LAM TUNG-PANGTracing the Deer, 2014, charcoal, pins and solvent ink on rice paper, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Platform China, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Bestiary

Platform China
Hong Kong

There was once a speedy hare who bragged about how fast he could run. Tired of hearing him boast, Slow and Steady, the tortoise, challenged him to a race.”

So it goes, the Aesopian fable that is engrained in the minds of us all. The hare and tortoise are stripped of their identity, and anthropomorphized to our whims and purposes, to serve as the protagonists and didactic elements in the morality tale. “Hong Kong Bestiary,” at Hong Kong’s Platform China, demonstrates an endeavor to reinstate the hare, the tortoise and the animals of the earth with their natural identities. French curator and writer Caroline Ha Thuc brought together ten artists based in Hong Kong to present a cornucopia of fresh and alternative angles to portray animals.

The distinct division between Western and Eastern philosophies regarding the human-animal relationship is the central undercurrent of “Hong Kong Bestiary.” Several artists are deeply engaged with the Eastern philosophies, which leave viewers who are unaware of certain symbolisms at a grave disadvantage. For instance, Hong Kong-born Carol Lee drew inspiration from the Chinese story of the golden bird, in her appropriately titled work Golden Bird (2014)In the story, a woman is locked in a golden house by a rich man and is deprived of her freedom. Due to this restricted life, she is eventually pushed to suicide. Lee’s interpretation of the tale results in an installation of a golden bird perched on a twig, resting on a framed print of a yellow-colored king of spades that is detailed with tiny animals.

KACEY WONG, Ball Ball, 2014, installation with wooden cat sculpture and framed photographs, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Platform China, Hong Kong. 

Also on view is a work titled Tracing the Deer (2014) by Lam Tung-Pang, which recalls the metaphorical association between the deer and notions of power in Eastern culture, derived from an ancient Chinese story that originated during the Warring States period (475–221 BC). In the tale, a prince’s desire and greed to become the emperor of China is compared to a deer hunt and, furthermore, Lam insists that “conquering the world is like hunting the deer.” An enlarged reproduction of an earlier charcoal drawing, the work depicts an image of a deer that is cropped at the horns and legs and dotted with multicolored pins. To those aware of Eastern philosophy, the work’s appealing aesthetic appears jaded considering its underlying, sinister tone. In this case, where knowledge of Eastern culture is key in fully appreciating the work, the exhibition limits itself in its ability to connect with a wide audience.

The exhibition, however, succeeds in presenting a comprehensive mixture of video, installation, traditional and new-media works. If the show seeks to be a “bestiary,” then Kacey Wong’s one-eyed cat depicted in his installation Ball Ball (2014) is most certainly the king of the beasts. Mounted high in the corner of the gallery space, the sculpted, large-scale work made from recycled wood stares fiercely at the audience as if asserting its superiority with a seemingly all-knowing and penetrating gaze, which proves difficult to break with. Aligning with Wong’s experimental practice, which explores Hong Kong’s social and political issues, the cat sculpture functions in the same way as anthropomorphized animals do in fables—as a metaphor for human behavior. Even as visitors move throughout the exhibition, engaging with other artworks, the looming intensity of the Ball Ball’s Big-Brother-like stare is hard to ignore.

ADRIAN WONG, Telepathically Designed Bespoke Rabbit Warren I & II, 2014, installation with paper sculpture and two technical drawings. Courtesy the artist and Platform China, Hong Kong.

Visitors to “Hong Kong Bestiary” will also encounter an intriguing installation piece by Chicago-born artist Adrian Wong. Dominating the final section of the gallery space, Telepathically Designed Bespoke Rabbit Warren I & II (2014) is a playground-like contraption. It consists of two cardboard structures, which are multileveled and connected via maze-like ramps. Directly behind the structures are two tactical drawings by Wong that provide rationale to the installations. Continuing in his practice of recording “conversations” between humans and animals, Wong enlisted the aid of Hong Kong’s Institute for Scientific Animal Communication to provide his pet rabbits “a way of subcontracting the actual construction of a rabbit warren to their exacting specifications.” As visitors deftly maneuver through the installations, they are encouraged to ponder what the homes of their own pets would look like, if they had the opportunity to design and customize their individual habitats.

In addition, the exhibition consists of three fascinating video works: The Spine Passerby (2010–11) by Hong Kong native Tang Kwok Hin; Australian-born Yuk King Tan’s Scavenger (2008); and Moving Sideways–Crab House (2014) by Moroccan and French duo MAP Office. The latter, which sat in a cubby-like structure surrounded by five photographic stills, showcases a crab at night time, running frenetically back and forth across a sandy beach, weaving through waves washing ashore, to a soundtrack ofJohann Sebastian Bach. In many ways, the crab’s motion going across unpredictable paths mirrors that of humans navigating through a busy city. The will of the crab to carry on despite the hindrances resonates in its display of unwavering persistence, deep motivation and an unchangeable destiny, which all beings—animal or human—are equally subject to.

MAP OFFICE, Moving Sideways–Crab House, 2014, wooden installation with drawing, wood structure and video on a hard drive, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and Platform China, Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong Bestiary” is on view at Platform China, Hong Kong, until February 28, 2015.