Hong Kong’s Art Month is approaching full swing, welcoming not one but two art fairs, alongside a plethora of exhibitions and events, from the opening of art superstar George Condo’s show at the rather incongruous Maritime Museum, to 15 ladders installed in the atrium of Pacific Place as part of a site-specific work by Scottish artist Jim Lambie.
Popular street artists will create murals in Tai Koo Park and Quarry Bay MTR station, while a musical flash mob will descend on Artistree, which has an avant-garde music-themed exhibition curated by Hong Kong artists Samson Young and Yang Yeung. Feminists can rejoice at the arrival of the Guerrilla Girls, an activist collective devoted to shedding light on the gender inequalities that have blighted the art world for millennia.
All that and more, accompanied by a pop-up sculpture garden in Tamar Park and the opening of the new H Queen’s tower, which will showcase art world heavyweights Yoshimoto Nara and Wolfgang Tilmans. That’s on top of the hundreds of galleries that will pile into the city for Art Basel and Art Central. You can imagine the sense of exuberance followed by sensory overload and fatigue that will accompany any art enthusiast who dares to navigate the waters of Hong Kong’s cultural high season.
Since its purchase of the homegrown Art HK fair in 2013, Art Basel has dramatically altered the landscape of Hong Kong’s cultural scene, pegged as it has been to the increasingly global status of contemporary art. That Hong Kong’s contemporary art scene is increasingly enmeshed in this global art market, and subjects to its whims, boons, foibles and frenzies, is something that artist and curator Isaac Leung takes an active interest in observing.
Leung currently heads up the 31-year-old institution Videotage, which has through the decades served as something of a lighthouse for video and media arts in Hong Kong. With an aim of drawing attention to this history, Leung will be curating an exhibit that spotlights the leading figures of Hong Kong’s video art past and looking at the ways in which they have been influenced by Korean-American trailblazer Nam June Paik, the wily godfather of video art, whose works deriding man’s increasingly close relationship with the media that surrounds him continue to resonate. Leung and Videotage are working alongside the Nam June Paik Art Center and its curator Sang Ae Park to put on the show.
Imagined Future: The Legacy of Nam June Paik and Early Video Art will present Paik’s 1973 oeuvre Global Groove, a piece in which shots invoking a future where telecommunications is truly global and expansive, as rendered by electronic collage, demonstrates his playful irreverence. It’s a hallmark of the Fluxus performance art movement to which Paik belonged, while also demonstrating how integral his legacy has been to postmodernism.
Postmodernism was driven by the collapse in hierarchies between art forms, blurring the lines between the so called highbrow and lowbrow, fine art, film and technology. This shift has seen video art emerge from an edgy, counter-cultural product to something that one might easily find in a white cube space amid paintings and sculptures.
“At the very beginning, video art was something at a periphery between art and something very mainstream,” says Leung, describing early Hong Kong artists shared that counterculture spirit which saw the potential in drawing on popular and media culture to create new frontiers for art.
Examples he will show in the retrospective include a 1990s piece by noted video artists and writer Yau Ching, Ellen Pau, and Wong Chi-fai, Here’s Looking at You Kid! Using Hong Kong TV commercials, government footage and film clips to create a provocative visage of the city’s history as a British colony, the show is accompanied by a look at emerging Hong Kong and mainland Chinese artists working today, among them Wong Ping, who often plays with animation to explore socio-political themes, and whose 2014 work Stop Peeping, will be shown.
Leung says video art enjoys a long legacy as a particularly engaged medium that invites artists to express narratives that are excluded from the mainstream. This is an aspect of the form he hopes to preserve, but one that is somewhat threatened as video art becomes more and more mainstream. With museums around the world and leading galleries taking an active interest in the medium, and with the outdated appliances used to showcase it increasingly starting to feel like they belong in a museum, video artists and curators must look to break new ground and incorporate new technologies if they are to return video art to its roots beyond the white cube.
That’s a pursuit that interests Leung and Videotage. He says the organisation wears two hats. One is to examines and preserve the history of Hong Kong video art, while the other is to seek out new media tools and individuals that can disrupt the standards and create new frontiers for art. Leung says that means examining how we consume media and relate to one another through media – something he will explore in a talk at Art Basel that coincides with his curatorial projects there.
The questions raised in this conversation around social media are twofold. How can artists use social media to create works that disrupt our changing consumption habits? Secondly, how can (or should) the art world harness this technology, and the language that comes with it, to reach out to and educate new audiences? Leung has been trying to find the answer by scouring the internet for talented YouTubers, reaching out to them and inviting them to participate in the talk, while also helping them collaborate with artists.
Leung says YouTube videos remind him of the original spirit of video art. “It’s always regenerating ideas and really trying to subvert what could be done, what could be told in terms of a story,” he says. “We have a very sophisticated art world, in which we define what is a good quality of video art, but at the same time I want to bring certain kind of things that are outside this kind of power structure and to create an experiment about what could be done and exchanged between these amateur productions and professional artists.”
Meanwhile, in separate effort to engage audiences in ways that go beyond traditional galleries, Videotage will be collaborating with the socially-engaged art space Oi!. showing video art works on screens in cha chaan tengs around the city. Artists will perform as waiters and the interaction between viewers and artists will be streamed live on Facebook. It’s a way to expand the impact of video art beyond the audiences who seek it out. The project will run through Art Basel and continue some weeks afterwards.
Art Basel runs from March 29 to 31, 2018. As part of its film program, the fair will collaborate with Videotage to present video works by Nam June Paik as well as by artists from Hong Kong and mainland China influenced by Paik’s work. All seven special screenings will be presented at Theatre 2 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC).
At 16:00 on Saturday, March 31, 2018, Art Basel film curator Li Zhenhua will be in conversation with Isaac Leung, advertising industry veteran Jan Cho, and Nam June Paik Art Centre archivist Sang Ae Park to discuss “Social Content in the Age of Digital Distribution”. The talk is free to the public and will take place in the Art Basel Auditorium at the HKCEC.