THE PRIVATE SECTOR and the French always hog the limelight in May. There’s art fair week, Christie’s auctions and the lavish, yearly celebration of Gallic culture that is Le French May. But this year public institutions are also making their mark on the art-packed month, with two promising exhibitions.
Four artists make up the inaugural exhibition at Oi!, the new public art space at the faithfully restored cluster of red-brick buildings on Oil Street in North Point, formerly home to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and a pioneering art village. Established in 1998, the village lasted just two years until the tenants were evicted by the government.
The timbre of the new Exhibition is decidedly wistful, notwithstanding the jaunty title, “Embark! Beyond the Horizon”.
Local multimedia artist Cédric Maridet, taking his lead from the buildings’ origins, will install four intricately designed turntables playing records of sounds from the sea, while radio equipment collected from around Hong Kong will be used to cast shadows onto the 105-year-old walls.
To denote the transience of memories, Maridet will use special records which gradually decay. “The idea is to put back sounds that used to be here, ghost sounds that have stayed with the buildings. I am putting back something intangible and ephemeral, building new on old. It’s all about the transformative power of art,” he says.
Mainland artist Yuan Gong will add to the otherworldly ambience by shrouding visitors in vapour. It is a nod to the Chinese concept of qi, which can be translated as air, but also means a force which binds all lives together. The intention is to invite community engagement and reflection on the solitary nature of individuals at sea in an often confusing world, Gong says, as the audience move uncertainly through the mist.
Tang Kwok-hin, another local artist, uses water as a theme to bring out the absurdity of our relationship with the immediate environment. One part of his installation features images of puddles and the distorted street scene reflected in them.
The other section involves the collection of rain water on the lawn outside the exhibition area, which he boils until it evaporates, returning it to the atmosphere. It is, as he calls it, a contradictory worship of nature, an act of seeking salvation.
The last work, by Tsang Kinwah is the darkest of the four. The celebrated Hong Kong artist, best known for his bright floral arrangements of words, will present a video and sound installation using footage from the 2011Japan tsunami.
Titled The Prelude of the Seven Bowls, the work alludes to the biblical seven bowls of wrath in the Book of Revelation.
“The Seven Bowls not only tries to show the powerful side of nature and the disastrous effects of human activities. It also tries to create spaces that reveal and depict the powerlessness, anxiety and fear of people when facing all these wraths,” the artist comments.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Art: Open Dialogue series returns to the Museum of Art in Tsim Sha Tsui after a four-year gap. As in previous shows, a guest curator picks from the museum’s own collection and new works along the recurrent theme of how the past Art”, curator Pi Daojian has selected paintings, lacquer works, ceramics, videos and multimedia installations by an international group of ethnic Chinese artists. It is a contemplation of how today’s artists blend the essence of traditional Chinese art, or at least a Taoist reading of it, with modern day quotidian values.
That broad-brush approach gives plenty of space for Pi, a respected Chinese art scholar, to work in. This exhibition is a chance to see the works of 37 major artists in the same room, from Wucius Wong to Xu Bing.
Some are familiar works, such as local artist Lam Tung-pang’s Faith Moves Mountain. His charcoal landscape takes on new resonance among the other ruminations on what “Chineseness” means.
After all, there is no better contrast than between Lam’s muse and Western mythology; between the fabled Foolish Old Man rewarded by Chinese gods for stubbornly chipping away at a mountain, and Sisyphus, condemned by the Greek gods to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity.
It is an extensive exhibition, with 77 works in total, even if 29 of them come from two artists, Wu Yi and Gu Wenda.
Mainland artist Zhang Yu’s latest addition to his Finger Impressions series is among the new works.
He continues his meditation on how the personal can break through social constraints by abandoning traditional paint brushes because they are too laden with values.
Another work, Dawn Redwood and White House, by Shen Qin, is an ink landscape with a modern, Western twist that also captures the dreamlike quality of traditional scrolls.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a two-day symposium titled Another Modernity or Contemporaneity?
Traditional Chinese Media in the Context of Contemporary Art, which will feature 10 guest speakers.
Embark! Beyond the Horizon, Oi! 12 Oil Street, North Point. Daily, 10am-8pm. Mon, 2pm-8pm, free. Ends August 18. Inquiries: 2512 3000
The Origin of Dao: New Dimensions in Chinese Contemporary Art, HK Museum of Art, 10 Salisbury Road, TST. Daily, 10am-6pm. Sat, Sun and public holidays, 10am-7pm. Closed on Thurs, HK$10. Ends August 18.