This is the 3rd participation of Hong Kong in the Venice Biennale as a collateral event. While the success of the tiny city as a global financial hub begins with the generation of our parents, Hong Kong’s presence in the international art scene is as fresh and abstract as vapour, passed unnoticed. In the Biennale, its geographical advantage (locates just in front of entrance of Arsenale) cannot guarantee a paragraph on international art reviews. However, in this year’s Venice, we see some courageous attempts to breakthrough the fate of a culturally-deprived golden island.

Tozer Pak Sheung Chuen, aged 32, represents this dream in the Hong Kong Pavilion. This is the first time one single artist is chosen to represent Hong Kong, and he’s only 32, bypassed many of his “seniors”, and his work is nothing monumental, even less “exotic” for an international audience. A bold strategy, and the right one to take. A conceptual artist in constant quest for profound and insightful signs and messages encoded within the most unlikely and ordinary places, he draws elements from everyday life and its surroundings in order to rediscover “meanings” that are often missed or even ignored by most people. Pak searches to encapsulate both hopes and losses in his ongoing quest for a better understanding of our confusing and imperfect world.

Tozer Pak. Making perfect world, 53rd Venice Biennale. Hong Kong Pavilion 2009
©Tozer Pak, Making (Perfect) Workd, exhibition view of Hong Kong Pavilion in Venice. Courtesy of the artist.

Entitled Making (Perfect) World, the exhibition is divided into four sections – Harbour, Hong Kong, Alienated Cities and Dreams. It includes a total of 29 pieces of sculpture, photography, documentation of performances and texts from the artist’s intriguing yet self-reflective body of work. The “I” is omnipresent in Pak’s work. “My art comes from my personal experience”, Pak said. The first piece he created in Venice is Half Soul, Half Body, presented in the courtyard. “I collected numerous stones in Venice, from the streets, houses, churches, parks and grass fields. I divided them into two halves, one half is suspended using the weight of the other half. The stones on the ground are slightly heavier then the mass of stones suspended in the air. The combined weight of these two groups equals my body weight, while the height of the suspension is up to my forehead which is the brain or the soul.” The production cost? $0. Things are either there already (even the cord, I found it in the reserve”, he said.), or from the nature, including the sunlight which forms the same shape as the installation itself. At the end of the show, just like our bodies, everything will be back to the nature.

Tozer Pak. Making perfect world, 53rd Venice Biennale. Hong Kong Pavilion 2009, Horizon Placed at home
©Tozer Pak, Half Soul, Half Body, Venice, 06 – 21. 05. 2009, 63.4KG stones. The Horizon Placed at Home (N22.17’400″ Version), Hong Kong, 05.04.2009, 45 plastic bottles filled with seawater collected from Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong.

In front of this installation is a his famous The Horizon Placed at Home, which he placed 45 plastic bottles filled with seawater collected from Victoria Harbour (HK). “I drew a horizontal line on a map of Victoria Harbour, from the east coast all the way to the west. This line is possibly the longest horizontal route any ship can sail in the Harbour. There were a total of 45 intersectoins on the coastline. I filled up plastic bottles at each point and brought them to Venice,” Pak explained while pointing to the continuous Victoria Harbour sea level which is now in Venice.

“I rented a 12 meter square apartment in Busan, Korea. Although I lived my daily life as usual there, I collected my breath in transparent plastic bags until the filled up the entire apartment.” This is a conceptual project, so what’s the idea? “The process took ten days to complete and I felt as if part of my life was absorbed by this apartment.” A very intriguing approach to the relationship between the body and the space, indeed. The body is dematerialized into breath but captured inside the plastic bags which are now the measurement of another abstract thing called “space”. But before breathe out into the plastic bag, you breathed in the air which is another invisible measurement for the volume of the space. In realising his witty and poetic ideas and thoughts through philosophical gestures, Pak goes beyond meditating on the legitimisation of his seemingly random acts as contemporary art, to successfully blur the boundaries between the personal and the political.

Tozer Pak. Making perfect world, 53rd Venice Biennale. Hong Kong Pavilion 2009. Breathing in a house, 2006, Busan
©Tozer Pak, Breathing in a House, Korea (Busan), 01 – 10. 09. 2006 (10 days).

Outside a small room next to the main gallery space, a signature requests audience to take photos with flash. An anti-museum statement? No! No! A piece of conceptual art work entitled A Travel Without Visual Experience. “I joined a 5-day organized tour to Malaysia, a country that I had never been before. During the whole trip, I either closed or covered my eyes pretending that I was blind. I followed all the sightseeing and visits and I took many photos, but instead of seeing, I only sense and experience my surroundings. These photos are for my ‘future’ eyes, they become the sole reference of my indirect memories and visual experience for Malaysia where I will possibly never go to again.” So, now we were blind in the dark room and we took pictures with flash of the pictures of Malaysia for our own “future” eyes as well. In a humorous and thoughtful ways, Pak defies aspects of physicality and spirituality, thus enables new ways of reinterpreting unwritten codes and complexities that exist within contemporary societies.

Tozer Pak. Making perfect world, 53rd Venice Biennale. Hong Kong Pavilion 2009. waiting for a friend, 2006
©Tozer Pak, Waiting for a friend (without Appointment), Hong Kong (Kowloon Tong MTR Station), 29.12.2006 (12:47 – 16:38)

In a project which he showed only two photos, entitled Waiting for a Friend (2006), we are all going to be touched by his “silly” ways of offering us a humane, sensitive and thoughtful alternative to approaching and experiencing everyday life. Pak writes for the catalogue on this project: “Without an appointment, I randomly selected a place and waited there for a friend to come. This time Jacky, a university classmate whom I had not seen for two years, appeared at 16:38. He asked me, ‘How did you know I’d be here?’, I told him, ‘I really didn’t know… but I’ve been waiting for you here for a long time!'”

About the artist

Tozer Pak Sheung Chuen was born 1977 in Fujian (China) and immigrated to Hong Kong in 1984, where he currently lives and works.
Awarded the Overseas Exchange Prize (Chinese Performance Art) by the Macao Museum of Art and the Lee Hysan Foundation Fellowship by the Asian Cultural Council in 2005 and 2006 respectively. Pak has participated in numerous international exhibitions, including The First Stop on the Super Highway at the Nam June Paik Art Center in Korea (2009), The 3rd Yokohama Triennial (2008), The 3rd Guangzhou Triennial (2008), Power Station: Part 2 at Astrup Fearrnley Museum in Oslo (2007) and The 6th Busan Biennale (2006). His solo exhibition Page 22 is permanently installed in New York’s 58th Street Branch Library.

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