Art Radar profiles 9 artists from Videotage’s pioneering show.
Hong Kong’s first retrospective of video and new media art chronicled 30 years of artistic, cultural, technological and sociopolitical development.
“No References”, a retrospective of Hong Kong video and new media art from 1985 onwards, ran at Videotage‘s Cattle Depot Artist Village site from 19 May to 15 June 2016. Curated by Beijing-based curator Su Wei and billed as the first major survey of Hong Kong video and new media art, the exhibition showcased works spanning a 30-year period created by 24 artists born and bred in Hong Kong. Art Radar profiles 9 artists from the exhibition.
1. Ellen Pau
A professional radiologist by day, Ellen Pau is a self-taught video artist who has exhibited widely in Asia and beyond, including at major biennales such as the Kwangju Biennale and Venice Biennale. Pau made her first film in 1984 – a Super-8 work which was screened internationally – and in 1985 co-founded Hong Kong independent media art organisation Videotage. One of the region’s most respected veteran video and new media artists, Pau is the founding director of the Microwave International New Media Arts Festival and works as an independent cinematographer, curator, art critic and researcher.
For “No References”, Pau contributed a remake of her 1993-1995 work entitled Great Movement. The single-channel video features a lone lighthouse standing stalwart at the edge of hazy seas – an iconic image that anchors the show. The work appropriates footage from government news clips from the 1950s and 1960s, constituting an elegant subversion of authority and simultaneous nostalgic meditation on time and memory. Pau’s artist statement reads:
Having accompanied us through the 1997 handover, the lighthouse still stands, unchanging against the river of time. Silently overseeing the ever-shifting waves, it remains ever-welcoming to those who come home.
2. May Fung
Another of Hong Kong’s pioneering video artists, May Fung has dedicated herself tirelessly to the city’s cultural development since the early 1980s, building an intriguing oeuvre encompassing film, installation and theatre. She received a fellowship to research video art in New York from the Asian Cultural Council in 1994, and in 1999 was awarded a scholarship for video installation from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. Now an assessor and juror for various video and film festivals in Hong Kong, Fung is also the chairperson of Art & Culture Outreach, a non-profit arts organisation based in the city.
Fung’s works straddle the personal and the public, tackling diverse issues that range from gender politics to Hong Kong’s and Asia’s cultural and political landscape. “No References” juxtaposes an early 1995 work with a recent creation from 2016: A Letter to Mo (1995) features poignant documentary scenes of Chinese boatmen battling Chang Jiang tides, while She Said Why Me (2016) is a hypnotic montage of the artist herself performing strange Taichi-like movements against backdrops of contemporary Hong Kong. Her artist statement reads:
She does not run amok in the city anymore. This was once her city, but now it is no longer hers. Did the city desert her, or did she reject it instead? She is not moving now, staying put, using her hands and body to push herself away.
3. Linda Lai & Floating Projects Collective
Academic, artist, curator and art historian Linda Lai is another forerunner of Hong Kong video and new media. Working at the intersections of video, new media, performance and cultural history, Lai’s transdisciplinary practice takes on questions of micro- and meta-narrativity in experimental historiography through various forms of video and installation. Her works have been shown in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Paris, London, New York City and beyond, and she is currently Associate Professor in Intermediate art and Critical theory at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong.
In 2010 Lai founded the Floating Projects Collective, which currently consists of about 20 members engaging in experimental art production. The Collective participated in Lai’s Object-Subjectivities (2016), a new work with installation and performance components based on Object-activity (1989) and LOOK: Object-activity (2006). In July 1989, one month after the June-Fourth Tiananmen massacre, an improvised performance was staged by artists including Choi Yan-chi, Leung Ping-kwan, Mui Cheuk-yin, Yau Ching and others. The performance was reconstructed by Lai in 2006 and once again on 21 May 2016; for Lai, each rendition has a different conceptual, pictorial and formal focus. She writes:
While LOOK: Object-activity suggested a time and mind at ease, Object-Subjectivities in 2016 asserts the therapeutic power of communication via doing things together. The principle of “collective co-individuation” manifests itself in a play with objects – each performer follows his/her own self-made routines to create a meditative space that also invites sharing and exchange.
4. Danny Yung
Danny Yung, known by some as the “cultural godfather” of Hong Kong, was the founder of Hong Kong-based international avant-garde theatre group Zuni Icosahedron. For the past 40 years Yung championed arts and cultural development in Hong Kong and beyond, representing the city in diverse fields such as theatre, cartoon, film, video and installation art. In 2014 Yung was awarded the Fukuoka Prize for Arts and Culture, and in 2009 the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in recognition of his contributions towards arts and cultural exchange between Germany and Hong Kong.
In “No References”, a seminal early work by Yung was chosen to form part of the show. First shown as one of the main exhibits in “Festival of Vision” 16 years ago in Hong Kong and Berlin, Video Circle (2000) featured 32 television sets and video players and the participation of 108 artists from all over the Asia-Pacific region. The work’s accompanying statement reads:
108 artists from all over the Asia-Pacific were invited to produce a three-minute video work. These works are duplicated into 32 copies and shown on 32 monitors with a three-second delay between each screen. The image of each work thus travels from one set to the next in a counter-clockwise sequence, forming a running wheel of incessant image-and-sound movement.
