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Kwok-hin Tang: From an Object-based to a Socially Aspired Art Practice
at 5:17pm on 24th February 2020


1. Kwok-hin Tang, Throughout the Sky
2. Kwok-hin Tang, A One-man Factory
3. Kwok-hin Tang, Dance before Departure
4. Kwok-hin Tang, Every Pandiculate
5. Kwok-hin Tang, Red and White

All photos: Kwok-hin Tang


“For all of us, in reality, knowledge is not built up as we go across,

but rather grows as we go along.”[1]

One day, Hong Kong-based artist Kwok-hin Tang and I were sitting at his newly set up 2018 installation Every Pandiculate.[2] Kwok-hin Tang expressed to me his curiosity about what it meant to be making “socially engaged art,” which is how he described this new work. He said it with a quiet and mischievous kind of confidence, and I have a mental image of this idea appearing in front of him as if it were a new toy: at once a marvel, a risk, a promise of adventure, and a prompt for further exploration in his work.

In the gallery Every Pandiculate appeared ambiguous—at once showing and hiding, with the artist present and absent. A stage approximately one foot above ground level marked the physical boundary of the installation. Around the stage were some shelves holding a few pairs of shoes. On the stage were two beds, shelves for glasses and books, and a few wardrobes and drawers filled with clothes. All of the objects were ones found in ordinary life. The artist also made two series of moving images. One consisted of slides of such everyday objects as a pack of instant noodles, an audio cable, a clip, and soap, that were shown on three small television sets placed on top of freestanding cupboards. The other series was a combination of videos of individuals giving a thirty-minute monologue about their lives that was projected onto an elevated bed rack functioning as a screen. These moving images were presented in starkly different styles: the everyday objects were covered with a black garbage bag and then scanned. Set against a solid dark background, their edges were slightly blurry, yet each object shimmered—they looked otherworldly. The videos of individuals, on the other hand, ere more realistic in style, and each ran in one durational shot with no camera movement and no editing.

On the back of one of the shelving units was a textual description of the project, an integral part of which was the artist offering a dinner invitation to take place at either the artist’s or participants’ home. The artist circulated the invitation further via email and social media, and some of the dinners took place in the gallery. There was also an A3-sized poster calling for proposals of projects or events to be presented in the space that Kwok-hin Tang had set up in the gallery. The installation as a whole is a set of material conditions that could be read as either relics from events that had happened, or as preparation for events that might or might not happen in the future. It was ambiguous as to who was speaking, who made what objects, and to whom they belonged, creating tension between the named and unnamed and uncertainty as to whether or not the space was set up for inclusion and participation.

The questions that arose for me are: How did Kwok-hin Tang intend to explore the idea of being socially engaged with this project? Can his interest in so-called socially engaged art be traced within his practice? What do these questions reveal about the creation of Every Pandiculate, which subsequently developed into another project, 1983 Bar (2019)?[3]

In this essay, I am interested in identifying the “social” in Kwok-hin Tang’s practice; by that I mean how he affects other people he encounters in life and allows them to affect him. He has become interested in sharing with others his life as an artist not only through his artwork but also by acting among them, and spending time with them. Another way of putting this is that he makes himself present among others, and makes others present around him. He regulates the tendency for falling back into his idiosyncrasies by activating the social space between himself and others. The dialogues this social space engenders are open-ended. These dialogues are open-ended. He does not impose any preconceived picture of what they might accomplish. In this respect, I find that Kwok-hin Tang’s practice aspires toward the social—aspiring to opening up and sharing his life with others.

In focusing on aspirations rather than accomplishing engagement, Kwok-hin Tang redirects his practice more toward chance encounters and becomes more open to the individuated needs of others who experience his work. He works not only according to his own will as the artist, but also responds to circumstances that compel him to redirect his own habits of mind and body. This transformation—impregnated with hope and doubts, joys and sorrows—does not take place as a smooth, linear trajectory. It becomes more an issue of necessity that arises out of his concern with freedom—how to be an artist and live with art in one’s life—and leads to how he conceptualizes his politics and ethics as an artist.

