Making (Perfect) World: Harbour, Hong Kong, Alienated Cities and Dreams
by Tobias BERGER
Pak Sheung-chuen (born 1977) performs and documents humorously poetic ideas that elaborate on complex issues within the realm of politics, history, religion and globalisation. These personal gestures encourage open-ended interpretations, inviting viewers to reflect and reconsider the infinite possibilities within their daily lives. Pak places the individual in his/her local environment against the new global realities, which are extremely relevant to the modernity of Asia's mega-cities today.
Representing a new generation of Hong Kong artists, Pak is influenced by the territory's post-1997 identity and politics, which fluctuate among issues of post British colonialism, the complex relationship with the People's Republic of China and the demand to honour the Basic Law – Hong Kong's constitution that secures a certain independence from Mainland China which guarantees - among others - the right of free speech and demonstration. Instead of being a distant observer, Pak draws elements from everyday life and its surroundings in order to encapsulate the possibility of combining social and political issues within his sensitive artistic practice.
By acting out his humorous and poetic ideas and thoughts with self-reflective gestures, Pak dissolves the barriers between political, physical and spiritual meditations, and challenges the politics of space and context to open a new way of looking into the complexities and unwritten codes within contemporary Hong Kong and society at large. The realisation of these ideas is also a reflection on the making and legitimisation of contemporary art, as it emphasises on the act of realising an idea as a philosophical gesture with affecting and insightful resonance. This resonance is fed back and amplified through Pak's method of translating from one media to another, such as the use of a printed grid in a map as a guide to walk and navigate through a city, thus deliberately playing with states of iconology, the different states of cognitions and the challenges of translation.
Pak's works are rooted in the tradition of 1970s conceptualist practice, such as Performance Art, Body Art or Fluxus, but has evolved within the social and political specific context of Hong Kong. These connections reveal a deep understanding and interest in relation to the individual and his/her role in the society, as well as the larger systems that have their intricate ways of operating. His art demands a mutual effort from the audience to engage and react both spiritually and emotionally, which can become highly and implicitly personal.
Making (Perfect) World: Harbour, Hong Kong, Alienated Cities and Dreams, presents a series of new works that are specially produced for the site and context of the Biennial in Venice, in addition to a selection of his past works. Expanding on his visual ideology, the exhibition is conceptually divided into four sections - Harbour, Hong Kong, Alienated Cities and Dreams - which merge and resonate with each other to form a cohesive whole. Pak transforms the venue into an atmospheric space for contemplation, where no predetermined interpretation is given to the viewers, and encounters with the work can be a long-lasting experience. His presentation focuses on two major trajectories of his practice – his constant quest and negotiation for a better self-understanding with everyday (Hong Kong) society, and the possibility of adaptation in the face of alienated cultures and countries – in this particular case, Venice in Italy.
Pak often describes his imagination as a set of hidden 'eyes' that seek out the forgotten and ignored. In the exhibition, the symbolic framework of Harbour not only represents the physical quality of water but also a strong emphasis on his unique approach of utilising the hidden "eyes", symbolising a leaping imagination in which Pak expands on ordinary life by transforming trivial objects into poignant artworks. As a city, Hong Kong is congested with contradictions, where people are accustomed to co-exist with superficial or meaningless objects scattered across the city. Pak contextualises the symbolic longing of these objects in the hope of communicating a personal or communal understanding of life's absurdness, in order to achieve a deeper impact on our lives. Exploring the notion of visual associations and physical presence to juxtapose with Hong Kong, Pak isolates himself from his familiar territory to reposition in Alienated Cities. This deliberate distance allows him to obtain a different perspective and a better understanding of the city, whilst developing a personal experience and awareness through unfamiliar streetscapes, languages and cultures. The final theme of the exhibition, Dreams, conceptualises itself through a combination of memories of the past and imaginations for the future, bridging and fulfilling the loss of our collective innocence and desires. In order to encapsulate both hopeful and tragic emotions that take place within the process of aspersion for Making (Perfect) World at the 53rd Venice Biennial, Pak presents a series of propositions to conceive and realise dreams for the unknown futures.