What if we could free ourselves from the constraints of time? While this may seem impossible, it is the question that moved curator David Ho Yeung Chan to bring together the work of South Korean sculptor and installation artist Chung Seo Young, Singaporean photographer Erica Lai, and Chinese performance artist Morgan Wong in “After Time” at Pearl Lam Galleries in Hong Kong. Each in their own way, these three contemporary artists reflect upon our relationship to time and make work through which they aim to give pause, providing a space to think about how it acts upon us.
Nowhere is the pace faster than in Central, Hong Kong, with its beguiling crush of people, traffic, architecture, tropical trees, and commerce. In the heart of this mix is Pearl Lam Galleries, its space now serving as a counterpoint to its neighborhood surroundings. David Ho Yeung Chan has divided the gallery into three distinct zones, one for each artist. In her area, Erica Lai’s mid-scale, color photographs, drawn from “The Garden Series” (2007-09) and “The Observatory Series” (2008-14), set a quiet, mysterious mood. At first, it’s hard to tell what you are looking at. For her “Observatory” project, for example, the artist traveled to tourist destinations worldwide and photographed not the sites themselves, but the nondescript platforms from which tourists are meant to view them. These platforms represent the structured confines of the tourism industry, which moves at a pace as fast as workaday life, discouraging lingering in favor of pushing throngs along for quick glimpses.
While Lai suggests that tourism is not the way to escape time, Morgan Wong manages to step out of time in his video, Frustration of Having More than Two Choices to Make in Life (2013). Here we watch as the artist negotiates his self-imposed, 48-hour isolation in a room supplied with nothing but a steel bar and a hand file. These objects serve as references to a traditional Chinese allegory about will and determination—qualities bound up with how we manage and respond to lengths of time—centered upon the seemingly endless task of filing a steel bar down to a needle. We might do well to keep such an allegory in mind, Wong suggests, in a world where impatience and instantaneity are the norms.
“After Time: Chung Seoyoung, Erica Lai, and Morgan Wong” is on view at Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong, July 25th–Sept. 10th, 2014.