This freedom consists first in the freedom to idealize a better world where truth can be attained. He deliberately works within the realm of the social as a way to access that world, in which he seeks the “purpose of life.”[4] He approaches this notion in two ways. First is the question of “for whom is this purpose?” Is his life that is immersed in art for him alone, or also for others? The second question is “what is this purpose?” While Kwok-hin Tang has not explicitly used the idea of “value” in his practice, I find it tacitly at work in his self-questioning and self-dialogues. He evaluates what makes life worth living, which includes, but is not limited to, the question of being an artist.

I propose four entry points into his work by way of four comments he made in my interviews with him over the past year, his artist statements, and in social media:

“I wake up and see everything around me as in an exhibition.”
“Is there an echo in the hill?”
“The ruling power is protected by public authority. How about the protestors?”
“I want to be obsessed as others are obsessed; I want to suffer as others suffer.”

In the first statement, his concern is with his personal life, and the question of what a good life is with art as a salient part of it. In the second, he reflects on human nature—its origin in nature and its historical manifestations. These first two comments highlight in an introspective way his relationship to his art. In the third statement, he interrogates how power and inequality are manifested in collective human life and implicated in human-devised systems that institute order and distribute power. This statement is a reflection on the rapidly changing political situation in Hong Kong in recent years, something central to Kwok-hin tang’s reflection on art and society, and to being both an artist and a citizen. In the fourth statement, he regards life as directed to and constituted by others as concrete beings, with faces, names, stories, and past and potential futures, among whom he conducts his life. It is a form of a resolution, however tentative, that addresses the struggles in the first three statements, and how he currently conducts his art practice.

The four ideas in this sequence, one that is of my choice, do not designate chronological temporal periods of his practice. Instead, each comment captures a sentiment he still grapples with from time to time. Each sentiment arises or regresses as Kwok-hin Tang moves through his practice and life, and their meanings also unfold in relation to each other. Together, they are more the rising and retreating phases of tides, continuous with, constituting, and/or overlapping with each other, rather than serving as boundaries for him to cross. They are markers that register his multiple layered personal epistemologies in the making—ones that are complex and intertwined.

While many questions he asks about his practice and life remain unresolved, I propose that it is through these trajectories that the social is identified as constituting the artist’s practice—regulating or limiting it, but also regenerating it in a productive way.

1. “I wake up and see everything around me as in an exhibition.”

Kwok-hin Tang’s comment “I wake up and see everything around me as in an exhibition” registers a kind of struggle—to aspire to be a good artist, one could argue, means having the instincts of a competent professional responding to commissions and project invitations. There is also a sense of suffering here because such habits can become totalizing—is all there is to life the particular way art manifests itself in exhibitions? How much art is enough for life? How should art be in life so that it does not become another form of authority? Is there more to life than art, and how important is this question? This struggle is not new in Kwok-hin Tang’s life as an artist.


In 2012, Kwok-hin Tang made the durational installation A One-Man Factory. For twenty-four hours, he locked himself up in his home studio. He used materials at hand to make one sculpture each hour. These “sculptures” are objects he picked up at home and altered, including a defaced piggy bank, plastic bags filled with air, a wall clock’s face taped to erase the numbers, leaving only the hands visible, and a pair of scissors taped on the cutting blades to become dysfunctional. He called this a “24-hour ceaseless sculpture made at home,” a “recycling factory,” and an “experiment” that places “sculpture making in the situation between an individual and industry.” His questions are directed externally to the world—the ontological status of mass-produced objects and objects produced by his own artistic processes, and artistic processes in general. In making mass-produced objects his materials, he is complicit with “industry” and is subjected as an individual to it. He refuses to easily fall back onto the common notion that art transforms the value of the most mundane things. Instead, he acts as if he, too, becomes an “assembly line” engaged in “continuous and efficient production.” He refuses to be an individual, but, instead, consciously puts himself in the position of unfreedom, to experience what it is to be subjected to a form of systematic forced labour. Art making is in some ways subjected to the same logic of the art market, which the artist describes in his statement as “commercialized and meaningless.” Within these “lines of production,” the artist may find no way out.[5]

