Watch your step

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 October, 1998, 12:00am

Apart from the usual deafening roar of the pile-drivers along Wyndham Street, there is another risk to general happiness for art lovers who choose to visit the area in search of new experiences this week. There is the danger of making a fool of oneself by accidentally stepping on a major piece of work, as happened to an early visitor to Mimi Pei's exhibition, n.t, which opened at the Fringe Club last Tuesday, and runs until October 10.

Pei has been inspired by the lives of Chinese who moved to Britain in the 1960s to seek their fortunes, the ones who worked in restaurants, wore sharp suits, studied ballroom dancing and English in their few hours off, and sired children like Pei herself.

The main focus of Pei's exhibition is 19 pieces she calls collectively Mixed Letters on Paper: a series of multimedia collages using clips from an old Chinese-English dictionary. There is also a witty and striking set of nine panels each set with a quote from Charlie Chan, Chinese sayings like 'Role of dead man require little acting' and 'Boy scout knife like ladies' hairpin: have many uses'.

And on the floor, there are hundreds of black plastic haircombs, the kind found tucked into a slick suit, and used to smooth back Brylcreemed hair. They are arranged in a neat rectangle - or, at least, neat until a visitor stepped forward to read the Charlie Chanisms more carefully, and right into the middle of the combs. He was mortified, the combs were hopelessly displaced, and Pei's point, whatever it was, was probably lost forever.

Beastly women Further up the road Andrew Chan and L M Ormutt Durbin are enjoying a modest success with La Belle et Le Bete at Galerie Martini. Not content with transforming the inside of the gallery, the artists have also transformed the outside, with energetic daubs that make the gallery look like a spill-over from Staunton Street that should be offering Happy Hours and bottled beer.

This is probably appropriate enough as Ormutt Durbin's 'Betes' are obviously modelled on her idea of the kind of gweipos who hang out in these places. All her paintings are full of garish, ghastly women who seem to have strayed from Muriel's Wedding, and have ironic titles such as 'Heartbreak Harriet Rises Up to Love Again', and 'Quality Time in Mud-Pack Heaven'.

Chan's work in contrast is sweeter, and funnier, and, judging by the red dot count, selling better. The most likable are his Invisible City series, in which he shows a cross-section of a typical Hong Kong building, revealing the strange lives within. In Invisible Cities #5: City of Gyms, we see a group of triangle-hipped ballerinas on the top floor, rehearsing beside two Wagner enthusiasts. They in turn are above some sweaty keep-fitters painfully lifting dumbbells, under a sadistic trainer and a sign that says 'No Pain No Gain'. Below them, a group of tangled corpses practise yoga, and below that again, trendies sip cappuccinos next to a fish shop.

Even better, upstairs are some ink and watercolour sketches, perhaps preliminary work for the bigger paintings downstairs. One of these, The Last Sampan, is remarkably like the work of the children's illustrator Edward Ardizzone. The exhibition runs to October 25.

Vaguely potty German artist Gudrun Groting has not shown in Hong Kong for nearly 10 years, and since that last exhibition she lived in Shanghai for three years. Her latest show opened last week at Art Beatus in the Kailey Tower, in Stanley Street, the tiny gallery sandwiched between all those solicitors' offices. Despite the company, Kailey Tower has a proud record as a haven of freedom of speech in the arts: this, remember, is where Dame Elisabeth Frink's New Man showed his distended member to the public, to the consternation of our censors.

Groting has been inspired by two very Chinese subjects for this show - pots and bamboo - and the result is a very mixed collection of abstract work. The ones inspired by the pots are soft and reflective, coloured with pastel blues and pinks and greens. Most are vague in the extreme, reflected in the titles: Fragment of Thought I, II, III and so on. The bamboo images, in contrast, are harsh and sometimes quite shocking, such as Incision, in which wire bites sharply into bamboo poles.