Thursday, November 12, 2015

Kent Foran - Photographer

I was recently looking at the work of photographer Kent Foran and felt provoked to put a mention here in the hope that others would also appreciate his work.

Kent works at the Hong Kong Design Institute in the English Language Department but away from the HKDI campus Kent is prolific photographer. 

People often discuss the relative merits of photographers and what may be the reason for the success of their work. For me it is quite simple. It has nothing to do with the equipment being used or how expensive the camera. It is not even due to the education of the individual, although it can steer someone in the general, correct direction. For me it is quite simply having an eye for an image. We may call it the 'Decisive moment' as Cartier-Bresson did, or describe how someone is good at composition. The fact remains that when an artist creates a work, many elements come together to form a powerful resolution, an equilibrium of qualities that is difficult to describe in detail. In fact to do so would be similar to dissecting a beautiful and noble animal in order to understand what makes it so. 

Kent, for me, has a terrific 'eye'. His work speaks for itself, so please visit his website and  you see what I mean.

Leonardo Drew at Pearl Lam Gallery, Hong Kong.

As I  entered the Pedder Building in Central on my way to visit the exhibition 1,000 islands at the Simon Lee gallery I saw a sign advertising another gallery opening, this time upstairs at the Pearl Lam Gallery. The exhibition was the first display of work by Leonardo Drew in Asia and was a wonderful surprise for me.
For the last few months I had been enjoying videos of his work on and poring over images on internet search engines, thoroughly enjoying Leonardo's work. So, completely out of the blue I was able to see them up close and finally appreciate what it is that he does.

Apparently inspired by a city dump that surrounded his childhood home, Leonardo Drew carefully and systematically constructs chaos from material that he 'ages' and 'distresses' in order to instil his works with an atmosphere of haphazard juxtaposition that overlies careful and considered logic.

As a sculptor myself I could sense the enjoyment that he takes in the transformational process that creates the work. From the way that one component section leads onto the next (citing Mondrian as a reference), or how one material leads us into the neighbouring material, it's possible to follow his train of thought and the way the work has lead the creator in it's urge to be born. The works are organic in form and it is as if the works have grown naturally, with Leonardo providing the help and assistance that the work demanded.

A wonderful exhibition.

Number 18C

Number 18C - Detail

Number 19C

Number 20C

Number 11C

Number 11C - Detail

Number 21C

Number 21C - Detail

Number 18C - Detail

Number 9C - Detail

Number 9C - Detail

Number 9C - Detail

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Nam June Paik: The Late Style - Gagosian Hong Kong

It is a well-known fact that one of the most important and rewarding aspects of sensual pleasure is the anticipation. In full knowledge of this on the evening I arrived at the Gagosian Gallery in Central to see the first exhibition in Hong Kong of the work of Nam June Paik, I deliberately delayed entering the exhibition space by accepting a glass of champagne and calmly reading the press releases in the reception area. After around 15 minutes and suitably primed I then decided it was time to see the work.

I first became aware of Paik’s work in 1977/78 during the foundation course I attended at Jacob Kramer College of Art in the UK (now renamed Leeds College of Art) but I hadn’t had the opportunity of experiencing much of his work since that time so this was a genuine pleasure for me.

As it states in the gallery’s press release Paik’s work represents a ‘lifelong exploration of the role of technology in culture’ and Gagosian’s exhibition of Paik’s work illustrated this perfectly.  Sometimes playful or comical, sometimes critical, displaying a subjective personal view one minute and then becoming almost cynically objective the next Paik explores mankind’s experience of life that has today become inseparable from communicative media and the technology that allows the universal spread of information, whether useful or not.

There were so many highlights in the show but if I had to select one for comment it would have to be Golden Buddha, 2005. A gilded bronze Buddha sits serenely on a white platform as if intently watching a colour television set that broadcasts the image of the Buddha’s own head by means of the Closed-circuit video camera positioned directly above the TV screen. The video camera focuses tightly on the Buddha’s face. It feels too close. We can see nothing on the screen apart from the face of the Buddha, is it a fragment of a Buddha?, is it whole Buddha?, the location is a mystery, the context is totally lost.

