REVIEWED: HKFOREWARD13 - Introducing New Art From Hong Kong Artists

By Serene Fu

10 Chancery Lane Gallery is one of the few Hong Kong commercial art spaces bold enough to host a group show of recent graduates from local art schools. In its second iteration following last year’s debut, HKFOREWARD demonstrates the gallery’s willingness to nurture new talent - aiming not solely at selling pieces but also at empowering new generations of local artists. Featuring eight young artists whose practices range from sculpture, video, installation to photography, the exhibition runs from 29 August - 21 September. 

Po Tsang. Seat.Sit, 2013

Set towards the front of the gallery and serving as a window display, Seat.Sit (2013) by Po Tsang (b.1991) comprises both a video piece and a grid-like sculpture of metal rods sized to fit the artist herself. Tsang uncomfortably sits on a metal ‘chair’ within what resembles either a cage or shelter - a statement about the precarious livelihood of Hong Kong artists. The work instills a feeling of unease foretelling other works displayed within the white cube.

Liz Mok, Soul.Tide, 2013
Liz Mok, Soul.Tide, 2013

In the main gallery space, resonating with Tsang’s critical reflections on physical endurance, Soul.Tide (2013) is a self-revelatory two-channel video by Liz Mok (b.1982). In one screen, a tug-of-war is staged in darkness with a rubber band chain stretched and pulled tightly. In another, Mok is seen struggling, chewing on the rubber band chain until it snaps - her hysterical state heightened as the tension of the rubber band intensifies. The work is thus symbolic of the mental and physical challenges the artist-performer faces. The combined tensions turn into a form of self-torture and endurance in the name of art. Paradoxically, the more difficult the ordeal, the more liberated the artist feels once the task is complete.

Tiana Wong, Wallflowers, 2013

Playing on inconspicuousness to demonstrate the complexity of female friendships and jealousy, the installation Wallflowers (2013) by Tiana Wong (b. 1979) consists of a small transparent receptacle holding burnt photographs loosely stuck on a wall. The piece also carries a barely noticeable white on white slogan in Chinese characters reading “when there is only us in the world”. Sealed with an oily liquid and resembling an act of witchcraft to prevent love from developing between her female friend and her male lover, the burnt Polaroid and ashes are kept floating as they shake within the container. The piece therefore conveys the depth of small and discrete things that demand closer attention.

Kanlun Cen, The Undercurrent, 2013

Contrary to Wong’s low key piece, Kanlun Cen (b.1990) engages the viewer with an eye-dazzling anamorphic animation entitled The Undercurrent (2013). Using a ceiling-mounted projector, Cen’s experiment simultaneously creates two sets of images to investigate people’s inner consciousness.  While the smaller image projected onto a cylindrical base conveys reality and is clear and proportionate, the larger reflection on the tabletop is distorted and reminiscent of a dreamlike state of the mind. Cen’s creative use of new media is a spectacle in itself and challenges the viewer to further decipher the meaning of both worlds. 
Also in relation to understanding the world we live in, photography enters the frame at HKforeword. Documenting society’s changing landscape, the remaining four artists proudly fill the gallery walls with their works. 

Dennis Man, Display of Absence, 2013

The photography of Dennis Man (b.1988) and Kate Ip (b.1990) stand in conversation with each other as they poke fun at established social practices. Man visualises his own utopia by fabricating an imagined Nathan Road clear of illegal street posters. Capitalising on the after hours from 7pm - 1am free from the authority’s intervention, poster men put up posters on windows of commercial banks along Nathan Road, the most traffic-jammed road in Hong Kong. Having observed the poster guys’ activities for several nights, Man covered their saucy nightclub posters with clean blue paper sheets only to reveal the originals once again before midnight. Entitled Display of Absence (2013), his series of photographic works baffles viewers with a new romantic and tantalising Nathan Road unseen in the history of Hong Kong. 

Kate Ip, Flâneur, 2013.  Courtesy of 10 Chancery Lane Gallery

Also working by night, Ip shoots Flâneur (2013), a project of absurd public spaces. As a flâneur she strolls the city’s public spaces in order to seek refuge yet these provide no space for proper relaxation. Ultimately, all Ip can do is ridiculously lie down on soft inflatable toys to save her from being hurt by protruding concrete blocks on the ground.

Eason Tsang and guests with the flowerbed installation.  Courtesy of the artist. 

Eason Tsang, Floral Fabric #1, 2013

In a separate space, a flowerbed mimics those in the studio where Eason Tsang (b. 1986) develops photos such as Floral Fabric # 1 (2013) and Floral Fabric # 5 (2013) on show at the gallery. Tsang's initial inspiration for shooting flowerbeds came from a pair of Dr. Marten shoes and an H&M floral dress yet creating his still life by replication is just a starting point. Faithful to the true and mundane version of real life, he includes cigarette butts and other detritus within his bloomingly fresh flowers, thus evoking anxiety and unrest beneath a glamorous surface.

Eason Tsang, Floral Fabric #5, 2013

Alongside Tsang, the photography of Dicky Ma (b. 1989) plays equally well with the visual impact of colour, sophisticated fashion and staged settings - a style similar to commercial photography but capable of provoking deeper emotions.

Dicky Ma, Two Grandma, 2013

Ma’s colourful and enchanting portrait, Two Grandma (2013) reflects an unconventional depiction of elderly women brimming with charisma and personality. Unlike many stay-at-home grandparents, Ma’s orange-haired grandmother and his girlfriend’s green-haired grandmother capture one’s attention not only because of their candy-coloured Yayoi Kusama look, but also due to their youthfulness and friendliness.

Awash with energy, creativity and personality, HKFOREWARD13 acts as a thermometer revealing the latest happenings in Hong Kong’s new artist scene. The brave conceptual works enliven the artists’ practices with newly acquired video-making techniques and new media technology.  The absence of painting also seems to reveal that whilst there is no contradiction in the artists’ probe into the city’s local identity, history and sense of uniqueness, the proper conveyance of such issues through the medium of painting requires a craft which is often missing in young graduates today. For practical reasons, many of the HKFOREWARD13 artists do not plan to engage in art full-time so the dilemma ahead of them lies in whether they will be able to find the time and resources to participate in overseas exhibitions and residencies. For art’s sake, I hope they all take HKFOREWARD13 as a starting point and move on to produce many more exciting works in the years to come as they certainly have talent.

HKFOREWARD13 at 10 CHANCERY LANE GALLERY. Hong Kong. 29 Aug - 21 Sep.