Hong Kong

 Zheng Mahler, Bubalus bubalis 16–40,000Hz, 2021, still from the video component (color, silent, 67 minutes 43 seconds) of a mixed media installation additionally comprising audio, sculpture, Chladni plate, and a book. From “Liquid Ground.”

Zheng Mahler, Bubalus bubalis 16–40,000Hz, 2021, still from the video component (color, silent, 67 minutes 43 seconds) of a mixed media installation additionally comprising audio, sculpture, Chladni plate, and a book. From “Liquid Ground.”

“Liquid Ground”

Para Site

Liquid Ground,” a group show curated by Junyuan Feng and Alvin Li—and whose logo called to mind the Slava Tsukerman–directed 1982 cult classic Liquid Sky—was organized around a central plywood platform, which surrounded some of the works and supported several others. The effect was that of an island, echoing the idea of artificial islands created through land reclamation that gave the show its curatorial impetus. Inside the platform, a perforated, semitransparent curtain created several functional spaces, where the curators displayed groups of works that examine islands through the lenses of history and fiction. Riar Rizaldi’s Tellurian Drama, 2020, tackled the colonial past and cosmotechnics of West Java, Indonesia, while Travis Jeppesen’s faux archeological museum, The Sagosian Markmakers: An Anthropological Interlude, 2021, conveyed the tale of an imaginary island. In Bubalus bubalis 16–40,000Hz, 2021, artist duo Zheng Mahler (Royce Ng and Daisy Bisenieks) presented a sensory “ethnography” of the cattle populations on Lantau Island, Hong Kong. These works considered islands as geographical systems that embody historical experiences and as alternative realities that have somehow survived the great wave of modernization.

The works installed in the space surrounding the central platform dealt with the theme of urbanization; they echoed the Hong Kong cityscape outside the window and lacked the idealism found elsewhere in the show. Alice Wang’s allegorical Untitled, 2021, combined gold-glazed porcelain sculptures and mirror reflections with outdoor views, while Leelee Chan’s circular Absorber #2, 2017, a re-created 2009 installation made from found asphalt and glitter, appeared to carry a spiritual connotation. Importantly, the antithesis between island and continent, and between natural ecology and human development, pointed toward environmental exploitation under neoliberal capitalism.

The Lantau Tomorrow Vision plan inspired the exhibition’s title. Debuting in 2018, this land reclamation and redevelopment project proposed the creation of a chain of artificial islands in Hong Kong—landmasses that, ironically, will soon be vulnerable to rising sea levels. How can a terrain rise up for the common good if it is destined only to sink? Especially in a moment as seemingly apocalyptic as our own, we should be looking for a radical and transformative force. Such a force must be different from what Bruno Latour calls the “globalization minus” (an attempt to level all regional differences) and the “local minus” (a trumpeting of tribalist frenzy). Indeed, the needed energy may come from somewhere unexpected—perhaps from contemporary art, where thought models and experiments bubble up through the cracks between the interlocked continental plates of consensus thinking.

Such speculative proposals might include the re-creation of the individual, as in Worlding Hands, 2021, a two-channel video work by Future Host (Kang Kang and Tingying Ma), in which humans, reptiles, stones, and metal artifacts are entangled with one another and receive and expel liquids à la a Bataillean materiality. This dynamic was paired with The Fountain and Resentment Sleeve, both 2021, ceramic sculptures by Heidi Lau that evoke, as the exhibition booklet put it, “creation and ruination, individuation and coalescence.” Other works were oriented toward the recognition of concrete human conditions. For example, Lee Kai Chung’s installation Sea-sand Home, 2021—resulting from his investigation into the sourcing of sand for the Lantau Tomorrow Vision project—reveals the fragmented social reality connecting Hong Kong with the city of Qinzhou in Guangxi. In Installation 1: On Art and Developer Hegemony, 2021, the Center for Land Affairs, an anonymous research group, reminded us of how the art world has become increasingly complicit with property development, and, more broadly, of the political realities we must face if we want to reach the common destination that the curators and artists are calling for.

Translated from Chinese by Yujia Bian.