Is this Paik’s commentary on the way the media distorts reality, or on the way it selects which parts of the real story it will relay to the viewer? When we appreciate another culture, we attempt to be respectful, we are careful not to offend by misreading culturally embedded symbols and yet in this piece of work by Paik, the camera doesn’t record what the gallery viewer sees, it ignores the entirety of the scene and selects only the face to zoom in on.

Is this Paik’s intention? Maybe it is, maybe not.  As an artist myself I feel the most important function of an artwork is to throw out these questions. For me this is one of, and probably the main function of a work of art: to ask questions. I came away from this exhibition thinking about these subjects, all provoked by Paik’s work. Unfortunately Paik may have left us but his work is still very much alive and it continues to ask questions of us all.

Golden Buddha, 2005

Bakelite Robot, 2002

359 Canal Street, 1991

Chinese Memory, 2005

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Disappearance of Urban Comfort - Ming Pao Weekly, Hong Kong

Following an opportunity presented to me by my friend John Batten, local art critic (see:, I was invited to write a short opinion piece for the weekly magazine section of the Hong Kong publisher Ming Pao.

I decided to write about something I have noticed happening in Hong Kong since my arrival here in 1993, namely the disappearance of the vernacular street buildings that featured open colonnaded walkways at street level that offered shelter from the sun and the rain. The open street-level arcades blurred the distinction between indoors and outdoors and displayed a consideration for the general public that is rapidly disappearing.

I enjoyed writing this article very much and I hope that I will have further opportunities in the future.
Here is the English Language version:

"I still have strong memories from my youth in Leeds, a city in northern England when, caught out in a rainstorm during a shopping trip (a frequent occurrence), I dodged into one of the Victorian arcades in the city centre that have since been combined into the ‘Victoria Quarter’ shopping district. Here it was possible to continue shopping or to take a cup of tea safe from the downpour. What a wonderful experience it was! The arcades were similar in appearance to the Burlington Arcade near to the Royal Academy in London, except that the shops were much more affordable.
In fact many cities in the West wisely built covered shopping arcades or colonnaded pavements, one notable example being the famous arcades in the Italian city of Bologna where there are around 40 kilometers (25 miles) of covered walkways in a variety of styles that allows pedestrians to reach every part of the city centre. In fact streets featuring continuous open arcades are expressions of the ancient Hellenistic city that was intended to improve urban comfort.
Many years later when I arrived in Hong Kong in May 1993, I discovered that the old buildings of Hong Kong had similar continuous open arcades providing a different type of covered shopping experience and one uniquely suited to the local climate. During those first few months in the city I learnt what Summer rain could be like in Hong Kong and how pleasant it was to walk the streets under the cover of the overhanging buildings that were supported at intervals by columns. This was a design perfectly in tune with the climate and culture of Hong Kong. Whether it was originally designed with this community-based concept in mind or not, that is what developed. This was surely providing the same kind of urban comfort that the classical Greeks of Athens also enjoyed. The covered walkways of Hong Kong provided shade from the blistering sun and shelter from the bouncing rain.
However, not so long after arriving I noticed that these old buildings were disappearing. One or two lucky examples were retained and reconverted into up-market bars and restaurants but many were demolished, and what was erected in their place? More often than not it was a modern, efficient, glass block tower that emphatically made a different kind of statement. The urban comfort was locked away safely inside and there was a very explicit separation between those on the inside and those outside. You are either inside enjoying the comfort, protection and cool air (or warmth in winter) or you are outside at the mercy of the elements.
This does not embody a community-based, humanist approach to urban design; it embodies the opposite: exclusion and separation. The traditional, vernacular street architecture presents a friendly face; the new vision seems decidedly mean in comparison.
These buildings also serve to represent the culture of the city. This culture is what draws visitors here, eager to wander around a city quite different from their own. What a terrible tragedy to erase this valuable characteristic.
As a footnote I have recently read of plans to remove the trams from Central, can this be true? These trams are just as much a part of Hong Kong’s unique culture as the vernacular architecture with the wonderful ‘corner buildings’, and yet they are also more than that. They are a viable mode of public transport. One journey on a tram will illustrate perfectly that they are not filled by tourists taking photographs (although that is certainly an attraction for them), they are full of local people shopping and/or travelling to or from work at a very affordable cost.
If this scheme has any truth to it, before long everything that has made Hong Kong unique will have been erased. Would the UK Government remove the red buses and black taxicabs from the streets of central London? Would the Italian Government remove the gondolas from the canals?
Surely this is one ill-advised ‘scheme too far’."

