Installation view of “Inside China – L’Intérieur du Géant (Hong Kong Station)” at K11 Art Foundation Pop-Up Space, Hong Kong, 2015, with WU HAO‘s Rolling Gate 2 (2014) and ZHAO YAO’s You Can’t See Me No. 5 (2012). Courtesy K11 Art Foundation, Hong Kong. 

Inside China – L’Intérieur du Géant (Hong Kong Station)

K11 Art Foundation
China Hong Kong

On the days preceding and during Art Basel Hong Kong in March, the K11 Art Foundation—the nonprofit arm of the line of “art malls” conceived by Hong Kong’s New World Development Company—opened a number of events in various locations throughout the city. Of the largest in scale was the exhibition at the foundation’s pop-up space in Sheung Wan’s Grand Millennium Plaza, entitled “Inside China – L’Intérieur du Géant (Hong Kong Station),” which was organized in collaboration with the Paris-based contemporary art center Palais de Tokyo, and is on view until May. Having debuted in 2014 at Palais de Tokyo, the show made its second stop in Hong Kong with an expanded version of the original. “Inside China” will go on to open in Shanghai at the Chi K11 Art Museum in August.

Curated by Hong Kong artist, writer and curator Jo-ey Tang, “Inside China – L’Intérieur du Géant (Hong Kong Station)” engaged Chinese and French artists to respond to the two-pronged exhibition title. While the Chinese artists commented on what is happening “inside China,” their French counterparts ruminated on “l’intérieur du géant” (“the interior of the Giant”), which acts as both an allegory for China, now the world’s largest economy, and a reference to 19th-century French photographer and writer Nadar’s photograph Intérieur du Géant (1863). The image captured the interior of a 60-meter-high hot-air balloon, named “La Géant,” the vehicle that allowed Nadar to take some of the very first aerial photographs of Paris. 

RENAUD JEREZ, D (detail), 2014, mixed-media sculpture, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist, Crèvecoeur, Paris, and the collection of Joel Mallin. 

Spread across three levels of varying areas and nooks, the exhibition offers very little open space. One can only imagine the many dilemmas and challenges that were involved in curating each of these rooms, recesses and hallways. As a result, the exhibition feels like a series of juxtapositions, where some are more successful than others.

To enter the exhibition, one must crouch through a low doorway, above which is emblazoned with the words “INSIDE CHINA.” Upon entrance, one is immediately obstructed by an unwelcoming metal shutter suspended from the ceiling. Rolling Gate 2 (2014), by artist Wu Hao, is one of many shutters he has collected from storefronts in Wuhan, a city in central China where the artist is now based. The shutters reveal remnants of posters and advertisements, as well as the subsequent paint-overs done by municipal authorities in the name of “beautification.” Hiding behind these works is Zhao Yao’s You Can’t See Me No. 5 (2012), a sculptural conglomerate of silicone, fiberglass and wood that seems to suggest an unfinished work still in its wrapping, or yet to be freed from its wooden support, and alludes to fledgling urban metropolises caught in the midst of progress and construction. While viewing Zhao’s work, one’s attention is taken away by a comparatively pristine installation of a hanging pillar, made of small, illuminated photographic prints—including surrealist scenes of birds in outer space or a lamp against a supernova—mounted on sheets of cork. Mathis Collins’s Souvenir from your leave of absence (2014) was a one-time “company” made to function “in parallel to a friend’s cork company that was affected by the global French cork crisis.” Collins’s “company” existed in the form of a tree, made from a 3-meter-high piece of cork. A series of lamps were placed inside the tree sculpture, which was installed for 24 hours next to an anarchist street florist in Marseille. Each lamp was sold for about 50 euros. This odd jump from Zhao’s sculpture to Collins’s installation distracts from the more plausible dialogue between the works by Zhao and Wu regarding urban development.

Other displayed works veer into the figurative as one journeys onward through the exhibition. On the top of the escalator leading up to the second floor, Renaud Jerez’s sculpture of a human figure—made of PVC tubing, aluminum, rubber and various other materials—lies on a rack on a wooden platform. The piece, entitled H (2014), like other Jerez works on display, suggests a body that has been thoroughly bandaged, as if evoking our precarious existence within today’s world and its growing excesses. Surrounding this anthropomorphic figure is Wu Hao’s Watermark Projects (2012– ), comprising randomly placed glass jars and bottles that contain the sedimentary residue of dried acrylic paint. As part of the project, these vessels had been placed in different Chinese cities with the help of local residents, in hopes of “recording” the passage of hours and days and the changing climate conditions at each respective site. The imprint of time and elements is embodied in these acrylic contents, like an onslaught of external and internal adversities absorbed by the human body and mind.

WU HAO, Watermarks Project (detail), 2012– , glass and ceramic, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist. 

YU JIFlesh in Stone #2, 2013, cement, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist and C-space, Beijing. 

Perhaps the most successful dialogue seen in the exhibition is that between Jonathan Martin’s ink drawings and the sculptures by Yu Ji, which are both studies of the human figure. The body is severed and contorted in Yu’s series of cement renderings (“Flesh in Stone,” 2012–14), while Martin’s drawings (2012–15), which have their origins in popular songs and public conversation, depict scenes from daily life.

At the end of the hallway in which Martin’s and Yu’s works are hung, an alcove partially obstructed by a glass wall contains the departure point for the exhibition—namely, Nadar’s Intérieur du Géant (1863). Mounted on paper and framed in an unassuming display, the small photograph could easily be missed. The work shares a room with Aude Pariset’s Pasta Hostis II (2014), a hanging installation that requires the space to be alternately dark and lit to induce the work’s whimsical shadow play. Baking racks littered with dried and cooked spaghetti cast shapes and silhouettes onto the gallery; here, one can see that the show’s Nadar-inspired aerial theme is taken quite literally.

Commenting on the exhibition, the curator posits the selection of artworks and organizational decisions as “enablers of perception, conveyors of subjectivity, and compressors of time.” These are cryptic words describing “Inside China – L’Intérieur du Géant,” a show loosely tied together under the blanket theme of looking inside the heavily scrutinized and highly ambitious nation of China. Detritus and other discarded materials seem to be used as a formal link for works that otherwise have tenuous connections. Having had its first iteration in Palais de Tokyo, the exhibition may have been curated and configured specifically for the Paris space. In Hong Kong, at K11’s temporary venue, the cohesiveness seemed to have dissolved somewhat, leaving visitors with vague impressions of hackneyed observations made about China and its rise into a world superpower. While the works are individually compelling, the exhibition as a whole leaves much to be desired.


“Inside China – L’Intérieur du Géant (Hong Kong Station)” is currently on view at K11 Art Foundation Pop-up Space, in Grand Millennium Plaza, Hong Kong until May 3, 2015.

Denise Chu is managing editor at ArtAsiaPacific.