“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The Paradox of Choice in a Time of Anxiety”

PARA/SITE (G/F, 4, Po Yan Street, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong) Dec 1, 2012 – Feb 17, 2013

Aside from the Best Title prize it deserves (albeit borrowed — from Philip Dick’s science fiction novel of 1968, the inspiration for Blade Runner), Para/Site’s current exhibition “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” is diverting.  Its subtitle, “The Paradox of Choice in a Time of Anxiety”, signposts thinking about our current condition — one of intense individualism cultivated amidst a panoply of choice and at the same time of the troubling reflection and affection of ego that even the most minor choice can represent. Capitalism, in its turn, pours into these waters the influence of consumption and the choices made therein.  Para/Site’s tiny, partitioned space suits the theme of anxiety well — even if the wider surrounding of Hong Kong Island might not be the most self-conscious place vis-à-vis “ideologies of choice” or the mores of consumerism.

Exhibition view (with: Michael Lee, “Skive: A Worker’s Guide”
2005/2007, inkjet print on vinyl sticker with forex mount, variable dimensions, courtesy of the artist)
Michael Lee, “Skive: A Worker’s Guide”, 2005/2007, inkjet print on vinyl sticker with forex mount, variable dimensions, courtesy of the artist (installation detail)

The first work shown is Sun Xun’s by now not unfamiliar wood-cut animation, “Some Actions Which Haven’t Been Defined Yet in the Revolution” (2011). But its impact is undiminished, the brutal carved narrative splintering along gaping rows of teeth, thrashing creatures and anguished, anonymous human events.  The walls of the space in different places sprout paper cut-out figures by Michael Lee. Varied in size and in different attitudes — sitting, crumpled, active, arms raised or reclining — and clad in “normal” black suits and white shirts, they bristle in corners and on surfaces, enacting little fictions of feeling that are at the same time mere images and mere realities. Two videos add angles both contemporary and historic: Tang Kwok Hin’s “Present ‘Reminisces of the Eastern Capital’” is a three-channel work charting shifting commercial occupations of certain neighbourhoods of Hong Kong, with ghostly layers of their former occupants pausing in and traversing the frames. Finally comes Adam Curtis’ series The Century of the Self. “The Happiness Machines” is a look at approaches to consumer cultivation and control by political and advertising figures in the mid-20th century, its spliced footage and sound bites painting a disarming picture which, not unlike the other works in the exhibition, occupies a blurred territory for the viewer between reality and fiction.

Exhibition view – Sun Xun, “Some Actions Which Haven’t Been Defined Yet in the Revolution”, 2011, blue ray DVD, courtesy of the artist, π Animation Studio and ShanghART
Exhibition view (with: Kwok-hin Tang, “Lower legs”, 2012, mixed media, variable dimensions, courtesy of the artist)

Why this sensation of a shifting distinction between the real and fictitious in the company of these works, and under the pretext of exploring anxiety and choice? Whilst this exhibition might not fully conjure the ideological weight of its premise, it does achieve — and in a small space — a sensation of the mirage-like quality of a field through which desire and suggestion, outward activity and internal moods move on a daily basis, and against a contemporary urban backdrop. A worthwhile exhibition, if you choose to see it.

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