Part of curator Cosmin Costinas’s drive to revitalize the institution that is Para/Site involves negotiating its diminutive physical space; his first exhibition, “Two thousand eleven,” actually compressed the floor plan, at least partially in an effort to demonstrate that exhibitions do not require expansive real estate. The second project in the program and the first of 2012, by contrast, seems to prove that exhibitions per se may not be all that the current situation in Hong Kong requires. Rather than staging a collection of works, Costinas and co-curator for the project Venus Lau have invited a program of some dozen guests to deliver lectures and presentations: one artist-cum-architect to create a pavilion within the storefront; and another dozen artists to place work in moving images and performative interventions at various times over the course of a single month.
The first of these three circuits involved two groups of speakers arranged over four weekend days, each one speaking first singly and then coming together in discussion panels to revisit a range of topics roughly brought together under the headings of “Forms of Criticism” and “Writing Recent (Urgent) Histories.” Curators Lee Weng Choy and Philip Tinari, for instance, delivered lectures on the meaning of time and specificity within their work, largely in terms of approaching the dynamics of distinctive art communities and in the institutional rewriting of history, respectively. Others drew lessons from political and social situations further from Hong Kong, both past and present, as with Galit Eilat’s report on her projects in Israel-Palestine and Miguel Lopez’s interpretation of state and public responses to the practice of Grupo Chaclacayo in Peru.
Remaining within the Para/Site space throughout the week and between discussions, Guangdong-based artist Zheng Guogu has designed a strikingly tomb-like white structure into which only one viewer is allowed at a time, sealing herself off in this being-machine like Absalon himself. There within loops a selection of videos either shot by or selected by a group of Hong Kong-based artists, who will present their editorial decisions at a final panel session on the closing date of the exhibition. Several additional performances and moments are said to take place during this last discussion. Finally, two further monitors hang on the walls of the space, looping except during the actual lecture sessions: in one, Mona Vatamanu and Florin Tudor document Romanian children setting fire to the highly combustible fuzzy seed carriers of poplar and willow trees, a somehow appropriately poetic gesture that is no doubt equally familiar to the other artist, Liu Chuang. Based in Beijing, here he films two cars of the same make and model traveling in perfect parallel at the minimum permitted speed limit.
The one question that seems to be raised regularly throughout the program, either on the formal conference panels or afterwards, during lengthy and lingering private discussions, regards its relevance to Hong Kong--not to suggest that it is irrelevant, but rather to accept that this latter half of the project, its implementation, must be somehow instigated from within. This “Hong Kong Spring,” in its very existence, suggests that something is being done to both counter and meet with the current reshaping of the city’s artistic landscape at the whim of larger commercial forces; one can only hope that such tentative gestures may soon translate into a galvanizing call to action, or perhaps reflection.
(Image on top right: Alfian bin Sa’at, Handwritten fragment of Alfian bin Sa’at's poem 'Singapore you are not my country'; Courtesy Para/Site Art Space)