by Vidur SethiSep 15, 2022
The exhibition Minding the G(r)a(s)p was curated by Celia Ho at the art centre and institution Para Site in Hong Kong. Originally started as an artist-led space, Para Site as an institution has evolved into one of the premier contemporary art spaces within the Hong Kong cityscape. Through this exhibition, Celia Ho hoped to remove the gaze of the curatorial (especially within the context of the 'white cube'), that which has been over time often been critiqued as constraining, minimising, auctorial in nature, and instead present artworks and practices that can speak directly to the viewer, onlooker, and audience. The varying degrees of engagement with the space itself were reciprocal to the artworks presented - as they took up spaces that often need to be peeked into, reinterpreted, applied to, flipped through, in order to relay the experiential part of the works.
The curator told STIR, "When I was curating the show, I wanted to depart from the usual curatorial practices that tend to focus on a time period, a particular medium or a theme. At Para Site Hong Kong, we have had art exhibitions that are based on a thematic approach, or practices that speak to other regions of South-East Asia to see different perspectives towards a common theme. But I wanted to curate differently, asking myself the question, "Are these the only ways of curating?" Instead of the curator having a sense of authority, I wanted to let the artists speak for themselves. The immersive exhibition started from the conversations I had with the artists, and their artistic journeys over the years.”
Through a set of 11 works commissioned by the institution, the group exhibition featured new works from the oeuvres of mid-career artists and collectives, all having originated from Hong Kong. The cityscape is a repeated feature that is referred to and quite literally shown to evolve within the space of the exhibition. The works that are featured in the exhibition have sprung from conversations between the curator and individual artists. Ho pointed out that artists tend to "don many hats", and those within the exhibition work individually besides being educators, activists or part of collectives.
Hong Kong as an entity featured in the conversation with the curator, as she spoke about the many turbulences that have sought to define the city. Its political and cultural history is marked by the changes in administrative control and autonomy that have been challenged over the last decade through powerful protest movements. While the recent history of Hong Kong is not outrightly referred to, through the Umbrella Movement in 2014 to the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement in 2019-20, only to be interrupted by the global pandemic, there is an identification with the cityscape through the works produced.
Eastman Cheng’s practice engages primarily with soft sculptures that take from 3D objects, use textiles, sewing and stitching. Stacks of screen-printed counterfeit notes lay on a table, while the viewer can look through the round window-shaped hole in the wall that leads the eye to a workstation. The seemingly underground workstation was made to resemble one of a counterfeiter, where an old-fashioned metal plate for counterfeiting is simulated through the presence of test prints that look like they have been hanged to dry, above a money-counting machine and stacked papers, illuminated by a small table lamp, the only source of light in the room. The viewer becomes an onlooker, unable to access the room but to look in. In conversation with STIR, the art curator also mentioned about how the work referenced the rising economy of the 80s and 90s and how the counterfeit thousand Hong Kong Dollar note referred to the year 1983, the birth year of the artist. Ho spoke of a certain optimism that was culturally powered, where one could achieve their dreams and earn money through hard work. Relating back to the present, the work seemed just out of reach speaking to a counterfeiting of dreams that were perhaps never realisms to begin with.
Hong Kong-based painter Chow Chun Fai’s work deviates from his usual medium, and extends to panoramic photographs that have been spliced into a layered grid, displayed on the exhibition wall. There is a photo installation presented through this grid of the intersection of Sai Yeung Choi Street and Nelson Street, one of the busiest streets and commercial centres in Hong Kong. The grid is populated with layers of images, taken over the years, of the same cityscape. The viewer became a participant in interacting with the artwork, as one could flip through the A4-printed sheets that made up sections of the panoramic view. Resembling a calendar, the viewer could flip through the years, examine the billboards, people, memories, moments, movements that have populated the street.
The artist duo C&G Artpartment, who have recently relocated to London, presented a pair of activities as pedagogical exercises in representation and critique, where anyone can be an visual artist or a critic. Viewers were invited to look at the cityscape outside the space of Para Site, through minuscule holes in the false wall that occupy a window space, and subsequently draw what they see. Through an open call, the artist duo also invited critique, where anyone was invited to engage in producing criticism around the duo’s work, which have since been written into the exhibition space. Through invitation, the duo opened up the space of artistic creation, evaluation, formulation and, ultimately, ownership by engaging with audiences in this fashion.
Ho mentions that in retrospect, a possible theme that emerged from the exhibition is that of ‘accumulation’, that of time, objects, memories, gestures and so on. Through the exhibition, the viewer/onlooker/participant was asked to pause and look in.