A general observation of works by contemporary Hong Kong visual artists shows that more attention has been paid to the discussion of the issues of local culture and city life, and less to the study of the mix/clash of Eastern and Western cultures. While Mr. Chang Tsong-zung's idea of "privacy" [1] may still be valid for describing recent developments in the local art scene, the use of the "Venice Biennale" as an exhibition platform has perhaps placed this very idea under the threat of "self-defined Orientalism" ?to be subsumed by the imagination of the "other". I believe that "the experience of the private" refers to the marginal status of Hong Kong artists amidst developments in art in China and the West. Moving beyond the dual centres of "East" and "West", these artists roam free in the space of marginality, travelling to and fro, in and out of art history (in particular the history of western painting) and cultural history (in particular that of the modernisation process of China). On the one hand I wish to hold on to that space of imagination and interpretation reserved for the audience; on the other hand, I would like to emphasize the unique state of mind of the artists. Therefore, instead of studying the situation in a theoretical framework, I choose to make use of the Japanese animation Neon Genesis Evangelion (abbrev. NGE ) [2] as an analogy to attempt to present a description of the recent developments in the local art scene.

Released in the late nineties, NGE was the turning point in the style of Japanese animation. It was regarded as the icon of Otaku culture. Its psychological profile of the main characters (EVA pilots), and the vague storyline and ending, made it an exemplar for animations that followed. Yet what I am trying is not to make hasty conclusions but to respond to the recent situation on the basis of an open imaginary space. This non-linear link with local works of the past is analogical to the back-tracking and manipulation of the Japanese animation history.

Local artists born in the 60s had not only passed through the economic boom of the 80s and 90s, they had also experienced the identity crisis related to the 1997 handover. While they were shaken by the issue of identity, their works were found to be more focused on personal issues and experiences. These works were illustrations of Chang Tsong-zung's "experience of privacy". Artists born in the 70s may have inherited their predecessors' "lack of mutually agreed language and values" and tend to focus on personal, and fragmented sensations and memories. [3] Their art has been inspired by personal experiences of life, and although Western in form, their works are motivated by concerns different than those of their Western counterpart. Postcolonial theorists often use the term "hybrid" to describe the local culture of Hong Kong. "Yuenyeung" ?? (Hong Kong style beverage that mix coffee and tea together) is precisely a manifestation of Hong Kong culture ?a harmonious mix of East and West on the outside, yet its core is neither East nor West. If these artists are part of postmodernist culture, they are identifiable by Fredric Jameson's cultural logic of "decentralisation": "[…] integrating the countless, trivial fragments of life into their cultural experience, turning these broken fragments into the basic ingredients of a postmodernist culture, making them an integral piece of the postmodernist experience." [4]

 

 

Youth Art in Hong Kong? the Shinji Ikari [5] behind the AT field

The work of artists who were born in the 70s speaks powerfully of personal interest, which is similar to the "AT field" [6] in NGE . When the work becomes a conduit linking artist and viewer, only those who are "in sync" with the artist's mind can "penetrate" into the work. Their (this generation) works are more oriented towards personal experiences of life than their predecessors. Although Lee Kit and Pak Sheung Chuen focus on vastly disparate issues in their works, both dwell on micro and detailed study of their personal experiences of leisure activities (e.g. outings, picnics, loitering). More importantly, they have different takes and understandings of the great expectations (to respond to the society through art) of their predecessors [7] ?just as the young EVA pilots in NGE are responsible for saving the Earth and yet at the same time are troubled by worry related to the process of personal growth and a sense of helplessness related to their responsibility. While it is inevitable that the young generation's attention is on personal growth and experience, their departure from the mainstream makes it difficult to appreciate their art, thus giving an impression that their style in creating art is purely for the expression of personal sentiment.

