Hong Kong

View of “Soil and Stones, Souls and Songs,” 2017. Photo: Eddie Lam.

View of “Soil and Stones, Souls and Songs,” 2017. Photo: Eddie Lam.

“Soil and Stones, Souls and Songs”

View of “Soil and Stones, Souls and Songs,” 2017. Photo: Eddie Lam.

“Soil and Stones, Souls and Songs” is a dense and unruly assemblage of things, ideas, and histories that express the complicated, tumultuous, and “intertwined lines of tension and narratives” that exist today in “the Asian sphere and beyond,” as its curators, Cosmin Costinas and Inti Guerrero, write. This show—a collaboration between Para Site and Kadist, first presented in a different configuration at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Manila in 2016—includes work by forty-five artists or artist collaborations. Some feature in one of three specially curated interventions, including “The Phantom Modern,” curated by Yongwoo Lee, which considers the effects of colonialism and Cold War divisions in the Korean context. Another intervention, “Towards a Mystical Reality,” is presented on the roof of the building. Curated by Simon Soon, it constitutes “a revised replica” of the 1974 exhibition of the same name by Malaysian artists Sulaiman Esa and Redza Piyadasa, in which found objects—from a discarded raincoat to a chair—are presented as embodiments of “the mystical concept of time and event.” 

The final and largest subsection, “A Tale: The Land of Fish and Rice,” arranged by Qu Chang, responds to Hong Kong’s own indigenous heritage through fact and fiction. Installed in a separate room, a large grouping of works expands on concepts of land and indigeneity. A 2016 poster by Justseeds proclaiming solidarity with the Dakota Access Pipeline protest at Standing Rock is hung next to Edgar Fernandez’s 1979 print Our Lands Are Marked for Destruction . . . and We with Them, produced for the A Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines/Episcopal Commission on Tribal Filipinos. In Peter Kennedy and John Hughes’s video On Sacred Land, 1983–84, still and moving images, including those from a 1980 film (On Sacred Ground, Oliver Howes) covering the Yungngora mining blockade in Western Australia, are edited into a haunting representation of aboriginality. The video is screened on a monitor facing Jimmie Durham’s The Isle of Man, 2016, an abstract standing figure with a four-horned sheep skull for a head. 

The layering and overlapping of objects and artworks continues on the other floor of this exhibition, where music as a collective and cacophonous endeavor emerges as a key theme. A wall-size vinyl photograph shows a 1969 Bahia concert in which Ernst Widmer performed on fellow composer and musician Walter Smetak’s Pindorama, an instrument made of bamboo calabash gourds and tubes fixed with flute mouthpieces for collective use. Reetu Sattar’s two-channel video Lost Tune, 2016, documents an outdoor performance involving sixty-five people, each playing a single key on a vintage harmoniums. José Maceda’s Ugnayan, a simultaneous broadcast staged on January 1, 1974, in which twenty Filipino radio stations each played a single part of the composer’s score to form a blended symphony, is documented via an excerpt from a 2002 documentary. Other materials about this work include a newspaper image of Imelda Marcos with a caption describing Ugnayan as “her latest cultural project.” The tension between artistic invention and its political co-optation resonates deeply with this exhibition’s ambitious—and institutional—geohistorical framework.

This sense of unease is at once acknowledged and knowingly subverted by the inclusion of Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s video Myth of Modernity, 2014, in which a scholar discusses the reduction of the intricate spires designed to reflect the Buddhist “three worlds” concept in traditional Thai architecture into triangles (or pyramids) due to Western influence. After making this point, the video cuts to footage from the 2014 anti-government protests in Thailand, then to a room where the academic lies on a bed as a pyramid made from LED tubes hovers over him, before evolving into a digital animation illustrating the three-world concept. In each scene, reduction is both constant and ambiguous. 

Stephanie Bailey