Arts preview: Vivian Ho keeps it surreal with “We Could Start Over”

Edmund Lee

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 6:41pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 January, 2014, 6:41pm


Artify Gallery


Wong Kar-wai’s fetishistic penchant for retrieving a memory lost in time has long fascinated movie-goers. Wayward attempts by artists, filmmakers and photographers to evoke the auteur’s aesthetics have occasionally resulted in stale and unimaginative rip-offs. Now a young Hong Kong artist is threatening to cast Wong’s urban romance in a refreshing new light.

Vivian Ho Pok-yan is a 23-year-old artist whose small but growing body of work has shown a particular appetite for magnifying everyday objects – most notably in her oil paintings of “dead fish” from the wet markets – and injecting them with vivid and borderline surreal impressions.

Born and raised in Hong Kong, the art and economics graduate from Wesleyan University, Connecticut, became hooked on Wong’s films during an Asian literature class on Hong Kong cinema.

“It initially took me several sittings to finish his movies,” says Ho, laughing, when we meet at Chai Wan’s Artify Gallery. Eleven of her new works – which were simultaneously created over a one-month period – are on view at this solo exhibition. The title, “We Could Start Over”, is taken from Leslie Cheung’s iconic dialogue in Wong’s Happy Together (1997).

“Although Wong’s movies are about Hong Kong, they look somewhat unreal because all the actors are gorgeous and dressed impeccably,” Ho says. “You don’t relate to them because these are not people you normally see in everyday life.”

To that end, Ho makes reference to the documentary photography of street scenes by her friend, Nick Poon, before rendering her subjects – an old man practising tai chi, another drinking milk tea – against an abstraction of background colours. After dissociating the people from their real-life contexts and rearranging the scenes, Ho puts a direct quote from a Wong film under each painting.

In a strangely logical arrangement, Wong’s deeply sentimentalised view of an old Hong Kong that never existed finds a new life in Ho’s pastel and poster-colour paintings, which turn the spotlight onto the actual elderly people in Hong Kong who have lived through those old days in all their mundane glory.

“I think they’re the most authentic [subjects I could find],” Ho says. “I see no point drawing handsome guys or beautiful girls – because they’re goodlooking to start with. I want to make use of the Hong Kong imagery in Wong’s films to romanticise people in real life.”

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Artify Gallery, 10/F, Block A, Ming Po Industrial Centre, 18 Ka Yip Street, Chai Wan, Tuesday-Friday 10am-7pm, Saturday 11am- 7pm. Ends January 30. Inquiries: 3543 1260