When you look at a face with bright wide eyes, rosy cheeks and a tiny mouth, will you couldn’t help but feel affection? Have you ever doubted if such adorable face is a hook?
In the mid-20th century, an Austrian zoologist, Konrad Lorenz, proposed that evolution has created cute babies so that their parents will take more care of them. Recently, Daniel Kruger, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, was curious about whether Lorenz’s proposal also applies to other kind of animals, according to Discover Magazine.
In an experiment, he chose six bird species to study. Three of them had self-sufficient hatchlings that didn’t need any care from their parents. The other three had young that stayed near their parents and needed to be fed. Then he showed pictures of them to 172 college students. As Kruger had predicted, subjects rated animals that need parental care are cuter than the animals that don’t.
Though this doesn’t prove that Lorenz’s proposal applies throughout the animal kingdom, Kruger calls his experiment a “strong test” of Lorenz’s idea. “This might just be the beginning of an entire research program,” Kruger says.
Dressed in a Felix cat shirt, Yoshitomo Nara, one of the most renowned Japanese artists, brought his provocative girls and snow-white puppies to Hong Kong audience in his first major solo at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center.
The title of the exhibition Life is only comes from the painting Life is Only One!, which depicts an innocent-looking girl, holding a human skull. The philosophy of life and death is always a tricky subject for artists. If you have only one life, there will be a kind of reincarnation?
For Nara his sister was still alive. In his imagination she was always affecting his way of work. When Nara was twenty-two years old, he heard from his mother, that she was pregnant with a baby girl, who was unfortunately stillborn two years before his birth.
He realized to be different from other boys. He loved flowers and enchanted to other beautiful objects in his childhood. When his mother told him about his sister, his female side makes more sense to him.
The exhibition reviews his best artworks over twenty years as the essence of his work”, reflected by the range of sketches, photos and mixed media installations. Three new paintings, seventeen new drawings and some puppy sculptures, are made specially for this show.
When the market is dying to know what’s new, Nara indicated how difficult and precious to just be his “old self”. After witnessing the aftermath of the Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011, he took four photos of it. Too shocked by what he has seen, he couldn’t continue his life as an artist. At the same time his father was dying. That pushed him out of life. Strong doubts came over him.
“Maybe I enjoyed too much freedom,” Nara said. “I used to do whatever my emotion drove me to do and I realized that how self-centered I was.”
During the summer of 2011, Nara visited the university he used to study, working with students in the studio. It gave him a new sense of life. “All the sceneries, things I saw were those I’m familiar with. It’s like I did a time travel and went back to the old days. Basically, I didn’t have my current self, I became my old self.”
Now in the age of 55 Nara feels that half of his life was over. On one side he wished to enjoy his days and on the other side he was looking for a more meaningful life, sharing something with others.
Recalling his childhood in the north of Japan, Nara was deeply captured by the pure and complicated white. “During the wintertime everything is covered in snow. Everywhere white, so fare the eye can look. Yet beneath the pure white lied those beautiful, dirty, ugly things.” So his last words.
The growth of Art Basel in Hong Kong is a sign of the art world expanding beyond its traditional European focus. But such paradigm shift might have yet crossed cover the territory of gender in the art world, despite the growing numbers of women representation in all fields of art.
The war of genders centred Intelligence Squared’s recent debate on the sidelines of Art Basel, which debated the motion the “The art world is a boy’s club”. Arguing for the motion were Frances Morris, head of collection: international arts at London’s Tate Modern and Gregor Muir, executive director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Historically, the creation of art has largely been the preserve of men, and recent decades have witnessed a growing number of women join the art world.
“Those female artists tend to avoid traditional areas of practice because it’s so owned by men,” Morris said. “You get great female artists in forms of art, like performance and installations, that are difficult to bring to the market.” In other words, female artists find it difficult to monetise their work, Morris said. As a matter of fact, women earn about a third less than their male counterparts.
