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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

Art Radar speaks with Para/Site curator, director Fominaya on November auction event

Posted by artradar on October 19, 2010


Para/Site Art Space, a non-profit organisation located in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, will hold its annual Para/Site Fundraising Auction in early November this year. It will take place in the Kee Club, who also support the event, and is one of the most important fund-generators for the space. Para/Site is devoted to the exhibition of local and international contemporary art. It is also a space where seminars, talks and workshops take place regularly.

We had the opportunity to talk with the Para/Site Director and Curator Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya who has been working for the space for one-and-a-half-years, half of his contracted commitment. We wanted to know more about him, Para/Site Art Space and what special surprises the upcoming auction will have for attendees.

Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya, director and curator of Hong Kong's non-profit Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya, director and curator of Hong Kong's non-profit Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Fominaya and Para/Site: small scale projects with international interaction

How long has Para/Site Art Space been running for?

Para/Site was founded in 1996. It was one of the first organisations of its kind to be created in Hong Kong. In 1997, other organisations like 1Artspace were created. Para/Site started as an artists’ collective, providing a space for member artists to exhibit. Very soon it became a space for other artists coming from abroad to show their work. Para/Site started an international programme and this has continued until now. Para/Site, in a way, was a pioneer in inviting curators to work full time. I am the second curator who has joined the space. (Editor’s note: Before Fominaya, Para/Site employed Tobias Berger, a German curator who worked for the space for three years from 2006 to 2008.)

Why did you decide to join Para/Site Art Space?

Several reasons made me want to join this space: I wanted to distance myself somewhat from the European gallery/art space model. I wanted also to be able to curate all major parts of a project. In Europe, the scale of the projects I was working on was very different. I was used to working on big projects within a large team. I wanted to experiment with small scale projects, as they give me a much closer relationship with the artist. But, we also have a minor budget here! It is very challenging (smiles). The logic of culture working in a large scale organisation or in a small one is very different. I have to say that it was very shocking for me at first! I had to adapt to a different scale of project and to a different culture.

What has changed since you first joined Para/Site Art Space?

We have worked harder to develop our facilities for our Hong Kong artists and also to increase our public programme by developing some workshops…. [We are] promoting local art abroad and making dialogue between the art and artists possible in and outside Hong Kong. An example of a workshop has been the participation of the director of education at MoMA, Philip Yenawine, who talked about museums and education. [Past] workshops weren’t that much focused on artists but more on art administrators, curators, etc..

ZHANG-Dali, 'AK-47 (V.7)', 2010, acrylic on canvas, 102 x 82 cm, unique edition. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Zhang Dali, 'AK-47 (V.7)', 2010, acrylic on canvas, 102 x 82 cm, unique edition. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

What have you been doing before you joined Para/Site Art Space?

Before coming to Para/Site I worked in a very different type of environment. I was working as a curator in a contemporary and modern art museum in Spain for six years. It was a different type of organisation; it was much larger and we covered all the twentieth century. At Para/Site Art Space … it’s a totally different type of environment, being a micro non-profit organisation with only four people working on our projects. Most of those projects are commissioned works that the artists develop for us. We have a very active international programme, which is very different from [the programme we had in] my previous job. That’s one of the challenges.

How is it funded?

The money raised in the auction covers almost half of our annual budget. That’s why it’s a very important event for us. We want to fundraise approximately HKD1,000,000 during this event. [We have organised] this kind of event for almost ten years now and we always had a very successful response. The rest of the budget is covered by the government, a French petrol group and smaller sponsors like corporate entities.

Rem Khoolhaas, 'Lagos', 2007, photographic paper, 112 x 84 cm, special edition for Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Rem Koolhaas, 'Lagos', 2007, photographic paper, 112 x 84 cm, special edition for Para/Site Art Space. Image courtesy of Para/Site Art Space.

Para/Site Fundraising Auction to sell one-off and special edition works

Can you explain the fundraising event to me in a few words. How do you get the artwork? What happens on the night? How did you select the artists?

The event is basically a fundraising auction. We are very cheeky and we ask the artists to donate their work to Para/Site. Some of the participating artists have worked with us and the others just want to support us in a generous way. During the event, the idea is to sell all the works in a pleasant atmosphere. From the 28 artists that participate in the events, around ten of them will attend the event. Those ten artists are based in Hong Kong. Unfortunately we don’t have the budget to fly all the artist here but we’ll have a very good representation of the selection we made. This night is very special, because it gathers different kinds of personalities together: curators, art gallery owners, artists and art lovers. Make sure to RSVP to attend to the auction as the event, with 100 people expected, will have limited places.

For this fundraising auction, 28 artists will participate. This selection of artists is a good representation of what we do. It is a mix of local Chinese, Asian and international artists. Some are very established and others not so. We’ll have secured the participation of a very established artist, Rem Koolhaas, who is donating a photograph titled Lagos. He has never sold his work before. You know what to do if you want to get it: Come to the Kee Club and it’s yours! We also have Ai Weiwei, a very interesting artist who we already exhibited last April and May. [We have] Zhang Dali, one of the pioneers of the Chinese avant-guarde and a very established artist. We have also a good representation of artists from Hong Kong. This event is a great opportunity to get artworks of a very good quality. I want to highlight also the big support from some galleries and foundations that have donated works to Para/Site, such as Cat Street Gallery. All the works that will be part of the auction will be shown here in Para/Site space.

It’s a big challenge as we curate a large number of art works and deal with artists from all over the world,… almost thirty artists, most of whom do not live in Hong Kong. The process is really like curating a show, the only difference is that the artists donate their work instead of selling it. Surprisingly, most of the artists we approached, even those who didn’t have any past relationship with Para/Site, had heard about this space and wanted to help and support us. It is a big responsibility; it has to go well for us, but it is at the same time a celebration.

Ai Wei Wei, 'Swatter', 2007, brass gilded, 0.5 x 50 x 7cm.

Ai Weiwei, 'Swatter', 2007, brass gilded, 0.5 x 50 x 7cm.

Fominaya on running a non-profit art organisation

How do you choose which artists to represent Para/Site Art Space’s regular exhibition?

For the most part I invite the artists I want to work with. I do review the portfolios that we receive but the process I follow is mostly by invitation. I generally focus in the region, working with Hong Kong artists on international projects as a mission. I’m really focussing on Chinese, Asian and South Asian artists. We use the fact that Hong Kong is a door between the West, China and the south of Asia to get our inspiration for creating our programme. We want to show what Hong Kong means in a political, geographical and economic sense. At the same time, I try to  stay away from what you can find in a commercial gallery. Actually, that’s one of the reasons why we don’t work that much with painters. Most of the work [we show] is installation and moving image. Personally, I’m very interested in moving image art.

Has the mission of Para/Site Art Space changed over time?

We continue with the same philosophy as before my arrival. In these two years, we have been developing more international projects with Hong Kong artists. We have also done a few projects with artists from outside Hong Kong, creating a dialogue between all of them. An example is the exhibition we curated with Joseph Kosuth and Tsang Kin Wah in 2009.

Has Para/Site Art Space always been in Po Yan Street? Or has the gallery been in another location before?

