The Interstitial: Alan Kwan and Kenny Wong
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 1:17pm on 23rd August 2016
1. Alan Kwan, The Stutterer, video, 2008.
2. Alan Kwan, The Hallway, interactive video game, still, 2016.
3. Kenny Wong, dist.solo, installation view of kinetic video, 2010.
4. Alan Kwan, The List, video, 2008.
5. Gallery installation view of Kenny Wong's dist.solo (front) and dist.visualcapture_2 (back)
Ten years ago, Hong Kong’s only fine arts undergraduate course was offered by The Chinese University of Hong Kong, which produced less than thirty graduates a year. Since then, government funding for fine arts and cultural management courses has substantially increased and graduation numbers have increased ten-fold. Coinciding with the art world’s interest in new media art and the influential view of some curators that “video is the new black”, City University’s School of Creative Media has benefited in expanded funding for its undergraduate, post-graduate and research initiatives.
We are seeing the results of this increased funding with graduates now exhibiting as mature video and new media artists. Alan Kwan Tsz Wai and Kenny Wong Chi-Chuen graduated from the School of Creative Media and have also pursued overseas post-graduate degrees. In this exhibition, Pearl Lam Galleries’ Sai Ying Pun branch provides an excellent high-ceilinged two-level venue with both space and synergy for each artist. Interstitial space is the area between objects (e.g. the space between individual grains of rice). In this intelligent exhibition each artist’s work has a strong individual voice, but there is also another, influenced by the exhibition’s overall atmosphere: the interstitial space “between the physical and the virtual to narrate emotion and memory.” This is not a quick-look exhibition; careful viewing of each artists’ video work slowly reveals that emotion.
A swinging video monitor takes centre stage on the gallery’s ground floor and as it approaches the bottom of its arc a woman’s full face or parts of her face are revealed. As the monitor swings upwards the image slowly disappears. Entitled dist.solo, this kinetic video is one of a related series of Kenny Wong’s work focusing on the distance (‘dist’) in a relationship as well as referring to the “mathematical or programming terminology for distance calculation.” This embracive work depicts a changing video view of a single eye, or blink, large lips, nose, or a full face looking directly at the viewer. Placed straight behind this video on a back wall is dist.visualcapture_2, a fixed light-box image of the same face/same person as in the moving video. This is a depiction of a good interpersonal relationship on video, proved by solid eye contact and personable facial engagement. The swinging motion of the video has an intentional hypnotic effect and draws in the viewer, adding intimacy to the imagined relationship.
In contrast, the nearby interactive dist.intervene, has a video monitor of a woman who is looking away from the viewer. It is a relationship under stress, and the viewer who holds the monitor to elicit different images of the face cannot improve the situation: each gradual movement of the monitor only shows a face averted, disengaged, from the eyes of the viewer.
Alan Kwan also presents greatly personal work. The List is a videoed suicide note that simply states: “By the time you see this / I am dead / Here are the girls whom I have ever loved.” Presented on screen is a list of names of girls that Kwan has loved between 1999 to 2007. This simple and powerful work, completed when Kwan was an undergraduate, is a precursor of similarly compelling work shown in the upstairs gallery.
The Hallway is an interactive, one-player video game inspired by Kwan’s experience as a five-year old when his father kicked him out of their flat in punishment. Depicted in the video game is a frightening labyrinth of a hallway and doors that a player can open – but they only lead back into the hallway. Complementing this video is a series of photographs capturing a darkened hallway and a single, seemingly lost figure.
Kwan is afflicted by a stutter, although, as explained in his dark, dystopian video The Stutterer, ‘afflicted’ is how others see him. The disadvantages of stuttering are better seen in his complementary video, The Words After. A small, concealed camera follows Kwan’s daily movements – at dinner, for example – he then adds a layer of image manipulation to the resulting video to emphasize his own conversations. The camera stutters and jerks in imitation to his on-screen stuttering – it is a disturbing intervention, but as an artist it is possibly more purging than purgatory depicted.
Link for further information:
The Interstitial: Alan Kwan and Kenny Wong Exhibition @ Pearl Lam Galleries
A version of this review was published in the South China Morning Post on 14 August 2016.