（下見中文）To read between the lines of a literary text, we try to understand the underlying meaning. In this exhibition, reading between the visible and invisible lines is more than cracking the untold code. Beyond colours, forms, or even spaces between the Chinese characters in the painting, there is something about the artists. “In/visible” is a joint exhibition of Hao Lap-yan Benjamin and Chan Sai-lok at the A.lift Gallery.
Three years after graduating from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology co-presented by Hong Kong Art School, Benjamin Hao has his works presented at art fairs and participated a few exhibitions. However, his tanned skin and floral printed shorts suggest that he is not satisfied only to stay in his studio. Hao enjoys hiking and observing the nature not like a scientist but an adventurer. What influenced him was a residency program in Iceland two years ago when he decided to emerge in the wild for two weeks. He fished for his supper and it went out surprisingly smoothly. He caught one every five minutes which reminded him not to take more than he needed.
Some take nature as a place for relaxation, while Hao takes it as a sampling field. He documents all sorts of living organisms and sceneries by rubbing a piece of paper on a rock and taking pictures of a dragonfly. As he gets closer to the soil, he bonds closer with his homeland. In his previous paintings, Hao depicted ferns, branches, insects and rocks commonly found in Hong Kong to express his sense of belongings. Hao says, “Pattern in totems taken from nature and natural colourings represent culture. I found that Hong Kongers tend to separate local culture from the nature of the city. Roads and cement have disguised the natural colour of our earth and thus blocked our connection with the soil.” That is why Hao has an ongoing project of making papers with local plants to demonstrate the Hong-Kongness in a sheet of A4 paper.
In “In/visible”, there are portrayals of nature from his own experience. Dive into the deep blue is an aerial view of the rocks at the seaside offering a cooling effect in hot summer. Hao admits, “I pick common objects that viewers can associate with. They can relate their own experience to mine. When I search for a place for my painting, I go back and forth frequently. Sometimes, other hikers would ask what I was doing, and I would take this opportunity to tell them my ideas and learn from them about local plants and things.”
Calming colours and organic forms dominate Hao’s paintings. On the other side of the exhibition space, the unemotional squarish Chinese characters in Chan Sai-lok’s works juxtapose a nice contrast. What brings them together is the blurred boundaries between visible and invisible. “Benjamin and I share a common practice that our works look implicit and quiet,” explains Chan. “Hao’s works are a representation of nature while mine are a representation of text.”
Criss-crossing between literature and visual art, Chan is also an art critic and educator. Hence, it is not surprising to know that he has several “creation lines” at the moment. “One focuses on material and form – I explore materials like silk and transparent film as well as forms like irregular shaped dots in regular pattern. To me, this approach provides a certain assurance of the outcome.” says Chan. In his work My City (Black, White, Red), three sentences from a 70s novel echoing the identities of nowadays Hong Kong were correspondingly painted and framed in black, red and white. Squares of the same colour tone were painted in an orderly fashion between the lines. The incomplete Chinese characters etched on the acrylic board are meant to be recognised only by those who have read the novel. He feels that viewers have an active role in the process of art interpretation and appreciation.
Chan’s more preferred creation line is the mixing of painting with Chinese characters as demonstrated in City/ Village. When asked if he poses himself a mission to emphasise literature through his paintings, Chan simply denies, “I like literature and this is how I perceive the world. My works represent what I read. ” At the same time, he shares his aspiration to showcase novels or prose in visual art exhibition. Perhaps the artist has a vision to integrate both art forms, instead of promoting either.
On the visible side, Hao is interested in local landscape while Chan breathes with local literature. Both artists coincidentally use “no rush” to describe their aesthetic practices: Hao cannot rush when he intensively observes nature and paints layer upon layer of acrylic; Chan does not want to rush despite his packed teaching schedule. It indeed takes time to make art. Beyond the depiction on the paintings lies their patience and precipitation of thoughts about Hong Kong’s identity.
The edited article was published in a.m. post August edition.