Visual arts

Hong Kong exhibit at Venice Biennale a sanctuary of calm

Tsang Kin-wah's video installation represents city at global contemporary art show in Italian city, and another Hong Kong artist, Morgan Wong, features in a large group show

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 May, 2015, 7:41am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 May, 2015, 12:20pm

The first thing that strikes visitors to the Hong Kong exhibit at this year's Venice Biennale is how the courtyard venue has been turned into a sanctuary of calm by Tsang Kin-wah, the artist whose work it features, and  curators Doryun Chong and Stella Fong.

Tsang's solo show, "The Infinite Nothing", comprises four stand-along video installations. Upon entering the now enclosed and dark space, you hear the sound of a running river; a video of water is projected on, and covers, the floor. The next gallery features another video and sound installation showing an image of an arched window being slowly engulfed by Tsang's signature text projection.

The installations form "a narrative of transformative journeys through stages in life, exploring a perpetual cycle of self-inquiry and discovery", according to the curators. A closer look at the show reveals references to Nietzsche's philosophy of existentialism; those who have been following Tsang's artistic development over the past decade will be excited by his new language  and methodology. The swirling strips previously plastered on the walls and ceilings of galleries have become moving digital images manipulated by computers.

The show, presented by the Arts Development Council and curated by M+, the future visual arts museum of the West Kowloon Cultural District, is not the only Venice exhibit with a Hong Kong connection. Morgan Wong, a Hong Kong artist, features in a group show called "Frontiers Reimagined" co-presented by the Tagore Foundation International and the Polo Museale de Veneto. Sundaram Tagore, who is behind the foundation, has run an art gallery on Hollywood Road, Central, since 2007.

An exhibition on a much bigger scale than Tsang's, "Frontiers Reimagined" is endorsed by the Italian Ministry of Culture. Held at the 16th century Venetian state museum Palazzo Grimani, the show features more than 60 works by 44 artists. Wong's video The Remnant of My Volition (Force Majeure) sits alongside photographs, prints, installations and canvases from established names such as Edward Burtynsky, Christo, Jane Lee, Vik Muniz, Sebastiao Salgado, Robert Rauschenberg and Hiroshi Senju.  

Many of them are from Tagore's stable of artists, but placing their works together in this particular venue offers new context and meanings. 

According to Tagore, who co-curated the exhibition with Marius Kwint, the show sets out to explore "the artistic‎ entanglements that have manifested with the forces of globalisation and dissolution of cultural boundaries".  Works by artists of different nationalities are, therefore, positioned next to one another to give new perspectives and invite fresh interpretation. So Christo's sketches of cityscapes stand opposite Robert Polidori's triptych of a sprawling favela, or slum, in Rio de Janeiro, for example.

The curators also make use of the venue to showcase large-scale works such as Eddi Prabandono's multi-looped Vespa (After Party/ Living the High Life) and Chun Kwang Young's durian-like installation Aggregation 15. The scale of some of these works somewhat overshadows Wong's. 

By including Aaron Taylor Kuffner's Balinese gamelan‎ installations in both the courtyard and second floor exhibition space, Tagore reminds us that art is not only to be seen but also heard,  and that simple sounds can soothe the soul.‎

The Venice Biennale, the world's oldest and most prestigious international contemporary art show, which celebrates its 120th anniversary this year, opens to the public on Saturday May 9. ‎ ‎This year, 136 artists from 53 countries are taking part in the main exhibition at the biennale's central pavilion and in Venice's Arsenale district.