In April 1997, Para/Site Art Space was located in Kennedy Town before moving to its present location in Sheung Wan District, but it looks like we will have to emigrate. Sheung Wan is an area of Hong Kong that is getting very expensive. Next door, a luxurious apartment building is being built. The prices in the area are getting as expensive as the Peak. I think we need to move to a larger space to develop different types of projects with different scales. For the moment, the space that Para/Site has suits the type of exhibitions shown, but also the human resources and the budget we have available.

Sometimes you can find very famous artists in Para/Site. They don’t do the same kind of work they usually do in big museums as they have to adapt their work to the space. They also don’t have so much pressure and they tend to use this space to experiment, trying out different types of work.

How would you like to see Para/Site Art Space grow?

The artist community in Hong Kong is very active and developed. There are many commercial galleries but most of them are small and Hong Kong needs powerful galleries that can support its artists. What we would need in Hong Kong would be a larger number of non-commercial art spaces. A bit like Para/Site but on an even larger scale in order to allow the local art community to develop their projects.

The desire we have for Para/Site is to have a larger budget and a bigger venue that will help us achieve our larger goals. We want to make possible more dialogue with other art spaces around the world in order to develop projects. But this is not a short-term idea. This needs to be done over time to assure its sustainability.


Related Topics: non-profit, art spaces, events, curators, Hong Kong venues

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Hong Kong Street Art Series: Above Second imports new energies and aesthetics to local art scene

Posted by artradar on October 14, 2010


In this first feature in our Hong Kong Street Art Series, Art Radar Asia will introduce you to one of the newest art spaces in Hong Kong to show street and urban art, Above Second. In this post, co-owners Jasper Wong and May Wong discuss the importance of supporting the local art community and encouraging people to consider creative career options, as well as explain their choice of location and their first-time buyer appeal.

In a steep lane in Sai Ying Pun, Above Second stands aloof from busy streets and is a fifteen minute walk from the gallery-saturated Central district. This glass-fronted art space with a graffiti wall on the side was founded and is run by Jasper Wong and May Wong.


Above Second, one of Hong Kong's newest art spaces dedicated to street and urban art.

Above Second, one of Hong Kong's newest art spaces dedicated to street and urban art. Image courtesy of Above Second.


Before Above Second came into being, May dedicated most of her time to a nomadic gallery called Apostrophe which travelled to different spaces to do shows for artists from predominantly Denmark, the US and the UK. She found out about Jasper a year and a half ago after discovering his works on the blog of hip hop artist Kanye West and then inviting him to do a show at G.O.D, a Hong Kong-based lifestyle store. After some talking over a gallery plan in Hong Kong they ended up opening Above Second together earlier this year.

Half a gallery and half an art space

Above Second is very different from other mainstream galleries in the Central district in many ways. To begin with, Jasper won’t even consider it a gallery.

“It’s not a gallery in the strictest sense in what people usually perceive galleries to be. People see galleries to be like blank white walls… but we decided to turn it into more like a, I guess you can call it a creative club? That’s why we leave the word gallery in front of the name, ‘cause we don’t want to be specifically one thing.”

Above gallery is special in a way that it is a combination of a gallery and an art space. Jasper uses the gallery space at the front for painting and exhibition while May uses the art space at the back for art classes in the weekend.


Children drawing in the Above Second art space on Saturday. Image courtesy of Above Second.



Adults painting in the Above Second art space. Image courtesy of Above Second.


May elaborates on this concept:

“I think the main reason [for teaching art classes] is to generate more people to come into the gallery to see art. In a way, we enjoy teaching and we enjoy people coming in to share what art is and just be creative.”

“Basically when we teach (I’m talking about [teaching] three-year-olds to adults; everybody can come), we’re just giving them the materials, and then they can do whatever they want, usually. But we kind of try to give them a concept or give them some kind of inspiration for arts. For instance, we did a class that was based on Mondrian paintings, so we kind of restrict the colors to red, yellow, blue, and black, very Mondrian. Then we just let the students do what they want with it.”


Hong Kong street art gallery Above Second held exhibition "King for a Day" in July this year.

Hong Kong street art gallery Above Second held exhibition "King for a Day" in July this year. Image courtesy of Above Second.


Mission to support local art and promote art as career

Jasper also hopes that, through the art classes for children, the young generation in Hong Kong will come to consider art creation as a career path rather than just a hobby. He says,

“A lot of times I feel, from what I’ve experienced here, is that a lot of the parents tend to steal their kids away from creative pursuits. Their tendency [is] that if their kids are interested in music or art or dance or something creative, then it is seen more as a hobby, rather than something that they can dedicate their life to.”

Unlike many mainstream galleries in Hong Kong, Above Second is also less business-oriented and more driven by the goal to improve the creative environment in Hong Kong. Jasper states,

“Most galleries in Central, you probably see, they are all very commercial. They are all pretty much paint stores. They are trying to sell what’s hot, what’s the hot trend, and what people will buy at the time. They tend to show all the same kind of art. So when you go to one gallery it’s pretty much all the same. And it’s not very accessible to a lot of local people and they don’t tend to promote emerging artists or even to try to make the creative scene better in Hong Kong. So we started our gallery … there’s an altruistic mission to it: to try to make [the Hong Kong art scene] better, to try to bring in the emerging artists that have never been shown in Hong Kong or to try to promote local artists…. There’s a goal to try in a small way to make Hong Kong’s creative community better.”

Above Second doesn’t formally represent any artists as most of the traditional galleries do. Instead, it continually organises shows for different artists from around the world with intriguing “energies” and “aesthetics”. “We are showing the creative energy all around the world [by] supporting young and emerging artists from all around the world,” says Jasper.

Price range attracts young first-time buyers

As May points out, works in most of the Above Second shows are for sale at affordable prices and because of this the gallery has attracted a number of first time buyers.

“For the show King for a Day, we had three prints there and they all sold. Most of (our buyers) are under thirty years old or around thirty and they are all first time buyers. It’s really great to see, because the prints themselves are pretty reasonably [priced], and when people come in they are like ‘Wow! This is the first time that I have gone into a gallery where I can afford to buy something.’ So we kind of encourage that trend…. [In] some galleries the price ranges are at least 10,00 dollars. We [are] like a couple of hundred, four digits, five digits.”



Visitors and guests crowd outside Above Second at an exhibition opening.

Visitors and guests crowd outside Above Second at an exhibition opening. Image courtesy of Above Second.


Currently, Above Second is showing Nebula, an exhibition of paper-cut and stencil works by Danish artist Mathias and illustrations of another Danish artist Michael. This Friday, Above Second will open Primary, an exhibition of work by Hong Kong street artist group Graphicairlines. Says May of her hopes for the space,

“For me, in five years, I hope that the gallery will grow, have a couple more staff…. For us it’s still difficult to pay for all the expenses, the shipping and stuff, to get artists here, but we’re trying….”


Related Topics: Hong Kong venuesstreet artinterviews

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Artnet chooses Hong Kong as debut venue for new venture – Art Radar scoop interview

Posted by artradar on October 10, 2010


Artnet group, the leading art price database and online art auction company has chosen the year 2010 to branch out into a brand new venture: art dealing. And it chose a surprising venue for its debut.