The published Chinese Language version was translated by MingPao staff.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Claudio Parmiggiani at the Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong

On entering the Simon Lee gallery I was greeted by two works of the renowned Italian artist Claudio Parmiggiani. The first, hanging on the wall directly opposite the entrance was a powerful image, like an eye staring back at me. It appeared to be a photograph of the Helix Nebula but as I approached closer it became apparent that a hole had been burned into the centre of the image. The flames had engulfed the entire 'pupil' of the image and the contrasting white background, seen through the hole, emphasised the damage. It was as though the intensity of the hot, fluorescent gases being expelled from the star caused the photographic image itself to combust.

The second work, occupying almost a third of the gallery, was comprised of a great pile of white rubble, classical heads heaped one on another blocking access to that part of the gallery. Parmiggiani's iconography was assembled in Italy during the radical 60s, when contemporary artists struggled with the suffocating presence of ancient Italian culture. Through a post-modern lens, Parmiggiani creates metaphysical poetry that borrows allegory and symbolism from the Catholic tradition. This work, Untitled (Senza Titolo) 2013-15, is enigmatic, De Chirico-like and great fun.

Senza Titolo, 2013-15

Second Student Graduation Show - June 2015

Unbelievably 2 years has passed and the second cohort of students were graduating from the Higher Diploma in Visual Arts programme at the Hong Kong Design Institute. This year our programme was assigned the 'Experience Centre' in a prominent position on the ground floor, but which contained a dominating lighting fixture, the remnants of a display originally designed for the Shanghai Expo.

Although the lighting fixture is quite striking, I found it to be a little too dominant and diverted a little too much attention away from the student work. However, the design of the exhibition tried to incorporate the lighting by directing the focus onto a large, oval display platform where some of the work was arranged.

On Friday 19th June was the HKDI 'Talent Show' opening, but the HD in Visual Arts & Culture 'Artist's Night' was held on Monday 22nd June. On this night we held an official opening, with speeches, dedications, gifts and short performances.

Once again it was rewarding for the teachers to see the students enjoying their moment to the full, hopefully starting their long journey in the visual arts field. These moments make it all worthwhile!
Congratulations to all!!

Panoramic photo courtesy of JJ Wu.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

NYKS - Galata, Istanbul

I discovered NYKS of Istanbul while watching an intriguing video on the Monocle website:  and by pure luck my paper on performance art was accepted at the Contempart'15 conference in Istanbul. I thought that NYKS products were lovely and resolved to go there if I got the chance, even though I knew I would only be in town for 2 days.
On the second day, after the city tour had finished I immediately made my way over to Galata and wandered the narrow streets looking for the tiny NYKS shop. The streets in Galata are quite steep but it didn't take me long to find their premises and I was so relieved to enter the shop and see their wonderful products first-hand. Making a choice was not easy but I was helped and advised by Deniz Yurtkuran, one of the owners (the other being Merve Tatari).
If I submit another paper to this conference again next year I will surely return to NYKS but in the meantime, I really wish they would establish a mail-order service!
If you find yourself in Istanbul, don't miss it!

Photos courtesy of

Sunday, June 14, 2015

CONTEMPART '15 - Contemporary Art Conference, Istanbul

On Monday 8th June, 2015 I caught a train on the new Marmary section of the local Mass Transit Railway from Serkeci under the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul. From the station at Kadikoy (close to the ferry pier) it was a short walk through the local streets to the Nazim Hikmet Cultural Centre (established in an old renovated Armenian School) where I attended the CONTEMPART '15 Contemporary Art Conference.
This modest Cultural Centre became the focus of a series of presentations by artists, researchers and creators from around the world. I found myself in the midst of participants from Australia, Canada, South Africa, China, Mexico, Columbia, Portugal, Singapore, Germany, Taiwan, the UK and of course I traveled from Hong Kong.
The range of session focuses was wide: Architecture and Contemporary Arts, Art and Technology, Cinematographic Arts and Identity, Place Medium and Art, Ways of Artistic Production, Urban Space and Contemporary Arts, Performance and Contemporary Art - we pretty much covered everything!

