The Shanghai-based art collective island6 is bringing its talents to Hong Kong with a new commercial gallery space. By Edmund Lee.
The first rule of island6, according to founder and director Thomas Charvériat, is that every work created by the Shanghai-based art collective is ‘the fruit of collaboration between at least two people’. A painting, for instance, may be the effort of up to several artists: the people who decide on the art direction from the start, the photographer who shoots the picture on which the painting is to be based on, the designer who does the mock-up and, of course, the person who actually paints the work. “It’s a dialogue between several people – even [when it’s about] the colours, [about] the themes.”
Charvériat is chatting with us a few days after island6 opened its first Hong Kong gallery – and second space overall – on June 29. It is, by all means, a ‘weird time to open’, as the Paris-born artist and curator admits. “You know, the [Hong Kong] Art Fair had already gone, and we just wanted to attract the few people that stayed here in the summer. So we decided to do something more visual – very bling-bling and very pop in a way.” He is referring to the gallery’s gold-themed inaugural exhibition, Dripping with Aurum, which runs until August 29. Light in content yet heavy in cynicism, the specially curated collection of LED, multimedia and interactive artworks mildly make fun of the city’s luxurious lifestyle. “Almost all the frames are gold-anodised,” remarks Charvériat.
The anomaly that accompanies island6’s expansion to Hong Kong, however, runs much further than mere timing. Founded by Charvériat in 2006 as ‘an open platform for art lovers who want to make art’, the artist-run organisation consists of a fluid roster of people who work as both the gallerists and the artists. Taking on the collective name of Liu Dao (the Chinese for ‘island6’), the ‘artists’ – including the writers, choreographers and engineers – create new media works at island6’s Shanghai production studio before exhibiting them at an adjoining space. No such luxury in Hong Kong, however. “We normally open a workshop first and then have a showroom next door,” says Charvériat. “Hong Kong is very different – mostly because of the real estate value – so we had to change the way we operate. It’s the first time we have [had] such a small space. Our office in Shanghai is bigger than the whole gallery here.”
Charvériat says the collective is looking forward to finally opening a workshop in Hong Kong and to working on more local productions ‘if the economy follows our plan eventually’. It looks like an essential step that must be taken to ensure island6’s long-term plans here, given the collective’s ‘second rule’: everything has to be made on-site. “We make everything – the frames, the video – in our workshop,” Charvériat explains. “If we need a bird for an animation, we don’t go on the internet and take [the video of] a bird; we’ll go and buy a bird, bring it into the workshop and film it. We have a lot of birds in the workshop.” He can’t help but chuckle a little at this point. “The workshop lets you see the production of an artwork from scratch: from the brainstorming to [the final] hanging in the gallery. It’s beautiful.”
Charvériat likes to speak of the collective as something similar to a film crew, and their outputs as collaborative works for which ‘everybody gets full credit for what they do’. “Island6 is also the producer – if you compare us with the film industry. We provide all the materials the artists need and all the technicians that they may need. The artists don’t have to spend one penny.” He says of the practical side of island6’s operation: “It’s the 21st century: you have to collaborate. If you want to move forward you have to find the most skilled people for the job – especially when you’re working with new media. You can’t be in front of the camera and behind it all at once.”
On a more philosophical level, Charvériat attributes the collaborative model to the relative lack of art criticism and peer exchange in China when island6 first started. “How can art become better if there’s no one criticising it,” he ponders. “You can’t really grow better by showing your work to your wife or your friends. You don’t need just negative and positive criticism; you need productive criticism. And if you put two artists together, a dialogue will open. It’s important for us, the gallerists and art professionals, to help the artists follow the good path and not be influenced by the market.”
Charvériat adds: “When you put two people together, they will self-criticise between themselves and not think too much about the market. They have to deal with each other first. And when that happens, the artists are very busy!”
Dripping with Aurum is at island6 Hong Kong until Aug 29.