From Art Basel to the Apocalypse: Andrew Luk’s Deathscape Has Game Boys

Andrew Luk, Haunted, Salvaged, 2020, extruded polystyrene foam, paint thinner, expanding spray foam, cement, concrete, stainless steel mesh, stainless steel, steel, steel wire, polyurethane, sea glass, rotating motor, UV resin, aerosol paint, nylon, 370 x 856 x 496 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and de Sarthe.
Andrew Luk, Haunted, Salvaged, 2020, extruded polystyrene foam, paint thinner, expanding spray foam, cement, concrete, stainless steel mesh, stainless steel, steel, steel wire, polyurethane, sea glass, rotating motor, UV resin, aerosol paint, nylon, 370 x 856 x 496 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and de Sarthe.
Andrew Luk, Haunted, Salvaged, 2020, extruded polystyrene foam, paint thinner, expanding spray foam, cement, concrete, stainless steel mesh, stainless steel, steel, steel wire, polyurethane, sea glass, rotating motor, UV resin, aerosol paint, nylon, 370 x 856 x 496 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and de Sarthe.
Andrew Luk, Haunted, Salvaged, 2020, extruded polystyrene foam, paint thinner, expanding spray foam, cement, concrete, stainless steel mesh, stainless steel, steel, steel wire, polyurethane, sea glass, rotating motor, UV resin, aerosol paint, nylon, 370 x 856 x 496 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and de Sarthe.
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ART Power HK

Through experiments corroding foam and plastic, Andrew Luk confronts issues of urbanization and sustainability in an era dominated—and destroyed—by the copy-and-paste effect.

TEXT: Christina Ko
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist and de Sarthe

 

Andrew Luk, Haunted, Salvaged, 2020, extruded polystyrene foam, paint thinner, expanding spray foam, cement, concrete, stainless steel mesh, stainless steel, steel, steel wire, polyurethane, sea glass, rotating motor, UV resin, aerosol paint, nylon, 370 x 856 x 496 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and de Sarthe.

 

When Andrew Luk was putting together the large-scale installation that would become his contribution to the two-man de Sarthe show, “Shifting Landscapes” he was thinking about a few things: the slow demise of the Earth, for one, as a result of human flippancy towards natural resources, and the rise of authoritarianism. But there was also the rather practical issue of how he should adapt his piece, originally intended for the halls of Art Basel Hong Kong, to fit in the low-ceilinged but more sprawling space of the Wong Chuk Hang gallery. Part of the resolution was thus, perhaps, to install a Chu Teh-Chun painting, originally meant for the gallery’s booth, at the entrance, despite a lack of true thematic resonance.

Very much a process artist, Luk may create work that speaks to on-trend global issues such as sustainability and humanity, but his idea for Haunted, Salvaged (2020)—creating a post-apocalyptic vision of a land beyond redemption—is so broad and universal that the theme is best understood as a departure point for his musings on materiality.

Initially conceived as one of the large pieces that punctuates the “meridians” of the art fair hall, creating visual interest for those shopping and schmoozing at the region’s leading art fair, Luk would have had smaller acreage, but substantially higher ceilings at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre. But though his audience numbers have undoubtedly shrunk with the move to de Sarthe, the work has probably benefited, partially because Luk has had more control over the install, but also because the reduced height, dim lighting and eerie silence all enhance that feeling of discombobulation that should go hand in hand with facing the world’s demise.

Luk’s apocalypse is a symphony of grey, white and fuschia, featuring giant mobiles from which dangle large free-form asteroids made of sea glass and extruded polystyrene. Blob-like spray foam is the terrain upon which rock formations rise, made from artefacts emblematic of ‘90s-era mass production: Walkmans, Nintendo Game Boys and Nokia mobile phones. Discreetly, mini mushroom colonies push through the land of spray foam.

 

Andrew Luk, Haunted, Salvaged, 2020, extruded polystyrene foam, paint thinner, expanding spray foam, cement, concrete, stainless steel mesh, stainless steel, steel, steel wire, polyurethane, sea glass, rotating motor, UV resin, aerosol paint, nylon, 370 x 856 x 496 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and de Sarthe.

 

It’s quite—to use a term rarely cited in the industry today—beautiful, particularly given it has been created through organic manipulation of some of the earth’s most inorganic materials, many of them petroleum products. “It’s trying to be very responsive to the actual material itself, and what it actually wishes to do,” explains the artist. “I try to manipulate it, but it’s a single action or two actions and then you step away and whatever happens, happens. It’s alchemy, in a sense. It’s a seemingly natural, very organic process.” The extruded polystyrene, for example, is corroded by splashes of paint thinner; the foam floor is sprayed on and a grid is simply dropped over it; while the sea glass is incorporated as is, a functional substance created by nature (specifically, sand) for mankind, then tossed aside to be eroded by time, current and nature (again, specifically, sand).

