Recalling The Present
Recalling the Present, which is the title of this exhibition, is a self-contradictory argument. "The Present" implies "now", which is in the present tense; it belongs neither to the past nor to the future. But "recalling" is an act of recollecting those things happened in the past; the objects of this action must exist in the past. Therefore, "Recalling the Present" is self-contradictory as we regard the present as the past, confusing the two. It is obviously an illogical statement.
However, I named this exhibition Recalling the Present, blending these two different tenses together. I didn't intend to play with the usual conception of time, nor to bluff and bluster. On the contrary, this kind of confusion is simply what we can find in many artworks. Artists transformed their feelings of the present, like photography, turning the present into the past, turning this particular instant into some images or objects that can be recalled, and freezing memories and feelings for future contemplation and introspection.
These five exhibitors came from Hong Kong, Italy and Singapore. Their different backgrounds exert great influence over them, which we can easily find in their works. Ellen Pau was locally born and bred in Hong Kong. In her works, she honestly expressed her thoughts and feelings towards the political situation of Hong Kong, and towards homosexual love, a sensitive topic even in Hong Kong today. As part of the society, as an active pioneer of the cultural sector, in line with her desire to contribute to society, she strives to present her works of sincerity to all of us. Tam Wai Ping Lukas has been living in England for some years. His works sufficiently reflect the mode of thinking that he saw and learned from Western trends. Such mode also affected the way he associated people with places, and how he identified this association. All these are showing themselves in his works silently, without a trace while clearly visible. Bo Zheng is always a global citizen to me. When he speaks in his flawless English, I always forget he is a member of a minority race in China. But when we talked about the art sector and the political system of Hong Kong, I would suddenly realise that he had been living in Hong Kong for some years. He handled the problems faced by homosexual love in his works in a way as daring and expressive as when he dealt with his identity and environment. Living in Italy, the paradise of sunshine, fine food and beauties which is yearned by many people, Paolo Mascolini's works slightly reveal a sense of sadness, which is unmatched with the place he is living at. But with a closer look, we can see that his works simply expressed something that is common to every race and every region. How can those feelings and expressions towards one's environment be distinguished according to national boundaries? As in the title he set, there is no specific time and space, but only specific sentiment. I have known Yew Seng Heng for over a decade since 1993. Though living in two different places with our different lives to live, we are always connected in this communication-booming era. Our meeting in 2004 in Singapore not only refreshed my memory of his enthusiasm for artistic creation while he was in London but also granted me the chance to appreciate his creativity and cleverness. He always surprised us with his insights into the surroundings, so did the way he expressed them. It was just like hitting the nail on the head, not just being tied down by scrappy fondling.
It was in 1997 at the Hong Kong Art Centre that I first saw the works of Ellen Pau, when I had just come back to Hong Kong from England, without knowing much about Hong Kong art, let alone Hong Kong artists. But I did know one name, and that was Ellen Pau. Many large-scale, co-organized exhibitions around the world had shown the popularity of video art in Europe. But at that time, it was not as popular as other media in Hong Kong. Certainly, I was just being ignorant. When I knew Ellen and Videotage, I realised that they had been working hard on this for over a decade.
From her early individualism to her later criticism of politics and labelling, Ellen's works are always impressive. They are consistent with their different topics. Ellen clearly expressed her critical opinions and value judgments, especially in her discussions about identify. This is different from a majority that indulges in empty talks. But there is no less sensitivity hiding behind her criticism. It is said that the emotional expression of Chinese is just like a hot-water bottle: cold on the surface while boiling inside. If we just take a glance at Ellen's works, we will surely miss her fervent emotions. The longer we acquaint with each other, the clearer I see her impetuous side. Just like what her works do, she stands up to the powerful and the authority. Blending life with arts, her down-to-earth works are the testimonies of all these.
The works of Tam Wai Ping Lukas always remind me of the Taoist discussion about the two extremes: two seemingly opposite things being interdependent. We recognise light because of the existence of darkness. We discover substance because there is emptiness. This kind of two-way relationship goes on until equilibrium is achieved. Also, the Taoist concept of man being an integral part of nature teaches us about the bonding between human being and nature. We should care about our surroundings and our relationship with them while we pay attention to our own lives.
Lukas has made a most telling exposure of these relationships. It can already be seen from his early conceptual works. But now, his works are more mature and the ideas stronger. They are not only games of the mind. A good example is one of his public/installation artworks Temple (2005) at Taipei Xia Hai Temple of the City God, a plastic, helium temple floating above a real temple. He has put reality and simulation, past and present in the same place. However, we find these two extremes not contradictory but parallel to each other. The plastic temple made us re-think about the existence of the real temple and its relationship with society and culture. Also, it forced us to contemplate the materialisation and briefness of the current culture. Last but not least, we can also see the inseparable relationships among man, land and environment from Lukas's plastic temple.
Bo Zheng has a great interest in documentaries. Families and friends, society and individual are the usual topics to him. Language is a significant element in his works. Maybe we will find his works personal, without any direct relationship with society. But these seemingly trivial experiences are exactly the reflection of society.
Language and narration are important to Bo Zheng's works. For example, in his latest work, Family History Text Book (2005), the sitters expressed their feelings in the form of soliloquy, scattered with personal histories and social changes. Like being written on a plain white background, the complexity of their words and thoughts was similar to a delicate network. How could we say that these sitters were lonely and helpless, being trapped in an empty room? On the other hand, Bo Zheng's critical opinions are macro and detached, though not inhuman. The sitters trusted him whole-heartedly. They were not facing an impersonal camera, but someone that could express what they wanted to express. However, Bo Zheng did more than this. As he retold the narrations of the sitters with his own voice, he gave documentaries a new definition. It was no longer cold and objective. It was blended into life, sentimental and critical at the same time.
The works of Paolo Mascolini are not simply photographs. They have been scraped, washed and bleached, putting in feelings towards the objects. When these were done, what we saw in the photos were different from what we saw in reality. They had lost their original outlooks. These fake, idealised images were the products of the photographer's transformation of subjective presentations into objective receptions. Reality and illusion, present and past, the relationship between the two extremes are inseparable and interdependent.
Paolo has his own definition of reality. First of all, what he saw and what he felt in front of those sights in the photos, which no longer existed, were a kind of memory, the memory of the past. This is the essence of photography. The instance being photographed is transient. It goes in a blink and what remains is something already disappeared. Paolo confronted this memory and expressed his own idealised sympathy. We can see how he transferred this feeling into his works from those damaged, washed images. These feelings are more authentic than any substantial things and closer to the artist's feelings and experiences. Although his works have their roots in reality, they are more real than the real. The damaged images stand alone; the silent photos have a soft touch of sadness.
The works of Yew Seng Heng reflect his scepticism and criticism of the surrounding environment. His videos reveal his confrontation and compromise with the times. The elements of his works are concise and complete. Without using one extract word, they appropriately express the main theme. His reception of the present state is sensitive, unique and penetrative. He is able to make use of the transient chances to express those opinions that the others dare not express or are unable to express.
Heng's works also show the impacts of cultural shocks. His four years in England not only taught him arts but also brought him cultural shocks. The similarities and differences between cultures became the muse of his works. His grasp of the knowledge about art in life made him stand out among other artists and made his works transcend the boundaries of regions and nationalities.
We can easily see how these five exhibitors feel about their surroundings. Experience is a significant element of art, whether it is explicit or implicit. The shocks that it brings to us are something that we cannot overlook.
Wai Kit Lam