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Art What!: Tai Kwun opens two new exhibitions – ‘Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys’ and ‘INK CITY’


HONG KONG – Contemporary art space Tai Kwun has unveiled two brand new exhibitions running till August. The first of these, Portals, Stories and Other Journeys, is a group exhibition presented by Asia Art Archive (AAA) and curated by Michelle Wong. The exhibition takes the extensive personal archive of the late Hong Kong artist Ha Bik Chuen (1925–2009) as a starting point, exploring what this archive does in contributing to today’s art history and discourse and additionally inviting contemporary artists to respond to Ha’s archival and art practice with new commissions. 

Installation view of Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys, Tai Kwun Contemporary, 23 April – 1 Aug 2021 Photography: Kwan Sheung Chi

The late sculptor and printmaker, Ha Bik Chuen, left behind a vast personal archive—his “thinking studio”—of visual materials such as negatives, contact sheets, photo albums, as well as illustrated magazines and book collages. His documentation of over 2,500 exhibitions over a thirty-year period certainly records a crucial part of Hong Kong’s cultural and contemporary art history, and dispels the common misconception that Hong Kong does not have an art history.

Lam Wing Sze
A Shadow Play
Photography: Kwan Sheung Chi

Stemming from Ha’s archive, Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys features a series of “sets”, a carefully composed assemblage of images, objects, and stories. Blurring the line between artwork and archives and placing them on the same plane, the “sets” work together to create an environment where guests can experience portals into new surroundings and possibilities. Some “sets” are newly commissioned works, and present inquiries and interventions by artists. Other “sets” re-stage documents and historical objects in new contexts made possible by research into Ha’s archive. In a way, archives can be thought of as portals—gateways that lead us to places known or unknown, strange or commonplace. In this spirit, either through documented texts and objects or through new works, visitors are guided in this exhibition to explore our sense of scale, self, and history; juxtaposed together are different kinds of knowledge created through artistic, scholarly, and curatorial ways of engaging the archive.

Walid Raad
Untitled #79
Photography: Kwan Sheung Chi

The artworks on display for Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys take on a number of distinct forms, which includes a sofa with pre-stitched Tyvek and LED panel at its back that was designed to emulate an animal in primary colour fields. Other pieces on display include miniature collage landscapes which feature cut-outs of human figures, such as Ha on top of an art crate, flipbooks enlarged to human scale with seating furniture resembling those found inside the pages, sculptures, a series of screenings, and more. Commissioned artists taking part in the exhibition with their own artistic responses to Ha’s archive include Walid Raad (Beirut/New York), Kwan Sheung Chi (Hong Kong), Lam Wing Sze (Hong Kong), and Raqs Media Collective, comprised of artists Monica Narula, Jeebesh Bagchi and Shuddhabrata Sengupta (New Delhi). Additionally, Banu Cennetoğlu (Istanbul) proposes an artistic intervention—with talks and screenings, among others—that raises questions about the challenges and inadequacies of archives to recover and represent what is “lost”.

Kwan Sheung Chi
Iron Horse—After Antonio Mak
Photography: Kwan Sheung Chi

Tobias Berger, Head of Art at Tai Kwun commented, “Tai Kwun Contemporary is delighted to be partnering with Asia Art Archive in making this exhibition possible. Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys goes beyond the life archive of Ha Bik Chuen to invite Hong Kong and overseas contemporary artists to intervene with new works that allow us to imagine or reimagine the nature of narratives, memories, and archives.”

“In this respect, we value this collaboration with such a stalwart of the local art scene, Asia Art Archive, which has for twenty years devoted much time, resource, and talent to art historical archiving, research, and interpretation. We hope visitors can gain a great understanding of a key chapter in the history of visual art in Hong Kong but more importantly gain a sense of how the past affects the present and indeed the future. This connection of the historical and the contemporary resonates of course very much with Tai Kwun, as a Centre of Heritage and Arts.”

Installation view of Ink City, Tai Kwun Contemporary, 23 April – 1 Aug 2021
Photography: Kitmin Lee

Meanwhile, curated by Katherine Don and Tobias Berger, INK CITY sets out an expanded vision of ink art grounded in contemporary themes, featuring artists who explore the transformative power of art to shape ideas and awareness. The title of the exhibition is taken from Ink City, a video work by the late artist Chen Shaoxiong which is featured in the exhibition. A video of a day-long journey, the footage is composed of hundreds of ink wash observations that collectively convey a fleeting sensation of the frenetic urban transformation in the Mainland. In a similar way, the exhibition adopts a fragmentary approach in juxtaposing diverse artistic styles and visions of ink art, which are united in the artists’ passionate exploration of the power of art in shaping ideas and awareness.

From left: Sun Xun. Shock of Time. 2006
Video 5’29” Courtesy of the artist

Yang Jiechang.Massacre. 1982.
Ink and paper mounted on canvas
208 x 207 cm
Courtesy of the artist and C3 Collection
Photography: Kitmin Lee

With a selection of paintings, calligraphy, artists’ books, installations, and video works spanning over fifty years, INK CITY showcases the diverse perspectives of artists from different generations and backgrounds, artists who live in Hong Kong, in other provinces in the Mainland, as well as a few artists who now reside in Europe or North America. These artists are nevertheless united in their passionate exploration of contemporary subjects, revealing to viewers the many ways in which artists understand and interpret the world through the medium of ink, and in doing so, demonstrating the dynamism of ink art.

Frog King Kwok
Breathing, Living Being
Multimedia site-specific interactive installation Courtesy of the artist
Photography: Kitmin Lee

While recognising the legacy of the ink tradition, INK CITY focuses on selected artists who tackle present-day social issues relatively more overtly through ink art. The exhibition finds its starting point in Hong Kong and extends across the global Chinese diaspora; in many ways, Hong Kong offers an ideal vantage point for viewers to see the conceptual breadth of contemporary ink art, thanks to the city’s multifaceted heritage and its history of change and growth. Additionally, INK CITY revolves around issues encountered in dense cities such as Hong Kong. Some artists featured in INK CITY dive into complex urban problems such as environmental degradation and excessive material consumerism; other artists focus on feelings of isolation and personal struggles, while others tackle universal themes of gender, identity, desire, and fantasy.

Howie Tsui
Retainers of Anarchy
2018 – ongoing
Inkjet print on rice paper, in algorithmic animation Courtesy of the artist
Photography: Kitmin Lee

Katherine Don, curator of the exhibition, said: “INK CITY is conceived as an opportunity to present contemporary ink art by both established and emerging artists of the genre, with the exhibition curated through a narrative that is focused on cultivating social awareness and change.”

“Therefore, rather than exploring formalist themes of ink art and its materials, the exhibition focuses on social themes inspired, provoked, and articulated by the artists’ intentions. However broadly or narrowly defined, the artworks in this exhibition present examples of ink art free from the narrow confines of tradition and seek to engage with a wider public in the 20th and 21st century.”

Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys and INK CITY both run from 23rd April to 1st August 2021 at Tai Kwun. For more information, visit Tai Kwun’s website here

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