Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Untying Social Fabric - Kwan Sheung Chi

Automatic doors through which a visitor's journey begins.

Pins on the floor casually representing the Hong Kong identity.

Floor plan of Kwan's work on the left.

You arrive in the exhibition venue.  Being drawn by the presence of this white room, you find two doors operated by sensors.  One door is facing the entrance carpeted locally with plenty of pins with the shape of the Hong Kong flag.  The other door, tucked in on a more obscure side of this triangular enclosure, provides an alternative point of entry.  If you have temperament like me, you might choose this entrance instead of stepping on the pins to make a more pronounced ingress.

The triangular room is a transition to the closed space.

The closed space with a globe.

The globe shows an enlarged atlas of the Hong Kong territory only.

Upon entering through the automatic doors, the triangle-shaped space automatically lit up by a fluorescent column within.  Claustrophobic with unpleasant white light that turns itself off as soon as movement is ceased, you are instinctively prompted to find a way out.  The only door, again with automatic sensor, will lead you to the final room. There, full height and filled with warm lights, a paper globe on a mirrored surface of a white stand is found.  You take a closer look and it is revealed that the 'globe' only makes up of the geographical extent of the territory of Hong Kong and nowhere else.

Who cares if there is no way out!

At one corner of this enclosure, the uncut paper 'globes' are ready to be taken home for re-assembly.  Should you be ready to get out, you realize that on this side of the room there is no sensor installed and you cannot leave at will.  You are stuck.  Feeling puzzled or agitated perhaps, you look for solutions; and at this point in time the artist equipped with closed circuit cameras awaits your responses.  Among other options, one can yell for help, wait for others to come in then sneak out, or waves hand towards the cameras (as I did). 

Whirlwind tour of the enclosures.

Analogous to the current political stalemate of Hong Kong, the artist - Kwan Sheung Chi with his installation tricks his viewers away from their comfort zones to confront themselves with reactions in this closed space.  In this participatory work, the audience are encouraged to seek their own solutions just as our city has to untangle itself from inner conflicts.  Given the recent civil unrests, calls for constitutional changes and even bickering on options of self-rule, there is an growing urgency of people including Kwan to focus on the serious subject of Hong Kong's future. 

Some cautious visitors with observation mode switched on.

To quote from the curatorial statement on the artist - Kwan devises accessible works which he deems "necessary" by bringing perspective and clarity to the context, underlined by a sardonic view of the vicissitudes of daily life.  With the artist's unique visual language, the curated works both old [the globe] and new [the installation] sharply address Hong Kong's culture, identity and future with deadpan irony, an issue close to the hearts of many Hong Kong people.

A journey that leads nowhere as foretold by the author.

In my two visits, anti-climax above all else was what I could gather from the audience. Indifference to the closed space was the mainstay while fun-seeking and selfies were other expressive responses; and this was confirmed after chatting with the staff of the exhibition.    High order thinking was all but lacking.  In this installation-cum-experiment, only the artist and curators know best regarding public's responses, given the recorded data they manage to gather subsequently.  If 'deadpan irony' of the locals was Kwan's preoccupation, the installation manages to reveal the embarrassing truth of the audience's participation - "a journey that leads nowhere" (a statement he makes in the gallery's official website).   Perhaps this has been anticipated by Kwan, the revelation is his intent.

It is believed that this is one work among others to come in the current political crossroad Hong Kong is faced with. Personally speaking, due to my leaving of this city for family reunion in Canada, the work has an extra dimension that is very close to heart. I, never being indifferent nor without a standpoint on most issues, may be seen as taking an exit.  Admittedly, this is my action regardless of circumstances, timely or otherwise.  It is regrettable, and perhaps damnable to many.  Various thoughts will remain restless within me for a long time to come.

Social Fabric
22 March to 21 April, 2016 
Mill 6 Spring Exhibition, Hong Kong

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