Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jonathan & Muragishi (but Not Exactly)

By June Yap

A photojournalist inadvertently captured while taking a shot himself, the heel of his trailing foot lifting as he leans in to document the arrest of a protestor(note 1). A Japanese housewife scratching her back innocently seized in the recording of a street scene for a publication about the Ota Ward region in the 1950s and 60s.(note 2) In these two moments both figures do not notice their having been caught within the photographic frame. Their faces obscured, they would otherwise be footnotes in mass media history, if not for their reification in the series He was lost yesterday and we found him today (2010), a collaborative work by Leung Chi Wo and Sara Wong. The re-enactment and re-photographing of these nameless figures by Leung and Wong, provides us with a paradoxical discovery and acknowledgement, that leaves us still ignorant of these overlooked subjects, but that at least sensitizes us to our lack. The act of memory and its nature that recurs in Leung’s practice — the process of its fading, the traces in recall, and the interminable search to grasp and retain experiences as they disappear into the past — are presented in poetic fragments within his works. 

Photojournalist With Two Cameras
The production of art discourse and history, and the use of the archive as material for production in art, are entangled in contemporary practice, where the effect of discursive and historical production, of a linked network of images (and other sensory experiences), are disassembled and re-summoned to produce alternative aesthetics and to reveal secondary histories, while incorporating the present into a presumed future history. The archive however, in all its attempts at comprehensive inclusion, nevertheless is beset with omission, and the history that purports to inform the archive is often found wanting, either inadvertently or deliberately. For a series of site-specific installations commissioned by Public Art Hong Kong, Leung filtered a list of names of artists, culled from random exhibition catalogues and invitation cards found in the Hong Kong Arts Centre and other institutions, through an internet search to single out those who had rarely been heard of in the past decade. Armed with this whittled down list, he approached artists, curators and gallerists to piece together their knowledge and memories of these figures and their practices. The resulting installation is presented in video interviews and images of these recollected artists upon the facade of the cultural centre, and is as much a recognition of these artists of the past, as it is a critique of institutional claims of the preservation of cultural production and memory. In many ways Leung’s process of assembly of historical material with narrative, or narrative fragment, appears to assume the form of what Hal Foster described as ‘archival art.’ Such artworks, Foster suggests, are “as much preproduction as post-production: concerned less with absolute origins than with obscure traces (perhaps ‘anarchival impulse’ is the more appropriate phrase)... (and) often drawn to unfulfilled beginnings or incomplete projects... that might offer points of departure again.”(note 3) The entangled concept of the archive and of history needs to be qualified in Leung’s works. The subjects within Leung’s ‘archive’ of exhibition materials (in the expanded notion that is the contemporary archive) are clearly of historical character, and to an extent his attempt at retrieval of the memories of the artistic community possibly contributes to a historical archive of these ‘mislaid’ artists. However, Leung’s attempt is not a historiographic one. Leung hints at this in his title, hesitating to ascribe certainty, repeating the phrase ‘but Not Exactly,’ though also as part his oblique critique in its failure to summon back these figures.(note 4) Rather Leung’s subject is the historical subject itself, and a reflection upon the sublimated practice of historicization within contemporary art (and its art world).

