Navigating discursive vectors in Hong Kong art history

9 December 2021, 3:00:00 am

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Session Convenors

Dr Olivier Krischer, University of Sydney

Session Moderators

Professor Carolyn Cartier, University of Technology Sydney

Session Speakers

Dr Shuxia Chen, University of Sydney and University of NSW
Dr LI Yu-Chieh, Lingnan University, Hong Kong
Genevieve Trail, University of Melbourne
Dr Olivier Krischer, University of Sydney

Histories of art in Hong Kong confront the basic challenge of describing the political status of the territory due to its complex experience of coloniality and atypical ‘post-coloniality’. Long a place of refuge and passage, Hong Kong has historically projected a cultural identity that frustrates even pluralising frameworks that would claim it as hybrid or syncretic, decolonised, postcolonial or simply global. While its apparent flux has privileged a discourse of ‘disappearance’ (Abbas, 1997), this panel explores the discursive implications for art history in Hong Kong through a range of art practice. Rather than forming a new linear narrative, the papers gather a set of vectors, moving between the 1960s to the present, and between specific artistic practices and identities, listening to intentions as much as finding forms. Shuxia Chen considers Nancy Sheung’s salon photography of in the 1960s-70s, depicting subalterns and women in urban Hong Kong; Genevieve Trail explores art pedagogy and environmental interventions of the 1970s-80s; Yuchieh Li discusses the intermedia environment of art, theatre and new media through the late-1980s work of Choi Yan Chi; and Olivier Krischer considers two bodies of work by John Young and Wei Leng Tay, bridging the territory's historical ruptures, displacements and returns.

PAPER #1
Modern Pictorial or pictorial modern: Salon Photography in 1960s-1970s Hong Kong

PRESENTER
Dr Shuxia Chen, University of Sydney and University of NSW

The Hong Kong University Art Museum recently acquired a collection of photographs by the little known photographer Nancy Sheung, an active figure in Hong Kong’s salon photo scene of the 1960s-70s. This paper draws on the collection to revisit the practice of salon photography in Hong Kong. Despite her status as a social elite, Sheung offers a somewhat unfamiliar point of departure: a woman amateur, who ran her own building company, often photographing construction workers on building projects, as well as focusing on photographs of other women. Often overlooked or disregarded in art historical discourse due to its popular, ostensibly apolitical aesthetics, salon and pictorial photography practice in the postwar (non-Communist) Sinophone world has recently been reconsidered by some as, for example, an emergent local modernism (in Singapore) or as a part of a lyrical nationalist aesthetics (in Taiwan). This paper positions salon photography as a significant part of Hong Kong’s artistic ecology in 1960s and 70s. How might Sheung’s work complicate the art historical refrain of Hong Kong in this period as a “cultural desert”—a designation reflecting the canonical gaze of the colonial centre?

PAPER #2
Appearance and Disappearance: Yan Chi Choi and the Construction of Hong Kong Art

PRESENTER
Dr LI Yu-Chieh, Lingnan University, Hong Kong

This paper analyses the intermedia environment in Hong Kong in the late 1980s, in which Choi Yan Chi turned towards theatrical installation after 1989 with the "Drowned" series that narrates colonial histories in a tangible way. I will discuss how Choi opened up a space for self-healing and activism in 1988 and 1989, with two performative installations in collaboration with sound and performance artists, where the voices of audiences appear and disappear. Choi then shifted to sculptural displays that were nostalgic of Chinese modern histories and British colonialism--which form a transition from performative installation to to representations of Hong Kong art, particularly when displayed in countries with colonial contexts that resonates with the history of Hong Kong. This is the moment when the identity of Hong Kong art reappears.

PAPER #3
Pedagogy and Practice: Experimental Curriculum at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, 1977-1986

PRESENTER
Genevieve Trail, University of Melbourne

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Hong Kong Polytechnic University became the site of some of Hong Kong’s earliest environmental artworks. Pioneering these explorations were artists Frog King Kwok Mangho and Choi Yan Chi, both of whom taught in the University’s Design Department over this period. Working independently from each other, these artists utilised the context of the campus to explore the possibility of working into the environment; collaborating with their students on large-scale environmental installations and introducing them to material elements of light, air, space and sound. This paper will explore the juncture between the teaching activities of these two artists and their development towards the landscape as a possible site and resource for art making over the same period, highlighting the significance of art pedagogical structures and contexts to the development of contemporary art in Hong Kong.

