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ARTISTREE

New Horizons in Hong Kong’s Art Scene

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You may think of art exhibitions as serious occasions where you need to dress up and act with poise – and in many cases, you are expected to – but in Hong Kong, some artists have been rethinking the art viewing experience to engage the new generation of audiences. Here, we catch up with singer-songwriter Ivana Wong and gallerist Shivang Jhunjhnuwala and see how they are expanding the horizons of art through innovative exhibitions.

“Labelling culture is an important topic because stereotypes shape our behaviour, beliefs, society, and ultimately, the world.”
Ivana Wong

You may know Ivana Wong as a singer-songwriter, but she has also ventured into the world of art as she pushes the boundaries of both her own creative pursuits and the local art landscape. Growing up in a musical family, she has always seen music as a natural form of self-expression, which blossomed into a successful career in pop music. Over the years, however, she has also developed a passion for the visual arts, which manifested as the art project, The Missing Something.


Rather than having just one exhibition, the project comprises multiple chapters to “record the changes of feelings and emotions in moments when something around us ceases to exist”, she says. The first chapter, The Pink Room Experience, took place in March and April, while the second show, which will also be Wong’s first major solo exhibition, will take place later this year.


The Pink Room Experience was about the labelling culture, which refers to the way people are categorised as a result of stereotyping. “I think it stems from ‘the missing compassion’,” Wong says. “It’s an important topic because stereotypes shape our behaviour, beliefs, society, and ultimately, the world.”


Music and lyrics were at the core of the exhibition, but it also incorporated elements of other art forms, such as photography, videography and interactive installations, to invite the audience to examine the topic from different angles. One of the exhibits, for example, was a rack with Wong’s writings that questioned people’s fixed beliefs; another exhibit, The Pink Room, took visitors on a virtual journey of sound and sight through a world of labels. “It’s a multi-sensational experience, which reflects how the labelling culture has been intruding multiple facets of our lives and our souls in an overwhelming manner,” she explains.  


Perhaps one of the most unexpected things about the exhibition was the guided tours led by Wong herself. “I started to give tours to elaborate further on the concepts behind [the show],” she says. And in the process of explaining the details of the artworks to her audience, she realised that the tours had turned into story sharing sessions. “I couldn’t be more grateful that people were eager to share their thoughts and personal stories with me.”


Such direct artist-audience interaction is rare, and for Wong, it was a crucial part of the exhibition to engage visitors in a meaningful way. As she says, “The experience had transformed into a hub for conversation and dialogues with meaning; and what was initially just a unidirectional expression became a solid, memorable experience.”

“It’s about fostering a community.”
Shivang Jhunjhnuwala

Though not an artist, Shivang Jhunjhnuwala, co-founder of Young Soy Gallery, has also been rethinking how audience engagement in the modern art space should look like. Due to the pandemic, many galleries have since moved their exhibitions to a temporary digital space, but the Young Soy Production House has taken it one step further to open an online gallery. “We do host physical exhibitions but being online-based brings us to a wider audience,” says Jhunjhnuwala. “We’re a gallery for the people – everyone is welcome.”


Unlike galleries that use online platforms to promote their physical shows, Young Soy does it the other way around. Their exhibitions are treated as launch events, meaning they are usually short in length, and are ultimately designed to direct the audience to the virtual gallery, where they can find the full collections of artworks as well as video content. “We work mostly with emerging artists, and videos allow them to connect with the audience as they talk about their art and inspiration in their own words,” he explains.


Young Soy’s in-person events are also nothing like your typical exhibition – think live DJs and a full-fledged bar. In a show featuring artist Riya Chandiramani, known for her renditions of cereal boxes, guests were served a pairing of cocktails and cereal represented in her artwork. In another recent show with tattoo artist Ross Turpin, they served cocktails in syringes to echo his artworks’ medicinal motif. “People were shooting the cocktail into their mouth while looking at the artworks. It was a lot of fun!” Jhunjhnuwala recalls.


By adding these engaging elements to their exhibitions, Young Soy is able to create a more casual environment where visitors can freely interact with one another. “We want to get rid of that cold, daunting atmosphere felt at some exhibitions,” he says. “We also ask our guests to talk to at least one stranger at our shows. It’s about fostering a community where people feel comfortable to engage with the art.” This explains why at Young Soy’s events, you will often find serious collectors chatting with young art lovers – something of a rare sight at traditional galleries. “We hope to be a platform for everyone, one that transcends the boundaries of what traditional galleries have been able to do historically,” says Jhunjhnuwala. “After all, art should have the ability to be experienced by everyone.”


Stay tuned to ArtisTree’s Instagram account for more upcoming innovative art experiences.

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