Hong Kong artists’ irreverent SFW show isn’t quite safe for work

Exhibition brings together disparate artists united by the fact they all must have several strings to their bow, as making a living from art alone is no longer a possibility

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 8:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 July, 2016, 5:39pm

Look beyond the juvenile title and crude irreverence of some of the artwork in “SFW”, and you may enjoy this group exhibition in a warehouse as much as a jaunty junk trip on a hot summer’s day.

Organisers say the title is the abbreviation of two opposing world views: “Safe for Work” or “So F***ing What”. It is clear from Michael Lau’s painting of an obscene hand sign, the fetishistic female nudity in Ren Hang’s photographs, and the ashtrays handed out to visitors that at least some of the 20-odd local and international artists in the show would prefer to say “up yours” than acquiesce to any rules.

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The split-floor space in Sai Ying Pun is divided into cubicles to accommodate the many artists, and it resembles the kind of consignment shop popular in Hong Kong shopping centres. Indeed, there is something for everyone here, from the shocking to the soothing.

Ren’s photographs of a naked woman adorned inexplicably with hawthorn fruit are either pornography or, as the artist maintains, images with no inherent meaning in his nihilistic world.

Wing Shya’s serene nudes are, by contrast, deliberate social comments. Two of the models were protesters he met during Occupy Central, and the plants binding them are, he says, the same constraints that young people have to fight against generation after generation.

The drawings by Jan Curious are also inspired by watching the crowds in Hong Kong. “At first, nothing stands out from my crowd scenes. But if you pay attention, there are interesting storylines hidden among the many faces,” he says.

Los Angeles-based Kristen Liu-Wong combines science fiction with Japanese shunga prints in her fantastical portrayal of sexual activities. Former skateboarder Makoto Ishiwata, who goes by the name Core, has turned retired skateboards into seats, clocks and a skull.

That skull sits next to Lau’s middle finger, unavoidably called “F*** safe”, beside Prodip Leung’s Starman in different sizes. Starman is an alien Leung created for one of Eason Chan’s album covers. Here, Starman’s hands are seen in reiki positions.

“I’m not a hip hop musician any more. These days, I’m more into meditation, especially reiki,” says the former member of LMF who is now a successful graphic designer.

This seemingly random display is bound by the fact the participants have multiple roles rather than just being pure artists. Apart from Leung, Shya is a well-known creative director for film and video, Jan Curious fronts the band Chochukmo, and Laurent Segretier, who has made a photo book of scenes from a suburb of Paris, is a fashion photographer.

“So F***ing What” is a serious comment by curator Robin Peckham about the line between art and non-art. He says artists are increasingly required to take on commercial work to make a living.

“Starting 2005, there were role models for practising as full-time artists in Hong Kong. People like Pak Sheung-chuen, Lam Tung-pang, Adrian Wong, Lee Kit. They were really visible in the international scene and they were full time,” he says.

“Now, both established and emerging artists are asked to spend more time on design projects. Up until a year ago, a lot of people are collecting Hong Kong art actively. Now patrons are increasingly commissioning artists to do interior design, or make a product.”

With SFW, he has grouped together individuals who are often better known for their commercial work, to say what they do is art, too. “Creativity can be anywhere. It doesn’t matter whether you are coming from one side or the other. It’s not to do with the labels,” Peckham says.

Shops 8 & 9, Kwan Yick Building, phase 3, 158A Connaught Road West, Sai Ying Pun. Tue-Sun 11am-8pm, until Aug 6