Bag of tricks
Mobile Art, the hottest exhibition in town, has much to do with big names. There is fashion label Chanel, the show's organiser, and there are the artists: Yoko Ono, Nobuyoshi Araki, Pierre et Gilles, Sophie Calle, Stephen Shore, Subodh Gupta, Yang Fudong and Michael Lin, to mention just a few.
But just like the quilted bag that is the inspiration for this touring show, it is about quality too.
To run until April 5 inside the futuristic-looking pavilion designed by architect Zaha Hadid on top of the Star Ferry car park, the exhibition brings more than 20 top international artists under the streamlined, curvy roof.
The display includes videos, installation and photography, and most of the art borders on the conceptual and decorative. While the large contingent of talent has helped bolster the show's artistic credibility, it is the absence of any in-your-face commercialism that makes this a real art event.
Artists were allowed to create freely without worrying about plugging the brand.
'I hoped I didn't have to make art about their bags,' says Delhi-based Gupta with a laugh, explaining what went through his head when Chanel invited him to take part in the exercise. 'But they were fine, giving the artists freedom to do what they want to do. I don't mind them asking me to be part of the exhibition if it's interesting. So I made two videos that have something to do with bags.'
There is not one logo in sight in the Indian artist's work. All Things are Inside is a two-part video installation that addresses his concerns for people in transit and their aspirations. One film shows an Indian labourer returning from Dubai packing gifts from a foreign land, while the other is a compilation of clips from about 10 old Bollywood movies, all featuring a sequence revolving around a bag.
Gupta says images of Indian labourers working overseas packing their belongings in bundles or suitcases excite him. 'They left their home to go outside of their country as labourers, and they work for a year or two years. And when they come back, they have blanket bundles. And the way they tie them, it's a piece of artwork itself. And that is why it excites me,' he says.
'And that is how the meaning of a bag, how the meaning of any kind or form of bag, be that a suitcase
or bundle, changes from person to person.'
The Bollywood clips - some action-packed and comical - provide a contrast to the sober commentary on Indian migrant workers.
'Through the Bollywood films you are able to see the different kinds of mood of people using the bag,' says Gupta, a sought-after artist in today's global auction scene. 'With the humour and funny scenarios, I'm able to accentuate the reality of the second video that looks at people's requirements of bags. And that's interesting for me.'
Photographer Shore says he is open to taking commissions and commercial projects such as Mobile Art. 'I am interested in avoiding repeating myself,' he says. 'And I find what I do for commercial and editorial work often forces me to think in new ways, to confront new problems.
'I am not thinking about creating art or building my legacy. I am interested in expanding my mind and having fun and I don't worry about whether this is going to be part of my body of work or not. I've had plenty of shows and plenty of stuff published. I don't care any more. My reputation is secured.'
His Handbag Factory is made up of snaps taken at a Chanel factory outside Paris, detailing part of the production process. Shore says simply being in a place he has never been before is creatively stimulating but he says the most exciting part of this project for him is how to present his work.
'When I saw the model for Zaha Hadid's container I began thinking about what other people were doing,' the American says. 'Seeing there were a lot of sculptures and more installation kinds of work, and that there was going to be a sound component and a total physical experience, I felt the traditional way of hanging a series of pictures, all of the same size, in a row seemed very restrained.
'I wasn't expecting this. I had thought I'd be more pushed in terms of what I was photographing but what I found was this is where I really was pushed, to rethink what I was doing. How I was going to present my works.'
Having toured with the rest of the participating artists in the factory, Shore explored the place, capturing images of items lying around on the floor, strips of leather, the machines, even the lighting inside the building. The result is a collage of images that have a 'tangible quality' that feels alive and real.
'I wasn't intending to do a document of the factory,' he says.
'I don't think anyone can look at my pictures and even know what the factory looks like. I was using it as just raw materials to do the pictures I was interested in.'
Importantly, Shore's images all subtly illustrate the motif of the Chanel bag. 'If you look at the forms of the pictures, it's all intersecting diagonal lines like the quilting on the bag. So that was the real connection for me, the structure of the pictures to the bag and using the quilting as underlining visual form,' he says.
The pioneer in colour art photography was in town last week with the artistic director of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, as well as fellow artists David Levinthal, Fabrice Hyber and Leandro Erlich.
Hong Kong being its first stop, Mobile Art is set to tour to other capitals including Tokyo, New York, Moscow, London and Paris over the next two years. Visitors are given an MP3 player and guided through the 35-minute tour by a soundtrack created by New York-based artist Stephan Crasneanscki.
Gupta says he is excited about Hadid's architectural creation, which he describes as 'brilliant'.
'I find the outlook of the design of the form of the pavilion beautiful,' he says. 'Inside, I find it cramming inside. I like the sound when you view the works very much. One thing I don't like is when someone tells you to move and to turn left and right. I don't like someone directing you.'
For Shore, the exercise highlights how one simple idea can be interpreted and developed in so many ways. 'It's interesting to see, for me as an artist, everyone giving the same charge ... and we were all given the same basic preparation: a tour around the factory and a tour of Madame Chanel's apartment and how different we each came up with ideas,' he says.
And how different people have found meaning in the bag, the photographer adds.
'For example, you look down into [Japanese artist Tabaimo's] video piece At the Bottom and see the handbag as a black hole of memory. I thought it was a marvellous piece.'
Mobile Art, Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm (Thu until 10pm), Sun, noon-6pm, Star Ferry Car Park, 9 Edinburgh Place, Central, free, booking required through HK Ticketing, Tom Lee Music or the on-site box office with HK$10 service charge. Inquiries: www.chanel-mobileart.com