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a dialogue about curating

Sabrina M.Y. Fung (F): Curator
Leung Ping-kwan (L) : writer, poet

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L: The art exhibitions you have organised in recent years, such as Artscope Hong Kong 2000, ART Windows and Two or Three Things about Hong Kong, have each had Hong Kong as their central theme. Let's begin by talking about your impressions of Hong Kong as they are represented in these exhibitions. Artscope Hong Kong 2000 was your introduction to the city. What exactly are your impressions of Hong Kong?
F: The reason I wanted to curate Artscope Hong Kong 2000 was a group of relatively mature young artists had emerged in Hong Kong at that time. Actually, their works were already quite developed by the time I returned from the United States in the early 1990s. Some had spent time abroad like me; but they had been back in Hong Kong for a while. Others were recent returnees from the younger generation and I had more in common with them.
L: Was that why you organised those exhibitions?
F: Yes. I believed these young artists had reached maturity by the late 1990s but at that time the local art scene lacked a voice. Even today, people in many parts of the world are still unaware that Hong Kong has an art scene and its own contemporary artists. I felt that selecting a combination of "next generation" artists would make for a special exhibition.
L: How do you intend to introduce Hong Kong in the Venice Biennale this year?
F: When curating for an international event like the Venice Biennale, the top priorities are to present artists whose works have reached a degree of maturity and works that are compelling and stimulating. It is, of course, an added bonus if the works exhibited also reveal elements of Hong Kong culture. I envisioned this exhibition from a different angle, seeing it as one whole structure containing two opposing fields, which share basic common elements. Hopefully these strong opposing forces will create a distinctive form and unique energy.
L: What aspects of Hong Kong do you intend to bring to the Biennale?
F: During the curating process, I did not feel it necessary to introduce Hong Kong through the exhibition. This was not the basic premise, or at least not mine. It just so happens that both Chan Yuk-keung and anothermountainman have created very intriguing pieces that evoke a Hong Kong connection. The red, white and blue carrier bag is unique to Hong Kong and Asia, and it represents Hong Kong's spirit.
L: Tell us about the special features of the two works presented in the exhibition.
F: Both works are conceived and built from a strong constructive base. However, they have been developed via very different creative processes. anothermountainman plans and designs how his work will be developed and executed from the beginning. He makes a prototype and then finishes the work according to his plan. Chan Yuk-keung is very different. His creative process lies in the making of the work. In other words, he creates his work as he makes it. So the end result is unknown and can be vastly different than the original plan. Also, the use of materials differs for the two works: man-made, colourful fabric vs. the natural, muted tones of wood. These diversities and the juxtaposing of the two works in the exhibition should create an intensity that will produce a strong enigmatic force within itself.
L: Has your feeling for Hong Kong changed over the years, say from the time you curated Artscope Hong Kong 2000?
F: The local art scene has changed significantly during the last five years. There are now more art institutes and exhibition spaces, as well as an increased voice for multi-discipline art. On a certain level, this accelerates the development of a new generation of Hong Kong artists.
L: Artscope Hong Kong 2000 was exhibited in Japan. Did the Japanese approach you first or did you search them out?
F: We all wanted to work together. Actually, a group in Tokyo's Aoyama area hosts an avant-garde art festival every one or two years and in 2000 we organised our exhibition with them. The works were exhibited in thirty galleries spread throughout Aoyama, so viewing the exhibition was like taking an art tour. Each gallery exhibited the works of one or two artists.
L: From the initial concept of introducing something about Hong Kong to the actual exhibition, do you think the exhibition inspired Japanese viewers to examine their feelings toward Hong Kong art or to gain a sense of Hong Kong from the artworks they saw?
F: Artscope Hong Kong 2000's theme was "Hong Kong" and there were different elements of Hong Kong in the artworks shown. Of course, some works were more effective in their presentation.
L: That is to say the ideal and the reality...
