HK Art show review for The Jackdaw, UK
A life-sized sculpture of a naked old woman greeted visitors to this year’s Hong Kong international art show that ran from May 17-20.
It was one of the more controversial exhibits, attracting scores of admirers and detractors. Part of the attraction was the fact the sculpture seemed so real: An electric motor made the woman’s stomach rise and fall gently as if the wizened creature were alive.
The sculpture, by Shen Shaomin, was called “I want to know what infinity is”. It had an eternal beauty, despite the woman’s shriveled dugs and almost bald head. She reclined in a deck chair on a bed of salt, her legs spread to reveal a withered pudenda.
The Hong Kong art show, in its fifth year, is now a fixture on the international circuit. From next year it will be known as Art Basel, to become one of the major art shows on the world circuit in terms of size and glitz. Almost 270 galleries from 38 countries exhibited this year.
Fair director Magnus Renfrew said one thing could not be denied: “Asia is now clearly centre stage on the international art market.”
Despite the Shen sculpture, nudity was relatively lacking at this year’s event. So were bow ties. Mercifully, I saw only one man wearing such an aberration.
Highlight of the show, in terms of political impact, was the installation by Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist. He has done most to publicise the Chinese government’s dreadful track record in explaining the tragedy of the earthquake at Wenchuan in Sichuan province in May 2008.
Ai’s exhibit was called “Cong”. A “cong” is a jade tube with a circular inner section and a squarish outer structure. It is believed to be a ritual object though the original purpose has been lost in time.
For the Hong Kong show Ai Weiwei built a huge cong, five metres long and three metres high. The circular inner structure contains the names of the 5,196 students killed when the earthquake toppled scores of schools.
Between October 2009 and May 2010 volunteers at Ai Weiwei’s studio sent 183 letters to Chinese government departments seeking information about the earthquake, aiming to discover why the buildings collapsed so easily.
Replies to the 183 letters are displayed on the outside walls of the “cong”. Those replies are almost identical, suggesting a bureaucracy uniform in its refusal to disclose what it knows about the earthquake. The notes that accompany the “cong” said, simply: “So far, not one government department has given a direct reply to any of the questions asked.”
This exhibition explains why the Chinese government seems to hate Ai Weiwei so much.
Another memorable exhibition included the photographs of Chen Jiagong. Chen displayed huge images of China’s ugliness – polluted cities and industrial sites, and derelict towns. Yet each photograph showed in the foreground the face and figure of at least one beautiful Chinese woman. These images were haunting, sad, and exquisite.
Thousands of people flocked through the turnstiles. Organisers said the total would be the highest to date. Most were much younger than the kinds of people who attend art events like this in the UK.
Tickets to Hong Kong’s international art show cost 255 HKD. The catalogue cost 250 HKD, setting attendees back 41 pounds for the combined items. The tote bag given away with the catalogue had these words on the outside: “Money creates taste.” Let’s hope it was meant ironically.
Tuesday March 06th 2012, 12:29 pm
Filed under: Review
Faith Healer by Brian Friel
Bristol Old Vic theatre
Hong Kong Arts Festival, March 2
Shouson Theatre, HK Arts Centre
Four monologues may not fit everyone’s notion of an evening of excellent theatre, yet this mesmerising production shines because of the quality of the writing, acting and directing.
Frank Hardy (Paul Hickey), the faith healer of the title, opens and closes the drama by Irish playwright Brian Friel. His wife Grace (Kathy Kiera Clarke) and manager (Richard Bremmer) complete a quartet of versions of reality.
It was enthralling to watch these quality actors. As Hickey said in an after-show chat, what actor can resist the chance to have an audience to himself for upwards of an hour?
All three actors approached their craft differently yet superbly. Hickey showed controlled energy and passion. Clarke exuded raw emotion while Bremmer was more conversational and quietly intellectual.
Bremmer wears a tatty smoking jacket with stained lapels, the middle button missing from his grimy cardigan. He is an old man living on memories and beer. This is an actor on top of his game. He knows how to use pauses; at one point he pours a beer and then savours it for what seems like an eternity before speaking.
Clarke was edgy and agitated, her tense body show the intensity of her anguish and depression. It would spoil the plot to explain the origins of those emotions. She connects with the audience, appealing to them in her grief. Her anguish sustains the rhythm of the play.
Hickey relates the story of the faith healer who tours remote villages of the British Isles with grim objectivity and a touch of sardonic humour.
It was an evening of confessional theatre: Conspiratorial conversations with the audience, taking us into their confidence like intimate friends. As director Simon Godwin said after the performance, the audience is the fourth character in the play.
The characters continually chant a mantra of Welsh and Irish village names, an incantation of towns that seems to sustain them. The play shows how people use words to explain away trauma and deal with grief through storytelling. From these jumbled offerings we the audience must construct a version of the truth.
Go see this play to experience real drama, not the staged pap of cinema or television.
Published in the South China Morning Post, 5 March 2012, C2, under the headline “A certain cure for those tired of the conventional”.
Tuesday March 06th 2012, 12:23 pm
Filed under: Review
Review: iPad at Work by David Sparks
Wiley Publishing, Hoboken New Jersey, 2011
Review by Stephen Quinn
People new to the iPad2 will find this a useful book. More seasoned users might not. The book focuses on business use for lawyers, real estate agents, IT and financial folk. But that is no reason to exclude discussion of photography apps, blogging software and apps for social networking.
I learned about helpful tools like Apple AirPrint, for wireless printing, and a way to trick the iPad2 into thinking a USB thumb drive is a camera to transfer movie files easily (name the folder DCIM).
It’s a reflection of the evolving state of the publishing industry – and perhaps a tribute to paper’s longevity as a reference tool – that a book about how to get the best from your iPad2 should appear in print as well as the more logical electronic format.
The paper version sells on Amazon for $US 18.25 while the e-book costs $US 17.29. At least five other books on the subject are available on Amazon, and the print edition has been discounted from its original $US 30.
The listing of prices in American dollars helps us appreciate the low cost of technology in Hong Kong. Sparks recommends a wireless keyboard case, the Incase Origami, and a Bluetooth keyboard to turn the iPad into an efficient word processor. He says he wrote much of the book using these tools.
Together they sell for $US 109. In Hong Kong the devices cost HKD758 in total, equivalent to $US 97. In China, close to where they are made, I paid $US 100 for the Bluetooth keyboard alone – a reflection of high taxes on the mainland.
One of my pet peeves is a tendency for American technical books to describe apps only relevant to the United States yet believe them global products. In the chapter on how to use the iPad2 for international travel Sparks recommends UrbanSpoon for finding restaurants while overseas. Using this app “I have had delicious meals in far-away places,” writes Sparks. No Hong Kong restaurants appear in this app.
Verdict: Useful if taken with a grain of salt, though not sure where to find the app for that.
This review appeared in the Sunday Morning Post, Review section, 12 February 2012, page 14.