Updated: Sep 19
The Individuals, Networks, Expressions exhibition is currently being held at West Kowloon’s M+ museum in its South Galleries. Its goal is to celebrate Asian contemporary art from the 1950s to the present day.
Photograph: The Individuals, Networks, Expressions exhibition. Courtesy Katie Lee Dowson
Comprising a mix of both shared and individual experiences, the artists being featured utilise a wide variety of methods, materials, techniques, and formats to investigate social and cultural concepts. Each of the galleries within the exhibition has tackled a different theme and here are some of the highlights:
Turn Towards Abstraction
The focus of this gallery is on artists exploring abstraction. In Asia, the abstract art movement was used by its proponents as a line to connect themselves with nature and by extension, Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. Core elements of art such as form, line, and composition were also recontextualised with new approaches. In Hidai Nankoku’s 1964 piece Work —created during a performance at a temple in Tokyo — the artist used a large mop brush to create spontaneous marks inspired by calligraphy and ancient scripture. The scale and splatter of Nankoku’s strokes create an eye-catching contrast between the ink and the paper.
Photograph: Work by Hidai Nankoku. Courtesy M+, Hong Kong
The Expressive Potential of an Image
In Asia during the 1950s to 1970s, photography grew in popularity and started to truly establish its place as part of a creative toolkit. Artists began documenting techniques on film more regularly and experimenting with technical aspects of the craft, as well as capturing live performances and events. In addition, photography allowed artists to develop a new plain of creativity between reality and imagination, especially within a world of political uncertainty.
Nalini Malani is hailed as one of the standout Indian film artists of the 20th century, and her 1970 piece Untitled II reflects her experience as a young refugee during the partition of India. The artwork captures a flurry of intense emotions through the eerie and emotional depths of multiple converging layers.
Photograph: "Untitled II" by Nalini Malani. Courtesy M+, Hong Kong
A Search For Meaning
Inspiration can strike with intensity during uncertain times, as artists find new ways in which to perceive the world around them using their imagination and appreciation for colour and pattern.
Anwar Jalal Shemza — an artist that worked in both Pakistan and the United Kingdom — was initially inspired by Modernism but in his later years, his output embraced a strong Islamic influence. Shemza’s 1965 piece Linear Composition In Red and Green is bursting with energy due to its blending of organic lines, non-symmetrical rhythm, and simplistic colour palettes.
Photograph: "Linear Composition In Red and Green" by Anwar Jalal Shemza. Courtesy M+, Hong Kong
The Dansaekhwa art movement in 1970s Seoul saw experimental painters manipulate materials using a range of techniques, including ripping paper, throwing paint, and unconventional brush movements. Traditional Korean materials and techniques were used in conjunction with abstract elements, a way to ruminate on Korea’s freedom from Japanese colonial rule.
Ha Chong-Hyun — one of the founders of the Korea Avant-Garde Association (AG) — favoured creating work using both industrial and organic materials, rather than the “action painting” style that was popular in Korea during the 1960s and 1970s. In his beautifully textured 1979 piece Conjunction 78-7, the use of different materials helps to guide the viewer from one edge of the artwork to the other, helped by the gradual change in the shade of neutral hues on the canvas.
Photograph: "Conjunction 78-7" by Ha Chong-Hyun. Courtesy M+, Hong Kong
Sculpture and Space
The power of sculpture as a medium is its ability to evoke different experiences and interpretations for the viewer with every change in viewing angle. As a play on that theme of changing perspective, every piece in the Sculpture and Space gallery was created using commonly used items.
Slack of the Net #300, created by Japanese artist Takamatsu Jiro in 1970, is a sculpture formed using cotton ropes to form a grid. The ropes on the side and centre are pulled tight while the lengthways lines are loose. This creates flexible wavy lines that challenge the normality and logic of a traditionally geometric grid space.
Photograph: "Slack of the Net #300" by Takamatsu Jiro. Courtesy Katie Lee Dowson
Diaspora - Living Between Cultures
Works in this gallery were inspired by the personal and familial realities of migration. Each artist conceptualised their lived experiences of the topic through the lenses of memory, pain, and transformation. David Diao’s collection of eight paintings called "Da Hen Li Cycle" has a combined effect of taking the viewer back to the artist’s childhood and his family home in Chengdu. The house was demolished after Diao’s move to Hong Kong at age six. Through vibrant architectural floor plans, property deeds, and textual signs that are thoughtfully spaced out, Diao aims to assemble a visual foundational memory of his past.
Photograph: "Da Hen Li Cycle" by David Diao. Courtesy Katie Lee Dowson
China’s Changing Landscape
Over the last few decades, China’s rapid urbanisation and redevelopment has had a massive impact on the lives of its people and their environment. The China’s Changing Landscape gallery merges two important and colliding concepts in Chinese contemporary art: traditional culture and the country’s developing surroundings.
In 2004 — after experiencing rejection multiple times by the prestigious Shanghai Biennale festival — artist Liu Wei created Landscape. The subversive piece pokes fun at the elitist standards that he felt the international exhibition adhered to. The work is styled after classical Chinese landscapes but with the twist of being comprised of nude torsos and rears. It got the festival’s attention, as this tongue-in-(bum)cheek artwork was the piece that finally got accepted.
Photograph: "Landscape" by Liu Wei. Courtesy M+, Hong Kong
From the 90s onward we have lived in a hyper-connected world, where telecommunications and digital technology have redefined our relationships and personal/public identities.
Heman Chong’s 2008 installation Monument to People We’ve Conveniently Forgotten, features a mountain of impressively stacked jet-black business cards. Chong strips the social understanding that the cards represent a symbol of identity and networking and uses it to symbolise forgotten relationships. Something which any nihilist can get behind.
Photograph: "Monument to People We've Conveniently Forgotten" by Heman Chong. Courtesy Katie Lee Dowson
Individuals, Networks, Expressions is an ongoing exhibition at M+