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Raising a Glass to Apocalypse Postponed: An Interview with Nadim Abbas
by Katherine Grube


Shanghai/Hong Kong, May 2014: Hong Kong-based artist Nadim Abbas has long created environments that explore the patterned and structural features of space. At ARTHK11 in 2011, Abbas created Marine Lover: A Hermatypic Romance, an intricate installation of wall-mounted white polyresin coral casts and backlights extending the length of a narrow corridor. Abbas returns to the Hong Kong fair in a scaled up and out manner with a commission for the nearly 300 square meter Absolut Art Bar. Apocalypse Postponed fuses Abbas’ architectural sensibilities with a recent interest in military themes and the idea of war. The Art Bar has been in the works for over a year, and ArtSlant sat down with Abbas weeks before the May 13 launch to discuss the project and its progress.


Nadim Abbas, Absolut at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2014, Apocalypse Postponed, an Art Bar Installation, Bespoke cocktails designed by the artist for Apocalypse Postponed; Photography courtesy Absolut


Katherine Grube: You’re now working in the physical Art Bar space in Soundwill Plaza II - Midtown in Causeway Bay. How are you holding up? What have been some of the bigger hurdles you’ve encountered since construction began?

Nadim Abbas: We’re still trying to overcome many of them. I’ve been working with a Hong Kong-based architect Sebastien Saint-Jean to develop the space and design. The space’s design has taken a lot of guises. From the beginning, I was very interested in the Atlantic Wall and Swiss bunker architecture built during World War II. We were thinking about a lot of things like, “what if we replicated a bunker in the space?” Sort of one-to-one, which would have been one kind of thing. It would have been like an artifact brought from somewhere else. Or, we thought we could engineer a space that was very specific to the site. All of these sort of different questions came up. The first example would be more like an artwork that you go and look at. In the end, we went for a customized idea where we incorporated the typology of the bunker into the site. The idea is that this is a very insulated space, so we blocked the windows but kept little slits that you can look out over everything, a bit like gun turrets. We decided that we had a fantastic view of Causeway Bay and that the first thing we were going to do was we were going to block that view [laughs]. This relationship between inside and outside is one of the defining characteristics of the space ambiently. It’s kind of a psychic vacuum I guess.

KG: A psychic vacuum encouraged perhaps by mild inebriation. What drinks have you created for the Art Bar?

NA: All the drinks are connected to some form of nourishment or an energy or vitamin supplement, and they come in very specific serving methods. One drink is served in a stainless steel bowl, a play on the Chinese term for iron rice bowl. Another one of the drinks, Black Dog, is served in a stainless steel mess tin and made from a Lapsang Souchong tea reduction, a Westerner’s Chinese tea. No one drinks it in China, but it’s a big thing in France. Using it was sort of like sacrilege, but it’s one of the only teas with a sort of distinctive, smoky flavor, much like whiskey. We developed the Black Dog from the idea that I wanted to have a caffeinated drink that gave you energy. It’s called Black Dog because of Winston Churchill, who was a manic depressive and used to call his depression his “black dog.” There are all these stories about how he liked to sit around smoking cigars and drinking whiskey sodas, so I thought this was a kind of acknowledgment.

Nadim Abbas, Absolut at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2014, Apocalypse Postponed, an Art Bar Installation, Bespoke cocktails designed by the artist for Apocalypse Postponed; Photography courtesy Absolut

 

KG: Probably a lot of that was also done in bunkers.

NA: Exactly. Wartime prime minister and all. Actually, the bartenders are going to be wearing tailor-made siren suits, a kind of military jumpsuit that Churchill really loved and wore all the time. The other drinks have a pharmaceutical bent. I was thinking about all of these technologies of consumption. One comes in a space bag and will be served exclusively at the second, non-preparation bar. The fourth drink features efflorescent calcium tablets that are dropped into the glass. You stir it with a pipette full of ginger juice. A real pharmaceutical application.

KG: Oh good. Everyone can get their daily dose of calcium.

NA: Right. You could have a calcium overdose. Actually, I was a bit worried that there would be issues with calcium and vitamin D tablets because there are issues with the vitamin C version. Basically, if you take too much vitamin C, you get the shits. I was worried that there was an equivalent here. I don’t want a lot of people with the shits, although it would be a bit like that Yves Klein prank that he pulled at one of his Blue paintings openings. He was serving all of the gallery goers cocktails that made them piss blue when they woke up the next morning.

KG: It certainly would have been unforgettable. You mentioned previously that the soundscape and performances are a critical part of the space.

NA: I’ve commissioned a composition from a local musician, Steve Hui, who is also a regular collaborator. I used to play in a band with him actually.

KG: The band is no more?

NA: I think it is no more. We never officially ended but we haven’t played for a long time. Steve Hui is doing an ambient soundscape that will be embedded in the space and played at regular intervals. The soundscape will also include improvised performances. You’ll have a guitar player in one corner and a violin player in the other and they’ll be responding to the space. I don’t know if it’s going to work because technically it’s a bit complicated. If it doesn’t work, we’ll just move everyone back to the stage [laughs]. Since I have the opportunity, I thought I should just have a go at this. There are a few controlled unknowns—or known unknowns—that we need to work out as they happen, but I think that makes it ultimately more interesting. The performances give an extra ambiance to the space and really color the space every night. Every night there is a different theme, emotion or affect. One of the really big acts which I’m really happy about is Silver Apples, one of the pioneers of electronic music. He is flying over from Florida from some airport I’ve never even heard of: Pensacola.

KG: From the Florida Panhandle to Hong Kong… What else has provided inspiration for the space?

NA: The rice weevil is sort of a mascot for this project. I’ve been growing rice weevils on my balcony. I was actually going to use real weevils in the beginning. I was going to have them in the cocktails.

Nadim Abbas, Afternoon in Utopia, 2012, Mixed media installation: sand, concrete, pigment prints, painted wall text, red tinted lighting, Dimensions variable, sandscape coverage approx. 46 sq/m; Courtesy of the artist

 

KG: And then?

NA: Winter came along and they all died. I couldn’t grow the hundreds of thousands that I needed for this project, so instead I went the image route. I’ve been taking close up photos of weevils and developing them into graphics which will be on the sandbags. I have also commissioned several animations from a local artists, Wong Ping, which will be shown on television screens in this sort of lounge area. He has created figurative animations that take the theme of weevils and apply it to animated characters. I was thinking about the hoarding of rice in extreme conditions and how little ecologies start to grow out of extreme situations.


Apocalypse Postponed will run in Soundwill Plaza II - Midtown, Hong Kong, May 13-17.


Katherine Grube

 

ArtSlant would like to thank Nadim Abbas for his assistance in making this interview possible.

 

NOTE: This article has been updated to correct an error in the description of the size of the Absolut Art Bar.





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