Installation view of “Oberver-Creator” at K11, Hong Kong, 2015. Courtesy K11 Art Foundation, Hong Kong. 

The 2nd “CAFAM-Future” Exhibition: Observer-Creator

Hong Kong China Taiwan

In 2012, the Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum (CAFAM) launched its first “CAFAM-Future” exhibition to bring attention to the works and ideas of a new and emerging generation of Chinese artists. Its second edition, which took place in Beijing earlier this year, is currently being re-displayed in Hong Kong, courtesy of the K11 Art Foundation. Featuring 33 participating artists, the exhibition spans across three spaces in the K11 Art Mall, a venue where art and commerce come together within a “museum retail” center.

Upon entering the upscale K11 art space—a “gallery” that is awkwardly located between the shopping mall’s entrance and a passageway of the Tsim Sha Tsui subway station—viewers are greeted by an animated video of dancing molecular structures, which seem to be moving to the beat of pop music emanating from an adjacent clothing store on the ground floor of the mall. The work, a research-based project entitled Body Shadow (2015) by artist Xu Wenkai (aka. Aaajiao), is an experimental fusion of media and body art. It explores the theory of the meridian in traditional Chinese medicine through a 3D model of the artist’s leg, as well as his “live” experience of tattooing the paths of “Qi” onto his body. This process of advanced body digitalization is visualized in an installation constructed from metal wire, which spans from one wall to another. Together with another video—a documentation of the tattooing process—these three components of Body Shadow invite visitor interaction and highlights the transformation of data into reality and back into virtual content.

Installation view of “Oberver-Creator” at K11, Hong Kong, 2015. Courtesy K11 Art Foundation, Hong Kong. 

Installation view of “Oberver-Creator” at K11, Hong Kong, 2015. Courtesy K11 Art Foundation, Hong Kong. 

Moving through the narrow white space, which buzzes with sound coming in from the outside of shoppers and subway commuters, one can find highly sensitive works such as A Piece of Gold (2012)—a large, audaciously polished beeswax and gypsum plate by sculptor Yu Ji (who is also a co-founder of Shanghai’s Am Art Space). Also on view is Dong Dawei’s bright yellow, color-field abstraction, Distant Mountains No.2 (2012), which emphasizes the transformative and ephemeral process of artistic materials through a fine layer of pigment powder scattered on the floor in the shape of the framed work’s shadow. Most prominently featured at the far end of the space are video works documenting the development of the post-Cultural-Revolution generation, through scenes of urban construction, private storytelling or the recounting of Chinese folk traditions. The works on view range from Otto Li’s Developing Soundscapes (2014)—a multimedia and sound installation in which he recorded and combined sounds and blueprint maps of three major Chinese cities—to Kingsley Ng’s immersive, melancholic off-screen narration in a dark, curtained cabin, which imitates a moving train wagon.

Elsewhere in the art mall, amid an array of stores selling luxurious attire and delicacies, visitors or passersby are often seen wandering into the venue’s open, rectangular atrium space. Whilst most of the five works on display are clearly drowned out by the noisy commercial ambiance—namely, installation artist Luo Wei’s on-site performance Crystal Star Stage: White Theater (2013), which has resulted in an arbitrary assembing of “excellent” goods—Geng Xue’s video animation of a porcelain universe stands out from the group. The CAFA alumni’s dark and twisted Mr. Sea (2013–14), a take on the eponymous tale by Qing dynasty-era writer Pu Songling, tells the story of Mr. Sea’s journey to an ethereal island and his encounters with supernatural creatures. Geng’s meticulous stop-motion animation technique plays with the various material qualities of porcelain to create sound and visual sensations—like the distinctive clinking sound when one figure touches the other—which transform the film into a spellbinding, highly aestheticized telling of human and otherworldly encounters that oscillate between eroticism and violence.

WANG XINWe Create Future Artists Here, 2014, interactive installation, dimensions variable. Courtesy K11 Foundation, Hong Kong. 

The Piazza—an open-air, roofed area just outside of the mall—constitutes the third K11 art space that showcased the exhibition’s works, with an apparent focus on neon-light installations. Next to Shanghai-based Bi Rongrong’s angular and flashy plexiglass panels, 7:3 Colors (2013), which underline her focus on the perception of shadow and light, Wang Xin has placed her installation, We Create Future Artists Here (2014). Inside the neon pink booth, viewera are invited to sit on a suspended arm chair facing a neon screen. A cluster of abstract animated drawings, neon light and words, such as “now” or “inner creativity,” flash across the screen in a matter of milliseconds, to metaphorically stimulate an individual’s creative, mental output through fluorescent lighting and subliminal texts.

With a disproportionately large amount of works displayed throughout an environment designed more for limitless consumption than artistic contemplation, one is easily confounded by this exhibition of contemporary art, which could be mistaken for ding guagua, or “first-rate” merchandise. While most unconventional art shows aim at presenting a highly complementary dialogue between the works and their exhibition space, K11’s art scavenger hunt has the opposite effect. The outstanding CAFAM works are muffled by cramped spacing and the never-ending retail bustle—revealing a bleak glimpse of the commercially damaged perspectives that pervade the current art world, even in the most innovative of hubs like Hong Kong.

Observer-Creator” is on view at K11 Art Mall, Hong Kong, until July 5, 2015.