Arts of Finance: Progressive occupation

Asia’s economic development has inspired new genres of work that offer fresh perspectives on the region’s material success.
Christodoulos Panayiotou’s <i>Untitled</i>
Christodoulos Panayiotou’s <i>Untitled</i>

Throughout Asia, economies are waking up to the UN call for culture to be given top priority in the post-2015 global development agenda. Hong Kong, for one, hopes to derive fresh economic benefits as an arts hub, buoyed by the success of Art Basel on May 15-18.

But the connection between artistic progress and economic development goes well beyond the economic data as artists are transformed by society’s material wellbeing to produce works that reflect their preoccupation with notions of progress.

The artificial flower, an object that generated one of the region’s biggest rags-to-riches story, namely that of one of Asia’s richest men Li Ka-shing, was the focus of a joint research project in Guangdong province by artists Christodoulos Panayiotou and Philip Wiegard. That culminated in an exhibition “The Permeability of Certain Matters”, which runs at the art space Spring Workshop in Hong Kong until July 13.

Central to the exhibition are topics such as mass production and child labour. “Artificial flowers have a real, symbolic and representational value,” Panayiotou said. “Hong Kong, as a first place, and nowadays Guangzhou and Shenzhen, have played an important role in transforming what once used to be an artisanal object into a mass-produced item of the globalised market and with that transformed once and for all its aesthetic reception.”

For the exhibition, Wiegard employed and paid 30 children in Hong Kong to create handmade wallpaper under his direction.

“Child labour was important in the production of artificial flowers in Europe in the 18th century," Wiegard said. "My idea of employing children follows a similar logic to that of the artificial flowers. The children are employed because of their small fingers. The pattern of the wallpaper has the direct imprint of fingers.”

Hong Kong’s crowded living spaces motivated Arthur Chan and Sim Chan — two Hong Kong artists whose exhibition Poetic Space at YY9 Gallery runs to July 30 — to look beyond the city’s dense concrete facade to its unique aesthetics. “Crowdedness is not necessarily a bad thing; it drives us to seek release and this becomes a pursuit in which we find our own unique spaces in the city,” said Arthur Chan, whose sculptures are inspired by silhouettes of the city.

“When I painted these paintings of the sky, my feeling was of crowdedness and confinement within a small space” said Sim Chan, noted for his paintings of an obstructed view of the sky and his CityKite series of installations featuring flying kites. “This led to the installation featuring the kites that are meant to represent a release for me from the stress and constraints of the city.”

Digital technology is key to British artist Toby Ziegler’s oil-on-aluminium paintings of landscapes whose images are built up using computer software, hand-painted and then ruptured with a sander into abstract form.

“I am interested in the way we look at images and the fact we are bombarded through the internet,” said Ziegler, whose exhibition in Hong Kong runs at Simon Lee Gallery until July 1. “So a lot of the images I’ve used as a starting point are things I’ve stumbled across on the internet.”

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