Hong Kong sound artist Samson Young at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf in Germany

Art Radar takes a look at the key works from the exhibition.

Drawing together a number of recent works, “A Dark Theme Keeps me Here, I’ll Make a Broken Music” is Samson Young’s first institutional solo exhibition in Europe.

Samson Young, 'Stanley', 2014 (Detail), neon, dand. Image courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain. Photo: Katja Illner

Samson Young, ‘Stanley’ (detail), 2014, neon, sand. Photo: Katja Illner. Image courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain.

From 17 December 2016 to 5 March 2017 Kunsthalle Düsseldorf in Germany presents Samson Young’s exhibition “A Dark Theme Keeps me Here, I’ll Make a Broken Music”. The solo show displays a selection of Young’s work across three floors of the exhibition space. It includes the series Muted Situation (2014), Sound Drawings (2015–ongoing) and large-scale installations addressing themes of conflicts and wars.

Samson Young, 'Mutes situations', 2014, installation view Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. Photo: Katja Illner.

Samson Young, ‘Mutes Situations’, 2014, installation view at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. Photo: Katja Illner.

Samson Young, born in 1979, is a sound artist and composer from Hong Kong. He studied music, philosophy and gender studies at the University of Sydney and he obtained a doctorate in composition from Princeton University. Instead of taking a traditional music path, Young chose to explore the field of contemporary art, which gave him more flexibility to experiment with sound. His cross-disciplinary practice, which still includes aspects of composing and performing, involves sound works, installations, drawings, sound walks and films.

In recent years Young’s has gone from strength to strength, with exhibitions at institutions such as 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney, Asia Triennial, Manchester, Arko Art Center, Seoul, the Moscow Biennale of Young Art, and Para Site, Hong Kong. In 2015 he was awarded the Art Basel’s BMW Art Journey and in 2017 he will be featured in the Hong Kong pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

Samson Young, 'Muted Situations #1 and #2 Muted Classical Quartet', 2014, videos installation. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Katja Illner.

Samson Young, ‘Muted Situations #1 and #2 Muted Classical Quartet’, 2014, installation view at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. Photo: Katja Illner. Image courtesy the artist.

A practice of thoughtful research

Young’s work explores historical and social themes. His creative process involves an extensive research period, his approach being motivated by conceptual rigour. Examples of this extensive research are his sound walks and field recordings.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls: A Journey into the Sonic History of Conflicts (2015) he travelled extensively to visit historically significant bells and record their sound. During the process he explored their role in war and peace (bells are actually made of the same material as cannons) as well as how bells are an object that can define territories and connect individuals. Young then used these recordings to compose a new piece. When he was awarded the inaugural BMW Art Journey prize for this work the jury commented that his project was awarded for its “depth and clarity, its multi-layered approach and its ability to bring a simultaneously contemporary and historical dimension to notions of place”.

Samson Young, 'For Whom the Bell Tolls: A Journey Into the Sonic History of Conflicts', 2015 - ongoing, research-in-progress. Image courtesy the artist.

Samson Young, ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls: A Journey Into the Sonic History of Conflicts’, 2015 – ongoing, research-in-progress. Image courtesy the artist.

In an interview with Cool Hunting Samson Young explains his interest with the music of bells:

The physical object of the bell is so beautiful that you sometimes focus on it. But what my musical training has given me is this enhanced attention to the way the sound actually spreads, and how the sounds bells produce becomes this network of relations. I really think of bells as a physical object, as something that stands still, but also as something fluid and dynamic. Something that draws communities in. Something that spreads, and gathers, and implicated individuals in a community, just by virtue of the sound being heard in the vicinity of it.

Samson Young, 'Landschaft', 2015, ink, pencil, stamp and water colour on paper. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Katja Illner.

Samson Young, ‘Landschaft’, 2015, ink, pencil, stamp and water colour on paper. Photo: Katja Illner. Image courtesy the artist.

Another important work for Young, in the exhibition at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, is Cannon (2016). Found on the ground floor, the work is a performance installation that uses a long-range acoustic device (LRAD), a sound cannon that is often used to disperse protesters as well as repel birds on private properties. The LRAD broadcasts sounds to a precise target over a range of one kilometre. At one end of the installation a musician projects a bird whistle with an LRAD unit while at a second site of a fenced off park, bird songs emerge from nowhere. The installation, which incorporates a replica of a bowl that Vietnamese refugees were given on their arrival in Hong Kong, calls upon the theme of migration.

Samson Young, 'Landschaft', 2015, ink, pencil, stamp and water colour on paper. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Katja Illner.

Samson Young, ‘Landschaft’, 2015, ink, pencil, stamp and water colour on paper. Photo: Katja Illner. Image courtesy the artist.

The impact of conflicts

Several of Young’s works have been especially concerned with the impacts of conflicts. On the second floor his work Nocturne (2015) is a live performance that takes place over the entire duration of the exhibition. A centerpiece of the show, the work involves a collection of video recordings of night bombings, mostly of USA attacks in the Middle East, which Young found on the internet. The clips are edited into a six-hour film that plays on mute while Young uses household objects to recreate the sounds of explosions, gunshots and debris, which are broadcast through a pirated FM radio frequency.

Samson Young, 'Landschaft', 2015, ink, pencil, stamp and water colour on paper. Image courtesy the artist. Photo: Katja Illner.

Samson Young, ‘Landschaft’, 2015, ink, pencil, stamp and water colour on paper. Photo: Katja Illner. Image courtesy the artist.

This work was partly informed by an American World War II tactical unit known colloquially as the “Ghost Army”. This unit was made up of artists who had to conceive and execute deceptions that would mislead enemy forces with false radio transmissions or through creating a fake active battlefield.

Samson Young, 'Stanley', 2014 (Detail), neon, dand. Image courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain. Photo: Katja Illner.

Samson Young, ‘Stanley’, 2014, neon, sand. Photo: Katja Illner. Image courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain.

Samson Young, 'Stanley', 2014, neon, sand. Image courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain. Photo: Katja Illner.

Samson Young, ‘Stanley’, 2014, neon, sand. Photo: Katja Illner. Image courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain.

Another work, Stanley (2014), looks at themes of violence through the history of Hong Kong. The basis for the work is the history of a beach of the same name, which was the location of an internment camp and also the place of the failed battle for the defense of Hong Kong in World War II. Young explored the location’s layered history, bringing into his work the signatures and archival recordings of Stanley internees interviews. The work is an indoor recreation of the beach with a sound installation, which questions the unspoken history of conflict in an otherwise beautiful landscape.

Claire Wilson

1496

Related topics: Hong Kong artists, sound, installation, video, sound art, new media, gallery shows

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