An exhibition of an exhibition: Kwan Sheung Chi

Today we continue our week-long series Force of Failure with Magdalen Chau’s article on artistic struggle through the lens of Kwan Sheung Chi’s work.

FORCE OF FAILURE: DailyServing’s latest week-long series

Cash coupons to purchase works from “A Retrospective of Kwan Sheung Chi", Inkjet print on paper, 2002, Courtesy of artist

In 2002, Kwan Sheung Chi presented A Retrospective of Kwan Sheung Chi, an exhibition of an exhibition, where strategies of organization and self-promotion were translated into works of art. From the cash coupons towards the purchase of Kwan’s works, to paraphernalia featuring Kwan, the grandiose titling of the exhibition coupled with the unconcealed packaging and branding, created a deliberate projection of the bravado of a final year student, perhaps as reflection of the failure and anxieties not just of an artist but also of the structures embedded within a consumer-driven society.

“I am Artist” Exercise Book, Ball pen ink on exercise book, 20.5 x 16.5 cm each page, 2003 - 2007, Courtesy of artist

This questioning of the place and points of failure and success through the persona of a struggling artist continues in I am Artist, where the words “I am Artist” were written in exercise books and accompanied a series of statements revised annually. In 2005, his statement testified that he would price the work based on the hourly-rate agreed upon between him and the potential buyer. This statement was revised in subsequent years and in 2007, stated that he would produce the work only upon commission or for exhibiting. Through the use of language and writing, the contrast between the painstaking process of the “I am artist” exercise books with the reworded statements accounting for opportunities of financial gain point towards the conflict and choices between the laborious and often invisible practice of art-making and techniques of success which one could acquire to advance in the art market.

A Dead Mosquito, Artist’s hair & blood, Life size, 2008, Courtesy of artist

The course of the artistic struggle is captured within A Dead Mosquito, a work formed by the hair and blood of Kwan, installed to be almost invisible save for wall labels which call attention to its presence. The bodily material and almost insignificant size of the work evokes a deeply poetic and personal gesture of an artist, and art work, dwarfed and swatted.

It’s difficult to stand up as a person. I finally understand why he has been lying there for years, Black & white photography, 50 x 50 cm, 2009, Courtesy of artist

It appears that Kwan has completed one circuit where the bravado of a flailing artist has evolved towards a reflective questioning of failure in life and persistence in faith, with No matter, Try again, Fail again, his first solo exhibition in 2009 after A Retrospective of Kwan Sheung Chi in 2002. With the passage of time and a practice filled with experimentation across media, this opportunity for a retrospective is instead used for a new series of works including It’s difficult to stand up as a person. I finally understand why he has been lying there for years, that underlie a dominant sense of introspection. The exhibition culminated in an ironic auction of a statement the artist had written in 2008 which testified that he would refrain from selling any works for 3 years, and collectively, the works examine failure beyond the art context, as a thread which weaves across the fragility of intentions.

Kwan (b. 1980) graduated in Fine Art from The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2003 and in recent years, has been involved in practices to integrate art with the community, co-founding the Hong Kong Arts Discovery Channel, hkPARTg (Political Art Group) and Woofer Ten. He will be exhibiting video works in Art Fair Tokyo which runs from 1 to 3 April 2011.