5. Ip Yuk-yiu
Filmmaker Ip Yuk-yiu‘s works range from experimental films to video performances and media installations. He has exhibited extensively on international platforms such as the European Media Art Festival, the New York Film Festival, the Image Festival, FILE, VideoBrasil and Transmediale, among others. Currently Associate Professor at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong, Ip has also lectured widely on film, video and media art in Hong Kong and the US.
Ip’s recent works constitute dynamic and thoughtful explorations of hybrid and computational forms of cinema. Another Day of Depression in Kowloon (2012) is an excellent example: appropriating maps and images from the popular video game “CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPPS”, Ip conducted a yearlong session of virtual “fieldwork” in order to conjure up a poignant, surprisingly poetic and evocative digital portrait of Hong Kong. The artist calls his work “a ballad for post-colonial Hong Kong”, writing that:
[The work] turns the violent visual field of the first-person shooter into a series of vacant yet uncannily meditative tableaux, unearthing a formal poetry that is often overlooked during gameplay. The piece combines methodologies from observational and assemblage film traditions in raising questions about cultural representations in contemporary popular media, while at the same time creating evocative metaphors through the reworking of media materials.
6. Mo Man-yu
Also a co-founder of Videotage and a member of Zuni Icosahedron, Mo Man-yu’s experimental short films have won prizes at the Hong Kong Independent Short Film Festival and the Bruxelles International Film Festival. Mo’s film projects have been commissioned by the Goethe Institute, Hong Kong Baptist University and the Hong Kong Arts Festival, among others, and his works have been shown at the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Asian American Arts Center in New York.
Two of Mo’s works hailing from the early 1990s grace the exhibition: ngo5 (1993) is a disorienting yet mesmerising short film that combines footage of impromptu performances shot in various locations (Mai Po Marshes in Hong Kong, New York City and San Francisco); while Can Fish See The Same Face Twice (1992) is an introspective, reflexive yet somewhat playful meditation on the nature of performance and spectatorship. A 1994 magazine review of these two pieces, quoted by the exhibition booklet, reads:
That the significance of the idiosyncratic imagery contained in the film is obscure and evidently highly personal does not detract from its poetic resonance. On the contrary, it is the evocation of such an esoteric quality that the film shares with much narrative avant garde cinema, carrying the viewer into its universe and demanding a reflexive and necessarily subjective response.
7. Jamsen Law
Jamsen Law is an artist and professor who has held solo screenings in Toronto, Tokyo, Busan and Hong Kong. His independent video works have also been shown at Videobrasil, Transmediale Berlin, the Gwangju Biennale, the Ogaki Biennale and other festivals in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Law has been an artist-in-residence at Artspace in Sydney and a guest artist at Castle of Imagination, Poland. Law’s research interests lie in the areas of media aesthetics, the meaning of process, existence, consciousness, interiority, desire and fear.
Matching Four with Twelve: Digesting Patience (2000) explores precisely such themes of desire, process and consciousness. A couch potato figure stares blankly at the camera, mindlessly consuming morsels of food as layers of images flash by the screen. As Law’s artist statement describes it, the piece “creates a three-dimensional metaphor for consumption and desire”:
Audiences must peer through layers of images in order to properly observe the action [of the character ingesting food]. The work thus sets up parallel processes of consumption: the actor as a consumer of food and images and the audience as consumers of the images of the actor.
8. Otto Li
Having worked as a concept artist in a CG animation company for years, Otto Li‘s work spans many disciplines from sculpture and virtual modelling to digital images and interactive installation. His art explores the connections between virtuality and reality, deconstructing and reconstructing the production and presentation of different types of images. A young artist, Li was born in 1980 and obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2003 and his MFA from the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2012. In the past decade Li has participated in exhibitions in Beijing, London, Hong Kong and beyond.
Li’s latest works delve into the arena of “soundscape” sculpture. Soundtracking John Cage 4’33” is an ethereal interactive sculpture derived from John Cage‘s seminal 4’33” work of silence. The work’s accompanying statement reads:
Each second of silence or background noise is given a material physicality in the form of a transparent sound wave sculpture. The screen at the bottom shows video footage from the original performance […] The width of the gap corresponds to the thickness of each layer of sound wave [such that] light from the video illuminates the sculpture in accordance with the amount of ‘sound’ from the performance.
9. Samson Young
Also a young artist, rising international star Samson Young studied music, philosophy and gender studies at the University of Sydney. He then earned a PhD in Music Composition in Princeton and became the inaugural winner of the BMW-Art Basel Art Journey Award in 2015. Young has participated in numerous prestigious international platforms including the Asia Triennial Manchester and the Moscow Biennale of Young Art, and his works have been shown at group exhibitions in Switzerland, Beijing, Taipei and beyond.
In “No References”, two related works by Young quietly (literally) steal the show. Muted Situation #1: Muted Classical Quartet and Muted Situation #2: Lion Dance are two simple single-channel works whose dominant sound-producing constituents are suppressed. This was done “without a diminution in the energy normally exerted in the performance”. As Young writes:
The muting of sound layers does not translate into silence; nor does it equate to emptiness. Rather, the act of muting is an intensely focused re-imagination and re-construction of the auditory experience. It involves the conscious suppression of dominant voices as a way to uncover the unheard and the marginalised, or to reveal hitherto unconscious assumptions about hearing and sounding.
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