The Hong Kong Biennial, a name many in the local are scene are loathe to voice, fortuitously changed its name recently to the Hong Kong Contemporary Art Biennial Awards, announcing its set of "winning" works from a pool of over two thousand works selected with much red tape and gnashing of teeth by a committee appointed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. The jurors for this year consisted of several notable mainland Chinese critics, specializing mostly in traditional painting, alongside cultural experts of the government department also responsible for public pool maintenance. Tellingly, few of the award winners are recognized or widely known members of the local art community, and, as it turns out, the new title appears to be a misnomer after all: traditional ink painting is actually the dominant aesthetic. Contemporary ink wash has been something of a hot topic in recent years, but none of that stylistic hodgepodge here: young painter Koon Wai-bong, for example, even titles his carbon copy compositions "Reworking the Classics" (2008) Others, like Alexis Ip Ka-wai, are recognized for straightforward documentary photography that records, unsurprisingly, disappearing street scenes across multiple images. Most egregious of all, video artist Hung Keung panders to the obvious predilection towards insular spiritual concepts with the multi-channel installation "Dao Gives Birth to One" (2009), which appears as a swirling mass of black ink that nods towards a range of concepts but ultimately demonstrates little more than proficiency in flocking animation.
Fortunately, a handful of passable projects offer relief. Kingsley Ng's "Record: Light From +22 16'14"+114 08'48"" (2008) is indeed one of the strongest multi-media installations to be showcased in recent years, translating the visual patterns of camera flashes from Victoria Peak into the concrete music of a spinning metal disc--although one might suspect this was selected at least in part for its tourist-friendly vision of the Hong Kong skyline. Equally compelling is the photographic series "Into Light" (2008) contributed by Ho Siu-name, depicting pedestrian underpasses as abstracted and elongated tunnels of pure light, bringing a touch of that otherwise insipid bureaucratic spirituality into composition rather than presenting it overly conceptually. Tang Kwok Hin, as has become typical, presents a theoretically-sophisticated project that certainly arouses interest but nevertheless fails to follow through visually, creating a collaged world out of Google image searches in his "Photo Book of Mu Mu Dao" (2009).
-- Robin Peckham
Images from top to bottom: Dao Gives Birth to One, Hung Keung+imhk lab, 2009; Scene of Hong Kong: Fa Yuen Street, Alexis Ip ka-wa, 2008; Light from +22 deg. 16'14"+114deg. 08'48", Kingsley Ng, 2008 ( All Images courtesy of Musuem and artists)