Saturday, 14 May 2011

Memories of King Kowloon (九龍皇帝的文字樂園) – Q & A Session

 Graffiti works ‘Memories of King Kowloon’ held at ArtisTree from April 20 to May 31, 2011.

Tsang Tsuo-chui (曾灶財), aka King Kowloon, (1921-2007) entered the gallery proper and became an establishment in Hong Kong.

Is this banner, near the exhibition venue, with improvised red paint on silk screen printing a piece of graffiti art?

Q: Is King Kowloon's Scribbling an art form?

A: In today’s ever loosening boundary of art, Tsang’s unique calligraphic writings certainly contain all the hallmarks of what constitute art:  they are visually expressive, able to provoke thoughts and imbued with creativity uniquely related to the spirit of the author.  Even to the critical eye, his stark calligraphy is comparable to monotone writings by Banksy, John Fekner or polemical catchphrases by Bob and Roberta Smith.

But when interviewed by COLORS Magazine in 2005 on freedom of speech, he remarked by stating: “They should just give me back the throne.  I am not an artist – I am simply the King”.  If disclaimed by himself as an artist, this opens up a new debate of whether an artwork can be made under the process of unself-conscious efforts.  Imagine a 2-year old child who has no concept of art but is told that his/her doddling is a painting.

A clumsy protection of Tsang’s work by the government at the Star Ferry pier.

Much of Tsang’s graffitis had been painted over, again by the government. (Photo from Apple Daily)

Cool and sleek decoration tamed the subversive nature of
graffiti writing.

In contrast, this was how unglamorous the ‘artist-in-action’ looked in reality.

Q: Why is there a major exhibition after 4 years of his death and many of his works obliterated?

A: At face value, the exhibition is a celebration of his unique form of graffiti.  In deeper thought, it is a silent outcry – an evidence of failure by the government on its arts policy.  It takes a sharp eye to uncover the public appeal of King Kowloon and raises his works to new heights.  It is analogous to the ability of a shrewd businessman being able to spot an under-valued asset and exploit it to the full.  Of course the Swire group, being the major organizer of this event, is among the best in the exercise.

 Highly stylized display of Tsang’s belongings.  It was all anti-climax upon close inspection of the items in the lit boxes.

Inside the boxes, the viewer was met with irrelevant idol worshipping mentality.

Q: What is the significance of showing his belongings that have nothing to do with his calligraphies?

A: Clever conceit not suppressed, the inclusion of Tsang’s T-shirt, restaurant receipts and Coca Cola can has no artistic connotation; nor do they tell us much about his life.  It only nurtures the trivialization of thoughts common in this community. 

Among some products riding on the fad of Tsang a few
years ago is mobile phone design using his style of writing.

 Tsang’s calligraphies began to acquire notable monetary value since Sotheby’s auction in 2004.

Tsang was given the role of beggar in the movie – Lavender. 
It is the worst of stereotypes, exploitations and insults on the senile graffiti writer.

 General view of artworks dedicated to or inspired by Tsang.

King of Kowloon Forever by Birdy Chu - Example of an expedient piece of artwork using the concept of the emperor’s seal. 

Q: How to avoid being accused of exploiting on Tsang?

A: The first ones to spot Tsang’s phenomenon and develop from it were genius enough to be free from accusation.  But knowing that Tsang and his family were prone to be taken advantage of, anyone of high ethical standing and reputation today should keep a safe distance from Tsang’s works.  Unless you are obsessed with his works like the man himself and can never let go.

Art student participation that can never go wrong - it is a nice touch to include student artworks inspired by Tsang.

Had anyone considered not to put the writings behind glass and frame?  It almost looked as morbid as the government intervention at the Star Ferry pier.

A more honest and daring approach to graffiti art held from May 7 to June 5, 2011.  Graffiti writings with different media were demonstrated in videos.

Q: Is this a good exhibition?

A: By definition, street art is best seen in its natural habitat instead of an air-conditioned venue of clever display and ultra dark lighting like this in ArtisTree.  On the whole, the exhibition felt pleasant enough though the setting was more suited for high-end fashion show.  Perhaps this sanitized gallery outlook could be modified to simulate street environment with traffic and public noises?  Perhaps works of a few local graffiti artists could be included?

The answer is a calculated ‘No’.  Swire, as part of the old establishment, would do the utmost to prevent the promotion of graffiti art.  It is not a surprise that the word ‘graffiti’ only appears once in the entire exhibition catalogue of 56 pages.  The exhibition only targets to feed on the collective memory of Hong Kong people, a homogenized sentiment that can be contained, and a nostalgic conservatism that the establishment prefers.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Venerable Student Art at CAFA Museum, Beijing

‘Harmonious Difference – 和而不同’ Installation and video art student exhibition at CAFA (China Central Academy of Fine Arts) Museum, Beijing from 8th April to 2nd May, 2011.

CAFA Museum located at the academy’s campus was designed by
Arata Isozaki in 2008.

The interior with interesting curvilinear spaces has more to offer than the exterior.

A surrealist siren hovering above the outdoor ticket office.  This is an installation artwork by students but with no explanatory information to be found.

The second ‘Experimental Art’ exhibition entitled ‘Harmonious Difference – 和而不同’ was held with a selection of outstanding student works in the past 5 years.  Quite a number of works of high caliber, representing several art academies – the nesting grounds of contemporary Chinese art, were in show.  The exhibition was teeming with ideas and visual feasts.  Though unavoidably elitist in the selection process, one could see confidence, dedication and professionalism from these budding artists.

