Photography Reviews

Community and Participatory Art: involving collective vision in the current art movement

Art no longer is solely an individual expression. Other than collaborative art-making, we are growing interest and sensitivity towards how art can be a connectivity tool to extend to the community and public engagement. While the classic way of making and enjoying art still has its own value, the placement of art has been shifting towards collaborative and participatory, whether it is within the creative processing in making the artworks themselves or to create public engagement when experiencing the artworks. 

In recent months, there were several exhibitions that revolve around this theme which are worth discussing. 

I. Mountain No Mountain

https://nodisciplinelimited.hk/mountainnomountain/

A jointly presented project by LCSD and the Wan Chai District council, the project is curated by no discipline limited, inviting six artists to create community art experience as a way to use art to connect to the community. 

“In communities, art is not only functional or a mere tool for problem-solving. Community arts can also widen our senses and experience. Once our mindset changes, the surroundings and even ourselves are open to a broader world.”

The prelude exhibition at Our Gallery, Wan Chai was a way to introduce the work by the six participating artists, using different media, to create the community art experience in the coming months. 

Our broom, by Luke Ching, was a memorable one as I participated in the workshop which led me to think more deeply about brooms and street sweepers through our experiences in making the brooms and creative sweeping. Through embodied experience in creating symbols or Chinese characters made by fallen leaves, we are inspired to widen our senses and as a collective look deeper into the issues around brooms and unlock their possibilities. Here, the artist involved the community and the public in the actual artistic processing and in making the artwork itself. The other five artworks also use a similar methodology but through different mediums. For example, in the prelude exhibition, Lawerence Lau, uses “a chain of dialogues”, to invite the public the write their questions that they may want to ask if they meet a stranger in Wanchai on a notebook, and write their answers to the previous questioner. Using sound as a medium, he will continue with this methodology on the streets of Wanchai in the coming months and create a music gathering at the end with people who participated.

I look forward to seeing how the finished work will be presented, if they may, to the public once again or whether the work is left to be ephemeral and to be experienced live only.

II. Serendipity in the Street 

https://www.taikwun.hk/en/programme/detail/serendipity-in-the-street/838

Curated by Tai Kwun Heritage team, along with a researcher team and design partner One Bite Studio, seven artists were invited to use art to respond to what has been observed around the Central and Sheung Wan neighbourhood. The exhibition adopted “Modernologio”, an everyday life observation practice originated in Japan, as the research method to identify the interconnections between people, space and activity. 

Here the exhibition becomes a documentation or a way of showing the findings from the social research made around Central and Sheung Wan neighbourhood, with artworks such as drawings, sketch statistics, short films etc as representations of the findings. Although the exhibition also revolves around the community of Central and Sheung Wan, the value of the exhibition is in the objectivity of presenting a specific community through the work of art. The majority of the artworks is passively engaged with the public, with one section that invited the public to draw their own imagination on how to reuse the prison yard space in Tai Kwun. 

For me, this is definitely not participatory art and I’m not sure whether I can call this community art either. There’s definitely a stir within the art world to shake things up in how we define art and how we present art in exhibition spaces like Tai Kwun. 

III. Hongkongers Archives of 100 objects

https://www.facebook.com/香港百物檔案館

Initiated by artist Kong Yiu Wing, this exhibition was an extension of his previous work built from 2019 where the artist invited the public to donate objects that pertains to the theme “HongKongers”. Personal objects including household items, relics of the movement, old photos, documents, multimedia, 3D model etc becomes an archive for the HongKongers, so to speak. Here the value of the work rests upon being a preservation of a history of the community’s subjectivity about Hong Kong. 

From collecting items to creating a system to archiving these objects, every step of the way becomes a question to decide how much to insert the artist’s curation and how much to leave it open to public participation. And further, is this a question that should only be addressed to the artist himself or can we inspire the public to think together?

At the talk, there was a lady who picked up the documented files and started correcting mistakes. She expressed her disappointment with the mistakes she found in those documents. I wonder, instead of standing in opposing position to point out what was wrong, can we, as artists and curators, inspire the public to involve in bettering the archive in a collective way? And can we, as the public, question ourselves in how to contribute to bettering the archive? 

I look forward to see how this project evolves, and wonder the direction that the artist will take as the sole holder of this archive, yet also represents the community of Hong Kong. 

