Sep 10 2018

There and Back Again: deSAR 2018

by Christie Wong

Installation view of CHRISTOPHER K. HO’s “CX 888” at de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong, 2018. All images courtesy the artist and de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong.

The 2018 edition of de Sarthe Hong Kong’s six-week residency program, deSAR—in which curators Ingrid Pui Yee Chu and Savannah Gorton, co-directors of non-profit curatorial initiative Forever & Today (F&T) were invited to develop a show at the gallery in view of the public—culminated on September 1 with the opening of New York- and Hong Kong-based artist Christopher K. Ho’s solo presentation “CX 888.”

For the residency, F&T chose to conduct an iteration of their “Office Hours” public program, which they had started in 2011 when they were based in New York. The program entails inviting an artist to establish a joint work environment—which is open for public visits—over a residency period, combining curatorial office and artist studio. At the center of the deSAR edition, for which Ho created a series of site-specific works, was a questioning of established notions of art production, as well as interrogations of immigrant identity.

Installation view of CHRISTOPHER K. HO’s “CX 888” at de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong, 2018.

Ho himself rejects the label of “exhibition” for “CX 888.” With the curators and artist working in the same space as well as in the public eye, the tradition of the artist’s studio as the designated site for experimentation and development, and the gallery space as the “final” site for completed works, is broken. Instead, Ho prefers to see the exhibition as a “psychological map” for the exploration of his own identity, as a Western-raised Chinese person who has recently returned to his birthplace. The artist convincingly set up the individual works to be read as a whole installation through his total transformation of the space. Ho had lifted a majority of the floor tiles in the main space of the L-shaped gallery, revealing the sockets, wires and debris beneath. Paths were left at the edges of the space, with stacks of tiles placed at the hole’s perimeter, forcing visitors to depart from the usual, removed observation of art, and instead step in and around the artist’s works. 

Beginning with the show’s title, which references the daily flight between Hong Kong and Vancouver, Ho repeatedly uses the motif of air travel. Neon yellow and green vinyl lines traverse the walls à la Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #51 (1970), like a flightpath map or the exit indicators that line aircraft aisles. In the exhibition’s titular work, two television screens sit on either side of one of the gallery’s rear windows, before a series of lounge chairs arranged like the business class section on a commercial flight, blinking Cathay Pacific’s teal and maroon colors to the “heroic” hexameter of Homer’s epic The Odyssey, interspersed with stills from the American TV drama Switched at Birth. The Homeric protagonist Odysseus goes through myriad obstacles on his way home, mirroring the plainly expressed anxieties of Ho, who described “CX 888” in our conversations as the first step taken towards becoming “in place” within Hong Kong. Ho also uses the plight of the main characters who were switched at birth as a metaphor for migration and the attendant feelings of dislocation. The recreated liminal space of the aircraft, where place and time seem to be suspended, speaks to the immigrant experience, which is defined by ambiguity and in-betweenness.

Installation view of CHRISTOPHER K. HO’s CX 888, 2018, deck chairs, two single-channel videos, monitors, carpet, left video (green): 28 min 1 sec, right video (red): 24 min 14 sec, dimensions variable, at “CX 888,” de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong, 2018.

Installation view of CHRISTOPHER K. HO’s Don Ho Gold, 2018, vintage records, personal photographs, rocks, floor tiles, 90.2 × 71.1 × 60 cm, at “CX 888,” de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong, 2018.
Installation view of CHRISTOPHER K. HO’s Don Ho Gold, 2018, vintage records, personal photographs, rocks, floor tiles, 90.2 × 71.1 × 60 cm, at “CX 888,” de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong, 2018.

Other references to the artist’s childhood, including summers spent at the hotel his grandfather was the chairman of in Waikiki, Honolulu, are used to touch further on transience and discrimination. In a corner of the gallery, photos of Ho as a child with his family in Hawaii are displayed, secured only with rocks, on top of a stack of tiles made to look like a record stand. Sticking out from a lower layer of tiles are signed records of Hawaiian-Chinese singer Don Ho. With the scarce few Asian-American celebrities and shared last name, Ho was often asked as an ill-intended tease if the two were related. In referencing the reduction of the singer and himself to race, Ho speaks to the difficulty of finding acceptance as an immigrant. Nearby is a white, triangular sculptural prototype which is an enlarged reproduction of a fragment from the pagoda roof of the hotel. The usual grandeur of large sculptures is undercut by the pale and infirm material, perched atop a makeshift plinth of stacked tiles. The impermanence of the forms used in the treatment of mementos from the artist’s childhood repeat the theme of transience, but also seem to represent the artist’s ongoing examination of the repercussions of his family’s decision to emigrate.

“CX 888” was among the most unique presentations of the summer in that visitors had been given the opportunity to see the works appear and fill the space, a process especially suited to the theme of journeys. With the chance to observe the production process, there is a markedly deeper connection to what is ultimately “on display,” and an understanding of the works that is beyond what may be gleaned from an artist’s sketchbook or studies. “CX 888” was a breath of fresh air, and pointed to the potential of art-making and exhibition methodologies to be more fully explored.

Christie Wong is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

Christopher K. Ho’s “CX 888” is on view at de Sarthe Gallery, Hong Kong, until September 15, 2018.

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