Artnet booth at Hong Kong International Art and Antiques Fair 2010

Artnet booth at Hong Kong International Art and Antiques Fair 2010.


In a brief chat with Max Wolf, Modern and Contemporary Specialist in the Artnet booth at Hong Kong International Art and Antiques Fair 2010, Art Radar learned more about the ambitious plans Artnet has to break into high-priced art dealing and what has surprised the Artnet representatives about the collectors they have met on their first visit to Hong Kong.

Most people know you from your Price Database but this is a new venture?

It has spawned from our online auctions. We found a need to extend from our private treaties with dealers and collectors and a lot of the galleries on our website who perhaps don’t want to sell the work on the website, perhaps because it is a more significant work.

Yes, so this is the first time that we are showing work which we are not necessarily putting online for sale.

This is the first time you are in a fair?


Why did you choose this fair?

It seemed to align itself with this collection we are offering … this complete set of Warhols.… Hong Kong seemed like an ideal venue and it just serendipitously worked out with the timing that it just made sense…

Right. So how has your experience been?

Great, we have had considerable interest from a handful of collectors. We shall see; today should be pretty revealing…. We took the less-is-more approach and I think this has worked out well for us. We have this Warhol portfolio, a Haring, another Warhol and two Ashers.

What do you propose to do with this new arm? What do you hope for your new venture?

Sales! Of course. (laughs)

And apart from that (laughs) do you plan to go to more fairs in the future?


Which fairs would you like to try?

Well, depending on how this works out…. But with our online auctions and our private treaty sector of the business this seems like the natural progression for us.

What is your background in art?

I am one of a handful of auction specialists with Artnet.

So you didn’t come from the art world to Artnet?

Yes, I came with an auction background and was hired by Artnet to become an online auction specialist. There are six of us specialising in photography, unique painting works and prints.

How is that going?

Our online auctions are doing really really well. It seems that we are a panacea for the economy in a downturn. We are useful to collectors who don’t want to wait six months to consign a piece to a bricks and mortar auction house and then wonder whether it will be bought in. And then they have to pay for shipping and insurance even if it is bought in. With us they send us a .jpeg and within two weeks have money in [their] pocket.

That is great, great for the art world, great for collectors.

It is great. We have really enjoyed seeing the diversity of buyers. We sell to a lot of dealers but we also sell to private collectors, new buyers [and] new young collectors from all over the world…. From Australia, Kazakhstan, from all over. You would be surprised at the breadth.

You must have a great deal of information about where new collectors are coming from, the data…

Yes, the data that our technical team can gather, where and when is pretty impressive…

Have you been to Hong Kong before?


What kind of collectors have you met over the last three days?

A wide variety but we have seen a considerable number of serious collectors from Taiwan. We were surprised…. We thought we would see more Mainlanders but we have seen Taiwanese and local Hong Kong collectors, some Koreans and Brits, but we were surprised by the size of the Taiwanese presence.

About Artnet services (source: Artnet website)

In the mid 1980s Artnet developed its first product, the Price Database. Today the Price Database has a broad base of customers dominated by major auction houses, art dealers, museums, and insurance companies. Representing auction results from over 500 international auction houses, the Price Database covers more than 4 million auction results by over 188,000 artists, ranging from Old Masters to Contemporary Art.In 1995 the company transitioned the Price Database to the Internet and introduced a second product, the online Gallery Network, building and hosting websites for art dealers and galleries on its platform. In 1999, the online auction business was launched and now has 60,000 collectors visiting the site each month.


Related Topics: auctions, Market watch, collectors, Hong Kong

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How is Chinese ink painting explored in contemporary art? RedBox Review in discussion with Liang Quan

Posted by artradar on October 7, 2010


In a conversation with Chinese-based art blog RedBox Review the artist Liang Quan (b. 1948), living and working in Shenzhen, China, explains how ink painting is used in contemporary art and how this exploration continues to follow the philosophy of traditional Chinese painting.

Liang Quan is considered as one of the pioneers of contemporary ink painting.

“Ink painting”, also known as “wash painting”, was developed in China during the Tang Dynasty. Ink painting or shui-mo hua in Chinese (水墨畫) is composed of water,  shui and Chinese ink, mo. In Western art, using similar techniques, it is known as drawings.


Liang Quan, "Tea Stain No3", 2008, ink and paper, 63.8x48cm

Liang Quan, 'Tea Stain No. 3', 2008, ink and paper, 63.8x48 cm.


In this conversation Liang Quan highlights to RedBox the difference between ink painting and ink art:

The exploration of using ink and referring to the tradition of Chinese painting is part of a greater narrative to define a cultural identity.

American contemporary artists like Brice Marden and Cy Twombly inspired Liang Quan while he was living and working abroad. On top of using ink painting and water, Liang incorporates paper into his works.

Liang’s ink painting seems abstract but in reality he follows the philosophy of this art. He aims to capture the soul of the subject rather that trying to reproduce the exact appearance of it. As he relates to RedBox,

My use of collage, combining strips of ink and/or tea stained paper, may seem abstract to the unknowing eye, and without direct correlation to a depiction of reality. But my works, collages, are actually diagrams of traditional Chinese landscape paintings and the Chinese still life painting genre of birds and flowers.


Interesting difference between ink painting in West and East: perspective

Having explored ink painting in Western art, Liang Quan observed a major difference between it and Chinese landscape painting: multiple points of perspective are used where Western painting uses only one or two.  As he relates to RedBox,

To view a Chinese painting, one’s eye usually follows the flow of water from the bottom of the mountains as it meanders farther into the hills and up the composition of the painting.

Following this philosophy and adding paper strips and color makes Liang’s painting abstract.

After exploring the multiple points of perspective in Chinese landscape painting, Liang Quan combined this concept with the ideals of Nan Pai, also known as Southern School. As said in the RedBox article,

By addressing the theme of Chinese tradition, he is distinguished from his contemporaries choosing to use painting as a depiction of or social response to modern society.


Related Topics: Chinese artists, definitions, ink

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Art Radar Asia launches Hong Kong Street Art Series: interview with co-owner of Above Second

Posted by artradar on October 6, 2010


While the street art gallery scene in Europe has been pushed into maturity by world-renowned and highly sought after urban artists such as Banksy, it is only in recent years that it has started to emerge in Hong Kong. In response to the burgeoning street art scene in the city, Art Radar Asia is launching a Hong Kong Street Art Series to introduce to you Hong Kong galleries which show urban art. With the prominence of a number of local street artists and the founding of at least three urban art galleries in the city in the past couple of years, we will observe how street art is being taken into new contemporary art galleries in Hong Kong.

We introduce this series with a brief interview with Jasper Wong, co-owner of Above Second art space, in which he presents his views on Hong Kong street art and the urban art business, and how the Hong Kong scene compares with other more established communities.

Jasper Wong wouldn’t call himself a street artist, as he doesn’t like being restricted to any particular form of art. After studying graphic design in Portland, illustration at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and manga (Japanese comic books) in Kyoto Seika University, he returned to Hong Kong to work on various art projects. Earlier this year, he started Above Second with his partner May Wong.


Jasper Wong (middle) at Above Second's September show "Nebula". Image courtesy of Above Second.

