“Do you still need art’s halo?” Kwan Sheung Chi seems to have said.
by Law Man Lok
No matter. Try again. Fail again., gallery EXIT, 2009.
We always say that art is a good indicator of a region’s cultural freedom, since what its people can say and do, how they say and do them, reflect the power structure within that region, including its influence, tolerance and the interactivity amounst its people.
It was also at such times of stressed power structure in the past 20 years that the Hong Kong art scene experienced a blossoming internationally, in particularly the post-1989 and pre-1997 period, The container, or the physical form, of power is the various institutions: the government, army, the banks etcetera, To further complicate things, the emergence of international enterprises has replaced the supreme position of the government in the power structure, just as the influence of fossil fuel enterprises has on government policies in many countries is no longer a secret. From 911 to the economic crisis in 2008, the people have realized that the societal basic “power has to be monitored by the people” is on the process of being rubbed off, that their questions are not being honestly addressed to, and that leaves them no choice but to resort to conspiracy theories to conjecture the truths therein, At the same time, sadly, as can be seen from numerous incidents, these conspiracy theories do not appear out of nowhere, but have a certain truth in each of them.
In Hong Kong, from the numerous community rebuilding projects to the recent “marketing” of Louis Vuillon by the Hong Kong Museum of Art, not to mention the many complications resulting from the West Kowloon cultural district and the nearby “West Kowloon Wall City” (i.e. the group of packed high rise residential buildings in the West Kowloon area forming a kind of modern fort), the people’s questions still are not provided with a concrete answer, and these same questions have but to resort to the perspectives of conspiracy theories, which become the foundation for contemplation, Perhaps Hong Kong has indeed caught up with the West in terms of the exploitation of power, and therefore it is not simply a matter of trend when there arises within the Hong Kong Art scene a scenario of institutional critique, but is prompted by a material urgency. Kwan Sheung Chi is one of the pioneers of these avant garde. Though, if we compare him with the avant garde in the 60s, he may not appear to be radical enough, yet as Tang Siu Wa said, in Hong Kong nowadays, if we do not back down, we will find ourselves pioneers on the frontline. And perhaps this is how Kwan Sheung Chi, who is not supposed to be a pioneer, has nevertheless passively become one.
From the politics of the aesthetics of critique to employing aesthetics in criticising politics, the idea that a museum or an art space as the battleground for artists has become a common knowledge. The Art Discovery Channel and “Wooferten” (now located in Shanghai Street Artspace), through means of self-organization, these art spaces act as a media to compensate for the lack in the local art ecology. In the current situation, other than to create a celebrity’artist, it is perhaps more significant to expand creativity in the institutional level and generate more versatile environments for creativity. Interestingly, some of Kwan Sheung Chi’s previous works have been a critique to this phenomenon of celebrity artists: selfbranding, forging glamourous but nonexistent resumes that nobody bothers to question, playing with the funeral of the artist (much earlier than Koji Kumeta and Jan Lamb) etcetera. Now he is perhaps more interested in the complicated problems of the art ecology behind the phenomena, which however makes one wonder at the meaning of the present modernismprompted exhibition style for him. And this is what I am most curious about.
There is an obvious theme for the 20th anniversary of June Fourth Massacre: “Pass on the Torch”. The society is shocked to realize the ignorance of the incident in the new generation (the late 70s and early 80s born). This ignorance not only refers to the new generation’s lack of knowledge about the June Fourth Massacre, it also refers to their inability to learn about certain truths of the society. This indisputably is because the power to answer falls into a selected few, while at the same time these few are reluctant to answer and evefl deliberately eliminate all traces. In this case, without any answers, the “why” imposed by the questioners (the new generation) is forced to transform from the original question to “how”, problemsolving by themselves. Such self-sought problem-solving encourages creativity, and naturally, literary and art creations become the solutions to the various problems. As thesesolutions are originated from questioning, researching on history, unearthing the source of each problem becomes an indispensable mean. Seeing it this way, there is essentially an environmental factor to the “throwback phenomenon” and nostalgia found in local art.
The nostalgia expressed by the young generation of artists does not, however, mean that they reflect on a past experience, but is more like a deliberate search of something which, at the time when it happened, they were not able to experience (or in other words, when they weretpo young and had yet developed their cognitive abilities). By borrowing old images and objects, they reflect upon politics and aesthetics. Kwan Sheung Chi’s previous works contain a lot of such nostalgia, such as the mother and old furniture, historic photographs and the iron horse/bicycle in “Looking for Antonio Mak” etcetera. Although these solutions may not ultimately lead the questioner to a certain truth, these very solutions have found new meaning inaesthetics and pOlitics,and become a new symbol, tradition and history, passing on the spirit of questioning.
More than once Kwan Sheung Chi has mentioned about the importance of the concept of failure in his work. Indeed, his works have gradually developed from the more entertaining, pop art style packaging (his self-branding phase) to the recent works in a plainer tone, not to mention those dreary videos. Probably influenced by the Duchamp-inspired “readymade” frame of mind, the mundane are left to express the mundane, or probably a tribute to conceptual art and anti-market of the last century, Kwan Sheung Chi’s nostalgia is like a silent Whisper: “Nostalgia is for us to be dully happy.”
As a portrayal of a failed being, Kwan Sheung Chi’s works are not that much a failure. On the contrary, the style of his works has already established a certain. potential for prospect. This search offailure amidst stability is a characteristic of the passive pioneer. We just hope that he can continue to bring excitement to this cultural ruin that is still ensnared by policies, and bureaucracy. Whether your attention is placed on the bits of criticality or controversiality, the bits by Kwan Sheung Chi always come with a glow, with a forward stance.
Translated by Mary Lee.