Hong Kong galleries showcase up-and-coming local talent in debut exhibitions

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Several Hong Kong art galleries this week are marking the end of the summer lull by launching energetic shows of work by young, local artists. Statistically, the bulk of the fresh talent featured will never attain the conventional markers of a successful artist or necessarily be creating art consistently in a few years’ time. Those who stick with it may change style drastically as their own voice emerges out of the shadow of their tutors.

Never mind all that. Some of the participants have delved deep to produce works that have the honesty and power to make an indelible impression.

Take Hung Ching-yan’s installation about her fond but distant relationship with her mother. She made a series of photographs of the inexplicable objects that her mother insists on stashing away, called To Be Used Someday.

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The images of old shopping coupons, impractical plastic containers and other items seemingly devoid of economic or emotional value are shown along with what Hung calls her “diary of stealing” – a logbook of all the items she photographed without consulting her mother.

Another section features a photo album of stealthy images that Hung and her mother took of each other, titled Dialogue with Mom A Month With You, and pictures her father secretly took of the mother and daughter together. These have to be seen against the context of how the 24-year-old was brought up by her grandmother because both her parents worked long hours – a not uncommon arrangement in Hong Kong. There is a now a desperate desire for mother and daughter to understand each other, but their mutual shyness is heartbreaking.

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Hung is one of five artists featured in Art Experience Foundation’s fourth “First Smash” exhibition for artists who have never shown works in a commercial gallery.

Other memorable installations include Chang Yue-lam’s Nanman Syllabary, hand-carved woodblocks of characters he has invented to represent Cantonese words without an official written form. Their imprints are displayed, by way of definition, with photographs of well-known political and cultural moments in Hong Kong.

Chan Oi-yan’s anthotypes of the century-old Kennedy Town banyan trees will gradually fade as the light-sensitive material is exposed to light, a melancholic tribute to the city’s disappearing greenery. The exhibition’s curator says that this year’s open call for entries resulted in a large number of entries about Hong Kong people’s insecurity about their identity and tensions between the city and China.

“We certainly didn’t set out to do a show about these issues. I think it is inevitable that the art world reflects what’s happening in the real world,” says Fion Ko, manager of Art Experience Gallery, the commercial arm of the non-profit foundation.

Gallery Exit’s choices for its young artists exhibition are more abstract in form and notion. Gavin Yip has spent the past year painting numerous studies of his own hand and those of pot plants, driven by a fascination with the unconsciousness of hand gestures and how they, like the contours of leaves, can be seen as a proto-language as expressive as Buddhist mudras.

Carla Chan has two works on show at Gallery Exit: panels of black ink on white that resemble traditional Chinese shanshui paintings and a digital video that could be showing a mountainous landscape or an empty, undersea scene. Both works deliberately blur the distinction between figures and abstraction, and are mesmerising to look at.

Cross-border identity is at the heart of Wang Yiyi’s exquisite Objects Obsession, one of the works chosen for this year’s “HK Foreword” exhibition at 10 Chancery Lane Gallery. This is a set of 20 photo-realistic paintings of objects representing a life split between Hong Kong and Beijing. She moved to Hong Kong when she was a teenager and spent several painful years struggling to adapt to a Cantonese-only school and an unforgiving environment for a young immigrant from China. But bit by bit, the two places she calls home are becoming less different in her mind.

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She finds comfort in some of the cities’ shared habits. There are familiar products from childhood she was happy to discover in Hong Kong shops, such as White Rabbit Creamy Candies and a popular Beijing brand of Chinese medicine. New friends help her lay down emotional roots here and their gifts and photographs become treasured possessions. “I have painted these objects sealed inside transparent vacuum packs because these are all memories and connections I want to preserve,” she says. Her choice of using Chinese ink and paper for these Western-style paintings is another elegant reference to the melding of cultures.

Kan Kiu-sin’s Mountain oh mountain I was also executed with impressive technical confidence, though the work has a much darker tone than Wang’s breezy optimism. Her large, dreamlike landscape of mountains and a half-hidden, recumbent figure is drawn entirely with pencils, and accompanied by a bleak artist statement about human suffering. It is shown alongside an installation called Myrrh (a play on its Chinese name that sounds like ‘no medicine’) – a dejected medicine cabinet stuffed full of fake medicines that promise to erase all forms of unhappiness.

As gallery founder, Katie de Tilly points out, the path to artistic success is indeed a painful one. “To be an artist, they have to fight for it. But I am proud that several of our artists from previous editions of HKForeword are still at work as artists and I am so very impressed by the continued ascent of the quality of the work [by young local artists],” she says.

First Smash 4, Art Experience Gallery, Room 2009, Cable TV Tower, 9 Hoi Shing Rd, Tsuen Wan, New Territories, Mon-Sat 11am-6pm. Until Sept 23

Plunging My Hand into The Lake of Billowing Trees, Gallery Exit, 3/F, 25 Hing Wo St, Tin Wan, Aberdeen, Tue-Sat 11am-6pm. Until Sept 23

HK Foreword17, 10 Chancery Lane Gallery, 10 Chancery Lane, Central, Tue-Sat, 10am-6pm. Until Sept. 16

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