I chaired one of the first parallel sessions and enjoyed stimulating presentations by Jorge Lopera of EAFIT University in Columbia, Mengbi Li of the University of New South Wales in Australia, Jennifer Lade of RMIT, Melbourne, Australia and Antonio Gorgel Pinto of Portugal.

Following a nice lunch we began the afternoon sessions and at around 3:30pm it was my turn to present. I related my experience constructing a performance piece and included descriptions of references, methods, theories, research and the practical experience of realising the performance in the hot summer of Hong Kong. I believe my work was well received despite not being as academic as some others and I subsequently held thought provoking discussions with other participants about performance and experience.
Also presenting in my session were Izabela Pluta of the University of New South Wales Art and Design, Sydney, Australia, and Lenka Novakova of Concordia University, Canada.
In the earlier afternoon session I had listened to the presentation of Peter Burke of RMIT, Melbourne, Australia who gave a very interesting summary of his practice and I was very impressed with his energy and creative passion for participatory art.

There were two keynote presentations, Lawrence M. Kaye talked about 'Art Law and Contemporary Issues', relating interesting stories of law suits involving artists and works of art, and Ludovic Bernhardt - a French artist living and working in Istanbul who introduced his work and experiences being an artist in this city.

The day passed incredibly quickly and the following day I joined a walking tour of the city during which we visitied the Hippodrome, Hagia Sophia, The Blue Mosque, The Grand Bazaar and the Hagia Irene Church outside the city walls.

I must thank Hande Dirim and everyone else who helped organise the conference and I wish them well for the future. The question that popped into my head on the flight home was 'Will I return next year?'...I'm very tempted!

Nazim Hikmet Cultural Centre

Cultural Centre Interior

Cultural Centre Outdoor Dining Terrace

Galata Tower

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia Interior

After the conference with Peter Burke and Jennifer Lade

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Artist Sharing Session at YY9 Gallery

On Saturday 28th March I joined an artist sharing session at the YY9 Gallery which coincided with the 10th Anniversary Exhibition.
A small but enthusiastic group of participants attended including Movana Chen, Norman de Brackinghe, Galen Tse, Chan Sai Lok, Faan Cyran, Francis Yu, Keith Wong and Ling Lai.

We discussed topics such as the examples of our work in the current exhibition, the recent experience of ArtBasel / Art Central, artist's contracts with galleries, art education and other related subjects.
A nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

March Art Madness in Hong Kong

Due to ArtBasel and its rival(?) ArtCentral being held in March, many groups and galleries shifted their plans to coincide thereby creating an overload of events and shows that was almost impossible for people to keep up with.
Instead of spacing out events throughout the year that would allow many more people to attend, especially the smaller events, the clustering together of everything in March meant that most people had to choose and so many galleries and lesser-known events lost out. It was done for 'commercial reasons' I was told and yet I wondered how much commercial sense it made if you immediately rule out a large percentage of your possible audience?

I actually missed ArtBasel this year as I had a ticket for the only free time-slot I had (Tuesday afternoon) but late on Tuesday morning I had an urgent document to work on that kept me stuck at my desk until it was too late.

The previous Saturday I had visited ArtCentral and came away with less enthusiasm than I had arrived with. In my opinion these Art Fairs are not for viewers, they are for galleries and are essentially trade fairs. I entered the large white tent feeling enthusiastic and eager to see the work. However, by the time I had wandered around the many booths seeing similar work by the same artists that I had seen for the last few years, along with new work that was reminiscent of work I had seen before yet presented as though it was unique and ground-breaking (why does it always have to be 'unique and ground-breaking?), I finally arrived at the exit and felt glad to be leaving. The one breathe of fresh air was in the 'Flowers' booth where I saw an Eduardo Paolozzi sculpture. The bronze maquette was a study for the 'London to Paris' sculpture on view at the CASS Sculpture Foundation in West Sussex, UK. I liked the way he had reversed a familiar process - often artists make maquettes from wood, clay or other 'temporary' material before casting the final version in bronze. Paolozzi on the other hand had made his maquette from bronze and then made the final version from wood!

