11 Jun 2007, Hong Kong
Booklovers gathered over two weekends at Fo Tan to frolick with, and frisk, their objects of desire all over.
A book art exhibition, "Autobiobliophiles: Artists who make or use books" opened on 27 May 2007, 3pm, at Studio Bibliothèque, Hong Kong, and continued until 3 Jun 2007, 3 - 8pm daily. The exhibition showcased autobiographical bookworks and monographic publications by some 28 contemporary artists and art collectives from cities as far West as New York, California, London, Berlin and Amsterdam, and as close by as Tokyo, Taipei, Hong Kong and Singapore. Many of the over 100 visitors to the exhibition streamed in from the graduation show of Chinese University of Hong Kong's Fine Arts Department, which opened on 26 May 2007 and will go on till 8 Jul 2007, at various venues in the university's Shatin campus.
Visitors to "Autobiobliophiles" were impressed by the range and quality of bookworks on display. Upon surveying a number of works by Singapore artists, Chinese University of Hong Kong Fine Arts professor Kurt Chan exclaimed: "Singapore's art scene has moved really fast in the last few years!" The art collective Vertical Submarine's Shut, a thick book showing page after page of a closed book and part of the Dead Books installation, impressed film director Stanley Wong (alias anothermountainman) so much that he hopes to see the piece published for more people to experience its simplicity and wit. Another quirky bookwork rested innocuously on a pristine steel table: a set of three pseudobooks by Shubigi Rao. Christina Li, assistant curator of Para/Site, was moved by the artist's rigorous practice in questioning institutional frameworks and practices by way of her parody-setups of archeological and bibliographic displays. The other seemingly harmless piece is an assortment of comic books of various sizes, Nothing Ever Happens, by Darrell Lim, who explores issues of workaholism and boredom. In these examples, silence belies burning questions about what it means to be a book, to be a person.
Voyeurism seemed to be the order of the day with a number of pieces. Andrew Guthrie's mixed-media assemblage Poem at 45rpm includes a fake mini-book tracking the select history of 1960s vinyl records. Terence Lin's Stories / Storeys, a collection of seven book-like objects had visitors peering through their 'windows', the acrylic casings and between pieces to scrutinise his paintings as well as notes made by other visitors. Au Hoi Lam's journal art were similarly experienced through DVD playback of select pages from her volumiuous output of sketches and notes over the years. Sabrina Koh's painstakingly painted-over novel held visitors' breath with words she left intact, which have innuendoes of marginalised human desires. By multitasking - watching the tv screen, flipping and reading the multilingual book and listening in closely through the headphones - audiences also got to eavesdrop into the mental lives of Zheng Bo's closed ones, in his Family History Textbook. The experience of encountering Zheng's piece is layered: composed initially of surprise (upon realising it is the artist's voice that has been dubbed over his family members' talking heads), then admiration (of his parents' resilience and life lessons), empathy (when his sister shares about her memories of their late father), tickle (when his nephew recounts a dream about an alien) and tensions between love and loss (when his neighbour shares on her childhood beau).
Visitors to the exhibition also got to view as well as browse bookworks from the display rack on the wall by other participating artists: Alexis Hy, Ang Sookoon, Amy Chau, chihoi, Dutton & Swindells, Embassy Projects, Heman Chong, Jenny Holzer, Joey Leung, K Aoki, Lilpinkdevil, Mai Ren-jie, Map Office, Michael C Nicholson, Michael Lee, Reiko Kishimoto, Tom Phillips and Tozer Pak.
By far, the piece that aroused the most (jawdropping) responses was James R Holdsworth's installation of paper aeroplane-cutouts gushing from within a thick novel into space. Although the artist made this laborious work in 2002 after 911, as a critique of American counterterrorism, he prefers not to limit the significance of the work to social commentary. Indeed, not a few visitors have expressed how the piece appears to them as an organic form with leaves, or a swarm of butterflies, both in the air and on the floor. Head Researcher of Asia Art Archive Phoebe Wong enjoyed the exhibition tremendously, being a self-professed bibliophile, and she looks forward to further research and exhibition of bookworks in the near future.
The exhibition owed heavy debts to many people most especially: James R Holdsworth who flew down for the exhibition setup; Tang Ling Nah for being there always, including in my first curatorial project in Hong Kong; Amy Chau, my ideal art director, who miraculously secured, in a short notice, the loan of furniture from a local primary school for the exhibition, in addition to helping out in the exhibition setup; fellow artists and writers who helped out with editorial aspects of the publication (David Chew, editorial advice on curator's notes; Low Jat Leng, copyediting; Tang Ling Nah & Brendan Goh, proofreading); artists who came forward with kind loans of equipment and tools (Andrew Guthrie, DVD player; Sara Tse, plinths); associates who gave leads and suggestions for artist shortlist (Jeff Leung, Christina Li, Andrew Guthrie, Katrien Jacobs & Joey Leung); Chow Yiu-fai who linked the show up with media personnel; Qin Wen and Li Hao who came down from Beijing to cover the show on their online press, sohu.com; David Chew who will feature the exhibition in iSh magazine; personnel at Hanson Printing, who worked through the holidays and weekends to churn out the publication; and also the wonderful visitors who spent time with the works and left valuable comments and suggestions. This exhibition is the first in a series of more engaging art projects to come: It was the first installment of the Things Artists Do exhibition series and the inaugural show of the newly set up Studio Bibliothèque. It featured a companion publication in the form of an 8-page pseudonewsletter. Watch this space for the next installment. Better still, contact the studio to brainstorm ideas for possible projects.
Event: "Autobiobliophiles: Artists who make or use books" . Dates: 27 May - 3 Jun 2007. Time: 3 - 8pm daily. Venue: Studio Bibliothèque, Room 1812, Block B, Wah Luen Industrial Centre, 15-21 Wong Chuk Yeung Street, Fo Tan, New Territories, Hong Kong. Contact: (+852) 92497199, (+65) 96843200, firstname.lastname@example.org and studiobibliotheque.blogspot.com
Michael Lee Hong Hwee
School teachers would probably freak out