In February, the most important fair in Asia for modern and contemporary art – Art Basel – was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Art Central quickly followed suit, marking yet another hurdle for the Hong Kong art market, which had already faced a tumultuous year as a result of the protests. Now, as the lockdown eases and life once again finds its rhythm in the city, a new fair at Tai Kwun this June, organised by the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association (HKAGA), hopes to revive the city’s art scene.
Named UNSCHEDULED — aptly because the dates keep changing with the global situation — it will showcase 12 Hong Kong galleries that will present solo exhibitions by artists that have some connection to Asia, chosen by curators Ying Kwok and Sara Wong. It will launch on 17 June and run through to 27 June in the heritage-listed Duplex Studio in the Police Headquarters Block at Tai Kwun. Part art fair, part museum exhibition, the event led by Willem Molesworth of de Sarthe gallery and Fabio Rossi of Rossi & Rossi gallery, will serve as a much-needed platform for selling and networking for the galleries.
“There is a bit of a pent up desire to look at art and also to buy art right now,” Rossi says. There have been some really successful online fairs, people buying at Frieze online and Basel online, but they always mention the same galleries, the usual suspects, so does it really count for the 95% of the rest of the world? I don’t know.” He says, “I think, on a personal level, that looking at art in person can never be replaced.”
At UNSCHEDULED, each gallery will have a white booth of equal sizes in which to present their work. Because the space is small, the displays will have walls but no corridors, meaning the work will be seen together. It was, therefore, the job of the curators to assign the galleries a location in the art fair to best “project the potential connections and dialogues between the works of the artists,” says artist and curator Sara Wong, who was one of the original founders of Para Site gallery.
“Usually we come up with a theme and then look at artists and projects related to that,” she adds. “But this time we had to be open to what was given to us and try to find a narrative among the works submitted.” In order to achieve a harmonious exhibit, Wong along with fellow curator Ying Kwok, divided the presentations into three different groups, according to the artist’s connection with their subject matter, audience and surroundings.
The first group of artists intentionally create distance to avoid or disturb the direct encounter with their subject matter, which Wong says echoes the recent situation in the past month of social distancing. This section includes abstract photographs by Hong Kong-based artist Kitty Chou, who is represented by Ben Brown Fine Arts. She says her images
“reflect a personal journey and diary of what I see and how I feel,” they are an “attempt to go beyond how we normally see everyday objects and our environment.” While, Mak Ying Tung from de Sarthe gallery, takes pictures of scenery from video games and asks different painters to draw sections of the image. Therefore, it’s compiled without any direct contact by the artist, conceptually fitting the theme.
The same is true of Liu Bolin or the ‘Invisible Man,’ who camouflages his body into various environments he wants to critique — these often stem around consumerism and capitalism. UNSCHEDULED will feature a series of large scale photographs of Bolin blending into the background of a pharmacy shop and against a backdrop of 193 UN flags, to draw attention to a series targets the UN endeavoured to battle in 2015 including the end of extreme poverty, inequality and injustice and to tackle climate change by 2030.
The next group deliberately engage with their subject matter. For example, multi-media, conceptual, visual and performance artist Frog King Kwok, one of the pioneers of contemporary art in Hong Kong during the early 70s, will create an immersive, temple-like structure in his booth that sits beside his bold paintings. Nearby will be work from another Hong Kong-based artist Ng Chung who works mostly in oil paints, and paintings by the late Irene Chou, famous for her involvement in Hong Kong’s New Ink Painting movement.
While the final section will be more detached from their motifs and instead aim to instill a sense of calmness and minimalism in the space. Landscapes by contemporary Chinese artist Duan Yifan will compliment paintings by Herman Chong, part of Rossi & Rossi gallery’s contributions.
Chong will be showing a series of book covers that he started about 10 years ago: “Herman is a vivacious reader and he’s also a writer of science fiction, so a lot of his work refers to literature. These books are ones he’s either read or wants to read and form his ideal library,” says Rossi. Each paintings is the same size, with titles painted in the same typeface that contrast with changing background. At UNSCHEDULED, Rossi & Rossi gallery will display fifteen pieces, which will give the impression of a library. “Hong Kong is a very resilient city,” says Rossi. It’s been through a lot but “the people are resilient and local collectors are coming out to look at art.”
Q&A: Artist Kitty Chou
Can you tell me about your work. How do you approach your image-making?
Despite the presence of classical and formal elements to my work, I am not a conventional photographer as I never stage, never crop and only do minimal post-production work. I capture most of the images with a point and shoot camera instead of a SLR or more serious camera. When I encounter something that intrigues or inspires me, I will, without thinking, simply pull out my camera, compose and shoot. Being an extraordinarily curious person I never lack themes and topics for my work.
Which photographs will you be exhibiting at Unscheduled?
“Portrait without Face” is an ongoing series that’s defined by the viewers through his/her own background, experience and interpretation of the objects in the image. It is never my intention to dictate my interpretations of my work to the viewers. Chromatic Impressions #1 and #2 are part of the water reflection series. They were captured after a full day of gallery-hopping in Chelsea, New York. It was getting dark and rainy. There were not too many lights on the street. Suddenly when I looked down, I noticed the burst of colours on the wet pavement, which I captured as they personified the energy and jazzy feel of New York. Behind the Portrait reflects my fascination of how different unrelated objects come together and result in a completely different perspective. White, Red, Blue and Green is a continuation of my attempt to go beyond what is obviously in front of us.
Your pictures span from the ultra realistic to the abstract. Can you describe why?
My photography is extremely personal. I liken it to a diary that records my personal journey, what I see and what I desire to express. I am not good at words, written or verbal. Thus I rely on photography as my preferred medium of self expression. I never work on only one fixed theme at any fixed period of time. Nonetheless, there are subject matters, such as Reflection and Portrait without Face, to which I am consistently attracted. What I ultimately capture very much depends on where I am, what I see and how I feel.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
One art movement that has strongly influenced my work is Impressionism. My early abstract works were my attempts to create a similar visual language. Perhaps this is when my work started taking on a more abstract approach.
What does Unscheduled mean to you? How important are these sorts of platforms for artists to share their work?
Art platforms such as this are extremely important not only for artists, but also for the whole art community. After almost six months of social distancing, it is an opportunity for artists and the community to re-engage and re-connect.