In this instance, he turns our attention to two figures well-known to the art world: Jonathan Napack (1967-2007) and Hiroaki Muragishi 村岸宏昭 (1984-2006). Napack was a correspondent for The Art Newspaper and an official representative of Art Basel. While fluently cosmopolitan, Napack’s reputation in his final years was most recognized within the Asian art scene, in particular his familiarity of contemporary Chinese art and amongst its artists. Muragishi was a self-taught musician and artist, who produced experimental music and multi-media He is vividly captured in Singaporean filmmaker Royston Tan’s short film, Monkeylove(note 5), dressed-up as a monkey searching for his heart that had been stolen by someone whom he had encountered by chance, and whom he only vaguely recalls. Both Napack and Muragishi passed away unexpectedly, and in Leung’s work they re-appear in a haunting aural presence. The 2013 installation, Jonathan & Muragishi, traces back to Leung’s earlier series entitled Domestica Invisibile, that began in 2004 on domestic spaces, its title is a play on the notion of sensual experience that is produced in the act of suggestion found in erotica. A photographic series with short narrative accompaniments about the adaptations one makes to one’s private space — such as in the customized use of objects and niches — provides intimate glimpses into the lives of others, that in turn reminds us of our own such idiosyncratic remodelling, producing a sense of titillating but uneasy self-consciousness and identification. At the same time, the series also demonstrates how such intimate spaces become infused with its inhabitant. Leung’s use of IKEA furniture as installation material (and titles) appears double-edged, its ubiquity both critique and eliciting common identification, but also in its pliability through Leung’s moulding by assembly, a certain uniqueness is actually wrought. In another work, Plymouth (2006), comprising of audio narratives also for the same series, Leung embeds Art Asia Pacific in 2007(note 6) and his profile of Chinese writer Mian Mian in the magazine Tin House (note 7), as well as the film by Tan starring Muragishi(note 8) — an invocation of presence that the moribund photographic representation (our contemporary vanitas) would not achieve. Leung’s use of sound in his interpretation of space emerges in earlier works related to the Domestica Invisibile series. In Open Home (2007)(note 9) — a sound installation of collated monologues of residents in Sapporo about their living spaces, and in Depot of Disappearance (2009) — about memories of the Viennese cultural centre ‘Depot’ (1994-2001), it is not merely the aggregation of voices (the aural archive) that is significant, but its playback. Duration that the presentation of the oral narrative requires, introduces an aspect of time and its passing, that in layering a certain poignancy, intensifies the narrative.
speakers into commonly found tableware. Besides their domestic function and feature, Leung’s use of these otherwise banal objects is of note, particularly in relation to Napack and Muragishi, in how these inanimate forms are then brought to life by the work’s aural aspect.

Jonathan-Bestå Tofta-Idyllisk-Pokal
The voices of Napack and Muragishi describe their personal spaces, and in the process transform an apparently ordinary account of spatial relationship — in part due to their absence — into a triangulation of the individuals as subject. Supplementing these self-conscious accounts are their contributions to the art world, and points to the traces they have left behind — Napack’s essay for Leung’s experiments with the aural presence of Napack and Muragishi began in 2011, with Voices Lapsed (2011), an installation of four armchairs with speakers embedded in their headrests. Viewers/listeners in this instance were brought into personal connection with the two figures whose voices would float unimpeded into their ears as they sat quite comfortably. With the added visual elements in this installation, the work may be read as commemorative of two individuals who have had significant impact in the cultural scene. Yet, unlike the earlier Domestica Invisibile series, it is more than subjective memory and the act of recall that is evoked. In Foster’s reflection on the archive, he suggests that archival art “proposes new orders of affective association,”(note 10) referring to relationships found in the assembly of archival elements, elaboration of the found, samplings, and associations among the “fragmentary and the fungible.”(note 11) While Leung’s ‘archival’ practice is not quite about the associations that Foster alludes to, herein is a significant character of Leung’s work and his practice. The fact is, Leung was neither personally close to Napack nor Muragishi. Their paths had crossed, their lives perhaps minutely changed in the process, and then they were gone. Brian Massumi describes ‘affect’ as ‘intensity,’ the rather elusive ‘propriocepted viscerality,’(note 12) being “a state of passional suspension”(note 13) that occurs before response or conscious recognition. Affect, or the experience of this intensity, is essentially of incipience, and it is here that Leung’s work operates. Undoubtedly in introducing Napack’s and Muragishi’s presence, one would either have the opportunity to ‘know’ or to remember them, an introduction that the act of ‘archive’ by object and sound facilitates. However it is the combination of these two in a (literally) ‘virtual’ and ‘synaesthetic’ form of assembled object and voice, that the intensity of these absent individuals is produced and experienced.(note 14) 

Memory may be the beginning of Leung’s works, but it in the unconscious process inherent in experiencing, remembering as well as forgetting, that their persuasiveness lie. In his treatise on forgetting, Paul Ricoeur reminds us of the relationship between remembrance and forgetting. Describing the latter, he underlines the significance of the “passive persistence of first impressions (where) an event has struck us, touched us, affected us, and the affective mark remains in our mind.”(note 15) It is not the comprehensiveness aspired by the archival process of accumulation, that we begin to know and remember one another. Instead it is intensity of the moment: of the lift of a foot, the curl of an arm, the tone of a voice, and a turn of phrase — and these are the coy yet luminous traces that Leung presents to us.