PAPER #4
Aesthetic returns: the presence of Hong Kong in John Young’s '1967Dispersion' and Wei Leng Tay’s 'Abridge'

PRESENTER
Dr Olivier Krischer, University of Sydney

This paper discusses two bodies of work in which Hong Kong is the catalyst for forms of memory work. 1967Dispersion (2008) is a series of paintings by Hong Kong-born Australian artist John Young, juxtaposing colourful, ‘capitalist’ abstraction with newspaper images from the 1966-76 ‘riots’ and flooding, which prompted Young’s migration to Australia. This is the first of Young’s History Projects (2007-2019), which explore the imaging of historical trauma and transcultural solidarity. Singapore-based artist Tay Wei Leng’s recent project, Abridge (2021), explores similar issues of image, history, memory and place, through photography and video. Abridge began as interviews with southern Chinese migrants to Hong Kong, but faced with the dilemma of what and how to photograph, during the 2019 protests, Tay began to rephotograph slides and contact sheets made while living in Hong Kong between 1999-2015. Hong Kong’s art history has been theorised as emerging from a politics of ‘disappearance’, ‘decolonisation’, or ‘deterritorialisation’. Yet here Hong Kong assumes a generative presence, thwarting nostalgia through what might be called an aesthetic return. In what sense might these works “belong” to a Hong Kong art history, marked by the past and the presence of migrations and returns?

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Biographies

Dr Olivier Krischer, University of Sydney

Dr Olivier Krischer is a historian and curator whose research concerns art and social, political and environmental transformation in East Asia. He is an Honorary Associate in the University of Sydney Department of Art History and convenor of the Sydney Asian Art Series for the Power Institute. His book-length publications include: Shades of Green: Notes on China’s Eco-civilisation (2020, edited with Luigi Tomba), Zhang Peili: from Painting to Video (2019), and Asia Through Art and Anthropology: Cultural Translation Across Borders (Routledge, 2013, co-edited with F. Nakamura and M. Perkins).


Dr Shuxia Chen, University of Sydney and University of NSW

Dr Shuxia Chen is an art historian and curator of Asian art. Her research focuses on modern and contemporary Chinese photography, artist groups, and socialist and post-socialist visual culture. She is currently working on two book projects: A Home for Photography Learning: the Friday Salon, 1977-1980 (Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House, 2021), and Chinese Toggles: Culture in Miniature (Sydney: Power Publications, 2023). Shuxia is a curator at the Chau Chak Wing Museum, and a lecturer, Master of Curating and Cultural Leadership at the University of New South Wales's Art & Design.


Dr LI Yu-Chieh, Lingnan University, Hong Kong

Dr LI Yu-Chieh is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Visual Studies, Lingnan University. She was the Judith Neilson Postdoctoral Fellow in Contemporary Art at UNSW Art and Design (2018-2020), and an adjunct researcher at Tate Research Centre: Asia (2017-2018). She researches performance art in Asia, art historiography emerging from decolonial struggles, and socially engaged practices and curation resisting neoliberal globalization. She is co-editor of Visual Representations of the Cold War and Postcolonial Struggles: Art in East and Southeast Asia (Routledge, 2021), and is currently working on a book about the artistic autonomy of post-socialist China.


Genevieve Trail, University of Melbourne

Genevieve Trail is a doctoral candidate at The University of Melbourne. Her research is interested in the development of interdisciplinary performance, video and environmental art in Hong Kong from 1970-1989. She was the recent recipient of the Ursula Hoff Art History Scholarship, and has been published in journals including Currents, Di’van: A Journal of Accounts, Art + Australia, Art Monthly Australasia and Photofile.


Professor Carolyn Cartier, University of Technology Sydney

Carolyn Cartier is a professor of human geography and China studies and coordinator of the Global Studies undergraduate degree at the University of Technology Sydney. She is a Founding Fellow of the Centre for China in the World at the Australian National University and a past Fulbright Scholar in Hong Kong. Her work incorporates representations of the city in alternative art and perspectives in geographical thought to examine state territorial practices in the urban process. Her most recent writing on Hong Kong, "Among Greater Issues of the Day: Hong Kong in China, 2003-13," appears in Critical Inquiry.