Following the widely acclaimed Hong Kong participation in the 57th Venice Biennale, the exhibition returns to Hong Kong with newly commissioned works.
Samson Young’s “Song for Disaster Relief World Tour” is co-presented by M+ and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. Art Radar looks at the exhibition and speaks with the artist and the curator.
“Samson Young: Songs for Disaster Relief World Tour” is on view at the M+ Pavilion until 6 May 2018, following on Hong Kong’s participation in the 57th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale, entitled “Samson Young: Songs for Disaster Relief”. The show in Venice drew more than 130,000 visitors during its six-month-long run; the new, locally adapted exhibition in Hong Kong ensures that the city’s audiences have the opportunity to see the internationally celebrated presentation in relation to the local context.
Chief Executive of the HKADC, Winsome Chow, comments:
In Venice, Samson Young: Songs for Disaster Relief received wide critical acclaim along with public appreciation. Since 2001, when the HKADC first participated in the Venice Biennale, Hong Kong artists have become increasingly recognised on the world stage. We are glad to share this international success with Hong Kong audiences.
Samson Young (b.1979) is a Hong Kong-based artist and composer. As a practicing musician, his practice is heavily research-based, and draws from the avant-garde compositional traditions of aleatoric music, musique concrète and graphic notation. His drawing, radio broadcast, performance and composition touch upon the recurring topics of conflict, war and political frontiers. He is also in various bands, and has collaborated with ensembles and orchestras.
At the Art Basel Hong Kong 2015, Young was the inaugural winner of the BMW Art Journey Award. He has exhibited extensively, including at Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Para Site in Hong Kong and Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Germany, and has participated in festivals such as Internationale Ferienkurse für Neue Musik, Darmstadt, the New York Electronic Art Festival and Tonlagen Festival, Dresden.
Guest Curator Ying Kwok is an independent curator since 2013, working internationally. Before that, she was the curator of the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester in the United Kingdom between 2006 and 2012. She has worked extensively in curatorial projects in Manchester, Poland and New York. Kwok, awarded the Asia Cultural Council Fellowship in 2015, conducted a five-month-long research on participatory and engagement projects in the United States. She is also the founder of Art Appraisal Club with a group of local art professionals. Since 2014, the club organises activities and discussions to encourage critical thinking in Hong Kong, and publishes reviews in various magazines and cultural networks. In 2016, they launched their biannual and bilingual journal Art Review Hong Kong.
Building on the successes of the past two editions co-organised by M+ and the HKADC, we made sure that we continue to find new ways of contributing to the growth of the contemporary art community in Hong Kong. For this edition, we invited a guest curator for the first time to organisethe Venice as well as the Hong Kong exhibitions, and I am extremely proud that the selected curator, Ying Kwok’s participation has both enriched the project and deepened our engagement with the local art community.
Art Radar spoke to the artist Samson Young and guest curator Ying Kwok to find out more about the exhibition.
Hong Kong versus Venice
How does this presentation in Hong Kong differ from that in Venice? What new works are included in this show? Do you expect the reaction of the Hong Kong audience to be similar to that of the audience in Venice?
Samson Young (SY): There’s a new piece in the Hong Kong version of the show, which is titled Carillon. Carillon involves an auto-player piano, which is “prepared” with various personal objects. The personal objects were inserted in-between the piano’s strings and hammers. This piece is based on a propaganda song that was produced by the Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK, which is the BBC-like public services station of Hong Kong) in 1991, with the specific goal of “cheering people up” – to re-instill confidence in the city’s future in the aftermath of Tiananmen. This song is not a charity single because it wasn’t directed towards a specific charitable cause, but what was interesting was that it had all of the musical characteristics and production details that typify a charity single. The audience in Hong Kong will appreciate this gesture I think.
The theme of the 57th Venice Biennale was Viva Arte Viva, and the artist explored the irony reflected by charity singles, especially in the cross-cultural context. Since some works may be site-specific, now that the exhibition is being held in Hong Kong, what changes do you predict would occur to the interpretation of the work, now that the context is different?
