Interview: We speak to Tsang Kin-wah and Doryun Chong ahead the 56th Venice Biennale


Amanda Sheppard speaks to artist Tsang Kin-wah and curator Doryun Chong ahead of Tsang’s upcoming exhibition, The Infinite Nothing, at the Venice Biennale

Every two years, the titans of the art world converge on Venice for the most prominent contemporary art exhibition on the planet. From modest beginnings in 1895, the Arts Biennale has grown to encompass more than 80 national exhibitions across the Giardini and La Serenissima. This year, the Hong Kong pavilion features critically acclaimed artist Tsang Kin-wah, whose installation shows a series of videos that evoke a sensory reaction based upon the quintessentially transient nature of society.

Doryun Chong

Co-curator of the Biennale’s Hong Kong pavilion is Doryun Chong, for whom the decision to select Tsang Kin-wah was an obvious one. “This is a city undergoing great change and he is an artist who is responding to that, but not in an obvious or one-dimensional way,” he tells us. Of Tsang, he explains, “he is very clearly a creature of this place.”

Korean-born Chong, who was formerly tasked with curating paintings and sculptures at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, has recently assumed the role of chief curator of the M+ Museum. Curating alongside Stella Fong, he tells us that capturing the essence of Hong Kong art is no mean feat. “The scene has changed dramatically on almost all levels of the ecology,” Chong elaborates. “Institutional growth, galleries, art fairs, public institutions and the artists themselves – all of them are going through evolutions.”

This development is markedly different to the one occurring in mainland China, a point that is firmly established at the Biennale, both literally and metaphorically. Chong explains that the two pavilions are at opposite ends of the locale and, speaking more generally, he asserts, ‘there are radical changes occurring in both places but of a very different kind’. Amongst Hong Kong artists, Chong informs us, ‘there is a certain shared quality, a cynical edge to their work, but when you look at it closely they couldn’t be more different’. He elaborates, ‘the distance and differences in individual practices to me feel more pronounced than in other places. I think the strong sense of individualism seems to be one of the characteristics of Hong Kong art’.

SEE ALSO: Interview: M+'s new chief curator Doryun Chong

Tsang Kin-wah. Image: Kenji Morita

A man of few words, the artist himself sees this as a continuation of his unique and evocative works. “There are a few differences in the way I use the footage and text, and how they work together, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it a dialogue,” says Tsang. The artist is referring to his site-specific installation at the Biennale – The Infinite Nothing – which comprises four separate video installations, each paying homage to the various stages of human development.

Trailer for Tsang's The Infinite Nothing

When viewed in conjunction, the installations take the viewer along a journey through the human life cycle and evoke a self-reflexive atmosphere, in which one questions both the origins and development of humanity. This natural progression is somewhat akin to the art ecosystem in Hong Kong, in which Chong recognises a flourishing organism.

Tsang is known for his enigmatic works, which incorporate text and video, resulting in an immersive and all-encompassing experience for viewers. While The Infinite Nothing is in line with his trademark style, Tsang tells us that there are marked differences in approach. “It’s not a big shift, but there are some differences in the way I use found footage and text in video, and how they work together in the creation of a site-specific installation as a whole.” When asked if and how he has sought to capture the continually shifting landscape of social life, Tsang replies, “I don’t know, actually. Maybe I should shift as well, to trace the shifts?”

Confessing the research process to be a long and arduous one, Tsang’s emblematic approach is one that he achieves through technological means. It’s an approach that can pose a challenge to the curatorial process. “Most curators can’t be on the same level as the artist in terms of software and programming,” admits Chong. This changes the conventional role of the curator, leaving a lot more in the hands of an already incredibly independent artist.

Tsang isn’t looking to evoke a particular reaction with his art, although he confirms the works of existential philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche as a pivotal influence, as well as the artist’s own study of religion. While the two contrasting sources of inspiration are equally evident in Tsang’s work, he reveals they need not necessarily be seen to interact. Strictly speaking, there isn’t a dialogue between the two in The Infinite Nothing. Instead, they simply coexist.

Venice Biennale Talk Series, May26, Jun 17 and July 27, 2015, 7-9pm, agnès b. cinema, Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong Date: 26 May, 17 June and 27 July 2015

On 'The Infinite Nothing', May 26,
Speakers: Doryun Chong, Stella Fong and Tsang Kin-Wah
Respondent: Professor Chan Yuk Keung, Department of Fine Arts, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Language: English and Cantonese, with simultaneous interpretation

On the Threshold of Nihilism, Jun 17

Speaker: Professor Tao Kwok-cheung, Department of Philosophy, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Moderator: Yung Ma, M+ Associate Curator, Moving Image
Language: Cantonese, with English simultaneous interpretation

Language and Art, Jul 27
Speaker: Professor Adam Jaworski, School of English, The University of Hong Kong
Moderator: Tina Pang, M+ Curator, Hong Kong Visual Culture
Language: English, with Cantonese simultaneous interpretation

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Venice Biennale Until Nov 22. For additional information, visit


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