After/Image: Hong Kong book art exhibition

Originally posted on Saturday, April 25 2015

Hong Kong is an urban jungle that inevitably points to the profit motive as the starting and finishing point for ANY activity, a harshly “pragmatic” circumstance that most definitely puts its “extra-economic” activity at a disadvantage. Therefore, forms such as the ephemeral “artist book”, long established in the Americas and in Europe, unfortunately lag in the provincial confines of Hong Kong.

But what the city lacks in imagination or art historical lineages (or questionable monetary outcomes), it makes up for in a burgeoning generation of artists accessible to the curators of after/image. Over the space of a year, 25 artists were enlisted by curators/artists Ko Sin Tung and Sonja Ng and asked to compose (in most cases) a one-off art work that references that most arcane of technologies – The Book – as their stated format. The bottom line of art (as opposed to economic imperatives) should be inherent openness and chaotic innovation, and so, the selected artists adapted the “artist book” format in a variety of aesthetic, conceptual and experimental ways.

The well-installed exhibition also successfully abolished the “do not touch” strictures of most museums and galleries (a stricture also common to many other locales in Hong Kong). All of the work, while maintaining the installed qualities of “exhibition”, were also easily touched, handled and indeed “read”. In this way the exhibition invites a second or third viewing; the viewer can browse through after/image in the same ways they might wander through a bookstore or library.

Out of the abundance of 25 artists, I selected a few examples to exemplify the work that remained in my after-image after visiting after/image:


South Ho’s piece (above), while using the page-by-page format of a book, actually consists of a stack of transparencies mounted on the wall. Each page has a thickly printed mono-chromic photographic image showing one or another of the recent activities of the Umbrella Movement (Hong Kong’s civil disobedient movement in favor of universal suffrage). When viewed as a whole (page stacked upon page) no image was discernible, but a white sheet was provided for the viewer to put behind and thereby view any one image. The conceptual impetus for this piece is explicit: images/events quickly stack up, making it hard for the viewer (or consumer of news) to separate out and distinguish events, ideas, or individuals, or to put it another way, “it’s hard to see the trees for the forest”.


On a more “traditional” slant, Chihoi’s work (above) adheres to the idea of the “zine” (cheaply produced D.I.Y. productions), offering a selection of sexually suggestive images, though the pornographic impulses in his work are derailed by the artist’s humorous and pithy style. If the show made room for South Ho’s political “freedom of expression”, it was equally appreciated that it also provided a space for Chihoi’s deviant drawings.


Hong Kong is also paradoxically (given its modern ambiance) a spooky city. Tap Chan’s work (“Night Terror” above) implies a ghostly presence and/or a drug induced hallucination that also brings to mind a painterly trajectory moving between Surrealism and Abstract Impressionism. In another arcane yet modern form, Chan uses the basic animation of the flipbook to allow a blob of saturated color to emerge from a wall directly above an unoccupied bed.


And finally, Mak Ying Tung’s work (above, referenced in the show’s PR statement) utilizes the residue (aka trash) generated by a gamble, the bottom line of any moneymaking scam or corporate pitch. As the PR states: “Intrigued by the homophones of ‘book’ (書) and ‘to lose’ (輸) in Cantonese, Mak Ying Tung proclaims to create a ‘book on losing’ through gathering abandoned horse race tickets found inside a Hong Kong Jockey Club branch.”

One of the curators of after/image, Ko Sin Tung, was also nice enough to answer a few questions about the exhibition:

Likink: What were some of the initial inspirations for after/image (any specific artists or artworks)?

Ko Sin Tung: I like to search for and visit different art book stores whenever I travel abroad. For example, in 2012 and 2013 before I started this project, I had gone to Útúrdúr in Reykjavik and Art Metropole in Toronto, both of which impressed me a lot and directly influenced me to initiate this project.

Usually these art book stores are independent and may have even be opened by a group of artists. From their selection and display of limited-edition artists’ books and zines from different parts of the world, to the overall environment of the whole space, I find these stores to be very unique and energetic, and honestly, something that is not commonly found in Hong Kong. We have bookstores like ACO books and Kubrick, both of which also feature art publications. ACO books has more of a focus on promoting independent publications, but still, not enough artists’ books to be seen and understood by Hong Kong artists.

I do think artists in Hong Kong are good at using images to communicate and deliver their ideas, then I started to wonder if they could create books together. Therefore I invited Sonja Ng, my collaborator of this project, who is a young curator, to start organizing after/image.

Likink: How did you select the artists in after/image?

Ko Sin Tung: I would say that the artists were selected mainly based on their artistic practices; we wanted to include artists from different disciplines, with some who are more experienced in handling visual elements, and others who are more conceptually-based. I am eager to see the outcome when artists from these two directions are combined together, as after/image is focused on the interaction between idea and the use of image in order to generate something new. We also tried to include artists who have not previously worked with the book form.

Likink: What were some of the difficulties and/or positive outcomes of organizing after/image?

Ko Sin Tung: The difficulties of the project are handling twenty-five artists’ ideas and following up with their progress. Each of them has different schedules and working pace, and twenty-five is not a small amount. However, the experience of organizing and executing after/image was challenging yet rewarding. It provided me with a chance to create and adapt specific wall structures to adjust the atmosphere of the show. It is a process of finding balance between the space and the books made by each artist, at the same time it links up closely to the reading experiences of the audiences.

After realizing this exhibition and looking at all the works done by the artists, I think the project is a strong evidence to demonstrate the flexibility and sensibility of Hong Kong artists in trying a different medium, and also to reveal a more playful side of them.

Likink: How do you distinguish (or not distinguish) your roles as an artist and as a curator in Hong Kong?

Ko Sin Tung: I actually didn’t think that much about whether I am a curator or not. I am comfortable with my role as an artist and honestly I consider working on this project as the same as what I do when I work as an artist.

after/image occurred at Studio 52 at Chai Wan Industrial City Phase 1, Chai Wan, Hong Kong, April 18 – 28, 2015

Exhibiting artists included: Nadim Abbas, Au Hoi Lam, Cindy Chan, Tap Chan, Chihoi, Silas Fong, Ho Sin Tung, South Ho, Chris Huen, Ko Sin Tung, Kong Chun Hei, Kwan Sheung Chi, Elise Lai, Sarah Lai, Sunday Lai, Lee Kit, Ivy Ma, Mak Ying Tung, Vivian Poon, Tsang Chui Mei, Wong Chun Hei, Morgan Wong, Nicole Wong, Wong Wai Yin, Trevor Yeung

Posted in Book Art exhibitions, Hong Kong art/artists and tagged , , , , , .