The exhibition Consideration of the G(r)a(s)p was curated by Celia Ho at Hong Kong Art Center and Institution Para Site. Originally started as an artist-run space, Para Site has grown as an institution into one of the premier contemporary art venues in the Hong Kong cityscape. Through this exhibition, Celia Ho hoped to remove the gaze of the curatorial (particularly in the context of the “white cube”), which has often been criticized over time as being restrictive, minimizing, authoritarian in nature, and instead present artworks and practices that reflect the be able to address viewers, spectators and the audience directly. The varying degrees of engagement with the space itself were reciprocal to the artworks presented – as they occupy spaces that often need to be looked at, reinterpreted, applied, leafed through in order to pass on the experiential part of the works.
The curator told STIR: “When I curated the exhibition, I wanted to deviate from standard curatorial practices, which tend to focus on a specific period, medium or theme. At Para Site Hong Kong we have had art exhibitions about this based on a thematic approach or practices that appeal to other regions of Southeast Asia to see different perspectives on a common theme. But I wanted to curate differently and asked myself, “Are these the only ways to curate?” Rather than the curator having a sense of authority, I wanted to let the artists speak for themselves. The immersive exhibition began with the conversations I had with the artists and their artistic journeys over the years.”
Through a series of 11 works commissioned by the institution, the group exhibition featured new works from the work of mid-career artists and collectives, all of Hong Kong origin. The cityscape is a recurring element that is referred to and literally evolves within the exhibition space. The works shown in the exhibition arose from discussions between the curator and individual artists. Ho pointed out that artists tend to “put on a lot of hats” and that those participating in the exhibition work individually, apart from being educators, activists or part of collectives.
Hong Kong as an entity figured prominently in the curator’s conversation as she discussed the many turbulences that have attempted to define the city. Its political and cultural history is shaped by the changes in administrative control and autonomy that have been challenged by powerful protest movements over the past decade. While there is no direct reference to Hong Kong’s more recent history, via 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 one Identification with the cityscape of the resulting works.
Eastman Cheng’s practice is mainly concerned with soft sculpture, starting from 3D objects, using textiles, sewing and sewing. Stacks of screen-printed counterfeit banknotes lie on a table, while the viewer can see through the round, window-shaped hole in the wall, which directs the view to a workspace. The seemingly underground workspace is modeled after a counterfeiter, where an old-fashioned metal counterfeiting plate is simulated by test prints hung to dry, above a money counting machine and stacks of papers, lit by a small table lamp, the only light source in the room. The viewer becomes a spectator who cannot enter the room but can look inside. Speaking to STIR, the art curator also mentioned how the work related to the burgeoning economy of the ’80s and ’90s and to the fake Hong Kong $1,000 bill from 1983, the year the artist was born. Ho spoke of a certain culturally motivated optimism where you can achieve your dreams and make money through hard work. In relation to the present, the work seemed downright unattainable, speaking of a falsification of dreams that perhaps were never realisms anyway.
Hong Kong-based painter Chow Chun Fai’s work deviates from his usual medium and extends to panoramic photographs that have been assembled into a layered grid and are 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 centers in Hong Kong. The grid is populated with layers of images taken of the same cityscape over the years. 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. Similar to a calendar, the viewer could scroll through the years examining billboards, people, memories, moments, movements that have populated the street.
Artist duo C&G Artpartment, who have recently relocated to London, presented two activities as pedagogical exercises in representation and criticism, where everyone can be a visual artist or a critic. Viewers were invited to view the cityscape outside of Para Site space through tiny holes in the false wall occupying a window space, and then draw what they see. Through an open call, the artist duo also invited criticism, where everyone was invited to participate in the production of critiques surrounding the duo’s work, which have since been written into the exhibition space. Upon invitation, the duo opened up the space of artistic creation, evaluation, formulation and ultimately ownership by engaging with the audience in this way.
Ho mentions that looking back, one possible theme that emerged from the exhibition is that of “accumulation,” that of time, objects, memories, gestures, and so on. Throughout the exhibition the viewer/spectator/participant was invited to stop and look inside.