Thursday, July 24, 2014

'Going Round in Circles', performance - Part 1

On Wednesday 30th July 2014 I plan to conduct a solo performance in Tai Tam Country Park, Hong Kong.
I will walk around a circular path, which leads around a small hill, from 9 to 5 - the archetypal working day, stopping for 15 minute breaks in the morning and afternoon and a 1 hour lunch break. I will carry tools that I will not use.
If I am part-way around a circuit when it is time for a break or lunch, I will continue to complete the circuit before beginning the break. The performance will go ahead whatever the weather, unless a typhoon No.8 signal is hoisted and I am unable to catch the ferry to get to the location.

At the end of the day, I will have spent the day traveling without getting anywhere and I will have carried tools without producing anything.

On Kawara - 29,771 days

Conceptual artist On Kawara died on July 10th 2014 at the age of 81 after having lived for 29,771 days.

Among the different works and series he produced, probably the most well known are the ‘Today’ series of paintings. Beginning on January 4th 1966, he made a long series of paintings that each recorded the day it was created.

The paintings were made according to eight standard sizes, all horizontal in orientation. The date on which each painting was made was rendered in white Liquitex on canvas. The background colours varied somewhat through the years.

The dates were carefully painted by hand in the language of the country in which the panting was made. If the country happened not to use the Roman alphabet, Kawara would instead use Esperanto.

The whole series was recorded in a journal along with a swatch of the colour used and also marked on a calendar.

I find this series intriguing. When viewing the paintings they generally appear clinically objective except if you were to see one that coincided with a particularly relevant date in the viewers’ life. Suddenly that painting would take on added significance.

The series appears to document Kawara’s life on earth, except that he didn’t paint one every day. On those days he did paint, if he was unable to finish the day’s work, he would destroy the painting as each one needed to be finished on the day stated in the painting. So, the paintings that do exist are a testament to his existence on those days…but what about the missing dates? Did he exist? This harks back to philosophical questions about perception and reality. If we no longer remember an event in our lives, we doubt it ever happened. Does the world behind us exist if we do not perceive it? Or does it only appear when we look in that direction…if a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody there to hear it, does it make a sound?

In one sense Kawara has not left, the Twitter bot that he set up before his death has successfully tweeted on more than one occasion to proclaim that he is still alive, his work lives on, he lives on.

(Images courtesy of

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

First Student Graduation Show - June 2014

After two pioneering and very enjoyable years the first cohort of students graduated from the Higher Diploma in Visual Arts and Culture at the Hong Kong Design Institute.

A plain office type room on the ground floor was converted into a gallery for an exhibition of sample work chosen jointly by members of staff and invited visiting adjudicators. As the final student presentations and the following discussions among the selection committee were held in Cantonese, I was unable to take a positive role in the proceedings. There was not enough room available to exhibit all the work and so the visiting adjudicators and other members of staff discussed whose work to include and whose work to leave out. I would agree with most of their choices, though not all.

At the opening night of the graduation exhibition, the excitement of the students was palpable and I believe many of them felt that this was the first stepping-stone of their career. It is always a shock to see the work for the first time in an exhibition setting and I could see the look of surprise and pride on their faces.

For the teaching staff also this was a special moment. I can remember helping to prepare the validation documents and writing some of the modules that had been taught during the previous two years. Of course this moment, though touching, is short lived. We have the second cohort now halfway through their journey and a new admission exercise looming on the horizon.

However for now there is time for a drink, a piece of cake and a wonderful moment to share with the students. I had the special honour of reading out a letter of congratulations sent by the first Programme Leader Yoji Matsumura, who was now back in Japan. It was he who had provided the initial spark to the programme and who had given it direction.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Student project: 'Sit-able object'

In June, after a lot of work, my students were finally able to see their work installed in a chair-themed exhibition at the Heritage Museum in Shatin.

The work had begun way back in October 2013 within the module ‘History of Visual Arts’ when the students formed groups and began formulating the creation of a ‘sit-able object’ that would fulfill the project requirements and also, later, perhaps become part of the planned exhibition.

After the project came to an end and was assessed, we had 10 ‘sit-able objects’ that could potentially go forward to be included in the show. However, as the next phase of the work needed to be completed in everyone’s spare time, there was a ‘natural selection’ and within a short period of time we were left with 3 groups of students still keen on refining their work.

The exhibition staff of the museum were in constant contact and came to our campus to help critique the work.

Eventually the time came for the work to be transported to the museum and installed in preparation for the opening of the exhibition and on the opening night many invited guests arrived for the speeches and the ceremony to begin the show.

This had been a learning experience for my students. Working in their spare time and trying to assimilate their ideas, my advice and the advice from the museum staff had been difficult for them but now they could see their work fully resolved and presented so well in the museum I could see they were very proud of their work, I was very proud of them. 

Cultural Trip to Kyoto

In May this year I was fortunate to be able to return to Kyoto with a party of students. The students were studying on a cultural studies project named ‘Kyoto Reportage’ and which involved interviewing people to discover personal stories. Later these stories could be assembled to build a joint identity of Kyoto.

We spent 6 days in Kyoto and during this time we visited the wonderful Kyoto Saga University of Arts and familiar places such as Kyomizu-dera, Sangjusangen-do, Gion and Arashyama but fortunately our visit coincided with a local festival – Aoi Matsuri. (Ctd below)

This festival takes the form of a long parade of around 500 people, horses and bullocks pulling decorated carts. The participants wore traditional costumes and the parade moved slowly from the Old Imperial Palace to the Shimogamo Jinja (Shrine) where there was a break. During this break time there were demonstrations of galloping horses, various rituals and stalls had been set up serving freshly cooked food, all amongst the trees. After lunch the parade started moving again and walked slowly in the rain to the Kamigamo Jinja (Shrine). (Ctd below)

The festival has been held since the 6th Century and the key parts of the festival are the Aoi leaves (‘Hollyhock’ in English), which decorate the dresses, the carriages, the heads and other clothes of the participants. It is a solemn and graceful festival and is truly fascinating. Unbelievably some people have written about the festival, describing it as boring and uneventful, which to me betrays the preconceptions many people have towards festivals. Many people in today’s society expect noise, loud music, rushing about and chaos when they attend festivals.

Once again I had the good fortune to be able to spend some time in this city and I was so pleased to be able to witness the Aoi Matsuri festival, one of the three big festivals of the city (Aoi, Gion, Jidai).

The students had a wonderful time and made some very enlightening interviews, taking photographs of their subjects along with sound recordings in many cases. They were later able to construct some very interesting presentations that attempted to construct an identity of their interviewees (or their personal interpretation of the subject’s identity).