1. Archival image used in the newspaper article, ‘Return of the radicals,’ by Gary Cheung and Tanna Chong, in the South China Morning Post (10 January 2010)
2. Historical image in 1952-1967 Ota Ward, published by Santousya Publishing, Tokyo, 2008
3. Hal Foster, ‘An Archival Impulse,’ October, no. 110, Fall 2004, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, reprinted in The Archive, Charles Merewether (ed), London: Whitechapel and The MIT Press, 2006, p. 144
4. In 3-site specific installations in the Hong Kong Arts Centre, Untitled (Names to Recall Memory but Not Exactly/ Drawing from Memory but Not Exactly/ Words about Memories but Not Exactly) (2012) 
5. Monkeylove (2005), directed by Royston Tan, starring Royston Tan and Hiroaki Muragishi, Japanese with English subtitles, produced by Zhao Wei Films, in Royston’s Shorts, Asian Film Archive (2006)
6. Jonathan Napack, ‘Museum Fever Breaks Out in China,’ Art Asia Pacific, Issue No.56, Nov/Dec 2007, pp. 56-57
7. Jonathan Napack, ‘Cruel Cities: Interview with Mian Mian’, Tin House, Vol. 1, No. 3, Winter, 1999, pp. 15-25
8. Muragishi’s voice in Tan’s film is also sampled in the track Missing by Rennie Gomes in the album, Fade to Black (2006)
9. Open Home (2007) was presented at the private residence of Jaspar Lau Kin Wah, also known as mMK (mini-Museum von Kaspar), and highlights too Leung’s deliberate use of site in his sound works 10. Foster continues, “even as it also registers the difficult, at times absurdity of doing so.” Hal Foster, 2006, p. 145
11. Ibid., p. 143-144
12. Massumi, Brian, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, Durham & London: Duke University Press: 2002, p. 58-61
13. Brian Massumi, ‘Autonomy of Affect,’ Cultural Critique, No. 31, The Politics of Systems and Environments, Part II, Autumn, 1995, p. 92
14. Brian Massumi, 1995, p. 96
15. Paul Ricoeur, Memory, History, Forgetting, Kathleen Blamey & David Pellauer (trans.), Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 2004, p. 427

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Howard Chan (1964-2013)