Jasper Wong (middle) at Above Second's September show "Nebula". Image courtesy of Above Second.



This collaborative work by Jasper Wong and his half-brother Wu Yue was shown in Above Second at the March show "Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am". Image courtesy of Above Second.

This collaborative work by Jasper Wong and his half-brother Wu Yue was shown in Above Second at the March show "Wham Bam Thank You Ma'am". Image courtesy of Above Second.


What do you think of street art in Hong Kong? How is it different from the street art in Europe?

I know a lot of street artists in Hong Kong. They are all doing their own thing in this city, so I really respect that. They get up all over the city and also pursue other creative outlets such as apparel, etc. They have their own styles. It’s not that much different from the rest of the world. The ones in Hong Kong are influenced by their own cultures growing up in Hong Kong, and [they] respond to it. Other artists around the world do the same and respond to their own individual cultures. Hong Kong is very small though. There needs to be more artists out there pushing like SFZ (Start from zero) and Graphicairlines, Invasion guys like Sinic and Xeme. (I meant the Invasion Magazine crew. Invasion Magazine was started by Sinic. They’re one of the few graffiti magazines in Asia and the only one in Hong Kong.)

What about the sticker culture here? Is it a global culture?

Sticker culture is global. It’s an aspect of street art. People do pieces with spraycans, wheatpaste, stickers, and sometimes even create installations by knitting. It’s about taking art to the streets. There are no rules. Look at Invader – he creates art with ceramic tile.

We have been told that in Hong Kong there are lots of limitations for street art. Do you agree with this statement?

The only limitation is yourself. You can do whatever you want, thanks to the Internet. You can get your art to people all over the world. So I don’t agree. I just agree on the point that people in Hong Kong don’t care about art as much, they think of it as useless. But they don’t see that they are surrounded by art from the clothes they wear to the movies they watch and the chairs they sit on.

But shouldn’t street art be in the street rather than the Internet? Or is it changing now?

I’m not talking about art being on the Internet persay. I’m talking about getting people to know about your art. You use the Internet as a tool to get the word out so people can learn about Hong Kong street art through the use of the Internet. The Internet changed the game  for everything.

How would you describe the status of street art in Hong Kong?

Street art is up and coming out here. There is a small group of individuals seeking to get the word out about it and they get up strong around the city. It’ll take some time for it to be[come] bigger but it’s definitely happening.

What do you think about the street art business in Hong Kong?

Street art can’t be thought of as a business. The words together are an oxymoron. Street art is for the people. That’s why it’s on the street; you can view it for free. Some artist segway their art into products and that is a way to get the word out, an additional channel to inform people about your art. In that case, the business plays a role in supporting the art.

So apart from the street, street art business and the Internet, can you identify other channels for showing or promoting street art?

Everything can be a channel if you’re creative. Of course, there are the traditional ones like magazines and television, but there are no rules.

Who are the important street artists in Hong Kong?

Start from zero and Graphicairlines. Those are the two I know personally and they work hard here in Hong Kong.

Over the coming weeks we will be presenting a number of interviews with urban art gallery owners in Hong Kong. With these we hope to provide an in-depth study of the current and future aims of this constantly evolving community.


Related Topics: Hong Kong venues, street art, interviews

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Young Chinese artist Li Hui lights up Netherlands: an Art Radar interview

Posted by artradar on September 28, 2010


Li Hui at work. Image courtesy of Ministry of Art.

Li Hui at work. Image courtesy of Ministry of Art.

Following his impressive solo exhibition last year in Mannheim, Germany, young Chinese artist Li Hui brings yet another surprise to the European art scene. In the pitch-dark exhibition space provided by The Centre of Artificial Light in Art in the Netherlands, Li Hui presents a spectacular display of four of his light works entitled “Who’s afraid of Red, Amber and Green?. The show, which runs from 16 July to 24 October this year, showcases Li’s experiments with laser and LED light.

The current show, the title of which may remind people of Barnett Newman‘s painting Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?, exhibits four of Li Hui’s works: Amber, Reincarnation, Cage and Everything Starts from Here. The works were selected jointly by John Jaspers (director of The Centre of Artificial Light in Art), Christoph and Cordelia Noe (co-directors of The Ministry of Art who represent Li Hui) and the artist.

In an interview with the museum, printed on the museum guide, Li Hui describes his works:

“I can imagine that if someone sees my work for the first time, it can have a very strong visual impact. Just like in Newman’s paintings, the bright colors first have to get stored in one’s brain. I also understand that there are elements in my works that might make people feel a little puzzled or even a little scared when first confronted with them. However, from what I have experienced, it is not just the visual impact, but also the ‘otherness’ or their mysticism that can have this kind of result. It is somehow similar to … Shamanism.”

Art Radar Asia spoke to Li Hui about the ideas in his works, the challenges he faces and his future plans.

Light not an intended media

Specialising in sculpture at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, Li Hui learnt to use stainless steel and wood but not light. In fact, he never meant to use light in all of his works, and would not call himself a light artist. It was in the process of production that he thought of light as a possible media for some of his works. He gives an example of how he came up with using LED light for Amber.

“I wanted the transparent material to glow, and I found that LED light is the only light that can produce the effect I wanted. The material is also thin enough for me to install inside the work, so I used it.”

Using LED light led to his discovery of the properties of laser light, a non-heating light which produces pure colors, and he started to experiment with it for other works. Light is not a usual medium for art in China or the world and Li says of this phenomenon,

“Light doesn’t seem like a material that can be used in art – if you do not handle it well, the outcome will be awful. Everyone can use light in their work, but light may not always be a good material to help them express what they want to express.”

"What I want to create is smoke rising from the bed softly and freely. It is a work that would evoke emotions, but this may not be obvious from photos," relays Li Hui. Reader's who are interested in experiencing these emotions firsthand can click on the image to watch a video. (Please note that the video is presented in Dutch.) 'Reincarnation' (200 x 110 cm; height variable) is a sculpture made of laser lights, fog, metal and medical bandage to create a mysterious, psychedelic, religious visual effect. In Buddhism, reincarnation means cycle or life circulation – the recurring process of our spirit being incarnated in another life after we die. Image courtesy of Ministry of Art.

"What I want to create is smoke rising from the bed softly and freely. It is a work that would evoke emotions, but this may not be obvious from photos," relays Li Hui. Readers who are interested in experiencing these emotions firsthand can click on the image to watch a video. (Please note that the video is presented in Dutch.) 'Reincarnation' (200 x 110 cm; height variable) is a sculpture made of laser lights, fog, metal and medical bandages. Image courtesy of Ministry of Art.

At this point, Li hasn’t thought about specialising in light art, and says that he would use whatever materials suit his concepts. Asked about what he is going to do next, Li says that he is interested in the spiritual and the inner world. When asked whether there are particular philosophies that Li Hui wants to convey in his works, he answers no.

“I want to create feelings which cannot be expressed in languages. There are just too many works attached [to] some kind of philosophy, but to me that’s not what art is about. You create feelings in art – if you can feel it, others will feel it too.”

