Artist Lee Kit mulls how to put Hong Kong's best foot forward
Local curator Lee Kit has been tasked with presenting Hong Kong to the world at the 'art Olympics' in Italy this summer
M+, the West Kowloon Cultural District's upcoming visual culture museum, will mark its debut on the international art scene this summer, with an exhibition at the Venice Biennale that the museum says will showcase personal and collective memories.
The Venice Biennale, often considered the "art Olympics", is one of the world's biggest contemporary art events. More than 80 countries will send exhibits to Italy in June as they compete to showcase their brightest talent on a global stage.
Local artist Lee Kit has been given the task of formulating the concept of the Hong Kong pavilion and will also have his solo exhibition, "You (you).", on display.
A winner of the Art Futures Award at last year's Hong Kong International Art Fair, Lee is fast gaining a reputation as a hot property on the international art scene.
He said he was given the utmost freedom by the M+ team, led by museum executive director Lars Nittve and assistant curator Yung Ma, to present his own vision in Venice.
The 34-year-old was also keen to avoid the pavilion being simply a retrospective of well-known works of art from the Hong Kong art community, so instead it will feature mostly new paintings, photography, videos and performances.
"Lee Kit: My obsession with objects" Video by Hedy Bok
Ma, who has been working closely with Lee in developing the exhibition, said that objects from daily life, though usually reflecting personal memories and experiences, can also be used to evoke a collective memory or an experience shared by many.
Lee said raising questions about the Hong Kong identity was an inevitable part of his exhibition, though he was reluctant to consciously place too much emphasis on this.
"I won't stress about a Hong Kong identity, but [the artworks] reflect what I see in Hong Kong," he said.
Political controversies and local news reports in the city have influenced him to a certain extent, Lee said, and while his thoughts on curating centred primarily on himself as an artist, he could not escape thinking from a Hongkonger's perspective, and this would show in the exhibition.
Lee is forthcoming with his views on Hong Kong's next major art project, the West Kowloon Cultural District.
The HK$21.6 billion mega arts hub has long been a centre of controversy, and Lee too has reservations about the project, but he has high hopes for M+.
He believes that with M+ being an institution free from government bureaucracy, it will be a museum that can make a difference.
Hong Kong's part at the Venice Biennale has itself not been without controversy.
Last year, the Arts Development Council, which has been responsible for the Hong Kong pavilion since 2001, decided to scrap the process of openly seeking proposals for the pavilion from the community.
The council instead appointed M+ as curator and doubled the budget to HK$10 million.
The move caused an outcry in the local arts community, with many people voicing their anger at a forum held last year where they accused the council and M+ of "operating in a black box".
The council countered that the decision was made unanimously after discussions in two council meetings.
Lee has been keeping himself at a distance from the issue, refraining from making any comments until now.
"To me, it was the ADC's problem. I feel bad that M+ has become a target," he said.
As for the future, Lee is focused on the big show, and will be spending a month in Venice to prepare.
"I don't want too much pressure. I just want to do a show I like," he said.
The Venice Biennale will take place from June 1 to November 24.