Two Thousand Eleven
As Para/Site Art Space opens its revitalised gallery, Ysabelle Cheung talks to the curator and artists at their intriguing new exhibition.
It sounded almost like a riddle when Cosmin Costinas told us back in September that he’s going to ‘make the space as small as possible’ for his first curatorial project at Para/Site Art Space. Titled Two Thousand Eleven, the group exhibition sees the tiny space being further shrunk down with a diagonal wall, partly as a tribute to the slash in the name of the non-profit organisation. “It means that we can do what we want – and in an even more restricted and smaller space,” says the new executive director/curator of Para/Site. “It’s also something that leads nowhere. It ends in a corner.”
Despite its title, Two Thousand Eleven is not just a response to the events that occurred during the year. Indeed, most of the artworks featured here were produced before 2011 – John Smith’s Black Tower some 25 years ago, Olga Chernysheva’s Alley of Cosmonauts in 2009, and Heman Chong’s Monument to the people we’ve conveniently forgotten (I hate you) in 2008. The definition of space is, naturally, also a major theme of the show: Chong’s ink-black business cards – there are literally one million of them – are littered on the floor, forcing the visitors to stumble or kick their way across the gallery, while Federico Herrero’s on-site painting highlights the structural template of the space itself.
Blue stripes line the window frames, and geometric squares are splashed on the beams and up the stairs that lead to Para/Site’s office on the first floor. As it turns out, Herrero wasn’t even asked to paint anywhere other than the window. “But he was just inspired,” a gallery assistant jokingly told us at the opening. “I work with structure of the city,” says the artist of his aqua blocks of colour on the window, when we meet during his two-day in-house stint at the space. “My murals don’t really have anything to do with [revolution]. Mostly, they relate to the architecture of time, and in that sense the theme of the show is something that resonates with the present.”
Chong’s 2008 piece was the first to be included in the exhibition, and is the only one which allows – or even calls for – destruction. “I’ve always wanted to do a piece that doesn’t resist destruction,” he says, hinting on the transformative theme of the exhibition, “so it’s about how one thing can become another thing because of the situation.” While its emotionally charged title stems from the artist’s response towards the transience of human relationships, the satirical side of it is that everyone can interact with the piece in an unconventional way: by slipping a card in your pocket, stabbing a stiletto through a flimsy stack, or even touching the printed paper and finding smudgy imprints on your fingers later on. “I think there’s a lot of black humour in my work,” Chong says. “I like that.”
Flanking the walls are Olga Chernysheva’s photographs of bubble-wrapped Soviet Cosmonaut tribute sculptures. It’s easy to pigeonhole the still images as being less evocative than the three other pieces, but the message the artist tries to convey is all the more powerful for it. Upon hearing that a monument was to be renovated due to the fading lack of interest in past Soviet Cosmotology achievements, Chernysheva visited the site – armed only with a camera and a jacket to fend off the sub-zero temperatures. “Because of this coldness, the atmosphere was almost like being on the moon,” she says of the ruins of a communist ideal, where the monuments were covered in plastic and forgotten by the masses. “It was really the cosmos itself and [the] projection of phantasmagorical principles of the Earth. Because the monument didn’t stay vertical, it was a structure that dictated time – it stood like a clock would be. It was about historical geometry.”
The sense of paranoia in the face of history is perhaps best encapsulated in British video artist John Smith’s Black Tower (1985-87), whose monotonous, somewhat ironically inflected, voice echoes through the triangular gallery space and provides the ominous soundtrack to the exhibition. “I asked people about it, but no one knew what it was,” a voiceover repeatedly states throughout the video work, in which the protagonist takes a first-person journey through Thatcherist London in search of a tower he’s purportedly seen glimpses of. It’s a terrifying, symbolic visual narrative which chronicles the dawn of a capitalist wave that would eventually sweep the world.
Reflecting on his inaugural exhibition, Costinas is hoping that he can adjust the Hong Kong audience’s perception of contemporary art over time. “I want people to understand that art is not just about bringing in the public to see the art exhibitions where you can hang paintings on the walls, but is also an agent for reflection and bringing debate to the public sphere,” he says, in the absence of paintings hanging on the walls.
Two Thousand Eleven is at Para/Site Art Space until Mar 4.