奇恥大辱 | The Ultimate Humiliation
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 2:22pm on 21st October 2020
1.-2. Mark Chung, installation view of Wheezing, during installation
3.-4. Mark Chung, installation view of Wheezing, during performance by Samson Cheung Choi Sang with audience on final day of exhibition
5. Mark Chung (right) watching performance
All photos: John Batten
(Please scroll down for English version)
整個空間被徹底逆轉。它不再是高端的藝術展銷廳。鍾氏的介入佔據了整個畫廊和它的商業意圖。我喜歡那樣。這做法讓我想起自己的畫廊在2005時，為香港藝術家曾建華舉行《White Cube》展覽時也有類似的做法。當時整個畫廊飾以粗言穢語，狠批藝壇和它虛有其表的光芒、是搶錢的騙局，由「他媽的老外約翰百德」等藝術販子操控。是的，就是一種刻意的侮辱！鍾氏的手法比較含蓄，但他漂亮地把香港近日的政治風波、憂慮 、痛恨和生活艱難的情況並列於優美純樸的畫廊空間內––那裡現在已不再是畫廊。如果說是一種侮辱，僅屬溫和。
The Ultimate Humiliation
by John Batten
Although I first met artist Mark Chung when he was a graduating fine art student at Baptist University’s Academy of Visual Art and seen his art over the years in group exhibitions and often met him at Tai Kwun, where he works as a senior technician, we hardly knew each other. So, we arranged to meet, and over the last three weeks we have had three long conversations discussing his life and art, and as it was a conversation, it included mine. The motivation to meet was Chung’s just-completed residency and resulting exhibition, Wheezing, at de Sarthe Gallery in Wong Chuk Hang, but that isn’t quite correct. What really jolted me, was a piece of remarkably honest writing of Chung’s that I picked-up at the closing performance on the final day of the exhibition.
Here are some excerpts:
“The apartment on the 4/F in my walk-up building always smells of old people slowly dying alone in the 2 subdivided flats in that apartment. Through the disorganized pipes buried under the floors, hidden behind the walls, tangled outside the building, I can vaguely smell their flats from the shower drainage in my flat….(later) I came home to realize that the toilet door was left open. The smell of rotting instant noodles, hair and excrement clogged-up in the sewerage, filled-up the house….There is no escape, the corruption of the city is in the air, the air is in your home….They weaponize light in the dark, where everyone is panting, surrounded by confusion and overwhelmed with anger….We can only wheeze under this mode of governance. It is almost impossible to see an end to this perpetual anguish that we have endured in the past 12 months….It was unthinkable that light could blind, air could scorch, water could burn, simple unquestionable morals vanish….”
The gallery is inside a regular office building with central air-conditioning and a glazed mirrored exterior. Chung’s intentions for the space were planned and discussed with gallery director, Willem Molesworth. The gallery was completely transformed into a large whole installation. Chung ripped out the air-conditioning ducting, arranged it, serpent-like, hanging down and around the floor. He newly built a separate room with one long wall of strengthened glass. This he carefully smashed, fracturing it into veins of shattered shards; the smashing had to be precise: too hard and the glass would crash to the floor. It had to be damaged but kept intact. He fabricated a sculpture replicating Hong Kong buildings’ tangled plumbing, then set it – the opposite of on a plinth – into the gallery floor. False wooden walls were built in different spots around the gallery and some were punched through as if an angry fist had let fly. Then the air-conditioning was intentionally mucked-up by opening the exterior windows, allowing the hot summer air to be inhaled. One room was unbearably hot, the other uncomfortably cold. A bit like Hong Kong’s homes.
Mark Chung, Befuddled, video projection on laminated tempered glass, 2020. (photo: John Batten)
Chung filmed one of the city’s regular celebratory firework displays by drone, but instead of directly filming the display, the drone captured the fireworks caught in the mirrored facades of high-rise office buildings that ring Victoria Harbour. This video was prominently projected onto the smashed window and into the small room. The gallery was unlit, relying on natural light from a few distant windows. Anyone walking in front of the video’s projection was captured, hazy, shadow-like.
The gallery was transformed into a muted, darkly lit hot and cold place. Was I inside or outside? It could be a stuffy Hong Kong flat, or, on the streets, during one of those (too) many nights of protests with the air filled with flashlights and tear-gas.
Tsang Kin-wah, installation view of White Cube exhibition at John Batten Gallery, 2005. (photo: John Batten)
The space had been completely upended. It was no longer an upmarket art salesroom. The gallery and its commercial intentions were subsumed by Chung’s intervention. I liked that. It reminded me of my own gallery when Hong Kong artist Tsang Kin-wah did similar in his White Cube exhibition in 2005 transforming the entire gallery with stenciled obscenities criticizing the art world and its hollow glitz, a money-grabbing hoax, led by art dealers like “fucking white man John Batten.” Yes – an intentional humiliation! Chung’s approach was more subtle, but he brilliantly juxtaposed Hong Kong’s recent political upheavals, worries, outrage and difficult living conditions into a beautifully pristine gallery space – that was now no longer a gallery space. As humiliations go, it was mild. Because, last Monday morning the Hong Kong SAR’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that her policy address, long planned to be delivered this week on 14 October, would be postponed because President Xi Jinping’s previously unannounced visit to Shenzhen would now be on the same date.
To be told by the Central authorities to postpone a major speech, to be directed when you can address the Legislative Council and Hong Kong people – and, we now learn, to attend meetings in Beijing first, to discuss what will be included in the policy address…. Yes, that must be the ultimate humiliation. For all of us.
Further info and images:
Mark Chung: https://www.mpweekly.com/culture/%e9%8d%be%e6%ad%a3-mark-chung-%e8%a3%9d%e7%bd%ae%e8%97%9d%e8%a1%93-160270?&fbclid=IwAR02l4B-_-cAGy3HyprTIkv7xSzcKJTdsSCp0T1LU3aK7aCyO8FzHCGIsa0
Tsang Kin-wah: http://www.tsangkinwah.com/work-white-cube
This opinion piece was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 19 October 2020, translated from the original English by Aulina Chan.