Hong Kong artist Chow Chun-fai's fears for the future reflected in his latest exhibition

Chow's show at Hanart TZ sees his idealism replaced with cynicism following his electoral defeat and loss of faith in politics

PUBLISHED : Friday, 04 September, 2015, 5:49pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 September, 2015, 5:49pm

At first glance, there is something familiar about Chow Chun-fai's latest solo exhibition. His long-running "Painting on Movies" series continues here, with more works capturing cinematic moments that speak to the artist's preoccupation with local identities. There are two jaunty photomontages that are sly commentaries on the universal rhetoric of hero creation, a theme explored in Solitary Journey (2008) and other similarly meticulous applications of a macro camera lens.

Yet, there is a great difference between "I Have Nothing to Say", which continues until September 12 at Hanart TZ Gallery, and his previous show in the same space two years ago.

The bolshie idealism is gone, replaced by a cynical resignation. Even the exhibition title gives the first hint of the change from major to minor.

The 2013 show was called "I Have Something to Say". It took place after his election defeat, but it included works that referred to the campaign and how he gave the establishment a run for their money in the sports, performing arts, culture and publication constituency.

But even then, Chow was losing faith in mainstream politics. He says "an invisible hand" was at work to make sure of a safe outcome for the establishment in 2012. The functional constituencies system itself is biased against anyone fighting for the rights of ordinary workers, he says.

The way society has split between the "blue" and "yellow" camps since Occupy Central has obliterated the last remnants of his faith in Hong Kong's established politics. Now he even questions the wisdom of Occupy Central activists running in the upcoming district council elections.

"I can't understand why they are doing it. When you've pulled off something as big as Occupy Central, why do you want to resort to 'chopping down a big tree with a tiny blade'?" he says, using a Chinese proverb to express how futile it would be to try and make changes from within.

The past few months have seen him attempting to make sense of what is happening in Hong Kong through art. The day after the police fired tear gas at the protesters in Admiralty on September 28, Chow started work on new, film-inspired acrylic paintings. These are included in the exhibition.

One is a scene from Little Cheung, Fruit Chan's 2000 film. Frozen on Chow's canvas, bilingual subtitles included, is the scene in which three children look across from the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront towards Tamar. One girl who was born in China tells the others: "I know, it will belong to the People's Liberation Army."

"Anyone who knew about the September 28 incident will understand what I have painted here," Chow says, referring to the protesters' belief that the police had acted under Beijing's orders.

Other paintings are based on Let the Bullets Fly, Jiang Wen's 2010 film. In one, the character played by Jiang himself is seen saying: "What kind of stupid logic is that? You threaten me with a gun because I'm good?"

Chow says he has tried to avoid direct descriptions of events, opting for more nuanced references.

But subtlety is hard to detect in a section of the exhibition called "Captured from My Mobile Phone", a selection that reflects his view of mainland society.

Chow set up his studio in Beijing from 2007 to 2010 to understand what it was like to live across the border. Now he fears efforts to integrate Hong Kong and China. "The stories I am showing are reminders that when people live in a place full of lies, their moral values change. We've got to protect Hong Kong from going down the same path," he says.

Ironically, today he says he feels more affinity with people in China. "In the past, Hong Kong people wouldn't get mainland films like the ones made by Jiang. The way he speaks, the exaggerated expressions, are all foreign to us," he says. "Now I'm getting it. What his character says in Let the Bullets Fly definitely applies to Hong Kong, too."

Hanart TZ Gallery, 401 Pedder Building, 12 Pedder St, Central, Mon-Fri, 10am-6.30pm; Sat, 10am-6pm. Inquiries: 2526 9019. Until Sept 12