This weekend sees the opening of our new Elephant West project, Dreams, Illusions, Phantom Flowers, presented by Edouard Malingue Gallery. The collaborative moving image project looks to explore ideas around how duality manifests itself in everyday life, focusing on moving image works from Asia and its diaspora. The artists exhibiting are Wong Ping, Samson Young and Kwan Sheung Chi, all originally from Hong Kong; Singapore-born Ho Tzu Nyen; Tao Hui and Hu Xiangqian, both from China; Portugal-born João Vasco Paiva and Su-Mei Tse, from Luxembourg.
The project comprises multiple screens within the gallery space, taking verse forty-five from Zen scripture Hsin Hsin Ming (Faith in Mind) as its starting point. The text is described as a “succinct statement of Mahayana or personal enlightenment” by sixth century writer Seng Ts’An, the third Chinese patriarch of Zen Buddhism. It was translated in 1982 by George Brecht.
Tomorrow (Saturday 13 April), a panel discussion around the topic Moving Image as a Medium in East Asia, its diaspora and beyond will take place with speakers Dr Cliff Lauson (Hayward Gallery), Tiffany Leung (Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art) and Katy Wan (Tate Modern), moderated by Elaine Wong (BFI).
According to Leung, in most places in Asia, artists’ use of video technology is a relatively recent phenomenon, with its rise shaped by “the cultural and technological development of the region”, alongside the increased availability of television and digital video cameras. She cites the example of China, in which television was only popularized in most households as recently as the 1990s. “Chinese video art pioneer Zhang Peili once described the difficulties to bypass customs in obtaining video equipment when he started experimenting with the medium in the late eighties,” she says. “Needless to say, the circumstances now in China and East Asia have been completely transformed.”
For Lauson, the major change technologically has been “the democratization of equipment and software, such that artists can produce complicated editing, effects and soundtracks on their own.” He adds, “Yet, none of these are necessary to make a moving image artwork—for that, you just need an good idea and a phone.”
Such “good ideas”, in the context of this show, are multifarious: Wong Ping’s work, for instance, is bright, bold, crass and frequently hilarious; yet explores knotty topics like political, personal and sexual repression. Samson Young, meanwhile, uses sound to explore the notion of control; and Ho Tzu Nyen examines “historicized truths” through editing together clips from famous films. In short, no two artists use their media in the same way.
“Artists have always approached the moving image from a different direction in terms of openly playing with or even subverting feature-film systems”
“Moving image in the art world has constantly evolved, with a long history of artists embracing new forms as technologies are discovered. Artists question the digital world they inhabit, experimenting with and testing technologies,” says Elaine Wong, BFI London Film Festival’s programme advisor. Her passion for moving image art piece stems from the way so many practitioners “push the boundaries of the medium liberated of cinematic convention”, she says. “Artist moving image plays with form, probing new frontiers.” Lauson seconds her suggestion that artist moving image is inherently more open in form and experimentation than more commercial cinematic fare. “Feature-film making can be quite rigid in terms of structures and frameworks, from funding to production through to distribution,” he says. “Of course, that is changing, but artists have always approached the moving image from a different direction in terms of openly playing with or even subverting those systems.”
Leung notes that for viewers, moving image pieces are inherently “familiar and better understood by the public”, since most people interact with TV, film and moving image on social media. “I think that creates interesting synergy where artists experiment to assimilate, blur or subvert the notion in their works,” she says, pointing to the example of Tao Hui’s video works, which “probe the relationship between our hyper-mediatized landscape and the social body”.
Dreams, Illusions, Phantom Flowers is further supported by the Courtauld Institute, King’s College London, School of Oriental and African Studies, Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art and Art AV. The panel discussion takes place on 13 April from 3 to 5pm at Elephant West, 62 Wood Lane, London, W12 7RH.
Dreams, Illusions, Phantom Flowers
Until 23 April at Elephant West, LondonVISIT WEBSITE