There is also a spatial aspect to A One-Man Factory: the transformation of his home studio. While this domestic, everyday setting could remain his sanctuary, he deliberately introduced an aspect of danger into the scenario—risking bodily fatigue, the possibility of exhausting materials in continuing the artistic process, suspending the familiarity and comfort of home. And it is not clear if the tension created could be resolved by bringing these conflicting systems of mass production and artistic production into an equality of existence. But in these gestures, the artist is able to tap into the question of freedom—the limits of where it begins and ends, and how it might be sustained.

A comparable dilemma arose two years later, around the time of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014. Kwok-hin Tang was awarded a five-month Asian Cultural Council residency in New York City just as the movement was beginning, and he was absent during the mass demonstrations. Before he left Hong Kong, he made a video installation in two parts entitled Dance Before Departure (2014). In the artist statement for this work, he speaks explicitly of the dilemma he faced: while he had to leave Hong Kong to gain new knowledge as an artist for professional development, he also needed to experience more profound human relations—sharing values, joining into solidarity, and engaging in deliberation about not just personal well-being but social and public well-being. The first part of the video relates to a bamboo dance he performed with a childhood friend. Thus, fragments of memories became part of the narrative, and at one point, the narrator reflects on how “an attempt of a closer approach further produces fear of hurting anyone.”[6]  

It is not clear what Kwok-hin Tang means by getting “closer” to someone—in the context of his practice, I propose it is a question of how close he gets to knowing what moral values another person abides by in life. Dance Before Departure is a general reflection on what is more worthwhile in life: to get closer or keep a distance from others. Part two of the video is shot mainly in New York City. Many of the shots are of him alone in the apartment watching online videos about Hong Kong and performing ordinary activities like eating noodles and washing pots and bowls afterward. The close-up camera framing takes away the surrounding environment and its meanings—it is as if the artist lives in a world that is defined by arms-length gestures, just enough to reach the laptop keyboard, his dining utensils, and wash basin. The deliberate flattening and decontextualization of space in the video is also a flattening of it as place and its subsequent meanings. Dance Before Departure is an account of the artist’s reality at the time: a mundane, everyday focus of life torn between his imaginings of Hong Kong and his physical distance from it. In response, he rethinks or reimagines his aspirations, and his videos as self-portraits humanize the situation he finds himself in but also show its alienating impact upon him. It is a form of autobiography that shows him as not quite himself, as not belonging.

A One-Man Factory and Dance Before Departure address fundamental struggles the artist experiences beyond the accepted parameters of art and exist within a more general human condition—the conflict between personal and social life, represented as the tension between solitude and solidarity, conformity and dissent. This more intellectual tendency in his reflection regarding the “social” represents on the one hand established forms of life that are not up to the individual (determined by circumstances, including chance and fortune), and, on the other hand, the “social” as a choice of collective life; that is, with whom one spends time, whom to admit in one’s life as an artist, and beyond. There is also a more affective tendency in Kwok-hin Tang’s reflections. Being stranded as he was in New York City was frustrating, and it revealed the moral dilemma of how to respond to that frustration—where to go, how to work, and with whom. It’s important to note Kwok-hin Tang is not hastily dichotomizing, rejecting one or the other—solidarity with others or being alone, or using his art to show any conclusion or resolution to his dilemma. His interest is not in simply shaking off the constraints, or even to immediately see what limits or constraints that exist in order to suspend them. Rather, he identifies with where and how they impact him, and he asks whether or not his choice may be a worthy one. He burdens himself with demands on all sides.

2. “Is there an echo in the hill?”

