Q&A: Kwok Ying – Independent curator


One perk of being an independent curator is that you get to travel a lot.  Having had  to commute between Hong Kong and the UK for several years, Kwok Ying has recently settled in the SAR. Not satisfied with just curating, she has also initiated the Art Appraisal Club, which aims to develop local art criticism. 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into curating?
I graduated from CUHK and did an MA at Chelsea College of Arts in London. In 2006, I became the curator of Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art in Manchester. As the curator of the Centre, I led the artistic direction of the centre by curating its exhibitions and overseeing the artist residency programme.

What do you personally get out of curating?
I’m a practicing artist and have always been interested to curating.  My artwork is quite inward looking so it doesn’t give me much space to have discussions other various issues. Working with different artists and institutions, I feel that I am constantly exposed to new ideas. There’s always something new and exciting.

Were you always interested in the art world?
I always say I am very lucky to be working in art. Art gives me an ‘eye’ to look at things and look into various issues. It’s a way of thinking. It also connects me with many creative talents and they are the inspiration in my life.

Do you prefer expansive or more intimate exhibitions?

Travelling to different cities to see biennials and triennials has become a ritual for me. These exhibitions are large-scale, which means they have a better capacity to unfold their subject matters. I really enjoyed visiting the Istanbul Biennial and the last Documenta in Kassel. The works were given decent time to develop in response to the city. Not restricted in a major exhibition hall, it spread out across the city. The works took me to places that I won’t normally go. It gives new context to the space, which in turn enriches the works.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I particularly enjoy working on solo exhibitions. The push-and-pull and working intensely with an artist allows me to get an in-depth understanding of his or her practice. A curator usually takes the lead in a group exhibition, but an artist and curator share an equal role in a solo exhibition. The result cannot be pre-set by a single person and it’s the outcome of a collective effort coming from serious discussion and thinking. The hard part is that there’s still a lot we have to do to create a better art environment. Most artists and curators are not properly paid.

How would you describe the purpose of a curator?

Curating is a profession that puts art in context and interprets works from a third person’s perspective, which usually has the purpose of communication in mind. Artworks are a form of expression, therefore interpretation or communication are not always the focus of an artist’s creative process, which explains why people find art hard to understand. One of the roles of a curator is to present it in a comprehensible way, regardless of your knowledge of art. It’s more about how we can relate to it. However, in Hong Kong a curator is most often mistranslated as a fund-raiser, marketer or organiser, which often leaves a big hole in the ultimate goal of creating a context for communicating art to the audience.

Is there anything missing from the local scene?

Fun! We have many art exhibitions in Hong Kong but it’s dominated by commercial gallery exhibitions. I would like to see a more diverse art scene. I’m very glad to see some new independent spaces and pop-up projects in unconventional locations. They have different characters and are addressing different interests, which encourages new intervention. However, the number is rather small and we need more.

Your work in the UK aside, what are you working on in Hong Kong?

I founded Art Appraisal Club with a group of local art professionals here. Since the beginning of 2014, we’ve been doing exhibition reviews on a monthly basis. In order to nurture a cultural audience and widen the audience base, we need to increase the quality and quantity of art writing and criticism.

Our neighbours in Taiwan and China publish dedicated art magazines, some of which are even bilingual with international distribution, but there’s a lack of publishing channels here. We’re planning to self-publish articles.

Find out more about Art Appraisal Club at artappraisalclub.com.


See also

The curators shaping art in Hong Kong
From independent curators to directors of major institutions,
meet the individuals shaping perceptions of art in our city. Read more



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