TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT December 2019

Christina Li

Christina Li is a curator and writer working in Hong Kong and Amsterdam. She recently helmed “Shirley Tse: Stakeholders,” Hong Kong’s collateral event at the 58th Venice Biennale, and is working on Art Basel’s fifty-year-anniversary project with Kasper König and Hamza Walker.

Bong Joon-ho, Gisaengchung (Parasite), 2019, 4K video, color, sound, 131 minutes. Ki-jung (Park So-dam) and Ki-woo (Choi Woo-sik).

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PARASITE (BONG JOON-HO)

Bong Joon-ho’s thriller stages a collision between two incompatible worlds—those of a well-to-do family and a poverty-stricken one—in an excruciating and brutal picture dealing in the inequalities of class, control, and exploitation. As the plot unravels, the film’s tone shifts from darkly comical to mercilessly bleak, fueled by the ruthlessness necessary for its characters to survive the chain of retributions. None are freer than the others, or have the upper hand; as in life, rich and poor are intertwined in their shared fate.

View of “Danh Vō: Cathedral Block Prayer Stage Gun Stock,” 2019, Marian Goodman, London. Photo: Nick Ash.

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DANH VO (SOUTH LONDON GALLERY AND MARIAN GOODMAN GALLERY, LONDON)

Vo tenderly navigates the present by moving across the terrains of history, power, desire, and trauma through material and form, and by enlisting the help of people close to him. For his two-part show at SLG, he collaborated with his father, his former professor, and his nephew, among others; the wood in his presentation at Marian Goodman, for which he transformed the gallery’s second floor into a carpenter’s workshop, was gifted to him by Craig McNamara, sustainable farmer of walnuts and son of former US secretary of defense Robert McNamara, the principal architect of the Vietnam War. Black walnut trees in various states impressively occupied the ground floor, while in the workshop above the wood was used to make furniture, foregrounding Vo’s sensitivity to the origins of objects.

Cover of Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion (Random House, 2019).

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JIA TOLENTINO, TRICK MIRROR: REFLECTIONS ON SELF-DELUSION (RANDOM HOUSE)

Tolentino’s debut collection of essays lucidly punctures the many illusions of how selfhood is constructed and expressed in our confounding world. As someone who spent her teenage years in Hong Kong in the 1990s embracing the infinite promises afforded by the burgeoning internet age, I was profoundly struck by Tolentino’s account of her own coming of age in the era when life was first being shaped by the Web and reality television. She brilliantly illuminates the ways in which choice and empowerment are, in fact, part of an inescapable self-delusion that we are all complicit in maintaining.

Protesters form a human chain on the thirtieth anniversary of the Baltic Way demonstration, Hong Kong, August 23, 2019. Photo: Kevin On Man Lee/Penta Press/Shutterstock.

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THE ANTI–EXTRADITION LAW AMENDMENT BILL PROTESTS, HONG KONG

In late March, demonstrations began against the extradition bill proposed by the Hong Kong government the month before. Since then, all has escalated into an ongoing citywide pro-democracy civil movement: An estimated two million protesters attended a mass gathering on June 16. Unlike the 2014 Umbrella Movement, which occupied main thoroughfares in Admiralty and Mong Kok for seventy-nine days, the decentralized and mobile protests employed social media and encrypted messaging apps to organize and devise strategies on the ground as well as to rally support. Protesters’ tactics have included advertising in local and international newspapers; forming human chains across the city on the thirtieth anniversary of the Baltic Way demonstration; and holding press conferences to counter the government’s official statements. Ingenuity, solidarity, persistence, and, sometimes, humor are at the core of this movement, for which different generations and social demographics have united to demand the freedoms that were promised under the Basic Law, which took effect on July 1, 1997.

South Ho Siu Nam, Whiteness of Trees III, 2018, ink-jet print, 16 × 20". From the series “Whiteness of Trees,” 2018.

