2017 HON Visual Art Exhibition: A Time and Space Travel to the Mind of Wallace Chung

[Sep 2017, Korea, by Sinophile_K]

It was exactly a year ago, in September 2016, when I made my first encounter with Wallace Chung’s photo essay book entitled 浮光掠影 “In the Shadow of Love.” This unforgettable encounter was made possible thanks to my two angelic LM friends K and T from Beijing when I visited them for the 924 Beijing Concert. For this poor Chinese-illiterate foreigner, K got an extremely rare copy of the photo book and T translated what Wallace wrote in there into English. I must have done something really good in my previous life, to enjoy this love and friendship now!

I opened the cover carefully, ran through the pages one after another, and slowly began to understand what T had told me before, “You should see his photos along with the titles and captions. Together, they make beautiful sense!” Even to my Chinese-blind eyes, the photos started to tell stories already. I burst into laughter when I saw the photo with the title “犇”. This Chinese character, formed of three 牛s (‘cows’), means ‘to run’; ironically, inside the photo were three cows, not running but peacefully crouching on the prairie! Haha, what a sense of humor!

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But the story doesn’t stop there. The three-line caption reads: “Being poised for start / Staying still / In herds, we run.” Now the witty linguo-visual humor turns into a profound message of life: Running requires poising!; one needs quiet time to (re-)collect one’s dispersed self before running out in full force to work with others. . . . Just like this, the photo book was full of smart and insightful matches of visuals and verbals. Photo by photo, words by words, I fell deep into his world of thought and imagination. Like I wrote on Weibo then, “Tasteful photography is only half its charm. Witty, fanciful, often pensive poetic essays reveal his full-fledged literary sensitivity and sensibility.”

So I jumped for joy when I heard the news of HON Wallace Chung Visual Art Exhibition to begin on July 1, 2017 in Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art. I couldn’t wait. I cut short on my trip to Australia to get to Shanghai in time for the first day of exhibition. I flew from windy winter to sultry summer, but I was too excited to feel the 20+ degrees’ difference. And it was totally worth it! I was lucky enough to make four more visits after that. One of the interesting concepts of the exhibition is that it is a work in progress! It keeps changing. How can you not go back to see what’s new the next time?

In a nutshell, the HON exhibition is a total art complex for Wallace lovers, art lovers, and lovers of both. It is also an amusement park for fun seekers and a healing oasis for tired souls (well, when it is not overly crowded with fans). Inside are a concert hall, a fashion show, theaters, a soccer field, a forest, a play room, a library with a donation booth, and of course art exhibits. If none of the books in the library interest you, you can always read Wallace’s book of walls, well, if you can! (Thankfully, English translations are added later on.)

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If the 2015 Taipei Photo Exhibition was Wallace Art 1.0, the 2017 Shanghai Visual Art Exhibition is Wallace Art 2.0 (and it was quickly advanced to 2.1 and 2.2 over three months!). While the 2015 one was a traditional display of the still photos in the 2-Dimenional frames, the 2017 one is more adventurous and experimental in both content and format. Nothing is flat as everything’s incarnated as 3-Dimensional, which is symbolically declared by the 3D photo frames displayed on the first floor.

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Even the 2D flat photos from 2015 have gained new life and revived into 3D flesh and blood. The photo CCTV of 瞻前不顾后 (‘Look Ahead, Never Look Back’), hung high on the wall, functions as a real CCTV, quietly video-recording the backs of the viewers going upstairs. Later, fixed low this time, it changes its angle to record the viewers’ footsteps instead.

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The imposed “reality” of the exhibition is not simply a matter of whether some of the exhibits have adopted 3D or AR technologies. In fact, it was not easy for a non-techie person like me to appreciate the new technologies, even with a pair of 3D glasses and an AR app downloaded on my mobile phone. Unlike the rumors, no “real” images of Wallace could be captured (as far as I know), except for some in the holographic 乐作人生 MV, which can be viewed with no special device. After all, he is no Pokemon, and I’m glad he’s not!

You don’t really need any high-tech devices to see what emerges more “real” in 2017. Your bare eyes are enough. At the very entrance, the duck from the 2D photo of 看招 (‘Watch This’) has taken a new 3D life on the horse of merry-go-round from the 乐作人生 “Sing for Life” concert stage. Now, also hung on the neighboring wall, this duck boy, as the narrator, makes an interesting introduction to the entire exhibition, “Life is a round of time travel.” Ah ha!

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After passing the “Sing for Life” concert video played in the oval 3D or AR (excuse my ignorance) room and the artistic concert costumes (careful picks from his two concert series), which seem to represent Wallace’s present, you are supposed to go through a tunnel to move on to the next exhibit. Through this tunnel of time travel, you can time-slip into his past in Hong Kong!

