Q&A: Isaac Leung – Chairman of Videotage

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A man of multiple talents, Isaac Leung is an ‘artist, curator and a scholar’. Spending most of his time researching and teaching at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, he is also chairman of Videotage, a space in the historic Cattle Depot Artist Village, one of the most important non-profit art organisations in the city that highlights video and media art.

"I believe a good curator should play the role of a bad guy – by doing the right thing in the wrong place, and the wrong thing in the right place"

How would you describe yourself?
I wear multiple hats – I’m a practicing artist, curator and a scholar. I spend most of my time teaching and researching in university. Apart from that, I am the chairman of Videotage, one of the most historically significant non-profit art organisations in Hong Kong, which happens to be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

How did you get into curating?
As a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I was very much interested in the behind-the-scenes of the art world and was eager to know how an exhibition came into being. This led me to think about art not only from the perspective of aesthetics, but also about how art institutions operate.

What do you consider the most intriguing thing about art?
That it opens up the possibility for people to transform themselves in what I would call a ‘charismatic-networked game’. Besides the virtuosity of art, I’m interested in the sociological aspect of the art world, like how players survive by breaking, playing by or re-inventing rules.

What is your favourite art museum or gallery?

Wellcome Collection, in London. Their exhibitions are always inspiring, provocative and reflexive. Every visit to the collection has been a learning experience, and the museum encourages me to think how one object can mean many different things and tell many
different stories.

What do you seek to do with your work?
To use the potential in my exhibitions to change something in the minds of people, [to demonstrate] that the so-called truth can be criticised and destroyed. Another aspect I seek to pursue is to change the game rules of the art world by putting my thoughts into practice, and using my projects to challenge other people’s practices. I believe a good curator should play the role of a bad guy – by doing the right thing in the wrong place, and the wrong thing in the right place.

Why do we need curators?
It’s the same question as, “Why do we need artists?” Because we’re the strange people [laughs]. In a professional context, the curator is the mediator between art objects and different stakeholders in art. For me, we need curators because they give new life to objects, they create identities for artists and they challenge audience’s perceptions. In reality, though, curators also guarantee attendance figures, entertain board members’ tastes, and directly or indirectly create the monetary values of objects.

What are some of the difficulties specific to curating media artworks?

The biggest difficulty is the way in which the technologies used to present new media works become obsolete from time to time. The other problem is that many media works cost a fortune to set up.

Conceptually, my biggest concern is that most people like media art because they think it’s flashy, interactive and slick. I try not to include works that are made for the sake of being technologically advanced. It’s hard to curate a good ‘media art show’, because many artists and audiences have preconceptions of what ‘media art’ should be like.

What are the successes and failures of the art scene in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong’s success story lies in its exemplification of laissez faire capitalism – that’s the reason we have top-notch art fairs and commercial galleries. We have also adapted the UK model of public arts funding, which has shaped the long history of our non-profit art scene. But to be a cultural leader, we need to first and foremost improve the quality of art criticism and art education in Hong Kong. We need diverse styles, themes and genres of art. Fran Leibowitz once described New York’s audience as ‘discerning’, implying that an audience with a high level of connoisseurship is as important to culture as the artists themselves. I completely agree, and I think one of the biggest problems in Hong Kong is the public’s reservation to experience anything other than mainstream entertainment.
 
What are you working on right now?
Finding the time to get more sleep! I feel bad that I don’t even have time for a date. Maybe this cover will help me find one? [laughs]

Videotage Unit 13, Cattle Depot Artist Village, 63 Ma Tau Kok Rd, To Kwa Wan, 2573 1869; videotage.org.hk.

See also

The curators shaping art in Hong Kong
We talk to six curators working for a range of institutions about their work and the current state of art in Hong Kong. Read more

 

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