Starkwhite is pleased to present the exhibition Crisis of the Ordinary by Yuk King Tan from 20 August to 7 September 2019.
Around the gallery objects bound in brightly coloured thread sit on shelves. Presented as artefacts in a museum or objects at a market, a closer look reveals them to be loudspeakers, batons, cameras, drones, bottles, books, and canisters of different shapes and sizes. Their maker is New Zealand-raised artist Yuk King Tan and these objects are the miscellanea of protest, discarded objects from demonstrations across New Zealand, Hong Kong, Korea and other places. In these objects Tan has created a body of sculpture transforming items both common and unusual in scenes of unrest and dissent.
Collectively titled Crisis of the Ordinary, Tan’s work recalls a video that emerged from a recent demonstration. At night in a smoke-filled street we see people rush forward to cover an exploded tear gas canister with an orange traffic cone, then pour water into the hole at the top of the cone, extinguishing the chemical reaction and stopping the canister from emitting its noxious gas. Contained, concealed, and made inert, the simple action has powerful implications. In Tan’s work, the mass-produced tools of control that form the base of her sculptures are wrapped by hand in everyday thread, a process which changes both their reading and their form. Bound in the thin, satiny cord often associated with fashion or gift-giving, incompatible materials and methods have been brought together to create troubling items. Both powerful and objects of power, these sculptures conceal and reveal. The colours of the thread relate to flag tones, markers nationalistic pride. There’s beauty, but also the threat of what that beauty hides – the weapons and implements of control. Formally tools of suppression and resistance and now sculpture, the purpose of the items has been concealed, but are they now impotent or simply wolves in sheep’s clothing? Crisis of the Ordinary oscillates between blocking and shape-shifting.
A short video titled Bridges joins the exhibition. Along a closed street in Hong Kong people calmly collect, talking and coming together in the lull of an event. As civic structure, public space, and indigenous rights are increasingly at the centre of political debate, the resurgence of marches and occupations in cities around the globe tells of people’s readiness to show support for a cause. When change happens in societies there are flashpoints but there is also downtime the work suggests, that space between action, where the ordinary exists and where conversation offers deeper connection. Across the gallery, a ghostly screen hangs from the ceiling, bisecting the room. Made from plastic cable ties which form a lattice pattern, these are made predominately of ziptie handcuffs as used by police and military. As an art work Eternity Screens transcends the former role of its medium but retains its social commentary bite.
Based in Hong Kong since 2005, Yuk King Tan has drawn on the region’s mythology to create Nine Mountains. A transliteration of the Chinese 九龍, or ‘Nine Dragons’, Kowloon is named for the eight mountains of the territory, and one symbol of a mountain dragon. Legend tells that the 9 year old Emperor Bing, the 18th and last emperor of the Song dynasty noticed the mountains and named them ‘Eight Dragons’, but a courtier pointed out that the emperor was a dragon himself, making it nine. Created from ethereal white tassel over board, the geometric shapes form cubist mountains against the gallery wall. Referencing leadership, mythology, and the mist and mountain paintings of Chinese landscape tradition, the sculptures become repositories of history and metaphors for control and failure.
Yuk King Tan explores the intersection between culture, work, place, and economics. Her practice has long explored status, control, and power through objects and installations. Designer goods have sat next to fake money as well as toy guns, tanks and other symbols of wealth and power. She’s made use of the analogy of the marketplace, presenting items laid out on tables that invite browsing and thoughtful reflection. Tan subverts tradition and materials to become another kind of values trader, assigning interest and significance to objects and situations in a way that suggests a realignment of ideas.
Currently based in Hong Kong, Yuk King Tan has had major solo and group exhibitions, most importantly at the Camden Arts Centre in London, Ludwig Forum für Internationale Kunst in Aachen, Museum Fridericianum in Kassel, Kunstverein in Hamburg, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and Wellington City Gallery, New Zealand, Hong Kong Arts Centre, and Artists Space in New York. She has held residencies at Dunedin, New Plymouth, Queensland, Aachen, Sydney and London and has participated at International Biennials in Queensland, Vilnius, Auckland and Sao Paulo. Graduated in 1993, Bachelor Fine Arts from Elam School of Fine Arts, Auckland University, New Zealand.
Recent exhibitions include: Collection Exhibition, Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington (2018); (An)other-Half, Osage Art Gallery, Hong Kong (2017); Your Hotel Brain, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, Christchurch (2017); Performance Portraits, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Auckland (2016).