“My practice,” Luk says, “is very much materials based. It’s really exploring materials and using the context and the connotations and relationships between them to create very subtle relationships. I was also a history major in college so a lot of the research [leans] towards understanding the context of materials and forms and also how they’ve been used over the ages and how it relates to how they’re being used now—the materials’ history and the narratives that are associated with them are very much part of the work as well.”

In this case, the narrative relates to careless urbanization. “In the past I’ve used a lot of concrete and glass—this is just a continuation of that, adding petroleum-based products that are definitively 21st century. You look at buildings that are being fabricated nowadays, so much of it is not actually construction, it’s just fabrication. What’s done in a factory is just shipped and installed onto high beams and sealed together and that’s a building.”

The irony he hopes to point out is obvious: these built-not-to-last homes are in fact forged of materials that paradoxically last forever, difficult as they are to eliminate. Luk cites Robert Smithson as a great influence, whose Land Art also looked to explore the relationship between humanity and terrain, but more recently, the science fiction of Philip K. Dick: specifically, his concept of “kipple”. “It’s a quality of living in California during the 70s and 80s when things are becoming plastic and falling apart. This becomes all the same, the same shade of greyish, entropic uselessness,” Luk says.

His incorporation of the consumer goods may harm the work more than they help—the materials used in the rest of the work are so interesting, and so resonant on so many levels that these ready-mades, though iconic of a prefab era, seem not just superfluous, but distracting, not least because they are not so easily manipulated, transformed or removed from their original context, thus taking away from the trompe l’oeil effect of this cavernous wasteland.

They also, unfortunately and unnecessarily, recall the work of a certain other artistic archeologist whose work touches upon themes of technological obsolescence in a rapidly accelerating economy: one darling of the hype world who is fast-becoming the art world’s biggest eye roll: Daniel Arsham. Though Arsham’s work relates more to pop cultural commentary than the apocalyptic effects of globalization, the two share, in this work at least, an affinity for fossilizing formerly popular portable electronics.

 

Andrew Luk, Haunted, Salvaged, 2020, extruded polystyrene foam, paint thinner, expanding spray foam, cement, concrete, stainless steel mesh, stainless steel, steel, steel wire, polyurethane, sea glass, rotating motor, UV resin, aerosol paint, nylon, 370 x 856 x 496 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and de Sarthe.

 

To his credit, Luk barely bristles at the comparison. “People do bring that up. I feel like he and I work very differently. At the end of the day, artists will look at other artists, artists will reference things from the past. It’s perfectly normal. [What the motifs represent for me are] every handheld device they had before a smartphone, previous to that revolution of having a full computer in your pocket,” he explains.

More interesting are the sole manipulated organisms perched at the base of these relic mountains: polyurethane fungi. “Every epoch tries to describe itself as the end of times, but then perpetuates, and that’s sort of where the mushrooms come in, this idea of how to rebuild. These little microbes build networks and eat the waste in the ground but at the same time they create these micro-societies of sustainability and upkeep the little patch of ground they’re on and try and maintain it so as to try and prolong their own existence. It’s this weird little juxtaposition,” Luk says.

 

Andrew Luk, Haunted, Salvaged, 2020, extruded polystyrene foam, paint thinner, expanding spray foam, cement, concrete, stainless steel mesh, stainless steel, steel, steel wire, polyurethane, sea glass, rotating motor, UV resin, aerosol paint, nylon, 370 x 856 x 496 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and de Sarthe.

 

In an installation that seems ominous and cautionary, with an artist statement that contains the line “the world will never be saved by the strength of a superhero, or the belief in some god, or the innovation of some technocrat, or some self-righteous war,” these little fungi colonies—in this dictionary of materials, at least—spell some form of hope.

Which makes Luk… an optimist? “If you make art, you are,” he says. “Nihilism would be not doing anything.” Indeed, Haunted, Salvaged does accomplish exactly what the artist wants, itself becoming the metaphorical mushroom civilization; in initiating this dialogue with plastic, Luk creates independent meaning for materials that once symbolized meaninglessness.

 

 

Andrew Luk, Chu Teh-Chun: Shifting Landscapes
11 April – 27 June, 2020
de Sarthe, Hong Kong

 

 

 
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