Hubert Burda Media


Five of the city’s most compelling artists chat to us before the opening of their show, Hong Kong Eye presented by Prudential, at ArtisTree

FOR ALL THE TALK of Hong Kong transforming into Asia’s most important art hub, much of the city’s local talent has fallen by the wayside. The exhibition Hong Kong Eye presented by Prudential aims to change this equation. Curated by Nigel Hurst, Johnson Chang and Serenella Ciclitira, the show turns the spotlight onto 25 of Hong Kong’s most promising artists.

Hong Kong Eye is the latest in the series of global Eye initiatives organised by David and Serenella Ciclitira’s not-for-profit organisation Parallel Contemporary Art. It follows after the launch of the Korean Eye and Indonesian Eye exhibitions.

Arriving at the sprawling ArtisTree after a London debut at Saatchi Gallery, the show is accompanied by a tome featuring more than 100 works by 76 local artists. Prestige Hong Kong sits down with five of them.

Tell us about your work in the show.
The two works that I’m exhibiting are part of a larger body that examines momentary lapses of linguistic processing. In Search of a Primordial Idiolect IV is a self-portrait as homunculus, which intermittently twitches and flails about while muttering a looped stream of consciousness – created by recording my utterances for the period of a month and then redacting all discernible linguistic content. Kaspar Hauser, Ramachandra, and Natascha the Dog Girl of Chita is a short fiveact play performed by three animatronic figures. The script was written using extracts of pet owners’ conversations with their pets, thereby creating a “dialogue” composed of non-dialogic speech acts.

I understand you used a hamster to create art in your last show at Saamlung. What was it like working with animals?
I prefer to say that I collaborated with a hamster for my last show. I lived with two hamsters, a dwarf rabbit and a team of fancy rats for six weeks prior to mounting Rodentia in Absentia. During the days, I worked in my studio to build environments and objects for the animals to interact with; and during the nights, they chewed, scratched and reshaped the sculptures in ways only partly predictable by my interventions. It was a surprisingly emotional experience that forced me to step into the shoes of my collaborators in a way that I hadn’t anticipated.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to make a work of art?
In 2010, I underwent age regression hypnotherapy in an attempt to narrate the experience of pre-linguistic thought. Sadly, it was unsuccessful.

How did you decide to become an artist?
Prior to becoming an artist I was a research psychologist. While working on my Masters’ thesis in Armenia and Azerbaijan, I spent a great deal of time designing arts and crafts projects for my research subjects to establish rapport. But before long, the line between these projects and my experimental protocols became blurry, and everything started to feel strangely like performance art. These experiences burrowed their way into my psyche and I gradually transitioned into becoming a full-time artist about 10 years ago.

Describe your work in three words.
Earnest, discursive, theatrical.

What have you been working on lately?
I’m designing a bar, which will launch at Art Basel Hong Kong this month. I’ll be responsible for everything from the architecture to the menu. The plan is to create a vision of Hong Kong dislodged from time and space – where primordial creatures serenade patrons with the sounds of the spheres, while tuxedoed septuagenarians ply them with poultry-infused cocktails.

Tell us about your work in this exhibition.
There are six works in total, which are all different but yet consistent. One of the paintings is called Hills Won’t Heal, which is about hills in Hong Kong that have disappeared throughout the last century. Another one is a subjective and altered map of Hong Kong called The Discreet Charm of the Proletariat, which is about dating a guy. I tried to make a lunch date with a guy for two years and he was never available. Then I realised that in one same geographic space some people see opportunities and some people see obstacles. So I created a map portraying restaurants, mountains and rivers in between my home and his.

I heard you’ve been busy watching movies for inspiration. Tell us about an interesting one.
Leviathan directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel. It contains all of my deepest fears: ocean, ferry, sea creatures…and beyond these, there is unrest. There is great unrest.

If you could be a character from a film who would you be?
I would be anything alive or dead in Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

What are your favourite materials to work with and why?
Pencil. It feels so much like writing.

Describe your work in three words.
Ho Sin Tung.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done to create a work of art?
Spent New Year’s Eve in a love hotel alone.

What have you been working on lately?
I’ve been trying not to work lately.

Tell us about your works in the show.
[I will be showing] two polar-bear paintings, one of my favourite subjects from 2007 to 2011. The first polar bear painting I did, in 2007, was inspired by a photograph of a polar bear in The Guardian. I see portraits of polar bears as images of humans, helpless in a changed environment.

Many of your paintings are on plywood. What attracts you to this material?
What fascinates me about plywood is its absorbent ground, warm colour and the texture. It’s organic so it changes with time.