Outside the Centre

In comparing to the past when many artists had the experience to study abroad, young artists received local art education in general, and they grew up in the context of the local art scene. They are also different in that they are not indoctrinated through a horizontal transplant of western art but have obtained a mis/understanding of contemporary western art and culture from a distant and via advanced information technology. As a result they do not have a sense of imaginary veneration for the current developments in Western art, but rather look at it from afar and on the level of the horizon line. Meanwhile, the colonial education these young artists had received had taken out the developing modern Chinese culture and the everyday life of the local culture. As a result, they approach Chinese culture tends to focus on the "aspiration for the classical" rather than "inheriting the classical". Positing themselves outside the "dual-centres" of East and West, they have a fair grasp of the superficial characteristics of the two cultures. Yet, they may not have discovered or care about the core values. Rather, they "use" (or "manipulate") the two cultures with ease.

 What has been lacking in the history of Hong Kong art is a macro study organised and carried out by scholars. What are available are usually single-direction interpretation by official entity and piecemeal annotations by individuals. Similar to Neo-Tokyo [8] in NGE, which has a point of origin ( Tokyo ), the history of Hong Kong art has been separated from the axis of the history of Chinese contemporary art; it has been distanced and broken off from this axis, while continuing to grow outside of this 'centre'. Young artists are diverse in their choice of media, and topics of their focus are also disparate and without a centralised theme. Such a phenomenon is termed "hybrid" in post-colonial theory. The "Japanese current" [9] and American street -culture that permeate popular culture and consumption indicate that the "hybrid" aesthetics of the young has evolved from being bi-focal to multi-facet. If the "amalgamation of East and West" has been instrumental to the "ink movement", the works of new generation artists such as Leung Ka-yin and Cheung Mei-bo, which show Japanese manga characters and toys painted in Chinese brushstrokes ?choose, rather than examine or inherit, the differences of a marginalized culture. They have shifted their attention from our marginalized culture to the individual in the city and collective memories.

The Artists' "Excursion"

The artist is a restless creature, always longing to leave home in search for a utopia of art and truth. If Hong Kong art originates from the "diasporic culture" of south-bound artists from Guangzhou , and if the Hong Kong art scene is a borrowed utopia, the first "excursion" for local artists occurred in the 60s and 70s when local-born artists educated in Europe , US and Taiwan returned with their experiences of Western art. Faced with the craze for "New Ink Movement" in Hong Kong ?a blend of Chinese tradition and Western skills ?these returning artists brought to the scene installation art of the West and at the same time engaged in the process of establishing a cultural identity and characteristics of local art. Chinese and Western art forms grew side-by-side in this atmosphere, and the question about the mix-or-clash of the two was not resolved even in the 90s. As local economy boomed and cities expanded, the focus of artistic context shifted from the East-West binary to that of "city" and "individual". The exhibition "Magic at Street Level" focuses on how artists convey to viewers their observations of the city through personal choice and orientation. Young artists born in the 70s and active through the 90s grew up in an information age where television programmes and computers dominate their senses. Consumer culture and rapid pace of life helped shift their attention from social issues to personal choice and orientation. In NGE , Shinji as an EVA pilot is given the task (mission) of saving the earth ?this is what others expect of him. But he wanted to be an EVA pilot only because he was seeking a way out of personal dilemmas ?to make amends with his father, and to reacquaint himself with other people.

The individual in the City

Such a personal view of art was common among the young generation in developed Asian cities. Zhu Qi, the curator of the "New Asia, New City" exhibition [10], points out that young artists on the mainland and in Korea are estranged from tradition, and they tend to ponder and reflect on social issues from a personal standpoint. The 226 Project in Hong Kong and Pak Sheung Chuen's works are closely aligned with an individual's (artist's) life in the city and social issues. The form his art takes reflects his engagement with the issue or object in question ?a take that sets him apart from his predecessors, who tend to view society and life with impartiality and detached observation.

 Growing up in highly Westernized social and education backgrounds, and living a westernized (modernized) life amidst hazy local traditions, the new generation of home-grown Asian youths again set off on "excursions". They walk away from the social-individual polarity, leave behind the cultural conflicts of the marginal land, and set themselves free as "individuals" in the "city".

