HONG KONG — Taking the temperature of the art at Hong Kong South Island Art Day 2015, the thermometer reads hot and feisty. Young Hong Kong artists also appear bruised — with Occupy Central, self immolations in Tibet, the fractious situation with mainland China, and the more droll issues of their global peers on their minds.
The new international hot spot of 20 or so galleries is located in the gritty industrial spaces of Wong Chuk Hang, Tin Wan, and Ap Lei Chau, on the southern end of Hong Kong Island, and is set to connect to Hong Kong’s MTR system in the next year. Three years ago, Swiss-born Art Statements Gallery owner Dominique Perregaux created the South Island Cultural District by gathering a small coterie of gallery owners in the burgeoning area to promote their mutual efforts. The loft spaces are huge by Hong Kong standards — measuring up to 5,000 square feet in a space-starved city. What is following right behind, naturally, is upscale shopping malls, hotels cafes, and restaurants.
Rossi & Rossi, a London gallery opened its second space in Wong Chuk Hang in early 2013. For South Island Art Day the gallery presented Change is the Eternal Law, a solo show by Queens, New York-based artist Tenzing Rigdol. Rigdol, granted political asylum in the US in 2002, is the first contemporary Tibetan artist to be included in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection with his piece “Pin drop silence: Eleven-Headed Avalokitesvara” (2013). Originally trained in sand painting, butter sculpture, and Buddhist philosophy, the title of the show references the first of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths that life is dukkha or suffering. Rigdol’s enormous “My World is in your Blind-spot,” made of five panels six-by-six-feet each, references the more than 100 self-immolations inside Tibet, as well as what Rigdol has called the “degradation” of the Tibetan language. He said concerning his opus:
In this work I try to understand the continued and constant self-immolations that are taking place in Tibet. Both courageous and tragic, self-immolations challenge us, as witnesses, to either take action or to practice indifference. Consequently, these acts force us to define and redefine our individual and collective strengths/weaknesses based on our responses.
The petite Koru Contemporary Art in the village of Tin Wan features the stark and bold photographic series Witness by Martin, who goes by only one name. The photographs depict graphic, and often brutal moments during last year’s Occupy Central demonstrations in downtown Hong Kong, and are a reminder of just how fragile the brokered peace remains.
Blindspot Gallery, set up to focus on Hong Kong’s blind spot to photography as a contemporary art form, exhibited the dark horse of the weekend, South Ho Siu Nam. A fourth generation Hongkongese, South Ho, as he calls himself, has already been nominated a Sovereign Asian Art Prize finalist for his measured, thoughtful presentations of complex and gnarly subjects. Good day good night, a series of black-and-white photographs, videos, and paintings of the Occupy Movement is a more nuanced, thoughtful look at the confrontations between authorities and protestors that explores both the immediacy of the experience and restraint of the artist in veering away from showing more direct confrontations with authorities. His color video of Occupy consists of 10 sections, each 29 minutes long, making for a total of 290 minutes — a length South Ho stated as necessary because the movement itself took such a long time to unfold. He wants his audience to experience just a brief slice of what the Occupy encampment was like when it wasn’t being dramatic or confrontational.
Art Statements Gallery presented a well-rounded selection of international players, including an early proponent of the Japanese anime movement, Yoshitaka Amako. Starting in 1967, Amako’s anime was seen by a whole generation of Japanese children on the popular television shows Kashaan and Tekkaman. Since 2002, he has focused on a series of bright and explosive auto paint-on-aluminum pieces made in a kitschy but immensely appealing style that has come to define the genre.
The surprise treat of the night was playing in the back room of Art Statements: “The Feast of Trimalchino,” a video by Russian wunderkinds AES+F (Tatiana Arzamasova, Lev Evzovich, Evgeny Svyatsky, and Vladimir Fridkes). With their knack for portraying pouty, young models with bored gazes and perfect bodies, incorporating droll underlying narratives concerning race, colonialism, and gender, AES+F are the only artists worthy of giving artist Yinka Shonibare’s interpretation on neocolonialism a run for its money. Plus, the videos are hilariously funny to watch.
Though this is not the first South Island Art Day, the work on display has matured since earlier iterations. Once the MTR station is complete, this district, still under development, is set to further enhance the luster around the Hong Kong art scene, already set in motion by Art Basel Hong Kong’s yearly jaunts on the international art circuit.
South Island Art Day took place in Hong Kong on September 9, 2015 at various locations in the districts of Wong Chuk Hang, Tin Wan, and Ap Lei Chau.