KWONG SAN TANG, SZELIT CHEUNG, TAP CHAN: Space and Memory
HK H Queen’s 7-8/F
2021.08.31 - 09.30
Whitestone Gallery H Queen’s is delighted to present “Space and Memory,” a group exhibition showcasing works by three local emerging artists — Kwong San Tang, Szelit Cheung, and Tap Chan — as part of the HKAGA Summer Programme.
The concept of space has been fundamental to shaping our lived experiences and widely explored by artists and writers across time; from Gaston Bachelard’s monumental work that changed our thoughts and memories of domestic spheres; to Michel Foucault’s heterotopias which refer to ‘places outside of all places’; to the Light and Space movement’s rigorous investigation of perceptual phenomena in the 1960s and 1970s. Similarly, these three Hong Kong artists investigate the ways in which spaces are represented, perceived, and imagined in relation to identities, dreams, and memories, opening up gateways for reflection and contemplation.
Reflecting on his family heritage and personal identity, often deploying the motif of the South China Sea as a historical space, Kwong San Tang’s monochrome graphite works occupy the first room of the gallery, reorganising and reinterpreting the collective and the personal archive. Not only does Tang laboriously reproduce the source material, photographs and documentary film stills, he also alters them by reimagining the positive images as film negatives, evoking a sense of nostalgia. In the Diaspora series (2021), the waterscapes and eclipsed scenes are excerpts from the BBC’s documentary The Bamboo Curtain (1978), which depicts Chinese migrants leaving China for Hong Kong, risking swift currents, sharks, and police detention, all in order to reach freedom. Aside from engaging with a register of collective memories, these fragments are also reminiscent of Tang’s late mother who had shared a similar experience. A timely reiteration of an intimate portrait of the infant artist sitting on his mother’s lap, ‘96 7 14 (2020) also constitutes a ‘space’ within the larger work, a frame containing a film negative of a childhood relic. In more recent works, Tang carries this idea forward by creating a physical distance between the image and the frame. Through the poetry of his honest reinscription of personal memories and collective events, Tang galvanizes a dialogue between the viewer and the artist, and the past and the present.
While Tang recalls and reorganizes historical space, Szelit Cheung’s works play with light, shadow, and colour, rendering space abstract, timeless, and placeless. Drawing from both the imagination and fragments of geographic memory, Cheung outlines the emptiness of space — the void — through repeated experiments with shadows, geometry, and light. With his predilection for emptiness and cleanliness, Cheung brings a sense of solitude through his apposite use of fragments, reducing space to its most essential state. Featured in this exhibition are three pairs of paintings and a miniature. Inspired by the gallery’s high ceilings and pristine walls, the paintings deploy a soft colour palette, creating more light and space. In the exhibition space, the three pairs of paintings are purposefully installed one opposite the other, providing the viewer at the center of the room an all-seeing, panoptical experience. Cheung’s minimalist aesthetic and conceptual approach to painting space evokes a zen quality, inviting the viewer to meditate on the works.
The last room of the gallery features the works of Tap Chan, whose sculptures sit in stark contrast to the two-dimensional works of Cheung and Tang. Interested in exploring insomnia and quotidian liminality, Chan uses industrial material to create uncanny sculptural forms that reference domestic space, forming a fantasmatic theatre that works as a heterotopia, a term that describes spaces which are at once real and virtual. One such example of a space is a mirror, which features prominently in Rorrim (2021). Made of the biodegradable polyester polycaprolactone, Rorrim (2021) takes Edogawa Ranpo’s Mirror Hell and Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass as its references and functions as a portal into unknown dimensions and alternate realities. Interrogating the threshold between private and public space in Barrier I (2021), Chan hangs a fibrous curtain on the structure of a rail, calling attention to the ambiguous thresholds of privacy. By channelling her experience of anxiety and hair loss, Chan, in #FFFFFF (2021), constructs densely woven nylon fibres. Lastly, Shifted (2021) is a set of white headboards that projects a neon halo onto the gallery wall. Chan’s ongoing exploration of sleeplessness and psychological states offers the viewer a temporary space for retreat and reverie.
Reconciliation with memories in the space of colors
By Carol Yuan
“I dote on my life because I love the colors of it,” Chinese poet Wen Yiduo wrote in his poem, ‘Colors.’ Wen turned the colors into words and wrote them into poetry, thus giving concrete images to the abstract life. Not only poetry, but various art forms make extensive use of the symbolism of colors to give or place different things, memories, and concepts to colors.
