Hanart TZ Gallery announces Chow Chun Fai’s new solo exhibition I Have Nothing To Say.
In I Have Nothing to Say, Chow Chun Fai adds a sardonic chapter to his lively, ongoing chronicle of contemporary Hong Kong realities – both virtual and actual. Chow is known for his evocative ‘film paintings’ and photo montage ‘representations’, revealing through his incisive but playful gaze certain pertinent messages for our time contained within popular Hong Kong film narratives on the one hand and the classical canons of art history on the other. In his new exhibition, Chow extends his gaze to include the virtual worlds of WhatsApp, Facebook and WeChat, adding quirky sketches of actual screen captures from his mobile phone to his chronicle.
Many of Chow’s works examine what one might term the morphology of Hong Kong identity – as it was in the past, as it is changing in the present, and the projected uncertainty of its future. In his celebrated film paintings, Chow depicts scenes from popular Hong Kong films (complete with the original bilingual subtitles) and renders them in moody canvases whose casually energetic brushwork camouflages the careful consideration that goes into each work. Chow researches meticulously, choosing scenes and dialogue that both point to and signify a critical psychological moment in his personal existence as well as in the unfolding reality of the time and place in which he lives – in other words, of Hong Kong itself. As of 2015, the Hong Kong landscape (both literal and metaphorical) has undergone radical challenges on many levels and navigated rough storms of conflicting narratives and whole new levels of fabrication and deception – from phone scams and fake eggs to deceitful politicians and fabricated news.
Under such tumultuous conditions, it is less a question of standing firm and reflecting on Hong Kong identity, as of having no firm ground to stand on at all. In one of the key paintings in “I Have Nothing to Say”, the artist telescopes back in time and picks out a scene from Fruit Chan’s film “Little Cheung” (2000), set in 1997. Executed in a gentle, luminous palette, the painting depicts three children perched on a bicycle and looking out at the Victoria Harbour skyline on the eve of the Handover. The boy, Little Cheung, points out the Tamar site – at the time the headquarters of the British Army – and one of the little girls (who are both illegal immigrants from the Mainland), proudly says: ‘I know, it will belong to the People’s Liberation Army’.
In his Let the Bullets Fly painting series Chow chooses a darker, more brooding palette to recreate telling moments from Jiang Wen’s immensely popular 2010 film, a dark comedy set in the 1920s about corrupt politicians, warlords and bandits who switch identities back and forth and engage in endless games of double-cross. Chow’s Captured from my mobile phone series enhances the sense of fabrication and deception, especially as the absurd Internet postings Chow depicts were originally disseminated as ‘real news’: A mainland newspaper claims that robots from a Star Wars film are actually military cyborgs used to protect the South China Sea, while North Korean media announces they have landed a man on the sun, and a young man in Anhui province has cosmetic surgery to turn his face into that of his ‘idol’ Lei Feng—a fabrication of a (Cultural Revolution) fabrication.
Following along this trajectory are Chow’s performative, photographic, mixed-media installations “KIM Jong-un on Boat and Last Judgement Michelangelo’s Boat”. Chow here projects himself into a famous North Korean propaganda poster, impersonating the Supreme Leader himself. Expanding on the theme of crossed identities, the companion installation reconstructs a section of Michelangelo’s mythical masterpiece from the same props as those used for Kim’s.
In “I Have Nothing to Say”, it is the ‘ungrounded’ state of living amidst fabrications, absurdities and untruths that Chow is exposing, and to which he is (silently) bearing witness. To borrow a phrase, Chow Chun Fai has nothing to say, and he is saying it.