“Change-Seed,” an eclectically varied show curated by David Francis for Seattle’s Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), isn’t quite a revelation — but it has its moments, writes reviewer Michael Upchurch.
What’s the art news from Hong Kong?
Well, if “Change-Seed: Contemporary Art from Hong Kong and Beyond” is anything to go by, it’s surreal with a chance of politics.
“Change-Seed,” an eclectically varied show curated by David Francis for Seattle’s Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA), isn’t quite a revelation — but it has its moments. The best of its video and photography offerings are particularly strong.
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays through May 15, Center on Contemporary Art, Seattle Design Center, Suite 258, 5701 Sixth Ave. S., Seattle; free (206-728-1980 or cocaseattle.org).
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Wong Wai Yim’s “Hard Work,” set to “Flight of the Bumblebee” as played on tinny synthesizers, is a multilayered hoot. One thread of action takes place in a Hong Kong mall, where the artist and her co-performer Wong Pak Yin attempt to eat a meal with knives and forks partly encased in blocks of ice.
On a screen above them, a zany story unfolds about a young girl struggling with classroom English lessons (“Why should everyone in Hong Kong have to use an English name?”). Her travails are punctuated by high-speed footage of Hong Kong sights, with helpful labels popping up on the screen. (One typical sequence: “Fake bridge … fake stream … fake tree … real fish.”)
This nine-minute fast-forward through the “fake” and “real” adds up to “Real HK kids’ childhood,” and the results couldn’t be goofier, wittier or more self-aware.
Po Fung Chan’s series, “Chinese Dream of Train,” features both video and photography as he explores the notion of “machines guiding our movements and limiting our actions.” To that end, he festoons himself in kinetic art — handsomely crafted pieces attached to his waist, his head and his fingers — that roll into action as he steps or nods to a deliberately awkward metronome beat.
Equally whimsical yet trenchant is Winnie Soon’s “How to Get Mao Experience Through Internet” — a 10-second loop of tourist shots of Peking’s Forbidden Palace, with a huge hanging portrait of Mao as the steady central focus point as visitors flicker in and out of view.
On the photography front, Yael Bronner Rubin and Laurent Segretier offer dazzling work.
Rubin’s images on textile or rag paper, with their nod to Chinese scrollwork, are assembled as a sort of altar at which to meditate. They’re simultaneously hyper-clear and enigmatic. In two pieces both titled “Connecting to the Spirits,” you find yourself asking: Is that a human hand turning into a plant? Is that some hybrid of leaf and rock surfing through white-water rapids?
In Segretier’s untitled archival inkjets on rag paper, some objects are more recognizable than others. “Untitled 15” is clearly of large objects wrapped in two garbage bags (to oddly monumental effect), while “Untitled 7” appears to be a shot of windblown sand. More ambiguous are “Untitled 24” (a rotting rectangle of fabric, or an insect nest of some kind?) and “Untitled 17,” reaching from floor to ceiling and depicting a scaffolded cliff face that looks more painted than photographed. (You can find more of Segretier’s striking work, including eye-bending videos, on segretier.com.)
Even the most political pieces in the show can be playful. Phoebe Ching Ying Man’s “Birthday Cakes, 2014-2015” is a series of photographs documenting the baking of some sickly sweet confections, decorated in marshmallows and M&Ms. The Chinese inscriptions on them, translated at the bottom of the photograph, are decidedly tongue-in-cheek. (One reads: “Police are frank and open-hearted.”)
While the show’s high points are high indeed, Francis could have been a bit more selective. Shirky Chan’s Magritte-derivative paintings and Andrew Luk’s video, “No Fixed Abode,” feel particularly amateurish.
Uneven as it is, however, “Change-Seed” is a pertinent sampling of the Hong Kong art scene.