Thursday, 27 November 2008

2008 | Preoccupations: Things Artists Do Anyway | Clare Morin

Michael Lee Hong Hwee is a rising star in the local art scene. In the 12 months the Singaporean-born artist has been based in Hong Kong, he has unleashed a string of literature-meets-art projects and exhibitions. Preoccupations is his latest venture, a book co-edited with fellow artist and curator Cornelia Erdmann. Their premise was to document how artists occupy their time when they’re not creating art. The resulting volume swings through the obsessions and preoccupations of 111 artists based mainly in Hong Kong and Singapore, with a scattering from around the globe.

Each artist has been given a double page spread – one side for words; the other for images – and they’re filled with diverse essays, poems, manifestos, illustrations and photos. Michael Lee has a wonderful entry, Typing as Prophecy, in which he details an imaginary CV based on his greatest ambitions for the future. New York-based visual artist Jimmy Ong, who claims to be “self-exiled as a gay Chinese son from my birthplace of Singapore”, writes a darkly comedic dialogue with his disapproving family members in The Ghost Banquet at the Gay Hungry Ghost Festival.

The only complaint is that the quality varies dramatically; many of the artists offer thought-provoking musings but some entries are fairly mindless, frustrating the reader. Yet, the book finishes on a memorable note with Hong Kong art writer Yeung Yang’s commentary; a beautifully-crafted email exchange between two anonymous souls who deliberate and debate on the meaning of contemporary art.

Anyone with an interest in the local art scene would do well to pick up a copy. Not only will you find out what drives many of our top artists, but you’ll also learn a few inspired ways to waste your time along the way.

Clare Morin

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