There are many facets that define our humanity, such as morality, ethics and knowledge. There is, however, one crucial characteristic that gives the world its color and diversity: culture. In recent years, particularly after China established its Open Door Policy in 1978, there has been a significant increase in the country’s exposure to art from beyond its borders. For their inaugural exhibition, A+ Contemporary—a new addition to Shanghai’s vibrant contemporary art scene—focuses on the works of four young, talented artists from Hong Kong and Taiwan that examine the cultural and social consequences of engaging with foreign cultures and how this, in turn, affects their own.
Globalization grants the cultural vibrancy and technological advancement of our modern world. It enables an individual from one country to have access to the cultures of other countries. Motivated by the life experience that he could gain studying abroad, Chu Chun-Teng moved from Taiwan to London in 2008. However, the cultural impact from living abroad for three years left Chu wanting to represent his sentiments through art. In his installation work, The Foaming Weariness (2010), a steaming and foaming rice cooker represents Chu’s struggle to adapt to a foreign culture. The rice cooker is powered by a seemingly endless number of universal power adaptors connected together, alluding to how different cultures can connect with one another.
Chu’s second piece in the show, How Kind of You to Let Me Come (2009), the third installment from his “My Fair Lady” series (inspired by the 1964 musical film adaptation of the same name), was another contemplative work that came out of his experiences from his time abroad. Just as the film’s protagonist Eliza endured phonetics training to be able to speak like an upper-class woman, Chu’s single-channel video portrays a group of international students, new to England, repeatedly reciting “The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain” until they achieve the correct pronunciation. However, as each student attempts the phrase, their voice is muted, leaving viewers with only the voice of the tutor correcting the pupils. Through the video, Chu presents the hardship of learning a new language by showing the various irritated attitudes of the students through their body language.
Reflecting on the rapidly advancing world, Hsu Chia Wei creates a unique narrative about Huatung Village in Taipei’s Xizhi district, where there was once an indigenous settlement for the Amis tribe in the mid-1980s. The Amis were evicted by the Taiwanese government in 1997 and placed into subsidized housing—thus forced to modernize their way of life. The five-channel video Huatung Village (2009) is narrated in the native Amis dialect by the last chieftain of the illegally built village, and it explores what occurred at the site through a separate audio and video track. Huatung Village attempts to reconstruct an already non-existent settlement in its real-time location and present the viewer with an account of a now-perished, indigenous way of life in modern-day Taiwan.
Although Hong Kong is an international metropolis that was promised its policies would remain unchanged for 50 years upon the transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997, China has continually attempted to assert its power over the city-state through the Hong Kong government. An example of this would be the time the Hong Kong government tried to introduce “National Education” as one of the core curriculum subjects for primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong in 2007. This was seen by many Hong Kong citizens as a clear attempt by China to brainwash the young, in teaching “patriotic” Chinese values through mandatory education. In his installation from the ongoing series “The Remnant of My Volition” (2013– ), Hong Kong artist Morgan Wong meticulously peeled 19 sheets of small red flag-shaped stickers—alluding to the national flag of China and usually used by parents and teachers in the mainland to encourage their kids to be patriotic—framing the empty backing sheets within white frames. The small piles of red stickers are stacked neatly together on the bottom-left corner of each frame, which is hung on the wall. This amusing action by Wong is a playful and sarcastic attempt at “surrendering” to the system and China’s policies.
Of all the artworks on view, Lee Kit’s installations encompass the broadest range of media—from painting and drawing to video—focusing on the Hong Kong artist’s perception of life. It only takes a few steps to cut it off. (2015) comprises emulsion paint and a video projection depicting a hand attempting to pick up an object with a sheet of fabric. Connected to this work is A one and a two (2015)—an installation of two video projections and ink and acrylic paint on paper—which displays two hands, each with a finger pointing to the left. Lee’s spontaneous choice of using arbitrary objects in delicate arrangements is a reflection of his personal contemplations about life.
The exhibition investigates globalization and different cultures integrating into China, as well as people’s reaction to the changes. As a country where national pride is important and highly regarded, China no longer imitates the West, but rather integrates and adapts influences from Western culture by giving them a Chinese touch to make them distinct. Hong Kong and Taiwanese cultures both have Chinese and Western influences, which allows for a unique amalgamation of cultural and artistic freedom.
“←→” is on view at A+ Contemporary, Shanghai, until October 31, 2015.