Past Continuous | 後花園 [過去進行式]


15 November 2018 - 19 January 2019

Returning after the success of his Hong Kong début in 2015, Chi Chien’s 《齊簡》 latest conceptual show PAST CONTINUOUS | 後花園 [過去進行式] illustrates his ongoing exploration of dualities in multiple dimensions. The artist plays with the malleability in translation, time and the ambiguous relationship between past and present, fact and fiction and the constant oscillation between, what he refers to as, “real and symbolic” chronologies.

Drawing inspiration from the gallery location, housed within a listed historical building which stood witness to the Second World War, the artist selected a single event - the air raid by Japanese forces on Hong Kong on the morning of 8 December 1941 – to become the thematic inspiration for this show.

Here, concepts of history, the past and post- (as in post-modern or post-war) are reconsidered through their translations between Chinese and English. While in English, ‘past’, as deployed in the exhibition’s title, indicates a time before the present or predating the future, its Chinese character counterpart《後》[hoù] could also mean ‘after’ or ‘back’, giving the temporal word a spatial connotation where it may relate to a sense of privacy or concealment as in one’s ‘back’ garden《後花園》.

Almost imperceptible in the artist’s exhibitionary ‘garden’, a small flag is placed on the wall. A warning, a notice, a spatial marker or declaration, the hand-stitched ensign is less than two centimetres wide, but is, nonetheless, setting the tone in Chi’s interconnected series of works. Cut from a ready-made floral fabric, it primes the rest of the space for his material and temporal investigation. Just a few paces away, hangs To Paint, a painting swathed in the same blooming arrangements. Based on an archival photograph of the air raid, the piece depicts a brigade of warplanes flying over Kai Tak airport, but instead of dropping their bombs upon houses and civilians, the ground is filled with flowers both from the underlying textile and painted ones. It is evident that gardens and their intimate symbolisms are at the forefront of Chi’s practice. Though quite literally being the ‘back’ground, his use of ready-made floral fabric, paradoxically, becomes his subject; any added features – those pulled from history – merely serve as the base of his personal recreations. This comes with layered implications: Chi’s printed fabric is not only his medium, his canvas, but also serves as the landscape through which time and dimension are explored, the boundary that signifies private space, and provides a definitive nod to femininity and domesticity.

The exhibition continues with a multimedia installation titled 1941 Eternal Recurrence. A black circular metal plate is hung on the wall with a missing quadrant at the plate’s 9 o’clock position, just after the attack took place. The gap has been replaced by a digital clock that displays the present Hong Kong time, highlighting the artist’s regard for disjointed chronemics and time’s perpetual progression. This is conceptually paired with the kinetic installation in the centre of the exhibit. A small model plane flies in circles above a cylindrical base onto which is positioned what appears to be the missing quadrant from the wall installation, with cut out holes of a toy plane hinting to the one flying above it. This is accompanied by low humming sounds of flying planes as extracted from a WWII documentary. A recurrent element in his work, Chi’s airplanes not only denote the passage of time, as the artist explains, but are also a formidable, tangible presence in the garden, in this private, ‘back’space.

Moving further through the exhibition, a series of toy Monopoly-like houses are positioned on the windowsill. A physical manifestation of those missing from To Paint – where rows of houses would make more thematic sense than clusters of flowers – the transposed objects serve as silent, yet persisting symbols of war and its domestic disruptions. Moreover, they stand as reminders of history’s integration into the present, a moment where found objects, fabric, paintings, historical events and the building that witnessed them are all consolidated parts of the artist’s same equivocal oeuvre.

Chi’s multimedia work is both delicate and bold, disallowing him from being locked into a single style or artistic expression. This means, too, that his work is theoretically and substantively ambiguous. On the adjacent windowsill, lies a black iron plate with an etching of the reference photograph. And while the medium deceptively hints at permanence, its surface durable and strong, the artist has chosen to use an erodible metal, demonstrating the image’s, and therefore history’s, inevitable rust and degeneration.

However, this deterioration is a transient one, as each work interconnects and combines what, according to him, are “pauses in the passage of time”. These fragmented pauses are unified into a cohesive whole by a lone lightbulb that blinks on and off next to the metal plate as if it were breathing. This is the breath that keeps the exhibition alive, that prolongs each of Chi’s images, his allusions, their histories and the multiplicitous interpretations they imply.

The journey through Chi’s animated time capsule ends with the painted silhouette of Winston Churchill staring toward the horizon. Set against a simple, press dyed backdrop with selected floral elements of the fabric peeking through, we see the politician watching as a low-flying, single engine warplane whirs by in the distance. Whether waiting for an inevitable attack or keeping watch over Chi’s referential exhibition, the cloaked Prime Minister reminds viewers that the past is inevitably continuous.

一九四一年十二月八日上午十時整,在珍珠港事件發生四小時後不久,日軍轟炸了香港啟德機場。一群飛機,在僅500英呎的高空對著山巒綿亙的景緻,發動持續不到十分鐘襲擊。這件事件促成了 齊簡最新個展-《後花園(過去進行式)》的創作靈感,而時間以及其飄渺的流動被成為這次主題的藝術素材。

展覽座落於Affinity Art畫廊空間,這是一座見證了第二次世界大戰歷史悠久的建築。展覽圍繞著引人注目的空襲檔案照片,由繪畫和裝置組成。這個展覽是一個和諧的構成,也是一個充滿迫切危機的警告,標誌著齊簡對時間的好奇,過去與現在之間的曖昧關係,與事實、想像之間的持續擺盪,一如藝術家所說,它是一個「真實與象徵」的大事紀。


展場中,有一支小旗子位於畫廊牆上,在藝術家的 “花園”中幾乎察覺不到,它是一個警告,一個通知,一個空間中的標記或聲明。儘管手工縫製的旗幟不到兩厘米寬,但卻是齊簡相互連接系列作品中的一個重要記號。從現成的花布裁切下來剩餘的部分,注入了他對物質和時間的探究。而就在幾步之遙的地方,由「過去進行」連貫著一幅畫,在同樣花朵綻放的安排下,與這面小旗子相連結合。這件作品引用檔案照片,描繪了飛越啟德機場的戰機旅,炸彈投向的房屋和平民,被置換成來自底層紡織品的滿滿花朵。