As a person who is very sensitive to color, when I visited the group exhibition “Space and Memory” held by Whitestone, I was first struck by the different use of colors by the three artists.
Unlike mixed display of most group exhibitions, Whitestone displayed the works of the three artists in three separate spaces, making the three different colors clearly distinguishable from each other. The artists put their memories in their works, and the colors not only show the memories, but also create a sense of space, triggering me to think about my own memories and life.
Anxiety will eventually turn into total white
Tap Chan’s exhibition space is pure white – white artworks, white walls, white emotions. The space looks like a bedroom as well as a utopian existence.
I learnt that the artist is using these works to express her private memories of anxiety and insomnia, such as using dense nylon fibers to construct the shape of a washboard, while alluding to the long hair that falls out due to anxiety; using a white headboard and neon glow to explore dreams, rest and reverie.
My friend and I experience anxiety and insomnia. Therefore, I felt the same when I entered this pure white space. White is usually considered to be a symbol of clarity, tranquility and ideal heaven. When I am in anxiety, I often feel that there are too many colors in my world. When anxiety strikes, it is like overturning the palette of emotions and memories in my mind, and plenty of colors are forced to mix together, making it difficult to identify each color and the logic between them. Whenever I encounter such an overwhelming emotional outpouring, I wish my mind could return to pure white and all those confusing and complicated colors would disappear.
I have no idea if the artist has reconciled with her anxiety, but I am grateful to her works for giving me an opportunity to observe white and introspect my anxiety. In my opinion, the ideal place for every kind of anxiety is a pure white, to try to be amity with those colors, to escape from the noisy and confusing dream, and to enjoy a white sleep.
Void can also be ardent
Orange and red are the favorite colors of mine. In my perception, orange and red should be the opposite of white – the latter is soft and calm, while the former is bright and passionate. Therefore, I was surprised when I moved from Tap Chan’s white dream land to Szelit Cheung’s orange-red house.
Using light, shadow, color, and geometric structure, Cheung’s works repaint places he has visited and express his geographical memories. This is the artist’s first attempt at bright color expression, but his unique utilization of color and light makes the orange-red images appear soft instead of ardent.
Cheung’s works present a contradictory aesthetic sense – orange and red are originally vivid and passionate colors with a strong impact. It’s very sensual while the geometric structures and beelines are usually synonymous with calmness and objectivity; indifferent and rational. However, the combination of the two in the artist’s paintings creates a gentle atmosphere to achieve the sense of “emptiness” the artist wants to express.
The works of Cheung remind me of love. I have always believed that my love is red. It is warm, bold, and ardent. Although sometimes it is a beautiful rose while sometimes a painful scar, my love will always have fresh vitality. But for a long time, red love has not brought about good results. It has made both of the lovers undergo great happiness and great compassion and turned the romantic relationship into a tortuous process.
But Cheung’s work allows me to bump into another possibility: red and softness are not contradictory. The void discussed by Cheung is probably an ideal state of “Not to be happy or sad because of the good or bad of external objects or one’s own gain or loss.” It means open-minded. But “emptiness” and “void” do not mean that there is no color, and they do not mean that life loses colors because of them. Now it seems that “emptiness” is more representative of the ability to control colors – in this case, changes in emotions and external objects. Orange and red can also be tender and calming, and indifferent geometric lines can also inject strength into human emotions.
Maybe life is the same. The ideal state of life is a balance of rationality and sensibility, and the harmony of the various powers of colors.
The despair and hope of black
After discussing anxiety and love, the third topic of concern for me is “hope”. In the monochrome graphite works of Kwong San Tang, I read the collision of despair and hope.
Tang’s works mainly recreate his personal memory and that of a generation of Hong Kong people: the Chinese immigrants who smuggled themselves to Hong Kong by water in the last century in search of freedom. The overall color palette of the work is gray and black, and at one glance I could feel a sense of dreary despair, just as the immigrants who drifted about in the sea had experienced. Yet the process was a hopeful one, as soon as they reach the window of the Immigration Department, there would be a new future.
The color of black has two totally different meanings here – despair and hope. For the society and individuals, there are always those black moments on the course of growth, as if being swept off into the deep sea, fighting against the turbulent water in darkness. But blackness can also mean hope. I always feel that black is more solid than other colors, as if it can be touched. The most “solid” color can also represent the firmness of hope.
The last sentence of the book The Count of Monte Cristo reads: “Until the day when God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words: Wait and Hope!” Therefore, the black memory recorded by Tang is still relevant today – to hold on to black hope and to bear black despair.
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