Arguing against the motion, Charles Guarino, publisher of Artforum International Magazine, said dozens of women took top positions in museums, publications, auction houses and various institutions in the art world. “Since long ago, women have controlled all the show,” Guarino said, adding that men who thought gender alone could get them ahead in art were “delusional”.
Also arguing against the motion was Elaine Kwok, Asia director of Christie’s Education. While she acknowledged that there were more male than female collectors “their decision are largely influenced by auctioneers, curators, critics and other professionals, most of whom are female”. And Kwok said there were complicated reasons behind the relative lack of female curators – not all of which were directly related to the world of art. “There is a trend that many women choose to give up their work after they have children, which is an issue stands beyond the art world.”
While gender imbalance remains a reality, Kwok argued, things have improved for women in the art world to a greater extent than in business, with its glass ceilings. And it seemed Kwok and Guarino won over the audience. Polled before the debate, 56 per cent of those present were in favour of the motion, 23 per cent against and 21 per cent undecided. After the debate, 49 per cent were in favour and 50 per cent again.
If there’s one artwork in Hong Kong that has been literally impossible to miss these last few days it’s Cao Fei’s Same Old, Brand New. The massive video installation takes up the whole 490-metre facade of the city’s tallest building, the International Commerce Centre (ICC) in Kowloon.
The walls of the ICC light up with images from classic 1980s video games such as Pac-Man, taking its inspiration reflecting, Cao said, the classic image of Hong Kong people in that decade “looking down to play video games, looking up to talk business”.
“Video games in the 1980s are the major inspiration in this work”, she said. “For the mainstay of Hong Kong society, their love for video games has a strong sense of nostalgia, which serves as a logo of my work.”
Cao explained some of the thinking behind her first gigantic outdoor project at a panel discussion about new media practices with Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of exhibitions and programmes at Serpentine Gallery in London, at Art Basel.
Born in Guangzhou and living in Beijing, Cao said being a city-dweller makes her conscious of the evolution of urban cultures. And that urban sensibility was reflected in her giant Hong Kong work, which she hopes will connect with the local popular culture.
Cao also shared the thinking behind her earlier city-related projects: RMB City (2007-2010), Haze and Fog (2013), and La Town (2014), marking the first time she discussed these works as a complete concept.
The RMB City project – based around a city she planned and “built”in the virtual reality world of Second Life, was an experiment exploring the creative relationship between real and virtual world, while also reflecting China’s urban and cultural development. Before Cao started the project, she registered in the simulation game under the username China Tracy, and played for six months to know all about the simulation city.Haze and Fog was her exploration of the topic of utopia through a zombie film set in modern China.
“I want to show the fear, nerve of people in Beijing living under the horrible haze and fog, ” Cao said. “I want the Zombies to lead the audience to details of their daily life that they miss.”
La Town was actually filmed on a 2.2-metre by 1.2-metre table in Cao’s studio, where she built the whole city almost single-handed. She used models in a ratio of 1:87 to set the post-apocalyptic scenes.
“I built a night-art museum with bar which was only open from 8pm to 5am, where people can drink beer and watch films,” Cao said. “I believe every city should have an art museum. Artwork needs to be collected.”
But Cao has a question for her audience to address, namely: “Whether the city really exists or belongs to another parallel world.” She wants the whole society to comment, as they did on her ICC piece, using Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Cake-cutting and a slice of polemical, interactive artwork were on the menu as the Institute of Contemporary Arts opened its first regional exhibition, Hong Kongese, at Duddell’s restaurant in Central.
Curated by the institute’s executive director, Gregor Muir, Alia Al-Senussi and Abdullah AlTurki, Hong Kongese sets out to identify with the evolving nature of Hong Kong as it enters a phase of rapid development. “This is an exhibition of local and international contemporary artists whose work is inspired by our ever-changing world and cosmopolitan centers in which they live,” Muir said. The various artists offer distinct viewpoints on social, economic and political transformation.
