Hong Kong 2015 – New media arts: The transgression of the practical and symbolic boundaries of art

There’s a new art fair in town…and when I say town I mean Hong Kong, and when I say art fair I mean Art Central. Founded by the creators of Art HK, which was established seven years ago, it coincides with Art Basel aiming to ‘showcase the next generation of talent alongside some of the most established contemporary galleries and art spaces from across the globe.’ I will talk about Art Central more in-depth in another blog post, until then here’s a write-up from the fair’s “ART TALKS” series, specifically the one-hour talk ‘New media arts: the transgression of the practical and symbolic boundaries of art?’ organised by Asia Society Hong Kong Center.

art central hong kong logo

art central hong kong

This afternoon discussion brought together Island 6 Art Collective who I know from my time of living in Shanghai, Kingsley Ng (Artist), Yang Yeung (Curator) and Isaac Leung (Moderator). I have got to know Isaac well during my Hong Kong days, hearing him moderate a panel discussion on ‘The Future of Visual Arts within the Expanded Field of the Moving Image’ at City University of Hong Kong earlier in the week (read in full here). Themes from that session were in part reiterated in this talk as you’ll read.

art central hong kong art talks

Kingsley Ng began by speaking about his art practice since 2004, which examines art and regeneration through culture – art as a kind of contextual practice. ‘This is how I came into contact with technologies which are so ubiquitous, relevant to the context we live in. Context is important to me.’ Citing the work ‘MUSICAL LOOM (METIER A TISSER MUSICAL)’ (2004-5), an interactive Installation created in the France in response to the cultural symbolism of the place, here textiles. The musical loom has been reconstructed as an instrument where ‘the player can generate mechanical soundscapes or malleable musical expressions. Instead of using its wooden handle, participants weave sounds and images by controlling a light beam on the threads. A single screen is projected onto the threads of the loom through a mirror. Infra-red camera, infra-red and ultrasonic distance sensors are used for tracking participants’ movements.’ It translate from the thread-play into a harp-like four toned harmony where volumes are controlled by the hand’s position in mid-air. ‘The mechanical sound and the flow of threads not only remind one of the industrial past, but also evoke a whole set of collective emotions and memories.’ Kingsley invited those who use and work with the loom to create their own “music”.

musical loom kingsley ng

He is interested in how he can create a mediation between the people, an industry and the space…in order ‘to create something celestial’ often referencing the problem of post-industrialisation. In the work ‘Minimata: a requiem’ (2009), he examines the mercury pollution of the sea in the small fishing towns near Minamata, Japan questioning fifty years on, what lessons have we learned? What is the tide bringing in now? In collaboration with musician and composer Kung Chi Shing, they created a multi-media performance work in collaboration with actors, musicians and poets from Japan, the USA, the UK and Hong Kong, what they describe as ‘a requiem for the earth’, inspired by the photographs of Minamata by Eugene Smith.

As part of the exhibition ‘Imminent Domain’ curated by Fumio Nanjo, Kingsley’s piece ‘Galaxy Express’ goes to the past to discover something that is lost illustrating ‘a time in the future when human beings can no longer undo the damage we have inflicted on our home planet. The only chance for survival is in traveling back to the past. When the sun, the earth, and the centre of the galaxy are perfectly aligned, a train embarks on its journey to the past. Passengers on board are from all walks of life: scientists, industrialists, activists, smugglers… The story is told by a young girl, who has boarded the train, both to remember, and to forget.’

“Voice recordings to capture the days sliding by.”

Kingsley goes on to speak of Goggle paying $3 million to a thermostat company…Apple devices have apps that control thermostats from your phone…Philips hue weather…calculated algorithms used to change your personal surroundings. ‘These programme control technologies will become ubiquitous in our lives’ and how these came to inspire his 2014 project ‘Luna Park’ (2014) in addition to the work of video artist Anri Sala. Working with Oil Street Hong Kong, the former Yacht club located in North Point, he wanted to look into other recreational facilities locating Luna Park then using it as a background for the project. He questioned how do we navigate the nuances of this historical recreation venue and of this city that is constantly re-creating itself? What is produced in these processes, and what comes afterwards? Kingsley became further interested in control or empowerment and the challenges of community practice manifesting these themes in the piece ‘To the Moon’ (2014), a project in Jordan Valley Park ( a previous landfill site) under the Moon Festival. How relevant is this festival today beyond moon cakes? He engaged 10 children to imagine 5 new cities…referencing Calvino’s invisible cities…where each city had to have imagined conditions/between different conditions (water to become wood, wood to become fire, fire to become…and so on) to create an organ system based on their narratives and people’s response.

Moon dims and shines, waxes and wanes;
Season comes and goes, as an everlasting circle of life;

Moon Festival of forgotten tradition in celebration of autumn harvest,
the connection with nature that we may no longer recall;

With a journey through interactive light art installation,
illuminating our future imagination, that reconnect us with nature.
Let us fly the future city to the moon…
Through the eyes of 10-year-old kids, that brightening up possibilities of bridging nature to our metropolis life.

