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Tattoo Artist Suffers, Polar Bears Fret in Hong Kong Show

A portrait of artist Angela Su from the series
A portrait of artist Angela Su from the series "The Hartford Girl and Other Stories." Su had text tattooed on her back without ink in reference to the 39 lashes Christ received according to the bible. Source: Angela Su via Bloomberg

May 7 (Bloomberg) -- Some artists suffer more to create their work than others. Angela Su certainly has.

In her nude photographic series entitled “The Hartford Girl and Other Stories,” she had lines of text tattooed -- without ink -- onto her back to produce red welts in a nod to the 39 lashes of Christ.

Su’s work is one of the more arresting pieces in “Hong Kong Eye,” an exhibition of 24 local artists at ArtisTree. The works range from traditional Chinese ink paintings to conceptual pieces like an installation of empty subway turnstiles rotating automatically, to the downright wacky -- a furry three-meter-long tuber controlled by animatronics that rolls around emitting a non-stop stream of “ums” and “ahs.”

Organizers say the show is designed to attract attention to Hong Kong local artists who have languished in the shadow of mainland China. (There is a delightfully conspicuous absence of Mao images in these works.)

“A lot of contemporary art here has been overlooked,” said Nigel Hurst, chief executive of London’s Saatchi Gallery and a co-curator of the show. “This is a fantastic opportunity to bring contemporary Hong Kong art to international attention.”

“Hong Kong Eye” is a traveling exhibition founded by Parallel Media Group chairman David Ciclitira and his wife Serenella that debuted in the Saatchi Gallery in December.

Secret Revealed

During a five-week run it attracted more than 200,000 visitors, a stamp of approval that should help the Hong Kong artists get some of the recognition they deserve -- in their own backyard.

“Hong Kong art is probably the best kept secret in the Chinese art world, but now the word is out,” said Hong Kong curator Johnson Chang.

Works by mainland artists including Zhang Xiaogang, Zeng Fanzhi and Yue Minjun sell for several million dollars at auction, yet it’s extremely rare for a Hong Kong artist to command six-figure prices.

“Hong Kong Eye” is not a selling exhibition, and helps fill a void in the city which has no permanent space to showcase its artists. Hong Kong’s new contemporary art museum M+ will not open until 2017.

The first piece you’ll see entering the show is Amy Cheung’s full-size taxi, made of wood and plastic with real wheels and side mirrors. It is pitched at a dangerous angle that perfectly captures the lurching ride you feel in the back seat of a real taxi.

Emoticon Receipt

“Difficult Life Station (Kiosk)” is an interactive installation by 39-year-old Justin Wong that allows you to enter data on your mood and have your photo taken and analyzed -- and then rendered using emoticon-style keyboard strokes printed on a receipt, ATM style.

“Musical Loom,” by 32-year-old Kingsley Ng, offers a Wii-like interactive experience. Pass your hand across “threads” on a 250-year-old wooden French weaving loom and your gestures are captured by an infra-red video camera. They are mapped by a computer to produce electronic music chords in four-part harmony.

Born in Guangzhou in 1945, Leung Kui Ting is the oldest exhibitor. After moving to Hong Kong in 1964, he joined the Hong Kong New Ink movement and his works continue the fusion of classical painting techniques with modern western art.

Stranded Bears

Lam Tung Pang also combines traditional techniques to tackle non-traditional themes. His two works use charcoal, acrylics, and burnt paper depicting polar bears stranded on vanishing ice floes -- a decidedly non-Hong Kong theme.

In contrast, Chow Chun Fai canvases are entirely embedded in local culture. His acrylic paintings reproduce stills from Hong classic Hong Kong films like “Infernal Affairs.” Themes of contemporary Hong Kong also inform the work of Wilson Shieh, whose ink and gouache depicts five women in architectural dresses in “Five Tallest Buildings in Hong Kong.”

Joao Vasco Paiva’s turnstiles reference Hong Kong’s ubiquitous subway system and explores the often blurry boundary between public and private space.

I’m sure Adrian Wong’s inarticulate tuber, “In Search of Primordial Idiolect IV,” is the piece visitors will understand the least (could those “ums” and “ahs” be all that’s left of deconstructed speech?) and remember the best.

“Hong Kong Eye,” presented by Prudential Corporation Asia, runs through May 31 at ArtisTree, Cornwall House, Taikoo Place. A smaller exhibition of nine Hong Kong Eye artists runs at the Clipper Lounge, Mandarin Oriental from May 6 to 26. Admission is free.


For a Bloomberg Internet slideshow of the works, click

Muse highlights include Richard Vines on food, Jeremy Gerard on U.S. theater on Amanda Gordon’s Scene Last Night.

To contact the reporter on this story: Frederik Balfour in Hong Kong at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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