In Kwok-hin Tang’s practice, the human world can also be fully enmeshed in nature, and this could be discerned in his early practice. Is there an echo in the hill? (2013) is a solo performance in which on his twenty-eighth birthday he went up the hill near the village he grew up in and currently still lives. The hill is where his ancestors were buried and he visits their graves yearly. He recalled hearing echoes in the hill when he was a child, which prompted him to take the walk again and again. Upon reaching the graves, he shouted the names of those who had died during his lifetime, and repeated them fourteen times as a video loop. He imagined each call as generating one echo, hence making a total of twenty-eight calls and echoes. While his calls were in a neutral tone, there was also a sense of tension in the repetition—some calls were evidently stronger than others. One reading of this work could be that nature is humanized and personalized and called upon to answer his calls through an echo. While these calls memorialize the names, they also engage with the absoluteness of death that nature ordains. One could also say Kwok-hin Tang is trying in vain to shake up the dead. Another reading could be that the calls juxtapose his lone self and body against the giant, ancient hill in an attempt to to imitate it or match up with it or sound it out—he creates his own “rite of evocation.”[7]  In calling upon the enormous and incommensurable forces of nature to tell him who he is and where he is, he is expressing both anger and impatience with a dare, but also marking the need to find his place in the incommensurability of nature’s time, and, from a human perspective, its apathy to our needs.

In bringing change, nature is also a force of renewal, as depicted in two other of Kwok-hin Tang’s installations, Surface of Wind and Light (2016) and Throughout the Sky (2017). Surface of Wind and Light is a montage of circular objects and lines and the phases of the moon. Fans turn, an electric stove fire ring lights up, and water spins in a round tea cup. In this work, the artist deliberately blurs the line between the natural and artificial, while, at the same time, showing how human appropriations may lead us farther and farther away from nature. Gestures of abstraction in this work are pushed to the level of the geometrical shape of the circle, suggesting questions about what reality constitutes human perception—what appears and disappears, what endures and what does not. Compared to One-Man Factory, there is less of a feeling of confrontation.

Throughout the Sky originated as a video Kwok-him Tang shot from the rooftop of his home in Kam Tin, Hong Kong. In filming sunrise to sunset for twenty-four hours, he is mesmerized by the idea of “you and I,” [8] asking how the sky without boundaries envelops all “civilizations.”  Concepts of border and infinity arise here, and while the video is domesticated as a projected installation on a bed rack, the idea of infinity is not tamed. Here, he is moving between the varying scales of self, family, friendship, and the cosmological, all intimately encountered. It is in these appropriations of nature within the domestic environment, or in domesticating nature, that the attributes of symbiosis, diversity, complexity, and the aesthetics of nature arise, substituting the more egotistic competition as found in Is there echo in the hill? In the way the moon and the sun wane, in the way winds rise and subside, and in the way echoes describe the contours of mountains by sounding them out, Kwok-hin Tang reflects on the transience of humanity, its nature, and aspects of its inevitability.

In these works, he conjures up a sensibility that neither discriminates between nor hierarchicize humanity and nature. His emphasis is on what comes before him and is around him as facts. He asks whether there is continuity between nature and humans, and, if so, how and where art is located on this continuum. In addressing the relation between humanity and nature, Kwok-hin Tang does not take either as isolated subjects of inquiry for artistic attention. They are reciprocal. One could argue that he seeks the spiritual and sensuous in the non-human, natural world, and tries to respond to the question of how humans may be part of this equation as a necessity and a challenge.

3. “The ruling power is protected by public authority. How about the protestors?”[9]

In the months following the closing of Every Pandiculate on January 4, 2019, Kwok-hin Tang has been increasingly outspoken and directly explicit in social media platforms about politics and the subjects of his work. He said it was in 2015—at the time of the incident in which the Causeway Bay Bookshop publisher, Gui Minhai, was “disappeared” allegedly by mainland Chinese authorities that marked another change in him.[10]