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Photography Reviews

Hello! How are you? — A Photo Exhibition by So Hing Keung

If I am to be completely honest, writing has been with my life even more so than photography. Since I remember I kept a diary close to me and it’s been something that I make sure I do every morning til this day. There’s always been this little voice inside my head that says I should write more but also not really knowing what it is that I should write. So I started and I stopped. I wrote a bit of this and that, and then I stopped again. This cycle repeated endlessly. The creative resistance is huge. Not good enough writing. Not good enough topic. Not interesting enough. Not genuine enough. Etcetera etcetera. I have struggles to make myself sit and sift through my thoughts to come to something that I feel is “presentable”. But maybe that’s the very idea that is blocking me. 

I once read a letter of Vincent Van Gough to his brother, Theo, from October 2 1884, he wrote,

“You don’t know how paralyzing it is, that stare from a blank canvas that says to the painter you can’t do anything. The canvas has an idiotic stare, and mesmerises some painters so that they turn into idiots themselves.

Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas IS AFRAID of the truly passionate painter who dares — and who has once broken the spell of “you can’t.”

So this whispering voice is coming back to me again. And this time I’m determined to break this spell of “you can’t” and just write. Like Picasso would say, “you have to start painting to know what you want to paint.” A blank page is a scary thing to a writer, it is different to photography where one picks something from the world and frame it. One has to clearly organise their thoughts so to articulate exactly what they want to communicate. So here I am again, starring at this blank page and my fingers started to type, and then holding the delete button and retype again. Something beautiful came about from this act of back and forth, and then words start to imprint themselves onto this blank page forming sentences and paragraphs. Maybe all I really needed to get pass was the very first 15 minutes of panic, and just let myself sit through this uncomfortable space of the unknown. 

© Lumenvism, from the series ‘Hello! How Are You?’; Source @ JCCAC Happenings

Yesterday I went to the exhibition opening “Hello! How are you? — A Photo Exhibition by So Hing Keung” at Lumenvisum Hong Kong. I noticed that usually art reviews or exhibitions go-to articles are mostly written in Chinese (because after all it’s mostly for the local audience) but honestly, I’m just way more comfortable with writing in English. (Perhaps this can be useful for those outside of Hong Kong to know more about Hong Kong art and artist.)

I once did a workshop with So Hing Keung and his work is very much influenced by Josef Sudek. A lot So’s previous work, even the work at this particular exhibition, are mainly photographs of still life and rarely does he photograph people. His interest in photographing traces in our ordinary life draws our attention to the little things that we may overlook daily. In this particular work, he drew his attention to his shadow (which he refers to as death) and its relationship with objects and the surrounding environment. Playing by the idea of how photographers usually avoid shooting shadows, he purposefully investigated this relationship to question and document his existence. 

Further by displaying these photographs of the shadows in an exhibition format, it has an after effect of creating an illusion of “saying hello” and inviting the audience to join in the conversation with his shadows in co-creating our existence wit those photographs. On one of the walls, there are 4 large panels of work with one that looks like Lo Ting, a species half-human half-fish, indigenous to Hong Kong, as the poster of the exhibition. He referred these panels as “death rolls” and hence the looseness of the mount. The rest of the work were displayed in an organised home deco style of 15-20 thick white frames along the other three white walls. The frames were small and glassless, allowing the audience to look closely, like peaking through different windows, to speak to these strange aliens that never come to light. 

The work has a certain subtlety yet with a quick glance it can easily be interpreted as gimmicky and literal. Especially with the limited gestures (often with a hand wave) and rigid body postures of how the artist interacted with his shadows, I feel the work can be expanded much more if given the range of diversity to play. I guess this work comes with resonance to the previous days of working from home, social distancing and lockdowns where one would begin to ask deep questions about our very own existence, especially when we cannot relate to the physical world. Our shadows become the very fundamental thing that brings us back to our sense of placement in this world. Here, So recreated this journey for the audience to experience how we can reconnect with ourselves and the world.

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Photography Reviews

The Bare Life – Philippe Grandrieux

Empty Gallery – one of my go-to galleries in Hong Kong which displays edgy contemporary artworks that are not exclusive to visual arts but other forms of medium or even crossing boundaries to other forms and media.

Philippe Grandrieux “The Bare Life” is currently exhibited from end of Sept til end of November. The text from the gallery describes the work really well.

