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.