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Art What!: Francis Alÿs and Mika Rottenberg’s first solo exhibitions in Hong Kong at Tai Kwun Contemporary (Hong Kong)

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HONG KONG – Tai Kwun Contemporary has announced two brand new exhibitions this October, marking the first solo exhibitions of Francis Alÿs and Mika Rottenberg’s at Tai Kwun Contemporary.

Curated by Tobias Berger, Tai Kwun Contemporary presents SNEEZE, a solo exhibition by Mika Rottenberg featuring immersive video installations about surreal alternative worlds of global everyday life. This is the first solo exhibition in Hong Kong by the artist. With an engaging yet rigorous artistic practice combining film, architectural installation and sculpture, Mika Rottenberg is fascinated by processes of labour and of technology as well as the effects of distance and the production of value in our contemporary world. Her works bring to the fore some of the absurdities in our global world.

SNEEZE presents four works (Sneeze, NoNoseKnows, Cosmic Generator, and Spaghetti Blockchain) by Argentine-Israeli artist Mika Rottenberg, whose practice focuses on material surfaces and transformations that are simultaneously stimulating and disturbing, bizarre and banal, beautiful and lethal, productive and also exploitative. More specifically, the artist seeks out locales and locations across the globe to cast a spotlight on specific systems of production, such as a pearl factory in the Mainland, or a Calexico border town—yet she does so in surreal ways. Referencing the traditions of both cinema and sculpture, the artist documents aspects of reality but also invents footage from studio-built sets in order to create elaborate and subversive visual narratives. By weaving fact and fiction together, she highlights the inherent beauty and absurdity of our contemporary existence, shedding light on connections, disconnections, and the complexity of exchange.

Meanwhile, Wet feet __ dry feet: borders and games gathers for the first time in Hong Kong important recent works by Francis Alÿs Mexico-based Belgium artist Francis Alÿs, one of the most influential conceptual artists of our time. Co-curated by Xue Tan (Tai Kwun Contemporary) and Sunjung Kim (President of Gwangju Biennial Foundation), and co-presented by Art Sonje Center, Seoul, this solo exhibition is structured around the artist’s interest in migration, borders, and his fascination with children’s games from around the world, and highlights Francis Alÿs’s poetic, imaginative sensibility, anchored by geopolitical concerns and individual will while being grounded in everyday life.

The title of the exhibition was the spark to Alÿs’s works in this exhibition: “Wet Feet, Dry Feet” refers to the US policy on Cuban refugees in 1995. Under this policy, Cuban migrants headed for the United States faced vastly different treatment depending on whether they were intercepted at sea or on land, on US soil. If intercepted at sea (“wet feet”), they would be repatriated back to Cuba; if intercepted on land (“dry feet”), they would be allowed to stay in the United States. For a Hong Kong audience, this might sound uncannily familiar: the “Touch Base” policy in 1970s Hong Kong meant that Mainland Chinese migrants would be sent back to the Mainland if intercepted at sea or in the New Territories; only if they reached south of Boundary Street—the formal boundary between Kowloon and the New Territories—were migrants allowed to stay legally in the territory (in the quirky British sports reference, “touch base”).

The connection between borders and games in Francis Alÿs’s artistic practice lies at the heart of the exhibition. After his quixotic attempt to connect Havana and Florida through lines of boats volunteered by fishing communities and private boat owners in Bridge/Puente (2006), the artist shifted his attention to the narrower Strait of Gibraltar, a waterway 13 km wide, with the imaginative impulse of connecting Northern Africa and Southern Europe with lines of fishing boats—which were later enacted metaphorically by groups of children departing from the shores with “shoe boats”, tiny boats made with babouches and flip-flop sandals. In a process that took two years of preparation, the artist evaded interference and interest from various parties, and filmed the final performance as a utopian endeavour. Presented alongside the video installation Don’t Cross the Bridge Before Getting to the River (2008) were over 50 paintings and many more drawings and notes drafted along the production of the project. While working with these children, Alÿs was reminded of his long-time observation of children at play, particularly their appropriation of public spaces for play and their strong sense of moving freely within “rules”.

His latest on-going project, Children’s Games (1999–present), consists of more than 20 documentary videos of children at play in various locations; some were filmed in countries that have suffered from ongoing war and conflicts, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other places such as Nepal, Jordan, Mexico, France, and Hong Kong—the last featuring two to three newly commissioned videos by Tai Kwun Contemporary. Without ever becoming directly involved, the artist documents children moving in their own ways and playing their games—games which also echo the rituals, symbols, insights, superstitions and events of the specific society, culture, and locality. Children’s Games is in the vein of his artistic practice—touching poetically on conceptual displacement and alluding lightly, whimsically on politics and social engagement. Viewers can observe a poignant sense of innocence and the redemptive power of play—universal and transcending conventions, boundaries, and borders.

SNEEZE by Mika Rottenberg runs from 24th October 2020 to February 2021. Wet feet __ dry feet: borders and games by Francis Alÿs runs from 28th October 2020 to February 2021. For more information, visit Tai Kwun’s website here

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