min. 43 sec. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

Kwan Sheung Chi presented a total of six works at the Hugo Boss Asia exhibition at RAM, including video and installation, which according to the curators are representative of his young artistic career. The artworks demonstrate his involvement in the questioning of social contexts, using conceptual art to revisit the private and public social challenges of today’s society, especially in Hong Kong. The decision to award the artist was based on the curatorial jury’s debate on “the different ways finalists artists were critically questioning, displaying and revisiting some social contexts in China today by raising also new art languages into the international art scene,” according to organisers. 

Kwan Sheung Chi, 'Doing It with Chi… Making an Exit Bag', 2009, video, 3 min. 44 sec. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

Kwan Sheung Chi, ‘Doing It with Chi… Making an Exit Bag’, 2009, video, 3 min. 44 sec. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

The winning artist and artwork

As stated in his biography, Kwan Sheung Chi’s oeuvre is “guided by concepts and aimed squarely at reflection and criticism.” Striving for simplicity in the exhibition space, his work presents a complex underlying set of ideas that explore the realities of society and life through the eyes of ordinary citizens. His work is both poetic and humorous, and comments on issues such as the artist’s identity in contemporary society, against-the-grain criticism of the system, the possibility of alternative value systems, personal utopias, among others.

Kwan Sheung Chi, 'Doing It with Mrs. Kwan… Making Pepper Spray', 2012, video, 5 min. 16 sec. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

Kwan Sheung Chi, ‘Doing It with Mrs. Kwan… Making Pepper Spray’, 2012, video, 5 min. 16 sec. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

Kwan Sheung Chi: contemporary artist commenting on contemporary society

His new 2013 work Water Barrier (Maotai-water, 1:999) is an installation comprising two 170-centimetre-high anti-riot barriers filled with water and a bottle of Maotai liquor. A video next to the barriers shows the artist trying to topple the barrier, while in front of them is a yellow sign reading “Please Tear Down this Wall, Warm Reminder: Beware of People Behind”. The mixture of water and Maotai liquor is completely imbalanced, with the most expensive baijiu (Chinese rice liquor) on the Chinese market making up to only one thousandth of the liquid mix filling the barriers. This is meant to symbolise the huge disparity of status in contemporary society, as well as to constitute a protective mechanism against outside forces. The advice of toppling over the barrier hints at the artist’s critical standing regarding the system and the status quo.

Kwan Sheung Chi, 'One Million (RMB)', 2013, single channel video, HD, colour, mono sound, 1h 20 min. 24 sec. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

Kwan Sheung Chi, ‘One Million (RMB)’, 2013, single channel video, HD, colour, mono sound, 1h 20 min. 24 sec. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

Suicide, homemade weapons and going beyond the logical

His other works on show include videos and installation from 2009 to 2013. Break Up a Piece of Short Thread (2009) is a video in which the artist employs an extremely difficult yet pointless action to dissipate time, action and meaning itself. Doing It with Chi…Making an Exit Bag (2009) and Doing It with Mrs Kwan…Making Pepper Spray (2012) are mocked-up TV programmes where the artist teaches how to kill oneself with easy-to-find materials and how to make a homemade potent weapon. In the recent video work One Million (RMB) (2013), the artist counts RMB100 bills that seem to reproduce to infinity, commenting on exceeding logic and going against the grain. Untitled (White) (2013), a stack of white sheets of paper, provokes thinking about supply of something negligible, human labour and mechanical repetition. Black (Dark Night) (2013) is a video containing only darkness, which presents the opposite of day, concealing everything like a dark night. 

Kwan Sheung Chi, 'Untitled (White)', 2013, paper, endless copies, 89 x 64 x 175.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

Kwan Sheung Chi, ‘Untitled (White)’, 2013, paper, endless copies, 89 x 64 x 175.5 cm. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

The new Asia art award platforms

This year has seen the establishment of several new award platforms that focus on awarding artists from the Asia-Pacific region while also strengthening international ties. A roaming platform established in Beijing, the Multitude Art Prize, awarded five artists from the region in April 2013, and aims to present the prize to five Asian artists annually, each iteration taking place in a different city. The Australian Arts in Asia Award, holding its first edition in August 2013, also aims at supporting the arts of the region through a strengthening of diplomatic and cultural exchange ties. Shanghai’s new Hugo Boss Asia Art Award, the Asian version of the West’s long-established Hugo Boss Prize, also focuses on the region’s art scene, with the particular aim of supporting emerging artists and shifting its to different locations with each edition of the award. As RAM Director Larys Frogier put it in an interview with Art Radar, in what he calls a “post-global era”,

the specificity of the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award is to dig in deeper from the position of one institution and consider the connection with the Asian challenges, rather than moving from one organisation to another, because when you move only from one to another you operate the project but do not fully contribute to the concept and the process for activating the criticality of the project. So as Director of the museum this is my main concern: how can you keep the tension between the mutations, but also how can you deeply analyse the situation in different areas of Asian art?

Kwan Sheung Chi, 'Black (Dark Night)', 2013, video, color, silent, 13 min. 22 sec. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

Kwan Sheung Chi, ‘Black (Dark Night)’, 2013, video, color, silent, 13 min. 22 sec. Image courtesy the artist and RAM.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related topics: art awards, art prizes, Chinese artists, Hong Kong artists, emerging artists, events in Shanghai, connecting Asia to itself, museums

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