24 hours with Claire Hsu
The Asia Art Archive was set up in response to increasing awareness of contemporary Asian art. Nowadays, there are many exhibitions worldwide that have included major Asian contemporary artists, yet there's been relatively little research in the field. When we set up, there was nowhere you could go to get information on these artists.
When I was doing my Masters dissertation in London on contemporary Chinese art within a vast library, there was nothing on modern or contemporary Asian art. I realised there was a complete lack of documentation or anywhere you could get material. Although my field was China, I realised it was pretty much the same for the rest of Asia.
The archive began in 2000. It took a year of fund-raising and getting an advisory board together, then we moved into this space [on Hollywood Road] at the end of 2001. We opened to the public in March last year.
Archiving is probably the least sexy part of the art world but at the same time, it's extremely important
because you don't have an art history if you don't have research and writing. To ensure Asia can write its own contemporary art history, it's very important for resources to be available. Otherwise, everything is compared with and based on a western understanding of art history. It's important within Asia for people to research and under-stand what is going on from country to country and to develop our own art language.
My working day varies. I think running an art organisation, you can get away with not getting up too early. Our official opening time is 10am, but on a normal day, I get in before 10. I usually wake up about 8am and spend time reading the newspapers. Then I have a leisurely breakfast. I'm not the kind of person who pulls clothes on and dashes out with an apple in hand. I have lots of fruit or brown organic bread with cottage cheese and a cup of Twinings English Breakfast tea.
A typical working day is spent mostly on the computer. Initially, I thought I would have a lot of time to read the material that comes through. I always have a little pile on my desk and I think to myself that I'll read it by the end of the week. But unfortunately, I rarely get time. At the moment, we are working on various projects, such as our big workshops next May. The first workshop will focus on archiving, preserving and documenting the contemporary Asian art world. We'll invite about 20 international participants to look at ways in which new mediums of art are being documented because there are issues - such as how to document performance art because once it's over, it's over. That's a big project we're working on now and it's something you need to start at least a year in advance in terms of fund-raising, awareness and choosing your participants.
The other project I'm working on is a fund-raising dinner for the end of November. This will be the third year - it was a huge success the last two times. We are getting artists and galleries to donate artwork for a dinner and auction at the China Club. It's quite exciting because there aren't many places you can buy contemporary Chinese art in Hong Kong. It's a good chance for people to purchase them or start a collection. We're helping a lot of the artists by documenting what they're doing so they're very happy to help us out and donate an artwork.
We're working with and documenting all sorts of institutions and individuals within the art world, so we have a good network of artists, art critics, museums, art institutions and galleries. So when an artist or curator comes through Hong Kong, they'll always stop by the archive.
We've had a lot of the most important names in the contemporary Asian art world visit us. The most exciting thing is being able to meet the people we're documenting - such as Heri Dono and Xu Bing - because they are some of the most creative people of our times. When an artist comes through, we interview them. We're building up primary source material and all of it can be watched at the archive.
At the same time, I travel a lot. My team and I will document exhibitions and do research trips. We'll spend a few days in Indonesia or the Philippines, going from museum to museum, visiting art spaces, galleries and studios. That's an exciting part of the job.
Last year, we went to the Venice Bienniale, the most important contemporary art event in the world. We hired a film crew to document the Asian participants and interviewed all the curators and artists. This is available on tape for people to watch. We are an active archive, and create new material as well. Normally when you think of an archive, it conjures up images of stuffy rooms and piles of things building up and hardly being touched. The difference here is that we work with our collection, we invite people in our collections to visit and give talks in Hong Kong.
I try not to have too many lunch meetings. Usually I'll just get a sandwich and eat in front of my computer. I love healthy organic food. I haven't eaten meat (mammals) since I was 11, so I usually get my lunch from the Life cafe, which opened recently. I also often go to Hong Kong Baguettes in Lan Kwai Fong, where you can choose your own fillings. I usually work out at Pure Fitness about four times a week and I also do yoga once or twice a week.
As part of my job, I have to entertain people who come through Hong Kong, such as potential patrons and curators. Then I will organise a dinner at home and invite a few people in the field. When I entertain I usually borrow my dad's cook, who has learned all my grandmother's best recipes, such as steamed fish and prawns with bean curd and preserved vegetables. I believe it's important to raise awareness of non-profit art organisations. It's a good opportunity to let people know what we're doing.
I usually finish work at about 6.30 or 7pm. If we have a project, then it is much later. It's something I take home with me because we're small so it's hard to keep it running, especially in a place like Hong Kong, where art is not really favoured and is seen as a luxury. I really want to establish this as one of the main centres in the world as a resource for contemporary Asian art. And I believe we can do that.
I'm pretty content with what I do. My job is my passion. There are few days when I get up and I think, 'Oh God, I don't want to go to work'. I'm about to get married so I wish I had a little more time to plan that. And it would be nice to have more time to see exhibitions and have time to go to London more. But in general, I love what I do.