Reality Bites: Social Critiques at Art Basel HK
Previews of Asia’s top art fair reveal pieces that lash out at social inequities.
Art Basel Hong Kong opened to VIP guests with two days of previews before its public opening March 24. in fact, this is only the start of a flurry of art events taking the city by storm. Concurrent with Art Basel is confessional/expressionistic artist Tracey Emin’s first art exhibition in greater China and Japanese artist Tatsuo Miyajima’s new light-display – “Time Waterfall”.
The long stream of illuminated numbers running down the side of the International Commerce Center is quite a spectacle, tying in to Miyajima’s standard Buddhist-inspired themes (change, non-existence, eternity) but there are quite a number of pieces in the various exhibitions that go light on metaphysics but heavy on social commentary.
One of these pieces is Tintin Wulia’s grand-scale “Five tonnes of Homes and other Understories”. Compacted bales of cardboard decorated with murals hang on chains and form a spiral, as a commentary on the poor elderly cardboard collectors in Hong Kong making a meagre living from delivering cardboard to recycling depots. Wulia spent two years on the project tracing the cardboard’s route through Hong Kong, including collaborating with Filipina domestic workers who use cardboard to create windbreaks for themselves when they gather in the city’s public spaces to socialize on Sundays.
Another stark and somewhat extravagant commentary is Zhang Ding’s “18 Cubes”. These are gold-plated cubes that visitors are encouraged to deface and scratch in order to leave their mark, literally. The anarchistic artist has pulled off many other equally destabilizing works before, such as “Opening” in 2011, where he transformed the gallery exhibition into a nightclub setting as a critique of pompous social rituals.
“What you see is the unseen/Chandliers for Five Cities” was set up by South Korean artist Kyungah Ham. The work is an embroidery painting of gold chandeliers – with the extra fact that the textiles were made in North Korea. The work was done to highlight the contrast between the two nations, as well as the gulf between the disenfranchised and politically powerful class.
Art Basel Hong Kong is now in its fourth year and has helped feed the city’s reputation as an art hub for Asia. With such daring radical art going on, new generations of artists may continue to be inspired into the future.