Emerald City – Visualisation of Geometry

Ashley Bickerton Seascape: Floating Ocean Chunk No. 1 2017 Resin, fiberglass, oil paint, enamel, aluminum, and plywood 144.8 × 188 × 53.3 cm Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong
Portrait of Venus Lau. Courtesy of K11 Art Foundation.
Installation view of Emerald City at K11 Art Foundation Pop-up Space, Cosco Tower, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Zhou Siwei, Images Carrier 02, 2015. Digital print, 200 × 150 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Antenna Space.
Ashley Bickerton, Seascape: Floating Ocean Chunk No. 1, 2017. Resin, fiberglass, oil paint, enamel, aluminum, and plywood. 144.8 × 188 × 53.3 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.
Alice Wang, Untitled Gold Fossils, 2016. Courtesy of K11 Art Foundation.
ART Power HK

Venus Lau is Artistic Director for K11 Art Foundation since last September, just at the moment when the foundation is shifting its focus away from collaborations with well-respected western institutions and moving towards developing its own curatorial team. Formerly the director of OCAT Shenzhen after serving as a curator at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, Lau seems modest but confident in her abilities to fulfill this new mission. In the coming months, she will be responsible for curating a show of Chen Wei’s work at K11 Guanzhou and will be bringing a project by Katharina Grosse to K11 Shanghai in November.

TEXT: Barbara Pollack
IMAGE: Courtesy K11 Art Foundation

Portrait of Venus Lau. Courtesy of K11 Art Foundation.


But for now, her main focus is Emerald City, a group exhibition of unique sophistication. Bringing together a group of twenty-six artists/ art collectives, the show encompasses various tendencies in geometric thinking, ranging from the Neo Geo abstractions of Peter Halley and Ashley Bickerton to a collapsed canvas by Oscar Murillo and ultra violent video game by Andrew Luk, Alexis Mailles and Peter Nelson.   Basically, Lau creates an environment in which we can question the universality of a mathematical ideal, namely Euclidean Geometry, as a metaphor for examining issues such as translation, transparency and globalization.

I sat down with Venus Lau on the eve of her opening and after finding a quiet spot within the exhibition, she laid out her ideas in great detail.


Installation view of Emerald City at K11 Art Foundation Pop-up Space, Cosco Tower, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Installation view of Emerald City at K11 Art Foundation Pop-up Space, Cosco Tower, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong


Can you tell me about this show?

At the beginning, I was thinking about doing a show about geometry and how geometric forms are related to social structure. But I found out that geometry basically is social structure. It effects every way we perceive a space. Geometry puts things in a spatial order.   People keep asking me why are there no abstract geometric shapes here? I intentionally avoided a lot of abstract shapes because I wanted to show that geometry is everywhere. We were conscious of this even when we built these walls when we started.

Andrew Luk, Alexis Mailles and Peter Nelson created this online game based on the defense system in Hong Kong. It takes place in a bunker. It’s about geometry because though it looks totally real, it is also very abstract. When you make something like this, you have to think about it an abstract way. You have to map the thing in a very abstract way.

When we talk about geometry, it’s basically the Euclidian one that we learned in elementary school. The area of a triangle and the angle between two things–that sort of thing. It’s supposed to be a universal knowledge but actually it’s from a very specific context of ancient Greece more than 2,000 years ago. So there is a long process of translation to make geometry the spatial universal knowledge to be used the same way whether you are talking about a building in China or New York or Greece.

I think geometry is an interesting metaphor to think about homogeneity in the globalized world. Geometry involves an actual translation process. Like in the Ming dynasty, Xu Guangqi [徐光啟, 1562 – 1633], a very high ranking government official who was a Christian, translated Euclid’s Elements into Chinese. So this is how China first got [Euclidean] geometry. There’s a real translation process. But it is also a very specific idea of space. With the Euclidean idea of geometry, everything is on the surface, though he believed that the world is round. There is an abstract ideal that ‘translation is transparency’ 100 percent without any diffusion or any distortion. So geometry is an abstract ideal where the light of reason and logic goes through every space. Everything can be measured, can be drawn on paper and built and redesigned.   It is such an absolute authority that we can never say “no” to it (unless you are a Mathematician). So I found it interesting to think about this transparency as a metaphor of abstract ideal – in geometry or in translation – and look at the opaque parts in our globalized world, things that cannot be totally translated and cannot be totally abstracted. So geometry as a universal knowledge system, I’m very interested in that.


Zhou Siwei, Images Carrier 02, 2015. Digital print, 200 × 150 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Antenna Space.


How did you get inspired to think about this show?

One day I was reading about Neo Geo. You know, Peter Halley, Ashley Bickerton, Meyer Vaisman and Jeff Koons…… I thought that it’s amazing that it happened at the same time as Rational Painting in China with artists like Shu Qun, Zhang Peili and Wang Guangyi (who put grids in his paintings). At the same time in Japan, Keiichi Tanaami was working on paintings and sculptures with rigid geometric structures in the ’80s and ‘90s (decades before the Superflat movement founded by Murakami) – that was the time people started realising. So I started thinking that when we talk about globalization and art history, it is always a Western-centric history. It’s always about what artists in America did or in Europe did and what kind of resonance they have in the West. These movements/ moments in art history: Neo Geo, Rational Painting or what Tanaami did, they came out at the same time, so there is no “causality” between them. They didn’t influence each other directly, yet they visualised geometric rules at the moment when people started to realise the world was experiencing the globalization that we are still facing now. By the way, when I talked to Ashley Bickerton about Neo Geo, he said what he was thinking by then was putting things into a Donald Judd box. Geometry is something invisible when you don’t rethink about the spaces around you, or the world as a total space, I talked to one docent we were training and she said, “Geometry is invisible and transparent when there is nothing wrong”. Like we are in this room and you don’t suddenly think about geometry, that is, unless the walls fall down or it starts to get crooked. Then you ask, ‘What is this?’


Ashley Bickerton, Seascape: Floating Ocean Chunk No. 1, 2017. Resin, fiberglass, oil paint, enamel, aluminum, and plywood. 144.8 × 188 × 53.3 cm. Courtesy of the Artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.


So why is this show good for K11 to do right now?

Our mission is to incubate young Chinese artists, while building dialogues between greater China and other places from a unique academic position. Of course, the phrase “building dialogue” is on every exhibition’s press release. So what we want to ask is “what is this dialogue?” or “What are we going to talk about?” It’s not just putting some people together. I think geometry is a very specific yet very universal spatial order that people from every region can refer to. It is good way to start a dialogue and through the abstract idea of universal language of space, of geometry, then we can talk about differences and how differences can still talk to each other.


What young Chinese artists are you featuring in this show?

Chen Zhou – he was very active a few years ago and he kind of disappeared for a while, now he’s back. He had a previous phase in which he flooded all his works: from videos to installation, with bright yellow, which he referred to as a universal symbol of happiness. He is exploring the color blue – that kind of shade between Klein’s universal blue and “screen-of-death”-kind of blue. You know, when your windows shut down on your computer. Chen Zhou referred the blue to Buddhist emptiness. Screens are a modern way of people putting a big void to interrupt the linear perspective. Things don’t disappear on a vanishing point. There’s a void that is connecting you with another screen.

Shen Xin who is in this year’s New Museum Triennial, is showing the film about a Chinese billionaire (Ni Zhaoxing) who is trying to rebuild the Crystal Palace in the UK. She films the work from the perspective of a guest at a dinner. The Crystal Palace is a sign of imperialism and industrial advancement. It is interesting to look at why a Chinese billionaire in a globalised capitalist world would try to do this. Is it his ideal to have the world enclosed but also perfectly transparent?

Alice Wang, who is now based in LA, made a big table of gold-plated marine fossils (from three million years ago). When you look at the cross section, you can see the tissues with a radiative pattern being preserved by modern technology of plating. The work meshed is from a pre-anthopo-time before every human creation – like geometry. Wang grew up in Xi’an, an old Chinese cities with a lot of temples, her first impression of gold is from the Buddhist statues, so gold works here as a symbol of the transcendental.

I have a lot of people asking “why in this show you guys are dealing with pre-internet stuff?” Well, geometry existed more than 2,000 years ago, and it still works. It works everywhere, including online spaces. It works on a computer screen, on Instagram, like when you think how do you put objects into that box on your phone that you are scrolling. Geometry as an old mathematical knowledge is “still here” moulding our perception of spaces.


Alice Wang, Untitled Gold Fossils, 2016. Courtesy of K11 Art Foundation.


What is your vision for K11?

This is the exhibition that K11 Art Foundation did by ourselves from scratch: from the research to the exhibition designs (which we worked with Hong Kong-based architect Betty Ng). In the past we collaborated with great guest curators like Klaus Biesenbach, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Lauren Cornell as collaborative projects with other institutions. The process of collaboration has accumulated and generated a lot of new perspectives.   Through Emerald City we have developed these perspectives to new dialogues linking practices of artists from different regions and generations.



K11 Art Foundation – Emerald City

28.03.2018 – 22.04.2018 11am – 7pm
K11 Art Foundation Pop-up Space, 33 Wing Lok Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong

Date: 28.03.2018 – 31.05.2018 Time: 11am – 7pm
chi art space, 18 Queen’s Road Central, New World Tower 2, Hong Kong




Barbara Pollack

Since 1994, Barbara Pollack has written on contemporary art for such publications as The New York Times, the Village Voice, Art in America, Vanity Fair and of course, Artnews, among many others. She is the author of the book, The Wild, Wild East: An American Art Critic’s Adventures in China and has written dozens of catalogue essays for a wide range of international artists. In addition to writing, Pollack is an independent curator who organized the exhibition, We Chat: A Dialogue in Contemporary Chinese Art, currently at Asia Society Texas and she is a professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She has been awarded two grants from the Asian Cultural Council as well as receiving the prestigious Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writer Grant.



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