The upcoming edition of Tai Kwun Contemporary’s Artist’s Choice by Hong Kong–based artist Andrew Luk features Saul Bass’s 1974 cult classic Phase IV. This atmospheric science-fiction horror film tells the story of desert ants forming a collective intelligence and making radical designs on humanity.
Visually stunning, with an impressive cinematography of humans as well as ant sequences, Phase IV delivers a quasi-mythic, dystopian vision—at times with humour, both intentional and unintentional. Its overturning of a human-centred order engenders a macabre existential dread, which decades later finds echoes in the planetary climate emergency we find ourselves.
Phase IV has also inspired Andrew Luk, a Hong Kong–based artist who has worked with, among others, a range of industrial materials—most memorably in the Horizon Scan series, where his napalm-based paintings force viewers to reckon with the traces and records of violence and destruction. With his fascination in the complex entanglements of humanity and nature, and his ongoing research on how violence is represented and “progress” schematised, Andrew Luk’s choice of Phase IV is perhaps unsurprising. The film’s somewhat absurd, even laughable premise delivers a moody sensibility on point, ultimately with a degree of wry, cosmic humour.
Andrew Luk will be present before the screening. By listening to what the artist finds inspiring in the film and how it has influenced his artistic practice, viewers will also get to find out a good deal more about Luk’s artistic practice.
Director: Saul Bass
America｜1974｜93 min｜Colour｜In English with Chinese and English subtitles｜IIA
Like many early 70s sci-fi films, Phase IV conjures a gloomy and brooding vision: the story of desert ants suddenly coming into collective intelligence and waging war on the inhabitants. As a science-fiction/horror film that is also a siege story, Phase IV is remarkable additionally for how the ants are themselves portrayed as characters rather than a homogenous threatening mass. Set to a 70s synth-based soundtrack, the film haunts with striking imagery and foreboding gravitas.
Directed by Saul Bass—who is perhaps better known for creating credit sequences in certain Alfred Hitchcock films, and apparently even designing and conceptualising the shower scene in Psycho—Phase IV won the Special Jury Prize at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival in 1975. Yet for the most part Phase IV had been a lost gem from the 1970s and has only in the decades afterwards gained cult status, not least in the eyes of the novelist Stephen King, who praised it in his text “Danse Macabre”.
The Tai Kwun Contemporary programme Artist’s Choice invites artists to share their own works or favourite works by another artist—be it film, music, literature, among others—followed by an artist’s talk or presentation. By encouraging artists to share their interests and ideas with audiences through the prism of individual choices and in-depth conversations, Artist’s Choice aims at providing a unique yet intimate perspective in understanding artists and their practices.
* This is an open seating event. The artist’s talk is conducted in English, with English-to-Cantonese simultaneous interpretation.
The event will adhere to the latest health and safety regulations and enforce social distancing measures.