At the Osage Foundation Gallery in Chelsea I had a conversation with Joyce Lau, who trained in art criticism at St Martins in London before coming home to work in Hong Kong. Highly articulate and passionate about contemporary art, she told me that things are difficult for younger artists in Hong Kong as the commercial galleries are focused on art from the mainland and there are few artist-run spaces for them to exhibit their work. In this highly compressed city where space is at a premium and rents have continued to rise, artists who had rented cheap industrial spaces in Fo Tan are continuing to be pushed further and further away, and some have no studio space to work at all.With many people arriving from the mainland every day there is intense pressure on jobs and rental property. In the galleries arounnd Central today I saw a lot of very interesting work, both traditional and contemporary, all of which came from Mainland China, Korea or Japan.
|Doorway on Hollywood Road|
|Hanison (Hok Shing) Lau in Mong Kok|
|Hanison Lau, 'Table Top Garden' 2007, Paper, wood, plant and water |
80cm (L) x 60cm (W) x 130cm (H)
image used with permission of the artist
Many of his works also have a sly humour - his 'Letter to Marco Polo', which includes a pair of boots made of teabags sewn together. They appear like the Chinese leather armour worn by the entombed warriors (and he says were surprisingly difficult and frustrating to sew!) and of course are a reference to Marco Polo infamously neglecting to mention tea in his accounts of his travels, which have caused some to believe that his tales were all fabricated fantasy. I especially loved his 'Table Top Gardens' which are tiny traditional gardens like those of the Ming Dynasty, with tiny carved cardbaord mountains, real plants and fish, which he 'adopted' out to a dozen people (including his mother, a traditional landscape painter). The 'adopters' had to look after their gardens and take a photograph every day, which were then exhibited with the works as a large installation.
I also loved his 'walking shop', a cardboard person-sized replica of a traditional Hong Kong shop, in which he walked around the city engaging people in conversation and exchanging or trading items with them. He said that old people like newspaper, because they can sell it, so he collected lots of that and gave it away, and young people like stationery, so he exchanged that for whatever people offered to give him in return - the goods he received included used Starbucks coffee cups, but also some money. The performance piece was documented and photographed, and the items he received and the conversations he had with the audience participants all then became part of the artwork. Perhaps this development of his practice from more purely sculptural to performative comes in part from his experience as a performer in the Chinese opera, from the time he was a small child up until he left Hong Kong to study in Australia. I suspect that his expressive face and ability to tell a story and engage me in the narrative of his works may come from this part of his personal history as well.
I think students in Australia would love his work and find it accessible, interesting and engaging, as well as thought provoking. Some aspects reminded me of Hossein Valamenash, the Iranian born Australian artist, whilst some of his deliberate choices of 'poor', recycled non-art materials, which are transformed through the alchemy of his artmaking, reminded me of Sarah Sze, a New York Chinese artist whose work I saw last year.Hanison has already experienced one overseas artistic residency, in Portland Oregon, and later this year he has been commissioned to create some works in Paris and London. He will also be going to a residency in Korea. Whilst he, like many others I have spoken to, talked about how hard it is for Hong Kong artists beacuse no-one is interested, and all the focus of the artworld is on the mainland, I think he is definitely a young artist to watch.
And, oh yes, the 2 bowls of soup were eaten on the run in food courts where so many options have lungs, intestines, feet or things which are, frankly and perhaps fortunately, unidentifiable, in them that I have been eating vegetarian soup with noodles - when in doubt, pointing at things and using sign language!