Arts review: Kraftwerk, Hong Kong Eye

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 May, 2013, 11:25am


Kitec, Kowloon Bay,

Reviewed: May 4

For a band whose reputation was built around reclusiveness, the music world has been seeing an awful lot of Kraftwerk lately.

In the absence of any new material since the 2003 album Tour de France Soundtracks, the Germans have shifted their focus to performing live, taking four decades of influential music to art galleries, festivals and concert halls worldwide.

And so, after a 2008 performance at AsiaWorld-Expo, the band returned to Hong Kong with a scaled-down greatest hits performance on Saturday night.

One reason Kraftwerk rarely appeared live in the past was the technical challenge of taking their complicated and cumbersome hardware on the road. But now that a full studio can be crammed onto a laptop, the robot men can more easily perform some of the world's most memorable pop music of the past half-century.

As the lights fell, a hush came over the crowd wearing white 3-D glasses. A deep, robotic voice boomed over the sound system and a white curtain dropped to reveal the four members - only singer and main songwriter Ralf Hütter is part of the original line-up - in neon outfits.

As the band launched into their 1978 single The Robots, huge 3-D images of the band members rendered as expressionless automatons were projected onto a massive screen behind them. As the images twisted and turned, their arms appeared to extend out over the entire audience, prompting the first of many roars from the crowd.

It was a taste of what was to come, as the band's unique visuals - created by long-time collaborator Emil Schult - were bought to pulsating life. Highlights included a spacecraft crashing into the audience (during Skylab), a journey down a German highway ( Autobahn), and a bullet train soaring over the heads of the crowd ( Trans Europe Express).

But the most moving moment came during the 1975 single about the dangers of nuclear power, Radio-Activity. The song's lyrics have been updated to reference Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, and on Saturday the track was mainly performed in Japanese with constant mentions of Fukushima. A companion who lived in Japan during the 2011 disaster was speechless.

Then 90 minutes after they started, the band triggered their traditional closing number Musique Non-Stop. As it wound down, Hütter spoke for the first time - "auf wiedersehen" - and then the robot men were gone.

Adam Wright


Hong Kong Eye

ArtisTree, 1/F Cornwall House, TaiKoo Place

Seen earlier this year at London's Saatchi Gallery, Hong Kong Eye is a survey of local contemporary art, showcasing 24 of the city's leading artists. Given more space in this Hong Kong outing, the exhibition spreads itself around the walls of ArtisTree under an even light that unfortunately also dissipates any highlights in the collection.

The group show beckons engagement, but does not satisfactorily reach out to an audience. A survey exhibition should explain and inform why this art - now - is worthy of our consideration.

The choice of chosen artists is opaque and drawn from a larger group selected from those in an accompanying book edited by the curators - Johnson Chang Tsong-zung and Serenella Ciclitira - after invitations were sent to a wider range of Hong Kong artists.

Making a final choice for this exhibition would have been difficult. But the exclusion of Lee Kit and Tozer Pak Sheung-chuen appears odd - both their conceptual works have been highly influential and they are this city's most recent representatives at the Venice Biennial (2013 and 2009, respectively).

With artists Lui Chun-kwong, Leung Kui-ting, Fiona Wong Lai-ching and Joao Vasco Paiva, you get a sense of their artistic power.

Others are not so fortunate. While Kum Chi-keung's explorations of the Chinese birdcage are normally celebrated, here - scattered throughout the exhibition - they lack cohesion. Likewise, Annie Wan Lai-kuen's ceramic mouldings and slip-work is seen as a solitary wall-based piece, entirely unrepresentative of her ironic exploration of text.

The talking sculptural animatronic constructions of Adrian Wong Ho-yin explore the use of language. But In Search of a PrimordialIdiolect IV (above) will be wasted unless it is known that Wong recorded a human conversation and deleted all comprehensible words, leaving just the grunts, "errhs" and "ahs" that we all make.

Ho Sin-tung's Discreet Charm of the Proletariat, however, was fascinating - a large, intricate and subverted map of Hong Kong that intertwined familiar locations with a twisted personal story of attempts to have a last lunch with a former lover. It was a perfectly understandable Hong Kong story.

John Batten

Hong Kong Eye runs until May 31