Ying Kwok (YK): We had decided the theme for the exhibition before the announcement of the theme of the Biennale was made. I believe people can make an interesting connection between the two. The works responded to the history and the context of the site in Venice, which is a space on the ground level of a historic residential building. It had an intimate and nostalgic feeling in general and it worked well with the works. For the exhibition in Hong Kong, we wanted to bring back most of the work in Venice. We tried to retain some key characteristics and form from the previous show, and have the rest of the works around it.
Bringing in a new narrative, four connecting rooms serve as a host to the works with different characteristics and can be seen as spaces for music production or performance. All the rooms are purpose-built and treated with a similar touch. The transition between works is smoother, so it reads more like a big story. The built environment gave a stronger narrative and mythical nature to the exhibition, which we hope will encourage people to imagine the story behind the show and make their own connections. Also, I imagine people would be interested in understanding or guessing the artist’s take on the social and political situation of Hong Kong in relation to China, as they can see more elements, which are related to local history.
Fake news and fabrication
Could you tell us more about the concept of this exhibition?
YK: In 2014, Bob Geldof and a large group of artists attempted a remake of the classic 1980s single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” to support the West African nations in their fight against Ebola. Samson Young felt that the remake was obsolete and out of time, and this reaction set him on a journey to explore issues that arose through the recording of charity songs.
The video and sound installation in the first two rooms of the exhibition, which form the Palazzo Gundane (homage to the myth-maker who fell to earth), stems from your discovery of a fake news article on the internet about a South African musician named Boomtown Gundane, who reportedly made a song titled ‘Yes We Do’ in response to ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?. Since the circulation of “fake news” is prevalent nowadays, such as satirical “Onion-esque” articles, do you think that fake news is detrimental to the general public due to misleading information, or that fake news is a great way to creatively re-interpret issues to bring attention to problematic ideologies?
SY: I never thought of this gesture of re-appropriation as a critique of fake news. It is true that the Boomtown Gundane story was what prompted my interest in and drove me deeper into the research in the first instance, but more than anything I just was just really amused by it I think – how it made the round on the internet, and how I was fooled.
Art making is for me a way to process information and digest complicated issues, some of these issues are political. It’s a thinking tool. But I am not attempting to sway opinion by distilling a singular insight. When I am making a piece, my opinion on a subject is often super confused and contradictory, and I allow the messiness to come through in my work. When I emerge from this process, I might begin to formulate an opinion and that might in turn affect how I vote, who I choose to work with, how I run my non-profit,… etc., which is a more modest goal, but it is not trivial either.
Could you tell us more about the live performances, which will be held alongside this exhibition in Hong Kong? How have they been selected and how do they relate to the other elements in the show?
YK: We have a total of two sets of programme. The first set is live performance of the collaborators in the exhibited works, which include the vocalist Michael Schiefel in Palazzo Gundane (homage to the myth-maker who fell to earth), who performs a selection of covers and original songs. The Kwan Sing Choir from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, who performed in We Are The World, as performed by the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions Choir, will now perform two well-known classics, including the one of the muted songs from the exhibition.
The second set is commissioned new works in response to cover songs. We have invited musicians from two different music genres for this. Keith Wong from professional a cappella choral group Yat Po Singers, and James Cudderford, the concertmaster of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. They both have great recognition in their respective fields and proposed creative interpretations of cover songs.
To accompany the exhibition, the first edition of M+ Essential Editions by Samson Young is a pop-up store, which looks like a fictional musician’s dressing room, on G/F of the M+ Pavilion. The items for sale resonate with the content shown in the exhibition. The aim of the series of artist collaborations and pop-ups is to re-examine consumer culture.
Executive Director of M+, Suhanya Raffel, states:
By continuing to collaborate on Hong Kong’s participation in the Venice Biennale—the most important forum for contemporary art in the world—M+ and the HKADC have made crucial contributions to Hong Kong artists gaining a greater global resonance, while also raising the standard for the this quickly growing and maturing community.
“Samson Young: Songs for Disaster Relief World Tour” is on view from 9 February to 6 May 2018 at M+ Pavilion, West Kowloon Cultural District, Hong Kong.
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