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Tai Kwun Contemporary showcases 'Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys'
Kwan Sheung Chi, Iron Horse—After Antonio Mak, 2008. Photo: Kwan Sheung Chi.

HONG KONG.- Tai Kwun Contemporary is presenting a new group exhibition, Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys, on view from 23 April to 1 August 2021 at the art galleries in Tai Kwun. Presented by Asia Art Archive and curated by Michelle Wong, Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys takes the extensive personal archive of the late Hong Kong artist Ha Bik Chuen (1925–2009) as a starting point, exploring what this archive does in contributing to today’s art history and discourse and additionally inviting contemporary artists to respond to Ha’s archival and art practice with new commissions. The exhibition thus allows more complex narratives about Hong Kong’s art ecology to emerge and reveals parts of Hong Kong’s cultural world that are not always visible.

The starting point of Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys is the late sculptor and printmaker, Ha Bik Chuen, who left behind a vast personal archive—his “thinking studio”—of visual materials such as negatives, contact sheets, photo albums, as well as illustrated magazines and book collages. His documentation of over 2,500 exhibitions over a thirty-year period certainly records a crucial part of Hong Kong’s cultural and contemporary art history, and dispels the common misconception that Hong Kong does not have an art history.

Stemming from Ha’s archive, Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys features a series of “sets”, a carefully composed assemblage of images, objects, and stories. Blurring the line between artwork and archives and placing them on the same plane, the “sets” work together to create an environment where guests can experience portals into new surroundings and possibilities. Some “sets” are newly commissioned works, and present inquiries and interventions by artists. Other “sets” re-stage documents and historical objects in new contexts made possible by research into Ha’s archive. In a way, archives can be thought of as portals—gateways that lead us to places known or unknown, strange or commonplace. In this spirit, either through documented texts and objects or through new works, visitors are guided in this exhibition to explore our sense of scale, self, and history; juxtaposed together are different kinds of knowledge created through artistic, scholarly, and curatorial ways of engaging the archive.

The artworks on display for Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys take on a number of distinct forms, which includes a sofa with pre-stitched Tyvek and LED panel at its back that was designed to emulate an animal in primary colour fields. Other pieces on display include miniature collage landscapes which feature cut-outs of human figures, such as Ha on top of an art crate, flipbooks enlarged to human scale with seating furniture resembling those found inside the pages, sculptures, a series of screenings, and more.

Commissioned artists taking part in the exhibition with their own artistic responses to Ha’s archive include Walid Raad (Beirut/New York), Kwan Sheung Chi (Hong Kong), Lam Wing Sze (Hong Kong), and Raqs Media Collective, comprised of artists Monica Narula, Jeebesh Bagchi and Shuddhabrata Sengupta (New Delhi). Additionally, Banu Cennetoğlu (Istanbul) proposes an artistic intervention—with talks and screenings, among others—that raises questions about the challenges and inadequacies of archives to recover and represent what is “lost”.

Tobias Berger, Head of Art at Tai Kwun commented, “Tai Kwun Contemporary is delighted to be partnering with Asia Art Archive in making this exhibition possible. Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys goes beyond the life archive of Ha Bik Chuen to invite Hong Kong and overseas contemporary artists to intervene with new works that allow us to imagine or reimagine the nature of narratives, memories, and archives. In this respect, we value this collaboration with such a stalwart of the local art scene, Asia Art Archive, which has for twenty years devoted much time, resource, and talent to art historical archiving, research, and interpretation. We hope visitors can gain a great understanding of a key chapter in the history of visual art in Hong Kong but more importantly gain a sense of how the past affects the present and indeed the future. This connection of the historical and the contemporary resonates of course very much with Tai Kwun, as a Centre of Heritage and Arts.”

Claire Hsu, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Asia Art Archive echoed, “As we mark our twentieth anniversary, we are exceptionally excited to be presenting Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys with and at Tai Kwun Contemporary. After 7 years of digitising and making accessible the vast holding of materials documenting Hong Kong’s cultural development from Ha Bik Chuen’s archive, we are delighted to be presenting an exhibition that probes, imagines and activates what is creatively possible from within an archive beyond the important work of research, scholarship and education. We are most grateful to the artists who have so thoughtfully responded to this invitation, and to Ha and his family for their generosity in sharing this life’s work with the community. We would like to sincerely thank everyone who has made this exhibition possible, especially Tai Kwun and Exhibition Lead Research Sponsor Chinachem Group, and invite all to journey with us though the many portals the Ha Archive has opened up.”

Michelle Wong, curator of Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys, added, “Through their own creative processes, the artists featured alongside Ha Bik Chuen in Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys have created mysterious portrayals of their own, allowing audiences to see the parallels of archives that are not commonly explored and respond to various facets of his archival and art practice. Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys offers an extraordinary opportunity for visitors to Tai Kwun to delve into the history of Hong Kong’s past through the often-overlooked visual materials and reckon with how contemporary artists see the city’s present and future.”

Portals, Stories, and Other Journeys has given Tai Kwun the opportunity to celebrate Hong Kong’s rich cultural and artistic history, offering an expansive range of programming that is free to the public. At the same time, the exhibition marks a special moment for Asia Art Archive, constituting part of a highly anticipated programme that celebrates AAA’s twentieth anniversary.

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