FX HARSONO, installation detail of Purification, 2013, mixed media, dimensions variable, for “Market Forces” at City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2014. Photo by Kwan Sheung Chi. Courtesy the artist and Osage Art Foundation, Hong Kong. 

Market Forces – Erasure: From Conceptualism to Abstraction

Osage Hong Kong and City University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong

This year’s “Market Forces,” an annual group exhibition co-presented by the Osage Art Foundation and City University of Hong Kong, was themed “Erasure: From Conceptualism to Abstraction” and was presented in two venues. Though the exhibition held at Osage Hong Kong ended in June, the show continued at the City University campus in Kowloon Tong until mid-July. Following the series’ focus on “value,” the exhibit—which in the City University location included works by 11 artists from across Asia—questioned the market value of art and the materials used to make them, as well as how the latter can alter the audience’s interpretations of the works.

At the university venue, Purification (2013), a large-scale installation by Jakarta-based artist FX Harsono greets the viewer. The work is inspired by the various religions in Indonesia and also by the artifacts imported from the Indonesian coastal city, Cirebon, where it is known for its cultural mix of Chinese, Arabic, Sudanese and Javanese. Cheap aluminum kettles and tiffin boxes, decorative wall tapestry and textiles, mostly collected from markets in Cirebon, are either hung on the walls or are placed on wooden plinths as if in a museum, transforming every day objects into precious items. Repeating motifs depicit traditional Chinese clouds, as seen in classical ink landscapes, along with elephants, a recognizable symbol in Southeast Asia. Displayed on the wall are also two videos of Indonesians performing daily practices, one video is of people singing folk songs and another is of a Muslim girl covering her hair with a silk scarf. A sculpture reminiscent of a rocking horse visually dominates the installation as it sits idly among the wooded plinths. But rather than a horse, the artist has instead created a hybrid form with the head of a dragon and legs of an elephant, to reflect the mixed culture of Indonesia, furthering his message of tolerance.

RINGO BUNOAN, installation detail of Endings, 2013, book pages, dimensions variable, for “Market Forces” at City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2014. Photo by Kwan Sheung Chi. Courtesy the artist and Osage Art Foundation, Hong Kong. 

FX Harsono is not the only artist in the show that uses readymades in their work. Manila-based artist Ringo Bunoan’s Endings and No Endings (both 2013), made use of books and individual pages to express the notions of compressed and prolonged time. The final page from several different books, each shielded inside wooden frames, are randomly arranged on a long bookshelf. The words “THE END” mark the conclusion of time in a novel, as is the case for the pages in Bunoan’s installation. In gathering different endings together in one place, the artist is seemingly demonstrating a wide range of life’s possibilities to the audience. Displayed next to the shelf of pages is a column of books without endings. They are piled up from the floor to the ceiling and positioned adjacent to the framed pages. Because their endings are taken away, the characters in these books can live on in their respective stories, while also leaving the narrative open for the reader’s own interpretation. 

Another Filipino artist Bernardo Pacquing created a piano without its black-and-white keys, pushing one’s conception of an object and its predescribed function.The artist took out the inner piano parts and reconstructed it into the artwork Untitled (2008), arranging them into the shape of a piano with the added use of cotton. The cotton emerging from the body of the reconstructed piano alludes to the bursting crescendo of musical notes and the emotion that musicians express when they are playing the piano. Similarly flipping object and function was Pacquing’s other work, a diptych entitled Adolf Lehmann 1909 (2008). Displayed beside the piano, the two canvases were in actuality placed on the floor and used while the artist was repurposing the piano in Untitled. An outline of the piano was unintentionally “drawn” on the grubby canvases when the artist was re-combining the instrument. The rough and messy inscription of “Adolf Lehman 1909” on one of the boards indicates the name of the piano’s manufacturer. The two canvas pieces, which were used as a kind of mat for the piano, are now hung together as a work of art.

The show highlights the importance of subject matter, while drawing the viewer’s attention to the concepts and intentions of the artists. With the use of unconventional materials, visitors experienced works from a renewed perspective, leaving with the realization that nothing is quite what it seems. 

Installation view of “Market Forces” at City University of Hong Kong, 2014. (Left) BERNARDO PACQUING’s Adolf Lehmann 1909 and (Right) Untitled, both 2008. Photo by Kwan Sheung Chi. Courtesy the artist and Osage Art Foundation, Hong Kong.