Spiegel-Wilks Seminar: Venice Biennale

Contemporary Art in East Asia and the World


Hong Kong and Ghana

Venice Biennale 2019: Hong Kong & Ghana 

The Hong Kong Pavilion isn’t part of the official Biennale complex but is set up as a collateral event space. The old wood storage facility where the pavilion resides, just outside the Arsenale, is commissioned by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council and the M+ museum complex. The show “Stakeholders: Hong Kong in Venice” is the first time a female artist is representing Hong Kong. Shirley Tse lives in LA and works mainly with plastic. Her Venice installation is the first time she works with wood; she learnt how to carve for this project. She mixed a selection of found wooden objects, ranging from hockey sticks to cups, with pieces she carved herself, making them connect to each other perfectly by using 3D printed plastic and metal joints. She says her work focuses on the negotiation among different materials, spaces and ideas when they are brought together. There is always room for more, she adds, as her connections are left open to additions. She thanks technology for giving her the ability to make the parts fit organically, as she downloaded the plans for her joints from an open source cloud database. It is quite clear the space affected her decisions as she took on the color scheme of the wood storage facility and implemented the shape of the pipes on the wall in her sculpture. 

The Ghana Pavilion is the first time the African nation has a pavilion at the Biennale. The title of the exhibition comes from E. T. Mensah’s independence song “Ghana Freedom”. The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture is the main sponsor of the event. The room itself is designed by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye. He brought soil from Ghana and formed the space into interconnected ellipses. The pavilion features six artists: Felicia Abban, John Akomfrah, El Anatsui, Lynette Yiadom Boakye, Ibrahim Mahama and Selasi Awusi Sosu. This selection has artists across generations and mediums but one commonality is that all of them had shown at Venice before, but had never represented their own country. Especially El Anatsui and Ibrahim Mahama were interesting to me. The two artists’ wall facades are meant to complement each other as they are at both entrances of the pavilion. Similar to Tse, both Anatsui and Mahama take everyday objects out of their contexts to point at colonial history and the modern consumerist society of Ghana that stemmed from that history. Anatsui uses wires to weave bottle caps into each other to create colossal wall tapestries. Mahama takes archival materials, fish skin and crate boxes to create a historical display of fishing, which is the main source of income in the country. His use of residue to connect the past practices of fishing to the present comments on the use of technology and how it is both increasing production but also polluting the water. This opposes Tse’s emphasis on the harmony among nature and technology. Perhaps a symbiotic connection is not always possible amongst two entities, even with the help of advanced technology.

Eda Ozuner




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