The current exhibition at Para Site considers how we negotiate our relationship between personal and public domains.
Art Radar interviews Hong Kong artist Pak Sheung Chuen to find out more about his research.
The duo show “Chris Evans, Pak Sheung Chuen: Two Exhibitions” at Para Site, curated by Freya Chou, is a conversation between British artist Chris Evans and Hong Kong artist Pak Sheung Chuen, on view from 23 September to 3 December 2017. The works showcased by the Asian artist are the result of his observations from several court cases, in which he documented and transformed into new interpretations. The narratives gathered from the solemn courthouse become the inspiration for the creations featured in this exhibition, in the form of wallpaper, graffiti, archives and objects.
Through the journey of self-healing, the artist explores ways to release negative energy and create a dialogue around social issues.
Pak Sheung Chuen was born in 1977 in Fujian. He immigrated to Hong Kong in 1984 before the city’s handover from Britain to China. In 2002, the artist graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and has been creating artwork in various media. From conceptual works to performances, Pak draws inspiration from the everyday. He has represented Hong Kong in the 53rd edition of the Venice Biennale in 2009.
He has exhibited internationally, including at Liverpool Biennial, Taipei Biennial and Busan Biennale. His works can also be found in collections such as M+ Sigg Collection and Tate Modern, among others.
Art Radar interviews the artist to delve deeper into the concepts behind the current show at Para Site, Hong Kong.
What is the role of colour in your works presented in this exhibition? For example, “The Seal” series in black and white versus the “Nightmare Wallpaper” series in colour…
For the “Nightmare Wallpaper” series, I want it to be decorative to serve a role of penetration—to make people love it before they know the hidden meaning behind. That’s why it is colorful and cheerful, but the colour is also related to the meaning and story of the patterns.
For “The Seal” series, it is black and white. It’s like a religious symbol. It gives powerful impact from which you can’t escape. Even you don’t know about it, you still believe it has a mythical power behind—all you have to do is to believe.
On Hong Kong
How have the recent events in Hong Kong influenced or changed your artistic practice?
I have contributed to a column in a local newspaper since 2003. Regarding the social and political situations, I also made artworks to respond. I think it can act as a bridge between art and society. It becomes my style. But when I physically stood in the middle of the Umbrella Movement in 2014, I felt the powerlessness of this art practice. I suspected the ways of my practice that react to political issues wouldn’t help the movement. It seems to be keeping me in far distance to observe and that’s it. Finally, I gave it up.
After the Movement broke down, I was like many other contributors of the Movement who had fallen in depression. I didn’t have any motivation to do anything – just keeping the anger inside. At that moment, almost half year later, art and religion helped me to recover. Incidentally, I went to the court to hear about court cases, where I found it very much like a church setting—and I like doing service at church. I felt comfortable and could concentrate my mind very easily. From that I let my pen go by itself on the paper, and then I interpreted the images and enlarged them through a scanner to observe the emotions of brushstrokes. After almost one and half year of practice as such, it healed me and I can claim the by-products as the artworks.
Do you feel optimistic or pessimistic about the city’s future?
I felt pessimistic, as all the core values of the Hong Kong have become very fragile, like legal system, legislative council, freedom of speech… The Hong Kong government was supposed to help Hong Kong people to protect these values, but actually you can see how the government has been going against them. Now we can only pin hope on the civil society, but it seems not strong enough, especially after the Umbrella Movement..
Rationality vs. subjectivity/subconscious
The courtroom usually represents rationality and judgement, yet the automatic drawings conducted at the venue depict the subconscious emotions of your reaction to the cases. What do you make of the notion of rationality versus subconsciousness in your work in this exhibition?
I would not compare myself with the role of judges and lawyers who have been working in a professional system (a closed system or perfect system perhaps?). I am more like a journalist. While a journalist records the fact on the surface for the public, I also record the hidden side, the atmosphere, and emotions and the personal side. A journalist writes stories and news, and I write diary and make symbols and patterns. I can feel that different personalities of the judges have resulted in different judgments and hence different verdicts, but I believe if the legal system is healthy, it will adjust the flaws or mistakes herein.
Personal healing, collective memory and activism
In response to injustice and traumatic events happening around the world, some artists turn to activism while some turn to spirituality as a means for healing. What is your approach and what do you think artists around the world can do to heal a wounded society?
I think first I have to become a citizen, and then an artist, even though I can’t separate my roles from both of them. I don’t think I focus on political artworks; due to my role as a Hong Kong citizen I can’t stay away from politics. I think first we have to resume health or stay healthy, otherwise we won’t be able to help the others, so I should get healed first and then go back to the Movement. I believe my artwork is on both sides.
“Chris Evans, Pak Sheung Chuen: Two Exhibitions” is on view from 23 September to 3 December 2017 at Para Site, 22/F, Wing Wah Industrial Building, 677 King’s Road, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong.
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