Review: Both Sides Now at Osage

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 August, 2014, 6:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 August, 2014, 5:06pm

Both Sides Now
Osage Hong Kong
Until August 20

The disconsolate atmosphere pervading post-colonial Hong Kong is getting a venting platform in the form of an exhibition at Osage Gallery's Kwun Tong space.

This group show presents 20 video works made by Hong Kong artists between 1989 and 2013, and was curated by Videotage chairman Isaac Leung.

Jamie Wyld, of Britain's Videoclub, then responded with a geographically diverse selection of 12 recent British videos.

The combined programme - recently shown in London, Liverpool and Brighton - reaches its last stop in Hong Kong for a one-week exhibition that should intrigue the historically conscious.

Given that Britain has been evoked as a symbol of liberalism by some locals, amid frustration with the post-97 government, and scepticism of Communist Chinese rule, a Hong Kong-British joint exhibition reflecting on social and political issues is always going to be a tricky undertaking.

And so it proves with "Both Sides Now", whose programme notes make the comically polite statement that Hong Kong is "thriving" and "likely to still become 'Manhattan Plus'."

The artworks on display, however, paint a far less celebratory - and significantly more illuminating - picture.

More than half of the local videos are overtly political, including archival work and first-person responses by artist-activists on both the crackdown on students in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, and the city's changing sovereignty. Other social issues tackled include living conditions in Hong Kong and the demolition of the Star Ferry Pier and Queen's Pier.

When compared to their relatively sombre British counterparts, whose reactions to cultural and government oppression tend to be sublimated forms of artistic expression, local artists appear more ready to treat humour as their last resort.

In TV Game of the Year (1989), Videotage co-founder Ellen Pau and her colleagues mockingly imitate Chinese leader Li Peng as he delivers a TV address on Tiananmen.

Whether this playfulness is really pessimism at its most extreme form is debatable, although in one case - Wong Ping's 2012 animation Under the Lion Crotch (pictured) - the artist seems happy to picture the bloody end of Hong Kong after much fantastical portrayal of sexual and physical violence.