Art x Blog ?Creation is blogging, that is, unburdening

While art and blog (writings) can be considered one of the ways to reflect on or respond to social reality, the autonomy of personal expression [11] remains their core value. Blogs make use of virtual network as venues, and texts and graphics are carriers of individuals' consciousness; (visual) art is displayed in a demarcated (exhibition) space, with artistic language as the vehicle of transmission. Compared to the networked world, exhibition space seems even more detached from that of the everyday life ?they are only visited by those participating in art. On the other hand, the personal nature of the exhibits highlights the fact that creators and viewers belong to a 'small circle'. Only the popularity of Internet spared blog communities from turning into a 'small circle'. With the local art market being so undeveloped, we can say that visual artists and bloggers are both "amateur" professionals. This may echo what Edward Said has said about advantage of the drifting intellectuals, but unavoidably led to isolation. The pressure from life and the anxiety arising from everyday life in Hong Kong make art creation an amateur endeavour, that is, art as a "production activity" beside daily work. "Amateur" refers to the choice made by an individual regarding this type of activity, which is the exact opposite of daily work in terms of time, space and spirit. Thus when creation becomes "amateur", its inherent "private" nature is being implied. In terms of communication, both art creation and blogging are passive activities ?both await the click and the subsequent response. Although the accessibility of internet has made a vogue of homepages and blogs, and transformed the "virtual" world of networks into a safe zone where the individual can present his thoughts and opinions with the world, personalized contents and expressions have reduced the popular nature of the contents of blogs, making it less likely for 'small circle' to exchange with other communities. Works of Lau Hok-shing and Wong Wei-yin have displayed a distinctive personal style; their subjects convey a 'personal' or 'small circle' characteristic. This is precisely the result of upholding personal values ?or perhaps this is the fundamental drive of art creation. Lau focuses on the aesthetic value of poetic connections between objects, and, creating on the basis of personal expression, insists that by maintaining the literariness and poetics of the piece one maintains his values and aesthetic views. Wong's works are subjective, graphic replicas of daily objects. Though she stresses the tendencies to "demythologize" art creation and the art work , to integrate work into life thr ough graphical representations, the choice of the original object are tied to the context and the exhibition site. Du Cheung adopts "choice" as an aesthetic dev ice, which also reveals that in the modern society ideology is a consumption activity. The choice of the daily object is a reflection of personal preferences in consumption per se.

The repertoire of works and artists is rooted in personal history, and also addresses the present-day society. They cannot be grouped into any single category, and they are not without methodology and structure. The artist may be unable, or helpless, to intervene and change the course of History. In this context, the following excerpts quoted from writings by Yin Jinan on a group exhibition of youth artists held recently on the mainland [12], can be used as a reference:

On personal history:

"[…] to the new generation, the idea of life is mostly autobiographical. They resist pressure by being picky; they juxtapose boredom with the sublime. Naturally, they represent life in their proximity with handy techniques ?to experience the self is their utmost concern."

On present-day society:

"[…] their distance with life is zero. They don't embellish life, nor do they criticize society or engage in self-reflection. They simply flow out imagined images, moving them about in a game of poker."

 

 

 

Jeff Leung, graduated from Faculty of Fine Arts, The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2001 before working on exhibition administration and co-ordination. Now he is a freelance art curator and writer, focusing on the visual arts in Hong Kong.

 

 

 

 

1. C.F. Chang, Tsong-zung 'Private artists ?is art in Hong Kong underground?', in Wa Lap-keung & Cheng Si-man (eds) Private Spaces ?Public Viewing: Some Understandings of Hong Kong Art and Limited Confessions of Exhibition Records. Hong Kong: Fringe Festival, 1997. Page 84.
 
