Art Basel

Morgan Wong highlights urgency of Hong Kong returning to Chinese rule

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 9:51am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 May, 2014, 9:51am

Part of the attraction of art fairs is encountering the unexpected. The "Encounters" segment of Art Basel Hong Kong is designed to provide plenty of surprises. Visitors to both halls of the fair are greeted by 17 ambitious, large-scale projects comprising startling sculptural installations and engaging performances.

Hong Kong is especially proud of the one local artist chosen for this section: Morgan Wong. Pearl Lam Galleries presents his work, The Remnant of My Volition (Force Majeure), (2014).

Wong is increasingly aware of the passing of time, especially towards June 30, 2047, when Hong Kong fully reverts to mainland rule after the "50-year window" to keep its own system of government. Wong seeks ways to visually represent the pressing urgency of the situation.

Wong says: "My work is quite conceptual and intellectual. The inspiration for this installation was conceived in 2012. I was in Kassel, Germany for Documenta 13, so I missed the student-led Scholarism protest march against 'National Education' on June 4 [the anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown] in Hong Kong that year. I felt that I should have been there.

"Not wanting to stage a venue for reactionary measures, The Remnant of My Volition (Force Majeure) installation provides a space for contemplation and explores the irrepressibility of time under the state of one-country, two-systems in Hong Kong. The way of life in Hong Kong is being subtly influenced amid 'Chinese reunification'," Wong says. "My response is a passive-aggressive stance."

He went on to explain that the National Education scheme has been critiqued as patriotic brainwashing upon the younger generation in Hong Kong and The Remnant of My Volition Series (2013 and continuing) can be seen as a silent protest by Wong towards that. The Art Basel installation reveals Wong's meditative act of peeling off red Chinese flag stickers in his studio and displaying instead the empty/white shadow flags as a sarcastic surrendering to the system.

In addition, Wong embroidered cushions with 50 years of calendars, starting from July 1, 1997, until June 30, 2047, to complete this stage of anxiously pondering the future. He says: "The work speaks of an ad hoc city state of Hong Kong being subjected to become an impossible/fictional nation. If volition means making a conscious choice, volition is never really conscious in the end, at a place deprived of the power or confidence of self-rule."

Wong admits his many performances do not produce saleable objects. "I myself have to go into the work with persistence and endurance," he says. "All that remains from the performances are photographs or sculptures."

But he is happy when he learns of the reaction from people who have seen his works or heard of them, even though they were not present at the performances.

"My work is becoming more solid," he says. "I feel that in the past two years, I understand my work better. I am always working with time, especially in the Art Basel work. Being confronted with those 50 years prompts contemplation."

His duration works include holding a cup of cement for 24 hours at the Slade School of Fine Art, London last year; kneeling on concrete in a circle of tobacco rolling hand-made cigarettes at Liste 17 at the Liste Art Fair in Basel, Switzerland in 2012; and Filing Down a Steel Bar Until a Needle Is Made in the Tintype Gallery, London in 2013. They are all iterations of his physically taxing, endurance performances.

For those interested in witnessing one of his performances, he will be performing at the eighth Shenzhen Sculptural Biennale at the OCAT Contemporary Art Centre, Shenzhen tomorrow.