Pak Sheung Chuen, who represented Hong Kong at the last Venice Biennale in a well-received solo exhibition, has discovered an unlikely but shockingly effective method for dealing with the lack of institutional support for contemporary practice in Hong Kong. Invited to present a "response exhibition" at the Hong Kong Museum of Art in the wake of a similar project organized by his gallery, Vitamin Creative Space, at the Guangdong Museum of Art in Guangzhou, Pak was then informed that there would be no support available; from curatorial work to production fees, he was to execute the entire show on his own. Rather brilliantly, the artist responded with scathing institutional critique in the guise of community art. Installing a handful of works and archival pieces in the museum lobby, he has simultaneously avoided the tomblike and musty upstairs galleries and managed to locate his exhibition outside the paid area of the museum, completely open to the public. In order to take advantage of the massive floor-to-ceiling windows that run the length of the space and open onto unbeatably expansive views of Victoria Harbor, Pak places a few armchairs and a magazine rack facing the water, just below a large monitor replaying not video art, but rather public television clips related to his work and the Venice Biennale. To one side, a large chest of drawers contains framed and matted clippings from his work with Ming Pao, a daily newspaper for which he once contributed often hilarious but always family-friendly conceptual, textual, and graphic works on a regular basis. Similarly, a bank of almost a dozen smaller television monitors replay more clips about his practice: interviews, studio visits, and installation shots, most of which has previously aired on the major television stations in Hong Kong.
In terms of new work, a handful of low, round tables play host to a variety of goods, resembling nothing so much as the spoils of a trip to the local grocery store. Each pile is accompanied by a printed receipt with a few Chinese characters belonging to the names of products highlighted in crisp, straight lines, making reference to literary quotes, religious experiences, and political satire, among other things. These instances of incidental poetry are actually contributed by Pak Sheung Chuen's students, quoting the artist's earlier works like "Miracle of $132.30" (2003), which "miraculously" located a verse from the New Testament in the day's shopping. The works may not belong to Pak himself, but this educational lineage is certainly an element of his practice; their presence here seems to suggest an upsetting of the notion of completing yet another solo exhibition in celebration of his Venice project. This theme of museum detournement is continued and brought to a head with a number of dice in sizes varying from a half meter to a meter across, all covered in a fuzzy, bright material and emblazoned with linguistic characters (many of which would be illegible even to Chinese speakers from beyond Hong Kong). These words are derived from phrases critiquing the local government--always the subject of protest for its policies of mainland appeasement--and are intended to be rearranged by visitors and even photographed for posterity by a closed circuit camera system.
No matter that none of this would really stand up independently as contemporary art within a white cube space or in the pages of a serious scholarly catalogue; not every project by every artist should be called an exhibition, and this collection of crowd-pleasing political jokes, media archives, and lounge chairs certainly stretches the definition. It is, after all, largely wedged between an escalator and a revolving door, taking over a space that was never intended to see much activity. Pak Sheung Chuen has revitalized one of the many dead spaces that characterize Hong Kong's public art institutions, and he has done so both tastefully and rebelliously.
-- Robin Peckham
(Images courtesy of the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the artist.)