Film curator Li Zhenhua speaks to Art Radar about healing, revolutions and the future of film in contemporary art.

Following last year’s inaugural Film sector, Art Basel Hong Kong 2015 returns with a seven-themed programme curated for the second consecutive year by Li Zhenhua.

Li Zhenhua, Curator of Film sector at Art Basel in Hong Kong. Image courtesy Li Zhenhua and Art Basel.

Li Zhenhua, Curator of Film sector at Art Basel in Hong Kong. Image courtesy Li Zhenhua and Art Basel.

2015 Film Sector 

Seven poetic themes

The second Film sector of Art Basel Hong Kong runs from 14 to 17 March 2015 at the agnès b. CINEMA at the Hong Kong Arts Centre. The programme features 38 works by 36 artists, and highlights include seminal works from the 1960s and 1970s by artists Marina Abramović and Michael Craig-Martin. Important video works by Yu Cheng-ta, Cheng Ran and Yan Xing will be shown, among others, along with new works by Chen Tianzhuo, Lu Yang and Song Kun.

The film and video works are organised by curator Li Zhenhua into seven diverse and poetic themes, namely:

  • Urbanity: reflecting on the fears exposed by urban development on a global scale;
  • Minor Revolution: examining the role of innocent youth in instigating revolutionary acts;
  • Healing: a poignant section which looks at the process and attempt of overcoming pain and trauma;
  • Nowhere: a focus on ‘non-spaces’;
  • Reperform, Reconstruct, Represent: a section dedicated to recurring stories like those passed on by travelling poets and storytellers;
  • Animated Reality: attempts to deconstruct the boundaries between the real and fantasy;
  • Goddess: a concluding section which will show the 1975 film ‘Freeing the Voice’ by Marina Abramović alongside a work by Cheng Ran.
Yan Xing, 'Arty, Super-Arty' (still), 2013, 9'16". Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne.

Yan Xing, ‘Arty, Super-Arty’ (still), 2013, 9 min 16 sec. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing-Lucerne.

Curator Li Zhenhua

Writer, curator, multimedia artist and producer Li Zhenhua is a passionate lover of new media and a prolific participant in the creative industries. He managed the first international new media art festival MAAP in 2002 in Beijing, founded and organised the “Illuminate the Great Wall” music festival from 2002-2003, and co-founded the Naples Far East Film Festival with Loredana Cozza in 2005. The following year Li was appointed as Executive Producer of the Beijing International New Media Arts Exhibition and Symposium.

Li subsequently founded Beijing Art Lab, a research-based institution focusing on new media art practice. In addition, he has been a nominator for the Summer Academy at the Zentrum Paul Klee Bern (Switzerland) as well as for The Prix Pictet (Switzerland). Li was also a member of the international advisory board for the exhibition “Digital Revolution” held at the Barbican Centre in the United Kingdom in 2014.

Art Radar talks to Li about the 2015 Film Sector for Art Basel Hong Kong.

Chang Li-Ren, 'Battle City EP01' (still), 2012, 6'54". Image courtesy the artist and Liang Gallery.

Chang Li-Ren, ‘Battle City EP01’ (still), 2012, 6 min 54 sec. Image courtesy the artist and Liang Gallery.

Compared to last year, how were this year’s nominations in terms of quantity, variety and general flavour?

In general, I think that things are getting better. We received more applications than I expected. This is a good thing, because the quality of the curated programme really ultimately depends on the constant development of content-driven works by dedicated artists.

Was the curatorial process different in any way to last year? What were some of the most challenging aspects? And the most enjoyable?

The challenge is always there, because the first part of my role is passive – I wait for works to come from the galleries. The works that come to me from the major market players pretty much define the selection and curatorial process.

I am always curious to know what people are liking at the moment and I get my answer from the works that come to me. It is very important for me to know what’s coming next, because that will define upcoming trends and flavours of the entire media related art market.

Could you give an overview of how you came up with the seven themes for the programme? Were there any specific films that prompted particular themes?

It would take too long to talk about each section – I’d rather you saw the videos and films yourself!

On the whole, however, it can be said that two major narratives inspired my curatorial process. One is the actual works and submissions from the galleries; the other is my own perspective on the current local issues of Hong Kong. Cinema is the place for these ideas to meet and encounter each other.

Lei Benben, 'Nostalgia' (still), 2014, 11'. Image courtesy the artist and Beijing Art Now Gallery.

Lei Benben, ‘Nostalgia’ (still), 2014, 11 min. Image courtesy the artist and Beijing Art Now Gallery.

I am especially interested in the theme ‘Healing’ – a motif that has been scant in the recent tides of (political) contemporary art, which seems to overflow with angst and revolutionary energy on the one hand and despair and emptiness on the other. ‘Healing’ presents a poignant sense of recovery and transformation. Any special inspirations behind this theme? 

‘Healing’ is precisely what was on my mind whilst I was selecting the films and videos for the programme – I was trying to find a sense of ‘healing’ for myself during the selection of works.

For me, healing also deals with hypnosis and forgetting, which extracts pain from human beings. But healing can mean something much more simple yet just as powerful, like sharing a moment together to try to understand life, nature and society.

Does last year’s overarching theme of ‘action and activism’ continue onto this year’s programme in any way? Do you see the theme as responding to the current political climate in Hong Kong?

There is always a thin red line with these things – the question is how much it will take for people to change. The theme ‘action and activism’ was tackled in last year’s programme, with a talk entitled “Activism Utopia” involving Chim Pom and Kwan Sheung Chi, which I moderated.

The theme certainly continues into this year’s programme – I adopted the title ‘Farewell Revolution’, which touches on the Occupy protests that occurred in Hong Kong recently. The theme also relates to all the issues similar to that movement and to things I witnessed in the late 1980s in Beijing.

Do you have any personal favourites – films or artists from the programme – that you would like to highlight for our readers?

I love them all, and that’s why I selected them for the programme! It’s not a competition – the aim of the programme is to show what each artist has achieved in their practice. So I would say please come and see all of them, and decide for yourself which one is the best.

Yukihiro Taguchi, 'Funke' (still), 2014, 5'. Image courtesy the artist and Mujin-to Production.

Yukihiro Taguchi, ‘Funke’ (still), 2014, 5 min. Image courtesy the artist and Mujin-to Production.

How do you see the future of video art and film in the contemporary art world?

The Film sector is the future; I mentioned in 2014 that it is a turning point for the arts. In the last five years, film and video have become more and more important for museums, biennales and galleries – not only because of an aesthetic change, but also a big change in lifestyle and culture globally. The Film sector is a pilot toward the future. I think it will become the mainstream soon.

Why do you love film and video art?

Because film and video is so close to the real world I am living in, and so much related to everyday life.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: art fairs, film, videonew mediaevents in Hong Kong, interviews

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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.

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