View of “Kwan Sheung Chi,” 2015.

View of “Kwan Sheung Chi,” 2015.

Kwan Sheung Chi

View of “Kwan Sheung Chi,” 2015.

It’s never been easy to draw the line between life and art in Kwan Sheung Chi’s work. Throughout his fifteen-year career, the Hong Kong–based artist has consistently found inspiration in the humdrum of the everyday. In the playfully titled “She’s Out of Town,” 2006, the artist, who then worked at an art-leasing firm, staged a one-night-only exhibition at his workplace while the boss was on a business trip. In 2010, he collaborated with his wife, the artist Wong Wai Yin, on Everything goes wrong for the poor couple, a thirty-four-hour performance in which life imitated art, or vice versa: The pair reenacted tragic scenes of marital strife from 1950s and ’60s Hong Kong films. Kwan willingly embraces the struggles of being an artist; he takes up challenges as prompts for an ongoing reflection on the role and function of an artist working in the sociopolitical context of Hong Kong.

“Well, you can have what’s left of mine,” Kwan’s first solo show in Taipei, epitomized the ways in which the artist has gradually shifted focus from the autobiographical realm to the fictional. Visitors were invited to squirm through a narrow threshold to reach Project Fulfill’s main exhibition space; those who chose not to squeeze in were asked to enter through the gallery’s back door. Beyond a claustrophobic passageway, which was dammed up by a concrete-filled chest of drawers, a domestic space came into view, where carefully strewn objects and furniture suggested an enigmatic absence. An exhibition text read: “In the room there are a lot of things K didn’t take away when K left.” Kwan was deliberately abstruse in his introduction of the space’s supposed former resident—K could be a fictional character or a fragment of Kwan himself; likely, he is some combination of the two. The imponderable remnants of his presence begged to be picked apart and put together again.

With a nod to Felix Gonzalez-Torres, two sets of clocks (each set titled Two Clocks, all works 2015) bore witness to the scene. In one pair, which hung above the passageway, one clock ran on a sixty-one-second cycle; in the other pair, placed on a pedestal, one clock’s hand moved counter-clockwise. The incongruous temporalities represented by the work contributed to a sense that K’s elusive narrative unfolded in a space out of time. And whereas Gonzalez-Torres’s “Untitled” (Perfect Lovers), 1991, is a testament to lovers’ intimacy, Kwan’s clocks signify the disentanglement between the character K and Kwan himself. Though inscrutable, the exhaustively detailed objects Kwan constructed and put on display—from peculiarly posed cigarette butts (hewn from cotton swabs and nail polish) to postcards based on spam messages the artists received from Miami—might well be the artist’s attempt at self-distancing. These tableaus signify translations of the artist’s own habits, fascinations, and surroundings. Some of the works appeared to have been executed in a perfunctory way; this quality added to Kwan’s sober—almost menacing—new approach to his usual self-mockery. For instance, reverberating in the gallery was the noise from the two-channel video installation Electric Fan in a Corner, which captures the clattering sound of a standing fan’s slow, cheerless crash to the ground. Karl Marx’s Capital, a three-flagged bunting made from dust jackets of the titular book, silently dangled over a dining table, like the detritus of a wretched party.

Ultimately, the show concealed more than it revealed about the state of affairs surrounding K’s cryptic departure. Still, there was one key to understanding his valediction: The stark video The Fifth Toe (or “You can have what’s left of mine”) documents the (fictional) removal of K’s fifth toe and is accomplished by the resulting severed digit, cast in cement. With this strange interpretation of a Japanese yubitsume ritual, in which a transgressor’s little finger is amputated to show atonement, might Kwan be sardonically apologizing for his flight from himself—his escape into fiction—manifested here in the disappearance of K?

Christina Li