Li Hui says about his work 'Cage': "There are two cages inside the work made of laser beams. Laser beams are special in a way that they look tangible while in reality they are not. The two cages appear alternatively so that a group of people who find themselves 'trapped' in the cage in one moment would suddenly find themselves outside the cage in the next. This work brings out the contrast between reality and illusion." 'Cage' (each 200 x 200 cm; height variable) is made of laser lights, mirrors and iron. Image courtesy of Ministry of Art.

Li Hui says about his work 'Cage': "There are two cages inside the work made of laser beams. Laser beams are special in a way that they look tangible while in reality they are not. The two cages appear alternatively so that a group of people who find themselves 'trapped' in the cage in one moment would suddenly find themselves outside the cage in the next. This work brings out the contrast between reality and illusion." 'Cage' (each 200 x 200 cm; height variable) is made of laser lights, mirrors and iron. Image courtesy of Ministry of Art.

Technological skill toughest obstacle

You may imagine Li Hui’s laboratory crammed with a lot of professional equipment to support his experiments, but in reality he has to seek technological support from others, such as LED light producers, to create his light works. In fact, technology is one of the greatest challenges in the artist’s production process.

“It is impossible to do the works in my own studio. I have to cooperate with others. I don’t have their professional equipment. It is very costly…. The most difficult [thing] is skill – I am not talking about artistic skill, but technological skill. Sometimes the problems are just impossible to solve.”

For Li Hui, every work is born from rounds of brain-storming followed by rounds of experiments in an effort to work through and predict potential problems.

“Experiments push toward the final outcome. At the initial stage of production, I may draw on the computer. Then I begin experimenting with materials. For example, I test a few shots of laser beams with smoke and find the proportion that suits what I want to express.”

Li Hui says about his work 'Everything Starts From Here': "This is a discovery in an experiment. The light beams strike through the transparent dining goblets to project a very impressive light image on the wall. Most of my works are large but this one is not because it is an experimental work." 'Everything Starts From Here' (20 x 30 x 20cm) utilises laser lights, a metal box with a crank, glass and projectors. Image courtesy of Ministry of Art.

Li Hui says about his work 'Everything Starts From Here': "This is a discovery in an experiment. The light beams strike through the transparent dining goblets to project a very impressive light image on the wall. Most of my works are large but this one is not because it is an experimental work." 'Everything Starts From Here' (20 x 30 x 20cm) utilises laser lights, a metal box with a crank, glass and projectors. Image courtesy of Ministry of Art.

Ministry of Art dedicated to Chinese art in Europe

Art Radar Asia spoke with Christoph Noe, one of the directors of The Ministry of Art, an art advisory and curatorial company based in China which represents Li Hui, to find out more about how European opportunities are secured for Chinese or other Asian artists.

“The Ministry of Art … has a broader scope than [just being] a gallery. Our idea is to give artists the opportunity to cooperate with museums or art institutions in Europe … as a lot of the Chinese artists have already had the opportunity to exhibit their works in China or Asia, and some of them lack the opportunity to exhibit in Europe. We come in with our expertise because of our European origins and networks with European institutions. Once we are excited about a Chinese artist we can find an institution that fits very well for that artist.”

Li Hui will participate in a group show called Internationale Lichttage Winterthur 2010 in Switzerland in November. He will present another solo exhibition in June 2011 in Berlin, Germany.


Related topics: Chinese artists, light art, museum shows, emerging artists

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Blog provides ground view of Chinese contemporary art – interview Katherine Don

Posted by artradar on September 28, 2010


RedBox Review is one of the most prominent English-language blogs dedicated to Chinese contemporary art. In an interview with co-founder Katherine Don, Art Radar Asia gains some insight into the aims of this sort of online publication, the progressive nature of Chinese art and Don’s personal background.

The blog, which currently has around 8000 subscribers, was founded in 2005 by Katie Grube, Mike Hatch and Katherine Don, also a director of and art advisor for RedBox Studio. It features original articles, event listings, gallery reviews, and commentary on and links to other coverage on Chinese contemporary art. In this way, it is able to provide a unique view of the Chinese avant-garde. RedBox Review is aimed at people who either work with or are interested in contemporary art. Its success is based upon its selection of relevant information vetted by its young, bilingual team of writers who are actively involved in the Chinese art scene.

The homepage of English-language Chinese art blog 'RedBox Review'.

The homepage of English-language Chinese art blog 'RedBox Review'. Image property of Art Radar Asia.

Can you tell us about your background and how you became involved in art?

I am originally from Hawaii. I’m American. I’ve always been interested in arts. I went to school in New York at the Columbia University and studied art history there. I happened to spend a summer in China, where I was learning Chinese, and also started to intern for one of the galleries here. That was in 2001. I had travelled to China before then, just with my family. I am third generation Chinese-American…. [It was] through this relationship with China and learning about art when I was in school, that I became involved in the arts. I graduated with a dual-degree in Visual Arts, Art History and East Asian Studies.

So, how did you get involved in writing about art?

I have always wanted to write. The only way to be a better writer is to practice writing. So when I started working for a gallery in New York, focusing exclusively on Chinese contemporary art, I started writing. After two years, I moved to Taiwan to engage more in a faceted art community. But I realised that Beijing is the cultural hub of China, traditionally, but also with the contemporary art scene. So moving here to China was a way for me to get involved with the art scene and to see it on the ground. The curiosity and the desire to learn more about China from on the ground, this is RedBox Review.

You are one of the co-founders of RedBox Review. What is RedBox? What does it mean? How would you describe RedBox Review?

It’s our blog for viewing the contemporary art scene and art in China from [our] vantage point in Beijing. We write it in English, because that’s my mother tongue, but also I feel that there are numerous sites in Chinese that are available for the local audience to give them access to visiting shows or documentation about art. But in English it’s much more limited and if people don’t visit China, it’s very hard to know what’s happening…. RedBox Review is a way to edit the content by selecting which shows, news and articles we feature. We mainly do it objectively, linking to other articles, re-publishing texts that we think are worthwhile for reading. We’re not so interested in writing reviews of exhibitions. We’re more interested in being a research [tool] for people…. We’re not trying to be a critical voice.

Can you tell us the story of how RedBox Review began? What inspired you to start RedBox Review?

When I moved to China, I started… RedBox Studio. RedBox Studio began as… an art consultancy basically. All our projects are focused on promoting contemporary art in China. [RedBox Review developed as] a platform for my colleagues and I to share the information and the activities that we were seeing and doing here in Beijing.

You are also the co-founder for RedBox Studio. Can you tell us about this organisation?

Basically RedBox Studio is the platform for promoting contemporary art in China. We provide a variety of services, beginning with our graphic design studio. We print and publish artist catalogues, maps and guides for the art scene here. We also provide art advisory services.

Inside RedBox Studio, a China-based art consultancy firm.

Inside RedBox Studio, a China-based art consultancy firm. Image courtesy of RedBox Studio.

There are not many organisations like ours in China. The infrastructure is relatively young. I think that there is a need for art consultancy and people who provide a ladder-role between artists, galleries and museums. We are involved in a variety of different projects, basically introducing the art scene to new cultures, both Chinese and foreign.