To the moon kingsley ng

Island 6 followed talking of their collaborative art endeavours based out of Shanghai where everything made is fruit of their collaboration. They went on to show a video…their summer retrospective…a documentary, a work-in-progress…an insight into their multi and inter-disciplinary practice (view here). It is a beautiful filmic glimpse into the reality of their every day…their world…their creative ecology (with a rather nice soundtrack). The Island 6 team consists of artists, art directors, curators and guest curators as well as a technical team. When the collective is not making art, each individual helps in running the exhibition space.

Finally, Yang Yeung spoke of soundpocket, an initiative founded in 2008 responding to a need in Hong Kong to listen, to be receptive to what is happening in the art world…’a micro-organism in the big art food chain interested in incubation. Since Isaac mentioned urban space…we are one block away from the Occupy Central area, I wanted to mention that there was a photographer who showed me a series of images taken in Admiralty of student activists either alone or in pairs who were using their smartphones. It was the only light source showing how absorbed they were and how solid their beliefs were…then shown on the steps by Lennon Wall. This talk is about new media and this is something I envy of the artists…connecting , making these connections, through new media. From soundpocket, I think the “newness” is telling us:

  1. We have a different sensitivity of our bodies…intervention of bodies;
  2. Artists respond against new media…it is not just liberating but limiting.

Yang cited projects by Tetsuya Umeda who often works in spaces that not are ordinarily used for exhibitions and makes use of found everyday objects in his performances and installations, which focus on sound and space; and Paolo Piscitelli who works in drawing, sculpture and installation and oftentimes starts in response to specific sites.  His compositions are often in a perpetual metamorphic stage. Like in the most recent works centered on permutations, ephemeral construction and visual anagrams, his praxis reveals unexpected possibilities more or less like the act of dreaming that combines, often using randomness, fragments of an experienced reality in order to create new narratives. These artists use technology to produce a listening situation not necessarily using digital technologies…meaningful for the artist to sensitize themselves with the environment. soundpocket are also interested in the spatial dimension of art, space has a lot to teach us artists and curators.

art central hong kong art talks 2

Isaac opened the Q&A discussion by talking of the mode of distribution and production of new media art, specifically aiming his thoughts at Kingsley 6 and Island6.

Island6: We try to do as much as we can possibly do by our studio. We try to be efficient and follow a model of film production, the idea of working a team…film director, actors, technicians…so people can focus on making art not making a living from art. There will always be better artists than us…but we want to create a platform for art.

IL: Can you tell us about the Hong Kong experience and how it is different to China and what it has been like expanding to Hong Kong?

Island6: They are all great spaces to make and show art…cities create a place for creative people, especially in Asia.

IL: One of the commonalities between soundpocket and Kingsley’s practice is that the work shown here is very location based…transforming machines and interiors to reinterpret the city…the new ways to think about the city, about life.

KN: I want to echo the idea of Island6 and collaboration and that this is key. How to do collaboration. Is it empowerment? It is very sensitive to deal with these kind of issues. New ways of thinking…thinking about production. Preservation is a problem, but it is how to sustain a project. Reincarnation of a singular idea…it is something that puzzles me. How do you sustain an idea, especially with social practice. How do we design a system that is open and how do we let it grow.

IL: A generative model, generative art. How did the Hong Kong audience respond to the ‘Moon Park’ project?

KN: One fascinating comment was “I didn’t know the Hong Kong government would put on this type of show”. It’s important for me to open up this kind of interaction for people who have never stepped foot in a gallery. It is another crucial topic. We are using a lot of new media and technologies but how do we go back to basics? One way is to physically experience transition between materials. Your movement and your state of mind can been seen through this process. Parallel narratives through simple gestures. Opening up that kind of engagement.

IL: Critical and important to talk about this and more so because of the art from the Occupy Central.

YY: I was recently asked on a research trip, how do you collect this kind of work? You could commission the work to be made in your home. If you don’t support the artist’s life how can you make it sustainable?

Q: I was interested in Yang’s perspective on space and spatiality…how does the digital space and this digital change affect an artist’s work?

YY: We can only see so much. One thing that is prominent to me is that artists do not want to publish their sound as they see it as a reduction of their work. Web platforms can help artists. What is ahead of us…what comes to us really frames and conditions the way in which we re-experience the world.

Jonathan Harris: I’m interested in the tension between media and art, given that we are in Hong Kong and questioning the future of Hong Kong. Many of the works discussed here are reflective rather than activist. What is the direct immediate political use of new media and how would this be deployed? I don’t see them as being in the same direction.

YY: Art is already embedded in society. It is inherently political. Media as a form of protest or subversion. There is still a digital divide in the world…and it’s fast. There are nuclear technologies and there are choices to make.

“If politics were clear, art would not exist”. – Yang Yeung

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