Staking a claim

Negotiation was the theme of Shirley Tse’s exhibition Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice, shown at the 58th Venice Biennale from last May to November, which drew over 102,000 visitors.

In a reflection of the tradition of the partnership between M+ at the West Kowloon Cultural District and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council for the Venice event, the exhibition recently returned to Hong Kong.

Shirley Tse: Stakes and Holders, which comprises two works, is the 11th and last exhibition at M+ Pavillon and will run until October 4.

Tse’s presentation in Venice was the fourth edition of the cooperation of M+ and the council.

She is the first female artist to represent Hong Kong after Lee Kit, Tsang Kin-wah and Samson Young.

Though she moved to the United States in the late 1990s and is now based in Los Angeles, Tse’s works are strongly connected with her home city.

Playcourt, an installation of more than 20 found objects, tells of Tse’s childhood memories of living in Kwai Chung and playing badminton with her brothers and sisters.

The selection, such as a discarded C-stand, pipes, a small wooden stool and even trash cans, are all objects that can be found on the street.

This is a result of people negotiating life in a densely populated city like Hong Kong, said curatorial and chief curator Doryun Chong.

Negotiated Differences, despite being visually similar to the Venice version at first glance, is not just a replica.

Chong said the installation stresses the theme of negotiation more strongly and directly.

Negotiated Differences is a sprawling, rhizome-like installation of 3D-printed connectors and wooden “spindles.”

The 900 or so parts that make up the installation stretch across the pavilion.

Made in various shapes, such as balusters, handrails, bowling pins and abstract objects, the spindles were handturned by the artist using a lathe.

They are connected by wooden, metal and plastic joints, bringing together craft and mechanical and digital technologies without glue and nails, except for several fasteners used for parts of the installation, which clamp onto a column and extend to the ceiling.

Unlike last year’s exhibition, the Covid-19 pandemic prevented the artist and guest curator Christina Li from taking part in the installation of the work in person.

So the new work had to be installed through conversations between Tse in Los Angeles, Li in Amsterdam and the M+ curatorial and installation team in Hong Kong.

“Four cameras were set up to broadcast constantly so that the artist and curator could keep up with the process, while in Hong Kong, seven in-house staff built the installation after negotiating with them remotely,” Chong said.

The spindles are related to the artist’s personal life, such as a dining table made with table legs used in the Venice exhibition, chopsticks and soy sauce bottles.

These objects were considered to be representative of the Hong Kong connection, yet Chong thought they showed the interdependence and inevitable conflicts here.

For example, the traffic cones, umbrellas, helmets and cable ties, which appeared when they were shown in Venice last May and could be seen in last year’s pro-democracy movement, echo the social unrest in Hong Kong over the past year.

“Art is often said to be a barometer of the times, but is less often thought of as a crystal ball to see into the future,” said Chong. “Tse’s prescient works became both at the Venice exhibition and now in Hong Kong.”

“As the unrest of last year has transitioned into an unsettling new one, and as uncertainty prevails over our lives, Tse’s art reminds us how collective endeavor can help us understand the world and connect across differences,” Chong said.

“Now more than ever, in Hong Kong and around the world, this kind of thinking is crucial.”

(This article was published at The Standard on July 10, 2020: Weekend Glitz: Staking a claim )


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