Published: 13:24, May 12, 2020 | Updated: 02:46, June 6, 2023
Picking up the pieces
By Zhao Ruinan

Artists Royce Ng, Leung Chi-wo and Andrew Luk flanked by Asia Society Hong Kong Center executive director Alice Mong and assistant curator Doris Poon at the opening of the Next Act show.  (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Asia Society Hong Kong Center (ASHK) is among the city’s first few cultural venues to reopen their doors since COVID-19. The ongoing exhibition is called Next Act: Contemporary Art from Hong Kong. Delayed by two months because of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the show opened to the public last week. 

Works by 10 artists based in or with roots in Hong Kong are featured in the show. The names include Isaac Chong Wai, Christopher K. Ho, Leung Chi-wo, Andrew Luk, Vivian Qin, Sara Wong, Cici Wu, Samson Young and the art collective Zheng Mahler (Royce Ng and Daisy Bisenieks).

The idea is to give the city’s dormant art scene of the last few months a shot in the arm.

“During this unprecedented time of social distancing, arts and artists speak a universal language of contemplation and reflection which serves to remind us of our common humanity,” says ASHK executive director Alice Mong.

Royce Ng of Zheng Mahler explains how the ecological impact of rare earth industries informed the installation he created with Daisy Bisenieks. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Visitors walking into ASHK’s Chantal Miller Gallery will find themselves inside a ghostly holographic environment. The scene is a mix of physical objects and holographic images.  There are four Jingdezhen porcelain vases including one with pieces from its broken neck scattered on the floor; text generators morphing and singing; holographic fans generating 3D images of minerals transforming into pots and later mutating into high-end technological gadgets. 

Created by Zheng Mahler, the installation is called Mountains of Gold and Silver Are Not as Good as Mountains of Blue and Green, and provides a historical context for the ongoing trade war between China and the United States.

In the 18th century Chinese traders were keen to source clocks from Europe as then Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty was obsessed with the western gadget. Their European counterparts, however, were fascinated by Chinese porcelain. For a long time they had no idea what the secret ingredient in fine bone porcelain was. 

The desire to collect rare earth metals, mined from quarries around Jingdezhen in China’s Jiangxi province, in ancient times resonates with today’s trade tensions between two of the world’s largest economies. Rare earth metals are used in a wide range of products from iPhones to electric vehicles, military plane engines, satellites and lasers, says Ng of Zheng Mahler.

Mountains of Gold and Silver Are Not as Good as Mountains of Blue and Green, by Zheng Mahler is an immersive installation piece now on show at Asia Society Hong Kong Center.  (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

He and partner Bisenieks have tried to merge the past and present into one mixed-media art piece. The artwork tries to underscore the contradiction between the development of “environmental technologies” and ecological impacts of the rare earth industries. 

Including the cracked porcelain vase in the installation was sheer happenstance, says Ng. 

“We accidentally broke the vase while transporting it to Hong Kong. But we decided to keep it in the exhibition,” says Ng, noting that it brings to mind recycling of broken porcelain to make “other forms of high-end products.” He adds that it serves as a document from the trade route (between Chinese and Swiss traders) as well as the one from Jingdezhen to Hong Kong to figure in the exhibition. 

If You Go

Next Act: Contemporary Art from Hong Kong

Curated by Doris Poon

Date: Through September 27, 2020

Venue: Chantal Miller Gallery, Asia Society Hong Kong Center

The Hong Kong Jockey Club Former Explosives Magazine

9 Justice Drive, Admiralty