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The video shots of past and present Hong Kong are projected on the big screen, inside the banner, and even on the floor (which is removed later). If this is what forms his past identity, his present identity is projected as another slide show on the third floor (along with Fang Hao Sheng), where contemporary Shanghai scenes are harmoniously intermingled and balanced with Hong Kong ones in 180 degree panorama.

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The two worlds that have formed the present Wallace over time and space have another symbolic analogy added later in the exhibition as the photo 孤鳥 (‘Lonely Bird’) inserted into the 3D photo frame on the first floor. The bird is perching quietly in between the two time spaces.

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Going upstairs to the second floor, comes first the multi-media feast of 花花世界, projected and reflected on all six sides of glass cube by six projectors, offering a kaleidoscopic world of visual pleasures. While boasting of utmost splendors of colors, this world is not vain as it is presented as a fusion of infatuation and meditation and a harmony of human and nature.

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If this multi-media show doesn’t catch your eye yet, meet the flower girl from 人閑花影 (‘The World of Shadows of Flowers’). This beautiful ballet-dancing girl and also the heroic duck boy from 看招 downstairs live their dreams, riding on the dreamy horses of the “Sing for Life” merry-go-round. They are in complete tune with the theme of Wallace’s “Sing for Life” concert and the messages he delivered therein.

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Before moving to the next show, do not miss the boxes of photos on the corner. They have been replaced by panels of the 一葉知秋 (‘Foreseeing Autumn From One Leaf’) in the later part of the exhibition. Now you see another cute sense of wit here. Of course! The summer is waning. What else would be more fitting to signal the seasonal change than a “real” withering leaf? (Actually this leaf is rumored to have come from the lotus pond right outside the Museum.)

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The highlight of the exhibition, to me, is the next exhibit, the section of 風景風情 森林故事 on the second floor. Having a screen of 參天 (‘Towering’) trees as the backdrop, the 浮光掠影 photos, each representing a scene of nature (風景) or a human life (風情), are hung as vertical banners and thus visually transformed into “trees.” All together, they form a forest, Wallace’s forest (森林) of stories (故事). What a unique idea! Wallace made it clear by personally performing the act of walking through the forest at the opening press event.

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This forest of photos is now gone, though. Don’t panic. The trees have not been cut down by some ruthless deforesters. Instead, they have evolved into a new forest! This forest of tree paintings on acrylic panels is the major new addition in the later part of the exhibition (Wallace Art 2.2.). You know what is the best way to appreciate this installation art? To take a walk around it! (I can’t upload a video. So give a link to my Weibo.)

Walking around the Wallace’s forest

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I don’t know whether you could feel it more “real” with a special AR device. Even with no additional help, you can see that “reality” has already been “augmented,” conceptually, if not technically, as the overlaid tree panels provide a superimposing effect of thick forest. You feel the calm and serene power of healing in this “real” forest.

Unlike the previous photo banner forest, into which you can take a walk as Wallace did, this painted panel forest would not allow you to get inside. Walking around it is not only the best way but also the only way to see it. In the former forest, you get to see the individual trees, i.e. the stories that the individual photos have to tell you. In the latter forest, you get to see the whole forest as a unified entity from outside; actually, as you walk along, mystically enough, you also feel that individual trees come closer to embrace you with open arms. In other words, you get the details of each and every scene of human and nature from the first forest; in the second forest, by contrast, you get the big picture of nature and human. By walking the two forests in different manners in the exhibition, you end up experiencing human and nature, both inside out and outside in. Isn’t this amazing? Aren’t you awe-struck by the ingenuity of his idea? By the insight Wallace has about life? Finally!! the secret to his “baby” face is disclosed: it is his brain! He can maintain his wrinkle-free baby face because all the wrinkles have gone into his brain!

In an interview at the opening, Wallace mentioned that we would get to know about him better through this art exhibition. That is so right! Because the exhibition is a time and space travel to explore his mind. We travel back and forth between past and present, Hong Kong and Mainland China, human life and nature, art and technology, fantasy and reality, and also the artist and the philanthropist. Through his art, he seems to ask us to read his mind, the mind of curiosity, creativity, and challenging spirit. Like any good artist, he puts to his art the mind full of ideas, dreams, and thoughts. Before Wallace the artist stands Wallace the thinker. And this thinker looks ahead, envisioning himself to be a better “him” in the future. Like he said, he is a “young man who belongs to the future.”

I am sad that the exhibition will be over soon. But I am not too sad because I know he will come back soon with another mindful form of art, may it be a drama, a movie, an album, a concert, an exhibition, or a book, a book, a book, please?

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