The exhibition opens at a time of political discord, and the impact of last year’s 79-day street blockade for democracy – known as Occupy Central or the “umbrella movement” is keenly felt. Local artist Phoebe Man uses her edible sculptures Birthday Cakes as a playful way to comment on the protests and the government’s response to them. The sculpture consists of delicious cotton candy birthday cakes, on which are written statements made during last year’s protests that attracted the ire of the protesters and sparked debate among citizens. They include “Police are frank and openhearted”, “The Sino-British Joint Declaration is void”, “Hong Kong is China’s directly-controlled municipality” and “1,200 people represent us to nominate chief executive candidates”.
The novel idea came from a tactic adopted by the protesters when confronted with abusive government supporters. The young protesters would break into a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday in an attempt to confuse their opponents and blunt their harsh comments. “People can choose to eat it, which in one way means to destroy it and in another way also means to internalise it,” Man said. “One of the audience told me that she didn’t want to eat it at first, but later she was attracted by the adorable look of the cake and as she was hungry, she ate it.” Such contradictions made Man think of the choices people made in everyday life.
“Sometimes you don’t want something, but your needs and real life made you accept it.” Is the cake a blessing or a curse? Delicious or hard to eat? “When real cakes are served as a form of performance, the puzzle is left to the observer to solve.
Is a city built on trade, where making a fast buck or a perfect deal come before spiritual enrichment really a place where art can thrive? The question is often asked as Hong Kong pours billions of dollars into becoming one of Asia’s leading arts hubs. But for Korean artist Do-ho Suh, the answer is simple and clear: it’s a great place for the art business.
“I think Hong Kong has a friendly system for business,” says Suh, who is making his third visit of the year. “I don’t think we can simply say that being commercial is a bad thing. The market is very important – not just for artists, but for everyone.” Suh, named Innovator of the Year in Art by the Wall Street Journal in 2013, was vising for the Asia Society’s third annual Art Gala, which took place on Wednesday. He was honoured for his significant contribution to contemporary art along with fellow artists Shahzia Sikander, Wucius Wong and Xu Bing.
Cash raised by the gala will support the society’s work promoting Asian culture worldwide, and Suh is in no doubt of the importance of money in the cultural world. Suh says business sustains venues art appreciation. Many museums support themselves through entrance fees and government subsidies, but also rely on donations and fundraising, with sponsorship largely from art collectors and corporations.
“[The] money goes to museums in the end,” Suh explains. “It’s the general public who benefit from it.” But how does one put a monetary value on art? The difference between what a work costs to produce and its market price can be huge, and Suh thinks the process through which it happens can be absurd. “There’s a structure and a complex system to do it,” he says with a wry smile. “That’s a mystery for me.”
Nevertheless, the meaning of an artwork is about more than mere economic value. Having spent much of his life outside his homeland, Suh explored the nuances of identity and one’s sense of belonging. The two themes recur in many of his site-specific installations and meticulously crafted sculptures. The great size of his work means Suh, more than most artists, faces a dilemma when deciding whether to exhibit in a public space or a museum. Apart from the obvious logistical consideration, Suh points out that using a public space adds different layers of meaning to the work exhibited.“Museums are more protective [of artwork] in a way; in public, you have to deal with so many practical issues,” says Suh. But his experience with public installations is generally positive. “When it works, it’s quite rewarding.”
He uses the example of his installation Net-Work, which resembles a fishing net made up of interconnected human figures and was first installed on the beach of a traditional Japanese seaside village. Net-Work explores individual experience and displacement in a large community, the concept of which is apt for Hong Kong’s metropolitan environment. Yet, the public’s early interaction with the work introduces a warm, communal element to the piece. “I worked with many volunteers from the local village. They call themselves ‘small shrimps’, because it’s an island and a fishing village,” Suh recalls. “There’s a beautiful sort of human interaction. We have completely different cultural backgrounds, but we just get together and have fun.”