Before I experienced this exhausting and disappointing tour of Art Central, I had visited the Pedder building, a short walk away in Central. Here I saw two exhibitions that couldn't have provided a better contrast. First in Ben Brown I saw Simon Birch's latest show of paintings. It was refreshing to see an artist working diligently to perfect his craft and the intimate exhibition space allowed me to become lost in Simon's world, the figures dancing and floating around me as I toured the show.

Next door, just along the corridor is the Simon Lee Gallery. Here I saw an installation by the Arte Povera master Michelangelo Pistoletto. He had clad the small gallery with large mirrors onto which there were fixed photographic images of the same woman, repeated in different poses. The reflections criss-crossed the room creating the illusion of a labyrinth of rooms joined by rectangular doorways. I became a second figure and I was also multiplied within the labyrinth, engaging in an interactive relationship with the woman, almost a kind of dance. After a few minutes another group of visitors arrived and I was lost in the crowd, in the multitude of reflected images. The work changed totally as people came and went.
This is how art should be seen, each gallery had used the space perfectly to show the work to its best advantage. I left Central full of positive energy and began walking towards Art Central...if only I had planned my day's itinerary in reverse!

Simon Birch at Ben Brown

Michelangelo Pistoletto at Simon Lee Gallery

'London to Paris' by Eduardo Paolozzi

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Yoshitomo Nara at Hong Kong Asia Society

On the evening of 6th March I attended an even that featured a talk between the Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara and curator Fumio Nanjo at Hong Kong's Asia Society, close to the British Council / Consulate Building in Admiralty.
The talk was arranged to coincide with Nara's exhibition at the Asia Society 'Life is only one' (he also has another exhibition running at the Pace Gallery).

The press release for the talk stated that Nara and Nanjo would discuss the curatorial approach of the exhibition and about how the works in the exhibition were chosen.
However, the talk seemed to take a different direction. Nara showed photographic slides of his frequent trips overseas and he narrated these journeys in a matter-of-fact way. He often seemed to wonder why people were interested in his photos but he was encouraged to keep showing them by Nanjo. The informality and meandering nature of the talk allowed the audience to gain an introduction to Nara's personality.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the talk was when Nara showed photos taken at intervals during his personal painting process. He seemed to begin by covering the surface of the painting with large vividly-coloured circles that he then overplayed with lighter layers of paint. The circles can be seen beneath the outer layers of paint, in some of his works they can easily be seen, in others less so.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hide and Seek at Home

I was invited to join a group show in March by a fellow classmate from the days I was studying for my MFA and it was timed to coincide with the annual Fotanian open studios.
This year every  art event (including Fotanian) seemed to have been moved to March due to the annual ArtBasel Hong Kong which meant that there were far too many events and people had to choose which ones to see. Subsequently many events didn't get the audience they deserved due to the short-sighted nature of the planning. The month was nicknamed 'March madness' and this perfectly described the decision to squeeze 3 months worth of events into a single month.

The unit in which the exhibition would take place had been decorated as a home-style office and so we decided to make use of this unusual environment. The artworks were to be 'hidden' around the 'apartment' and the audience would need to search to find the artworks. I decided to hide my drawings in the base of a fold-down bed and the audience would first need to discover the 'secret' panel that enabled them to open the bed ad finally discover the drawings. As it turned out, the rest of the artworks were not really well hidden at all and I began to wonder if I had made a mistake by following our initial idea so closely when everyone else didn't really hide the work...would the audience actually find my work when everything else was on display and easy to find?

Luckily the audience were curious and members of our group taking turns to be on duty at the exhibition space dropped useful hints.
The Facebook page set up to coincide with the show also allowed us to post photographs that explained where the artworks were located.

I was pleased that two of my students had works in the show: Bernice Yu and Sharon Choi. It's nice to be able to share an event with the students I am teaching, this experience is part of the learning process for them and also for me.

Due to the increased interest, it was decided to extend the show longer than the official Fotanian open studio event.

Follow this link for a blogger's review:

My 'Excavation Drawings'

'Self-Portrait' by Miss Elephant

'Live Long and Prosper' by Alvina Lee

'Mutualism' by Shek Chun-Yin

'The Sunshine in the Rain' by Bernice Yu

'The Dressing Room' by Marsha Roddy