May 13 2020

Hong Kong Artist Wins Inaugural M+ Sigg Prize

by Charmaine Kong, Lauren Long
SAMSON YOUNG is the winner of the inaugural Sigg Prize. Photo by Winnie Yeung, iMAGE28. Courtesy M+, Hong Kong.
SAMSON YOUNG is the winner of the inaugural Sigg Prize. Photo by Winnie Yeung, iMAGE28. Courtesy M+, Hong Kong.

On May 13, Hong Kong’s museum of visual culture M+ announced Samson Young as the winner of its Sigg Prize, which recognizes the achievements of artists from the Greater China Region. Young will be awarded a cash prize of HKD 500,000 (USD 64,500).

Chosen unanimously by the jury, the Hong Kong-based artist’s winning 12-channel sound-and-video installation Muted Situations #22: Muted Tchaikovsky’s 5th (2018) features the Flora Sinfonie Orchestra of Cologne performing Tchaikovsky’s piece while deliberately muting their instruments. Instead, background noises such as the movement of keys and the turning of pages were captured. In a statement, the jury praised Young for “prompt[ing] audiences to focus on what is often overlooked or ignored . . . By silencing the dominant sound, the work mirrors elements of current political dynamics.” The work debuted at the 2018 Biennale of Sydney and won the Prix Ars Electronica Award in 2019. 

Young told AAP that he felt Muted Tchaikovsky’s 5th was “one of my better works made within the last couple of years” and that it is “the ‘muted performance’ idea in its most condensed form,” but also “the most esoteric,” referring to his Muted  Situations (2014–) series. “The intensely suppressive focus of ‘muting’ is almost the opposite of the zen-like passivity of Cagean silence, but it takes people who listen to the work carefully and are also somewhat tuned into the history of the contemporary concert hall to understand that difference,” he added. Trained in music composition at Princeton University where he obtained his PhD, Young works in a range of mediums to dissect political themes and issues of identity. 

Installation view of SAMSON YOUNGMuted Situations #22: Muted Tchaikovsky’s 5th, 2018, HD video, eight-channel sound installation, and carpet, 45 min, 2019. Photo by Winnie Yeung, iMAGE28. Courtesy the artist and M+, Hong Kong.

Launched by M+ in 2018, the biannual Sigg Prize was formerly the Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCAA) founded in 1998 by Swiss businessman Uli Sigg, whose donation of his holdings to M+ formed the M+ Sigg collection. Speaking to AAP, Sigg lauded Young’s work for being “outstanding [and] sophisticated,” commenting that the artist’s “achievement is testimony to the high standard of Hong Kong artistic practices.” Sigg also praised the successful completion of the inaugural award, saying that the “presentation of work by the shortlisted artists forms a fairly conclusive statement on the current landscape of contemporary art” in the region, and that he hopes the prize will continue “to give encouragement to artists . . . to enhance awareness on the part of a Chinese public and beyond, and to bring prominent international professionals to the Greater China art scene which they still need to know in much more depth.” Young also felt the award was a welcome addition for the region, as “for a city like Hong Kong, and for other regions in greater China . . . very few members of the general public know or care about what artists do at all . . . it is one way to create a regular rhythm of focus, where artists and the public are sort of able to check in with each other once in a while to celebrate art-making.”

Along with Young, entries from the other finalists have been on display at M+ Pavilion in the Sigg Prize 2019 exhibition curated by M+ Sigg senior curator Pi Li since December 2019. Three artists presented video installations: Lin Yilin’s The Back (2019), Typhoon (2019), and The Second 1/3 Monad (2018) reference different stages in his life; Shen Xin’s Provocation of the Nightingale (2017) explores spirituality and identity issues; and Tao Hui’s Hello, Finale! (2017) reflects on various endings in life. Meanwhile, Hu Xiaoyuan’s installation Spheres of Doubt (2019) features found objects wrapped with raw silk, and Liang Shuo’s site-specific installation In the Peak (2019) enclosed the Pavilion’s terrace with bamboo scaffolding. Each of the finalists will be awarded with HKD 100,000 (USD 12,900).

The Sigg Prize jury, who also selected the finalists in March 2019 based on their past two years of work, was co-chaired by M+ director Suhanya Raffel and former CCAA president Liu Li Anna, and includes Maria Balshaw, director of London’s Tate; Bernard Blistène, director of Paris’s Centre Pompidou; Gong Yan, director of Shanghai’s Power Station of Art; curator Lai Hsiangling; artist Xu Bing; and Uli Sigg.

Beijing-based researcher Yang Zi was awarded the inaugural Sigg Fellowship for Chinese Art Research, formerly the CCAA Art Critic Prize. Yang will receive a grant of HKD 200,000 (USD 25,800) to further his research about folk art in contemporary China. Yang was selected by a jury comprised of historian Geremie R. Barmé, M+ visual art lead curator Pauline J. Yao, and Pi Li.

Charmaine Kong is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific; Lauren Long is news and web editor.

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SAM Opera Gallery Johyun Gallery David Zwirner FAA