Tuesday, 24 January 2012

‘Forest from Forest’ by T Kuribayashi (栗林隆)

Review of the artist’s work (original title: Wald aus Wald) from the exhibition ‘Vision of Nature: Lost & Found in Asian Contemporary Art’

Narrow doorway before entering ‘into’ the work.

Undercurrent, cloud or cavernous dugout before 
the unravelling of forest.

Lone viewer in observation mode.

 White forest risen from the claustrophobic space below.

‘In-between’ realm separating the polarized worlds.

Unlike other venues in the past, the installation held in Hong Kong spills over from one floor to another.  The walk through the exhibit is a unique addition to the experience.

The nondescript layout of the Pao Galleries with two stories of exhibition spaces connected by a walkway facilitates a dynamic shell for installation by the young Japanese artist – Takashi Kuribayashi (栗林隆).

With trepidation, one only catches a glimpse of the rugged low lying paper pulp before entering the ethereal space.  Step by step and with head lowered, one is gradually nestled in this papier-mâché otherworldliness, the visual and physical impacts of which are attributive to what installation art excels as a contemporary medium.

Besides material stimulus, the visual gives rise to more profound contemplation.  Kuribayashi provides some food for thought: “I have spent a considerable amount of time developing rapport with nature.  This can be seen through my artworks, as well as through diving and surfing.  In order to preclude human from having the wrong perception of their positions, nature teaches us how meagre we are and how we should position ourselves in the world.”  The artist’s statement is also a reminder of the neglect of damages we inflict upon this planet every day.

What sets this work apart from other mundane leitmotifs (in the same venue) on the theme of Nature is the poetry and sublimity the artist manages to produce.  There are a number of dichotomic forces in operation.  On the corporeal domain: undergrowth and forest, figurative and cosmic, darkness and light, ephemeral and universal.  On the emotive domain: reality and hyperreality, static and active, apprehension and exhilaration.  For an individual viewer, each condition interacts with another whilst some transfuse among themselves to generate multiple axioms of thoughts.

This complex codification of messages borne out of the fragile material of paper, itself a metaphysical attribute of tree lives in reverse making as hinted from the title of work, is admittedly beauty to the eye.  However, through the encounter with subterranean caverns and wintry forest, one might develop a primeval sense of insecurity as if in the great wilderness; and not before long, an awe of nature might sink in.

I was almost alone in the exhibition.  Solitude led to meditation on Nature.  My experience of the installation might be summed up in words by Rilke:

“In the long run, one is not as forlorn when one is alone with a corpse as when one is alone with trees.  There is something even more mysterious about a life that is not our life, that has nothing to do with us, and which so to speak celebrates its rite without seeing us, who watch like guests who speak a different language.”

For those without first person experience, impressions of “Forest from Forest” can otherwise be best attained from video clips including the following:

‘Vision of Nature: Lost & Found in Asian Contemporary Art’ is held in the Pao Galleries, Hong Kong Arts Centre from 10 Dec 2011 to 29 Jan, 2012.

(There is no review on all other artists' works in this joint exhibition.)

Forest from Forest- 栗林隆的裝置藝術 〈中文摘要〉








Forest from Forest》屬《重新審視自然:亞洲當代藝術中的自然》聯展一部份,由二O一一年十二月十日至二O一二年一月二十九日于香港藝術中心包氏畫廊展出。


Monday, 16 January 2012

King Yin Lei (景賢里) – Let it live

Background in a flash: In 2007, a demolition team 
was called in by the owner.  The government stepped in.  
Restoration works were arranged and duly completed in 2011.

The memory lane

Built in 1937, the grand mansion was designed by Arthur Robert Fenton Raven and his architects.  The office was the designer of the unique ‘east-meets-west’ architecture that included the Chinese YMCA of 1918 and Methodist Church of 1932.

 The Chinese YMCA building is preserved and still occupied by the original owner today. 
 (photo from KK Anthony in www.panoramio.com)

Vintage postcard look of the Methodist Church sadly 
demolished in 1994.

Swift upper hand well done

Slight wedge layout with accentuated vista towards the centre has similar visual impact as the buildings arrangement 
at Campidoglio of Rome.

The action taken by the government to protect the estate mansion from the wrecking ball deserves much commendation.  There were millions of dollars spent on the repair works inside out; and not to mention, a generous but controversial land swap, itself worth billions, was offered to the property owner as a deal to concede possession.

After the restoration was finished, the mansion was sensibly open for public visits.  Apart from demonstrating on how the taxpayer’s money was spent, the government’s exercise was meant to showcase an example of its heritage preservation policy well implemented. 