It was such a shocking news yesterday that Hong Kong artist/curator Howard Chan passed away. In the 90s I got to know him in different art exhibitions but in the last ten years our paths did not cross much. But from time to time I noticed his activities involved with the Community Museum Project, indeed more internationally than locally. He had so much to offer to the diversity of the Hong Kong art scene and should be known to more people today. In 1998, I did a long interview with him, that might be the last time I had long conversation with him. This interview was for research purpose and has never been published. I would like to share it here. 藝術家專訪 一九九八年十月十一日 陳沛浩,男,三十四歲,從事藝術行政工作。其創作多以集體形式進行,並以K-Theory之名義發表。他沒有專用之工作室,家居或辦公室便是其創作空間。 陳沛浩雖然在中學時對美術科已有一定的興趣,卻沒有特意去發展,他坦言當時在這方面的表現亦並不突出,就算在升學方面,美術亦非必然的選擇,只可說是其中之可能性。在完成高等程度會考(High Level)課程,陳沛浩沒有考上大學,便嘗試報考當時理工學院的設計學系,然而沒有被取錄。之後他修讀高級程度(Advanced Level)會考課程,並考上當時城市理工學院,就讀工商管理,他不諱言這個選擇主要是基於對將來就業方面的實際考慮,興趣反為其次。 可是他在城市理工的學業成績並不理想,讀完兩年之後被勒令退學,未能把三年的課程完成。陳沛浩只得投身社會工作,但這接著的一年對他來說也不是容易;此外,雖然當時香港的就業機會不少,但他總覺需要把專上教育完成才能有更好的發展。一九八四年他報考當時的浸會學院並被取錄,修讀廣告及公共關係。 可是在課程開始之後,他卻發覺此非自己所喜歡的科目,但現在他會提醒自己必須好好的把學業完成,只是他發現自己對平面設計的興趣愈來愈大。畢業後,陳沛浩雖然沒有受過正式的平面設計訓練,卻決意投身這個行業,希望在工作中學習。 陳沛浩覺得工作環境對自己有著很大的影響,其事業的發展亦往往與此有關。他在設計行業工作了幾年,到了一九九二年《越界》雜誌的出現,卻為他帶來事業上的轉變。因為對《越界》的興趣,陳沛浩自薦為雜誌的平面設計師,剛巧他們需要人手,他便全職為《越界》工作。雖然只是工作了一年(《越界》的月刊時期),卻使他認識到當代藝術文化,接觸到不同的藝術工作者,促成他日後在藝術方面的發展。此外,他當時的上司李念慈在視覺元素方面的掌握,對他也有一定的影響。 九三年陳沛浩到香港理工大學設計學系任研究助理,他說研究是有關學生對視覺元素的感知,本身並不有趣,然而他很是欣賞在其工作環境裡與同事的相處,在短短的兩年裡與幾個志同道合的朋友有很深入的溝通,亦促成了創作組合K-Theory的成立。K-Theory最初的成員包括陳沛浩、黃啟裕(當時理工之助教)和連廣佳(理工攝影設計之畢業生),本是為了參與於九四年的當代香港藝術雙年展而成立。那年是雙年展首次明列增設裝置藝術組別,而他們正在探討集體創作的可能性,因為他們發覺這是以往在香港少有的。然而K-Theory並未入選雙年展,但在同年的第一屆香港裝置藝術節裡,他們就首次展出作品。 陳沛浩說K-Theory的創作形式基本上強調溝通和對藝術觀念的討論,而因為最初的成員都有相當的視覺方面的創作經驗,興趣亦相近,故在創作中從觀念發展到實在的視覺元素就頗為順利。又因為三位成員對影象都有相當的興趣,早階段的作品都有不少使用到攝影媒介,亦重視對視覺元素的鋪排。 K-Theory的第一件作品《安全距離》就是以十幅現成的影象,透過望遠鏡在畫廊的空間來觀看,他們嘗試探討的是在特定文化空間有關觀看的問題,當中涉及對物理距離和歷史距離的思考。而在裝置的過程中,他們亦發覺有關藝術作品展示的問題,原來其他藝術家都傾向把自己的作品展示得獨立於別的展品,而K-Theory把作品分散地穿插於整個展場,當介入其他作品的範圍時,卻引起一些藝術家異議。