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion is a Japanese animated television series, begun in 1995, directed and written by Hideaki Anno, and produced by Gainax. It takes place in 2015, fifteen years after the catastrophic Second Impact, reportedly caused by a meteor strike, which wiped out half of Earth's population and tilted its axis. Just as humanity is finishing its recovery from this disaster, Tokyo-3, a militarized civilian city located on the last dry sections of Japan, began suffering attacks by strange monsters referred to as Angels. Conventional weapons are useless against the Angels, and the only known defense against them are the biomechanical mecha created by the paramilitary organisation NERV, the Evangelions (Evas). (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neon_Genesis_Evangelion)
 
3. Ho, Hing-ki 'Perceptions of the Self', in Magic at Street Level: the Chinese Hong Kong Exhibition of the 49th Venice Biennial. Hong Kong Arts Development Council, 2001. Page 54.
 
4. Jameson, Fredric, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1997. Page 425.
 
5. Joined NERV by the command of his father, who was also the leader of NERV, and became an EVA pilot. Doesn't communicate well with people, has low self-esteem, is introvert, given to self-deception, and mindful of the others' views. Thinks himself as cowardly and lowly. Often runs away from problems, disobeys orders, and becomes lost in thoughts during combat.
 
6. AT field, or Absolute Terror Field, is shown as a barrier that the Angels and EVA units can use to withstand almost all physical assault, and that which effectively reduces the harm of conventional weaponry. EVA units are valuable weapons against Angels because of their abilities to neutralize the AT fields of Angels. However, this ability is not unique to EVA units and angels; humans also have AT fields. AT fields separates one's identity from other egos and external reality and allow people discriminate between one another. According to Kaworu Nagisa, the AT field is "the barrier of the heart that everyone possesses". (http://www.answers.com/topic/neon-genesis-evangelion-glossary)
 
7. "I've heard a lot about similar arguments recently, particularly after the drastically lessened turnout for July 1st parade this year. Veteran social activists like Leung Kwok-hung, Wong On-yin, Leung Kam-cheung and Tao Kwun-heng have criticized the new organisers of the Civil Human Rights Front for their inexperience and unsuccessful strategies. On the other hand, I've heard Kim Pei-wei comparing the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Democratic Movements in China to the communists. Chan King-fei and Yip Po-lam are skeptical of the positions and views of the "elders", and make occasional cynical comments. For now, there is no easy answer as to whether those running in the front are unwilling to handover the torch, or those who are running behind are not ready to take it." Excerpted from Lai Kin-keung 'Would you still want to put the fire out?', in Hong Kong Economic Journal, July 18th, 2005.
 
8. "Neo-Tokyo-2" is the new capital of Japan in NGE. Build in Old Nagano, it replaces old Tokyo, which was leveled by bombs after the 2nd impact. The Japanese Government decided to build Tokyo-2, which functions fully as a capital. The government also had plans to replace Tokyo-2 with Neo-Tokyo-3, which served as a base of operations in the battle against "Angels". Later, the government moved the capital from Tokyo-2 to Tokyo-3. Neo Tokyo-3 was surrounded by weaponry of every kind and is stationed by EVA units to combat incoming Angels. A huge underground city lies beneath Neo Tokyo-3, and is the mirror image of Tokyo-3 on the ground.
 
9. Japanese pop culture entered Hong Kong in the 70s and 80s. TV dramas and pop songs first fascinated the Hong Kong public, then Japanese manga, soap operas, popular brands and sayings became the mainstay of youth culture in the 90s.
 
10. Zhu Qi as curator: "New Asia, New Cities, New Art ?Exhibition of Contemporary Art in Korea and China" (1997) (http://cn.cl2000.com/history/ninart/index.shtml)
 
11. "Blog" or "Weblog" is abbreviated from "Web log", and describes a specific way of web publishing and writing. It advocates the sharing and exchange of thoughts. Refer to Luo Ho-ling (2004) The Macmillan of the network age? an analysis of blogs. (http://www.twblog.net/archives/001118.html)
 
12. Yin Ji-nan: Game of Poker and Zero Distance. N12, China : Department of Oil Painting, Central Academy of Art.
 Please refer to http://www.aaa.org.hk/details.asp?id=5985 for more details on the show 'aWay' curated by the writer.
 
 
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Imprint

Author

LEUNG Chinfung Jeff, 梁展峰

Topic
Essays
Date
Thu, 1 Jun 2006