“Reversal Ritual” addresses the concept of “carnivalesque” developed by 20th century literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin.
The group exhibition, organised by Gallery Directors Willem Molesworth and Vincent de Sarthe, features multiple site-specific installations as well as participatory artwork.
de Sarthe Gallery unveils its new 10,000-square-feet gallery space in the burgeoning art district of Wong Chuk Hang in the Southern part of Hong Kong. Located on the entire 20th floor in the Global Trade Square building, “Reversal Ritual”, the inaugural group exhibition of five emerging mainland Chinese and Hong Kong artists, is on view from 23 March to 13 May 2017.
Gallery Directors Willem Molesworth and Vincent de Sarthe organised the exhibition to inaugurate the new Hong Kong space. The artists whose works are shown in the exhibition are Liang Ban, Mak Ying Tung, Tong Kunniao, Wang Xin and Xin Yunpeng.
To celebrate the opening of the new space, which coincided with Art Basel Hong Kong, de Sarthe Gallery held a party on 22 March named “Hack Lunacy”. It was hosted by Asian Dope Boys founded by artist Chen Tianzhuo, featuring music by Tzusing (Taiwan), and live performances by Kimchi Princi (Australia) and Justin Shoulder (Australia).
Literary Critic Mikhail Bakhtin’s Notion of “Carnivalesque”
The concept of “carnivalesque”, developed by 20th century Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, is explored in the show. Bakhtin references the comically festive events depicted by 16th century novelist François Rabelais, stating that the carnival was an expression of an alternative world liberated from the social, political, cultural and religious structures of the time. “Reversal Ritual” embraces the utopian tone of the “carnivalesque” concept, celebrating the transitory possibility of change when faced with repressed forms of power. As seen in the works of art by the artists in the exhibition, artists use a “carnivalesque” approach to express themselves in the newly established order of Chinese society.
The first piece of work near the entrance is Mak Ying Tung’s You Better Watch Out (2017). In the kinetic work, colourful sponge balls spin around in a giant snowglobe-like transparent sphere. Among the piles of sponge balls near the bottom, pieces of paper with QR codes are embedded within. Curious viewers are tempted to scan the codes with their smartphones. Once scanned, the QR codes bring viewers to a live-stream video of themselves looking at their phones, standing in front of the artwork. This installation contemplates not only everyday objects and materials, but highlights the troubling duality between contemporary modes of entertainment and the growth of surveillance states across the globe.
Questioning the art world through participatory work
In Wang Xin’s work Artists Can Tell (2016), a bar installation is set up, featuring an interactive performance by the artist. Artists other than Wang Xin are also invited to perform, acting as bartenders and serving visitors with a selection of 30 different bottles. Each bottle has a satirical label attached, showcasing different aspects of the art world, such as “How galleries choose artists,” “How to network at an art fair” and “What makes artists special.” The piece contemplates the existence and significance of the art world today, and asks:
Is the relationship between artists and art lover the same as the relationship between bartender and bar-goer?
Kitsch and parody
The parody continues in Hong Kong artist Mak Ying Tung’s piece Sound of Music (2017). The set up looks as if it were a Chinese restaurant in which a Karaoke session is happening. The viewers are invited to sing Karaoke parodies of iconic Canto-pop and Christmas songs. In the television screen on the bottom left corner, kitschy videos in Karaoke style are played, showing English lyrics which challenge the status quo of contemporary artists and the current art ecosystem.
The Karaoke videos include How to Position Myself in Hierarchy of Art (4 min 6 sec) showcasing a horse rider finding his direction; I Am Not An Artist and I Am An Artist (3 min 43 sec) featuring an aerial view of a river in a forest; Art Art Art (1 min 59 sec) in which the interior of a museum acts as a background to repetition of the word “art” as lyrics; and Who Doesn’t Like Galleries (4 min 23 sec) showcasing an idyllic view of the ocean as the background.
The idiosyncratic use of kitschy fonts and lyrics highlights the enigma of the art world and the powerlessness it invokes in many contemporary artists worldwide.
Whimsical kinetic art
Further eccentricities are shown in Tong Kunniao’s noisy kinetic work When You Do it, Leave Some of the Pig Ass (2015). For most of the time, the work remains silent and motionless. However, as viewers walk close to the work, sensors activate the motors, causing the silicone “pigtails” to wobble, spin and whip against the tambourines. A chaotic scene occurs as confused viewers watch multiple tambourines emit sound in an absurd and disorienting manner.
House of mirrors
In a separated space full of mirrored walls in the gallery, Xin Yunpeng’s work 20140128 (2014) features slowly spinning statues, which depict cowboys pointing a gun towards the front, as if threatening to shoot. The mirror reflection on the walls causes a confusing sensation as viewers see multiple cowboy statuettes aiming a gun at them from various angles.
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