All elements speak their own language: Hong Kong video art, 1980-1989

A person holds the railing of and outdoor marble staircase while blindfolded
May Fung, She Said Why Me, 1989, video still, 7 min. 37 sec.; photo courtesy of the artist

All elements speak their own language: video art from Hong Kong, 1980-1989 assembles select video art and performance art footage from 1980s Hong Kong by pioneering artists May Fung, Choi Yan Chi and Ellen Pau. The exhibition considers the way in which artists during this period engaged with the body as an interface for environments, objects and technology.

Fung, Choi and Pau were part of a generation of Hong Kong artists who, from the early 1980s, began to work at the intersection of performance, video art, and installation art. Cross-disciplinary collaborations in the context of the stage produced a new sensitivity to elements of time, space and movement, as artists began to utilise these elements in order to generate productive encounters between body, space and object as well as to spatialise the art object into an expanded field.

All elements speak their own language offers insight into an expanded definition of environments that arose during the 1980s in Hong Kong, as artists, theatre makers and dancers worked to redefine the role of space and the performative body in relation to the stage, the artwork and the audience. Created at the close of the 1980s, these works also bear witness to the penetration of anxiety into the Hong Kong psyche, as the Tianan’men Square Massacre of June 4 1989 clarified the full implications of the scheduled return of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China in 1997.

CHOI YAN CHI (b. 1949, Hong Kong) is a visual artist who has been active since the 1980s and a co-founder of 1a Space, one of Hong Kong’s oldest independent, non-profit art organisations. She was a grantee of Asian Cultural Council in 1990. In 1993, she was invited to take part in the First Asia Pacific Triennial at Queensland Art Gallery, Australia; in the same year she had a solo exhibition at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Germany. Her accolades include an award from the Hong Kong Secretary of Home Affairs’ Commendation Scheme 2010-11.

In 2015, she presented a short interactive performance, a commission by M+, Hong Kong in association with MoMA’s PopRally to celebrate Yoko Ono’s “MORNING PEACE”. Choi’s work is collected by the Hong Kong Museum of Art and Hong Kong Heritage Museum.

Choi now lives and works in Hong Kong.

MAY FUNG (b. 1952, Hong Kong) is one of the most important moving image artists working in Hong Kong today. She has been an influential voice in experimental practice in the city for over three decades, with a body of work that is interwoven with history and politics. In 1985, with Ellen Pau, Wong Chi-fai, and Comyn Mo, Fung co-founded Videotage, a Hong Kong collective that supports experimental video and new media work. Her moving image practice encompasses theatre and installations, reflecting the influence of her long-standing relationship with Hong Kong experimental theatre company Zuni Icosahedron. In addition to her art practice, she is active as an art educator.

ELLEN PAU (b. 1961, Hong Kong) graduated from Hong Kong Polytechnic University with a diploma in Diagnostic Radiography in 1982 and has worked as a radiographer in Queen Mary Hospital since then.

Pau’s works have been extensively exhibited worldwide in film festivals and art biennials, including Hong Kong International Film Festival (1990), 8th International Film Festival for Women (Spain, 1992), Copenhagen Cultural Capital Foundation, Container 96 (Denmark, 1996), Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (Australia, 1996), Johannesburg Biennale (1997), 49th Venice Biennale (2001), Gwangju Biennial (2002), among others.

She co-founded Videotage, Hong Kong’s oldest artist collective, together with Wong Chi Fai, May Fung, and Comyn Mo in 1986. In 1996, she founded Microwave International New Media Arts Festival, an annual event that consists of exhibitions, conferences, seminars, and workshops. In 2014, Pau was appointed by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council as a representative of the Art Form Group in Film and Media Arts, and in the same year, she also served on the interim acquisition committee of M+ in West Kowloon Cultural District.