Reminiscence of the Eastern Capital (2015) is a video depicting the district of Wanchai in Hong Kong, and footage of chain store shop fronts and the streets are layered onto each other, conjuring up a sense of ephemerality. He filmed outside the Japanese department store SOGO during the beginning of the Umbrella Movement in 2014 before he left for an art residency in New York. SOGO is one area that all protests in Hong Kong from Victoria Park to the government headquarters would pass—other areas occupied by the people during the Umbrella Movement were Admiralty on Hong Kong Island and Mongkok in Kowloon. A year later, he went back to film again in the same place, creating a depiction of the presence of his own absence from the city over the previous year. In this video, he captures an intimate moment—a man stands at a traffic light, relaxed, as if sunbathing. Through this fellow male body, the artist seems to be looking for the right emotional distance in the form of physical distance with passersby. He is no longer in his studio, but relating to others and sharing with them the air and the sky. In 2015, in his solo exhibition Duplicate Victoria presented at Gallery Exit, Hong Kong, he presented the installation Cold Plank. In the gallery, office chairs all of the same design are randomly placed and have small bureaucratic objects—paper clips, pens, coffee mugs, suit ties, brochures—embedded in the seats. The way they are unoccupied, disorderly, and seemingly without any context suggests the absurdity and arbitrariness of institutional power that bears no consequence on what their purpose is. The empty chairs are cold and lifeless and present a contrast to the intimate human touch that often appears in his work.

Politics in the sense of distribution of power in civil society enters his visual and textual language more overtly a few years later. His work becomes explicitly confrontational—a contest of positions and ideologies against state apparatuses and the ruling power in Hong Kong. In 2018, in the work titled Draft, he presented an installation consisting of a few bed frames placed upright on their sides and two videos. One video shows a yellow star against a red background, alluding to the national flag of the People’s Republic of China. It shows how power works by flaunting its brightness in order to blind its beholder. The other video shows a closeup of the artist smoking. The action is slow and places particular emphasis on how the cigarette smoke fills his entire mouth before being exhaled. The image of smoking is no longer only of an activity, but an exaggerated and dramatized gesture that alludes to the grinding power of some corrupt force, its coldness, absurdity, and arrogance. The suggestion of a doorway with a door mat that says “Welcome” conjures a sense of danger—there is no clear inside and outside, and in both realms there is the suggestion of violence. What would sleeping with the enemy be like? How does one become subjected to power in bed? The chaos suggested in this installation evokes multiple forms of power contests constituted in an extreme form of narcissistic patriarchal power becoming the law that controls and silences.

On the contrary, the recent work Red and White (2019) is more solemn, as if a monument for the silenced (by death). Newspaper reports on the June 4, 1989, incident were displayed in a small alcove in the gallery. A video projection showed two layers of reality: the background was archival television news broadcasts, and the foreground an abrupt and intrusive imposition of red in the shape of a national flag. It is there as a gesture of daring, directed at the ruling power that makes fake news by concealment of the facts. The ashtray on the ground with cigarette butts spilling out suggests anxiety and impatience. Human relations are abstracted and erased by oppressive systems of power.

In these works, Kwok-hin Tang is alone in face of power. His interest is not so much abstract notions of justice, but, rather, such vices as hypocrisy and the dehumanization of social relations through bureaucracy.

4. “I want to be obsessed as others are obsessed; I want to suffer as others suffer.”[11]

In Every Pandiculate, Kwok-hin Tang began to test the limits of how far the human figure (which seldom appears in his work except as himself and his named, significant others) could be entrusted with art in his life, in art, and his life of art. Borders was the theme of the duo exhibition of work by Kwok-hin Tang and Japanese artist Motoyuki Shitamichi, curated by Rooftop Institute, of which Every Pandiculate was a part. Kwok-hin Tang directly responds to the term “border” in Every Pandiculate, and contributes to an understanding of gestures that aim at shifting boundaries both materially and perceptually.

First, he shifts his routines of production from making objects to inviting visitors to come into the installation he sets up with everyday objects including domestic furniture, clothes, books, shoes, etc., to have a chat with him, or present events of their own choosing. The title of the work, neither a verb nor a noun, suggests this intention. It plays on the idea of relaxation—suggesting such questions as to what it takes for this relaxation to happen (eg. one person’s lone effort to stretch the body, or someone else to help, and what else besides the body needs to be stretched, etc.). The English translation of the title preserves this incongruity, interrupting the routine of meaning production on a discursive level.

