Seen&Scene: Ai WeiWei Frames Hong Kong Artists; Artists Respond In Kind

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This evening, friends, supporters, and media, were invited to Duddell’s 4th Floor to preview Chinese artist, Ai WeiWei’s first curated exhibition in Hong Kong titled, Framed. What is in fact being framed, is literally the work of 13 of Hong Kong’s finest art practitioners, hand selected by Ai WeiWei himself; Nadim Abbas, Kitty Chou, Ho Sin Tung, Frog King, Kum Chi-Keung, Kwan Sheung Chi, Michael Lau, Kingsley Ng, MAP Office, Tozer Pak Sheung Chuen, Angela Su, Tsang Kin Wah, and Stanley Wong anothermountainman. 

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Before the opening party, a private gathering was hosted by Duddell’s founder, Alan Lo and M+’s Executive Director, Lars Nittve, for an intimate panel discussion with some of the artists in the group show, plus a special welcome video of WeiWei himself introducing the exhibition.

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The 45 minute long discussion was focused primarily on the idea of “Framing” and being “Framed”. Some of the artists, like Tozer Pak Sheung Chuen, yearned to work outside the frame conceptually and physically imposed by WeiWei (a wooden frame uniform about 65 x 65 cm, square). Other artists welcomed the possibility of the frame’s unifying factor, like Kitty Chou’s work. MAP Office took the idea of the Frame as an opportunity to focus on the curator, WeiWei, stating that the artists are not the focus of the show, but WeiWei himself because essentially the works are a reaction to the curator’s theme. MAP Office’s response reflects on the different facets of Ai WeiWei, a man, an island, trapped “within his own kingdom, and defined by his own territory in China”. Ho Sin Tung’s portrait of Ai WeiWei, titled Alien 2013 (seen at the top of the post),  framed a portrait of the curator within the imposed timber frame as his response.

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Frog King’s Frog Fun 2013 piece which hangs proudly on the feature stair’s main landing, is all “balls-out”, literally, and proposes play in reference to his 20-plus year relationship with Ai WeiWei. 

Work by Tsang Kin Wah, MomFDadFDaughterFTeacherFJesusF MaryFBillFMonicaFPoliticianFPastorFKidFMomFTeen… 2007.

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While it is true that Duddell’s is not your typical gallery exhibition space, it is a bar/restaurant/members-club, with atraditional spaces for exhibiting works of art. It is in this context of which Ai WeiWei was intrigued, and uses the idea of the frame as a way to bring focus to Duddell’s position, not only its contribution to Hong Kong’s maturing cultural landscape, but also in the way this newly minted venue can bridge Hong Kong artist to a more global contemporary audience.

In the foreword for the exhibition’s book, Ai WeiWei states: 

When these artists have chosen to work with me at their own will, changes have already occurred, and change is what culture has longed for and worked towards… With the political conditions and social developments today (categorizing cultural activity by regions) are no longer applicable in the age of digital communication and globalization. A good exhibition or a good artist may come from any social background, or we can say that backgrounds are no longer relevant. This is a remarkable feat; I wish that all artists residing in Hong Kong will be blessed by this era.

In the paragraph before, Ai Weiwei stresses; that “Framed” as a theme hints at the “absurdity of our conditions.” And that continually expressing Hong Kong’s history, and links to its colonial past whether politics or art or both, is an “inevitable fable” and maybe a complete “rejection” of any “adaptation” that is taking place right now today. 

Work by Nadim Abbas, The Trial of Lady Chatterley 2013.

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Work by Michael Lau, Chrazymichael 2010.

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Work by Kum Chi-Keung, Hand 2006.

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Duddell’s seemingly takes pride in being a truly Hong Kong product, from the perspective of Hong Kong as a city of the world. Members of Duddell’s may identify with the idea that being a true Hong Konger also means being a global citizen, and that they’re one and the same. Whether that’s a position Hong Kong’s artists are ready to take on board after this show, depends on them. It’s interesting to note that it takes a curator of Ai Weiwei’s stature to have to coax such an idea of “globalness” to Hong Kong’s own cloistered art community… and he’s doing all this from the confines of his compound thousands of miles away… as an alien and outsider looking in.

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VISIT Framed. Ai Weiwei and Hong Kong Artists . 5 NOV 2013 - 15 FEB 2013 . Duddell’s, Level 3, Shanghai Tang Mansion, 1 Duddell Street, Central, Hong Kong . T: +852-25259191

JJ.

Beijing JJStyle 05: The State of Architecture

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One of the main reasons why I was drawn to practice architecture in China was the bountiful opportunities within the region to build, and as a designer, to play a part in helping shape China’s newly built environments.

It’s cool that people can go to Beijing, and actually self-prescribe their own Architectural tours of the city. Since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, there’s just been so many new architectural projects to see, with some structures designed by the world’s top “Starchitects”. At my request, we were lucky enough to check out the National Stadium, or The Bird’s Nest, as most residents lovingly call it. This “nest”, conceived by artists, Ai Weiwei, was a token symbol of China’s rise not only as a global power, but as a possible influencer of culture.

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With the help of Swiss architects, Herzog de Meuron (HdM), Ai Weiwei’s form, formulated by an intricate lattice work of steel, was finally constructed and made it just in the nick of time by the Olympic’s inaugural celebration.

Stairs are incorporated in the building facade form.

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Inside it’s equally impressive in a different scale.

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It’s interesting to see for myself how all the puzzles fit, which is what I did as I walked around the stadium.

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And then the sports field is revealed…

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Denise just takes it all in.

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So very impressive.

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The internal skin constructed with water resistent tensile membrane called ETFE. It’s very strong and durable.

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There’s also real time computer monitoring of the Bird’s Nest’s structural health. Visitors can view structural health assessments via TV screens located around the public circulation. There are graphs for temperature, structural straining, wind speed and direction through the stadium, and vibrational analysis for example.

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The beauty is in the form as much as it is in the science.

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Even the glass balustrades around the Stadium had the facade pattern printed on it. The building’s story is followed through until the very detail level which is impressive.

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My friends, Denise and Jason, had fun getting their photos taken in “uniform” at the gift shop.

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The Bird’s Nest is but one of so many new and daring structures that have the opportunity and the flexibility to pop up in Beijing. Driving around the city, there are just so much more to see, and half of them designed by not so famous architects so they never get as much publicity as they could.

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This one below is designed by Zaha Hadid, and it’s called Galaxy Soho.

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Of course most streets are still lined with trees and are very low-rise in nature.

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And then there are sublime moments when your car drives past one of these structures. It’s Ancient history… within reach.

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Some of my other favorite projects in Beijing include OMA’s CCTV, Steven Holl’s Linked Hybrid, and Paul Andreau’s National Opera.

And the construction just never ends as Beijing STILL “goes for the Gold”.

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ARCHITECTURE National Stadium - Bird’s Nest 

This post was originally published on November 21, 2012 for CNN.com and Hilton Hotels and Resorts for the CNNGO Experience Asia Contest.

JJ.