L+F: ...are not necessarily the same.
L: Tell us about the difference between the original concept and what was actually achieved.
F: Each artist's work reflected various aspects of Hong Kong. For example, the installation by So Yan-kei had old film footage featuring the Cantonese film star Pak Yin in the background. In front of the screen, a life-size doll of a little girl, with her back to the viewer, engages viewers to join in a game of hide-and-seek. A pool of blood on the floor behind symbolised Hong Kong's social conditions at the time. Lee Ka-sing used photographic collage images to re-create his Hong Kong. The video work by Hung Keung's consisted of moving images of Hong Kong scenery, composed in four frames that provided a 360 degree view of the visual. Oscar Ho's ghost story was an imaginative, visual narrative that creatively depicted actual events in Hong Kong. The installation by Kwok Mang-ho captured the city's Happening art scene. In fact, each artist had his or her own special, unique approach to express the exhibition's theme. It is not possible to go into more detail here; but in many ways, Artscope Hong Kong 2000 presented the late 1990s phase of Hong Kong's avant-garde art scene.
L: These works were exhibited in Hong Kong after Japan?
F: Yes, some artists made changes to their works because the exhibition venue was different than in Japan. This was especially true for the installations. For example, Tsang Tak-ping's made a new installation for the outdoor, on-site pavilion when we showed in Hong Kong. Christopher Doyle and So Yan-kei also made totally different site-specific works. But the refined and richly textured white porcelain curtains by Fiona Wong Lai-ching were shown in both Japan and Hong Kong with no adjustments. Leung Chi-wo and Sara Wong Chi-hang, collaborated and created their first "a piece of sky" cookie for a Hong Kong exhibition.
L: Was the Artscope exhibition followed by other similar exhibitions?
F: Yes. The next one was ART Windows.
L: ART Windows? The one that had many different venues...?
F: That's right, 24 in total.
L: But the exhibition was only held locally.
F: Actually, I wanted to promote local contemporary art with this project, using various art forms and mediums to present contemporary art to the public as I felt public interest in contemporary art was lacking in Hong Kong. Upon further reflection, I thought maybe this was because contemporary art is not so accessible to the general public. So I decided to bring avant-garde artworks to more familiar, everyday life settings, such as shopping malls and window displays on busy streets, enabling people to come into close contact with contemporary art and hopefully increasing their interest in it.
L: Your idea was to bring contemporary art to the shopping malls and shop windows in streets, but the actual number of ART Windows venues was fewer than proposed.
F: As a matter of fact, it worked out even better than planned. We did not reduce the number of venues but we were unable to accommodate additional windows due to budget limitations. At that time, we never imagined the shops would be so interested in the exhibition. A lot of shops called seeking to take part in the project; but our original budget did not envision so many participants. Since the exhibition was not-for-profit, participating shops only provided an exhibition space and the materials needed by the artists to create their works. In any case, the ultimate number of exhibiting venues was the same as originally planned.
L: ART Windows was followed by Two or Three Things about Hong Kong. Can you share your thoughts on this exhibition? Was it also related to Hong Kong? Do you have other new plans?
F: Two or Three Things was a retrospective look at Hong Kong over the two years preceding the show. It included your poetry which reflected the situation in the city in 2003, such as your SARs poem. Also exhibited were Lee Ka-sing's online projection of Hong Kong images, and anothermountainman's red, white and blue fabric installation "show flat" of his ongoing "building hong kong" series, which had your specially written red/white/blue poem.
We are now designing a web site which will serve as a cyber artspace for visitors interested in the most current Hong Kong avant-garde art/culture scene.
L: In the form of a website?
F: Yes. The website will be devoted to multi-discipline art forms. It will feature new works created within the last 2 years, direct from the artists' studio.
L: Has the cyber gallery been launched online?
F: Not yet, the project is still in the making. ...It was scheduled to be released online in early 2005 but we were too busy working on the Venice Biennale exhibition, which left us little time for anything else.

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