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LUKE CHING CHIN WAI AND SOUTH HO SIU NAM (BLINDSPOT GALLERY, HONG KONG)

Deploying weather as a central motif, the solo presentations of Luke Ching Chin Wai and South Ho Siu Nam reflected the recent forces that have left an indelible mark on their hometown of Hong Kong and its citizens. Ching’s “Liquefied Sunshine” and Weather Report: Liquefied Sunshine, both 2014–15, a series of defaced postcards and a film installation, respectively, juxtapose the realities of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement and Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement, both of which took place in 2014, by capturing artificial rain created by water trucks in the two locales (a reference to water cannons used by the police). “Whiteness of Trees,” 2018, Ho’s series of monochrome photographs, documents the aftermath of Super Typhoon Mangkhut. Paired together, the artists’ works pay tribute to the resilience and the fragility of cities in the face of natural and man-made adversity.

Hu Bo, Da Xiang Xi Di Er Zuo (An Elephant Sitting Still), 2018, 4K video, color, sound, 230 minutes.

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AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL (HU BO)

Set in a desolate Northern Chinese town, Hu Bo’s debut (and final) feature tracks four characters as their lives unfold across a twenty-four-hour period. The society depicted in this caustic film is crippled by self-interest, as are the protagonists, who share a mystical fascination with a fabled elephant that sits unmoved by its surroundings in nearby Manzhouli. Composed mostly of long takes, the movie is awash in gray and replete with alienating, drawn-out pauses: We are intimate witnesses of the characters’ reluctant resignations to their dreadful existences. Their paths inevitably overlap in Manzhouli, where a new day begins at first light, offering beauty against all odds.

Maria Lassnig, Jungfrau mit Stier (Jungfraueninitiation) (Virgin with Bull [Virgin Initiation]), 1988, oil on canvas, 57 1⁄2 × 80 3⁄4".

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MARIA LASSNIG (STEDELIJK MUSEUM AMSTERDAM; CURATED BY BEATRICE VON BORMANN AND ANTONIA HOERSCHELMANN)

In honor of the hundredth anniversary of Lassnig’s birth, this comprehensive survey presented more than two hundred works, charting her lifelong investigations of the interrelation between form, feelings, and physicality. Her stirring expressionist self-portraits depict the impermanence of being and subjectivity and, together with her films and storyboards, uncover Lassnig’s enduring explorations of art as an interface between her inner world and the disenchanting social and material reality around her.

Co-organized with the Albertina Museum, Vienna.

Hopscotch Reading Room, Kurfürstenstraße, Berlin, 2019. Photo: Young-jun Tak.

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HOPSCOTCH READING ROOM, BERLIN

During a visit to Berlin this summer, I chanced on a treasure trove of books tucked inside a nondescript courtyard on Kurfürstenstraße. At once bookstore, reading room, and salon, Hopscotch is a delightful place for new discoveries, offering an eclectic range of genres and subjects, and gathering people with a shared affinity for knowledge and publishing.

Willem van Genk, Untitled, 1980–90, mixed media, approx. 13 3⁄4 × 29 1⁄2 × 5 7⁄8".

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WILLEM VAN GENK (OUTSIDER ART MUSEUM AT THE HERMITAGE, AMSTERDAM; CURATED BY Ans van Berkum)

This survey of the renowned Dutch outsider artist, who died in 2005, comprised a selection of more than sixty laborious drawings and multilayered collages born of his turbulent biography and obsessions. The artist’s preoccupation with communism and systems of control—as evidenced by his godlike panoramic vistas of cities and architecture—is juxtaposed with indignant and discordant scenes from his life; his visions are oddly resonant with our own time. Also on view are his trolleybus sculptures made from commercial packaging, as well as the marvelous Busstation Arnhem (Arnhem Bus Station), ca. 1992–97, an installation of the many trolleybuses that once filled the living room of his apartment.

On view through March 15, 2020.

Fleabag, 2016–19, production still from a TV show on Amazon. Season 2, episode 2. Fleabag (Phoebe Waller-Bridge). Photo: Luke Varley.

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FLEABAG (AMAZON)

In this bitingly funny and affecting series, star and creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge delivers a wickedly smart portrayal of how women struggle to navigate sex, feminism, grief, and relationships with other women. Precisely packed into two seasons, Fleabag encapsulates these conundrums of contemporary life, all the while gradually accepting its characters’ idiosyncrasies—in particular, those of the titular antiheroine—as magnificently human.