Emotive interventions: two Hong Kong Debuts

“The Interstitial

Pearl Lam Galleries (Hong Kong SOHO No. 1, G/F & 1/F, SOHO 189, 189 Queen’s Road West, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong), Jul 22—Sept 16, 2016

Entering “The Interstitial”, one feels as if one is intruding on the private diary of a teenage boy, or boys. In a world where sentimentality is frowned regularly upon (secretly or not), “The Interstitial”, which debuts two young Hong Kong artists, is refreshing.

Graduates of the School of Creative Media at City University of Hong KongCreative Media, Alan Kwan and Kenny Wong weave together a narrative that presents a distinct fusion of humor and sorrow—powerful sentiments moored by kinetics. “Interstitial” also takes on multiple meanings, from an inability to communicate in everyday social settings to emotional distance in a relationship and discontinuity between reality and fantasy.

In “The List” (2008), the names of all the girls that Kwan loved between 1999 and 2007 flash up in bright yellow on a screen. Accompanied by a suicide note that says “By the time you see this / I am dead / Here are the girls whom I have ever loved”, this is bittersweet with a tinge of triviality; if it has been presented purely in prose, this would have been unforgivably saccharine, but here, the effect is almost hypnotic.

On the same floor, Kenny Wong shows three variations on the theme of love. In “dist.solo” (2016), an LCD panel monitor suspended from the ceiling swings back and forth to reveal the image of a pair of eyes. Meanwhile, “dist.intervene” (2016) coaxes the viewer to play with the monitor; when held in its upright position, a woman with her body turned slightly to the side, eyes averted, appears in the frame. The narrative is decidedly muddy—who is this woman? Is she the artist’s girlfriend? A wronged lover? But perhaps the ambiguity is intentional so as to allow the viewer to focus on the sentiments.

Kenny Wong, “dist.solo”, metal, stepper motor, microcomputer, custom software, LCD panel, microcontrollers, custom electronics, 370 x 160 x 50 cm, 2016

The same face appears in “dist.visualcapture_2″ (2016) in the form of a fixed lightbox image at the stairs. An abbreviated form of distance, “dist’’’ refers to both physical and emotional space between people.

The idea of framing pervades the exhibition, and in the three dist’ artworks, Wong deftly parallels the “trapping” of the girl within the frame with the idea of trapped emotions.

This idea of being stuck also anchors the artist’s “Human Body” (2009) on the second floor. An animated video, the work features a man in various poses—jumping with flaying limbs or crouching on the floor. In some shots, the camera zooms towards a part of a hand, the shoulders or feet.

A single-player video game inspired by real-life experience, Kwan’s “The Hallway” (2016) invites the viewer to escape by opening a door on the right, yet a nightmarish labyrinth of hallways awaits. As a five-year-old, the artist was apparently kicked out of the apartment by his father as a punishment; this interactive piece is a cheeky physical embodiment, in hindsight, of the anxiety and helplessness he felt at the time.

In “The Words After” (2016), Kwan lays bare the effect his stuttering has on his daily life. The artist attaches a video camera to his glasses, recording the various inconveniences that result from this condition, before manipulating it so that the images themselves jerk and stutter.

At a time when the digital world is sometimes blamed for Millennials’ inability to communicate, these works by Kwan and Wong demonstrate how, when words fail, technology might be used to navigate the uncertain waters of human emotion.

Alan Kwan, “The Hallway”, video game installation, 2016
Kenny Wong, “dist.duo”, aluminium, microcomputer, custom software, disassembled LCD Panel, custom electronics, LED light bulb, 24 x 34 x 10 cm, 2016
Alan Kwan, “The Hallway—Virtual Photograph Series – d”, inkjet print on paper, 100 x 67 cm, 2016
Kenny Wong, “dist.visualcapture_1″, inkjet print on light box, 57 x 32 x 5.5 cm, 2016
Alan Kwan, “The Words After”, digital video, 2016

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