Lau Hiu Tung’s “I am in training, don’t kiss me”
By Paul Serfaty
Assembling her materials from everyday life, artist Lau Hiu Tung melds reality and conceptualism to examine our ways of living. In “I am in training, don’t kiss me,” her solo exhibition at Flowers Gallery’s Hong Kong space, she playfully alludes to the tools of gym-goers while touching on the narcissism, contradictions, desire for escape, and energy that accompany their pursuit of corpore sano.
There were just 14 works on show, but much to engage with. For lovers of paintings, five acrylic-on-canvas works nod to different experiences of fitness. Technically conventional but beautiful in its evocations, Midnight Love (2022) depicts the night sky above The Twins, a challenging hike in Hong Kong’s Tai Tam Country Park. Orange-gold stars stud a dark-brown and violet sky, while the hills seem to swell up into the expanse above, evoking the artist’s own legs as she lies down to commune with the firmament. Double End Balls (2021) renders the titular boxing equipment as two orange circles suspended on ropes, shimmering within a pink, brown, red, violet, and black ground, the colors of the painting vibrating with energy. In this, and in a portrayal of Wall Balls (2022), Lau’s brushstrokes create a dynamic visual field, her hand movements transferred to canvas, mirroring the energies expended in gym training.
In an apt marriage of material and concept, mixed-media installations expose the contradictions inherent in the pursuit of fitness. In I am your solid ground (La Gloria) (2022), a slab of cast concrete is placed in front of a full-length mirror, like a kneeling pad before an altar. The concrete is stained in a red that evokes dried blood, symbolizing pain, our companion in the gym. Similar “pads” embed shattered concrete crosses within them, at once suggesting the religious fervor of our efforts and the fragility of our egos as we strive to improve our self-image. The Ashes Urn II (2022), a trophy-shaped clay receptacle filled with dirt, points to another human flaw—no matter how strong we get, we remain mortal. The Ashes Urn I (2022) contains a cigarette butt: Lau reminds us of our absurd capacity to hurt ourselves even as we get fit, observing wryly as a gym-goer herself: “We’d be finishing our stretching and smoking at the same time!”
Between the front and back gallery spaces was Single Arm Machine Flyes (2022), an exercise machine that didn’t live up to expectations, its long, somewhat elegant proportions built around a modest pulley, its elastic reaching almost to the floor, tensioned by shards of concrete. The small wood pieces anchoring the pulley to the wall reminded one of tiny, undeveloped pectoral muscles.
The show’s most compelling displays were a complementary pair of works that straddle the boundary between painting and sculpture. In the “female” composition The Phoenix Flag (2022), a yellow bathing cap, vaginal in its folds and form, projects from the picture plane, while its gentle color and soft, maize-like texture express classical feminine qualities. As spatialist Lucio Fontana attacked the division between painting and sculpture with his cut canvases, so Lau confounds binary associations of male-ness with forwardness and womanhood with softness.
In the “male” piece, titled Full Range of Emotions (2022), a rough, strong lump of concrete is undermined by the limp gym tensioners that dangle from it. These materials are framed on a peg-board with a grid of holes that represents order, though holes, as Fontana taught, imply infinite space, challenging the security of the finite grid, and reinforcing the notion of sexual anxiety. Three small handles affixed to the peg-board also suggest control, but each one lacks a screw that should secure it.
In the street behind the gallery was a ground-level shrine dedicated to Claude Cahun, the French photographer who made gender fluidity visible in modern art. In a 1927 photo in that shrine, Cahun is seen wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the phrase, “I am in training, don’t kiss me.” Lau’s exhibition was not only a gym practitioner’s reflection of her daily experience, but an artist’s exploration of the contradictions that we bring to our exercise routines, and of the hidden emotions and vulnerabilities that male and female gym-goers have embodied for nearly a century now.
Lau Hiu Tung’s “I am in training, don’t kiss me” is on view at Flowers Gallery, Hong Kong, until April 2, 2022.