Art Radar explores the “tradition” of a new generation of Hong Kong artists.
In a two-part series, Art Radar looks into the exhibition “Here is Where We Meet” which investigates how a complex sense of history and tradition intersects with the practice of six Hong Kong artists.
“Here is Where We Meet” (PDF download) is a summer exhibition that runs at Duddell’s Hong Kong until 5 October 2015. The show draws together six eminent Hong Kong artists – Chu Hing-wah, Lui Chun-kwong, Wilson Shieh, Tsang Chui-mei, Lee Kit and Ho Sin-tung – in an exploration of tradition, individuality and place. Having delved into the narrative of the exhibition as imagined by its emerging curator Vivian Poon and how “tradition” is manifest in the work of the three older artists, in Part 2 we consider the younger artists powering the new generation.
The show’s three younger artists Tsang Chui-mei, Lee Kit and Ho Sin-tung were born in Hong Kong in the 1970s and 1980s, and received their art education and training from the Fine Arts Department of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), an important cradle for young emerging artists today. The show’s curator Vivian Poon also graduated from the same department, and Lui Chun-kwong (b. 1956), a respected art educator, inspired many aspiring local artists during his 25-year tenure there.
As with the older artists, the “tradition” that influences younger artists encompasses a multitude of social, cultural and personal dimensions. Coming from the same generation as these artists, Poon wants to steer viewers away from a natural tendency to see them as responding solely to the distinct socio-political reality of Hong Kong – especially as defined by the Umbrella Movement of 2014 and its aftermath – or to approach their work as narrow products of the exceptional circumstances of the collective consciousness. Poon says:
The purpose of the exhibition is to tackle this kind of categorisation. We try to do so by encouraging the audience to look at how traditions and grand narratives are formed by the actions of many individuals, who in the end may not even feel comfortable to identify with the ‘tradition’ that they have contributed to creating.
Instead of framing the artists definitively, Poon aims to illuminate what she calls “the multitude of things that contribute to the forming of an artist’s disposition”, even when many of these things might be conflicting at times and difficult to reconcile.
Tsang Chui-mei (b. 1972) graduated from CUHK first in 1996 and then in 2004 with an MFA. Her oeuvre consists of many abstract and subjective paintings, often featuring detailed and highly illusionistic images inspired by both Chinese and Western painting techniques and art historical references.
Tsang’s two works in the exhibition, Inflammation 1 and 2 (2013), feature highly subjective, non-representational forms applied on canvas with acrylic. Irregularly shaped, richly textured concentrations of dark paint are scattered throughout the composition of Inflammation 1, evoking the bodily injury referenced by the title. Viewed from afar, the dark concentrations seem like growths emerging from the canvas. When examined closely, however, the tiny marks forming the larger shapes could be made out as two curved lines joined at the tip in fine brush strokes that subtly recall the portrayal of distant birds in many Chinese landscapes.
In Inflammation 2, a concentration of paint perches on the upper corner, as if creeping onto the canvas. The “inflammation” at the centre of this canvas is made up of tiny triangular specks of white and yellow paint, almost like pieces of skin, mixed with a sparser arrangement of the tiny, simplistic bird forms, lending a subtle sense of depth and visual cohesiveness to the two paintings. These meticulously painted but easily overlooked birds highlight Tsang’s subtle incorporation of familiar figurative forms into abstract paintings to fuse Chinese and Western artistic traditions.
Lee Kit (b. 1978) graduated from CUHK in 2003. He represented Hong Kong at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 with his presentation “You (you)”, a series of sparse installations featuring intimate arrangements of furniture and everyday objects that speak about how empty spaces relate to absence and the passage of time. Lee works with a wide range of media but is best known for his ready-mades, especially his signature hand-painted cloths, which he decorates meticulously with colours and patterns before reconstituting them as the functional items they are meant to be.
In the show, Lee’s Sweet Choice and Ivory are mixed media works of acrylic, emulsion paint, inkjet printing and pencil on board. The viewer’s knowledge of the complex process and media that went into creating the visual simplicity makes the seemingly intimate line drawings instantly alienating. In continuation of his practice of appropriating instantly recognisable public images and rendering them intimate, Sweet Choice and Ivory both feature brand names drawn in pencil that are stripped of their usual alluring colours.
