In Hong Kong, Ko Sin Tung Tackles Contemporary Urban Life through Fluorescent Lights and Construction Sites

Hong Kong artist Ko Sin Tung’s latest solo exhibition at Edouard Malingue Gallery provokes an unsettling sense of incompletion from the outset. Titled “underground construction: failed,” the exhibition greets visitors with a kind of bizarre welcome mat: a scrap of carpet, with a half-moon cut out. To the right of the doorway, just before entering, a small photograph covered with thick strips of blue tape also welcomes the viewer. One can only guess that it’s an image of the West Kowloon Terminus construction site and its aesthetic is one that is echoed in several other pixelated images of the same site, found throughout the exhibition.

For Ko, contemporary urban life is pervaded by disappointment and alienation as much as it is by expectation and hope for a sense of belonging. An installation of eight television sets is absorbing and frustrating in equal measure: one screen depicts a bent traffic cone while another shows a mop leaning forlornly on railings. The shaky images—Ko shot the videos using a handheld camera—add to the sense of unease. Attempts to correct the angle of the shot further distort the work. “People expect too much of others, or of an external object. I want to highlight the gap between expectation and reality,” says the artist.

Given the prevalence of bulldozers and excavators in the local cityscape, Ko’s ruminations on, or more specifically, ambivalence towards construction sites, is bound to strike a chord in the hearts of many Hongkongers. Should such sites be treated as hubs of promise, or should they merely be disregarded? Only time will tell.

Also prompting ambiguous questions are Ko’s experiments with light in works like The sun is not here, a series of black-and-white photographs of sunrises. Pixelated and blurry, the works lead to larger questions about objectivity: if photographs dictate how we come to see the world, then what value do these ‘bad’ images, with their visual imperfections, have? Two fine, superimposed diagonal lines meet at the center of the glowing orbs, as if guiding viewers to focus on a point that ultimately bears no fruit. 

Continuing Ko’s questions about light are 24 fluorescent beams hanging in the exhibition space, 14 of which are lit, with the rest appearing broken. The work addresses the material source of an intangible “object,” in this case, light. When a bulb can no longer illuminate, can one still call that physical incarnation a “light”? Indeed, the exhibition ends with a video depicting 24 light rods being taken out from their packaging before being broken one by one. A deft reference to Ko’s previous Collecting Light (2014) piece, the work has a deep message: in the near-maniac attempt to collect “light” in the form of bulbs destined to eventually go out, one can find a sense of hope.

—Christie Lee

underground construction: failed” is on view at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong, Oct. 8-Nov, 26, 2015.

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