“The performance in The Scream resemble an uncanny mixture of religious rituals, and choreographic workshop.  The affective intensity of these performances has only been heightened by Grandrieux’s decision to both to completely surround the spectator with images, and to introduce a slight delay of video, producing an effect no unlike the temporal blurring of which accompanies accumulated sensation. A sequence of 11 staggered projections surround the viewer within a purpose-built chamber, confronting them with a quivering multitude of naked bodies….

Bodies convulse and flail in an object choreography which oscillates between moments of surprising tenderness – the nearly automatic self-soothing activity of a body humming, rocking and whispering to itself – and moments of brutality – manifested not only by the titular scream, but also clawing, twitching, groveling of a body in distress.”

“The 3 single-channel work deals with the theme of anxiety – also explore the enigma of the human body and our relationship to our own materiality. Installed as life-size projections within the architecture of the gallery, each work present a human figure(s) enveloped by cover of darkness, moving according to an obscure logic beyond our comprehension.”

The works definitely confronts the viewers of their relationship with their sensations by being enfolded within the performer’s act. That confrontation sort of led us to awake our bodies as well and become extremely aware of how they respond to different stimuli. Visually striking and enigmatic, somehow disturbing too with the performer’s body almost felt as if she was not present, only with bones and skins moving according to the choreography. There were moments of her body postures which felt as if she was an alien, especially when the light source is not a warm but a fluorescent tone.  All in all, a mind-bending piece of work.

 

 

Snapshots of the single 3-channel projections @ Empty Gallery

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Photography Reviews

A Room of Resistance – Yim Sui Fong

I really forgot how I come across these exhibitions in Hong Kong, but what moved me to find out what this exhibition is about was the question of one of Yim Sui Fong‘s works,

“How distinguished does an individual’s existence has to be before he merits a chronicle of his own? What if it’s merely that of a watchman, looking after something — a rickety hut on a slope, a nondescript warehouse by the sea — that has long been relegated to the margins of history?”

“人要如何偉大才應被記錄下來?如果他的工作只是看管或作一個見證?木屋和倉庫,有人為它記下歷史嗎?”

The exhibition starts with a carefully mounted individual bookshelf that holds the book “the man who attends to the times” for viewers to come in, take it out, and read it on the bench that was placed by the side.

It opens the dialogue of the exhibition on what it is meant by resistance – referring to a kind of tiny resistance, pinches of reverse action in everyday settings – whether these tiny resistance, these seems insignificant reverse actions or moments of uncertainties are worth documenting, and if so, what are they and what can they bring to us.

And then the walk takes one to see the work “Against Step” which is a collection of video recordings of passer-by’s unconscious little movements or mental states. The work is questioning whether active and continuous change of our body movement can avoid “gait identification” which aims to identify people and assign them a score for classifying them into categories. To add layers to this work, Yim also asked a dancer to continuously dance with only 1 instruction, which is to dance against her personal style and achieve the status of “no self”. The dance was filmed and projected on the large white panels against the wall.

Up until here, I get what she wanted to do. The exhibition was interesting and focused. And then, I feel it lost me with the other pieces. There was a piece of work called “Moments” which is hundreds of recorded conflicting moments within the 48 hours around the handover collaged into a one big lightbox panel, with lenticular printing. Quite literally, you can see how one moment moved to the next because of the lenticular printing technique, though I thought the link with the theme is too literal and loose. I wasn’t sure whether the focus of the exhibition wants to discuss more in the political direction, or in the psychology direction – which is what “The Hymn of Disquiet” wants to talk about, and in line with “Against Step”.

“The Hymn of Disquiet” is a visual result / recording of a workshop which invites the public to utilise restless emotions to obtain motivation for creation. The participants spent time in a remote place together and practiced various actions to encounter uncertainties. Personally I feel the content of this performative interaction is very rich, but was slightly disappointed with translated visual executions or works as the richness of the content was gone. And finally there was a sound installation piece which I felt was just something Yim wanted to experiment. It didn’t provide much depth to the exhibition of “resistance”.

Saying that, the most fruitful piece I got from this exhibition and the artist talk was the discussions with Floating Projects, an artist collective based in Hong Kong. The discussion revolves not only around the exhibition itself, but also the dynamics and how to work with curators.

Yim Sui Fong solo exhibition: A Room of Resistance

2019 28th Sept – 18th Oct
LO Gallery, JCCAC ; 11am-8pm

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