The compositions of the two works are simplistic. In Sweet Choice, there are smudges behind the hollow brand name, making it seem like the words have been erased and rewritten multiple times as in a sketch. Ivory features the titular brand name in grey reiterated three times horizontally across the support. Apart from a horizontal band marking the bottom of the board, the three words are the only forms in the bare composition.
Lee’s “tradition” seems highly intertwined with the overwhelming visual world created by Hong Kong’s unquestioned capitalistic society. The subtlety of his pencil drawings challenges viewers to rethink their relationship with everyday objects and the commercial world by reimagining public images in an intimate context, stripped of their advertising power. Intriguingly, the brands featured in Lee’s works are not the most common ones known to Hong Kong people – for younger artists who are responding to an increasingly globalised world, cultural and commercial references take on a globalised dimension.
Ho Sin-tung (b. 1986) graduated from CUHK in 2008 and is predominantly known for her collages in pencil, graphite and watercolour put together with a multitude of found objects such as maps and charts.
Ho’s work Hills Won’t Heal (2012) probes questions of history and memory. On yellowing paper, the work features nine panels drawn in ink, pencil and colour pencil that imitate old colonial informational posters, complete with eye-catching red icons of a pointing hand like those marking “you are here” on maps. The drawings depict the hills that have been subsumed by decades of urban development in Hong Kong and “record” the years in which each disappeared. The composition and style of drawing impart a sense of historical importance as Ho is meticulous with imbuing the work with marks of historicity, including fingerprints, dates, stamps and signatures. This provokes viewers to consider why the disappearance of these hills – tantamount to the destruction wrought on the landscape in the name of development – is recorded and presented in a parodic artwork instead of in official documentation shown to the public by the colonial government.
Thin Veiled World – Frankensticker and Thin Veiled World – The Weaker Man (2014) imitate the style of hand-painted movie posters. “Frankensticker” is a visual parody of Frankenstein and features a disjointed woman figure covered by “stickers” with various images on them including body parts, wounds and even QR codes. The Weaker Man features stylised depictions of homeless people and the police in a “zombie apocalypse”. Exhibited within a frame that says “coming soon” in Chinese like in Hong Kong’s old movie theatres, the works bring images from different cultural and historical realms into direct visual contrast. Ho’s works reference the collective historical consciousness of Hong Kong and challenge the way history is remembered.
Underlying the diversity of Hong Kong art shown in the exhibition, a coherent narrative emerges that is built on the common reference points, cultural traces and attitudes reflected by the artists’ unique practices. In the end, “tradition” is still in quotation marks, as the show asks more questions about it than it answers. The older generation of artists in the show reveal their collective impulse to honour the traditions of Chinese painting while innovating with subject matter, style, composition and cultural references to engage with the specific challenges of contemporary Hong Kong.The practices of the younger artists are marked by Western influences in addition to references to many aspects of Hong Kong’s historical and contemporary experience. Moving away from pure painting, the artists often use more conceptual means and mixed media to grapple with traditional styles and challenge notions of history, memory and the present.
Vivian Poon sees Hong Kong’s cultural tradition as a combination of many complex forces at play that are at once cultural, historical, social, artistic and personal. All in all, the diversity and cohesiveness of the work on show lead viewers not to pin Hong Kong’s “tradition” down, but to appreciate the multifarious and, ultimately, ineffable tension that arises when it intersects with artists responding to their specific time and place.
- William Lim: Collecting Hong Kong – Artshare video – February 2015 – architect, artist and collector talks about his passion for collecting Hong Kong art, while sharing his views about his home city’s place in the global art scene
- Ivy Ma manipulates history in Hong Kong – in pictures – January 2015 – Ivy Ma continues her exploration of the interpretation of history and the nature of historical knowledge in a solo show featuring some past and ‘never-to-be-seen’ new works
- Hong Kong-born artist Paul Chan wins 10th Hugo Boss Prize – November 2014 – Hong Kong-born, US-based Paul Chan’s “singular artistic voice” and versatile practice wins him Guggenheim’s 10th Hugo Boss Prize
- More than a museum: Doryun Chong on Hong Kong’s M+ – interview – November 2013 – the future M+ Museum’s Chief Curator talks about his curatorial vision and aim to turn the 2018-slated building into a global museum located in Hong Kong
- Uli Sigg donates “most comprehensive” Chinese contemporary art collection to M+ – June 2012 – Uli Sigg has donated his large collection of contemporary Chinese art from the 1970s to the present to the M+ Museum in Hong Kong
Subscribe to Art Radar for more contemporary art from Hong Kong