Installation view of SEBASTIAN CHAUMETON’s paintings and sculptures at “Little Fables,” Whitestone Gallery, Hong Kong, 2020. All images courtesy the artists and Whitestone Gallery, Tokyo / Taipei / Hong Kong / Karuizawa. 

Imaginary Realms in “Little Fables”

Whitestone Gallery
Hong Kong China Japan Korea, South United Kingdom

“Little Fables” at Whitestone Gallery attempted to reveal different forms of storytelling in the work of six young artists from Asia and the United Kingdom.

As visitors entered the gallery, they were invited to remove their shoes and step on the white and gray puzzle mats of “Pinocchio’s playroom,” an installation of 14 works by Sebastian Chaumeton. In the center, a wooden sculpture based on Disney’s animated Pinocchio (2019), with rabbit ears and the iconic long nose, was seated in front of a screen, on which we see a browser window open to YouTube with “£££ cocaine for children £££” in the search bar. On the floor next to the figure were boxes recalling Playstation games, while the surrounding oil paintings hung on or propped against the walls depict Pinocchio in distressing scenarios, for instance, drowning in a Photoshop window in Driftwood or weeping on a pixelated toilet in Sorrowing Young Boy (both 2020). Under a small corner table and on a shelf sat wooden Kermit the Frog sculptures who looked similarly trapped in unhappy thoughts; perhaps the character is troubled by being appropriated in memes suggesting social awkwardness. Chaumeton’s scene made the obvious comparison of 21st century kids to brainwashed puppets who are overwhelmed by toxic Internet culture every day.

SEBASTIAN CHAUMETON, Driftwood, 2020, acrylic, oil and airbrush on canvas, 91.5 × 122 × 4 cm.

ETSU EGAMI, Temptation by Brushing Past – 2020-001, 2020, oil on canvas, 72.7 × 100 cm.

In contrast to Chaumeton’s straightforward story, the fantastical oil paintings in the rest of the exhibition were less overtly narrative, but they brought me back to the worlds in picture books and fantasy novels of my childhood. Etsu Egami’s oil portraits of herself as a young girl are composed of thick strokes of pale pink, purple and blue, and transmit her experience of feeling lost and inability to express herself while growing up in foreign countries. Elsewhere, Karen Shiozawa presented paintings of imaginary landscapes like those depicted in the fantasy novel Lord of the Ring sor the video game Journey, while Yuji Kanamaru showed collages of towns built on the bodies of anteaters and hermit crabs. For her abstract representations of the spiritual concept of the “all-seeing eye,” Jiang Miao layered vibrant pigments onto the canvas and then spontaneously carved out circles on the surface, forming colorful spirals within the heavens.

Installation view of KAREN SHIOZAWA’s paintings at “Little Fables,” Whitestone Gallery, Hong Kong, 2020.
Installation view of KAREN SHIOZAWA’s paintings at “Little Fables,” Whitestone Gallery, Hong Kong, 2020.

The images on display at “Little Fables” often did recall the fictional worlds of classic fables and popular culture, but the associations stopped there. In spite of the exhibition’s title, there were no strict narratives or moral lessons to be drawn. The installation of Chaumeton’s works in a separate, specially designed space drew attention away from the other artists’ enchanting wall-based exhibits. Nonetheless, the exhibition demonstrated the virtue of imagination and was a welcome break from the tedium of self-isolation.

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor. 

Little Fables” is on view at Whitestone Gallery, Hong Kong, until May 16, 2020.

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