Describe your work in three words.
Conflicts, harmony, fragile.

What has been one of your most exciting exhibitions and why?
The one I’m now doing in New York supported by the Asian Cultural Council. I turned my New York apartment into a living-working-exhibition space called The Curiosity Box to show my reaction to the city, New York. It’s by appointment only. Then the show will travel to the Chinese Culture Centre of San Francisco.

What inspires you?
Humans and their weakness.

What have you been working on lately?
I’ve been working on a video installation with shadows and scale models for Art Basel and a project called Disappeared Hong Kong Art (90s) with Burger Collection [part of the group show I Think It Rains], as well as an exploration of myself through living in the States.

Tell us about your works in the show.
I have Bodi, a round-shaped wall hanging. The metal is illuminated and it’s translucent porcelain surrounded by black clay. Another piece is called Gold Orchid, it’s a wallhanging piece as well. It’s composed of terracotta pieces woven together in a shape that resembles a human being, but it was inspired by the shape of an orchid. Also there will be a pair of shoes called Flowers Drop with irregular patterns of flowers on top so it’s like somebody standing under a tree one day when the flowers drop onto their shoes. There’s also another similar piece, a rearrangement of shoes in the shape of a cross with the four shoes pointed in different directions.

How did you decide to become an artist?
I grew up in a very free environment so it was natural when I came into contact with art through my study that I started to like it. I also think that when I leave the world one day it will be my pleasure to leave something nice behind. No matter whether people collect it or not, I would like to leave behind some objects that represent our era.

Describe your works in three words.
Sensation, connection, rhythm.

Your sculptures have an ancient quality. Is history important for you?
I’m very affectionate towards history. I just came back from Iran visiting for two and a half weeks. When I was there I was so touched by all this human civilisation being materialised into architecture and objects. It seems from these surfaces and ceramics I could almost see the ghost of ancestors or of human beings in general. It seems very abstract but I hope that there’s a similar sense of history in my work.

Where can we see your art?
Grotto Fine Art, the Blue Bar at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong, the Kadoorie family offices and the The Opposite House in Beijing.

What have you been working on lately?
I’m working on a solo for the end of this year at Grotto. I’m still proceeding but right now I’m very much into biological diagrams and microscopic views of sea creatures.

Tell us about your work in the show.
It’s a weaving machine from 250 years ago, a Flemish loom from northern France. The idea of the work was to turn the ancient loom into a musical instrument where people can use their gestures to weave sound and light. The piece was created at Le Fresnoy (the National Studio for Contemporary Arts) in northern France, which used to be a textile centre during the period of industrialisation. A lot of the textile industry came from there, right until the 1960s. Then a lot of the factories closed down and moved to cheaper places. Today there’s a lot of unemployment. The work tells a global story of how different regions have gone through the industrial era, how they deal with this situation. Even in Hong Kong a lot of light industry has moved into mainland China, so how do we deal with this kind of disappearance and change of society?

Music is a big part of your work. Did you train as a musician?
I wasn’t trained in music professionally but it has been part of my life from the very beginning, even before the visual arts. From age four onwards I started playing the piano. I didn’t go into an academy of music but I see music as a lifetime companion, a friend. In terms of the art that I produce, the audible sphere and visual sphere both have a strong presence in the work. It’s about creating a holistic experience. Not just a visual bias, audible bias or spatial bias. Everything coexists in a coherent way to tell a narrative.

What’s the largest installation you’ve created?
The largest scale work was called Musical Wheel, six metres in diameter by three metres high. About 15 people can sit inside this big carousel mounted with hundreds of cello strings. As the whole carousel is turning, the people are on this rotational deck, the strings will be plucked and you’ll hear the music as well as feel the vibration of the sound through soundboards that the participants lean against. In essence it was meant to bring two kinds of energy together: that of Kwun Tong [where the work was exhibited], its grassroots energy, people moving goods, the trucks and the machinery of the place; but at the same time the celestial, all the operations, the universe of sound, which is also a kind of energy.

Describe your works in three words.
Interstice, co-existence, conviviality.

Tell us about your studio.
It’s specific to the project, so I’m always like a nomad. For example, with Musical Wheel, I lived in the factory for weeks to create the work. For another project in Mongolia, the setting was the Gobi Desert so the desert became my studio.

What have you been working on lately?
I’m preparing some new work for Art Basel, where I’m showing with Osage [Gallery]. I’m still working on the piece and it’s most likely going to be about water.