HONG KONG — I stood on the beach, sand underneath my shoes. Water flowed over me, but I remained dry.
I stood upon “Hush ‧ Rush,” Chinese multimedia artist Choi Sai-ho’s installation that overtook a gallery at Oil Street Art Space (Oi!) in Hong Kong. Oi! Spotlight brings together four artists to meditate upon ecological memory. Hong Kong-based artists Choi and Nadim Abbas, Shanghai-based Lu Yang, and the New York-based interdisciplinary architecture studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro created large-scale environments flush with water, sand, and trees.
Oi! occupies a former yacht warehouse that once overlooked the beach. Now, the North Point art space is crowded by concrete and steel. Urbanization transformed the resort into a metropolis, and without space to accommodate its growing population and economy, the city turned to land reclamation to expand, pushing the beach further into the South China Sea.
Choi’s peaceful beach scene reminds us of Hong Kong’s roots. The water, illuminated in high definition with an LED screen that you can walk across, calmly ebbs and flows. Seagulls, produced with a regular projector, periodically fly overhead, faint in the sunlight.
But this landscape is only half of the installation. Behind a curtain is a dizzying, tilting, low-fi 3D rendering of Hong Kong’s urban landscape that viewers are forced to explore at breathtaking speed. LED screens wrap around the walls and floor, dropping you into a fully immersive world. The zooms and abrupt change of direction trigger motion sickness and vertigo. Peace was traded for chaos.
I found calm again in Oi!’s courtyard, where Diller Scofidio + Renfro fuse ecology and technology with “Joyful Trees (Arbores Laetae).” The studio planted a towering grove of fully grown Chinese Junipers, three of which are mounted to grassy turntables that rotate slowly, twisting their roots into a knot, I imagine. They tilt at a subtle 10-degree angle, which only becomes obvious when you watch for a while and notice the tips playing hide and seek with the rest of the tree line. The architects want to evoke a magical, animated forest, but to me, the teetering trees foreshadow deforestation. They look like they are about to collapse, victims of logging.
The other two artists, Abbas and Lu, present surreal exhibits that focus on the future of the planet. In “Ventriloquists’ Stone,” Abbas builds small villages in sand. The structures, far from castles, could be homes in a post-industrialized world. Doors open into these communities, but a moving treadmill placed in front of the sand keeps an intruder in one place, unable to stomp the fragile structures.
Lu, on the other hand, abandons Earth in favor of the metaverse. DOKU Hong Kong Experience Centre places DOKU, the artist’s avatar made with 3D scanning, in six digital worlds that represent the realms of Buddhist reincarnation. DOKU fills their time performing traditional Balinese dance, but gazes at viewers with dead eyes that would be unbefitting for any Balinese performer. DOKU is disenchanted with the backdrop of cyberpunk malaise. Backgrounds shift between forest fires, bombed out rubble, and toxic plants. As Earth burns, sacred worlds burn, too.
The Oi! Spotlight artists accept that ecology has deteriorated, but rather than ask viewers to reverse human action, they depict ways of adapting in the future. If there are no more beaches and junipers, it might be time to leave this plane altogether and dance until the end of the Anthropocene.
Choi Sai-ho: Hush ‧ Rush continues at Oi! Warehouse 1 and Nadim Abbas: Ventriloquists’ Stone continues at Oi! Warehouse 2 through July 30. Lu Yang: DOKU Hong Kong Experience Centre continues at Oi! Glassie through August 27. Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Joyful Trees (Arbores Laetae) remains on view through February 2025. All are located at both 12 Oil Street, North Point, Hong Kong. The exhibitions were curated by Joan Chung and organized by Oi!.