陳沛浩表示這雖然不是作品原本要表達的意念,但因為隨著過程的發展,他們最終透過裝置而挑戰了固有藝術空間的概念,並某程度上與其他作品產生互動,亦成為了作品的一部分。 陳沛浩表示K-Theory的創作其實並不執著於某些媒介,他相信「裝置」亦不應被看成一種類型藝術,他只覺得意念還是最重要的,為了表達得更理想,他們是可以不擇手段的。對於所謂展覽環境的考慮,他們亦較關注環境無形的社會、文化、歷史等意義,反而對現實的物理空間較少揣摩(九六年在「我哋嘅中國(香港版)」中的作品是少有較多考慮展出的物理環境,但陳沛浩覺得不很成功)。如在九五年的第二屆裝置藝術節裡,他們的作品《無上裝置》是嘗試質疑博物館對詮釋歷史的權威,他們虛構一段香港的歷史,然後製成展版和教育錦囊在藝穗會較輕鬆的環境展出,並任人挪取。但當這件作品在歌德學院的畫廊再次展出時,因為畫廊的空間漓漫著嚴肅的氣氛,為了針對這種權威的感覺,他們把原來很不嚴肅的作品欄起來,並播放宣稱這是藝術品的錄音。陳沛浩說這是他們對展覽空間轉換而構成不同詮釋的回應。 在理工的工作完結,陳沛浩轉到香港科技大學的藝術中心任節目統籌(Programme Organizer),主要負責執行統籌其上司榮念曾所策劃的活動。他說榮念曾對他實在有不小影響,主要在於對藝術建制的思考和態度;加上他自己一向不相信所謂高高在上的藝術(Art with captital “A”),對創作也不相信當中所謂的個性和主觀表現,所以K-Theory的創作議題也多集中於對博物館等集體文化建制中的政治思考。他補充謂這種創作取向,也跟自己的藝術行政工作有著密切的關係。 K-Theory在這階段的創作也更加理論性,與社會學背境的新成員鐘志良加入也有一些關係。然而因為要求更多理性的討論,陳沛浩覺得這時K-Theory成員之間的相處亦不容易,每次創作都必然有很多意見的分歧和長時間的爭辯。到了九七年,K-Theory的創作開始減少,成員之間的關係亦開始疏離。其上一個創作於九七年尾製作,參與的只有陳沛浩和後期加入的成員建築師鄧天齊,為一舞台裝置。陳沛浩說這算是K-Theory的另一階段,因為鄧的建築師背境,這時的創作又較多回到視覺元素的考慮,如何處理實在的展出環境亦為重要,當然,意念的表達始終是他們的首要課題。 因為對陳沛浩來說,創作是一理性的思考和分析活動,在實踐的過程裡,如物料的選擇主要視乎時間、技術和預算而定,而少有考慮主觀的偏好或品味。但他們有時候會因為實踐上的困難,而把原本的創作意念修改至可能的情況,這多牽涉技術層面。而他們在一般的展覽裡,只得很有限的經費,為了節省支出,多要自己親手製作,但這亦引起一些問題,因為成員中少有受過工業製造的訓練,當他們要求達到某些工業生產效果時,也許會出現一些不必要的手作痕跡。陳沛浩說他往往希望作品看來像工業產品多於傳統的藝術作品,如可能的話,他喜歡作品有讓人「不經人手製作」的感覺。 對於K-Theory的作品,陳沛浩自言對早期所創作的較為滿意,如首件作品《安全距離》,因為當時成員之間的緊密交流,令創作過程非常流暢;之後的《無上裝置》的合作也很順利,而作品在意念上之組織亦令他感到完整。至於陳沛浩個人所喜歡的藝術家,有Rebecca Horn,他說喜歡其想象力及作品中的詩意;另一方面,他欣賞藝術家對創作環境的反省,並關心當中的文化政治,如美國建築師/藝術家Diller + Scofidio的建築空間和動力裝置,常見他們對常民空間的關心,而General Idea經常批判藝術建制的概念性作品,也是陳沛浩所喜歡的。 不久前陳沛浩辭去了在科技大學的工作,一方面是覺得在那裡幹了四年,個人才能已有一定的發揮,不想再重覆下去;另一方面,他將全職營運新成立的非牟利藝術機構1a空間(他也是決策的委員之一)。對於自己的藝術行政工作,陳沛浩是感到滿意的,他覺得當中也要有一定的創作力,事實上,他並不認為只有藝術家製造藝術品才是創作。他亦覺得藝術工作者不應把自己在社會中的角色邊沿化,因為藝術生活只是眾多生活方式的其中之一,並不是必然地困難的。 而他眼見現時香港的藝術作品,未能完全融入社會,總讓他感到過濃波希米亞色彩。但他認為藝術發展是應該在社會內沁透和擴張,不過他亦擔心現時香港的經濟衰退會令文化發展更加困難。 此外,陳沛浩覺得香港的藝術環境不夠多元化,而展覽策劃人在這方面又有很大的影響。他覺得情況往往是一面倒,在「九七」前就甚為政治化,展覽的主題常與政治有關,之後卻一下子靜下來;又如藝術中心現在的發展則以社區藝術(community-oriented)為主,其他方面看來則次要。但他不覺得這就是香港藝術的真正面貌,正如「九七」前充斥著政治題材的作品,並沒有很多具有說服力,好像硬要用帆船來代表香港般表面。 不過陳沛浩亦坦言沒感到有明顯的香港藝術風格,然而對於香港藝術發展的整理,展覽策劃人是可有貢獻的,問題是太集中於少數人身上,不夠多元化,觀點就不夠立體。陳沛浩希望會多些不同觀點的展覽策劃人和藝術展覽空間出現,而且有更多人參與研究工作,令情況有所改善。