One of the highlights of this week’s Art Basel Hong Kong programming is Encounters, a presentation of large-scale sculpture and installation by international artists like Lawrence Weiner, Chen Zhen, Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg, Pae White, Tintin Wulia, and Zhang Ding, to name a few. The aim of Encounters is to transcend the art fair layout of booth after booth, challenging viewers and offering an alternative perspective. Whitewall spoke with curator Alexie Glass-Kantor about what we can expect from this year’s edition.
WHITEWALL: You’ve said that this curation of the Encounters sector is angled towards “exploring what an ‘encounter’ is or could become.” What is your definition of an “encounter,” and how did that factor into choosing artists and their exhibits for the edition?
ALEXIE GLASS-KANTOR: The dictionary defines an encounter as “to come upon, experience, or meet, especially by chance.” Essayist Milan Kundera describes it as “a spark; a lightening flash; a random chance.” For me the Encounters sector embodies many of these characteristics, yet there are other equally elusive qualities at work. Immersion, wonder and unpredictability are key to this year’s selection of artworks.
WW: Several participating artists, such as the Tromarama collective and Chen Zhen, have created socially conscious works that seem to demand introspection from their viewers. Can you speak to how the physical interaction between art and audience influences the psychological interaction?
AGK: I am interested in cross-generational and cross-regional practices, exploring the point of contradiction or unexpected confluences of ideas through time. Both the Tromarama collective and Chen Zhen are great examples of this; Tromarama is a collaboration of three artists based in Indonesia who began working together in 2006, while Zhen is a precursor of conceptual art in China whose career spanned the 1980s to 2000. Twenty years separate the creation of their installations, but despite this, both works question the structures that shape how convergent viewpoints may come together within new contexts to create something unexpectedly extraordinary.
WW: Most of the sector’s works employ participation from the viewer to achieve their full effects. Do you have any thoughts on where the line between artist and audience input is most effectively drawn, or what the nature of that line is?
AGK: While the works do not all necessarily employ participation in terms of being physically interactive, they do require the audience to be conscious of the fact that they are having an encounter and meeting an idea. The nature of this line between the art and the audience is both physical and iterative. But what is more interesting is when the line is pushed back to a more intuitive level, which is largely the way Encounters is operating this year, from Pae White’s use of scent or Lawrence Weiner’s series of translations. While the viewer may or may not have a direct statement as to what the work is or isn’t about, they will invariably cross this line and test thresholds when walking through and engaging with the artworks assembled.
WW: As the director of Artspace in Sydney, what sort of affect have you seen on the Asian and Asia Pacific Art Market alongside the continuation of Art Basel Hong Kong?
AGK: The region has been shape shifting and re-determining its coordinates for well over a quarter of a century. Within this, Art Basel Hong Kong has become a real meeting place for the region, providing a platform for those who are passionate and committed to working in the field of contemporary art (and its precursors) to connect. This growing capacity and investment in networks offers a generosity of spirit, providing strong opportunities for artists to develop ambitious and risk-taking ideas out of conversations and encounters.
Art Basel Hong Kong is on view to the public March 24—26.