No blinkers: Hong Kong history retold through video art retrospective

Curator from Beijing who’s assembled 30 years of Hong Kong video art seeks to offer a view of past events that goes beyond the usual narrow story framed by events before and after the handover

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 6:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 6:15am

“No References”, a retrospective of Hong Kong video art since 1985 at Videotage in To Kwa Wan, Kowloon, is more than a study of how one particular art form developed in the city. It is a chance to get a more nuanced view of local history at a time when many people are rethinking what it means to be a Hongkonger, the show’s curator – who is from Beijing – says.

Su Wei, an independent curator who now splits his time between the capital and Hong Kong, says that, as a relative outsider, he is dismayed by the extent to which intellectual discussion of local history is imprisoned by a grand narrative framed by the 1997 handover and a few political and economic landmarks.

“The telling of Hong Kong history is usually divided into pre-1997, post-1997 and so on. The critical discourse applied to local art also tends to focus on things like local identity or the urban landscape, which is very restricting. I think micro angles are important in understanding real history,” he says.

The exhibition’s title, “No References”, is intended to signal that neither the artists taking part nor the audience viewing their work is restricted by an official timeline of historic events such as that which framed the recent M+ Sigg Collection exhibition of Chinese art, he adds.

It is an intriguing approach. But it remains to be seen how a collection that focuses on, as Su says, “the subjectivity” of individual artists, with no overarching theme, will come across as cohesive.

The list of artists involved reads like a who’s who of Hong Kong video art, and among the highlights are updated versions of seminal pieces from the early days of both video art and performance art that may indeed shed light on how our collective sense of self has evolved.

Linda Lai’s Object-Subjectivities is a new work based on Objectivities, the 1989 improvised performances by Choi Yan-chi, Leung Ping-kwan, Mui Cheuk-yin, Yau Ching and others in the immediate aftermath of the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown.

In 2006, Lai first tried to reconstruct the 1989 performances as an exercise for her students at City University. This time, she revisits them at a particularly fraught time for Hong Kong politics and society, Su says. He feels that Hong Kong people are now psychologically removed from what happens north of the border.

On May 21, Lai and the Floating Projects Collective will give an improvised performance as part of the new work.

Ellen Pau, one of the pioneers of video art in Hong Kong, will show for the first time a video using old clips filmed surreptitiously in a public hospital back when she was working as a radiographer. She has also remade a 1993-95 work called Great Movement that uses an image of a lighthouse to symbolise the role of art.

Another highlight is Video Circle, a 2000 project curated by Danny Yung Ning-tsun that involved more than 100 artists, 32 television sets and video players. It will be shown as it was 16 years ago when it was one of the main exhibits in “Festival of Vision”, an exhibition held in Hong Kong and Berlin.

By grouping together a vast range of works by more than 20 artists, Su hopes the video art on show will tell Hong Kong’s story in a way that has never been seen before. It’s a tall order, but at the very least, “No References” takes a fresh look at the development and relevance of video art in Hong Kong.

No References: A Revisit of Hong Kong Video and Media Art from 1985, Videotage, Cattle Depot Artist Village, 63 Ma Tau Kok Road, To Kwa Wan, Tue-Sun 12pm-8pm. From May 19 until June 15