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This year’s Art Basel Hong Kong includes a film program of 72 works by 64 artists, including, for the first time, five feature-length films. Whitewaller spoke with the section’s curator Li Zhenhua.
WHITEWALLER: What is a highlight for you in curating this year’s film section for Art Basel Hong Kong?
LI ZHENHUA: Hong Kong is such a fascinating place, both in terms of the film industry and the upcoming art scene, which already is very developed. Over the past 5 years, I have been working more and more with Hong Kong-based institutions and artists. I see the context shifting from what I knew of Hong Kong before 1997 to the political realm of today — although even this changes day-to-day. Hong Kong is one of the most important places to explore my interests in Art, Economy, Politics and everyday life. Art Basel in Hong Kong stands on the edge between Asia and the West, and I learn a lot from being in this third position (between East and West). Today I can see Hong Kong’s art scene and that of the international contemporary art world melding together in one place. Over the last three years the film sector has developed to encompass even more content and increased applications, which gives me a great sense of what is already happening and will happen in the future for Hong Kong’s growing art scene. Being here helps me to better understand what is next in art in general. As you might know, since 2000 my focus was on the digital media arts, where art and technology meet. Curating Art Basel’s film sector also gives me a great view into what young artists are doing and creating, as well as the new directions galleries are moving in.
WW: What were some challenges you encountered in the curatorial process? What did you find most interesting?
LZH: My curatorial process is shaped by balance of blending content from galleries from around the world with the local culture of Hong Kong. It is very important for me to embrace the local conditions when considering my curatorial approach, in order to bring a world culture into that of the local community. Over the last three years in this role I have sought to find balance and ask questions at the same time, to both develop a program that makes sense for viewers in Hong Kong as well as the international art scene. I would not call this work hard, but rather very challenging and interesting.
The situation has allowed me to see developing trends in contemporary art and explore how to make these trends relevant to Hong Kong viewers. I always consider what is needed for Hong Kong as it relates to the history of film within the region, as well as recent events or topics that are worth while to share with the local audience: to bring both the best out of Hong Kong, as well as bring the best to Hong Kong. I am very lucky to have the freedom to develop this content with the support of a great team.
WW: Can you tell us how the art scene in Hong How has the art scene changed over the last decade?
LZH: Before we talk about the art scene, one has to consider that Hong Kong is a place of migrants, which includes both the Cantonese culture as one of its origins, as well as the colonial period, the period after 1997, etc. I have come to understand the changes in Hong Kong’s art and culture, especially within video art, which has been developing in the region over the past 30 years. However, the scene is still new to some. If we talk about the current influence of the art scene, then we must consider new organizations like the K11 Art Space, the Spring Workshop, Parasite, the AAA and the many galleries. These all reflect Hong Kong’s growing influence and power in the arts. Hong Kong can be a difficult place for artists due to the high cost of living, however we are seeing many young artists like Kwan Sheung Chi, Pak Sheung Chuen, Lee Kit, and TSANG Kin-wah, who are successful not only in Hong Kong, but also across Mainland China and across the world.
WW: What role do you see the film program playing in a commercial fair setting?
LZH: The fair has changed a lot as well over the last 5 years. It has more curatorial direction and more thought around what is needed to create a sustainable arts economy. Understanding the commercial aspect is essential to understanding human life today. The film program is experimental and new, which is necessary to spur the future development of artists and galleries. The role of the fair is to provide a platform for galleries, collectors and art lovers by creating a space both for the market and for strong curatorial conversations. Both the market (ie funding) and curatorial input are required for projects to develop. I believe that what I do in these non-commercial spaces at an art fair will in the end influence new trends within the larger art world, in the near future.
Art Basel Hong Kong is on view March 24—26.