Negotiating urban identity: 5 young Hong Kong artists

In the face of Hong Kong’s constant commercialisation, five artists portray the crisis and aspirations of the city’s inhabitants. 

A world city in every sense of the term, Hong Kong is also one of the most densely populated and expensive cities in the world. Its colonial history and rapid commercial success led to a disconnect between the city and its inhabitants. Art Radar spotlights five young artists who explore the shifting notions of identity in an attempt to reconnect with their city.

South Ho, 'Those Shores 6', 2012, Backlit Transparency Print, aluminium light box 110 x 81 x 15 cm. Image courtesy Rossi & Rossi.

South Ho, ‘Those Shores No. 6’, edition 3/5, 2011, backlit transparency print, aluminium light box, 110 x 81 x 15 cm. Image courtesy Rossi and Rossi, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s historical context

Hong Kong became a British colony in 1842. After a brief occupation by Japan from 1941 to 1945, British rule was re-established. With the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many people from mainland China migrated to Hong Kong for fear of prosecution. These migrants included the Cantonese-speaking population of Hong Kong’s neighbouring province Canton (Guangdong), as well as many corporations from Shanghai and Guangzhou. In 1997, the People’s Republic of China finally gained sovereignty and Hong Kong became China’s first Special Administrative Region.

The city’s altering demographic, rapidly growing population and socio-political situation led to Hong Kong’s inhabitants viewing the city as a place that lacked permanence. For much of the twentieth century, Hong Kong’s artists were isolated from the wider context of the outside art world . As a result, their work looked inwards at themselves and their immediate surroundings, rather than trying to make a place for itself in the history of art. The present generation of artists, who were born in Hong Kong in the 1980s and who call the city their homeland, continue this intimate introspection through their work.

Vivian Ho, 'Chill or be Chilled', 2013, charcoal on paper, 79 x 68 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Rossi & Rossi Hong Kong

Vivian Ho, ‘Chill or be Chilled’, 2013, charcoal on paper, 79 x 68 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Rossi and Rossi, Hong Kong.

Artists and the city

Rossi and Rossi’s Hong Kong gallery at Yallay Space is organising a group show titled “These Shores” from 7 December 2013 to 4 January 2014. The first showing of local artists at the gallery, the exhibition features the work of five young Hong Kong artists:

According to the press release, the exhibition aims to illustrate a re-connection between the urban environment and its inhabitants. Explaining the title of the exhibition, the press release says:

In the Zen Buddhist canon, These Shores, as opposed to Those Shores (Nirvana), is a state of perpetual ebb and flow. The push-pull of emotions within artists is one of the driving forces of their artistic endeavours, and this exhibition will stand as a dissection of their current state of mind.

Hong Kong is renowned for its spectacular skyline and natural harbour. Originally a small trading seaport, commercialisation and urbanisation have transformed it into a city where basic necessities such as housing are fast becoming a luxury. The ever-increasing rent and decreasing space have forced artists and galleries to come up with solutions such as shared work spaces.

In “These Shores”, Gavin Au and South Ho explore this exponential growth and dense urban sprawl, reflecting on the crisis it presents to the citizens. Homan Ho, Vivian Ho and Nicole Wong re-present scenarios from everyday life in Hong Kong.

Gavin Au, 'Still Sitting on the Wall No. 5', 2011, Wet Plate Collodion Positive 54.5 x 54.5 cm. Image courtesy Rossi & Rossi

Gavin Au, ‘Still Sitting on the Wall No. 5’, 2011, wet plate collodion positive, 54.5 x 54.5 cm. Image courtesy Rossi and Rossi, Hong Kong

Gavin Au

Gavin Au Ka Yiu received his BFA from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Hong Kong. His series “Still Sitting on the Wall” uses tintype photography to create bleak colourless images that depict a dystopian world, a result of a form of capitalism that leaves people helplessly watching as the buildings grow taller around them.

Au’s work makes a reference to Chinese artist Weng Fen’s series “Sitting on a Wall” (2002), replacing Fen’s young girls with skeletons. In an interview with French website Les Photographes, Au says that while the young girl is “right at the borderline of utopia, fascinated by the future,” in his series, the wall is:

… the beginning of a nightmare; it represents the happening of the Land Enclosure Movement, signifying the redevelopment of common land, segregating people from their homeland [which] then people can only glance at standing on top of the ‘wall’. (…) We are pushed by the torrent of times, standing on top of this narrow ‘wall’ with only confusion, without knowing what to do.