We are not a gallery, but we are a consultancy, meaning that as an independent organisation, we work with different participants in the art scene – with galleries, with museums, with artists – directly to realise their projects. I do represent private clients and help them acquire acquisitions.

Over the time period that you have been covering art, what changes have you seen in the Chinese contemporary art scene? What are the biggest challenges facing artists in China?

There are many changes in the art scene in China, and that the artists are facing. But frankly, I think, by selecting shows or different articles and events on our website, we’re trying to provide a complete … picture of what might be happening here. Often the media abroad can only focus on, perhaps, sensational topics or the news [of] very well-known and established artists and often can’t really focus on some of the activities that are going on on the ground in China.

I think that there is a lot of room for development for art… [in] contemporary Chinese society. The way that people view art, the way that people understand art and collect art, is actively changing…. I think that this change is what is really exciting and interesting about the Chinese art scene today.

You also facilitate the sale of artworks. In your opinion, what are the current trends in Asian art?

In the past fifteen years, the Chinese art market has made its mark on the international stage and I think that the diversity of Chinese art, in terms of medium, makes [for] a very rich and engaging art scene in China. Artists are working in performance [and] video, exploiting different scenes such as Chinese painting, … photography, sculptures and oil-painting. There are artists experimenting with all mediums, but all with different kinds of content and different approaches to the art. I think that there is a lot going on in China.

Is there any particular information, news or advice you would like to share with our readers? What advice would you give to our readers about what websites and publications to follow about Chinese art?

Well, my first suggestion to people who want to know more about [Chinese contemporary art] is to read as much as they can. But if those sources are not available, my next [suggestion] is to visit China to take the opportunity to see what’s happening, because things change so quickly. The diversity of Chinese contemporary art goes beyond what can be reported and documented on in a two-dimensional format, meaning online and in pictures.

Installation view of work by Wang Tiande at the NBC Studio, Olympic Media Center (2008).

Installation view of work by Wang Tiande at the NBC Studio, Olympic Media Center (2008). The placement of these artworks was facilitated by RedBox Studio. Image courtesy of RedBox Studio.

How do you see the Internet being used to promote or communicate information about art in China? How important is it? Where and how do you see the art and the Internet evolving in the future?

I know a lot of people involved with contemporary art are trying to use and exploit the Internet and technology as a way to create a wider audience space. And it’s true, there’s a lot of opportunity [that comes] with using the Internet and technology, such as creating a virtual museum or electronic books or websites and blogs. But, I think that the first step is not only to invest in using the Internet, … people need to understand how diverse … art in China is and have an interest in viewing it and understanding what’s happening [here]. The diversity of art in China is really interesting…. It can’t be easily defined into one category. I think that the Internet plays a great role in disseminating information. That is actually quite innovative and I think it’ll continue to change in the future.

What is the biggest problem in obtaining information about Chinese art? What information is difficult to get hold of? What do you think could be improved?

Not reading Chinese. I think the language barrier is one of the biggest problems. I think one characteristic is that a lot more people [from China] can read English than those from abroad can read Chinese. They are very well-read and exposed to international art activity. In regards to writing, practiced critical writing, [this] is something that leaves a lot to be desired in the art scene here. I think objective critical writing is an evolving practice.

Where would you like to see RedBox Review go in the future? Do you have any plans or innovations?

I hope that more people read it and find it useful for understanding the art scene. Our plan is to continue contributing to this site [with] thoughtful and objective descriptions and posts about the art scene.

About Katherine Don

As a writer and specialist in contemporary Chinese art, her writing has been published in local publications, as well as Art in America and Art Asia Pacific. In 2005, she co-founded RedBox Studio, an art and design studio providing a unique combination of art consulting and graphic design services to the art community in Beijing and abroad. As Director, she works with artists, curators, galleries and institutions to realise exhibitions, art programs, and publications dedicated to the promotion of art and design in China.


Related Topics: interviews, art and the Internet, arts writers

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Curator Tobias Berger talks about Korean contemporary art scene in 4 questions

Posted by artradar on September 20, 2010


Art Radar Asia recently spoke with German-born curator Tobias Berger, who currently holds the position of Chief Curator at the Nam June Paik Art Center, about the Center’s exhibition “The Penguin that goes to the Mountain“. During this interview, Berger also revealed a few of his observations on living and working in the Korean art environment.

Korean art has always been in the shadow of Japanese and Chinese artistic success, often “dismissed as a mere conduit between the two mega cultures.” This may be because few of the local magazines, exhibition catalogues and other art texts produced on Korean contemporary art are available in English. As Berger states, “There are none. They’re all in Korean. There’s nothing really good in English.” And while the local art scene is perhaps not on par with what can be experienced in these neighbouring countries, Berger notes that the art that is being produced in Korea is of a very high quality, due to good art schools, a diversity of art spaces, talented pioneers and governmental support.

This Korean contemporary art sculpture was shown at "Korean Eye: Moon Generation".

'Shamoralta Shamoratha' (2007) by Inbai Kim was shown at "Korean Eye: Moon Generation" in 2009. Korean Eye was founded in 2009 as a way to support emerging Korean artists by providing international exhibition opportunities.

As a European who formerly lived and worked in the Hong Kong art scene, how do you find the South Korean art scene compares?

“The Seoul art scene is probably the most sophisticated art scene in Asia. It has really good independent spaces, good commercial galleries, interesting art schools and good museums. It has this whole pyramid of different art spaces, exhibition possibilities, and it has a lot of really good and wonderful artists. That level of depth and the level of different kinds of art spaces is incomparable. Certainly in Beijing [you] have galleries, but you don’t have any independent spaces, and in Tokyo it’s also very different.”

How do you keep up to date with the Korean art scene?

That is a problem because it’s all in Korean and it’s very difficult to keep up [with]. I mean, you just go to the 10-15 [art] spaces once a month … and you talk to your friends and your colleagues that go to the big exhibitions…. You just have to look at how it is. There was a [recent] survey show called “Bright Future” but it only had twelve artists.

Tell us about the art school system in Korea? How does it differ from other places?

It’s the most sophisticated [system] because it had some good pioneers [and] a lot of governmental help. [South Korea] has some good art schools and it has a lot of good artists that have studied overseas and come back. This allowed a lot of critical discourse and [there were] a lot of magazines. That allowed the art scene to grow well and in the right way.

Korean art is becoming popular with international collectors. “Korean Eye, for example, was shown at The Saatchi Gallery in London earlier this year. Can you tell us why you think this is happening now?

“Here in South Korea you don’t feel that there’s much happening. The Korean scene is nothing compared to what’s happening in China…. On the one side, these shows, where this is popular or that is popular, don’t really mean a thing. There is a lot of good art in South Korea and the quality of the art is really on a high level, because art education has been good for 15-20 years. A lot of people are educated in Europe and America and have very good support and certainly output good quality art…. I mean, you don’t want to buy or you don’t want to show an artist because he’s Korean, you want to show an artist because he’s a good artist.”


