Installation view of “Connect 4” at Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong, 2016. Courtesy Simon Lee Gallery.  

Connect 4

Simon Lee Gallery
Hong Kong

Connect 4 is a classic two-player strategy game in which the person who connects four coin-sized plastic discs of the same color wins. The circular discs are available in two colors, and opponents take turns to insert them into a designated rack. Among the infinite possibilities, every step is documented across the two-dimensional plane, reflecting each active response that contributes to the dialogue. With the rules of the game in mind, the analogy of connectivity and collaboration forms the curatorial premise of the current exhibition at Simon Lee Gallery in Hong Kong.

Curated by locally-based Ying Kwok, founder of Art Appraisal Club and former curator at the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester, United Kingdom, “Connect 4” features six Hong Kong artists. The inter-generational nature of the show fosters the exchange of ideas within the multifaceted yet close-knit art community in Hong Kong, allowing each participating artist to respond to the work of their contemporary.

LUI CHUN KWONG, Eclipse, 2016, mixed media and ready-made objects, 37.5 × 25 × 84 cm. Courtesy Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong. 

LUKE CHING CHI WAI, Luna and Moon, 2006–15, graphite on paper, photography in wooden frames, diptych: 120 × 125 cm each; framed photos: 12.4 × 17.4 cm each. Courtesy Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong. 

Visitors are greeted with the mixed-media installation of senior artist Lui Chun Kwong, entitled Eclipse (2016). Unlike his signature striped paintings from the “Yi Liu Shan Shui” (Ever-flowing Landscape) series (1995– )—represented in the exhibition by Landscape No. T166007 (2016), located in another section of the gallery—Eclipse is Lui’s innovative reply to Luke Ching Chin Wah’s diptych, Luna and Moon (2006–15). In echoing the visual qualities of Ching’s graphite on paper, Lui’s work features a circular Earth-like planet form on a Dell computer screen, not unlike that of Ching’s shaded spherical shapes. However, Lui intentionally includes an error signal message that hovers around the screen, consisting of bright red, green and blue colors, which stands out from the rest of his works from his oeuvre. Lui is known for his meditative static paintings in muted colors. His unusual use of digital elements in Eclipse reflects his proactive approach in connecting with other artists in the show whose art practice utilizes video as a medium. Born in 1956 in Guangdong, China, and moved to Hong Kong in 1962, Lui belongs to the post-war baby-boomer generation. Meanwhile, Ching was born in the early 1970s, a decade when Hong Kong citizens strived for economic prosperity, driven by the motto of the “Lion Rock Spirit”—the idea that hard work and a can-do mentality enabled the overcoming of challenges.

KWAN SHEUNG CHI, Two Million, 2013, still from single-channel video: 16 min 18 sec. Courtesy Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong. 

A peculiar sound in duple meter can be heard echoing through the gallery space—which is, in fact, the repetitive flicking noise of money being counted. Conceptual artist Kwan Sheung Chi’s 16-minute video, Two Million (2013), showcases a pair of hands counting a thin stack of Hong Kong 1,000-dollar bills. In doing so, the fingers gesticulate as if they were legs walking on the paper money, enhancing the aural appeal of the video. On a pedestal in front of the video screen is another work by the same artist, 1000 (2012), which features a 1,000-dollar bill, lying motionlessly, whose surface has been erased. In this work, Kwan (b. 1980) seeks to undermine the value of the dollar bill by questioning the inherent monetary value arbitrarily ascribed to the piece of currency paper. By the 1980s, Hong Kong’s substantial economic growth gained the city its status as one of the “Four Asian Dragons,” along with Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. Since Hong Kong prides itself as a financial hub, Kwan’s art challenges us to reevaluate our neo-liberal value systems.

Other emerging artists whose works are exhibited include Sarah Lai Cheuk Wah and Kong Chun Hei. Kong’s installation of five television screens, The Tossing Light (2016), examines the relationship between the universe inside the television and the real world. The textured engravings and the deliberate blurs on the screen’s surface raise the viewer’s awareness about the thin separation between these realms, as though the two worlds are on the verge of being inseparable. Juxtaposed against the TV screens is Lai’s video projection, Endless Rotation (2011). It features an animation of a car circling a roundabout on repeat. The video is in a soft pastel hue, which is Lai’s preferred use of color tone throughout her art practice.

KONG CHUN HEI, The Tossing Light, 2016, TV, dimensions variable. Courtesy Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong. 

The youngest artist in the exhibition is Chris Huen Sin Kan, who was born in 1991. This decade marked a transitory period in which Hong Kong experienced financial turmoil and sociopolitical change brought about by its historic handover from British rule back to China. Despite the overbearing grand narratives looming over the territory, Huen returns to the austere and paints tranquil, everyday scenes, as opposed to the claustrophobic skyscrapers that dominate the city’s skyline. In Abandoned (2016), Huen depicts a lone house amongst the wilderness. The loose, painterly brushstrokes suggest the beauty of the suspended moment in nature.

No matter who wins or loses in a game of Connect 4, the spirit of collaboration is the thread that connects the players—as it does for humanity at large. Through exploring contemporary issues of Hong Kong, the six local artists in the exhibition transcend generational gaps and contribute to the dialogue surrounding the city’s unique social conditions.

“Connect 4” is on view at Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong, until August 31, 2016.