Hong Kong in Venice: Stakeholder Serenity

Shirley Tse with Negotiated Differences at Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice, 2019.
Bamboo Extension , 2016, glass, bamboo, and plastic, 228.6 x 43.2 x 17.8 cm. Installation view of Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice, 2019
Negotiated Differences (detail), carved wood and 3D-printed forms in wood, metal, and plastic, dimensions variable. Installation view of Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice, 2019.
Negotiated Differences (detail), carved wood and 3D-printed forms in wood, metal, and plastic, dimensions variable. Installation view of Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice, 2019.
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ART AND SUSTAINABILITY

Hong Kong’s contribution to the Venice Biennale consists of two installations by Los Angeles-based artist Shirley Tse. It’s called Stakeholders. The largest installation is entitled Negotiated Differences. Wait, the city’s citizens are stakeholders in Hong Kong. They and the government may need to negotiate their differences. Have M+ and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council cooked up a show which is actually relevant?

Text: Nicholas Stephens
Images: Courtesy M+ and the artist

Shirley Tse with Negotiated Differences at Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice, 2019.

 

On the Campo della Tana, outside the entrance to the Arsenale section of the Venice Biennale, is a large doorway leading into a courtyard. Until November, this is the home of Stakeholders by Shirley Tse. Last week, the outer wall was decorated with flimsy post-it notes proclaiming Hong Kong’s right to freedom. One morning, they disappeared. Three Chinese tourists were photographed walking away with the scraps of paper in their hands. The next day, new notices were posted on the wall in support of the Hong Kong marches. These were taken down again in the night. The wall itself has become a kind of noticeboard, where political discussions closer to home are raised and then countered. When I visited, the wall was bare.

Hong Kong’s exhibition belongs to one of the more tranquil and contemplative of the Biennale. Tempo-wise it’s a counterpoint to the joyfully swaggering rhythms of Swinguerra at the Brazilian Pavilion, or Laure Prouvost’s occasionally raucous carnival in the French Pavilion. Venice’s moniker is La Serenissima, the serene one, and Hong Kong’s shaded courtyard show stays cool in the summer heat and dials down needless intensity. It also side-steps any easy categorization of ideas, avoiding the laser-lock on hot button identity issues which is much in evidence elsewhere. It would be a good companion piece to Cathy Wilkes’ Great Britain Pavilion, which features an array of found objects and gentle allusions, sparse, rogue textures and a poker-faced refusal to land the time machine in past, present or future.

Visitors will find a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Two Hong Kong interns are working there, and there is a personable Italian guard who exhibits a good deal of passion about the show and a willingness to speculate about some of its meanings. There are two installations. Playcourt greets the visitor in the courtyard, while Negotiated Differences snakes through the interior.

Playcourt offers a badminton match of tall forms, nudging the eye upwards. The vanishing point is in the azure sky over the ancient city. The stillness seems only enhanced by the radio set which is tuned into an AM frequency, picking up scattered static from amateur radio enthusiasts between here and Ukraine. This pre-WhatsApp audible smoke signal calls to mind the aftermath of modern catastrophes which knock out power lines and more advanced telephony. If there has been a disaster, it hasn’t stopped the game. The players are still here (they look like a net, a wind sock and a greenish skull on a stick), and there are three shuttle cocks surreptitiously buried in the wall and in crevices around the court as if lost in real play.

 

Bamboo Extension , 2016, glass, bamboo, and plastic, 228.6 x 43.2 x 17.8 cm. Installation view of Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice, 2019

 

Negotiated Differences is a twisting chain of interlocking forms in wood, metal and plastic, partly hand-crafted and partly 3D printed. It begins in the shape of a ballet dancer’s barre screwed onto the wall, but from then on, the chain becomes floor-bound, and is attached without glue or screw. The result flows out organically in tangents, and there is a living quality to it, enhanced by the artist’s inclusion of flaws from misfired 3D prints in the individual components. As the guard told me, the carved wood is created by taking away, and the 3D printed wood is created by building up. They start as opposites and join up in unison.

 

Negotiated Differences (detail), carved wood and 3D-printed forms in wood, metal, and plastic, dimensions variable. Installation view of Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice, 2019.
Negotiated Differences (detail), carved wood and 3D-printed forms in wood, metal, and plastic, dimensions variable. Installation view of Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice, 2019.

 

Hong Kong joins Scotland, Taiwan, Wales and others as collateral events at the Venice Biennale. These places do not have their dedicated pavilions like other countries do. There is no difference in quality of output (Scotland in fact is represented by last year’s Turner Prize winner, Charlotte Prodger), and not being intra muros means that visitors can enter without buying a ticket, whether stumbling on the show accidentally or seeking it out. This collateral status creates a spirit of openness all by itself.

Stakeholders offers some universal perspectives on relationships. Navigating opposing points of view is a lengthy, organic process which is less a matter of building a bridge, and more a matter of finding individual points of intersection; testing these links, moving on and forming new ones. The result is unplanned, chaotic and full of life. It would be a stretch to say that Stakeholders tackles Hong Kong’s current situation head-on. But it is relevant. And those who fully understand it will do good wherever they are.

 

 

Shirley Tse: Stakeholders
11 May – 24 November, 2019
The 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia

 

 

About the Artist

Los Angeles–based Hong Kong artist Shirley Tse (born 1968) received a Master of Fine Arts degree from ArtCenter College of Design, Pasadena, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Chinese University of Hong Kong Department of Fine Arts. Her work has been exhibited at venues including the Pasadena Museum of California Art (2004/2017); Osage, Hong Kong (2010/2011); K11, Hong Kong (2009); Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge (2009); the Museum of Modern Fine Art, Minsk (2006); the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University (2005); Para Site, Hong Kong (2000/2005); the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts (2003); the Art Gallery of Ontario (2002); the Bienal Ceará América, Fortaleza (2002); the Biennale of Sydney (2002); Capp Street Project, San Francisco (2002); the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2002); MoMA PS1 (2002); the New Museum (2002); Palazzo dell’Arengo, Rimini (2002); the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2001); TENT, Centrum Beeldende Kunst Rotterdam (2001); and Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, New Zealand (2000). Her work is featured in many articles, catalogues, and other publications including Akademie X: Lessons in Art + Life (2015) and Sculpture Today (2007).

Tse received the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 2009 and has been on the faculty at California Institute of the Arts since 2001, where she is the Robert Fitzpatrick Chair in Art.

 

 


 

Nicholas Stephens is from London and has lived in Hong Kong for the last nine years, where he works for a leading Hong Kong gallery, specializing in contemporary ink. His articles on diverse aspects of the Hong Kong arts scene have been published in “Art Hong Kong”. A graduate in Modern Languages (European ones unfortunately!), Nicholas has authored translations of novels and plays by writers including Stefan Zweig and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

 

 

 
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