Videotage announces the retropective exhibition “No References. A Revisit of Hong Kong Video and Media Art from 1985” has successfully opened. The exhibition lasts to June 15, 2016.
The significance of history lies first and foremost in its relevance to the present. When triggered by events in our daily lives, we can’t help but revisit times and happenings from past eras, hoping to be enlightened and inspired by reevaluations and reconstructions of overrused narratives, forgotten histories and odd fragments long lost in the river of time. The more pressing the circumstances of the present, the louder the echoes of history and the stronger the resonance of the past.
Such has been the situation in Hong Kong in the past two years. An urgency has been steadily building momentum—taking fuel from frustrating political realities, rapid societal polarisation as well as the fraught development of the local art infrastructure. One of the most pressing and complicated challenges is that of contextualizing local artistic production with an appropriate historical perspective: while it has become commonplace to tackle the question of “Hong Kong” in art, it is a different thing to analyze such attempts in a lucid and historically-informed manner.
The development of the contemporary art scene in Hong Kong is inextricably linked to the development of video art in the region. In the early 1980s, under the influence of Hong Kong new wave cinema, a group of young artists began their initial explorations in video art with elementary and unsophisticated means. In 1986, some of these pioneering artists (members of Zuni Icosahedron at the time) came together to establish Videotage, undertaking the mission of developing new media art in Hong Kong. Represented by Danny Yung, Ellen Pau, May Fung, Mo Man-yu and Wong Chi-fai, these artists introduced the form and spirit of video art to Hong Kong at a time when there was no artistic precedent, institutional support or any sort of public interest. At a time when the concept of media art had yet to be clearly defined, the young medium was challenged, moulded and incrementally developed via illuminating experiments and crossovers with other art forms such as dance, painting, installation and theatre.
The task of chronicling the 30-year history and development of media art in Hong Kong is not an easy feat. This exhibition attempts to look back, reflect and re-evaluate Hong Kong media art with a fresh methodology—one that is based on a critical historical perspective rather than the technological development of various mediums. Furthermore, history itself is dissected and re-contextualized. Traditional accounts of Hong Kong divides its contemporary history into discrete periods, namely: the end of the British occupation; the transitional era after its handover to China; and the issue of Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, etc. While such chronologies foreground core values of democracy and nativeness, they inevitably simplify the complexities and problematics that interweave art, social life and ideological discourse.
Using the institutional history of Videotage as an alternative guiding chronology, this exhibition presents a Hong Kong media art based on No References. Since its conception, media art in Hong Kong has been a melting pot for diverse perspectives and influences, it has always been adopting an open and humble learning attitude towards audiences, critics and members of the public from within and beyond the city. Over the years, Hong Kong artists learned how to transform their anger and frustrations into a form of creative resistance, while not abandoning the appeal of breaking away from collective identity. Their efforts present a combined struggle against singularity and univerality with enormous power and potential.
No References revolves around the notion of subjectivity: in revisiting history we explore the development of subjective consciousness and its relationship to larger enveloping narratives. This subjectivity, as expressed in this exhibition, is based on hospitality to the Other and struggle against singularity and universality: a situation of refusion and refusal, in which Hong Kong media artists practice. An art subject or concept never exists in a vacuum; it is always deeply interwoven within specific geographical, historical and sociopolitical contexts. At the same time, such concepts arise without precedent or example, born out of history while seeking to change the status quo. In their quest for new orders and new ways of living, such new subjectivities refuse to be subsumed within existing social structures; nor do their efforts fully reflect dominant narratives and histories. This is the reason why we cannot generalize a Hong Kong identity or history based solely on political developments or external identities: such accounts omit the individual exploration, the interindividual inspiration that foretell and pre-date the actual happenings.
Presenting works by pioneering video artists whom have attempted to self-organize and inspire each other in their collective goal of developing media art in Hong Kong forms a conceptual and literal point of departure of the exhibition. In Unit 12 at Cattle Depot, the works display an intriguing interrelationship between interindividual inspiration and independent creativity that manifests in a transgressive historical consciousness—one that transcends the limitations of media as well as personal and social boundaries. It is in this way that subjective consciousness infiltrates and transforms artistic, social and political dialogue through a wide range of media practices. In Unit N2, N5 and Unit 13, we strive to present the complexity that is deeply rooted in and unique to Hong Kong media art. From media experiments to institutional critique and from sociopolitical views to private personal desires, the exhibition constructs a space that interweaves diverse fragments and stories. At the same time, adopting an investigative archival approach, we also endeavour to discuss about the event of documenting media works as a “re-mediatizing” process.