Related topics: Korean artists, interviews, Tobias Berger, curators

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Posted in Art spaces, Artist-run, Asia expands, Curators, From Art Radar, Generation art, Globalization of art, Interviews, Korean, Museums, Tobias Berger | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Taiwanese collage artist Liu Shih-tung on 18th Street residency – profile

Posted by artradar on September 16, 2010


Liu Shih-tung is a Taiwanese mixed media artist, born in 1970 in central Taiwan’s Miaoli County. He has been a practicing artist since 1985 when he entered the newly established senior high school art major classes and has been working primarily with collage since the early 2000s. From July to August this year, Liu undertook a residency at 18th Street Art Center in Los Angeles, California and we talk to him about this experience.

Says Clayton Campbell, Artistic Director of 18th Street and international artist residency expert, of the artist’s selection,

“Liu was selected on artistic merit and excellence, and his stated interest to be in Los Angeles. He came with his family, which we like when it’s possible. Otherwise he would not have been able to leave them and be here. We have a long term commitment to supporting artists from Taiwan.”

Liu Shih-tung's 2010 work on exhibition at Page Museum, Los Angeles. Image courtesy of the artist.

Liu Shih-tung's 2010 work on exhibition at Page Museum, Los Angeles. Image courtesy of the artist.

By the time Liu had graduated from college and completed his compulsory military service it was the early 1990s. Installation and performance art were popular mediums of expression in Taiwan at this time, perhaps because the country had recently broken from decades of authoritarian rule. In 1997 and 1998 Liu took part in two environmental art projects, River, sponsored by the Taipei Country government’s Cultural Affairs Bureau and Land Ethics, sponsored by the Fubon Art Foundation.

In 2001, during an artist residency at South Korea’s Younge-Un Museum of Contemporary Art, the artist created an indoor performance sequel to work done in Land Ethics, called Regeneration II. In the same year the Taipei Fine Arts Museum exhibited one of his installation pieces, Neon Light, Flash, Flash, Flash.

Liu Shih-tung has been moving away from installation and performance art since the early 2000s, and is now inspired by folk tradition, namely collage creation. He uses images cut from printed materials, a major source of which is fashion magazines, and recombines selected images with paint on flat canvas. Says Liu,

“In my earlier [installation and performance] works, my collage approach and development can clearly be identified. I have always used a collage approach; I re-arrange [my subjects] with humor. Subjective cutting, deformation and the traces from a paint brush: I combine all these elements into a perceptual space and create contemporary collage which goes beyond the traditional. This is what I have been pursuing.”

In ‘Cutting Out a New Reality‘, a Taiwan Review article from 2009, Pat Gao writes that the artist “first and foremost seeks a free form of expression, one that has a humorous aspect and offers an alternative to the ingrained, monotonous way of thinking about daily life.” The writer continues by stating that “Liu was one of the first major artists in the wave of ‘playful art’ that emerged in Taiwan at the beginning of the new century. …his previous performance and installation works, despite their different forms, all reflect the same ideal of combining playful action and the creation of art.”

We asked Liu if he will continue to work with collage. “Of course I will,” he said. “Collage has always been a part of me.”

Liu Shih-tung has undertaken artist residencies in New York, Korea and Los Angeles. Since the early 1990s, he has held solo and been involved in group exhibitions throughout Taiwan and his works have been collected by the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.

New work created by Liu Shih-tung during his 2010 18th Street Art Center residency. Image courtesy of the artist.

New work created by Liu Shih-tung during his 2010 18th Street Art Center residency. Image courtesy of the artist.

How did 18th Street Art Centre support you during your residency with them?

They provided me with a great studio and organised an open studio event twice, one on 10 July and another on 7 August this year. Many artists and members of the public came during the open studio. By having these people view my creations and works, this achieved the purpose of a cultural exchange.

Why do you think you were selected for the 18th Street artist residency?

18th Street was my first choice because I wanted to understand more about modern art development on the West Coast of the US.

How has the 18th Street artist residency helped your art?

During this residency I mainly wanted to work on 2D creation, making collage using materials from LA (Los Angeles). 18th Street provides us with a lot of magazines and books, as well as information on how to purchase art materials.

What was the most important thing you will take from the residency? Why?

I think when you’re in a foreign land you discover cultural differences in easier and more leisurely ways. My greatest gains have been the experiences I have taken from LA life and culture: visiting all the art galleries and museums and discussing art with other artists at 18th Street. Their points of view assisted me in discovering the spirit which American culture is pursuing and the development of its art environment.

Who were you most excited to meet or interact with during your residency? How did they help or inspire you in your art or your life?

The people who I enjoyed meeting and interacting with the most during this residency were artists, critics, curators and art gallery dealers. However, I can’t deny that it’s not easy to gain practical benefits within such a short period of time.

How is the art community in the US different from Taiwan’s art community?

I think they are about the same. It’s just that those within the US art community can integrate their art into their daily life better.

Is this your first international residency outside Asia? Can you briefly tell me about any others, if any?

This is my third residency experience. The first one I undertook was in 1998; I recieved a New York art scholarship from the Asian Cultural Council. My second residency was at Younge-Un Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea in 2001. I believe that 18th Street, by bringing foreign resident artists to the US to participate in related art activities, achieves its purpose of cultural exchange.

New work created by Liu Shih-tung during his 2010 18th Street Art Center residency. Image courtesy of the artist.

New work created by Liu Shih-tung during his 2010 18th Street Art Center residency. Image courtesy of the artist.


Related Topics: Taiwanese artists, artist residencies, collage

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India’s Experimenter focusses on the “now” with RAQS and Kolkata location – an interview with Prateek Raja

Posted by artradar on September 16, 2010


For a gallery that is just over a year old, Experimenter, co-owned, run and mostly curated by husband-and-wife duo Prateek Raja and Priyanka Raja, is quickly becoming a critical current in the very new trend of gallery spaces interested strictly in the contemporary. It is a welcome break from the traditional gallery system that regularly falls back on the moderns of Indian art.

A month before the duo heads off to the Frieze Art Fair in London this October, the gallery is wrapping up a show called “This is Unreal“. Featuring artists Susanta Mandal, Yamini Nayar and RAQS Media Collective, the show was conceived by the Rajas as an idea to cohere the multiple realities of modern life.  At the crux of the show is the idea of the manipulation of what is real – artists consistently create and break realities leaving the viewer in a constant state of doubt and speculation. This event marks the eighth show in the gallery’s young but accomplished life.

Art Radar Asia spoke with Prateek Raja from Experimenter about the gallery, the show, the art scene in India generally and in Kolkata; Kolkata is a city that has produced a number of great artists, but lags behind Delhi and Mumbai in the art market scene.

Raja on the Gallery, artists RAQS, Susanta Mandal and Yamini Nayar

The title is provoking. Why “This is Unreal”? Tell us how this project came about.

“This project came about from an initial idea of confronting modern day conspiracies and then filtered down to how everything today is projected as something and is in reality something else. The topic was left open for the artists to interpret in a way they saw fit. However, at this point I would like to say that we work with a different kind of approach. Our shows originate in conceptual ideas first and then we invite artists whose work has been in the kind of direction we are thinking to respond to that idea [or] concept. So all these artists within the realm of their practice have the ability to project multiple realities from the same experience.”

Tell us about yourselves. You are a husband-wife duo – both educated in Asian art at Sotheby’s. How did Experimenter happen for you and how does this partnership work?

