Samson Young, sound artist, picked to represent Hong Kong at 2017 Venice Biennale

UPDATED: M+ Museum of Visual Culture, which made the announcement with Hong Kong Arts Development Council, picks independent curator for Hong Kong pavilion after controversy over its curatorial role at recent biennales

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 July, 2016, 4:54pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 July, 2016, 7:39pm

Samson Young will represent Hong Kong at the 2017 Venice Biennale, the Arts Development Council and the M+ Museum of Visual Culture announced on Thursday.

Young, born in Hong Kong in 1979, trained as a musician and holds a PhD in composition from Princeton University. In recent years, his blending of sounds with visual art and live performance has enjoyed much international success. He was the inaugural winner of the Art Basel-BMW Art Journey Award last year and won a place in this year’s Container Artist Residency, a programme which involves a group of selected artists making art on a container ship sailing around the world.

For whom the bell tolls is one of his best-known works. This is a project started in 2015 that has him travelling around the world and making recordings of bells as a way to understand the history of conflicts.

The 2017 Venice Biennale, which opens in May, will be the third at which the ADC and M+ work together to present Hong Kong’s contribution to the world’s biggest contemporary art event.

The ADC says the arrangement makes sense because M+ has a lot of curatorial and logistical resources. But some art practitioners have criticised the museum, whose permanent home is under construction in the West Kowloon Cultural District, for excluding independent voices from what is the most important international showcase of Hong Kong art. Perhaps to address such concerns, M+ has named Kwok Ying, an independent Hong Kong curator, as guest curator for Young’s exhibition.

Kwok said: “Samson asked me if I would like to be the curator after the ADC and M+ chose him to represent Hong Kong. We have yet to discuss the content as he has only just finished his residency on the container ship.”

Gum Cheng, an artist and curator who was among the critics of the ADC-M+ partnership, said having more Hong Kong experts involved in the biennale was a positive move and that the appointment of a guest curator was a step in the right direction.

“For this edition, M+ will engage a guest curator, in an effort to nurture local curators through providing experience in a major international setting,” M+ said. Doryun Chong, the acting director and chief curator of M+ who was co-curator with his colleague Stella Fong in 2015, will be the consulting curator this time.

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The choice of Young is consistent with the organisers’ decision to feature a single conceptual artist at the event in recent years. The first Venice Biennale that involved M+ was the 2013 edition, when Lee Kit made installations out of ordinary household products as an exploration of how memory, places and time are constructed. The Hong Kong representative at the 2015 biennale was Tsang Kin-wah, who used texts and light to explore the “infinite nothing” of life. By contrast, Frog King took his exuberant display to Venice in 2011 and in 2007, Hong Kong was represented by a group of artists. No female artist has been selected since 2007.

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The 2015 Venice Biennale attracted half a million visitors over six months. More than 80 countries and territories have national “pavilions” at the event. Some, including Hong Kong and Macau, need to rent independent venues outside the main site.