Power of positivity

Weekend Glitz | Lisa Kao 31 Jul 2020

Artists help us make sense of the world, so it is no surprise that many of them are tackling the ongoing pandemic in their works.

More than 60 of these works by over 40 Hong Kong-based artists will be exhibited in Art Next's upcoming +VE/-VE exhibition.

Kasper Lam, alias Kasper Forest, will be exhibiting his photography series The Ghost City.

Lam had participated in Art Next's exhibition last year with his human portrait series, Conflict Hong Kong, which won him the International Artists Gold Award.

But this time, instead of humans, his focus is zhizha figures - traditional Chinese handmade paper art that is often burnt at funerals as an offering.

"Zhizha items are created to be burnt. The whole point of their existence is to die," Lam said. "This is very similar to the anxiety and uncertainty of Hongkongers nowadays."

He explained that such feelings originated from recent events.

"I remember during SARS, people were still quite relaxed. Some didn't even bother to wear masks. But it's different this time," he said.

"The political situation is also worrying for certain occupations, like us artists, who are concerned that our jobs might not exist in the future."

He also doubts that Hong Kong will be able to live up to its previous monikers, such as "shopping paradise" and "Pearl of the Orient."

"These are Hongkongers' uncertainties and anxieties. They are just like zhizha - they cannot decide their own fate because of situations that are beyond their control."

To echo these emotions, Lam chose venues that reflected the city's 1980s golden era, including Victoria Harbour, Ocean Park and the University of Hong Kong. Starting the project in February, he bought numerous pairs of zhizha from a store in Hung Hom and carried them to the different venues.

"They were so fragile that I could only use them for one shoot. I would burn them after finishing for the day."

As zhizha are associated with death, Lam sometimes frightened passersby with two human-scale zhizha dolls. "Some swore when they suddenly encountered two zhizha on the street, and others even called the police."

However, as it was not his intention to create scary photos, he shot in the bright daylight instead of night.

Hong Kong-based Tamera Bedford is another artist featured in the exhibition.

Unlike Lam, who merges thoughts and feeling into his art, Bedford creates art to distract herself.

"With what's happening with the virus, I find myself paying more attention to the news than I used to," she said. "I am always a bit anxious about what's happening to Hong Kong and feel that I am a sponge absorbing too much water."

As an American living in Hong Kong, she was also heartbroken by the simmering Sino-US tensions, so she used art as a way to escape reality.

"When I am working on the pieces, I have to pay so much attention to the patterns and layers. It takes my mind to another place," said Bedford. "The amount of focus required is a mental relief to me."

For Once I Was You (Love in the Time of Covid-19), Bedford used two kinds of paper, three kinds of painting materials and a canvas to create the piece.

She first laid the natural-patterned handmade Nepali lokta paper and circled them with green and pink ink. Then she connected the circles with a golden pen and cut out the blank spaces in between.

Pink Bhutanese daphne paper is then cut and put underneath the golden lines. The whole piece is placed on a white canvas and the remaining spaces are filled with dark purple. To finish the piece, she used red acrylic paint to surround the lokta paper.

The piece is so complex that it took Bedford more than 40 hours over multiple weeks to finish.

In view of the current Covid-19 situation, +VE/-VE will be held in two phases. The first will feature an online exhibition from August 4.

The second phase, set for after the social gathering restrictions are lifted, will see a physical exhibition open to the public. Further details will be announced in due course.

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