First published on Art Radar on 3 August 2018
The annual graduation show returns for its 14th edition, enhancing its status as a platform for exchange with the first-ever participation of a Taipei art school.
Hong Kong, China and Taiwan are three geographies that when listed side by side spark contention. The work of their art students speak to each other at “Fresh Trend”.
Curated by Eric Leung Shiu Kee, a Hong Kong art scene veteran, “Fresh Trend 2018″ features works by 30 graduates from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong Baptist University and Hong Kong Art School, as well as six graduates from art academies in Mainland China and five from Taipei National University of the Arts. As Leung explains, "This exhibition is shaped by each school’s student body, programme structure and culture rather than a single curator’s view. It creates a platform for schools and students to exchange ideas."
The result offers a multi-layered view of the direction of these art institutions as well as the talent emerging from them. The show features a high proportion of new media works, not only due to the focus on such works from outside Hong Kong for logistical reasons, but more tellingly reflecting young artists’ growing interest in experimentation beyond the realms of traditional media. Yet the training of the more hallowed institutions is still in evidence, such as the Chinese University’s famed specialisation in Chinese ink.
Wong Yuk Shan’s Chinese ink work Those Gazing Mexzxzxzxzn reflects these traditions but with a most up-to-date #MeToo sensibility. Nine men stare out from her canvas, somewhere between curious, uncertain and hostile. Shan portrays them as fundamentally unknowable, an alien male gaze. Yet it is them who are the vulnerable subjects of her female gaze, emphasised through the downward angle that she paints them from – squishing them shorter within the bounds of the canvas. The step platform placed carefully in front of the canvas further invites the viewer to consider her own act of observing.
Zac Choy Kam Ming from Baptist University plays with analogue and digital technology in his exploration of viewing in I Can Now Do What Others Deem Tedious. A tiny music box invites the viewer to crank it by hand, sounding out a soft melody as it runs on a delicate paper tape. The sound generates a digital visualisation of waves on a screen, accompanied by extracts from a poem by Hong Kong writer Ma Yeuk, which also gives the artwork its name. The choice of this poem shines a light on Hong Kong literature, often overlooked by a city obsessed by speed and consumerism. It is also a wry reflection on the artist’s immediate life stage of graduation, as he leaves the safety of school to embark on life as an artist, ready to “do what others deem tedious”. Ma Yeuk penned the piece when he found himself unemployed and adrift, staring at the sea for comfort, a mirror for Choy’s own state of mind.
Also exploring Hong Kong identity is June Wong Siu Ling from Hong Kong Art School, with her video piece Draw a Summer. The work begins with windows opening out onto a view of other illuminated windows in the hot, humid summer night. But this is not just any summer – the piece refers to the summer of 2017, a moment with great significance for Hong Kong. It marked 20 years since the city’s return to China, and it saw also the imprisonment of student leaders of the pro-democratic Umbrella Movement that so galvanised and inspired Hong Kong four years ago. Asfireworks fade away and lights flicker out in the video, the artist poses the question: “Is it possible to resume a dream after waking up?”
Ivana Pong Chung Hang (Hong Kong Art School) similarly seeks a sense of identity through looking to the past, in this case to her childhood. In Behind the Yellow Line – Memory Construction, parts of a mysterious image are printed and drawn on large sheets of sticker labels. This image defies comprehension, fragmented as it is by the yellow borders between every sticker. It is not until the viewer steps back to view the piece at a distance that the forms and shapes take on meaning, revealing fragments that look like they may have come from a photograph of a childhood birthday party,echoing the innocence of the silver star stickers at the very centre of the piece. The past, it is suggested, is shapeless and confusing when looked at up close. It is only with the detachment of distance that it yields coherence, a lesson not just for the individual but perhaps also for a Hong Kong grappling with an uncertain future.
Among the selection of new media works from mainland China institutions, Pink Room by Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts’ graduate Wang Yijun is especially striking. Like June Wong’s piece, Pink room explores social issues, yet the approach it takes is less quietly intimate and more ironically impertinent. We see what at first appears to be photographs of six different rooms entirely in pink, but upon patient observation they are revealed as digital renderings. Slight changes of the light and movement in props such as candles attest to the nature of its video medium, a sign that all is not as it seems. In fact, each carefully designed room is a portrait of a social issue, identifiable through elements associated with major news stories in China in recent years, from child abuse to empty nesters. The relentless pink that covers everything then is perhaps a nod to a certain ‘pink-washing’ in society: rapidly rising wealth in mainland China paints a beautiful rosy picture that can gloss over the real problems that still exist and which demand attention.
Using light, Taipei National University of the Arts’ Tsai Fang takes us from observing a room as an outsider to stepping right inside it. A lightbox shows an image of a room – the natural light glowing warmly – while a projector recreates that scene around the viewer by beaming a silhouette of that same room onto the wall. A Kinect camera detects the audience when they appear in front of the lightbox and throws their shadow onto the silhouette, effectively making them a part of the displayed room. Yet while this work romances the magical beauty of natural light, the very fact that it recreates it artificially can be seen as a comment on our modern-day lifestyles where we live continually in artificial worlds, both digital and physical. Does it make a difference whether we sit by a real window and observe the setting sun, or just assert our presence in a space by leaving a shadow on another shadow?
“Fresh Trend 2018” offers an intriguing look at what is to come from the emerging artists of this fascinating region. From the works on show, the artists’ shared search for personal identity and social justice suggests that they have much in common.
“Fresh Trend 2018” was on view from 21 July to 3 August 2018 at Hong Kong City Hall, Hong Kong.