Doryun Chong Q&A: Mobile M+ Live Art

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Now in its ninth edition, Mobile M+ is the museum’s pre-opening public programme. This December, it takes up one of the more the intriguing and disturbing art forms there is – performance art, as its main theme. Eunice Tsang speaks to M+ chief curator Doryun Chung to explore what ‘liveness’ in art really means, and how to explain contemporary art to your dad.

So why Live Art? It’s not exactly the most common art form that’s done in Hong Kong…

I guess you're right! Maybe for that exact reason is why we wanted to do it. But I think there has been more and more interest and awareness on performance in general. If you look around the town and look at what other art institutions, like Para Site, and Asian Art Archive, performance has become a more important part of their identities, which is only natural because performance art has become, simply, a very important part of contemporary art-making.

But instead of making a project about performance art, we actually wanted to think a little bit more beyond. So Live Art is centered on this notion of liveness, which can be defined in multiple ways --sometimes it is the live, present bodies of the artists or performers, but other times, you may have just images or objects. Sometimes they are almost ephemeral, but they still conjure in different ways the present-ness of art-making. Instead of thinking of art as a static object, art can also be active situations which involves viewers in a much more direct and intimate way. Art unexpectedly infiltrating the space of life.

With such a huge variety of forms, what do you think is the essence of that makes up performance art?

I think essence really is activeness. What it means is that it’s more demanding on the viewers. The viewers need to be there at the right time and right place. They have to make commitment, to make more effort. It's not like going to a static exhibition, where they just need to show up some time in the opening hours. So it requires more active participation in that way, but also they are confronted with moving parts. Live performance art activates the viewers, so the viewers should be open to chance and perhaps even accidents and unpredictability.

For someone who knows nothing about performance art, how would they start to appreciate this?

Yeah you know, this isn't just about live art, I think one can say about art in general. Even a professional who's worked in contemporary art for 15 years, I don’t always exactly know how to explain to ‘normal’ people like my own dad. So maybe I'll answer by giving an anecdote. My father, who has nothing to do art and culture but understands the importance of it in an abstract way, and is totally proud of what I do, doesn’t really understand. Total blind support that you get from your parents. [laughs] I always remember this one incident where he asked me, "I really don't get this. How should I understand this? What is the value?" And that moment I thought about it for a second and my answer was, "Does that make you curious?"

And so I cannot give you an answer, but maybe the value lies in making you curious because it's not something that you already know. What we hope a successful work of art does is not just enjoying it or transporting you to a happy place, but act as an opening to possibilities that you’ve never imagined. Contemporary art acts as a stimulation or a kind of switch that turns on different kinds of lights that are not usually turned on... It's ultimately about the importance of knowledge and the importance of the intelligence that is not just shared by everybody, it's not common sense. It's not about logic.

Since its first proponents, how do you think live art has evolved? Like themes, or essences that have changed, perhaps?

That's a really good question. I'm just looking at this and wondering if I can use that. If you look at, for instance...well actually it's not represented here, but maybe I'll talk about, for instance, a very well known, even legendary, artist Teh Ching-hsieh (famous for his series of One Year Performance, in which locked himself in a cage for the entire year). And we are one of the few museums if not the only museum that owns the complete sets of editions relating to his legendary performances. You know about them right? So for example, Teh Ching-hsieh, who’s quoted as the ‘father of performance art’ from the late 70s, and someone like Marina Abramovic (who slashed her own body with a knife to explore mental and physical limitations of the body), their performances are often about this kind of daring, the boldness and confrontation and going against the social norms. It’s about physical endurance and mental strength, sometimes even involving bodily injuries. So this was more of classical form.

I guess you can say that that is still present in a slightly evolved form in Patty Chang's works, which often speaks about the body, and being a Chinese American in America. She also brings an element of the familial relationship with her parents, so there’s a more heightened feminist consciousness and multicultural awareness from the 80s and early 90s. Performance moved further into still the body at the center, but with thinking of the issues of race and gender.

Then we come to a case like Pak Sheung-chuen, which are small gestures that can almost be ignored or forgotten because it just seems that part of your everyday life you know. But again, it's just like small gestures that could just turn the whole understanding and being in the world upside down. And with more contemporary artists like Hague Yang and Ming Wong, who engages with the tradition of Chinese opera. It's not about art making focus on your own life or making a statement about society or politics,. It is sort of a blurring or hybridizing with different art forms like literature or Chinese opera and I think that can be understood as part of a tendency of contemporary art in general, as it’s a voracious or even promiscuous kind of a discipline. It touches upon dance and cinema, it goes into the stage -- it's an incredibly generous but also unstoppably curious art form.

 

Highlight programmes:
John Cage: Writings through the Essay: On the Duty of Civil Disobedience (1987), Dec 4-30, 11am-6pm, Cattle Depot Artist Village, Unit 12, 63 Ma Tau Kok Rd, To Kwa Wan, Kowloon.

Patty Chang, Hu Xiangqian, Lin Yilin, Pak Sheung Chuen, Young Hay: Exhibition: Live Art 1995 – 2015, daily, 11am-6pm, Exhibition Hall, Sheung Wan Civic Centre, 6/F, Sheung Wan Municipal Services Bldg, 345 Queen's Rd, Sheung Wan

 

Mobile M+: Live Art, Dec 4-20, various locations. westkowloon.hk/en/liveart

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