“We both had this common urge to work together in the contemporary scene while Priyanka was at Proctor & Gamble and I was consulting on contemporary Indian art. Then she decided to take the plunge in mid 2008 and we opened the gallery in April 2009. In between, we did a short course on contemporary Asian art at Sotheby’s. Priyanka is the planner. She works out all the details. She is the arms and legs of the gallery. I do some of the thinking, but we both do the curatorial thinking together. We do only six shows a year, but believe me, its not easy to plan, ideate and keep a natural flow to the exhibitions for the six that we do. In fact, we balance each other out very well. That’s how this partnership works really.”

Experimenter is invested in capturing the “plurality of expression.” It is also deeply interested in the “now.” Tell us a little about this. How does this show fit into this paradigm?

“‘The plurality of expression’ comes from the inclination to introduce multiple mediums of expression and at the same time challenge the viewers to question established aspects of viewing contemporary art and break pre-conceived notions. It is also very linked into “now” because whatever we show or plan to show is about our generation, is about what is happening now and is reflective of what our society, our values, our systems project “now.” And if you look at people, organisations, governments, and the society around us, you will slowly peel off layer after layer to eventually derive your own understanding of the world, which might be completely unlike what you had originally perceived it to be. So the title does provoke in that sense by calling things unreal. Sometimes, one does not even have to go deep, just viewing an idea from a different point of view gives a completely new meaning to it. That’s the essence of this show.”

Tell us about the works in this show.

“RAQS has contributed three pieces, Skirmish, The Librarian’s Lucid Dream and I Did Not Hear.

Installation view detail of RAQS Media Collective's 'Skirmish', as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition from the show "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

Installation view detail of RAQS Media Collective's 'Skirmish', as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition from the show "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

Skirmish is a narrative about an estranged couple continuing their ‘skirmish’ on the walls of an unsuspecting city. The woman paints keys that are similar to the keys to her apartment that she had given to her partner, whom she has since distanced herself from, and the man cannot go anywhere without seeing the keys and recognises what a mockery she is making of his yearning for her. Yet in response he paints padlocks on the walls to continue that skirmish (and in a sense continue the only way of communicating with her) while the city assumes it’s just locksmiths and key-makers that have stepped up their business.

Installation view of RAQS Media Collective's 'Librarians Lucid Dream', as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

Installation view of RAQS Media Collective's 'The Librarian's Lucid Dream', as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

The second work is a wallpaper called The Librarian’s Lucid Dream that forms the backdrop against which Skirmish is installed. It’s an interpretation of a librarian’s dream through just assemblages of texts. These are titles of books but all the titles are mixed up to created new meanings and realities.

The video I Did Not Hear is of a shooter at a shooting range. While the headphones on the viewer lead him or her through an abstract narrative, a rather sinister scaffolding of events is generated by the voice which in turn leads to multiple possible identities and roles for the shooter.

Installation view of RAQS Media Collective's 'I did not hear', as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

Installation view of RAQS Media Collective's 'I did not hear', as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

Mandal creates a kinetic sculptural installation which has a screen and a light source behind that projects an image of a boiling bowl of liquid on an open flame. Using a common scene of ‘cooking something,’ Mandal makes a pun of the phrase ‘cook up’ to express how most things today are indeed cooked up to project a reality quite different from the factual truth.

An untitled installation by Susanta Mandal, as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

An untitled installation by Susanta Mandal, as shown at Gallery Experimenter exhibition "This is Unreal". Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

Nayar’s process is essential to the show. She creates sculptural assemblages from found objects, creates them for the camera, and after photographing them destroys the objects, thereby destroying the physical existence of the source of the photograph. The works form a point of entry into the object but do not quite reveal their actual meaning.”

Pursuit_Archival C Print on Paper. Yamini Nayar. Image courtesy Gallery Experimenter from the show "This is Unreal"

Yamini Nayar, 'Pursuit', archival C print on paper. Image courtesy of Gallery Experimenter.

RAQS Media Collective has come a long way since 1992 when they started out as a group of three media practitioners in the art world. What do you make of RAQS’ growing popularity in the international arts scene?

“They are a super super important artist collective. Any international curator or museum with any interest in contemporary Indian art will know the importance RAQS has on the Indian scene. And how the international market sees India is also defined by the shows that get seen at important venues like the ones that RAQS show in. Their practice is very critical to the Indian scene internally as well. They have some very interesting things lined up this year in Europe. We will also show them solo in February 2011 … and at the India Art Summit in January 2011 in New Delhi within a group show.”

This is your first time working with RAQS, Mandal and Nayar. How was the experience?

“Absolutely fantastic. They are very professional artists. Works and concepts were discussed (that were true to Experimenter’s way of working) over a year ago and we fleshed out ideas to finally put this show on. The most interesting bit is that their work really fits well together.”

Trends in Indian art

Do you think gallery spaces in India are generally not very encouraging for installation art?

“No. I don’t think so. It’s just that this is a growing population and, like all things new and different, installations have some amount of resistance to viewing and experiencing them, even now. From a point of view of being open to exhibiting installation art, there are a bunch of new galleries like us who are doing interesting things.”

Installation art and conceptual art are increasingly popular with Indian artists today. Do you see this as a trend?

“It’s a natural progression of what the Indian art scene is. The newer, younger galleries are looking to show this form of work. You have to know at the same time that the Western art viewing audience also saw this development in other countries several years ago and that’s possibly the trajectory we might see here in India too, but over the medium term.”

Kolkata on the Indian art map

Describe for us the arts scene in Kolkata? Why not set up Experimenter in Delhi or Mumbai?

“Because its the only city in the country where one can have viewers coming back three times over, spending two hours at the gallery. This is a city where art, literature, philosophy and politics all feature in regular conversations with regular people. It’s also a city which is extremely responsive to new forms of cultural influences and it’s fun to stir things up in a somewhat sidelined city!

Opening an Experimenter in Mumbai and/or Delhi would be easy and just another … contemporary space would have been added to the growing number we see today. In Kolkata, you are really making an impact on the visual arts scene with a program like ours.”

What has your experience been working in the Kolkata arts scene? How do you compare it with Delhi and Mumbai?

“Fantastic. For Experimenter at least, we have some very exciting collections in Kolkata that we are adding work to and we are evolving a new generation of collectors. Of course, we make sure that everything is available online – one can show works, do short videos of installations, gallery walk-through videos and share the program with the world. To give a small example, we will be the only Indian gallery at Frieze Art Fair, London this year. We did not apply; they hunted us down and asked for us to apply and we got through in the curated section where there will be only about twenty young galleries from all over the world. We are probably the youngest, too. Experimenter turned a year old in April this year.”

Do you feel it’s difficult to straddle the roles of gallery owner and curator?

“For us, a gallery is an extension of who the owners are. It’s our program. It’s not like a large faceless organisation, so curating shows for the gallery comes with what we want to show and how we respond to things in today’s world as people. So it’s not tough. It’s critical that we put our minds to developing the program in such a way that there is reflection of the ‘now’ in whatever we do. Also, most of our shows are quite political in nature and we like that. We like to make people a little uncomfortable.”


Related Topics: Indian contemporary art, interviews, trends: fact and fiction blur

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