Au won the Asia Photo Awards at the Hong Kong Institute of Professional Photographers in 2007. His work is included in the Hong Kong Heritage Museum as well as private collections. He lives and works in Hong Kong.

South Ho, 'Those Shores No. 5', Edn 3/5, 2011, Backlit Transparency Print, aluminium light box 110 x 81 x 15 cm. Image courtesy Rossi & Rossi

South Ho, ‘Those Shores No. 5’, edition 3/5, 2011, backlit transparency print, aluminium light box, 110 x 81 x 15 cm. Image courtesy Rossi and Rossi, Hong Kong

South Ho

Ho Siu Nam South is a Hong Kong-based photographer. His series of monochrome photographs is called “Those Shores” and depicts gleaming skyscrapers standing tall and reflected in surrounding water. The reflections represent the elusive ambition of many Hong Kongers, who dream of acquiring a house but are prevented due to soaring prices.

On his website, Ho says that “Those Shores” represent the other side that all humans desire to cross over to, “a place that draws the imagination and desire of generations of people.” The fanatic race to move forward, “towards the light like a moth to a flame, exists in the present but its lures are not authentic and real.”

In a video interview with Schoeni Gallery, Ho describes his photography as “simple, and a bit abstract.” His work is included in the Burger Collection, Hong Kong Heritage Museum and Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts. He runs a project called 100ft. Park, a small, non-commercial art space of 100 square feet that exhibits a variety of work.

Homan Ho, 'Workout', 2012, Wood, metal, electric motor, 120 x 90 x 90cm. Image courtesy Rossi & Rossi

Homan Ho, ‘Workout’, 2012, wood, metal, electric motor, 120 x 90 x 90 cm. Image courtesy Rossi and Rossi, Hong Kong.

Homan Ho

Human Ho is an installation artist whose work engages with the repetitive banality of urban life. His work at Rossi and Rossi is called Workout and is inspired by a sight ubiquitous in Hong Kong: people in gyms running on treadmills. According to the press release,

With gyms often located on the upper floors of glass buildings, the people exercising can be seen from the adjacent highways, yet they are separate and held apart from ourselves – the viewers, existing in their own world, running nowhere in a kind of perpetual motion.

Homan Ho has exhibited at Art Taipei (2011), Hong Kong Sculpture Biennial (2010 and 2012) and has curated the exhibitions “10 Years of Fotanian: Open Studios” (2011) and the “Superb Meaningless Invention Exhibition” (2010).

Nicole Wong, 'Handle with Care', 2013, wine glass, text, dimensions variable. Photo by Andre Chan. Image courtesy the artist and Rossi & Rossi Hong Kong

Nicole Wong, ‘Handle with Care’, 2013, wine glass, text, dimensions variable. Photo by Andre Chan. Image courtesy the artist and Rossi and Rossi, Hong Kong.

Nicole Wong

Nicole Wong is an artist who seeks to draw attention to the indifference of the modern world. Her installations are built around everyday objects. Set in a new framework and context, her work demands the viewer’s attention and introspection, highlighting the difference between what we look at and what we see. Wong plays with visual poetry and double meanings. According to her online artist statement,

The work usually manifests [itself] as a parody of an ordinary scenario. It singles out the essence from the prose of [the] mundane which can be neither truly remembered nor forgotten.

Wong graduated from Nottingham Trent University in the United Kingdom in 2012. She was selected for an artist support programme by Soundpocket earlier this year. She has won a Hong Kong Contemporary Art Award, and was a finalist in the Hong Kong Art Prize 2013 and Griffin Art Prize 2013 in London.

Vivian Ho, 'Of Delicacy and Horror', 2012, oil on canvas, 110 x 164 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Rossi & Rossi Hong Kong

Vivian Ho, ‘Of Delicacy and Horror’, 2012, oil on canvas, 110 x 164 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Rossi and Rossi, Hong Kong

Vivian Ho

Vivian Ho’s figurative oil paintings portray the everyday through dead fish parts seen at Hong Kong’s wet markets, where slaughter and butchering are performed at the same spot. The series, titled “Gutted”, attempts to negotiate between the blood and death of the severed fish – in what she calls “poetic death and aesthetic gore” – and the source of pleasure that the delicacy is to the people. Ho says on her website that she intends to “capture both an authentic view of Hong Kong, as well as the reality of life and death, while referencing my emotional attachment to the city I grew up in.”

Vivian Ho is a graduate of Wesleyan University, Connecticut. Her work has been exhibited in the United States, Italy, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Kriti Bajaj

Related Topics: Hong Kong artists, overviews, art about the city, generation art, events in Hong Kong, gallery shows

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