Is Blindspot’s “Anonymous Society for Magick” Immersion Therapy for the Art Lover?

Installation view of “Anonymous Society for Magick” at Blindspot Gallery, 14 April – 30 May, 2020. Image courtesy of Blindspot Gallery.
Lam Tung Pang, The Great Escape, 2020, video projection, ink and pencil on paper, scale models, acrylics and uv-print on plywood, size variable. Image courtesy of artist and Blindspot Gallery.
Chen Wei, Curtain (Floating New Buildings/ Hong Kong), 2020, print on textile, exhibition size: 3 x 7 m, size variable. Image courtesy of artist and Blindspot Gallery.
Chen Wei, Mushroom, 2016, archival inkjet print, acrylic face-mount on aluminium, 150 x 187.5 cm, edition of 6 + 2AP. Image courtesy of artist and Blindspot Gallery.
Trevor Yeung, Mr. butterflies at a waiting corridor, 2020, butterfly palm, LED light, rotator, wooden case, size variable. Image courtesy of artist and Blindspot Gallery.
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K11 HONG HONG'S SILICON VALLEY OF CULTURE

Crowd-pleasing, but in a way that is welcome as the art world adapts, Blindspot Gallery’s “Anonymous Society for Magick” transports viewers with a series of immersive installations that is an escape for the mind—but not without a little baggage.

TEXT: Christina Ko
IMAGES: Courtesy of Blindspot Gallery

Installation view of “Anonymous Society for Magick” at Blindspot Gallery, 14 April – 30 May, 2020. Image courtesy of Blindspot Gallery.

 

There’s a human-sized paper lantern, a closet full of glow-in-the-dark mushrooms, a window to a rainbow land obscured by a flimsy curtain, a party filled with dancing houseplants. Welcome to Blindspot Gallery’s latest show, “Anonymous Society for Magick,” a wonderland of immersive installations that explore the space where art and magic meet.

The two, argues curator Ying Kwok, are not so different after all, sharing aspects of preparation, specificity of environment, immersion, and above all, a quest for the meaning of life and better understanding of the principles of being.

“At the beginning, magic started with philosophers and scholars. They were actually interested in finding the truth in life, and to better understand themselves or their surroundings. It starts from curiosity—and that’s exactly what an artist does,” Kwok says.

Art that seeks truth and to transport its audience? Well, that narrows it down then—not.

On paper, it would appear that Kwok has created a poetic catch-all to display the pieces she wishes to show in a group jumble with little thematic resonance. In reality, this is a well-considered exhibition that answers to the current times without being a slave to them. This is often a fine line to walk in this politically charged era, with the gallery’s roster of artists being so heavily defined by its pro-democracy leanings (and given the media’s tendency to find a theme and run with it).

If, like many exhibition goers, one chooses to relate certain pieces to the protest movement or the pandemic situation, then so be it. According to Kwok, “I do sometimes feel, don’t let the subject matter take over the work. [But] art is doing a different thing [than magic in this sense]. We provide certain situations, but you all have your own life, and the connection must be revealed by yourself. Apart from Lam Tung Pang’s work, everyone’s work has been created before the pandemic, and are not related to the [protest] movement at all, but somehow people make the connections themselves.”

Lam’s work is the first that viewers will encounter upon entering the gallery, and immediately touches upon an idea that has preyed upon most minds lately. Titled The Great Escape (2020), it’s a giant Chinese paper lantern with a projector rotating inside, splaying images in Lam’s familiar illustrated style, inspired by children’s books he read to his little ones while they were being home-schooled over the last few months.

This newly commissioned work speaks to the overarching theme quite literally, whether in terms of the object craftsmanship, which resembles a large magic prop; the experiential aspect of the installation; or even the use of the word escape, recalling the great Houdini. It’s a great way to introduce the show, and sets the tone for what we are about to see, which is an exhibition that prioritizes audience experience in a way that almost renders the artists—as the exhibition title suggests—anonymous.

 

Lam Tung Pang, The Great Escape, 2020, video projection, ink and pencil on paper, scale models, acrylics and uv-print on plywood, size variable. Image courtesy of artist and Blindspot Gallery.

 

The rest of the show features pieces by Chen Wei, Trevor Yeung, Wang Tuo and Hao Jingban, laid out almost as a series of standalone experiences, instead of a group show held together by a clear theme. “When I curate a show, I think it’s very important one work talks to another…I looked into how they create their own logic or where they want to put the spotlight, and how it was engineered and put together.”

