Arriving at the elegantly quiet, largely residential alleyway on which the storefront gallery is situated, the visitor is first cued into the conceptual strategies of the Will Kwan solo project by the presence of a set of flags hanging over the glass door of the space. Hung, in a previous installation, at a density of one flag per building, here the pieces are clustered together tightly, forcing the viewer to first look questioningly from across the street before approaching for closer examination, turning one’s head from side to side in order to distinguish the national and other identities signaled by these hanging objects. Ultimately, the viewer will find that these flags seem to be on fire, albeit in a very flat way: the artist has printed them on cloth by dredging up photographs of burning flags from stock sources for newsroom imaging, editing these original pictures into the appropriate angles and dimensions to produce the effect of a row of burning flags. This relationship to the materialized digital is highly engrossing, preparing the viewer in a rather dramatic way for the portion of the exhibition within the space.
( Will Kwan, Study for Flame Test, 2009; Courtesy of 2P Contemporary Art Gallery and the artist.)
Aside from a rather dryly humorous shot over the bow of Art Basel, the exhibition consists of two largely textual installations that function as intellectual reconstructions of the more physical riddle contained within the tightly packed flags over the gallery window. One would first encounter a set of clocks hung in neat rows over the bulk of one wall, synchronized and set to a handful of different time zones corresponding to a series of locations captioned on metallic plaques hung beneath each clock. The typical viewer, this writer included, will not recognize the majority of these sites; we are told that they represent the “shadowy” sites of the global capitalist system. This may be true, but neither proof nor explanation seems particularly forthcoming. Further into the space the viewer finds a single larger metal sheet engraved with a series of names, largely either British or Germanic in origin. Those with more worldly experience than myself explain that these are the names of some of the partners at the most powerful law firms in Hong Kong and beyond, but, for this viewer, the list remains an enigma. Kwan’s absorption in mapping the systems of global power is contagious; exiting the space, we take care to look over our shoulder and make sure that no one is following us. Left with an uncanny sense of being watched--and, more damningly, of being left out of something important--the exhibition imparts a lingering sense of paranoia. Well over a month later, I still cannot be certain of what is happening.
(Image at top: Will Kwan, Flame Test, 2009; Courtesy of 2P Contemporary Art Gallery and the artist.)