Installation view of “Nortse: Paper Dreams” at Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong. 

Nortse: Paper Dreams

Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong
Hong Kong Tibet

“Paper Dreams” is Tibetan artist Nortse’s third solo exhibition with Rossi & Rossi, which this time is being held at the London-based gallery’s Hong Kong outpost—a quaint, hidden gem located on the third floor of Wong Chuk Hang’s Yally Industrial Building. Spreading over the gallery floor is Ashes (2014), a beech wood installation piece, along with an eclectic panoply of photographic prints, paintings and mixed-media works. They all draw on notions of loss and isolation, which are themes that were previously examined in his two earlier shows at Rossi & Rossi in the London—“Self-Portraits – The State of Imbalance” (2008) and “Bandaged Landscape” (2012).

Since the mid-1980s, Nortse has been fine-tuning his artistic periphery through various modes of expression, linking the core principles of Tibetan Buddhism with ideas of cultural identity, mass production, alienation and environmental degradation.

In a 2008 essay, reflecting on his own work Nortse writes, “Every once in a while, I feel I need to change every facet of my style of expression, from technique to medium; because for me, ‘duplicating’ myself is a very painful experience, which makes it difficult for me to continue using any one method for a very long.”

NORTSERed Tablecloth I, 2015, mixed media, 135 × 135 cm. Courtesy Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong. 

However, the works on view in “Paper Dreams” suggests he never truly abandons certain themes. Red Tablecloth I (2015) a painting that reengages with his previous work, Guarding Against Catching a Cold (2007). The smaller, monochromatic version of Guarding Against Catching a Cold has been painted on the canvas of the new artwork, as the centerpiece of a scene set in a depressingly confined space. Here, it is clear that Nortse refuses to let go of his preoccupation with self-portraiture. The artist revises the well-worn struggle he experiences with the internal state of emptiness—a theme keyed to his sense of identity. Nortse, nevertheless, stretches this familiar motif further, punctuating the dimly lit room with a red tablecloth draped over the table and a paper gun resting atop it. During a interview with Emma Martin, head of ethnology at the National Museums Liverpool in the United Kingdom, held in conjunction with “Paper Dreams,” Nortse conveyed that this new motif of paper in his work represents an expression of his childhood memories and “a symbol of hope and spiritual sustenance”; though he adds that when weaving “memories and idea together, the artworks turn out to be very heavy.”

This sense of ambivalence is perhaps most evident in the folded paper boats of The Models Dyed Red (2015) and Dreams in Paper Boats (2015). Here, it seems Nortse’s boyish, childhood memories and dreams plague him—clearly woven and suffused into his fabric of thought and unshaken from the artist’s psyche throughout his life.

In Dreams in Paper Boats, four hooded figures wrapped in red monastic robes, eached seated on a paper boat, sail against a white expanse and into morbid calm. Their meditation is practiced with cold, hard discipline. In this dreamscape, Nortse seems to withdraw from reality and find inner peace by ignoring the darker depths around him. On the other hand, the floating paper boats also evoke a sense of ephemerality—a tranquillity that is temporarily holding together the scene that can otherwise swiftly fall apart.

Since executing his performance piece Bound Up in Tibet in 1987, Nortse’s oeuvre has been a veritable veneration of his cultural roots. This has been a running theme in his works, as evidenced by the recurring depictions of Tibetan monks wearing their sacred habits. A series of photographic prints entitled “Scene in the Desert” (2014) is another reworking of this motif. Here, however, the robes take form as enigmatic mounds within the vast Tibetan plateau.

Belonging to the pantheon of contemporary Tibetan artists, Nortse brings the currents of his country’s cultural history into the present-day milieu, taking issue with the erosion of tradition. “Paper Dreams” thus pulses with what seems like a warning—to rouse us from our slumber in this era of globalization and mass production, and to bring us back to the traditional ways, before we bewail our loss.

NORTSEDreams in Paper Boats, 2015, mixed media, 135 × 135 cm. Courtesy Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong. 

“Paper Dreams” is on view at Rossi & Rossi, Hong Kong, until June 6, 2015.