Two vastly different video works show the nuance of Kwok’s approach. The first is Wang Tuo’s Symptomatic Silence of Complicit Forgetting (2020), which uses a narrative approach in dual timelines to explore the idea of collective historical trauma and the fact that these memories cannot be erased. But the artist’s purpose through telling these tragic tales is to find healing—“It’s a process of understanding what everyone has gone through,” explains Kwok. “As someone born in the early ‘80s, he never experienced the Cultural Revolution or the harshest times. He basically grew up in one of the most comfortable times in China, but somehow although he has never experienced that, all this feels like a haunting experience or memory [he] had either by reading or listening to his parents or grandparents.”

On the other side of the gallery sits its foil, a two-screen video piece by Hao Jingban, Opus One (2020), which seems, on the surface, to be lighthearted: on the first screen, we see an African-American couple engaged in a frenetic swing dance performance; on the second, a modern-day Chinese couple is filmed rehearsing the same various moves, which only serves to highlight that this recreation can never touch the original—“that gap between culture and time that we can never travel back through,” as Kwok puts it.

Seemingly unusual choice of seating includes a prop mattress featured in the film during practice, underscoring the artist’s point – you can be close enough to touch it, but like the Chinese couple’s perfect performance, something is still missing. That said, scooting to the back of the mattress, it turns out, is the best vantage point from which to enjoy the Instagram star of the show, a site-specific installation called Curtain (Floating New Buildings/Hong Kong) (2020) by Chen Wei, the Chinese artist best known for engineered nightclub photographs featuring an almost otherworldly lighting scheme. This command of light is transferred to a simple window installation, a curtain on which a rainbow is projected, borrowing natural filtered sunshine to create a symbol of the endless pulsation of the city outside.

 

Chen Wei, Curtain (Floating New Buildings/ Hong Kong), 2020, print on textile, exhibition size: 3 x 7 m, size variable. Image courtesy of artist and Blindspot Gallery.

 

Immersive, indeed—through a process of distillation also used in staging his photographs, Chen has the ability to take viewers past the typical din and detail. “What he does is he tries to copy what he sees in the city, which looks completely surreal or illogical, and he tries to rebuild it, so he has a chance to reduce some of the noise and unrelated elements, and purify the whole viewing of the object, and then present it in a very precise way,” says Kwok.

In Chen’s Mushroom (2016), a number of disused satellites sit on an abandoned construction site—once more a scaled recreation of an original location—highlighting certain useless items that seem to “mushroom” like fungi and become a part of life and landscape. In fact, Kwok intended to have the model shipped to Hong Kong as part of the show to accompany the photograph, but the logistics proved impossible when Beijing shut down and the artist was unable to travel even to his studio. Is it truly a loss, or would this demystification of the magician’s process only cloud its purity?

 

Chen Wei, Mushroom, 2016, archival inkjet print, acrylic face-mount on aluminium, 150 x 187.5 cm, edition of 6 + 2AP. Image courtesy of artist and Blindspot Gallery.

 

Instead, looking somewhat like a Chen Wei club setting, but with houseplants, we have Trevor Yeung’s latest incarnation of his Mr Butterflies installations, Mr butterflies at a waiting corridor (2020), in which butterfly palms twirl in place along a darkened corridor illuminated by disco light, crowded but not so crowded. It’s obvious why this piece might resonate in current times, although the piece is part of a series that was conceived eight years ago, when standing within 1.5 metres of a stranger was quite the normal thing to do.

“It’s always about social anxiety, but this [version of the piece] really responds to the space. In other places, such as when it showed at the Lyon Biennale, the psychological state represented by the plant is very different. When we have social anxiety, some people become really bold, proactive, even aggressive. Some people try to hide away or wait to be approached. Everyone has a different approach when dealing with social anxiety,” says Kwok.

 

Trevor Yeung, Mr. butterflies at a waiting corridor, 2020, butterfly palm, LED light, rotator, wooden case, size variable. Image courtesy of artist and Blindspot Gallery.

 

It’s also not immediately clear whether participants are allowed to enter the installation or not, which only adds to the authenticity of the experience, further summoning questions surrounding appropriate behaviour and regard for authority. It was Kwok’s preference, actually, to refrain from overexplaining the ideas and relevance of each piece with an abundance of artist statements and curatorial messages. “[Unlike magic], artwork actually [pushes] people away, because of the very complicated or heavy content. So, when we started to talk about curating a show that would happen this March, we were thinking, after all the experiences we’ve gone through together in the last half a year, maybe we should try to bring in a different entry [point] to warm up the audience when they come in the show.”

Kwok adds, “We had some discussions whether to describe it more, and make it more precise, or just let people come and see it. In a way, magic is a way to escape from reality, or a way to understand truth or unveil some hidden paths.”

 

 

Anonymous Society for Magick
14 Apr – 30 May 2020
Blindspot Gallery

 

 

 
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