Last night was rainy and humid. Under normal circumstances, staying at home after work is the best option. Instead, I spent my evening travelling HK island from the east to the west, literally. It was all because of the annual Hong Kong ArtWalk.
As ArtWalk organiser Mr John Batten remarks: No Badge, No Entry!, wearing the $450-worth badge I started off with the district nearest to the office, Chai Wan. It was my first visit to the district for art event and the first time Chai Wan participating ArtWalk. Three lonely galleries joined and they were at good standard. (I am glad to know that Chai Wan Mei, an open studio event, is on Art Basel HK 2013 calendar. I should pay a visit again!)
The one impressed me a lot was AO Vertical, which I read from ArtPlus Dec 2012 issue. But I couldn’t picture the experience just by reading. What experience is that? Visitors are encouraged to take the elevator to the 13th floor and walk down the staircase to 3rd floor. The exhibiting space is along the staircase.
When I successfully located the building amid the quiet and dark industrial area, I was greeted by two stone lions at the entrance (as in HSBC headquarters). I tried to identify the gallery on the directory but in vain. It displayed only names of printing houses, but none of them was AO Vertical. The helpful night-watchman advised, “Go up to 13th floor.”
“Ok, 13 is lucky.” I took a deep breath to convince myself.
Unlike elevators in industrial building, the elevator was decorated with a Chinese painting. Pushing through the smoke door, with no surprises, led me to the back staircase. This was where the exhibition Spring began. Last night was a classic spring weather yet the photography exhibition echoed not only the flourishing season but also love and lust in Chinese and Japanese culture as the explicit Chinese title suggested (春.淫夢).
Chinese painting inside the elevator
My interest lies in the staircase – the spatial arrangement and relationship between exhibits and viewers, exhibits and exhibits. I grew up in a 7-storey public housing estate in Hong Kong, and back then there was no elevator. Staircase, to me, was full of surprises and frights because a new scene awaited or a stranger/ neighbour came face to face for every turn. It was a vehicle connecting home. For many sleepy nights, as a child, I wished so so much I could be home in a blink, skipping 7-storey of stairs.
The staircase joint is an interesting space where one pauses, moves horizontally, turns and proceeds to the next level. In the exhibition setting, when the viewer is descending the stair, he/she is at the same time approaching the exhibit. Making a turn leads to facing the opposite exhibit on the next level. Not until making another turn would viewers know what’s next. Expectation is accumulating upon an unexpected turn.
My WOW moment was turning into a large grainy black and white image by Daido Moriyama. Compared to his recent exhibition in the spacious ArtisTree, the large image hung in a much narrow space could make an impact, as if I was walking into the photograph when descending while in reality I could stay close to observe the grainy texture.
Unlike a white cube setting, viewing route in a staircase is designed in a linear way effortlessly. And because of this nature that no one can skip any floor, the photographs from 7 artists were arranged in a way sexuality is getting more explicit and more intense, all the way down to the 3rd floor. Such spatial arrangement helps build up emotions which is also a wise choice to have a book store on the ground floor to recollect whatever comes up during the visit. However, for me, without pulling out the wallet, I ended my visit with a nice chat with the gallery manager Sarah Greene in the store.
Visited on April 19, 2013 at AO Vertical, Chai Wan, Hong Kong.
(to be continued…)