Hong Kong based artist duo MAP Office has won the top honour in the 2013 edition of Asia’s longest established arts prize.

The collective took first place in the tenth annual Sovereign Asian Art Prize for their photographic print Back Home with Baudelaire, No. 5 (2005), beating 29 other finalists, including entrants from six never-before nominated countries.

MAP Office, 'Back Home with Baudelaire, No. 5', 2005, print on metallic paper, 100 x 200 cm. Image courtesy the artists.

Laurent Gutierrez (Morocco) and Valérie Portefaix (France), the creative partnership behind MAP Office, both trained as architects before moving to Hong Kong and establishing their multi-disciplinary platform in 1996. After winning the coveted USD30,000 award on 21 February 2013, they commented,

We are very honoured by the jury decision and grateful for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize. I must admit that we have been very surprised by this news as the quality of the thirty finalists was very good. Walking around the various artworks at the preview demonstrated an amazing quality of selection, done first by the nominators and then by the jurors.

Bittersweet beauty of Baudelaire

Back Home with Baudelaire, No. 5 is part of a site-specific project documenting the transportation of cargo. The print shows monolithic containers on the move from Shenzhen, China to Hong Kong aboard the ship Baudelaire. Jehan Chu, an independent art advisor who nominated the work for the Sovereign Prize, said to ARTINFO,

In addition to being a gorgeous image that would open up any wall into an ocean view of minimalist colour and form, ironically, it is also a sharp-edged reminder of the endless plod of assembly line production, commodified human resources and large-scale waste that underpins our consumption; it’s a work of bittersweet beauty.

MAP Office, 'Underneath', 2004, series of 22 c-prints on transparency in lightbox. Image courtesy the artists.

Back Home with Baudelaire, No. 5 has been identified by some commentators as emblematic of MAP Office’s wider work. Since establishing the collective, Gutierrez and Portefaix have used photography, video, installations, performance, drawing, literature and text to document people’s relationships to the spaces around them. According to Seismopolite, MAP Office’s work “forms a critique of spatio-temporal anomalies and documents how human beings subvert and appropriate space“.

While concerned with landscapes and humankind’s place in them, MAP Office’s work also focuses on production and distribution within those landscapes. Shots of heavy industry and mechanisation frequent their artworks, such as those found in 2008’s City of Production.

MAP Office, 'City of Production', 2008, HD video transferred to Blu-ray. Image courtesy the artists.

Man and movement

Themes of urbanisation and movement within the urban landscape are also apparent in the duo’s work. The 2010 film Runscape depicts young men sprinting through Hong Kong while a voice-over narrates theories of urbanisation. In a 2011 interview, MAP Office explained that the piece explored new ways of moving, using the city, “as a performative space as the performer defines new routes within the built environment and engages the public to do the same and follow him.”

MAP Office, 'Runscape', 2010, HD video transferred to Blu-ray. Image courtesy the artists.

Talking to the Straits Times after winning the Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2013, Portefaix pointed out that Back Home Baudelaire, No. 5 was similarly preoccupied with movement and space, as the work considers ways of navigating borders and routes.

Win for Filipino artist Mark Salvatus

Mark Salvatus of the Philippines won the Schoeni Prize for his piece Hundred Lives (Quadriptych), which depicted weapons confiscated from a prison after a riot. The Schoeni Prize is voted for by the public and carries prize money of USD1000.

Mark Salvatus, 'Hundred Lives (Quadriptych)', 2011, ink on paper. Image courtesy the artist.

Salvatus’ piece, along with the work of other finalists, was auctioned on the night of the award ceremony to raise money for the Sovereign Foundation’s charitable fund. Half of the proceeds goes to the artists, while the other half goes to the foundation’s charity work. Back Home with Baudelaire, No. 5 will be added to the Foundation’s permanent collection, joining other winning pieces from the last decade.


Related Topics: art prizes, connecting Asia to itself, Hong Kong artistsmixed media art, art about water, urban art

Related Posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more Asian art prize news


By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *