How does art impact the space that surrounds it? When most people bought the first piece of art to make their home nicer and more comfortable, were they also thinking of Feng Shui in a certain way? When those adventurous collectors put some creepy pieces of art in their houses, would strange things start to happen? Well… let’s forget Night at the Museum for a minute and keep walking up the steep street called Duddell; don’t you feel that your body and soul are levitated?
Text: CoBo Editorial Force
Image: Courtesy of the artists, collectors and Duddell’s
Duddell’s latest exhibition, Geomantic Intervention (no. 3), curated by artist Adrian Wong (*1980, Chicago, lives and works in Hong Kong), explores the impact of artworks on the flow of energy in an exhibition space. Adrian Wong, who is curating for the first time, has taken inspiration from Ilse Crawford’s design and some of Asia’s most respected collectors to create an exhibition space that provides a fundamentally different experience.
With the help of the feng shui practitioner Zoie Yung, he has drafted an energetic map of the Duddell Street site and performed a detailed analysis of all the artworks in the collector’s inventories. He has achieved this by using a combination of feng shui techniques, which range from the form school to the compass school to a five-element colour analysis. Instead of using a conventional approach and selecting artworks based on either aesthetic or critical values, Wong and Yung chose works that are able to modulate the energetic patterns of the rooms that contain them.
A: Adrian Wong
Z: Zoie Yung
This is the first time that you’ve ever curated a show. Can you tell us more about this collaboration with Duddell’s?
A: It started off with a conversation. One of the show’s donors, the DSL Collection, have been collecting my work for several years and a number of these works are still in my studio. They are all bought, paid for and documented, but they’re still here in Hong Kong, despite the fact that their collection is based in Paris. Alan and I were talking about all of the amazing artworks that are hidden away in warehouses and don’t see the light of day. There is a lot of work that is available and it’s a shame these works just disappear after they’ve been collected. We wanted to find a way to look at some of the work that’s already here.
And then you decided to make this new show the triquel to your Geomantic series?
A: There were two separate interventions at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco in 2010. Geomantic Intervention 1, which was the clarification of positive energy and used one section of the museum, and the other section was Geomantic Intervention 2, where I did the exact opposite of every recommendation I received from geomancers, which are the diviners, energy readers and feng shui masters. If they wanted the door facing north-east, then I made the door face south-west, and if they wanted a 20-degree grade upward towards this corner, I made a 20 degree downward towards that corner instead. We even assigned numerical values to different colour recommendations and did just the opposite of that colour by using a standard RGB setup. So, if they wanted a particular shade of red, we would use the inverted shade of green. So I thought it might be interesting to apply the same strategy to Duddell’s, and then Zoie came along.
From the very beginning, art has been made to serve religious purposes, but not so much after the Renaissance. As a feng shui practitioner, how do you see the relationship between the two? Can you go through some of the arrangements with us?
Z: I found this project very interesting as I wanted to see what art could do with feng shui. The traditional doctrines say you shouldn’t put too many artworks in a room. One is fine, but two is the maximum. So my challenge was to bring good energy into the place. For example, the base of the staircase that leads from the 3rd to the 4th floor is the exhibition’s symbolic engine, drawing energy from below and driving it upwards. It’s fuelled by the palette and violent brushstrokes of Cecily Brown’s The Sleep Around the Lost and Found. In order to support the upward movement of this energy, the concentric architectural forms in Romain Jacquet Lagreze’s photographs function “like the pedals of a bicycle” towards the star that is formed by Maurizio Cattelan’s fingers. But this energy would burn too brightly were it not for Sabine Moritz’ wilted tulips in water, which acts as a transition to the calming energies of the library above. I can’t wait to see how my intervention will change Duddell’s.
You both come from such different backgrounds. Adrian is more scientific in a way, while Zoie is more into the intuitive aesthetic approach to art, so your interpretations could also be different, as well as the way that you measure the energies. So how did you two compromise?
A: Well, in the context of our collaboration, I deferred entirely to Zoie because I think there is a degree of interpretation. Although there are a lot of abstract images, it’s interesting there are also objectively defined things. For example, colour is something that we can agree on, as well as the material, the medium, the title and the objects depicted. While a lot of these things are culturally specific, Duddell’s is a space that addresses itself to Hong Kong. As this is the environment that Zoie is a product of, I thought it made sense to do this with the client, the visitor and the person who experiences it in mind, and I felt she had the right perspective to choose the right artworks.
So Zoie, how do you approach an artwork as a feng shui practitioner?
Z: First of all, you need to know the property of an artwork. For a black and white salted paper photo, it is metal because of the chemical itself, and the ammonia contained in the explosion piece from Cai Guoqiang makes it belong to the earth. Besides the materials, you have to look at the composition to see if it resembles a hexagram. It also matters where we place the works. All the pieces were installed to maximise their energetic potential. This could be against a corner, above or below the natural gaze of the audience, or even mounted on the ceiling, which prompts visitors to reconsider the space surrounding them and the impact of feng shui on their perceptions of it.
