The ongoing thoughts of an art teacher in China - and home in Sydney

A continuing diary about my travels in China, and thoughts about China and Chinese art from home and abroad

Monday, March 6, 2017

Shelter from the Storm: Before the Rain at 4A

Reproduced items and images from The Umbrella Movement Visual Archive, 2014; installation view, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Courtesy of the Umbrella Movement Visual Archive.
Sydney's 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art continues to do interesting and often provocative work that expands our ideas about what's contemporary, what's Asian and even, occasionally, challenges preconceptions about the boundaries between 'art' and 'not art'. They work with artists from across the Asia region, often in socially engaged, long-term projects. Most recently the exhibition 'Before the Rain' explores Hong Kong after the Umbrella Revolution of 2014. Although much of the work, and the curatorial imperative for the show, emerged from the way that contemporary art in Hong Kong has really been given a shot in the arm by events in that city, and the continuing discontent, and even despair at heavy handed control from across the border, the issues are not specific to that locus. I kept thinking about the resurgence of political satire in the US in recent weeks, and the activism of artists. Will it continue? Can it ever be effective? Big questions without simple answers.
Left: Yuan Goang-Ming. The 561st Hour of Occupation, 2014; single-channel video. Courtesy of the Artist.
Right: Reproduced items and image from The Umbrella Movement Visual Archive, 2014; installation view, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art. Courtesy of the Umbrella Movement Visual Archive
Here is my review of the show, published last week in Daily Serving.

Partly an archive of ephemera, mementos of a time already vanished into history, and partly an investigation of the role of the artist at historical flash points of social and political crisis, Before the Rain at Sydney’s 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art is also an exploration of present-day shifts in geopolitical currents and tensions in Asia. The exhibition gathers an intergenerational group of artists from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the People’s Republic of China to explore moments of change and reaction. Why “Before the Rain”? Curator and 4A director Mikala Tai says that in the humid air of Hong Kong, there is a particular moment when you know the skies are about to open and the deluge will arrive. As with barometric pressure, so too with human systems and political tipping points.

Luke Ching. 150 Lost Items, 2014; mixed media. Courtesy of the Artist and 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian A

If pink “pussy hats” are the artifacts by which the 2017 Women’s March on Washington will be remembered, what are the objects that signify Hong Kong’s brief moment of revolutionary fervor, the Umbrella Revolution of 2014?[1] The yellow umbrellas used by the protesters to shield themselves from tear gas, and the yellow Post-it notes used in impromptu art installations around the city, come to mind immediately. Not included in 
Before the Rain, but significant as a comparison, is the work of Hong Kong artist Samson Young. Young’s Stanley (2015) is a large, neon-pink text work that reads, “NOTHING WE DID COULD HAVE SAVED HONG KONG IT WAS ALL WASTED.” This work proclaims the despair felt by many around the globe right now: an unnerving and destabilizing sense that taken-for-granted democratic foundations may be less secure than we assumed. The work of the nine artists in Before the Rain, however, represents a rather different view. They reflect on possibilities of resistance and a sense of exhilaration, albeit at times mixed with sadness.

To read the rest of the review, click HERE