Published: 11:07, May 10, 2024
PDF View
Hit the reset button
By Chitralekha Basu
Isaac Chong Wai (third from left) performs in Falling Reversely, a combination of live performances and video installations. Chong’s piece is part of Strangers Everywhere, the main exhibition of Venice Biennale of Art 2024. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Unsurprisingly, Hong Kong artists showing their works at the ongoing 60th Venice Biennale of Art seem to have embraced the themes of healing and rejuvenation. Now that the specter of the COVID-19 pandemic has receded in the background, participants at this prestigious large-scale international art exhibition can take an objective view of the world they find themselves in as well as ponder on the ways of dealing with the detritus left behind by those difficult years.

READ MORE: Fountain of life

Man Fung-yi is presenting her work Microscopic Landscape at the Personal Structures — Beyond Boundaries exhibition, hosted by the European Cultural Centre in Italy. The piece comprises a looping video of 586 circles drawn by the artist; a 105-minute video showing the circles being burned, and the ashes from the burnt artworks framed and on display.

Performed by a cast of Asian descent, Isaac Chong Wai’s Falling Reversely is a creative form of resisting racial intolerance and abuse. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

During the height of pandemic-related travel restrictions in Hong Kong, Man adapted a meditative Taoist ritual as part of her practice. For a whole year, she drew circles every day. “Drawing circles often signifies a process of self-realization, and the circle itself has symbolic meaning of completion and perfection,” Man says.

Her next step was to incinerate the drawings and with them the “accumulation of memories and emotions” from the past year and “return to zero”. “The idea was to let go of my past self and enter into a state of meditation during the cleansing of memory,” Man says. For her, the burning ritual signifies a journey “from being to nothingness”.

The seven-channel video installations in Falling Reversely show performers repeatedly falling down on the ground and getting up on their feet in sync, signifying a collective and nonverbal resistance to racial hatred. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Daphne King, director of Alisan Fine Arts — the Hong Kong art gallery representing Man and also the sponsor of her participation in the Venice Biennale — says she found the video mesmerizing. “I was captivated not only by the flickering of the flames but also by the continuous burning of each drawing as they disappeared into ashes. The repetitive nature of the movement made watching the piece a meditative experience.”

She recommends that the audience pay special attention to the piece’s music — a requiem song borrowed from an indigenous tradition originating in the Ise district of Japan and played on a Japanese flute. The tune aids the piece’s therapeutic effect, which ties in with its theme of starting afresh.

Man Fung-yi’s Taoist philosophy-inspired Venice Biennale of Art 2024 piece, Microscopic Landscape, includes videos showing her drawings of circles, the burning of those drawings, as well as the framed remains of her burnt artworks. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Collective rise against prejudices

Isaac Chong Wai’s Falling Reversely is part of the Biennale’s main exhibition, titled Strangers Everywhere and curated by Adriano Pedrosa. The artist, who divides his time between Hong Kong and Berlin, took his cue from the rise of xenophobia, particularly intolerance of Asian people, in the West — a trend that gathered momentum with the outbreak of COVID-19.      

Falling Reversely includes a seven-channel video installation and live performance. In the videos, performers belonging to different Asian ethnicities are shown to repeat the movements of falling down on the ground and standing up on their feet. The choreography imitates the rewind function of a camera, which allows users to revisit and retain what they like while editing out the rest, unlike real-life experience of racial hatred and abuse that cannot be corrected or deleted.

Man Fung-yi’s Taoist philosophy-inspired Venice Biennale of Art 2024 piece, Microscopic Landscape, includes videos showing her drawings of circles, the burning of those drawings, as well as the framed remains of her burnt artworks. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

However, while “it is impossible to rewind the act of falling down”, Chong points out that it is possible to do so “in the world of imagination and in the form of art”.

“I conceived the work in 2021, at a time when many of my friends who are Asian diaspora living in Europe and the United States were physically and verbally assaulted in public spaces,” he explains. “I work with performers from different parts of Asia, and we ‘reverse’ the movements of falling as a collective response to anti-Asian racism and systemic violence.”

Mimi Chun, founder and director of Hong Kong’s Blindspot Gallery, which represents Chong, draws attention to the compelling visuals created by the synchronized falling down, with “such movements manifesting as a shield against getting hurt”. The slow and deliberate nature of the act of falling, Chun says, “accentuates the impact of hitting the ground, and also the power demonstrated in the collective rise against prejudices”.  

Man Fung-yi’s Taoist philosophy-inspired Venice Biennale of Art 2024 piece, Microscopic Landscape, includes videos showing her drawings of circles, the burning of those drawings, as well as the framed remains of her burnt artworks. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The first live show of Falling Reversely at the Arsenale turned out to be an emotional affair. “We fell over and over again, and we protected each other from falling again and again. Sometimes we managed, but not always,” says Chong, who was among the performers. “Some audience members and performers cried. Many of us tried to hold back our tears.”  

ALSO READ: Young and hopeful

However, Chong is not incapable of recognizing the ridiculous side of racist abuse. After a racist attacker hit him in the face with a broken glass bottle in Berlin, Chong took a profile photo showing his bruised side and called it a self-portrait.

“When you zoom in, the bruise looks like a smiley emoji face,” he says.

If you go

Isaac Chong Wai: Falling Reversely,

Nucelo Contemporaneo, Venice Biennale of Art 2024

Dates: Through Nov 24

Venue: Arsenale, 30122 Venice

www.labiennale.org/en/art/2024/nucleo-contemporaneo/isaac-chong-wai

 

Man Fung-yi: Microscopic Landscape,

Personal Structures, Venice Biennale of Art 2024

Dates: Through Nov 24

Venue: Palazzo Mora, Strada Nova, 3659, 30121 Venice

ecc-italy.eu/exhibitions/2024artbiennial