As most of the audience know the installation is based on feng shui, rather than the artistic value of the artwork, the exhibition gives you poetic licence, as all the formalities and rules in curating or exhibiting work are forgotten and forgiven.
A: That’s one part of the perceptions of the work, but I’m also hoping to provide people with an outlet for really experiencing how they feel. One of the issues is the problem of inserting artwork in a place that is already filled with so many visual stimulants. It’s normally hard to find a space in Duddell’s where you can see a work cleanly because there is such exquisite furniture, the design that Elsa Crawford brought to the space, food, sounds and people moving around, so you have to try to isolate the artworks and push away your perception of where you are. I didn’t want to fight against the existing material, but to give people space, so they could see the exhibition as a holistic, fully embodied experience. So, I think asking these questions plays a cognitive role, but you can take a step back from that and really immerse yourself in whatever experience the artworks create.
There are always links with the mysterious power or forces that influence our behaviour. During the process of working with the specialist, how do you also position yourself as an artist at the same time?
A: The more I delved into the literature of feng shui, the more I saw it as the concretisation of metaphor; a beautifully crafted structure within which adherents are given the means to reflect on the inherent harmonies and disharmonies of their surroundings. But much like the best kind of contemporary art, contemporary feng shui is a system that allows meaning to remain essentially open. In its 4000-year-old history, countless methods have been subsumed, leading to inevitable contradictions and contraindications. It is unique that these are embraced rather than redacted. A Flying Star analysis might indicate that the north-east sector is particularly prosperous and the Ba Zhai points to the south-west. Each subsequent analysis increases the complexity, rather than reducing it, and this is resolved through a process more akin to poetic compromise than clinical diagnosis – a negotiation between man and the metaphysical constituents of the material world.
People put artworks or images in their homes for either decoration or functional reasons and then only later do they become art collectors. You sometimes even buy an art piece just because the feng shui master told you to.
A: Yes, some people buy artwork because of the diagnosis of a feng shui master.
I know you have greater freedom from boundaries as an artist because you collaborate with a lot of people, instead of having very straight principles. So, do you see the exhibition as a light-hearted jokey critique of collectors who want to have a better life through collecting artwork?
A: I think I have an eight-year old’s sense of humour, as I sometimes have a lot of silly thoughts when I do these works. A lot of what I do is just immature at the core. Many of these collections are very important collections and the role of the curator is often revered, as Duddell’s is a respected art space. However, just because something is a silly light-hearted critique, doesn’t mean that it can’t also be profound. So, I am glad that it came across like that because it is something that accidentally makes its way into a lot of the things that I do.
There is always a bit of light ribbing, but I feel that’s important. I think there are two kinds of light-hearted critiques. One is more of an attack or dismissal of certain ideas and positions, whereas the lightness that I aim for is humanising, as it allows people to step outside of their own prescribed roles, positions and ways of seeing things. I think you can disarm the participants with this lightness, as well as the collectors, painters, donors and artists themselves.
Geomantic Intervention (no. 3)
22 October 2016 to 10th March 2017
About Adrian Wong
Adrian Wong was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois in 1980. Originally trained in research psychology (receiving a Master’s degree from Stanford University in 2003), he began making and exhibiting work in San Francisco while concurrently conducting experiments in developmental psychology. He continued his post-graduate studies at Yale University, where he received an MFA in 2005. Relying heavily on a research based method, his installations, videos, and sculptures draw from varied subjects and explore the intricacies of his relationship to his environment (experientially, historically, culturally, and through the filter of fantastical or fictionalized narratives). These organic and open-ended artifacts of his process often involve a collaborative engagement with subjects. Wong has been based in Hong Kong since 2005. His recent exhibitions include “Hong Kong Eye” at the Saatchi Gallery, “Summer Triangle” at OCAT Shenzhen, and the traveling exhibition “Ho Visto Un Re” – currently on view at the Palazzo Reale in Milan. His videos have been screened at the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Bangkok Experimental Film Festival, and Kunsthalle Wien. He is the winner of the 2013-2014 Sovereign Asian Art Prize. And his work is included in the Uli Sigg Collection (Lucerne), the Dominique and Sylvain Levy Collection (Paris), the Kadist Foundation Collection (San Francisco), Hong Kong Museum of Art (Hong Kong), M+ Museum Collection (Hong Kong), and the private collections of William Lim (Hong Kong), Honus Tandijono (Hong Kong), and Hallam Chow (Hong Kong) among others.
About Zoie Yung
Zoie Yung, known professionally as Mingson, is a Chinese Ba Zi and Geomancy practitioner. Mingson and Astroosim (a specialist in Western astrology) formed Mosunsun astrology group in 2015. Together, they work with various clients in local creative industries, providing an alternative approach to life-reading—a hybrid of Eastern and Western astrological theories. Mingson also provides life-reading and Feng Shui consultations for independent spaces in Hong Kong, and is currently developing a comprehensive theory of “Art Practitioners’ Ba Zi,” drawing from her experiences in contemporary art and studies in traditional Ba Zi.