The Preservationists

Duddell’s, Hong Kong

The room was warm and clean, the curtains drawn open. Two blood coolers cast from urethane flanked a lavishly decorated dining nook where illuminated traditional Chinese landscapes hung over the heads of diners. Produced by torching canvases with homemade napalm, the works in Andrew Luk’s ‘Horizon Scan’ series (2017) are both chemically produced relief maps and shimmering updates on a Tang dynasty art form popular among the cultured elite.

In the chambers of a high-end social club and restaurant in Hong Kong, curator Ingrid Pui Yee Chu has brought together works by 11 artists based in or connected to the city to investigate the idea of permanence as it relates to an art made of ephemeral ideas and materials. Abiding by the rules of feng shui, each item has been chosen to reflect the existing surfaces and placed with care.

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'The Preservationists', 2017, installation view, Duddell's, Hong Kong. Courtesy: Duddell's

'The Preservationists', 2017, installation view, Duddell's, Hong Kong. Courtesy: Duddell's

Chu has a background in archiving: until recently she was public programmes curator for Asia Art Archive. Here, however, working with Duddell’s art manager, Erin Li, she has sourced the majority of works from local collectors, bringing them from their homes and storage containers into a more public sphere. From Hu Fang’s ‘Home for Books’ (ongoing) and Josh Kline’s re-imagined blood coolers to An Te Liu’s Brutalist Rice Cooker (2013) – slip cast in stoneware with a pigment overglaze – and Sterling Ruby’s ASHTRAY 413 (2016), ‘The Preservationists’ addresses ideas of containment and conservation, as well as what constitutes the publicness of a work of art.

Chu re-imagines Duddell’s exclusive multifunctional rooms in the context of a city whose artists continually face a lack of space. Many of the works are banal restaurant objects made into strange – possibly toxic – materials. Josh Kline’s electronically refrigerated coolers are named Essence of Bitter Melon and Sleeping Under the Kitchen Table (both 2015). Each contains an IV bag – the first with Dettol floor cleaner infused with powdered Indonesian rupiah and the second with Fab laundry detergent mixed with powdered Philippine pesos. James Carl’s Takeouts (1995–ongoing) translate humble styrofoam forms into marble.

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James Carl, Takeouts, 1995-ongoing, and An Te Liu, Brutalist Rice Cooker, 2013, installation view, Duddell's, Hong Kong, 2017. Marble, variable dimensions. Courtesy: Duddell's, Hong Kong

James Carl, Takeouts, 1995-ongoing, and An Te Liu, Brutalist Rice Cooker, 2013, installation view, Duddell's, Hong Kong, 2017. Marble, variable dimensions. Courtesy: Duddell's, Hong Kong

Some say collecting art isn’t about consumption at all. In fact, it’s about the reverse: returning an object to its essence, beyond its existence as a commodity form. Tang Kwok Hin’s Ten Years a Play (Only Fools Fall in Love) (2017) sees a white lace sheet hung over a wooden rack with Cantonese opera ephemera and ink calligraphy. Lit by several harsh white spotlights, the installation doubles as a funerary setup: an altar to unnamed actors signalling a passage to the eternal.

Up the stairwell, a massive Sterling Ruby fabric painting has been hoisted through the patio window and hangs beside two felt works by Aniwar Mamat, bringing the softness of the space’s floor onto the walls. The collaged geometric patches of Ruby’s BC (3786) (2012) are made to resemble quilting while Mamat’s The Birth of Light (2015), Green (2015) and Traces of Breath from Rome 1 (2015) are made using century-old Uyghur felt wool production techniques.

The works don’t mimic the mannersand mannerisms of the space, but assume them: the volumes on Hu’s bookshelf were designed seamlessly into the space, as was Dong Dawei’s ‘Fault 11’ (2017), an edition of 400 prints released in Duddell’s Chronicle. In the rapidly developing art economy of Hong Kong, ‘The Preservationists’ points to the network of collectors, social events and human relations that make the whole business work. The preservationist is the artist, the curator and the collector. By creating the conditions to allow perfect colouration to endure, what is ultimately preserved here is the social life of the art world itself.

Main image: 'The Preservationists', 2017, installation view, Duddell's, Hong Kong. Courtesy: Duddell's

Hera Chan is a writer and art worker based in Hong Kong. She currently acts as the director/curator of Videotage.

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