Second, he shifts the border between the artist as source/centre of content and the attention directed to the audience and participants. Not that he can un-become his artist-self, but he consistently makes gestures to embrace the various kinds of encounters with the project—the audience, their capabilities, their motivated abilities, and their needs as they arise and change over time. It is not an act of self-sacrifice, nor a reduction of his own needs, but a suspension, a deferral of them. Kwok-hin Tang’s approach addresses an ethics of listening to and being with each other rather than one focused on issues of rights and equality. Instead of creating antagonism or participating in already formed manifestations of contention for political solidarity, he makes his project one of chance (without promise or directives as time unfolds) for participants to find the borders between the artist and non-artist, between art and life, and identify them as potentially one. In the one-to-one relations portrayed in the videos, Kwok-hin Tang retreats behind the camera and keeps at a distance from that which is filmed—he does not ask questions or say anything on behalf of the camera. He regulates himself to remain a silent observer as those being filmed orientate themselves in relation to the camera. In this sense, I find Kwok-hin Tang creates what Gerald Raunig describes as an ecology of human dignity:

[If] an ecology of different conceptions of human dignity is to ground a more encompassing and radical struggle for human dignity, it will presuppose the creation of particularly intense moments of copresence, moments in which presence precedes meaning. Presence is the thingness or materiality upon which meanings are built. It refers to bodies, signs, sounds, and materials in their nonsemantic capacity, that is, in their direct or immediate access to our senses.[12] 

Third, he shifts the location of art: geographically from being exhibited in Central, Hong Kong, to the western part of the New Territories, dissipating the force and attention on art elsewhere, to tip the politics of location. It is also a retreat of the artist from the stage—he’s videotaping and not leading or directing. Every Pandiculate becomes 1983 Bar at his home, and is ongoing—he invites people to present events such as film screenings, prepare dinners, show homemade products, etc. It responds to Taikwun, a new and dominant art space located in prime property space in Central, by distributing his actions elsewhere in the city. In so doing, he dispels the hold of the institutionally privileged space that exists in our imagination about how art should happen and encourages questions about emotional belonging. His materials become modes of access to the present and to each other. The place for art is exiled from the formal, institutional gallery, to each participant’s home, with the artist’s presence. He makes himself present for them and encourages processes where they become present for him as well, in a reciprocal relationship. Instead of aiming for “one major rupture leading to a new world,” it’s an attempt “to institute an ongoing series of singular events, to actuate contemporary becoming revolutionary in the concatenations of revolutionary machines and art machines.”[13] 

Kwok-hin Tang said in an interview he finds it challenging and even tiring to be organizing projects like this instead of working alone in the studio. I believe he remains motivated to persist because he wants to experiment with what it is like to hold himself responsible and accountable to others—this is an imperative he demands of himself. He chooses to regulate his practice in such a way so as to force himself to learn from the everyday behaviour of others and to find possibilities of turning everyday behaviours into action for change, where the strength of each person lies.

In March 2019, Kwok-hin Tang announced on Facebook the inauguration of 1983 Bar in Kam Tin,[14] turning his home studio into a kind of “community centre” that, as mentioned earlier, developed out of the project Every Pandiculate. My understanding is that this place is a physical space as well as a core group of participants representing several core values of Kwok-hin Tang’s redirected practice. First, on a personal level, he keeps alive the question of how to be a good artist and citizen, at the same time sustaining both needs of solitude and solidarity. Second, on a spatial level, his home studio acquires its own particular social life. Third, as he opens himself up to “strangers” and experiments with the physical and emotional space inherent in these encounters—that is, he is inspired by the circumstances in which the artist encounters others as fellow human beings—his practice becomes identifiable as responsibly aspiring to the social.

5. Conclusion

In aspiring to the social, while acknowledging how the natural simultaneously makes human life, Kwok-hin Tang presents a way of attempting to discern what, as an artist, an individual, and a citizen, the right things to do are. My question now is, if art is activated to ask questions about a better life, what kind of politics does this create for others—or, more specifically, to Kwok-hin Tang? What are his politics as an artist, and how does he conceive of social and political change in his art, as an artist?

