Shapeshifter is a term from literature or art for a character that transforms itself from one form or state to another. This exhibition brings together Hiram To and Yuk King Tan, two artists who live and work between Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. By exploring the changeability and fluidity of identity, Tan and To produce works that reveal personalities created for, denied or imposed by the world in which they live.
August 05 - 30, 2008
Yuk King Tan & Hiram To
Yuk King Tan's work in Shapeshifter addresses people in the changing physical, social and political environments that surround them. Using a variety of different media and critiquing her own role as a contemporary artist, Tan collaborates with her subjects to question the visibility of those working as migrant helpers or 'scavengers' within the dynamic Hong Kong economy of today.
This project engages with issues about work, environment, identity, economics and migrant global politics. It explores the personal effects on self / identity with regard to work and power, highlighting the personal and social effects of these classifications.
Divina Salvador, one of the collaborators in this artwork, is a nanny and domestic helper who strives to embody selflessness while also being paid to be sensitive to environment. It is ironic that many Overseas Foreign Workers are required to be sensitive and maintain the environment to help the general ‘ambience’, yet they are obliged to disappear while doing so. They must engage in a form of forced disengagement; to be both invisible and be constantly in action.
This removal of self and the economic implications of migrant labour are some of the issues highlighted in the series of intervals and portraits that are part of this exhibition. The idea that a person must be present yet absent is a fundamental issue in art. This work raises questions about human value, presence and space. It also talks about the role and critique of art in direct relationship to labour of the women. The drawings are by street artist Shin Li Yin.
An extract of the Beth Laygo’s interview –
“I am a person behind everyone. We are always invisible, and if you want to call your work something, well, it should be just H, like Hey, or just like the sound ‘Hhh”, or H_____ with a gap. That’s like us - without a name. I have to subdue my personality, be in the background. Sometimes its like I feel as if I am losing myself piece by piece. Its like everyday a little part is gone, the worse thing is that it’s your self-confidence. And as time goes on you are lost, you have to be humble, and it’s so hard to be quiet all the time. You know… its like I left my personality home in the Philippines.”
“Of course when we are in our homes it is different, we are the boss. Does it (the self-confidence) ever come back? It’s very hard, and slowly, maybe, but it’s not the same.”
In the video performance, six of the domestic helpers and one taxi driver create a tableau on a Hong Kong street.
Yuk King Tan, Divina Salvador, Beth Laygo, Blessida Lichtag, Millet Salvador, Gina Marquez, Norma Calleda
A life-size replica of one of the sculpture lions who sit in front of the HSBC Hong Kong Building, sits on a street trolley and acts as an imposing and quite recognisable symbol of Hong Kong and its banking economy. The work is about the confluence of symbols of power and waste. The lion and the scavenger both bear witness to the conflicts of the past and the present. Many elderly 'scavengers', also called ‘refuse workers’ or ‘street cart’ people collect sheets of refuse, machinery and cardboard, and make a small amount of money from the weight of the garbage / recyclable materials that they cart through the city of Hong Kong. They are the workhorses of urbanisation, a link between pre- and post modernisation. They are a modern version of 'gleaners' and they play the role of a vehicle and an arterial physical unit of the body of a city, i.e. they move the waste products in and out of system.(Thanks to Lam Por Por)
Hiram To's suite of works for Shapeshifter portrays infamous and obscure instances of people re-making history as fictional entities. He produces multi-layered images on lithographic plates, 'un-printing' the events and stripping back the selves of his subjects' public records.
In Garden District, each of the depicted characters achieved infamy through the act of impersonation, or identity transformation. Among them are Shin Jeong-ah, the Korean art curator who rose to the top of the art world by forging her academic qualifications. More fascinatingly, her past reveals she was a survivor of the Sampoong department store collapse in Seoul, killing 501 people.
David Hampton came to the public gaze through John Guare’s play "Six Degrees of Separation", when he pretended he was actor Sidney Poitier’s son. Actress Merle Oberon perpetuated the myth that she was Tasmanian-born, while Tania Head was formerly the president of the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network until no-one could corroborate her identity and the story of her being in one of twin towers before their collapse. There is also Neil Roderick II, a convicted sex offender who, at the age of 29, enrolled himself into secondary school as a 12-year-old.
Chung Ling Soo, Jiang Qing and C.S. Leigh were all subjects of Hiram To’s 2007 installation "I Love You More Than My Own Death". Soo was a American magician of Scottish descent from the early 20th century. For almost two decades he masqueraded and appeared in public as a Chinese conjurer before he was penetrated by a bullet in one of his famous tricks. Jiang, or Madam Mao, rose from actor to political manipulator (having used some eight different names in her lifetime) before taking her own life in jail.
Lastly, there is the auteur film director C.S. Leigh. Before Leigh reduced his first names to the two-letter initials, he was the art curator Christian Leigh. At the 1993 Venice Biennale, Leigh disappeared after the opening of his show, leaving a trail of unpaid debts. Since that time, the curator has not been seen again.
In Garden District, the depicted characters may be fodder for tabloids and gossips, but underneath their surface they conceal a deeper sense of wish and survival. In these works, their personas are punctuated by fragments of workshop blue-prints exposing the mechanics of magic stage props. Eight essential types of magic tricks - Levitation, Production, Penetration, Vanishing, Prediction, Teleportation, Restoration and Transportation – offer interpretations for their public exits. The exposing of their sleight of hands is veiled by poisonous plant-life, where the ‘nature’ of truth is simultaneously acknowledged and obscured.
Gallery Listing: Yuk King Tan
Scavenger DVD, 2008
14 mins 22 secs, 1/5
Scavenger (photo), 2008
framed inkjet print, 1/5
Taxi / Helper DVD, 2008
6 mins 30 secs, 1/5
Text & Drawings
(including Taxi / Helper DVD)
Untitled (Monkey), 2008
tassle & mask
Untitled (Lion), 2008
tassle & mask
Untitled (Dog), 2008
tassle & mask
Untitled (Face), 2008
tassle & mask
Gallery Listing: Hiram To
Transportation: Elastic Lady Illusion
Alpine White Crow Foot
C. S. Leigh
Vanishing: Altar of Fate
Neil H. Roderick II
Restoration: Sawing a Lady into Two
Production: Frame of Life Illusion
Purple Fox Glove
Teleportation: Starting Vanish of a Girl in Mid-air
Prediction: Thayer’s Improved Ghost Chest Mystery
Levitation: Improved Aga Levitation
Chung Ling Soo
Penetration: Famous Spike Mystery /
The Pillars of Fear
Fly Blown Mushroom
The Garden District 2008 works are all diptychs on lithographic printing plates
1030mm x 1600mm
editions of 15 (10 individual, 5 set)