A programme of “Under-Cover: Investigations in Art Publishing”, Spotlight is a weekly highlight of an artist’s project that experiments with the idea of art publishing.
“Where Flamingos Fly” – Euan Macdonald
“Where Flamingos Fly”, Jazz musician Gil Evans’s song and 1981 album resounds in the 2005 10-minute colour video of the same name by Euan Macdonald, a Scottish-born Canadian artist based in Los Angeles. In Macdonald’s rendition, a piano soundtrack beckons as a man—presumably the artist—stands against a wall. Only his jacket and hands can be seen holding a large stack of song sheets. This includes “Where Flamingos Fly” being presented like the rest: one after another, and with each similarly saccharine title like “Where, I Wonder”, “The Bad and The Beautiful” and “L’Affaire” appearing front and centre before being discarded off-camera. Selected Standards, the 2007 artist book coinciding with this video work, finds the same song sheets—basically bound in the order that they were found—accompanied by Macdonald’s drawings. It also evokes a decades-long practice that relates to other artists in the Library who intermix time-based, sonic and print-related approaches in their work.
“Cha Chaan Teng = I Love You” – Kaitlin Chan
Kaitlin Chan presents us with zine “Cha Chaan Teng = I Love You”, a way to talk about the fraught relationship to food in the Asian diaspora and, more playfully, an inquiry into whether Chan could pass off a Chinese tattoo that read “cha chaan teng” as “I love you” to non-Chinese speakers. Ultimately, this work is a tribute to Chan’s maternal grandparents, whose Kah Wah restaurant in Melbourne was closed before she was born. The restaurant remains a mythic place, existing only in recollections imparted by her mother. The images for the zine were collected over the course of 2016–2019, though the actual production process took just a few days. Intimate vignettes of food and relationships were written in one burst and images paired with them in the editing process. Resistant to the role of food in their lives, Chan uses this form of art publishing to delve into the rituals and encounters enabled by the act of eating together. A reckoning of relations with family, friends, and Chan’s partner are printed with risograph along with the iconography of Chinese takeaway menus and restaurant signage. Like the fantasy Chinese tattoo, these signs become a visual landscape to be projected on, and it is this capacity to open-source translation that Chan seeks out in this work.
“Restaurant Drawings” – Jonathan Monk
Jonathan Monk’s “Restaurant Drawings” (2015–ongoing) only begin to describe what they are: the British artist, who is based in Berlin, began tracking his daily gastronomical patterns by drawing over the top of receipts from his meals and posting them on Instagram. Monk, who is known for playfully appropriating significant conceptual, minimal, and modern art works including for many artist books, uses a technological platform this time, and which allows his own work to be digitally and communally “consumed”. In fact, anyone can purchase a drawing from the artist’s @monkpictures account for the price of the meal found on the receipt. The drawings also find multiple associations to food in art, including countless still life paintings, serving as politically charged subject matter—from The Futurist Cookbook (1932) to The Dinner Party (1979)—or being incorporated into practices highlighting its capacity to enable ritual, shared, and social activity. Monk’s showing in the Artists’ Book Library, currently situated among shops and restaurants, further encourages a context for everyday interaction with art at Tai Kwun.
“Vox Populi” – Fiona Tan
Vox Populi (2006–2012), a five-book series by Fiona Tan, an Indonesian-born artist based in Amsterdam, is in her words “‘a snapshot’ of a country or a community through photographs from family albums.” Shaped from a loose configuration of photographs collected through words of mouth and associates in each city, Tan began in Norway, then Australia, Japan, and Switzerland, before exhibiting the entire series at The Photographer’s Gallery in London. Loosely translated, “vox populi” means “voice of the people” and that Tan harnesses through her collection of images from owners using photography to identify themselves and their experiences. Having passed on to Tan for caretaking, her selection reveals categorisations like “Home”, “Nature”, and “Portraits”, and approximations of lives lived from birth to death. A closer formal reading reveals how the books mimic small-scale photo albums. Additionally, the recorded colour and camera angles harken to another time and place; namely, a style predating today’s selfie-motivated photo-documentation style. An accompanying film adds to the narrative quality while complimenting other Library artists using photobooks as a means of self-presentation and preservation.
“Moments in Limbo” – Jimi Tsang
Jimi Tsang’s “Moments in Limbo” (2015–2018) black-and-white photo series explores the transitory in a city that feels it is perpetually in flux. His work is influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Daido Moriyama, and Bruce Gilden. A self-taught photographer, Tsang experiences a dichotomy of worlds—from the overdetermined density of Hong Kong to its identity crisis—and an affinity for those perceived on the outside. Having spent his formative years in pre-Handover Hong Kong, Tsang’s work is preoccupied with the “moment” and “limbo”, or what it can feel like to be off the clock and the conditions of indeterminacy. These transitions were captured on 35mm film on Tsang’s daily commute through Hong Kong. Caught between family life and work duties, the post-Umbrella Movement and an uncertain future, Tsang claims to only make time for these images. He asks us: what direction are we heading?
“The Xerox Book” – Seth Siegelaub
“The Xerox Book” is a book-exhibition curated and published by curator and art dealer Seth Siegelaub (1942–2013) in 1968. Siegelaub was committed to the elimination of artistic hierarchy and introduced formalised methods for artists to engage with. He organised exhibitions and projects taking place in contemporary art spaces in the form of printed matter from 1966 to 1971. For “The Xerox Book”, Siegelaub invited seven artists to create a work using 25 consecutive pages with the same dimensions. Invited artists included Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris and Lawrence Weiner, among others. Instead of being a vehicle for the secondary information, Siegelaub used the printed book and catalogue as a site of “primary information”, thus making art accessible to a wider audience. In dematerialising the exhibition that takes place in a gallery into a book form, “The Xerox Book” becomes reflective of the movement of conceptual art in the 1960s America where artists and curators sought to challenge the institutional infrastructure of the museum and gallery system.
Under-Cover: Investigations in Art Publishing
Under-Cover: Investigations in Art Publishing comprises the summer programmes of the Artists’ Book Library. In continuing Tai Kwun Contemporary’s dedication to supporting the expanding art ecology of Hong Kong, Under-Cover presents a series of summer events spread across three categories: Spotlight, Live, and Workshop. As a platform for local, regional, and international practitioners who work with books as a medium of artistic expression, Under-Cover seeks to expand notions of art publishing across material and immaterial platforms. The term “investigation” is used playfully and thinks of our visitors and participants as part of the process in defining what an artist book is and can do.
Spotlight takes place on Thursdays in the form of curated slideshows and video works by artists who work with diverse forms of art publishing. Live events take place on Friday evenings and includes presentations by those working in sound publishing, performative readings, and low-fi zine production. Lastly, Workshop will take place on Saturdays. Each workshop will be led by a specialised practitioner who will work with a small group to produce artist books, to rethink methods of translation, and to experiment with reproduction through sampling—both musically and textually.