In Art and Revolution, Gerald Raunig articulates a kind of activism that regards borders as a seam that have an “indeterminately broad margin.” [15] This resonates with Kwok-hin Tang’s practice. His aim is not to break down the border as if they are only obstacles. Instead, borders could become productive when they show how we can cross if we so choose. They also change constantly—as participants come in and out, bringing in varying abilities, the borders shift. It is a “dilation” of the border that enables change that “does not consist in the absolute division of identities, but in enabling a flowing space, in which differences oscillate, collide, process. Contrary to the conventional use of the term, the border would thus be less linked with the gesture of rigorous separation than with a fluid form in which difference floats.”[16] The border is permeable, and the artist makes space rather than objects.

To close, I would like to refer to a particular object that was a component of his installation Red and White—the negative space of his palm in wax. The lifelines on the palms are transposed onto the wax and placed on top of the newspaper reports about the June 4, 1989, massacre in Beijing. The lines in the human palm are tissues, cells, and blood vessels that grow and decay every moment. Kwok-hin Tang gives alternative meanings to this physical phenomenon. To be sure, the hand has captured the interests of many artists—and their own hands have inspired such persons as Wassily Kandinsky, Igor Stravinsky, and Richard Long, each who have made drawings of open palms that were often treated as expressions of the inner nature of personhood. While their palms spread open to make a trace and mark of itself, Kowk-hin Tang’s negative space of the palm implodes upon itself, as if it is holding onto something beyond itself. To read meaning into the palm is to read its changing lines, perpetually incomplete. The object therefore is one of preservation and deformation at the same time, fragile but assertive, even if provisionally. Without it, the other elements in the installation would become stagnant. With it, imagining change becomes possible. This poignant gesture is comparable to pandiculating as a way to rest. I speculate that this aspiration involves the spiritual. In the objects he extracts from the mundane, in the way they could become godlike, he could be praying for radiance.

While Mary Oliver’s poem “Praying” does not address the palm explicitly, I find its sensibility close to Kwok-hin Tang’s scaling of the palm in relation to the world, the palm that is cupping, patching, warming the other palm, destined to be separate, always coming back together:

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak 

If it is a certain silence that Kowk-hin Tang is tapping, it is not muteness, but more the realm of the pre-linguistic, the make-believe—just in case future possible worlds could be true.


[1] Tim Ingold, Lines: A Brief History (New York: Routledge, 2016), 106.

[2] Every Pandiculate was part of the exhibition Our Everyday—Our Borders presented by Rooftop Institute at Taikwun, Hong Kong, September 15, 2018, to January 4, 2019.

[3] 1983 Bar is the artist’s home in Kam Tin, which he also uses as his studio. He made an announcement in March 2019 about the place being open for projects of all kinds. By the end of August, he changed the name to 1983.

[4] From author’s interview with the artist on July 9, 2019.

[5] All quotes from this paragraph are from the artist statement about A One-Man Factory on the artist’s website,

[6] Script excerpted from Dance Before Departure on the artist’s website,

[7] Georges Bataille, trans. Michelle Kendall and Stuart Kendall, The Cradle of Humanity: Prehistoric Art and Culture (New York: Zone Books, 2009), 77.

[8] From the artist statement of Throughout the Sky on the artist’s website,

[9] 1983 Bar, Facebook post, July 2, 2019.

[10] For more on this incident, see

[11] From the author’s interview with the artist on July 9, 2019.

[12] Gerald Raunig, Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century, trans. Aileen Derieg (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)/Active Agents, 2007), 78. 

[13] Ibid., 265.

[14] See note 3 above.

[15] Raunig, Art and Revolution: Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century, 248.

[16] Ibid., 253.

[17] Mary Oliver, “Praying,” in Thirst (Boston: Beacon Press Books, 2006), 37.

This article was first published in the January/February 2020 Issue of Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art (Vol 19, No. 1).

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