Upon close scrutiny: the architecture

Since the architecture was seriously damaged on the exterior, the quick responses and coordinated efforts taken by the authority with the professional team were impressive.  The roof details, brickworks and decorative features were restored by and large to their previous glory.  The materials and finishes are faithful reproductions to the originals.  Albeit the occasional slips in colour tones and craftsmanship especially on the wash grano, the exterior work was proven to be a difficult job well accomplished.

Failing inside job

Heavy handed approach to restoration exemplified by the fact that not a single piece of the original finishes was rescued and reused.

The ‘before restoration’ photo at the foreground 
for comparison.  It does not take long to find differences.

The halls are concocted like tacky restaurant if not mausoleum interiors.  There is a lack of will to investigate on the original decorations at the time the building was completed.

The metalworks (entrance and balusters) are one of 
the few surviving original details at the interior.

The interior rehabilitation, however, is a letdown.  There seemed to be a rush to tackle all the rooms such that not much was given to research on the original decorations and furnishings.  Upon close inspection on the treatments of the wall, ceiling and flooring, many of the relief details have been removed or troughed over by shabby new plastering.  The new paintworks are pure inventions with little adherence to the original motifs and colours.  It is shocking to see all original flooring materials be haphazardly replaced by new timber parquets, cheap mosaic tiles and carpeting.

One only needs to compare the photographs taken before and after to spot the appalling disparities.  Was there a tight schedule to meet or was there simply a lack of respect on faithful restoration?  The overall effort displayed is a smack on the face of learned visitors and casts a damning distortion for casual viewers.

Attitude and technicality

The New Synagogue, Berlin (built in 1866).  This is how serious building restoration is handled in Germany.  Every piece of the original stained glass or stucco is painstakingly rescued and reassembled in order that the visitor can have a better and true impression based on the account of the  original materials.   It is not the restorer to decide if the damaged pieces are too trivial to be displayed.

Revitalization is a gamble

Classic revitalization project of The Pawn.  A group of very upmarket eateries has taken up a listed building and excludes many local residents due to its pricing policy. 
(photo from www.rayallychina.com)

After the open visits, it is learned from closed circle that the government has decided to invite bidders to submit proposals for cultural or commercial ventures such as restaurant, hotel, arts school, or what have you as long as it is self-funding.  This so called ‘revitalization’ rules out the option of turning the building into a free-for-all public space.  Under private management, the future operator would exercise restrictions of public access to the mansion and garden.   Pay to enter is inevitable.  In order to accommodate new use and compliance with building regulations, the architecture will have to be remodeled with unknown implications. All these factors related to appointing a private occupier will generate aching compromises on restoration and public access.

Proposing Museums

A long shot of the estate where Lee’s opponent was supposed 
to live in ‘Enter the Dragon’ of 1973.  

The final fight scene was modelled on the 
then interior décor of King Yin Lei.
(Both photos from www.screenjunkies.com)

The mansion, grand enough as Clark Gable’s residence in ‘Soldier of Fortune’, 1955.  (Photo from www. hongkongandmacaufilmstuff.blogspot.com)

We wonder why this rare and adorable gem cannot be retained as a public place of interest?  On initial thoughts, there are a few museum themes that are possibilities to be reckoned with: east-meets-west artefacts, domestic habitats, furniture evolutions etc.  The fact that this building was included in films starred by Clark Gable and Bruce Lee may give rise to one thought of turning the mansion into a museum of film and tv set designs.  Let alone the cultural benefits, museums are magnet for tourists and pride for the locals.

Reflections on culture policy

The Museum of History (the name itself has a tint of melancholy).  Most visitors and locals wish to see the displayed items under the sun with real life.  If there exists an opportunity like King Yin Lei, do not flounder it. (Photo from www.travelwireasia.com)

By surrendering its right to develop for the public good, the government has simultaneously taken away the right of people to freely visit the building in future.  It is preposterous to ponder on as so much public coffers have been spent on the valued building in the first place.  Besides, this inconsistent preservation policy is not in tune with the cultural image the government is trying to portray.

It is a faulty argument to suggest that museums are visited only by a minority few; and the idea of a museum project in this location is destined to be underused.  However, it must further be addressed that with a below average number of museums per capita, the public would not develop itself into a population of frequent museum goers.  Building more museums and raising interest in museum visits are the sensible policies to pursue.  This is the sure way to warrant a genuine new lease of life for the mansion, not by delegating responsibility to private operators.

活著,景賢里 〈中文摘要〉