Hong Kong’s post futurists lament city’s state of the art

Strawberry by Ajay Malghan  
If I told you that Hong Kong had given birth to the first new fine art movement in 30 years, you might have trouble believing me. Our art scene has been in the doldrums for a long time.  Although we are the world’s third biggest art market by dollar volume, there is very little art of any note produced in Hong Kong providing us with the label of ‘the cultural desert of Asia’.


The government does nothing to encourage arts other than funding the Arts Development Council (ADC). Art education in Hong Kong follows what academics think is trendy in the West, giving the message that 21st century art is only about concept and that craft is irrelevant. This means that artists who get funding are those who are part of the ADC’s ‘in group’; therefore the same type of art is funded all the time, i.e. post-modernist work which slavishly follows British or American trends.


Moreover ADC funding is annual and a single year of funding is not enough to get an artist established. The USA and China have many art competitions with serious prize money but Hong Kong has only a few and the awards are paltry. West Kowloon is our only planned art zone which currently looks like a sterile art temple. This is so different from Spain and France, where  art is everywhere or from New York, London or Shanghai where  you can see innumerable art galleries.


Change is in the air and Hong Kong has become home to the post-futurists. The group consists of five photographers from the four corners of the earth: Ajay Malghan and Michael W Patterson from the US, Clara Forest from France, Polina Shubkina from Russia, and Mark Aldred from Australia.  They have coalesced around SCAD’s new campus in Sham  Shui Po, in particular its post-graduate programme. All of the 4corners group (except for Forest), have a solid background in commercial photography.


   A World of Signs by Clara Forrest
4corners believe that ‘the contemporary art scene has reached a point where the ordinary intelligent layman has been alienated. Basic notions of talent, quality and originality have become lost in an art market obsessed with ‘Art Stars’ who hide behind spurious concepts. They admit that concepts are important, but concepts alone are not ‘a substitute for craft or beauty’ or ‘an excuse for sloppy workmanship or plagiarism’.


‘We’re trying to combine the craft of the Pictorialists, the forms and palettes of abstract expressionist painting  and the formalism of modernist photography and still do intelligible  photography which has a conceptual element,” said Aldred about their goals. This is a very broad aim and allows space for a range of themes and techniques which the post-futurists consider original whilst paying homage to artistic historical context.


Split Wall by Mark Aldred Broken People by Polina Shubkina
Aldred’s work is very hard  to describe in terms of other  art movements but it expresses texture and the power of colour and allows the viewer to provide the concept. Aldred’s medium format images of walls aim to function as the photographic equivalent of the Rorschach Inkblot test, allowing viewers to extract their own meaning from each  image.


Malghan’s work is very contemporary, ultra-close up showing fantastic patterns reminiscent of abstract expressionism. Malghan’s naturally modified series consists of images made  by placing an ultra  thin slice of fruit in the carrier of an enlarger and projecting it to a large  sheet of colour photographic paper which is then processed in a normal colour paper processor.


Patterson’s work echoes some oriental styles mixed cleverly with cubism. He achieves this by assembling multiple digital images in a superb mixture  of high technique and hi-tech. Patterson assembles analog  quality images from time-lapse digital files in a manner reminiscent of Muyerbridge via Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending Staircase. Shubkina evokes personal stress and has expanded August Sander’s typology idea with a typology of emotions. She uses models, makeup, posing and subtle colour to represent a range of emotions. Forest produces a 6 x 18cm negative by doing multiple  exposures on a folding 6 x 9cm camera inherited from her grandfather.


   5 Dances by Mike Patterson
While these artists differ in style and technique, they all share the philosophy that concept, technique, craft and permanency all matter equally. They would all agree with Weston about  the importance of producing a durable object with powerful qualities of line, shape and form. Their point of departure is that they are committed to colour.  As Forest points out, ‘I can see why Weston insisted on black and white because in his time, colour printing was still not durable. However, post-Egglstone we have the option of Dye Transfer Prints which will last 1,500 years.’ Dye transfer printing for object permanence is one of the goals of 4corners photographers. In the meantime they exhibit Archival Digital prints with an expected longevity of 150 years.


These photographers have established pedigrees for themselves with successful individual exhibitions and publications. After a sucessful run as a fringe event during ARTHK 2012, and a writeup in the fine art photography journal Silvershotz, 4corners is rapidly gaining traction. Their exhibition has been picked up by the UK based Artist Residence Gallery group. It will show at their new Hong Kong premises, 7 Third St., Sai Ying Pun, from June 7 until July 28. A special viewing for journalists, collectors and art academics will be on held on June 28.


The 4corners group exhibition will overlap with the Art Hong Kong 2012 and aims to attract collectors interested in original work from this new art movement.


Kinsan Chung is a full time artist, tutor, art consultant and chairman of Hong Kong Confederation of Modern Watercolourists


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