Some outstanding works include:

Disassembling and Study (Analysis) – (家庭日常用品博古)

Disassembling and Study (Analysis) – (家庭日常用品博古)

Artist: Group Work of 2006 CAFA 2nd year students
Title: Disassembling and Study (Analysis) – (家庭日常用品博古)
Materials: Mixed materials, paints and hardwood display cabinets
Year: 2006

The then second year CAFA students carried out a survey dissecting artistic preferences of the average family in China prior to any plan for this project.  Data from 120 families across 11 provinces was collated based on their definitions of art, criteria of judgment and examples of good art.  After the investigation, the students found that antiquated art and craft contributed an overwhelming proportion in art appreciation for the average Chinese family.  They took to the result of this analysis and explored on the concept of antiques in future – domestic objects of today that transcend themselves as antiquated art of the future.

As photographed above, the archetypal signifiers of corbel blue porcelain, stone age pottery, bronze ware, lacquer ware et al were applied to the skin of the general household items.  The result was an attempt to connect the past, the present and the future through the very carcasses of mundane objects.  At a different angle, the material value of antique was subverted with samples of true domestic objects displayed carefully on treasure cabinets whilst the ‘antiquated’ domestic objects cluttered on a table were reminiscent of fake antiques on display at Pun Jian Yuen Market of Beijing or Cat Street of Hong Kong.

Eternal Longevity (萬壽無彊) – the familiar rice bowl of typical Chinese restaurant in eerie display.

Artist: Zhang Zhidi (張子迪), student of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts
Title: Eternal Longevity (萬壽無彊)
Materials: Porcelain, crystal mud and glass container
Year: 2010

Zheng’s work was another pre-occupation with Chinese antiques, and in a larger sense - the Chinese history.  The replicated export bowl, carried the auspicious writing of ‘Longevity knows no border’ (萬壽無彊), was captured in frozen moment amidst sinking to the abyss of the sea.  The stories of shipwrecks with treasures fascinate the Chinese public and this installation rings the bell of the collective psyche.  It was none the more compelling as seen through the very eye and in still motion.  This melodramatic image re-awakens the public psyche; and compounded with the blissful but broken inscription, it evokes unsettling afterthoughts in the mind.

Flexibility (伸缩性) in overwhelming dimensions.

One-to-one scale of the paper-made man and woman interactive
 with viewer.

Artist: Li Hongbo (李洪波), student of CAFA
Title: Flexibility (伸缩性)
Materials: Traditional paper sculpting techniques
Year: 2010

The agenda of human interventions against nature was examined in Li’s project.  The traditional craft of flexible paperwork, usually in the form of lanterns, bouquets, flower and fruit baskets, was employed as a means to resemble human achievements by bending curves in various shapes and sizes.  Perhaps there could be improvement on how this idea was better represented, for instance with visual references to man-made vanities like fast cars, skyscrapers etc.  That said.  The attention of the installation was drawn to the life-size man and woman in the middle with extended foreheads that at once conjured up the presence of the super-humans, but on second glance, the Frankensteins as we all know.  The work is a telling reminder to the viewers on the danger we are facing on the ever changing paradigms, the more we challenge ourselves on bending nature.

Narratives on Ethnic Faces (封面上的民族形容) – overall view.

Narratives on Ethnic Faces (封面上的民族形容) – partial detail.

Artist: Ye Funa (葉甫纳)
Title: Narratives on Ethnic Faces (封面上的民族形容)
Materials: Framed magazine covers, video works and school writing desks
Year: 2008

Throughout history, Chinese people have been very witty on devising ways to express their dissent against ruthless governments.  Satire in literature, metaphors in poems, hidden messages in paintings were all but some of the ways in the past.  ‘Let the Bullet Fly’ is a recent cinematic work to do just the same.  Ye’s installation, though relative mild on her agenda, is another mockery on the marginalized depiction of ethnic minority women in the Communist China.  Through the formal framed views of the cover photographs from officially published cultural magazine ‘Minzu Haubao’(民族畫報), one could discern that the stereotypical Chinese women of sexuality, labour, revolutionary, modernity and even exoticism had been exploited by the regime since the 50’s.  The artist went a step further to recreate these images by new video works that had been inserted in school desk as readable books.  The idea of brainwashing akin to treating spectators like junior school pupils was blatantly felt.

Other good works include the following:

Artist’s previous living rooms captured as
models in four TV shells.

Artist: Zhang Xiangxi (張湘溪), student of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts
Title: For the Forgotton (為了忘卻的)
Materials: General materials, LED in four TV shells
Year: 2007

The artist employed TV as medium to recreate the images of her four previous living environs.  She contested the reliance of the TV by the general public as the overriding vehicle to receive information.

Intricate but diverse groupings of signage
make interesting reading.

Artist: Dong Yuen (董媛), student of CAFA
Title: Glamour of the Neon Lights (霓虹丰彩)
Materials: Photograph etching on perspex lightbox
Year: 2008

Dong has been fascinated by urban neon lights and the multitude of dialogues they intrinsically possess.  The installation was a striking correlation of advertising displays, shop signs and building names in Beijing lit up in a dark enclosure.

Videowork demonstration of artist in alternative night life - painting at street level.

Artist: Liu Xiaoyang (劉曉陽), student of Hubei Institute of Fine Arts
Title: Life (生活)
Materials: Video work
Year: 2008

Liu used torch lights to improvise on a mental reality based on beams of lighting in interaction with the real world. Lighting became a painting medium in the time – space spectrum the artist tried to exploit.

Further references on CAFA and the exhibition: