Enoch Cheng: Gardens are Brutal

Samuel Adam Swope, Updraft, Updraft (detail), 2017, Customized paper, wind, wood, wax, acrylic glass, fluorescent light, net, electronic circuits and hardware, Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and the K11 Art Foundation
Portrait of Enoch Cheng (Courtesy of K11 Art Foundation)
Ian Cheng, Emissary Forks For You, 2016, Live simulation, infinite duration, sound, Google Tango Tablet. Courtesy of the K11 Kollection
Samuel Adam Swope, Updraft, Updraft (detail), 2017, Customized paper, wind, wood, wax, acrylic glass, fluorescent light, net, electronic circuits and hardware, Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and the K11 Art Foundation
Cai Kai, Sunrise on the Sea, 2014, Single-channel video (colour, silent, loop) projection, 1 min 16 secs. Courtesy of the Artist
Andrew Luk, Distilled of Fired Leaves (detail), 2017, Mixed media installation, Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist, de Sarthe Gallery, Beijing:Hong Kong and the K11 Art Foundation
Neïl Beloufa, Scaffolding Series, 2015, Resin, paint, plastic, electrical connection, fiber glass, 240 x 150 x 40 cm. Courtesy of the K11 Kollection
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As The Gardens opens in chi art space in Clearwater Bay, curator Enoch Cheng ruminates on the brutality of gardens and elasticity of time.

TEXTS: Christie Lee
IMAGES: Courtesy of K11 Art Foundation

 

Portrait of Enoch Cheng (Courtesy of K11 Art Foundation)

 

It’s no secret that Londoners are obsessed with their gardens. While Hampstead is romantic, and Chelsea Physic Garden is one of the more well-known ‘secret’ gardens, Kew Gardens, famed for its diverse botanical and mycological offerings, is where you’d take your kids out to on a city excursion, Flower shows, big or small, pepper social calendars and you’d also be hard-pressed to find a Brit who’d prefer living 15 floors up a cold, steel-clad residence than a house with a lawn.

It was in this environment, while doing a Masters in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, that Enoch Cheng became drawn to gardens. “I started looking at gardens when I went to the UK, because botany is such an important aspect of life. But I didn’t know what i was looking at. In Hong Kong, we have a very limited way of looking at nature.”

 

Ian Cheng, Emissary Forks For You, 2016, Live simulation, infinite duration, sound, Google Tango Tablet. Courtesy of the K11 Kollection
Samuel Adam Swope, Updraft, Updraft (detail), 2017, Customized paper, wind, wood, wax, acrylic glass, fluorescent light, net, electronic circuits and hardware, Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and the K11 Art Foundation

 

One garden led him to another, and it was later, at the Glasgow Botanic Garden that Cheng started becoming obsessed. “It was already weeks after I’d seen the garden. And I was in Berlin. But I started to dream about this garden,” The curator, artist and writer says he was attracted to the fluidity of the space. “As you step inside the greenhouse, you feel as if you’re being transported to another space. There is also element of time travel, as some of the grasses and mosses date back to pre-human times. He brings up Proust, who taught him to look at time in an elastic way. “I’m always thinking about how our lines of thoughts travel through time. Yesterday, I was thinking about the past, Today, I’m thinking about tomorrow.”

Yet, while it protects and nurtures, the garden – unlike a wild forest – also essentially ruthless, in its conditioning of the kind of plants, or the height of shrubs that can be grown. To Cheng, it recalls the brutality of the gallery or museum setting. “The white walls, there is a certain set of criteria you have to fulfil,” the artist notes. “We are governed to think about art in a certain way, although it also offers potential as to how to break away from this.”

 

Cai Kai, Sunrise on the Sea, 2014, Single-channel video (colour, silent, loop) projection, 1 min 16 secs. Courtesy of the Artist
Andrew Luk, Distilled of Fired Leaves (detail), 2017, Mixed media installation, Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist, de Sarthe Gallery, Beijing:Hong Kong and the K11 Art Foundation

 

And that is precisely what the curator has set out to do in his show at chi art space in Clearwater Bay. Titled The Garden, the show includes works by 9 artists, including Cheng’s own – “sometimes i put my own art in my shows,” he says slyly. Using the idea of the garden as both set and motif, there’d be invisible dogs, a few disintegrated air-con covers meant to evoke fungus, a work exploring seed mutation, and a live performance. Though far from your typical gallery setting, the space is ideal for conveying the humidity that Cheng still remembers from the Botanic Garden. “I want the viewer to be enveloped by different sensations.”

Curating wasn’t Cheng’s first calling, so to speak. Prior to Goldsmiths, he was the programme manager for Asia Art Archive, where amongst other things, he organised talks and events. “to me, curating is like making salad, where you put ideas, people, time and space. Ultimately I want to create a platform for everyone to think.” The interest in time and space drew him to film-making, but it wasn’t until completing his Masters that Hong Kong curator Yang Yang a few others encouraged him to pursue the artistic path. “I have always felt an urge to create. Writing taught me to see how time is being translated, and transported within a space.”

These days, Cheng is doing a bit of shutting of his own, flying between Hong Kong and Stuttgart, where he is an artist in residency at Akademie Schloss Solitude.” How does he see the different ways that different cities experience time?

 

Neïl Beloufa, Scaffolding Series, 2015, Resin, paint, plastic, electrical connection, fiber glass, 240 x 150 x 40 cm. Courtesy of the K11 Kollection

 

“In Hong Kong, you’re constantly overwhelmed by the environment on daily basis, so you feel a need to block out sensations. We don’t want to be too close to anything. There is no sense of nature, as our vision is blocked by all the architecture that surrounds us. There is also a lot of light everywhere. We’re hyperactive all the time. We don’t watch the six-thirty evening news,” he sighs. “But I guess that’s the same for every major city. But then, at least you see the clouds in London.”

As for whether he considers himself a ‘Hong Kong artist’? As with his career, he doesn’t subscribe to a particular nationality – “that’s the beauty of making art” – though he does recognise the significance of being from the city.

“There is a work about bacteria [in The Garden], how can I not think about SARS or the bubonic plague?” He pauses. “In a way, there is no place that isn’t Hong Kong.”

 

The Garden runs through October 13 at chi art space in Clearwater Bay.

 



Christie Lee
 is a Hong Kong-based arts journalist, her articles have been published in Art + Auction, Artsy Editorial, Art in Asia, Baccarat magazine and Yishu. She has a degree in English literature and political science from McGill University.

 

 

 
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