Dr. Florian Knothe, Director, University Museum and Art Gallery, the University of Hong Kong
The University Museum and Art Gallery is pleased to collaborate with the Austrian Consul General, Dr Claudia Reinprecht, and the Embassy of the Arts of Austria, represented by Professor Karel Dudesek and Mr Lukas Birk, to display Refuse the Shadows of the Past: Five Years of Austrian Art Made in China. This contemporary art exhibition celebrates five years of art and culture sponsorship by the Austrian government that allowed Austrian and other artists to live and work in the East.
Since the first notable group of western artists came to China during the early Qing Dynasty, both artist communities in the East and West have benefited from cultural cross pollination. Today, when Chinese manufacturing and exports disseminate consumer goods—often without artistic merits—to the entire world, the handmade, philosophical and often personal and contemplated artefacts which were once integral to China’s culture play a smaller role. In this changing society, the value of artist exchange and residency programmes cannot be praised enough, as they give access to the spontaneous, often mundane and vernacular art production with a focus on locally sourced materials and long-practiced traditions. The Austro Sino Arts Programme supports Western artists—twenty-seven of which now participate in this unique and new to Hong Kong exhibition—who experienced Chinese art and culture, and created artworks that are both complimentary and provocative. Whether socially or politically inclined or influenced by deep-rooted artisan traditions and materials in China, artists in this successful course immerse themselves and they produce art forms that are hybrid in character and indicative of their encounter with the East.
Particularly interesting are the re-interpretations of the ephemera seen in everyday life. Among others, Anton Petz (b. 1962) creates Interventions, placards and poster walls, and records by-passers reactions, whereas Ralo Mayer (b. 1976) writes ‘Dazibao’, or banners, displaying his own, Western, near nonsense texts, and invites the public to react and to comment. Together they portrait ordinary rituals, advertising and propaganda, that colour daily life in China and they document the way onlookers sympathise or disengage. Following more traditional techniques, Roswitha Weingrill (b. 1984) and Tina Hochkogler (b. 1967) make collages, drawings and graphics, engaging with individualism and globalisation, while, in photographs of, among other consumer waste, voluptuous installations with discarded plastic bottles; Andrea Witzmann (b. 1970), draws attention to the habits and shortcomings of modern-day society. However different in iconography and diverse in techniques, the ‘still-lives’ presented offer insights all participating artists gained during their tenure in the East.
This display of ‘Five Years of Austrian Art Made in China’ offers a glimpse into both past and present as it juxtaposes artistic customs and cultural phenomena of a bygone era in reinterpreted, modern form with the public reception they receive today. It marks a timely record not just of outsiders’ views into China, but the more critical engagement of citizens and their environment in a better-informed society there.
We thank our collaborators without whom this large and innovative exhibition would not have been possible and invite the public to enjoy, study and interact with the fruitful outcome of an international artist residency programme in China.